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Earth Angel (Angels and Seers: Book One) by Stephanie Woods

“Lucy, if you’ll just let me speak….” the tiny angel implores me for about the millionth time today.

“Forget it, Aaron!” I shout back, cutting him off mid-sentence. “As far as I’m concerned, this is all your fault. You were Harry’s guardian angel. You were supposed to protect him. You have nothing to say I want to hear. Leave me alone.”
Earth Angel (Angels and Seers: Book One)
Earth Angel (Angels and Seers: Book One) by Stephanie Woods
It is my wedding day. Rather, it was supposed to be, if the universe had not seen fit to steal my fiancé from me. Am I bitter? You better believe it! I should be standing in front of my friends and family precisely right now, exchanging vows with Harry. In some other universe, maybe I am. That knowledge is the only thing giving me any kind of solace. In this particular messed up universe, which apparently harbors some grudge against me, my happy ending was stolen in what I can only imagine was a twisted joke. Or the fault of the miniature angel, now floating above my beloved’s headstone, who was apparently sleeping on the job when he let Harry get killed. Aaron has been trying to talk to me since Harry was hit by a car four months ago, and I’ve been steadfastly ignoring him. I haven’t seen him in the past week leading up to my would-be wedding day, and had hoped he was gone for good. But no. Here he is, rudely interrupting my plans for spending the day wallowing in my grief and misery. Not that I haven’t been wallowing since Harry was taken from me. In fact, I’ve turned it into a new art form. But today was supposed to be my masterpiece. Well-meaning friends and family have been bugging me all week to spend the day with them doing something fun, so I won’t be alone on this would-be nuptial day. I nipped those notions in the bud with a mass text sent out yesterday, letting everyone on my contacts list know I would be unavailable and keeping my ringer off. The text was simple and succinct, leaving no room for argument: “I intend to interact with no one but Harry today, and as such, will not be answering my phone or replying to any messages, so don’t bother trying to reach me.” I meant it, too. This was supposed to be the most special day in the world for Harry and me, so it only makes sense I spend it with him. That’s why I am perfectly happy just where I am, sitting glumly on the white marble bench in front of Harry’s grave, staring at his tall, gleaming headstone. I’ve been here since sunup, technically before the cemetery even opened to the public, slowly twisting my vintage diamond engagement ring around and around my finger, musing on how it would never have the matching wedding band to go with it. Harry’s parents tried to give it to me, but I told them to keep it as a memento of him. I couldn’t bear to see it. Still can’t. Of course, this isn’t my first time sitting alone here. I’ve been every single day since we buried Harry. This will just be my longest and most intimate visit. I’ve got plans for this day, plans that involve only Harry and me. The marble bench that graces Harry’s family plot is my good friend now. You get familiar with inanimate objects when you spend two hours a day, every day, with them for four months in a row. My family and friends were supportive of this at first. You’ve got to give a girl who’s lost her fiancé just before the wedding a little leeway on the crazy. But now I suspect they are starting to think I may need some counseling. Maybe I do. But, I’m not going to pursue it. If I can’t have Harry, I am happy enough to be the crazy lady who comes to the cemetery every day to mourn her lost love. Seeing as I have my future packaged so neatly, I do not need Harry’s annoying guardian angel badgering me yet again to get me to listen to his side of things. It’s a guardian’s job to protect their charge. He didn’t. That’s all I need to know. He sees this, and knows I’m not going to give him any attention or opportunity to state his case, Aaron throws his little hands up in the air in frustration and teleports out to parts unknown. Excellent. Now I can get down to business in peace. The sun is getting pretty high in the sky, so I check my watch. As I suspected, it is just after 11 in the morning, the time Harry and I were supposed to be being pronounced man and wife. Time to get really crazy. I reach into my large tote bag, the one I always bring here with me to carry water, snacks, books, sketch pads, and whatever else I feel like I need each day, and pull out my wedding veil. Crisp, snowy white, and lacy, entwined with a crown of yellow daisies (my favorite flower), it was custom made for me, a gift from my grandmother. I’ve only worn it once, when I tried it on the day it arrived at the bridal store. Now, it will adorn something else. Kneeling down on the new grass over Harry’s grave, I set the veil on top of his headstone. There it will stay until wind, animals, or thieves take it away. With any luck, it may be there forever, my gift to him. I trace the inscription on the gray granite marker with my index finger: “Harry Lucas Stanley, Beloved Son, Brother, Uncle, Intended Husband, and Friend, 1985-2014.” It almost feels like I am reaching out to touch him in whatever realm he now dwells. Almost, but not quite. In my jeans pocket is the wide, masculine gold wedding band I should have just placed on his finger inside the Presbyterian church we booked for the ceremony; I dig a little hole in the ground above the grave a few inches deep, put the ring in it, then cover it over, patting the dirt down firmly, sprinkling the bald spot with a little grass so the place won’t be obvious to the treasure hunters I know come here regularly with their metal detectors. Then, I kiss his name on the stone, completing our marriage ceremony in my mind. There will be no one else for me now, not in this life. My heart belongs to Harry, and as far as I’m concerned, I am now a married woman, even if my husband is a ghost. Our wedding completed, and consummated long ago in a tent on the plains of Kenya, I sit back on my heels, admiring the smooth, shininess of the headstone, gazing longingly at his photo there. I’m glad his parents opted to add it. It’s a good one, taken just after we both returned from our respective stints in the Peace Corps, where we met. It captures the essence of him, I think. His familiar smiling face is there, doing its best to tell me he is always with me and everything is okay. It is just like Harry to want to make everything better. Sadly, that very admirable and incredibly appealing desire is what lead to his death. My only consolation is knowing with absolute certainty he would be happy he went out while helping someone in need. I can’t fault him for being himself, no matter how much I miss him. It was that same selfless, caring nature that made me love him in the first place. Satisfied that the universe views us as married as I do, I’m just standing up to go back to the bench when a small breeze kicks up, blowing a few grains of sand on my face. I close my eyes to shield them from assault by the tiny grains. The breeze dies down almost as soon as it begins, and when I open my eyes again, there’s Aaron, floating just above the headstone once more, his tiny white tunic fluttering around him, white silken wings moving almost as fast as a hummingbird’s keep him hovering. Oh good grief. Is he never going to leave me be? Hasn’t he done enough already? Aaron should have moved on long ago to the dimension where guardian angels stay to wait for their charges to reincarnate. Why is he still here, stubbornly using his presence to keep reminding me of my loss? “You are not welcome here, Aaron!” I grind the words out from behind firmly clenched teeth, beyond annoyed the sight of this miniature angel, no bigger than a salt shaker. “Lucy, if you would only listen to me!” Aaron pleads, his normal, human voice belying his micro size. “You have a lot of nerve coming here, today of all days!” I shout, then look around to make sure no one heard me. I do not need people staring at me like I’m crazy. None of the handful of other people here today can see Aaron. Seeing angels and interacting with them is a unique gift bestowed on my family. I presume at least a few other families must have the ability, too, though I’ve never met any. No one remembers a time when the people in my direct maternal line couldn’t see angels, so the ability must go pretty far back in time. It’s an inherited gift, passed down to both men and women. However, only women are able to pass down the gift, which means my two older brothers inherited it from our mother as I did, but only I will be able to pass it on to my children. I may decide to have some through artificial insemination one day. I only wish Harry banked some of his own sperm before he died. But, I also know he would want me to have children, with or without him. My brothers’ children do not have the gift, as men cannot pass it down their lines. They know about it, though. Anyone who is in the family knows we can see angels, whether they can see them themselves or not. Why do we have this ability? No one knows. The answer to that question was lost to time long ago. These days, it’s just something we take as a given. Most of the time, I don’t mind it. Right now, I would be happy to not be able to see Aaron, or even know he exists. “I wouldn’t have to be here if you’d let me have my say any time in the past four months. Believe me, I wanted to leave you alone today, Lucy. I know how important this day is to you and understand your need for solitude. But time is running out. I need you to listen to me, and I won’t have many other opportunities to get you to.” “Why do you need to talk to me so badly, Aaron?” I throw up my hands, exasperated. “Do you want to say you’re sorry you let my boyfriend get killed helping an old lady change her tire because you weren’t paying attention? Save it. I don’t need to hear your excuses. You were supposed to keep him safe. What were you doing when that car hit him on the side of the highway? Off getting laid by some sexy female angel? Taking a nap? Reading a book? It doesn’t matter. You failed him, Aaron. He’s dead. You took away the one person I was supposed to be with, and now I’ll be alone for the rest of this life. There’s nothing you have to say I want to hear.” The last time I deigned to speak to Aaron, it was when he came to tell me Harry was dead. He got to me even before the cops arrived at our apartment. I sent him away in a fit of anger, horror and grief, with a command to never come to me again. To his credit, he left me alone that day and most of the next, seeming to be almost as upset as me. He didn’t stay away, though. In fact, he reappeared soon after, begging me to hear him out. Not only did he not stay away, he came at least once a day, sometimes more, and has continued doing so. I’ve thus far steadfastly ignored him, and talked over anything he’s tried to tell me. Eventually, he always gives up in a fit of frustration and leaves, only to appear again the next day and repeat his attempts to engage me in conversation. Not only is he an inept guardian, he is extremely annoying. “Lucy, give him a chance,” a female voice at my left shoulder urges me. It’s Kira, my own guardian angel. She’s encouraged me to talk to Aaron from the beginning. I love Kira, but I don’t need her input on this matter. It wasn’t her fiancé who died because someone else wasn’t doing their job. She can’t know what it feels like. “Kira, stay out of it,” I say, wearily, tired of having this conversation with her over and over again. Everyone has a guardian angel, hovering just over their left shoulder. Most people have no idea, of course. I’ve been aware of Kira’s presence from birth, and most of the time it’s nice to know I always have a friend with me. Sometimes, though, I wish she’d go away, just for a little bit. Like now. “He has something important to say, and it’s not just about Harry,” she assures me. “You keep saying that,” I grumble, annoyed. “How would you know?” “What do you think I do when you’re sleeping? Just hover there on your shoulder all night like a silent sentinel?” she gently chides me. “I have friends. I talk to people. I get messages from the angel network. Most of those messages pertain to you and the people in your life, because, you know…guardian angel. Aaron should have moved on to our home realm by now, to wait until Harry reincarnates and join him in his new life. He should be getting his break now. But he isn’t, because he really does need to talk to you. Lucy, give the poor guy a chance. He’s been trying for months.” I sigh loudly, sinking down into the grass in the lotus position, contemplating the mouse-sized angel with the beseeching eyes shining a bright sapphire blue…I call it “angel blue,” since all angels have it, regardless of their skin color. It is a deep blue that shines constantly, produced from their own inner light, which is the essence of their being. Kira may be a pain in my ass sometimes, but as my guardian and friend, she always has my best interests at heart. I know with unquestioning certainty she would never steer me wrong. I hate it, but if she’s insisting so hard that it’s necessary for me to talk to Aaron, then I need to give him his say. I just don’t want to. Honestly, I’ve always known I would eventually have to give Aaron his say, but today of all days….it just seems cruel for the two of them to gang up on me like this. Couldn’t they have waited another day? They’ve waited this long. However, it is abundantly clear he is not going to leave me alone until I relent. I may as well get it over with now, rather than prolong the torture. “You’ve got one minute,” I say, looking at my watch. I may let him talk, but I’m not going to make it easy for him. “Start now and make it good.” Relief floods his glowing face for just a moment. Then, seeing I’m serious about the minute limit on my attention, he jumps right in. “I’m sorry about Harry,” he begins, words tumbling out of his mouth one right after the other in a cascade of speech. “I loved him, too. You know all guardians love their charges. But he didn’t die because I wasn’t doing my job. I didn’t have a choice. You two were on track to get married and be happy together. His life plan was changed on the order of the archangels.” “The archangels?” I splutter, disbelieving. “Why would they care about Harry’s life path? They’re in charge of things that affect the whole universe, not the doings of individual beings.” Then, remembering my time limit on Aaron’s speech, I make myself shut up so he can continue talking. “You know the only orders that trump archangel orders are ones that come from any of the four angels who attend on God, or from God Himself. And, as you also know, we never hear from them. I had to let him go, Lucy. If it’s any consolation, I arranged it in the most humane, painless way possible, and in a way he would have wanted. But, that was all I could do. I can’t ignore an archangel order. They’re not just in charge of the universe. They’re in charge of all the other, lower caste angels, too, remember? They would have reassigned me to someone else, and I’ve been with Harry since the very first time his soul incarnated. They would have found a way to remove him from your life without me. At least this way, I had some control over it.” Aaron’s minute is up, and he promptly stops talking, respecting my wishes. He used his minute well, I’m forced to admit. But now I have some questions, and I damn sure want answers. A change of plans? Orders from the archangels to kill Harry? What the hell? Individual souls work out their own life plans before each incarnation, and those plans are only changed without their permission under the most extreme and unusual of circumstances. What could be so important it required Harry to die? My poor, darling Harry, only 29 years old, a history professor with a Ph.D. and a promising career in front of him. Sweet, romantic Harry, whose gentlemanly personality came straight out of the 19th century, who always used the word “courting” to describe our dating relationship, who treated me like a princess. Harry, who could always make me laugh with a few silly magic tricks or corny jokes, whose gentle, goofy sense of humor soothed every rock the world threw at me, whose excellent cooking skills made every dinner a gourmet event. His lean physique, fair hair, twinkling green eyes, and nicely developed, delectably flexible muscles from his daily yoga routines still graced my dreams. Some far away angels with an overinflated sense of self-importance thought this adorable, caring man needed to get “killed off”? For what? Good God, why would anyone want to kill someone as inherently good as Harry? “Do you know why they ordered it?” I ask sullenly, my voice like lead. There are just too many emotions rolling through me right now to process them all and still speak in a tone resembling anything lifelike. Aaron’s face crumples into sorrow. I glance to my side toward Kira, whose fixed position on my shoulder makes her only fully visible to me in a mirror. I can see just enough of her face to know she already knows the whole story. Hmph! My guardian angel and friend. Betrayal doesn’t even begin to describe what I’m feeling. She should have told me herself, rather than making me hear it from Aaron! Why didn’t she? “There are new plans for you, too, Lucy,” Aaron continues sadly. “Harry would have only been in your way. You would be focused on him and your marriage when you need to be focused on the task ahead.” “What task?” I ask, suddenly irritated at all the secrecy and indirect speaking. “Tell me or don’t! If you’re going to speak in code, just leave.” “I was informed about your new role shortly after Harry was killed,” Kira jumps in, deflecting some of my irritation from Aaron and onto her. “Before Aaron even came to tell you Harry was gone, I knew. There’s a war coming, Lucy. A war for the freedom of everyone on this planet, including its angels. If it’s not won for the side of good, everyone in the galaxy, and maybe universe will be in danger of becoming slaves. This includes God’s creatures and all others. What’s more, if the threat isn’t stopped here, it may spill over into other universes, too.” I note the way she uses the term “God’s creatures.” Thanks to her, I know the universe is filled with living beings, many of them sentient and some older and more technologically advanced than humans. But not all of them were created by God. Some just developed naturally from the creative nature God put into the universe. Not all of them are friendly, either. And some are just plain mysterious. Kira says she’s never met an angel, even an archangel, who knows of every creature out there in the vastness of space. “So it’s an alien of some kind?” I ask, perplexed at how this has anything to do with me or Harry. “Going after the sentient beings of the universe?” “No,” says Aaron, shaking his head. “It’s another angel, a very charismatic one, with ambitions far beyond what any angel should have. He’s called Jonathan, and until a few years ago when he disappeared, he was part of the Earth Angel kingdom.” The Earth Angels are the angels tasked with protecting this particular planet. They guard it from extraterrestrial threats such as aliens and asteroids. They also work on keeping its environment healthy for the creatures who live on it, though humans have been making that job more difficult for them in the past century or so. Every planet with life on it, sentient or not, has angels that protect it this way. They are part of the caste of Planetary Angels. Other than the lower caste Nature Angels, who tend to the plants and animals of this world, and the higher caste Guardians, the Earth Angels are the ones my family has come into contact with the most. “Jonathan has been working on this for a few years,” Aaron continues. “When he disappeared, no one knew where he went. King Josiah, the Earth Angel leader, considered sending out sentries to find him and bring him back, but decided Jonathan was just a bit wild and needed to test his wings a bit by seeing the universe. Then, he would come home and get back to the business of being an Earth angel. But, when Jonathan returned, he was different. Apparently, he saw enough to become dissatisfied with the way the angel hierarchy is organized and the universe is arranged. He decided he would be a better leader, but was corrupted by the thought of the power it would bring him. He started recruiting an army of angels from other planets to help him realize his scheme. He reappeared a few months ago, surrounding the Earth Angels’ home with his army and setting up camps in outposts throughout this solar system. He’s already gotten the angels protecting the non-sentient life on the other planets and moons in this solar system on his side. Any who tried to fight him were quickly killed.” “And why didn’t the archangels stop him?” “Some of them joined him,” Kira explains. “They were already dissatisfied with their lot, thinking they should be all-powerful, and that other castes of angels are unnecessary. This started a breach in the Archangel kingdom that is affecting everything they do. With some of their own on Jonathan’s side, they didn’t have the power required to put a stop to any of this.” “But archangels don’t talk to lower caste angels, except the Messengers,” I protest. “Why would they let a Planetary Angel lead them?” Archangels are extremely closeted beings, keeping mainly to themselves, believing their position makes it unseemly for them to talk to lower caste angels. Instead, they convey information through a network of Messenger Angels who routinely teleport all over the universe to deliver information and directives to their intended recipients. The Messengers are the only ones the archangels speak to directly. “That’s what the good archangels are trying to discover,” Kira says. “He intends to take over the Earth Angel kingdom, as well as the Earth, and enslave all of the planet’s inhabitants,” Aaron continues. “Since Jonathan was originally a protector of this planet, he knows it well. He’s using it as a test case, and if it’s successful, he will go out into the galaxy, and then the rest of the universe, and do the same thing to other planets, and maybe even the beings who don’t live on planets. He could eventually take his crusade to the multiverse. Jonathan wants get rid of the beings he considers inferior, then rule the rest of us with an iron fist, and so far, he’s proving he has the potential to do it. Worse, other angels agree with him. The Earth is the first line of defense for all of creation.” Well, that’s disturbing. Angels, regardless of caste, are the worker bees of the universe, part of the system that keeps it running smoothly, presumably as God intended. Unlike most creatures, they know their purpose from birth, and are a well-oiled, hierarchical machine. For one of them to go rogue is unheard of amongst them. Getting others to go along with it is almost preposterous. The angels may skirmish amongst themselves from time to time, but they always do their jobs of protecting and serving. Kira has told me stories she’s heard of alien races taking over other planets and even large areas of space, but as far as I know, not even the most technologically advanced societies have set their sights on controlling the multiverse and everyone in it. That’s just crazy! If he thinks he can do it, and if Aaron and Kira think he has the potential to succeed, that means this Jonathan is truly dangerous. “The most troubling part of this whole thing is that he’s had no trouble gathering others to his side,” Aaron continues. “That means he has a real chance of succeeding. He’s got a natural magnetism that makes it easy to think he’s perfectly reasonable when he talks about the universe having one king and purifying it of inferior beings. I would compare him to Hitler here on Earth. He makes others think he has their best interests at heart, but his agenda is actually evil, with dark intentions. We’ve never seen anything like it.” “Why does this mean Harry had to die?” That’s one thing I still don’t understand. “I get that it’s a serious situation, but what did Harry have to do with it? He wasn’t a seer.” “Earth is an important outpost in this galaxy. As far as we can tell, humans are the most advanced beings in it,” Kira says. “With Jonathan making it his first target, the Earth Angels who protect it and the seers who work with them need to make a strong stand against him. The crown prince of the Earth Angel kingdom intends to fight him, and he has a good chance of being the first to win, or at least walk away, but he won’t defeat Jonathan entirely. Jonathan has become too strong during his travels and interactions with other beings to be beaten by one angel alone, no matter how strong. There is going to be an all-out war for the Earth. The archangels sent word to us that you and the prince must work together to stop Jonathan. Only the two of you, working together, stand a chance of defeating him. As a team, you and the prince will be able to raise your own army and give them the power necessary to save us all.” “Me?” I practically sputter. Defeat Jonathan? Raise and train an army? Who do the archangels think I am? The idea is utterly ridiculous! I’m a pacifist, and not military trained at all. I’m a Kindergarten teacher who does yoga, meditates, does volunteer work, and plants kitchen herbs for fun! Ask me how to handle a five-year-old having a tantrum or get a pot of basil to grow into a healthy, edible plant, I’m your woman. But leading a fight against a lunatic angel? You’ve got to be kidding! I am so not qualified for that job. “You suspect there are other people who can see angels,” Kira says. “You’re right. It’s not just your family. There are seven families in the world who were given that ability at the dawn of human history. Seers were meant to work closely with the angels who live here and visit here, to assist them in doing their jobs, sometimes by doing things they can’t do. You were also created to make sure angels were not all powerful, since too much power in the hands of one species can be dangerous. That is why seers were given certain powers and abilities that angels do not possess. It keeps things balanced. These days, though the number of seers has increased to millions and they’ve migrated across the globe, forgetting their heritage as they move farther away from it. Today, most seers only know they can see and talk to angels. Some of them don’t even know we are angels. Instead, they think they’re crazy. They have no idea they have other powers, because it’s been millions of years since any human seer needed to use them.” “We have powers?” Well, that is certainly new information. “Yes. And of all the seers on this planet, Lucy, your powers are the strongest. The archangels told us so. Once every few generations, a seer comes along who can do amazing things the other seers, and even the angels, can’t do. They become leaders of their kind and gain the highest respect from the angels with whom they work. It’s like that TV show you like so much, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Only, instead of once a generation a slayer is born, it’s more like once every 10 or 12 generations a master seer is born. That’s you, Lucy.” “Did you always know?” I ask, a little stunned. “Not until the messenger from the archangels told me.” There is more than a hint of pride in Kira’s voice, that her charge would be one of these ultra-rare master seers. “How come I never noticed any special abilities?” “You haven’t needed them until now. They are there, waiting for you to unlock them, and you will. They’ll come to you when you need them, and you’ll know instinctively how to use them. With your powers and the crown prince’s strength, the Earth stands a chance of being saved. Harry couldn’t be a part of this. Not only could he not see us, he would have distracted you from your purpose, and without your complete concentration on the task at hand, the Earth would likely fall. That can’t happen. When the archangels realized you were the most powerful human on the planet, they knew they had to change your life plan, and Harry’s along with it. Removing Harry was necessary for you to reach your full potential before you have to fight. Believe me, Lucy, they didn’t do it lightly. It’s kind of a big deal to interfere in any sentient being’s life plan and only done in the most extraordinary of circumstances.” I guess it makes a twisted and cruel kind of sense, but I’m still stuck on the “super-seer” thing. “I am the most powerful seer in the world?” It is so ludicrous, I almost laugh out loud. I can’t even get my cats to stay off of the kitchen counter. How am I supposed to fight a powerful dark angel with a huge army that includes archangels, and who already conquered the angels protecting the lesser life forms of this solar system? “You don’t see it now,” Aaron says, sensing my extreme doubt, “but you will.” “And if I refuse to fight?” Part of me wants to rebel against the archangels’ plans, in retaliation for losing Harry. “You won’t,” Kira softly assures me. “You care about the world too much. And if nothing else, you’ll want to ensure your family’s safety. I know you too well, Lucy.” She’s right, of course. I think of my grandparents, my two older brothers, their wives, their children, my friends, and even my cats. I would fight tooth and nail to keep them safe if I had to. Who wouldn’t? And I care about the world, too. It’s why I spent two years in the Peace Corps. I wanted to make a difference then, and I still do. Now, here is an opportunity to make the biggest difference of all. Will I take it? As much as I want to say no, I know what the answer is. Yes. Of course I will fight this Jonathan and his minions. I trust the “how” of it will be revealed to me later, since the archangels are so sure I am “the chosen one” or something. “And when will I meet this angel prince?” If there’s a task to do and only the two of us can accomplish it, and it has to be together, we should get to work on it soon. “The prince’s name is Sam, and he doesn’t know the archangels’ orders,” Kira says, gently. “Only Aaron and I were made privy to those, since our charges were the subject of them. They already know Sam will fight. It’s in his nature to protect his planet, his loved ones, and everything that has been entrusted to him, with every fiber of his being. He’s really quite noble. You’ll like him. His fight with Jonathan will eventually lead him to you. You need to be focused on getting the job done when he arrives.” “He’s innocent in what happened to Harry,” Aaron assures me, apparently concerned I’ll blame Sam for Harry’s loss. I don’t. I blame Jonathan. I also blame the archangels a little. “He doesn’t even know he’s supposed to work with you,” Aaron continues. “All he knows is he has to fight Jonathan to protect the planet, and he’s doing that right now, in the skies just above the Earth’s atmosphere. That’s why I had to talk to you today. There was no more time to let it wait.” “I know this is a lot to process, darling,” Kira says, stroking my hair with her tiny fingers. It feels like a spider crawling through the strands, a feeling I became used to long ago. “You just need to start working with Sam and gathering your own army. Under the leadership of the two of you, we stand a chance. If the Earth stands up to Jonathan and wins, his army will lose confidence in him and his plan and go back to their homes. The Earth will be safe, and so will everything else in creation. It’s an honorable task the two of you have been called to. Be proud that you were given it. Harry would be.” She’s right. He would be so proud of me for being given this honor. Though he never saw angels, he knew I could, and would know the importance of what I’m being asked to do. I need to do this not only for my planet, but for him. He would want me to, and would be encouraging me all the way if he were here. “I’ve got to go now,” Aaron says, the pleading look he’s worn for the past four months gone, replaced now with his normal beatific expression. “We’re not really supposed to stay in this realm when our charges are between lives. I just had to tell you the truth. I felt like I owed it to you, and didn’t want you to hate me. And there was no order from the archangels to keep the truth from you. You deserved to know.” “Thank you for telling me, Aaron,” I say, suddenly feeling a bit more charitable toward this little angel who, as it turns out, was only following orders he could not ignore. I know he loved Harry, and became quite fond of me in the three years Harry and I were together. And, until Harry died, I liked him, too. I think I do again. I appreciate his tenacity in getting me to listen, and even feel bad about shutting him out for so long. “I’m sorry I was mad at you, Aaron,” I say softly. “Give Harry my love when you see him, will you?” “I will,” he assures me. “But he already knows, Lucy. He always knew. And Lucy? If it’s any consolation at all, he didn’t suffer. I made sure of it. There was no pain. He was here, and then he was in the space between lives. Once he was there and had his bearings again, I explained everything to him. He understood. He said he would never want to stand in the way of your destiny. And he asked me to send his love to you, too. That’s another reason I wanted to talk to you. I had to give you Harry’s message.” Tears well up in my eyes a little at the thought of Harry getting the explanation of our separation on the other side. Of course he understood. It’s just like him. And at least he left this life painlessly, which is a relief to know. Plus, he continues to know I love him and he still loves me, too. I can carry that with me the rest of my life and feel marginally better about the whole thing. I’ll always miss him, but this is something, at least. “Thank you,” I whisper, trying not to cry. Aaron bows low to me in respect, smiles, then disappears. I stand up and brush the dirt and grass off my jeans, straightening my bright red tank top as I do so. I am just about to ask Kira when to expect Sam to appear when a bomb falls out of the sky behind me, shaking the whole cemetery, and, I suspect, the entire city. Holding out my arms to steady myself, I manage to stay on my feet until the shaking stops a few seconds later. We don’t have earthquakes here in Orlando, so what in God’s name just happened? I turn around slowly, feeling a distinct heat hitting the back of my neck. The source is definitely not the normal steamy July Florida weather. I feel my eyes grow wide of their own accord when I see what lays just beyond the marble bench. It is a large crater in the earth, like a meteorite fell from the sky. Smoke emanates from it. The cemetery, which included a few visitors just a little while ago, is now deserted. Whatever this thing is, Kira and I are alone with it. Just over the edge of the crater, a bloody hand appears. Behind that hand is a cascade of pure white feathers. An angel wing. Sam is here. It has begun. Chapter 2 The hand reaches higher, looking for purchase so the owner can pull himself up. Sam. This super strong member of the Earth angel royalty who probably just got done fighting the universe’s greatest villain in the sky high above us. The one I’m supposed to partner up with to save everyone, quite possibly everyone in every universe. For just a moment, it’s all too much to take in. I almost turn and walk away. Something deep inside stops me, though. This is important. I can’t let the universe fall to a madman if there’s something I can do to stop it. Working with the angels is part of my role as a seer, though this is certainly one of those “above and beyond” assignments. Remember, I silently remind myself. Harry gave his blessing, and the archangels chose you personally for this. You’ve got to stay and see it through, not only for their sake, but for everyone else who calls this planet home….humans, angels, animals, everyone. So, I stay and watch, waiting to see if Sam needs any help out of that hole, not knowing what to say. It quickly becomes obvious he does require assistance. His arm continues to rise, but does so slowly. He is stunned, and probably injured. As more of his arm reveals itself over the crater’s edge, I marvel at the elegance of it. I can’t help it. It’s truly a thing of beauty. Long and well-muscled, this is the arm of someone who is used to hard physical labor. The sculpted triceps alone would make most women go weak-kneed. Good thing I’m not most women. I can appreciate the attractiveness of the arm without wanting to run my hand along it, feeling the hard angles. The only arm I want to touch is Harry’s, which was so different, with its lean, flexible muscles. His arms weren’t large and hard at all, but they were strong, and without an inch of fat on them. I miss them. As an Earth angel, Sam will no doubt be wearing the standard garb of his caste, which consists of a beige tunic, loose dark green pants tied at the waist with a light yellow rope, and beige sandals that appear to be made out of straw. The adults wear these odd teardrop-shaped blue stone pendants, too. I’ve never seen one on a child angel, but every adult angel of every caste has a pendant of some kind, except the guardians. Different castes wear different colors, but they’re all shaped the same. There’s no lore in our family on why they wear them, but they must be important. He likely won’t be wearing a halo. Most angels only wear them for ceremonial occasions. The Messenger Angels, who wear them all the time. Again, this is a mystery, but I’ve always thought their caste must be required to wear special uniforms, to easily distinguish them from other angels, even at a distance. As the wide sleeve of the tunic drops back to his shoulder as he raises his arm, I see I’m right about his attire. Classic Earth Angel. However, once the whole arm is visible above the crater’s edge, I notice the bunched up fabric is splattered with blood. I lean in to get a better look and see blood dripping from the ends of some of his gleaming white feathers, too. He is hurt. But, unlike other angels who fought Jonathan in the past, he is alive. That’s a start. Jonathan must have knocked Sam out of the sky with a lot of force during their fight, causing him to fall to the ground hard enough to make the crater in which he now kneels. The fact that he’s only bloody is not so unusual, as angels don’t injure easily. Some cuts and bruises from a fall that would have obliterated the physical parts of a human are only minor annoyances on Sam and his kind. The fact that he was injured at all speaks to the violence of his confrontation with Jonathan, as well as Jonathan’s power. OK, decision time. Sam is too injured to pull himself out of the crater or he would already be out of it. Two options present themselves to me. Option One, I walk away, pretend I never saw anything, and let this war play out as it will, without my involvement. Option Two, I help Sam out of the crater and become part of the cosmic battle that’s just arrived at my door. Let’s be realistic. There really isn’t an option. I can’t let the Earth, and possibly the universe, go undefended now I know what it’s facing, especially since I’ve been specifically told I’m one of only two beings in this universe who can do something about it. I also can’t ignore the painful moaning coming from the crater. I’ve never once walked away from any living creature that needed help. That’s just not me. I’ll hate myself if I ignore him now. Harry, my brothers, my grandparents, and pretty much anyone who knows me would happily point to the constant stream of stray animals parading in and out of my life since childhood, as I nursed them back to health and adopted them into good homes, as testament to my intolerance of suffering. I don’t see her, but I can feel Kira smiling. She knows what I’m going to do. Irritating little thorn in my side. She knows me at least as well as I know myself. Sometimes I think she may know me more even better than I do. Pretending I don’t know she’s gloating, I walk up to the edge of the crater and look inside. Sure enough, it is full of tall, muscular, bloodied, dirty angel. Actually, take away the blood and dirt tossed on him when he hit the ground, and Sam is a good looking angel. One of the most attractive I’ve seen, truthfully, which is actually saying something, since all angels are generally beautiful. In addition to muscles so sculpted you can see them through the fabric of his tunic, Sam has fair, perfectly smooth skin and floppy blond hair that is parted on the side, just reaching his ears in the front and short and shaggy in the back. It’s falling a little bit into his right eye at the moment in battle-formed disarray. His nose is long and straight, and his lips are bright red and full in a sensual kind of way. His eyes are perfectly almond-shaped, evenly spaced, and full of that distinctive angel blue that’s so bright it can almost be used as a flashlight in the dark. He reminds me of one of those statues of the Greek gods you see in museums, only alive and moving. I lean over the edge of the crater a bit, looking more closely at his face. He has some bruises on his angular cheeks that are already starting to heal. His left wing is carefully folded and tucked under his shoulder blade, out of sight where angels keep them when not in use. His right wing, though, is fully deployed, and he is gripping it tightly with is left hand, doing what he can to stave off the pain. The injury is on the wing; my examination lets me see his tunic is torn at the top and what looks like a piece of bone is sticking out of it. This is the source of the blood dripping down his feathers. A broken wing bone. Ouch! That’s a pretty serious injury for an angel. It can disable them for a while, whereas most other injuries heal as quickly as they’re incurred. The bruises on his face I just noticed are already completely gone. He is biting his bottom lip hard, eyes looking upward, trying hard to not make a sound, but failing miserably. His moans may be quiet ones, but I can still hear them. Geez, he is a tough one. He’s got to be in absolute agony with that broken bone! His determination to be silent, along with his pure stoicism, is impressive. Brave face or not, he needs help out of that crater. Being the only one for miles who I know for sure can see him, that help will have to come from me. I guess this is going to be my introduction to my partner in saving the planet. “Hello?” I call, leaning as far over the edge as I can without falling in. “Are you Sam?” He turns his head slightly to look up at me. “I am. You are a seer.” It is a statement, not a question, as no other sort of human would be able to see him to know to speak to him. His voice is a rich, melodic tenor, not too high and not too low. It is also incredibly strained as he tries to speak normally, not wanting to give away just how much pain he’s in. “How did you know my name?” “Kira, my guardian angel, told me you were coming.” I keep my voice gentle and soft, knowing my tone will have a soothing effect on the pain. If I keep it light, almost like a caress, the pain won’t seem as bad, something I learned in the Peace Corps. “Let me help you out of there.” “How did your guardian know I was coming?” He pulls on his broken wing, bringing it closer to him and moves slightly away, looking at me from under heavily lidded eyes. He’s suspicious. I can’t blame him. There’s a war beginning, and Aaron and Kira said he didn’t know anything about me. I have to get him to trust me. Oh, it just keeps getting better. I tell him the whole story, quickly, since I think this Jonathan won’t wait too long before he comes looking for Sam. Crazy, power-hungry types don’t like to be seen as weak by letting a challenger get away, and we are very much exposed out in the open in the cemetery. I end the tale with what I hope is a trust-inspiring statement. “Kira and Aaron said you weren’t informed of any of this, so I don’t blame you for being wary. But really, I’m here to help you.” He looks at me intently, blue eyes boring holes into my very soul, trying to determine if I’m telling the truth. If he could touch me, he’d be able to tell in an instant. One of the powers that come with being an angel. As it is, he has to use other, less direct forms of deduction. “Your fiancé was killed to make room us to work together.” His voice is still strained, as if every word is an effort. It probably is. That wing has to be (metaphorically) killing him. “You must hate me.” “I’m not happy about it,” I admit. “But I don’t hate you. It wasn’t your fault.” “And you’re willing to help me, knowing what you know?” “Yes. If we’re all that stands between the Earth and slavery under this Jonathan and his army, I’ve got to do what’s necessary to protect my world and my loved ones. You must do the same thing. You’re already doing it. Why else fight an angel who has killed every known challenger to date?” “Yes, I must protect the Earth as I’m sworn to do, and keep my family and kingdom safe at the same time. And you’re right about Jonathan. He’ll be coming after me soon, and probably bringing his trusted advisors with him. He can’t let it be known he let an opponent get away. If you help me, you’ll be on his radar. You’ll be putting yourself in danger.” “I think I already am, just standing here talking to you. Besides, if the archangels know about me, it probably means the ones in Jonathan’s army know, too. I may be on their radar already. Once I start doing something that shows them I know my role in this, they’ll come after me. We may as well be together when that happens. Kira says we have to work together to have a chance. Neither of us can do this on our own. We’re a team whether we like it or not. Now, will you let me help you out of that hole?” I really want to get him out of the hole and away from here before Jonathan shows up, and people start coming back into the cemetery. Anyone who sees me will think I’m interacting with a ghost. It will either freak them out or make them think I’m crazy. I don’t need that kind of hassle. I’ve got to hurry him along in this trust exercise. “You can ask Kira if you want,” I offer, as he gazes at me skeptically. “She’s right here.” “I can’t see her,” Sam says, gritting his teeth even more. The pain must be increasing the longer he lets the break go untreated. The bone needs to be set and his whole arm put in a sling. “Guardians exist at a higher vibrational level than us. Only archangels and seers can see and talk to them.” “Kira, you never told me that,” I whisper accusingly. “It never came up,” she replies, sheepishly. “Vibrational level?” I ask Sam. I think I know what he’s talking about, from my high school physics classes, but I’m not 100 percent sure. “All matter vibrates. The higher the vibration, the more transparent the object or person. Seers are gifted with being able to see anything at any vibrational level. There may be some other creatures out there who can do it, too. I’m not sure. But it’s a rare ability. No one ever told you?” “I don’t have a big circle of angel friends. They go about their business and we go about ours. We only interact rarely. The only angels we talk to regularly are our guardians. The subject of vibrations has never been mentioned. And the only other seers I know are my own family.” I wonder if my grandmother knows about vibrational levels. She is, after all, the current keeper of the angel lore book in our family. I’ll have to ask her. Later. He practically squints at me, then suddenly lets his facial muscles relax, relief flooding his features. He leans his head back against the crater wall. “OK, then. I officially recognize you as an ally. You can help me.” “Excellent. And I officially recognize you as well. Now, can you give me your hand on your good arm?” If he can stand, it shouldn’t be too hard to pull him out of there if he uses his feet as leverage. “Yes, I think so.” Gingerly, he removes his hand from his injured wing, wincing mightily as he does so. He holds his hand up to me and I grab it with both of mine. Unlike the tiny guardians, most angels are the size of humans, or even taller. Archangels are giants; I’ve only ever seen one, but their lore is well known within my family. Most are the size of three to four normal-sized human males. Any one of them could have just stepped out of this crater. That actually would have been a lot easier. With all that muscle on Sam, he’s going to be heavy. I’ll need all my strength to pull him up. “This is probably going to hurt a little,” I warn him. “That broken wing will get jarred a bit when I pull you out of there, and I know that’s going to suck, but you’ve got to be brave. Can you do that for me?” “I’m not a child,” he sounds slightly insulted. “I’m the eldest son of King Josiah and Queen Leah of the Earth Angel kingdom, heir to the throne, and battle trained practically since birth. Of course I can do it. Just pull.” Oh good. A sign of royal snobbery. Super. I shake my head in silent frustration. I hope it’s just a sign of his frustration at the pain from his injury. This will not be a productive partnership if he treats me as anything other than an equal. He may have royal pride, but I’ve got some of my own. I know as a seer, we are essentially equals, at least on this planet. Higher caste angels may have some right to take on superior airs, but not him. Not an Earth Angel, even if he is royalty. I know my place as well as he knows his. “I’m terribly sorry,” I say sarcastically. “Should I call you ‘Your Majesty?’” “No. Sam is fine.” He smiles at me then, all royal bluster gone, and for a moment, it’s like the sun is shining ten times brighter. He is even more gorgeous when he smiles. And it’s a genuine one. Good. No pretension here. I was right about the injury frustration. That’s understandable…and a relief. “OK, Sam,” I say gently, smiling myself. “My name is Lucy Ariel McDonald. You can call me Lucy. I am going to pull you out of this hole, and together, we will save the planet, and the universe if need be. Sound good to you?” “It does, Lucy,” he says, nodding, that bright smile still stuck on his shining face. Man, hearing him say my name sounds like a choir singing! I brush off the bashful, blushing feeling it gives me. No crushing on the angel, Lucy! Harry may have given his blessing to this new life plan for us both, but would he feel the same about you flirting with the angel who was sent to replace him? I don’t think so. Angels are attractive, I remind myself firmly. Occupational hazard for a seer. Don’t be distracted by it. “On three,” I command, composing myself and hoping he didn’t notice my momentary lapse into teenage ridiculousness. He nods his assent. “One, two, three!” I pull hard on his hand and he digs his heels into the side of the crater. He comes up standing, balanced against the side of the hole at a high enough level to step easily out of it. Suddenly, he is standing beside me, only a few inches taller than my five foot ten frame, sweat dripping down his face from the spike of intense pain the pull sent shooting through his wing. He immediately puts his good hand back over the broken bone, applying soothing pressure. In spite of it all, there is miraculously still a hint of a smile left on his face, even though I know he must be in agony. “Thank you,” he says, panting a little, and stooping over slightly. He doesn’t take his eyes off of me. Instead of suspicion, there is now only gratitude in his gaze. “My pleasure. I couldn’t just let you stay in there and suffer. We’ve got a planet to save.” “It truly is extraordinary, what you did,” he insists. “Not many seers, or even angels, would do it. Jonathan is dangerous. Few would put themselves at such risk for a stranger.” “Would you do it for me, even though we just met, knowing what you know about the archangels’ plan for us?” It’s a weird question, but I actually want to know. “Yes,” he replies without hesitation. “Then we’re on the same page.” I put my hand on the arm he’s using to cover his broken bone, touching it softly, the fabric of his beige tunic soft like silk under my fingertips. “Let’s get out of here. I’ll take you back to my apartment and patch up that wing. I’ve got basic first aid training, so I know how to set and bind a broken bone, even an angel one. You’re in good hands.” “I knew that the moment I put my hand in yours.” There is that rush of deep, fluttery feelings again. I know those feelings well. Harry may have been the love of my life, but he was not my first boyfriend. I know what the beginning of a romantic relationship or crush feels like. Damn it! This may be more difficult than I thought, and I’m not talking about winning the war. That, I’m beginning to suspect, is going to be the easy part. Chapter 3 “Stop being such a baby!” I snap at my flailing, wincing patient. If he doesn’t quit jumping around every time I touch his injured wing, I’m never going to get that bone set. “Do I look like a baby?” Sam insists indignantly, holding me at a distance with his good arm. “I could sire new angels right now, I’ll have you know. Lord knows it would please my parents. Can a baby do that?” “No, and you’re not siring anything here!” I exclaim, horrified at the implied challenge in his tone. Does he think he’s going to show me, right here on my bathroom floor? Angels and humans can breed together…Nephilim, that’s what their offspring are called. The Bible describes them as giants. My family’s book of angel lore says they are just normal people with a few angelic powers. Either way, he can forget it. It’s been months since I’ve been with a male in that way, but I’m not going to throw myself at the first sexy angel who comes along. I’m better than that, and it would totally be betraying Harry. No way am I cheating on my sweet guy, even if he’s not in this dimension anymore. Sam picks up my indignant tone and immediately looks down, embarrassed. “I’m sorry,” he says genuinely. “I’ve never been injured. Please know a prince from my kingdom does not act this way, and is far more respectful to women than I was to you just now. Do what you must to heal me. I’ll sit still and let you, I promise.” I cock my head and regard him with extreme skepticism. Up till now, it’s been a Sisyphean task just to get a cotton ball with peroxide on it near enough to his wing muscle to disinfect the dozens of cuts on it. What happens when I have to set his bone? “You promise you’ll let me do this?” I eye him suspiciously. “I promise,” he nods. “I must be healed quickly. Jonathan will come looking for me, and I must fight him again when he discovers my location. It won’t take him long, even at my lowered vibrational level.” As soon as I pulled him out of the crater, Sam adjusted his vibrational level to that of a human. He said it would make his energy signature harder for Jonathan to follow, and give us some time to make a plan. But Jonathan has spies everywhere. Even with the lowered vibration, Sam can’t hide from him forever. In the meantime, I have to keep him hidden from anyone outside my family until his broken wing is sufficiently disguised and hidden, like his good one. At this lower vibrational level, everyone can see him, not just my family. It would cause all kinds of chaos, and no doubt throngs of religious devotees under my windows, if Sam were to appear in public as an angel. Thank God I had a jacket in my bag at the cemetery, stored there in case of rain, and was able to throw it over his shoulders to hide the broken wing on the way back to my apartment. I’m about to attempt to clean those wing wounds again when a sudden thought occurs to me. “Sam, you say you’ve never been injured. Have you ever felt pain?” If he hasn’t, that would explain a lot of his jumping around and trying to move his injured wing away from me. “No,” he admits, looking away sheepishly. “I have battle training, naturally. All male angels begin it as adolescents. Females who want it can get it, too, but it is only required of the males, and especially princes. I’m used to practice fighting. But we only use mock weapons. They’re blunt and light, and don’t hurt when you’re hit with one. This was my first real fight. There hasn’t been a war among angels in our area of the universe since long before I was born.” “How long ago was that?” You shouldn’t ask people their ages. I know it’s rude. But I can’t help it. I’m curious. “About 30,000 of your human years.” Wow. “OK,” I say, pushing away….for now….the tantalizing thought of all the real historical facts he could tell me. Plenty of time to grill him about the mysteries of the human race later. “I’ll level with you, Sam. You have a broken wing and a lot of cuts on it that aren’t healing as quickly as those bruises did. I know a broken wing takes a while to heal, but I’m guessing those cuts are still raw because you wore yourself out in the fight and need to recharge?” He nods. Good guess, Lucy! I’ve been studying angel lore with my family my whole life, so I know some things. Angels are creatures of light, and light is made of energy. Exhausting himself depletes the energy and it takes time to replenish itself. Kind of like a human who loses blood in an accident and needs a blood transfusion to build the supply back up. I wish there was a way I could plug him into a wall outlet and recharge him that way. “Well, I don’t know how long it will take for you to heal completely,” I say. “But your body, other than the wings of course, seems very similar to ours. That means cleaning your wounds and setting that bone is going to hurt. I promise to be gentle, but I can’t protect you from the pain, and there will be some. I will do my best to make sure it hurts as little as possible and is done quickly. But…and this is important, Sam…I need your cooperation.” “You have it,” he assures me, and I believe him. I finish up cleaning his cuts, and manage to get most of the blood off his feathers. Sam is true to his word and sits perfectly still, making no sound, his eyes closed as if in deep concentration. Now, for the hard part. “Sam,” I say, wanting him to know everything I’m going to do. “It’s time to set the bone.” He opens his eyes and gazes directly into mine. I swear I can see into infinity in them. “I need to clean out any debris from between the broken parts, then push them together so they’ll mend properly.” I say every word slowly and succinctly, like I do when I explain a complex concept to my Kindergarteners. He may be a grown angel, but I don’t know how much he knows about human healing methods. “That’s the part that will hurt the worst?” He doesn’t sound worried, but I see a touch of unspoken wariness in those clear, deep eyes. “Yes,” I say truthfully. “But only for a moment. Once it’s done, I’ll bind your wing up in a sling to keep the bone pieces in place while they heal. That will be it, and we can relax for a while. You with me on this, Sam?” “I am,” he assures me, more strength in his voice now. Knowing what is going on really does help, even if you’re an angel. “Good.” I put a hand on each piece of bone, and he winces. Poor guy. I know it’s got to feel like a knife cutting through his shoulder. The break is pretty wicked. My stomach churns on his behalf. I’d hate having this done to me, so I definitely hate having to do it to him. “If you need to yell or scream, go ahead,” I say softly. “I promise I won’t think any less of you. You can grab the edge of the tub if you want.” I indicate the edge of the claw-foot tub he’s currently sitting on. “Dig your fingernails into it. It won’t damage it. And if you need to take a break, let me know and we’ll take one. But the quicker I do this, the easier it will be on you.” “Just do it,” he says quietly, looking forward and away from me, preparing himself to endure the coming trial. I move quickly, cleaning out dirt and debris from between the two pieces of bone, using alcohol this time instead of peroxide. Sam flinches a few times, but for the most part manages to stay still and silent like a trooper. I examine the wing, which is really a long, thin muscle covered in a layer of flesh and feathers and topped with a kind of extended, retractable collar bone, making sure I’ve gotten to all the cuts with the peroxide. I don’t see any more untended ones. Sam’s wing is waist-length, which is medium-length for angels. Guardians have tiny, fairy-like wings that are only as long as their shoulder blades, while higher caste angels like archangels have wings that go all the way down to their feet. I like the medium length look best. It just looks more “angel-like.” I’ve preferred it for as long as I can remember. Sam screws his eyes up tightly and does indeed grip the edge of the tub as I swiftly and expertly shove the two pieces of bone back together so the ends fit neatly into one another. I set a few bones in the Peace Corps, but it’s been a while, so the ease with which I do it surprises me. I guess it’s kind of like riding a bicycle. Once I get it bound, it will heal cleanly and evenly, and he’ll be able to use the wing perfectly again. Eventually. To Sam’s credit, he remains utterly silent throughout the whole thing. I kind of feel like he’s going out of his way to prove his masculinity to me now, because I know that had to hurt like a bitch. Boys and their need to impress women with their toughness. I roll my eyes and shake my head, amused. I’m beginning to suspect it may be a universal male thing, regardless of the species. With the bone set, I grab an elastic bandage I placed nearby when we first started this exercise and begin to bind the bone together. I roll up the fleshy part of his wing with the bandage as I go, seeing no other good way to do this. By the time I’m done, it looks like there’s a rolled up elastic bandage sticking out of his shoulder. “This will probably be more comfortable and less cumbersome for you if you can retract the wing like you did with your other one. Can you move the bone at all?” I ask. “I think so,” he says quietly, wiggling the broken bone back and forth to test it. Then, extremely slowly, he moves the bound wing across the top of his shoulder. He isn’t able to fold it under his shoulder blade entirely, but at least it isn’t sticking out so much. It will make it easier for me to fashion a decent sling for him, and also make wearing his tunic easier…something I’m going to wash soon, as it’s filthy from the crater. I’m waiting on bringing that one up, since I don’t know how he’ll feel about taking his shirt off in front of a stranger. I grab a strip from an old sheet I ripped up for this very purpose, along with another elastic bandage. Using both, I wrap them securely around the top of his shoulder and create a nice cradle for his arm to keep it as immobile as possible while he heals. Then I tie it again just below the top of his shoulder in the front to keep the pressure of the sling off the broken bone. Finally, after what seems like hours, but was really probably only about 45 minutes, I have him fixed up. I sit, exhausted, on the side of the tub, and he joins me, seemingly just as worn out, with a fine sheen of sweat on his brow and face. I’ve had easier days with sugar-crazed five-year-olds who wouldn’t take their nap. I imagine most days are easier for Sam, too, being a prince and all. “See?” I say, comfortingly, relaxing my tense muscles and looking up toward the ceiling. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?” God, I need a bath, with Epsom salts, essential oils, and some flower petals thrown in for good measure. I deserve it. A nice glass of wine would be great, too. But now my nursing duties are temporarily finished, I’ve got hosting duties. A seer’s work is never done. Sam turns to look at me, his face incredulous. I think for a moment he must have read my mind, and I’m terribly embarrassed. But then he smiles that radiant smile that’s like a sunbeam come to life, and we both start to laugh. Once we’ve released all the day’s built-up tension this way, I decide it’s time to move out of the bathroom. I can take a bath later. God knows we both need some creature comforts, even if it’s just until Jonathan comes crashing through my door. I must provide for us both, and I’m certainly not taking a bath with him. I absently pat Sam’s hand. “Why don’t we get you a cup of tea and then I’ll fix up the guest room for you so you can get some rest. I think you need it. We both do, actually.” “I won’t say no to that,” Sam agrees. “But be aware. My blood is still on Jonathan’s blade. It will be trying to get back to me, and it will point Jonathan here. My energy signature may not be as apparent to him and his angelic spies. But, as long as he has that blade, he will find me. We may not rest long. But any amount is good. And I promise I’ll protect you, Lucy. You took me in and helped me at great risk to yourself. I won’t pay that back by allowing you to be harmed. If that means Jonathan kills me, so be it. I will see you are kept safe.” “It won’t come to that,” I assure him, surprisingly confident. “The archangels said we are supposed to work together to stop him. I don’t think you’ll go down protecting me, at least not this early in the game. Ideally, not at all. We should be able to fight him off together whenever he comes.” “Archangels have a great sense of foresight, Lucy, but they aren’t all-knowing. They may see we’re the best hope for defending this planet, and they’re probably right. I can feel the power emanating from you, whether or not you know it’s there. It’s nothing like I’ve ever felt coming off any other human. You’re no doubt formidable. But the archangels don’t know the outcome of this war. The future is always in flux and can be changed again and again. You found that out with what happened to Harry.” “But the archangels ordered that incident. It wasn’t a prediction, or even a natural change.” “They only ordered it because they saw a hope for defeating Jonathan in you, as long as you teamed up with me. It’s only that, a hope. We have to do the best we can for the good of everyone, since this responsibility has been placed on our shoulders. But no one knows what the outcome will actually be. I like to think we’ll win, but no one knows with certainty what will happen.” “What about God? Doesn’t He know?” Sam shakes his head. “God rarely interferes. He made His creation, the multiverse, and now prefers to sit back and watch his creatures, all gifted with free will, to see what they will do. He also enjoys watching what other beings the creative nature of the multiverse will bring into existence and what they will do. If He interferes in anything, it is only in the most extraordinary of conditions, when His creation is in danger, or when He takes a particular interest in an individual person or species. It’s not unprecedented, but it is unlikely. He will probably be watching this war unfold with interest, rather than playing a role in it. And because He gave us free will, He does not know what the outcome will be any more than we do.” “What if Jonathan was going to, like, destroy the universe?” I search for the most extreme outcome I can think of. It sounds so sci-fi, but I suppose it is a reasonable question. “There are an almost infinite number of other universes. God has many others to tend to and watch over, and He is creating more all the time. He would only intervene if all of them were at risk, which I don’t think has ever actually happened. I would have heard the tale of something so dramatic. Honestly, someone could theoretically enslave the multiverse, but destroying it is next to impossible. I don’t know anyone, not even Jonathan, with the power and resources to do it. Nor do I know why anyone would want to do it. We all live here, villainous and good alike.” Hmm. That’s intriguing, exciting, and disturbing all at the same time. “I guess we’re on our own,” I say, shrugging. What else can I do? “Most likely,” Sam says matter-of-factly. “Then tea is definitely in order.” I take his hand and lead him down the hallway into the living room. It’s open to the kitchen, so I settle Sam onto the couch and drape an afghan my grandmother crocheted around his shoulders, being careful to make sure it doesn’t touch his broken bone. Once I’m sure he’s comfortable, I head into the kitchen and boil some water to make us both a cup of chamomile lavender tea with honey. As the water boils, I look back on him, snuggling into the couch, his head against one of the floral throw pillows, beginning to doze. It’s funny. I kind of hate the archangels right now for taking Harry from me, but I’m also grateful to them for sending me Sam. I actually like him, a lot. He’s sweet and sensitive and so giving of himself. Just the fact of him fighting Jonathan knowing no angel before him did so and lived is very telling of his character. He wanted to protect his family and the Earth, and he did what he had to do. And, even though he lost the fight, he lived to help start the war that may save us all. He isn’t Harry and will never take Harry’s place, of course. But Harry is okay with all of this, which makes me okay with it…for the first time, I realize. I see no reason why we can’t be friends, good friends even. Sam is the kind of guy you want in your corner, who always has your back, and who makes the best kind of friend. I know as I watch him fall asleep that we will become close as we continue traveling this path we’ve been placed on together. I put a dollop of honey and a teabag in the bottom of each mug, then pour the boiling water over it, swirling it around with a spoon to thoroughly mix it. The flowery scent of the lavender and chamomile alone makes me sleepy. It’s only mid-afternoon, but it’s already been one of the longest days I can remember. No wonder. My grandmother always says the world stops moving when you’re caught up in the moment. I finally understand what she means. I’ve been nothing but caught up in the moment today. I could swear it’s been years since that conversation with Aaron and Kira at Harry’s headstone, and months since I brought Sam back here to patch him up. And I’ve gotten no sleep in all that time. Dreamland is calling me. I carry the mugs back to the living room, only to find Sam sound asleep, snuggled in the blanket, his head now resting on the sofa’s arm, still on top of the throw pillow he pulled down with him. It’s probably been just as long a day for him, too. I set his mug on a coaster on the glass-topped side table, just under my green ceramic lamp with the bright white shade. My own mug goes on a coaster on the opposite side of the lamp and I plop down into the green, overstuffed comfy chair facing down the length of the sofa. I sip my tea, put the mug back down on its coaster, and watch my new friend sleep. He is obviously deep into the world of dreams and quite peaceful. That makes me happy. What do angels dream about, I wonder? I ty to imagine it, but it’s too abstract a concept for my exhausted mind. Still pondering this new and interesting idea, I drift off to sleep myself, curled up in the big chair, facing Sam. Chapter 4 I sleep for 16 hours. Man, I must have been tired. I never sleep that long. Right after Harry died, during my bereavement leave from work, I would sometimes stay in bed that long or longer, but I wasn’t actually sleeping; I just didn’t want to face a world without him in it. Sam is still sleeping on the couch, snuggled into the blanket I tucked around him yesterday. I eye his bandaged wing and wonder how long it will take to heal. On a well-rested angel, it would probably be three or four days. As exhausted as Sam is from his brave face-off with Jonathan, it might take longer. But since sleep heals humans, it probably heals angels, too. I’ll let him sleep for as long as he needs to, assuming Jonathan doesn’t appear in my living room. As long as he has the blade with Sam’s blood on it, there’s no good way of hiding him for long, even with the lowered vibrational level. We need a plan in case he shows up. Stretching, I stand up, amazed I’m not the slightest bit sore. And I’m hungry! My appetite has kind of sucked recently, for obvious reasons. In normal circumstances, I am an enthusiastic fan of breakfast. I actually feel like cooking today, which is something else I’ve ignored of late. Instead of grabbing a Pop-Tart or a stale donut to beat the emotional pain into submission, I want real food, and I know my body will appreciate the detox. I’m a healthy eater, but crushing sadness kind of strips away your motivation to do anything worthwhile. Today will be different. I feel….renewed. I wonder what Sam likes to eat. This question swirls around in my head as I ponder what I actually have available in my kitchen. I’ve been going shopping regularly, out of habit, but not really eating much of what I buy. My brothers and their kids inevitably end up cleaning me out when they come over, which is practically every day now that I live alone. Fortunately, I just went to the store the day before yesterday and Matthew, James, and their boisterous brood haven’t been here since then, in respect of my wish to be alone on my wedding day. That means I’ve actually got fresh food in my refrigerator! Awesome! Sam seems like the type who will be fine with whatever I make. With a new sense of purpose, I wander into the kitchen, my clothes from yesterday all wrinkled from sleeping in them, and begin to boil water for green tea. My favorite cast iron skillet is where I left it four months ago, in a cabinet under the kitchen island. I grab it and plug in the toaster. Organic eggs scrambled with fresh veggies and chives, tofu bacon, and gluten-free toast with organic butter is what I’m craving, so that’s what’s on the menu. A dedication to clean and compassionate, vegetarian eating was something Harry and I shared, and we cooked for each other all the time, usually taking turns each day. This meal will be a kind of tribute to Harry, I decide. My salute to him, as well as my return to the world of humans. It’s kind of nice to have someone here to celebrate it with me. As I wash out our tea mugs from last night and prepare them for the green tea with honey that will accompany our breakfast, I look toward the kitchen window and the gorgeous morning sunlight shining through it. For just a moment, I bask in it, then whisper a barely audible “I love you,” toward the window and out into the universe to wherever Harry now resides, blowing a kiss behind it. I swear I feel a tangible kiss come back at me, full of love from my special guy. It’s incredibly comforting, and a balm for my newly healing emotional wounds. Other than the messages conveyed by Aaron yesterday, I’ve had no real communication from Harry since he left. I didn’t really expect it, since I’m not psychic, but I hoped for it. Now there it is, and it feels like both an expression of love and a goodbye, the one we never got to say to each other in person. Having given me his blessing on my new journey, he is now telling me he must begin his. I know he is currently reviewing this most recent life and deciding what he wants for his next one. I get the impression he will be moving on to it sooner rather than later. In this small communication, stolen from a moment of his important spiritual work, he is acknowledging what we had together, and setting me free. I love him all the more for it, but I no longer ache for him as I have every moment from his death until now. He’s using whatever influence he still has on this life to heal me, and it is working. Now, instead of begging him to return, as I would have done just yesterday, I silently wish him well as he continues on, and trust we will meet each other again. Souls tend to reincarnate with the same souls in life after life. If someone is important to you in this life, chances are they were in another life, and will be again in a future one. Instead of being sad Harry is gone, I’m now eager to see who he will be when next we meet, and what we will be to each other. Just as the glorious feeling of being with Harry once more is beginning to fade, and I know I’ve communed with him for the last time in this life, I hear the angel who is part of my new life stirring behind me. Sam is waking up, changing my path and creating new adventures for me just beyond my front door as he opens his eyes. I’m ready for all of it. “What is that wonderful smell?” he asks, sitting up, sounding perfectly alert. The afghan is still around his shoulders and he closes his eyes again to take in the savory aroma. “Breakfast!” I declare brightly, as if it’s a national holiday. “Are you hungry?” “Yes, very much.” He opens his eyes and looks my way, head cocked to the side, gazing at me as if I’m a rare curiosity. “You cooked for me?” He may as well have asked if I just bought him a barrel of crude oil, he sounds so astonished. Maybe he has servants who cook for him, being royalty. I have no idea. Oh well, moving on! All will be revealed at some point, I’m sure. “I did,” I confirm, smiling and waving my hands toward the stove to indicate the cooking food. “I wasn’t sure what you would like and didn’t want to wake you, so I just cooked what I was craving. I hope you like it. If you don’t, I’ll be happy to make you something else.” “Oh, no,” Sam quickly assures me. “I like pretty much everything. And I won’t reject hospitality. Being gracious for kindnesses rendered is extremely important among my people. Besides, whatever you’re making smells delicious. It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten human food. As I recall, it tastes much more intense than the food we eat at home. I can’t wait to try it.” “Well, get ready to give your taste buds an unforgettable experience, Sam, because I’m a good cook,” I brag, grinning. Well, heck, I deserve a little praise after all I’ve been through since yesterday. I don’t mind being the one to give it, either. “My breakfasts have always been in high demand among my friends and family. What I have here has brought a tear of joy to many a man’s eye.” I wink at him, and he rewards me with that sunshine-like smile again. Man, if I could carry that smile around with me all the time, I’d always be nice and tan, and could totally do away with the need for lightbulbs. “Where should I sit?” he asks, pushing himself up off the couch, grimacing as he does so. The pain in his wing is obviously still pretty strong. There’s pain medicine in the bathroom. If he can eat and drink like a human, surely our pain meds will work on him, too. “No, no, you sit where you are,” I insist, indicating the couch. “This morning, we eat in the living room. You’re still too sore to move much, and you really need to keep that arm immobile so you don’t make your wing injury worse. It needs time to heal. I’ll bring the food to you.” Sam starts to protest, then promptly sits back down without a word, realizing I’m right. He won’t get any better if he tries to rush it, and he needs to heal soon. Jonathan will find him eventually and he must be able to defend himself. I set a table tray up in front of him and place his breakfast plate and tea mug on it, along with a cloth napkin and silverware. Then, I set up the same configuration for myself in front of the comfy chair. I raise my mug to him, wanting to celebrate this moment. “To finding each other, to new friends, and to victory!” I declare, smiling brightly. Sam smiles back and surprises me by raising his own mug and clicking it against mine. I thought I would have to teach him how to toast. He’s apparently been among humans in a social setting at some point in his past. I want to pepper him with questions about his long history, but decide to let it come naturally as we get to know each other. I don’t want to overwhelm him with a barrage of questions like a toddler asking “Why?” about every single thing. After toasting, we dig into our meals, starving. I can tell by the look on his face as he chews that he is enjoying the food. Well, I really am a good cook. And, the face of a man in love with his meal is apparently the same among angels as humans. Excellent! Similar expressions to ours will make him easier for me to read. Unspoken communication is so important when people are working together toward a common goal, something else I learned in the Peace Corps. It comes in handy when planning group activities with other Kindergarten teachers at my school, not to mention when I’m trying to get 25 five-year-olds to line up to go to recess or lunch. He asks me about the different things on his plate as we eat, and I happily explain them. Eggs, he’s already familiar with, having eaten them a few times before when his duties required him to walk among humans. He tells me the most recent time was about 200 years ago, when he had to interfere in the War of 1812 to keep the forests on the North American east coast safe from being burned by the British. That famous storm that came out of nowhere and beat back the Redcoats when they were trying to burn Washington, D.C. was Sam’s doing, and a seer family took him in while he performed this and other protective work for this continent at the time. My eggs are different than the plain, boiled ones he ate then, though. Mine are scrambled with zucchini, onions, and tomatoes, sprinkled with shredded cheese and chives, and seasoned with smoked salt and white pepper. He swears they are practically heavenly. Of course, he’s never actually been to heaven, so he can’t say for sure. I kind of love how honest and literal he is about everything. The tofu bacon and buttered toast are new to him, and his expression changes from happy to positively rapturous as I explain what these things are and how they are made. I’m glad I prepared plenty, because he seems like he’ll want seconds. I’m right. He does. Once we’re both done eating, I take the dishes into the kitchen, rinse them off, and put them in the dishwasher, setting it to run a small cycle. Returning to the chair, I see Sam is drifting off again. Aw! He really is worn out from his ordeal. “Do you need anything for the pain?” I ask, before he completely falls asleep once more. He nods, not even knowing what I might offer him. Already, he completely trusts me, which is, frankly, endearing. I go to the bathroom and pull a white bottle with a red label out of the medicine cabinet, plopping two oblong pills of aspirin out of it and into my hand. I return to Sam with a glass of water grabbed quickly from the kitchen and hand him everything. “Will human pain medicine work on you?” I ask, realizing he might not even know. “Probably,” he says, looking at the pills as if to analyze their contents. I wonder if he can. “Our body chemistry is similar to yours, but with enough differences that I can’t say how effective it will be. But, this wing is so sore. Even when I don’t move it, it hurts.” “Then give them a try. You have to swallow them whole. That’s what the water is for…it will help you do it.” He regards the water glass and pills in turn, then plunks the pills into his mouth and takes a sip of water. Happily, he’s able to swallow them without incident. He’s starting to doze again, so I take the water glass before he can spill it. I rinse it out in the kitchen sink and place it in the dish drainer to dry. While he’s dozing, I wisely use the opportunity to shower and wash my hair, luxuriating in how good it feels to be clean. Who knows when I’ll get a chance again, right? After my shower, I brush my teeth and comb out my wet hair, regarding my towel-wrapped self in the mirror as I do. I’m pleased to see I look more alert than I have in a long time. My months of sadness and grief have not aged me as I thought they would. I haven’t looked really closely at myself like this since before Harry died, so it’s kind of interesting to do an inspection. My shiny red hair is perfectly straight, as usual. It’s grown a few inches from half-way to my shoulders, where it was when Harry died, to just touching the tops of them. My bangs need trimming, which I quickly remedy, leaving them nice, neat, and just brushing the tops of my eyebrows. I have an oval face, and my grandmother has been fretting about how I’ll grow hollow-cheeked and sallow if I don’t start eating properly. It’s nice to see her prediction hasn’t come true. Even the months of junk food haven’t messed up my skin. It’s still perfectly porcelain and smooth, with a smattering of freckles dotting the bridge of my nose and tops of my cheeks. Harry loved those freckles, and always said they complimented my emerald eyes. The freckles also perfectly match the color of my hair, so my whole face is always color-coordinated. My nose is still pert and straight, and my lips are still plump, bright red, and shaped like a bow. All is as it should be. Good. I might even start wearing makeup again, since I seem no worse the wear for my months of slovenliness and self-neglect. Finally, I open up the front of the towel to assess the rest of me. It’s all still there and exactly as I left it, thank goodness. A nice, slender frame, skinny hips, flat waist, and average-sized breasts that blessedly still point upward even though I never wear a bra. It seems I’ve neither gained nor lost weight over the past four months. How that is possible, I have no clue. It’s some kind of miracle, but I’ll take it. Being 27 has its benefits, I guess. And I’ll take better care of my body from now on. Harry would want me to, but more importantly, for the first time since I lost him, I want to. Going to my room, I pull out some clean clothes. I select a fitted purple t-shirt with a V-neck and a gold elephant’s face on the front, well-fitting jeans with gleaming metal studs on the sides, purple socks, and white sneakers. Comfortable, casual, practical, and tasteful…it is the look my entire wardrobe was designed to achieve, since it reflects my personality so well. I even dress similarly to go to work, the only difference being I leave the tank tops and t-shirts at home and go for tunics and slightly dressy button-up shirts. Confident I look presentable, I go back to the living room, only to find Sam deeply asleep. The pain medicine must have helped at least a little. I adjust the blanket around his shoulders to keep him warm, and plump up the pillow under his head. He doesn’t even stir a little. It looks like he’ll be out for a while, so I sit down in the comfy chair again and snuggle in with my phone. So many messages to answer, but I just can’t face them all quite yet. Most are from friends who know nothing about my seer abilities, so what am I going to say? I can’t meet you for a movie or lunch right now because I’m taking care of a badly injured angel, and then I need to start building an army with him to fight a war for the freedom of humanity? Yeah, that’s going to go over well. They already think I’m one crayon short of a box over the loss of Harry. No need to give them any more ammunition for an intervention. Those messages will have to wait. I do need to respond to one person, though. I start typing a text to the most important person to message me since yesterday….my grandmother. At 79 years old, she is something of a tech whiz. It amazes my brothers and me at how she’s always jumping all over any new gadget as soon as it’s on the market, learning how to master it while other grandmothers sit at home and knit. It’s one of the many cool things about her. My grandmother is, quite simply, awesome. My text is simple. All it says is: “I’m fine. Taking care of an injured Earth Angel. I’ll call you later and explain. Love, Lucy.” OK, that’s done. Now I have some free time on my hands What to do, what to do? Well, seeing as I don’t know when my work with Sam will begin in earnest, and there is a strong possibility I may not have this kind of free time again for a while, it seems like a good time to read. So, I pull out a book I set aside months ago, before Harry died. I was in the middle of it then, and haven’t opened it since. Now, I intend to finish it while Sam sleeps and heals beside me. I need him at full strength. The war can wait, for now. Chapter 5 Sam sleeps the rest of the afternoon while I read. It’s peaceful and pleasant, like the calm before a storm. As the sun is setting, my grandmother calls, and I quickly grab my phone, worried the loud, slightly screechy sound of my “Walking on Sunshine” ringtone will wake my winged guest. I could have taken my time answering, though, since Sam doesn’t stir at all. As I suspected, Grandma wants to know about the “angel situation,” as she refers to it. We interact with angels of all kinds for various reasons on a fairly regular basis, though not usually in our own homes (guardians are the exception), and certainly not in any capacity that involves nursing them back to health. It’s natural for her to be concerned and want more information. I take the phone into the kitchen where I can talk to her without risking waking Sam, while still keeping an eye on him in case Jonathan appears. Even at his lowered vibrational level, that blade with is blood on it should have brought Jonathan here by now. I can’t help but thinking he’s just giving Sam a false sense of security at this point, ready to pounce just when Sam thinks he’s finally off the villain’s radar. Therefore, I’m in hyper-vigilant mode as I talk, and I know Grandma hears it in my voice. She’s waiting for her perfect opening in the conversation to ask about it. I know her just as well as she knows me. “So, tell me all about this angel you’ve taken in,” she says, just a hint of eagerness for gossip in her straight-off-the-boat Irish accent. She’s lived in America since she was 18 and still sounds exactly like the Irish farm girl she was in her youth. I can’t help but grin. My grandmother, Beatrice Banks, is our family’s matriarch, and she relishes the role. The youngest of eight siblings, she has outlived them all, and reigns supreme over our vast family. She’s got children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews of all variations of “great” to manage. She’s also the keeper of our family’s book of angel lore; it’s a large diary with entries written by all of our angel-seeing ancestors for the past 500 years. It consists largely of the observations, conversations, and encounters with various types of angels our family has had over the centuries. Each new entry contributes to our knowledge of the species we’ve been gifted with seeing, and reminds us of what our ancestors have done for certain ones in the past. Similar hospitality or assistance would be expected of us today by those same angels. The book is traditionally passed down to the eldest woman in each family, but since Grandma only had one older sister, and that sister only had sons, the book went to Grandma when her sister died. Since the seeing gift only passes through women, Grandma’s sister’s sons didn’t pass the gift to their own children, making the book useless to hand down their line. As the eldest of Grandma’s three children, my mother was next in line to inherit the book. Sadly, my mom and dad were killed in a plane crash when I was 16. Grandma and Grandpa Banks raised me from that point until I went to college; my brothers were already away at school, my dad’s parents died when I was still in elementary school, and my aunts and uncles all had a ton of kids of their own to raise. But, that wasn’t the only reason I went to live with them. I’ve been particularly close to Grandma and Grandpa Banks since childhood, since I am the one hope of Grandma’s line to not let the seer gift go extinct in it. From my birth, she felt it her personal responsibility to teach me everything about our gift, as well as how to be a good matriarch. With Mom’s passing, I was next in line in the family to inherit the angel book, too, and instructing me in being its guardian was something else that now fell to Grandma. Going to live with my Banks grandparents was the only logical choice, and one I personally approved. “I always knew you were special,” Grandma says proudly when I explain the whole situation to her, including the superpowers the archangels think I possess. “From the day you were born, I sensed you were meant for great things, my lovely Lucy.” “Come on, Grandma,” I say, teasingly. “Don’t all parents and grandparents think their offspring are the most special things in the world?” “I knew,” she insists, sounding slightly offended, which I know is her way of mocking me good-naturedly. “Just like I knew your brothers were destined for great things. I just didn’t know what those things would be.” “Grandma,” I say, dryly, “Matthew is a high school gym teacher and James sells vintage toys on the Internet for a living.” “They just haven’t reached their full potentials yet. And they’re supporting their wives and children.” “I think their wives are doing most of the supporting. Besides, what about your other grandchildren? Aunt Clara and Uncle Joseph have kids, too, you know.” Four each, in fact. I have a lot of cousins. My mother was the only one of Grandma’s children to have less than four offspring. Combine us all, though and Grandma and Grandpa Banks have 11 grandchildren, not to mention the six great-grandchildren they’ve already accumulated, three of whom come from my brothers. “All special in their own way,” she says, adamantly. “But you, Lucy, you were always meant for astounding things. I mean it.” “Yeah, well, I’ll have to see what Grandpa has to say about it.” “Oh, that old man doesn’t have the kind of foresight I do,” she says dismissively, but with an unmistakable touch of affection for the man we all know she still adores, even after over 50 years of marriage. “You know this means I may be out of touch for a while,” I remind her. “And we may eventually need all the family to help with this thing. We’re talking about protecting the planet, and possibly the universe, after all.” “You do what you have to do, my dear,” she insists. “I know your angel will protect you. He’s already promised to, and we know how honorable the Earth Angels are, except for that horrible Jonathan, of course. Not like those sneaky Messenger Angels. Hmph!” No one knows exactly why Grandma Banks has this personal grudge against the entire Messenger Angel caste, and she won’t say. It’s one of our family’s biggest mysteries. “Plus,” she continues, “the archangels as well as Sam sensed your power, so it must be real. You’ll figure out how to access it and use it, just as Kira said. And if you need us, we’re here. Just let us know where to go and what to do. You can count on us, sweetheart.” “Grandma, I’m not sure putting you two in the middle of a war is the best idea. I meant the younger members of the family. Grandpa can’t see angels, anyway.” “Don’t you dare leave us out because of our age or lack of seer abilities, Lucy McDonald! If we are needed, you tell us. We will do our part. No one will accuse the Bankses of shirking their duty just because we have a few wrinkles, and your grandfather doesn’t have the gift. He’ll fight even if his enemy is invisible to him, and he’ll take down a fair number of them, I assure you. Now promise me you’ll see we’re included if we’re needed.” I roll my eyes. She is so stubborn. But I won’t deny her an adventure, or Grandpa either. They are both quite feisty, and deserve some excitement if they want it. I’ll just make sure they participate in a way that keeps them relatively safe. “All right, Grandma. Have it your way. You always do. Just be careful. I don’t want to lose you guys, especially when it would be on my hands.” “It’s not on your hands at all, dear. I’m volunteering.” “You’re insisting. And you’re insisting on Grandpa’s behalf without asking him.” “That, too.” Yes, that’s my grandmother. Spry, fearless, a well-known prankster, and incredibly bossy, she knows exactly what she’s doing and will brook no dissent. I know this, so I’m not even going try to argue with her. We talk a little while longer, and Grandma promises to let the rest of the family know what’s going on. She tells me again how proud she is of me, but she doesn’t sound the least bit worried. Instead, she sounds as if I’m about to be crowned some kind of warrior queen and she is the delighted grandmother behind the power. I can almost hear her sharpening her sword in the background, getting ready for battle. I wonder if she actually has a sword. As agile as she’s always been, I’m convinced she must have had fencing lessons or something similar as a child. She won’t admit to anything. I think she’s been saving it as a surprise for just such an occasion as battling an angel trying to conquer the world. Well, she always said we came from a long line of warriors, back before they all hung up their armor and became farmers. After we get off the phone, I resume my book, finish it after a while, and fall asleep in my chair, yet again, without even realizing it. I don’t know how long I sleep, but I suspect it’s a long time, since it’s completely dark outside when Sam wakes me up, shaking me gently and whispering my name urgently in my ear. “Lucy! Lucy, wake up!” He’s trying to not be too rough with me, but clearly wants me to get up now. I wake instantly, as I was only sleeping lightly. “What is it?” I whisper back. I’m not sure why I’m whispering, except that he’s doing it, too. He looks me in the eyes, his face a mask of seriousness. I sit up immediately. “Sam?” I ask, but I think I already know the answer. “Jonathan is here,” he says, taking my arm. It looks like our idyll is over. The war has finally made its inevitable way to my apartment. Only Sam and I are no longer in it. Chapter 6 It is, by far, the strangest experience of my life. One moment, we’re in my apartment, Sam standing over me as I sit up in the comfy chair. The next moment, he touches my arm and we’re somewhere else. Rather than feeling like I’ve moved, though, it feels like the universe just shifted around me, setting me in a new location. I guess the best way to describe it is being inside a globe that’s spinning. You don’t move, but the globe moves around you, and when it stops, you’re in whatever country lands on you. This theory is confirmed when Sam catches me in his arms to keep me from dropping to the floor, since I’m still in the “sitting up in the chair” position I was in when he touched me. As such, I’m the same height off the ground as the seat of the chair. He quickly sets me on my feet, and I look around. “Sam, where are we?” I ask, amazed. Wherever it is, it’s clearly not on Earth. This is like nothing I’ve ever seen, or even imagined. It looks like the hallway of an elaborate hotel, or the landing just off the stairs of a large mansion. There are stairs going up and down in front of us, and a long corridor lined with dozens of doors on either side of the stairs. The corridors seem to stretch on forever, so far I can’t see the end of it in either direction. There is no furniture. The floors, however, are a dark, gleaming maple wood. The walls are lined with golden wainscoting, with stone gray plaster on top and shining maple panels below. Decorative crown molding adorns the upper corners of doorways. The endless doors are the same dark wood as the floor and the bottom half of the walls, with golden accent painting and bright gold doorknobs. In the distance, I think I can see a framed painting, but it’s too far away to make out any details. I’m hesitant to walk down there and look; it seems so far away, I’m not sure I could find my way back to Sam, even though the corridor is perfectly straight. This is all quite weird, no question. But the strangest thing about it is the way it feels incredibly familiar. Being here is like the biggest case of déjà vu in the world. I’m almost sure I’ve been here before, either in a dream or sometime in my childhood. I can’t put my finger on it, but I know I know this place. “You can feel it, can’t you?” Sam asks, and I realize I’ve been staring all around me for a long time in absolute wonderment. I turn around and he’s right there behind me, in exactly the same spot where he put my feet on the floor. He’s also smiling gently, patiently waiting while I get my bearings. There’s a hint of a sparkle in his eyes, as if he’s eager to show me something amazing. “I feel it,” I sigh absently, reaching back to hold his hand. It’s a necessity, as I have a powerful urge to go wandering down those unending hallways and climb up and down the stairs that seem to reach to infinity through level after level of flooring. “What is this place?” “It’s yours.” There’s no mistaking the satisfaction in his voice, as if he is giving me some incredible gift. “Huh?” OK, it’s a stupid response and I would normally be a lot more articulate, but these are special circumstances. A girl gets a break when she sees the impossible with her own eyes. “This mansion. It’s yours. I had to get us away from Jonathan immediately, so I shifted dimensions, taking you with me. This isn’t an alternate universe or parallel one. We’re essentially still in your bedroom, just in a different dimension that’s overlaid on it. Jonathan won’t be able to enter. We’re safe for now.” “Good to know,” I say absently, continuing to stare at this incredible place in stunned amazement. “And this is my mansion how, exactly?” Sam takes me lightly by the shoulders and turns me to him. I’m silently grateful. Those corridors and long lines of doors that go to who knows what are hypnotic. “Everyone has one of these. Each creature in the universe with a soul that reincarnates has a mansion. That includes the vast majority of beings. Even angels. Even, I suspect, creatures that aren’t direct creations of God. The creative nature of the universe is full of spirit, and it could easily form into a soul for every being it makes on its own. Of course, that last part is just theory, but it’s based on solid science.” “Uh huh. Okay. Tell me more. What does it do?” “Well, you’ve been here many times in the past, which is why it feels familiar to you.” So I was that obvious? Man, I’d be a terrible poker player. “Why don’t I remember being here? It seems like I dreamed it, but even that is fuzzy.” “Your soul remembers. These mansions are where sentient beings go between lives. Most beings astral travel when they sleep, at least sometimes, and you can come here then, too. So, you probably have been here in your dreams. Except they weren’t dreams. Each mansion is keyed to the energy of the person who owns it. Only the owner can enter it, or someone they’ve invited in. That’s why I was able to get us here, because I have you with me. You acted as the key. Now that I’ve been here, I will be able to come again without you, because I’ve got your energy signature on me. It’s your invitation. Sorry I didn’t ask first.” “That’s okay,” I assure him, still a bit dazed by the enormity that is the mansion. “Extraordinary conditions and all. Besides, we’re partners.” “You contemplate your most recent life when you come here, and review your past ones, alternate ones, and even future ones,” he continues, relishing the explanation. This is a huge piece of information about the workings of the universe, and he’s probably never had the joy of revealing it to someone. His angel family would all already know. “The future lives aren’t set in stone, as you can always change them, but they’re where you’re currently headed if you don’t change anything. The time between lives is the time to decide if you want to change anything, and decide what you want to experience and learn in your next one. It’s also a time for rest and relaxation for you. You can spend as long as you like here before going back into a new life.” “What’s behind all those doors?” The doors, the doors! Oh, how I want to start opening those doors! I wrap an arm around Sam’s waist to keep myself from wandering away, and he pulls me closer, seemingly as a reflex. “All your lives.” Sam throws his free arm wide, quite theatrically and grins, giving me a good view of his perfectly straight, white teeth. “Past, present, future, and alternate. Open any door and you will get a glimpse of what your life is like in that time or world.” “What happens if I go through a doorway?” I know I’m asking a lot of questions, when Jonathan is presumably ransacking my apartment, but it’s my mansion. I feel like I’m entitled. And he can’t get in here, so we can take our time. “You would leap into the body your spirit inhabits in that life. Your spirit is always divided among all your different incarnations, but it’s the same spirit, no matter where it is. You’ll still have your memories from this life, but will also gain the memories from that life. Some souls like to do it for past lives to re-experience certain things before reincarnating. It can be a helpful learning tool. Then, there are all the alternate versions of you, spun off by decisions you didn’t make in each life. Each decision in each life spins off a new universe. As you can imagine, the number of doors in these mansions are practically infinite for most beings. Angels are an exception. Our mansions are really just houses. They’re small because we don’t reincarnate very often. We spend most of our time in just one universe as angels there. Some of us don’t reincarnate at all. The ones that choose to forego it go right to heaven.” I want to look at my past and alternate lives quite badly. The desire is so strong, it’s almost an ache. It would be so easy to spend the rest of this life in here, exploring where I’ve been, where I might have gone, and where I might go. But there is so much to do back home. We can’t stay. However, the temptation to stay is so great, I won’t be able to resist it for long. I will go wandering and Sam will follow me. We’ve got to leave before I give in to the hypnosis the mansion is working on me. “Soul mates can enter each other’s mansions,” Sam goes on, oblivious to my slight tugging on his waist as those lines and levels of doors draw me closer to them. “That’s the one exception of owner or guest-only entry. But very few beings have soul mates. It’s one of the rarest things in the multiverse, and the most precious. Soul mates are two souls who are made to be together from the time they were first brought into creation. While they are separated at the beginning, so each half can learn things that will benefit both of them, they always find each other, even if it takes them lifetimes to do it. Once they do, they are never apart again in future lives. They can enter each other’s mansions to plan future lives together, but each one still has their own mansion, too.” “Romantic,” I muse, my voice flat as I concentrate really hard on one door directly in front of me. I can feel my hand reaching out for the knob, and I can’t pull it back. Something in my subconscious is begging me to open that door. “I suppose it is,” Sam agrees. “Your Harry is probably in his own mansion right now, unless he’s reincarnated already.” Harry. The name brings me back to reality like a rubber band snapping in my head, and I focus completely on Sam, the hypnosis broken. “Do you think Harry and I are soul mates?” Sam looks at me sadly. “No. If you were, he would either be here waiting for you, or there would be some sign he was here previously. You’d feel his energy. He’d wait to reincarnate with you. Like I said, soul mates always stay together once they find each other. And most beings don’t have one. It’s incredibly rare, Lucy.” I’m not surprised. As much as I loved Harry, and still do, it’s starting to seem more and more like we weren’t the destined lovers I once imagined us to be. He was someone I was supposed to be with as a lover in this life only, and maybe in some other capacity in other lives, but nothing more. And even that arrangement got changed without our consent. “You know, you can enter your mansion any time, even when you’re not between lives or sleeping,” Sam continues brightly, clearly wanting to cheer me up after Harry entered the conversation. He doesn’t have to. I want to tell him I’m not sad. I understand things a lot better now. But I let him talk. He seems to be enjoying himself, and we’ll have to get back to the real world where there are murderous angels after us soon enough. “Is that so?” I ask, teasingly, encouraging him to tell me more. “Yes,” he says, putting both hands on my shoulders, positively beaming at me. “Most beings don’t remember they have their mansions when they’re in a physical incarnation, so they can’t consciously go there. But you can actually come here for respite, exploration, safety, or any other reason whenever you want, even if you’re in physical form. Now that you know about your mansion, I can teach you how to get here without me. It’s actually not a bad idea. Being able to get here in an instant will protect you in the coming war. If things are looking bad on the battlefield, you can simply shift here, and you can bring anyone who is touching you at the time.” That is awesome. “Oh yes, please teach me!” I don’t even try to hide my eagerness. How cool! This is a skill I can definitely use. And the thought of getting some time to explore this place is beyond enticing. “Happily.” “One more question first?” “Anything.” “It just came to me, but now that I’m wondering, I have to know. I’ve known about reincarnation my whole life, but people also talk about going to heaven. When and how does that happen?” “Oh, every being goes there eventually. But most reincarnate many, many times first. There is so much to see, do, experience, and learn in the multiverse, and so many different forms to take. There are more universes in the multiverse than even the angels know. And because time is endless, you have an endless amount of time to explore the multiverse to your content. Most beings cycle through for billions of years or more before they decide to retire and go to heaven. The earliest lives you lived are on the bottom floors of the mansion. The last ones are at the very top. You usually go to heaven after completing those, unless you decide you want more. In that case, additional floors are added simply by your desire to continue to explore the physical realm. Even after you’re in heaven, you can decide to come out of retirement and experience more, though that’s rare. Heaven is pretty cool, I’m told. It’s probably why I’ve never met anyone who’s been there. Most beings don’t want to leave once they arrive.” He twinkles his eyes at me, and I’m sure he’s trying to impress me with his knowledge. “That makes a lot of sense,” I say, laughing. His mirth is catching, and filling me with joy, something I’ve needed for a long time. “Not every intelligent species reincarnates,” he goes on. “Some do go right to heaven, like some angels do. But the vast majority reincarnate. Most do it countless times. The whole process is kind of mysterious, even to us. We’re not quite sure what makes the difference.” “So angels don’t know everything,” I lean into him and give him a playful shove, careful to avoid touching anywhere near his injured wing. “No,” he laughs, mock stumbling. “We may know a lot, but no one knows everything, except maybe God. Oh, one more thing about your mansion.” “What?” “It is constantly changing, based on the alternate universes born from the decisions you make. It will look slightly different each time you come back here.” “Good to know.” We stand there, looking into each other’s eyes for a moment. If this were a regular guy on Earth, I’d swear we are about to kiss. But it’s Sam, and I just symbolically married myself to Harry two days ago, so I’m not quite sure what to expect…and even less sure about what I want. Extreme situations can bring out confusing emotions in people. I think this qualifies as one of those times, which means neither one of us can truly trust what we’re feeling toward each other. Sam starts to lean in ever so slightly, and I think he actually is going to kiss me. But before I have a chance to wonder what the best response would be, he pulls back again. Whew! Yes, please let me leave that decision for another time. That’s fine. “We should go back,” he says, his eyes never leaving mine. “Jonathan should be gone by now. My blood on his blade will be going in every direction. He knows I’m not in your apartment, and won’t sense my energy signature there, since I lowered my vibration. He probably figures I’ve gone to another dimension, but the blade won’t show him which one. Even if he knew exactly where I went, though, he couldn’t come here, so that’s good. It buys us a little time to figure out what to do when we get back.” “And you’ll teach me how to shift back here on my own once we go back to my apartment?” “Yes, immediately. Since I can enter on my own now, because I’ve come here with you, we can make this our meeting place if we ever get separated during battle or for any other reason.” “A perfect solution. Can I give you another solution to a different problem?” Now it’s my turn to surprise him. This idea is something I’ve been pondering since he told me how Jonathan was tracking him with the blood on his blade. Knowing I can learn to shift dimensions on my own cinched the plan nicely. Now, I think it’s time we implemented it. Together, I think we can pull it off. I purposely put a sly smile on my face, the better to intrigue him. His look of wonderment is totally satisfying. He’s not the only one with secrets to reveal. “Your blood on Jonathan’s blade is leading him to you. So, what if we take the blade away from him?” I almost laugh aloud at Sam’s utterly appalled expression. “You couldn’t possibly get close enough to him to do that! I can’t even get that close without him noticing. And I won’t let you put yourself in danger on my account.” “Oh, Sam,” I sigh, smiling, then giggle just a little. I can’t help it. “You have so much to learn about modern Earth girls.” “I mean it, Lucy,” he says a bit sternly. He furrows his brow, as if to make a point. New tone and new expression. There are apparently many layers to my Earth Angel. “Look, I don’t want to confront Jonathan directly,” I assure him. “But I do think we can get his blade away from him without him even seeing us do it. We’ve got to work together, though. Make you a deal? You teach me to shift back here on my own, and I’ll tell you my plan. I think you’ll approve of it once you hear it.” He still looks skeptical. I put my hands on my hips and give him my best “teacher” look. “Do you trust me, Sam?” “With my life. You’ve already proven yourself in that regard.” “Then you should trust me in everything else, right? If you trust me with your life, everything else is small potatoes.” “I’m not sure what that expression means, but yes. I trust you in everything. Do you trust me? I know I haven’t done anything for you to earn it yet….” “You brought me here and opened up a whole new world to me. I think that’s enough to give you my trust.” “Then you know I’d never let any harm come to you.” “I know. And you know I would never knowingly put either of us in danger, right?” “I do.” “Then trust me on this one. Okay, Sam?” “Okay. But if it sounds too dangerous, we’re not doing it.” “Perfectly acceptable.” “Good.” “Then it’s settled. Let’s go home, Earth Angel. We have work to do.” Chapter 7 We immediately reappear in my livingroom, with the same feeling of “the universe shifted” that accompanied our first dimensional hop. Nothing seems amiss, and I don’t hear any voices that would indicate the presence of intruders. If Jonathan is gone, Sam has excellent timing. “How do we know they were ever here at all?” I ask, wandering around the room to examine it more closely for anything out of place. “Oh, they were here,” Sam assures me. “Their energy signatures are all over this place. It’s just like I thought it would be. Jonathan came here with Daniel and Jasper, his two seconds in command. They didn’t just go through this apartment. They explored every inch of the building. But they’ve been gone for at least ten minutes now.” “Won’t your blood start to lead them back here, now that we’ve returned? They can’t have gone far.” “They think I’m not here, so Jonathan will have the blade sheathed for the moment. I believe they’ve gone to attempt to get information on my whereabouts from my family.” “That sounds alarming. Shouldn’t we warn them?” Sam shakes his head. “My father is king of the Earth Angels. He has an army of his own at his disposal. He will be able to keep three angels in check. If they come back with their army, that’s another story, and we’ll deal with it then, if we need to. My family is safe for now.” “Well, that’s good, I guess.” Though I haven’t met them, I don’t like the thought of Sam’s family being in danger any more than if they were my own. “You and I are a different story,” Sam continues. “We can’t stay here.” I can feel his eyes on me, even as I move around the room and into the hallway, looking for damage to my home. “They’ll be back, eventually. My family won’t give up any information, and they don’t know where I am anyway, since I lowered my vibration. Jonathan, however, knows I was here, even if he thinks I’ve gone now. If he doesn’t get information from my family, he will almost certainly check here again, thinking that I may return. And he won’t wait long before coming back, because he will want to catch me off guard.” “That means we need to find a new location.” It’s not a question. There’s no way we can continue to stay in my apartment. “You’re right. And we’ll probably have to stay away permanently. I doubt this apartment will ever be safe for either of us again, Lucy. Jonathan and his lackeys will have picked up on your energy signature while they were here, and it will tell them you’re a seer. They definitely know you’re helping me now, so they’re looking for you, too. I’m sorry.” “It’s okay. I knew what I was signing up for when I agreed to work with you. I’ll miss this apartment. It’s where Harry and I lived together. Lots of memories, you know? But there are more important things than an apartment, such as the freedom and safety of the people of the Earth and the angels who protect it. So, we have to go. Any idea where?” “There’s a seer family I used to know up in Vermont. Their ancestors took me in once, centuries ago, when my father gave me a brief assignment on the planet’s surface. As heir, I had to learn to protect the planet from both the area of space around it, and on the ground. My visit may still be in their family lore. Going to them is a good place to start.” “Won’t Jonathan be looking at other seer families to find you?” “Not necessarily. We can’t sense the energy of a seer unless we’re very close to one. There’s no way he knows where every seer on the planet is located, and he won’t want to use valuable resources to find them, at least not yet. I doubt he knows of the family of which I speak. They could potentially be an excellent resource for us. They still knew all the ancient angel magic when I was there, and that was only about three centuries ago, during the early days of European settlement on this continent. Most of the seer families have lost that old knowledge. If this family still has it, they can work a spell to cloak my location from Jonathan regardless of my blood being on his blade. They can cloak you, too.” “There’s angel magic?” It seems like something I should know, and I’m kind of embarrassed that I don’t. Sam nods. “Angels haven’t walked among humans in large numbers in so long, the need to use it mostly disappeared. Only a few families may still know anything. It’s knowledge that’s specific to seer families. The first seer families were given the magic when seers were created, eons ago. It helps them work with us, and to summon us if they require our presence.” Boy, my grandmother would love to get her hands on some angel magic. She’d be like a kid in a candy store with that kind of thing. “The Aboriginal family may still have some magic, since they’ve been insulated from the modern world, for the most part. We can try them if the Vermont family doesn’t pan out.” “The Aboriginal family?” “The original seer family of Australia. Unlike the families from the other six continents, this one hasn’t moved all over the world. Some family branches on other continents still retain the knowledge of magic, but not many of them. It happens on other planets, too. Sometimes the seer families on other worlds forget their heritage entirely as time goes on. You were originally supposed to be part of the organizing force of the universe, but things change, even for angels.” “Other planets have seers?” “Any planet with sentient beings, yes. And the angels they work with are designed to look like them. That’s why the angels you’ve seen look human. We were designed to be similar in appearance to our seers. Angels that work on other planets look like the dominant sentient lifeforms there.” “Cool.” “I thought you’d find it interesting,” Sam agrees, as we enter the kitchen. “You seem quite curious about the history of everything.” “I hope you don’t mind me asking so many questions.” “Not at all. I’m happy to answer them, if I know the answers. So many humans have turned their backs on history. They have no idea or interest in where they came from and why. Your curiosity is refreshing.” “Excellent! I’ll keep asking you things, then. Just so you know, I can be quite talkative, so consider yourself fairly warned.” Sam grins good-naturedly at me. “So,” I continue, “how long before we have to leave?” “A day, maybe a little bit more. No longer than two. Jonathan will undoubtedly be back before then. We must be gone when he returns.” “We should get some rest, then. We need to do some planning before we head out to Vermont. Maybe call the family there, let them know we’re coming? I’ll need to pack, too. Oh, and send my cats to stay with my grandparents.” I hate the thought of leaving Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester, my two tabby felines, behind, but maybe I won’t have to be away from them for long. “You promised to tell me your plan for getting Jonathan’s blade,” Sam reminds me, gently chiding. He even points his finger at me. My, my, he is picking up on human mannerisms, or possibly remembering them, quite quickly. “And you promised to teach me how to shift dimensions,” I tease him, folding my arms defiantly across my chest and raising an eyebrow at him in mock accusation. “That I did,” he says, warmly conceding. “Shall we do it now?” “Let’s sleep first. We’ll do everything else tomorrow. You’re still healing, and we need all the rest we can get.” “You’re right,” Sam agrees. “And if I don’t heal before we leave, the Vermont family may have a spell for speeding it along.” “They have that kind of thing?” “Of course.” Yeah, of course they do. And yet I’m the one with the supposed superpowers? The universe is a weird place sometimes. Chapter 8 This time, Sam actually uses my guest room, and I go to the bedroom I once shared with Harry, enjoying my cats cuddled around me for possibly the last time. I may reunite with them once we go to Vermont, but I don’t know when…or if…it will be. Gosh, I love these little fur balls so much. Tears well up in my eyes a little as I realize how much I’m going to miss them. But what I’m doing, I’m doing as much for them as for anyone else. I don’t want any harm to come to my precious kitties. So, I will do what I have to do. With any luck, we’ll be together again. I know my grandparents adore my cats and will take good care of them until I can bring them home, wherever home may be. The next morning over breakfast, I tell Sam my plan for getting the blade. “I’ve got to hand it to you, Lucy,” he says, pleased, “it is, hands down, the most brilliant tactical plan I’ve ever heard. Definitely equal to the best plans of any angel military strategist. I don’t know where you learned to think like that, but it’s incredible. And you’re right. The plan can’t possibly fail.” “Super!” I exclaim, excited. “Then let’s do it.” “Absolutely not.” “What? Why? And…and you’re not in charge here!” “Maybe not, but I do have a say, since we’re a partnership. And I say it requires you to get too close to Jonathan. It’s too dangerous.” “It’s foolproof,” I say, annoyed. “You said so yourself.” “I can’t let you risk it,” Sam insists through a mouthful of gluten-free French toast. “I’m responsible for your welfare. I can’t let anything happen to you.” “We’re responsible for each other’s welfare,” I insist, feeling this conversation is ridiculous. “True,” Sam agrees. “And I’m doing my part by keeping you safe.” “How is it keeping me safe if the plan is foolproof?” “Just in case something goes wrong. Even the best plans can have unseen flaws. It’s an excellent idea, believe me, and if it were anyone else…” He trails off, leaving the unspoken end of that sentence hanging in the air. But the words are very clear. “Sam,” I say, irritated, but doing my best to maintain a reasonable tone, “this plan will work. And it will protect you. Once we have that blade, it becomes a million times harder for Jonathan to find you. That benefits everyone. You can’t stay at a lowered vibration forever. Regular people will see you, and your powers aren’t at their peak when you’re this way. We have to get the blade. My plan will get it for us.” Sam is quiet, gazing down at his food as if he can avoid the conversation by not looking at me. “Sam? Would you be willing to go along with this if it involved anyone but me?’ “Yes,” he says softly, continuing to carefully study his breakfast. I can almost swear I see a redness creeping into his cheeks, as if he’s embarrassed. What could possibly make him embarrassed about wanting to protect me? I totally understand it, even if I don’t agree with it. “But,” he is quick to add, “I would only go along with it if some other person volunteered. I could never ask anyone else to put themselves in danger because of me.” “I know you wouldn’t.” Of course he wouldn’t. He’s Sam. He’s noble, almost annoyingly so. “You’re a good guy, Sam. I haven’t spoken to too many Earth Angels, much less spent time with them, but I can tell you you’re as sweet, kind, and loyal as any human I’ve ever met. You’re a hero.” “Oh, Lucy,” he says, gazing up at me from beneath hooded eyelids, “I am so far from being a hero. I’m not worthy of that kind of praise at all.” “How can you say that? You took on the most dangerous angel anyone in your kingdom ever met and lived! So far, no other angel can say the same. You’re the first. That’s so brave. And you’re willing to keep fighting to protect this planet and the people and angels on it. Do you see any other angels lined up to take on the task? I don’t.” “I’m in hiding from Jonathan, rather than fighting him,” Sam protests. “I’ve put you in danger just by being around you, and now you have to leave your home. I’ve caused you nothing but trouble since you met me. Lucy, I wish I was special. Maybe then I’d be worthy of being called a hero. I’d want that if for no other reason than to be a hero for you. But I’m not special. I’m just one angel among millions. Anyone could do what I’m doing.” “No, they can’t!” I insist. “The archangels said so. They chose us for this task, and you agreed to it. And you did live through the fight with Jonathan. That’s something. That’s a hero in my book. Don’t sell yourself short. You’re amazing.” “You’re very kind. But I’m not at all confident I could defend you against Jonathan while my wing is still broken. Maybe I couldn’t even if it was healed. And Lucy, I would never forgive myself if anything happened to you.” “Look, Sam, I know you want to protect me. I get it. We’re friends and partners. But we’re also supposed to be working together to defeat Jonathan. Getting the blade back from him can be our first step. And you know it’s a good plan. It’s simple and it makes sense. You teach me to shift dimensions. We cut your arm and leave some blood on my kitchen counter. You shift into my mansion, because you aren’t healed enough to risk another fight with Jonathan yet. Jonathan’s blade will lead him back here to the blood on the counter. He puts the blade down by the blood to go look for you, I grab it, and shift out to meet you in the mansion. We’ll also set up a bunch of boxes I can dump on him to get him to drop the blade if he doesn’t set it down on his own, and then I still grab it and shift out to be with you. We’ll reunite you with all your blood, to strengthen your powers and help you heal, and hide the blade in the mansion where Jonathan can’t get it. You said those supernova heart-forged starstone blades he carries are the only kind that can kill an angel and they’re extremely difficult to come by. That makes it unlikely he’ll find another soon. Even when you change back to your regular vibration and he can sense your energy signature, you’ll be invisible to him long enough for us to get a cloaking spell on you to make you invisible to him permanently. Come on, Sam. We’ve got to do it!” “Lucy, I can’t risk you that way. You’re too precious, and not just to the cause. To me, too.” It’s super sweet, but he’s just being unreasonable now. I open my mouth to argue, but before I can say a word, a whooshing noise behind me alerts me to the arrival of another angel. I don’t bother to see if Sam looks worried before I spin around to face the intruder, a kitchen knife already in my hand, for all the good it will do if it’s an enemy. It’s definitely not Jonathan. Standing before me is a beautiful, golden-haired female angel. “I’ll get the blade,” she says, her voice smooth and silken, like the best part of a good dream. “Ella!” Sam cries with delight behind me. I turn around just in time to see his face cracking into a huge smile. “Hello, big brother,” the female angel says affectionately. “It’s good to see you.” Chapter 9 Sam has a sister? I’m sure my jaw must be touching the floor. It’s not like I don’t know he has parents. He told me their names and titles. But siblings…I just never thought of Sam having any. I guess I assumed he was an only child. It seems strange to me for angels to have large families for some reason, but I suppose there’s no reason why they shouldn’t. Still, this is like finding out Santa Clause and his wife are the parents of all those elves. Fortunately, Sam is so pleased to see her, he isn’t paying attention to me and my impolite gaping. He practically leaps across the entire room in one bound in his eagerness to get to his sister and wrap her in an enthusiastic embrace. She returns it with just as much vigor. “My God, Ella, it is so good to see you!” Sam cries, continuing to hug her as if she is the only oasis in a vast desert. “You, too, Sam,” she says, happily. “You’ve been hard to track down, you sneaky thing. Lowering your vibrational level, that’s pretty genius. But you should know you can’t hide from your family, even if you can make yourself invisible to Jonathan. When you didn’t come back after going out to face him, and no one could sense you anywhere, Mother and Father sent out all the extra guards they could spare to find you. One of them finally came back and said he thought he picked up your energy signature, but it was so light, he couldn’t be sure. I volunteered to come see if it was really you. I’m so glad it is!” “Why all the rush to find me? You all knew I wasn’t dead. You’d have felt it if anything happened to me.” “I know, but Mother was insistent on discovering if you were injured and needed any help. Father wanted to make sure his heir was still in a position to take the crown one day. I can see now why our guardsman said your energy signature was so light. Not only have you lowered your vibration, but you aren’t at full strength. Was it a really bad fight? Were you hurt, or just worn out?” “Both. And it was a pretty brutal battle. My wing was sliced up, and the wing bone got broken. Lucy helped get me to safety and treated my wounds. Then I rested. A lot.” “Lucy?” Sam finally lets go of Ella, just enough to turn his head to me and smile in pride at his sister. “This is Lucy McDonald, Ella,” he announces, sweeping his uninjured arm toward me in a grand gesture, as if I’m a visiting dignitary. “She’s a seer, and an exceptionally powerful one. The archangels have ordered us to work together to stop Jonathan from taking over this world. Lucy,” he directs this next sentence to me, “this is my baby sister, Ella.” “Pleased to meet you,” I say, pushing my breakfast plate aside. I stand up to go shake her hand, but before I can take a step, she’s already in front of me, throwing her arms around me like we’re long lost relatives. “Thank you so much for taking care of him!” she cries, her voice overflowing with gratitude. “Sam is my favorite brother. I don’t know what I would do without him.” “It’s only because I can never say no to you,” Sam teases her, sounding just like a big brother. I should know. I’ve got two of them. “No, you really are the kindest and gentlest of all of them, Sam. You’re the compassionate one. How can I not adore you? And you do have a lovely tendency to give me whatever I want.” She turns her head and winks at him. “You said ‘brothers,’” I point out. “How many siblings do you two have?” “Eight, counting the two of us,” Sam answers for Ella. “Six brothers besides me. I’m the oldest, obviously, since I’m the heir. Then there are five other brothers of varying ages who are younger than me. Ella is the youngest of us all, and the only girl. She is also extremely spoiled.” “Am not!” she insists, mock-offended. “Are too, and rightfully so,” he says, coming forward and touching her under the chin with one finger. “You are the shining, precious jewel in our family.” “They don’t really spoil me,” Ella says, turning back to me, shaking her head in amused exasperation. “They coddle me as if I were a child.” “Which brings me to another point,” Sam says, crossing his arms across his chest, the arm with the broken wing still sitting slightly crooked. “Why in God’s vast universe did Mother and Father allow you to come down here? They know Jonathan and his minions are about and could easily find you through our family energy signature. It’s way too dangerous for you to be here.” “They actually felt it was safer,” Ella says. “With your energy signature being barely traceable, they thought Jonathan might be getting frustrated with not finding you. The guardsman who thought he found you didn’t sense any other angel energy near yours, so we knew you weren’t Jonathan’s captive. Since it was plain you lived and got away, they were concerned Jonathan might come to our home to look for you, or to get information on your whereabouts. Father is locking down the place, but he and Mother wanted me gone, just in case Jonathan is somehow able to get in.” “No angel should be able to open the doors except Father once they’re locked,” Sam protests. “Not unless he gives someone special permission.” “Jonathan is no ordinary angel.” “Don’t I know it? When are you supposed to go back? Not that I want you to leave, but…” “Yes, I know,” Ella waves her hand dismissively. “You want to be sure I’m safe, too. With everyone sending me all over the place to keep me safe, I’ll end up being sent to another universe before long. I can tell by the looks on our parents’ faces that they’ve discussed it. But, to answer your question, I’m supposed to wait a day for word to come back. If no messenger is sent to me, it means disaster has struck, and I’m to go to the secret training base you and Father established behind the moon. You know, the one for the resistance fighters you planned to recruit to help defend the planet?” “They don’t intend for you to learn to fight?” Sam is plainly aghast at the idea of his little sister becoming a soldier. “Only if I want to, and only if something happens to the dome and the angels in it.” “The dome?” I ask, taking my chance to jump in with my burning question during the slight pause in this sibling back and forth. “Our home,” Ella says. “It’s high above the Earth, but still close enough for us to carefully monitor it and the area of space around it. It’s a large energetic sphere that we call ‘the dome,’ but it’s just a normal city inside. Most humans can’t see it, but you could, since you’re a seer. All you would need is a telescope and someone showing you where to look.” OK, now all I want to do is to buy a telescope, drag Sam and Ella to the nearest building with an accessible roof, and get them to show me their home. “I’ll be happy to show you,” she adds, helpfully. “Maybe some other time,” Sam waves off the idea quickly. “We have much more important things to consider at the moment, and no time for such trivialities.” Ella shoots me a look that lets me know she’ll show me as soon as she has an opportunity, and that she finds her older brother just as exasperating as I sometimes find mine. Sibling dynamics. You’ve got to love them. “Well, there’s certainly time for me to do this,” Ella sniffs, a bit defiantly, and turns to me again, putting a hand on each of my shoulders. Her fingers are long and thin, her arms slender and delicate. She looks just like you’d imagine an angel would look if you’d never seen one. She’s got the classic “angel” appearance that’s common among humans and has inspired countless sculptures, paintings, and little ceramic figurines. She is also visibly younger than Sam, maybe even younger than me by a few years in human physiology (though in actual years, I’m sure she’s ancient). Such a delicate looking, compassionate, kind-hearted beauty will absolutely inspire a protective instinct in men, and Sam has it for his little sister in spades. Even if he wasn’t standing right in front of me so I could see it, I’d still feel his screaming impatience to send her away from here before Jonathan comes back. “Thank you for protecting my brother,” Ella says solemnly, looking me right in the eyes with that uniquely piercing angel gaze. “Not many people would have done this, knowing what dangers they faced, not even other seers. Jonathan probably would have found him and finished him off quickly if you weren’t so kind and brave and generous to take him in and clean his wounds. I and my entire family are forever in your debt. Name any favor you ask, and it will be yours. You don’t even have to ask now. Just know the Earth Angel kingdom is here for you whenever you need or want us.” Aw! That’s so sweet, I just want to hug her. “I only did what I thought anyone would do,” I protest. “It didn’t seem like anything particularly special, just the right thing. I couldn’t let him suffer. And I’m happy I did. I’ll continue to stand by Sam as long as he needs me, and as long as the word needs us together.” Before I know it, Ella is throwing her arms around me so enthusiastically it nearly knocks me off my feet. “You are my hero, Lucy McDonald! And you’re wrong. Not everyone would have helped Sam. Most seers would have ignored him, because they could see he brought trouble with him, and they wouldn’t want to get involved and risk putting themselves in danger. The working relationship between seers and angels is not as close as it once was. Believe me, what you did is extraordinary, and I love you for it. You are my sister forever for this.” Sam laughs, a rare and lovely sound that reminds me of wind chimes. “Well, that’s it, Lucy,” he says, full of mirth again. “Once Ella makes you family, you’re in for good.” Ella punches Sam playfully in the arm. “You make it sound like I adopt every stray in the galaxy who crosses my path” she gripes. “Not that you’re a stray, Lucy,” she quickly adds. “No, no, not at all,” Sam says placatingly, holding his hands up in mock surrender. “But you’ve got to admit, you’re very willing to adopt beings of all kinds into the family if they do the slightest nice thing for you.” “One good turn deserves another. And how many times have I done that over the centuries, really? Three, maybe four times since I was born? Really, Sam, you exaggerate way too much. Don’t take everything he says seriously, Lucy. My brother tends to embellish things…liberally.” My God, they really are just like a human brother and sister. How many times have I had similar exchanges with my own brothers? Jonathan’s megalomania aside, it seems that angels really aren’t all that different from humans at all. “I always tell the precise truth,” Sam says indignantly, lifting his chin just a bit. “Lucy can attest to that.” Okay, this banter is clearly familiar to them, and I sense it could go on for a while. It’s amusing, but we really don’t have time for it, like Sam said. I can’t believe it, but I am going to have to be the mediator and step in between this angel sibling teasing match. It’s like I’ve entered Bizarro World. “Yes, Sam, you’ve never been anything but truthful with me,” I say, nodding in complete agreement. “And Ella, thank you for your offer. It would be my honor to be your sister. I always wanted a sister, since I only have brothers, like you. I hope we can get to know each other better once this Jonathan situation is done.” That seems to bring them both back to the situation at hand, and they nod at me in unison. “You overheard our discussion about getting Jonathan’s blade?” I ask Ella. Time to get things moving in that direction, because Sam is right…Jonathan will be back before too long, and we want to be out of here when he shows up. “Most of it. Well, just the end, really. Sam seemed against it, but what I heard sounded sensible. If you’re not going to do it, someone should. I volunteer.” “Absolutely not!” Sam insists, using the exact same ‘I forbid’ tone he’d used with me. “I won’t put either one of you in danger.” “Well, you can’t do it yourself,” I say, sitting back down on the barstool by the kitchen island where my breakfast is slowly getting cold. “You’re not at top strength, your wing is still broken, and Jonathan would sense you before you could get close enough to do it. Even with your lowered vibration, he can’t help but notice it if you’re right behind him.” “Besides, I don’t think you have a choice if someone volunteers,” Ella points out reasonably. “As head of our family, I do,” Sam insists. “And I promised Lucy I would protect her.” “Well, we’re not going to let you martyr yourself just because you feel some responsibility to protect us, right Lucy?” There it is. She’s pulling me right into her argument with Sam, just like we really are sisters. She sounds so petulant, too. I wonder just how much younger than Sam she actually is. However, petulant though she may be, she’s right. “I agree with Ella,” I say, crossing my arms defiantly. “It’s two against one, Sam.” Sam runs his hand through his hair and looks at us both as if we are crazy. “Great. You’re both ganging up on me? How can you willingly put yourselves in danger?” “Because we care about you,” Ella says. “And we want to help. Lucy’s right. You can’t do this on your own.” Sam looks at me to see if I agree. I nod, letting him know I’m with Ella on this one. Sam glances silently from one to the other of us a few times, not knowing what to say. Obviously, his position of leadership at home means he isn’t used to being questioned. There is some incredible steely resolve in there under the sweet, unassuming exterior. Layers. The dude has layers. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am. Humans have layers, of course, but most angels I’ve met, except for Kira, have been pretty one-dimensional. Then again, maybe they just seemed that way because I didn’t take the time to get to know them better. “I won’t talk about this right now,” he eventually speaks, using a tone meant to let us know he intends to brook no dissent. I’m not intimidated and I can tell Ella isn’t, either. We just smile and let him go on. Sometimes you have to give men their way, or let them think they’re getting it, in order to keep things peaceful. Ella obviously knows this secret, so it’s not something unique to humans. “Both of you, sit down,” he points to the empty barstool next to me and Ella goes to it, propping herself up with her elbows on the counter, and resting her chin in the cup of her hands. “Ella, I need news from home. I was going to contact you all once Lucy and I got to Vermont, to let you know I’m okay and discuss strategy for building up our army. But, since you’re here, you may as well relay my messages. We’re definitely going to need to build a powerful fighting force. If Jonathan doesn’t find me soon, he’ll come after our family and our people next. Father and Mother were right on that point. Everyone needs to be ready.” Sam sits down across from me, back in front of his unfinished breakfast. We really don’t have time for this conversation, either. But Sam isn’t going to listen to reason regarding the blade plan right now. I suppose it’s better to talk strategy for his people first. I can always work on him some more about getting the blade later. Surely he can be made to see reason once he’s had some time to think about it objectively. “Why are you going to Vermont?” Ella wonders. Sam explains the Vermont plan, which Ella agrees is sensible. “The whole dome must think I’m a joke, hiding when I should be fighting, or at least gathering forces to protect our home,” Sam says, a bit dejectedly. He’s still on that coward thing. Silly angel. Ella quickly disabuses him of that notion. “You’re hiding for our protection. If Jonathan kills you, there’s no one else around here who is strong enough to take him on. He’ll enslave us all, just as he has on the other planets and moons of this solar system. I understand that, and so does everyone else at home. Believe me, Sam, no one thinks you’re a coward. They think you’re doing what a leader should do.” “And what about Mother and Father?” Sam asks, clearly still looking for some reason to hate himself. “If Jonathan or one of his seconds in command manages to get into the dome, they’ll massacre everyone.” “The chances of that happening are incredibly small. They would have to have an enormous amount of power to break that lock.” “It’s still a possibility.” “I know. And our parents have an evacuation plan for everyone if it should come to that. You should know they’re always prepared for practically anything.” “Does that evacuation plan include them?” Sam sounds concerned. Would his parents really stay and face the danger alone? Ella is quiet for just long enough to answer Sam’s question. He pounds his fist on the kitchen island in frustration, rattling the dishes. “Sam,” Ella says quietly, “you know they can’t leave the Earth unprotected. Someone has to stay behind, and they are the King and Queen. It’s their responsibility” “Jonathan will kill one of them to try to make the other one talk,” Sam whispers, looking down at the butcher block wood of the island. “They must know it.” “They do. It’s a risk they’re willing to take to protect everyone else, and to make sure the Earth still has at least one angel looking out for it. Jonathan will leave one of them alive, at least until he takes over the Earth and the Earth Angel kingdom and sets up his own rulers. He knows the Earth has to be protected if he wants to rule over it, and he definitely wants it to be the first major acquisition to the ‘kingdom’ he’s building.” “So while I’m down here hiding like a child, our parents are risking their lives to protect me, and Jonathan is still out there doing damage to the neighboring planets. I’ve got to do something.” “You are. You’re going to Vermont to access some seer magic and raise an army. It’s exactly what you should be doing. Your plan is the best chance you both have of stopping Jonathan. Now let me help by being the decoy for the blade.” “Under no circumstances!” Sam yells, a thunderous sound I hope to never hear again. Thank God my neighbors can’t hear him. They’d be calling the police, for sure. So, with that explosive expression, we’re back to the subject of the blade again. Great. And for the next several hours, that’s all we discuss. I swear, it seems like it takes days. Sam is a wonderful, caring, compassionate, and extremely protective angel, but I am beginning to see what Ella undoubtedly already knew…Sam has a stubborn streak a mile long. This is going to be a tough sell, whether Ella makes the grab for the blade or I do. Either way, it has to be done, and deep down, I know Sam knows it. He just doesn’t want to admit it. Sending anyone into danger on his behalf is anathema to him…that much becomes crystal clear as we talk the topic into the ground. Sam can argue all he wants. It won’t change anything. Getting the blade is the only way to give us our first advantage over the enemy. Without that, we don’t stand a chance at saving the Earth, its people, and its angels from Jonathan’s brutal rule. We must get the blade. And, whether Sam likes it or not, it’s going to have to be either Ella or me who does it. Chapter 10 It’s going to be me. I know it as soon as I see the unfamiliar, bloodied Earth Angel materialize in front of us. Something bad has happened. The injured angel’s anguished face makes it absolutely clear. “Luther!” Sam cries, jumping to his feet, Ella quickly following. “What are you doing here? What’s happened?” “Mother and Father?” Ella whimpers slightly, wringing her hands. I stand between them to show my solidarity, taking one of their hands in each of mine for comfort. I have a feeling they’re going to need it. “My prince,” Luther says, bowing low to Sam, then turns to Ella and bows again. “Princess. I know my appearance here is probably surprising to you. Do not be concerned. Your energy signature is virtually untraceable at your current vibration level, Your Highness. I followed the signature of the Princess to find you.” Ella looks horrified. “Oh no! I should have thought of it when I got here. My energy signature is available for anyone to follow. If Jonathan or one of his minions picks up on it, they’ll find you. I’m sorry, Sam. I was just so happy to see you, it didn’t cross my mind. I’ll lower my vibration now, to prevent anyone else from tracking me.” Ella doesn’t really do anything I can see. She is still for a moment, and the feel of her hand in mine becomes just a tiny bit more solid, kind of like wood turning into iron. That’s all. It only takes a second, and then she looks up at Luther again, her eyes wide with concern. “You didn’t need to do that, Ella,” Sam says. “Only people from the dome know you’ve come looking for me. The enemy would have to be looking for you specifically to trace you. But I appreciate it, nonetheless. It’s probably better to be careful.” “Exactly. Now, Luther, about your presence here?” Ella asks, eager to hear her parents are safe and sound. Luther slowly shakes his head, the blood that was covering it quickly disappearing back inside him through his skin. Before he even speaks again, he is fully healed of whatever injured him. “It is my sorrowful duty to inform you that Jonathan sent his second in command, Jasper, to the dome earlier today to question our people about your whereabouts, Your Highness,” he says, nodding slightly in Sam’s direction. “The dome was locked!” Ella insists. “He couldn’t have gotten in.” “Jasper brought a new tool with him,” Luther continues, obviously not enjoying the conversation, but determined to do his duty. “It was something new to us, large and square, metallic, and emanating a lot of light. Jonathan must have obtained it from one of the other races he encountered during his travels. It lit up like the sun, my lady, and he used it to break the lock and get inside.” “My God!” Sam whispers fervently. “Jasper is Jonathan’s most brutal follower, a Planet Angel he met guarding a planet far away, in another part of the galaxy. Jasper’s atrocities are becoming legendary in this solar system. It’s why Jonathan chose him as his top commander.” He’s saying this mainly for my benefit, so I understand just how serious this situation is. There was no need. Luther’s battered appearance when he first materialized in my living room clued me in. “What happened, Luther?” Sam continues. “Spare us no details. We need to know.” Luther nods obediently, used to doing whatever the royal family asks of him. “When your father denied Jasper voluntary entry to the dome, and saw he was going to get inside anyway, he sent everyone but a few of the guards and messengers away. He used the dome’s secret back passage. Only your parents and the most trusted members of the guard knew it was there. It’s a secret you were meant to learn when you took the crown, Sire. Your father sent nearly every resident of the dome to the secret training base the two of you readied behind the moon. When Jasper came in to question us, there were only a handful of us left. He was enraged, naturally. The first thing he did to demonstrate his displeasure was to kill your mother using a starstone blade. I am so sorry to have to be the one to tell you, Your Highnesses.” Sam and Ella just stare at him, stunned. Their mother is gone, and their kingdom has no queen. I squeeze their hands a little bit tighter in sympathy. I know what it’s like to lose a mother. Ella starts to cry. I only know it because I feel her shaking and turn to see a stream of tears running silently down her lovely rose-colored cheeks. Each tear glistens in the light like a diamond, so beautiful it’s hard to believe they represent such sadness. Sam squeezes my hand back, but continues looking straight ahead. “Go on, Luther,” he says, hoarsely. He’s trying to be brave for Ella and to act the part of the prince. That means being in control, but he’s giving off all kinds of subtle clues that scream otherwise. Behind that stoic front is someone who wants to break down in a cascade of sorrow and guilt. I know Sam pretty well now, and I know he feels like what happened to his mother is his fault. Nothing anyone tells him and no degree of logic will ever completely make him feel otherwise. “Jasper then asked your whereabouts, Highness,” Luther continues. “We all refused to say anything, of course. None of us actually knew where you were, as it was. All we knew was the princess was on a mission to find you. After Jasper’s swift move on your mother, we all gathered in front of the king to protect him, but our enemy was far stronger, especially with that new weapon. He gave us all one last chance to tell him what he wanted to know, and when we didn’t, he finished off everyone else with little effort. The weapon seemed to vaporize the ones he used it on. He only left the king and me alive. The king was spared to maintain his watch over the Earth, at least for the time being. I was tortured, but most of the blood you saw on me was the blood of my comrades. I was spared on the condition I deliver the message to you about your parents, and tell you Jonathan demands you show yourself or he will start killing the other angels who protect the Earth. He will start with the Nature Angels, the Animal Guardians, Elemental Angels, Oceanic Angels, and the rest. He will also start searching for the rest of our people and kill them when he finds them. Sire, you must face him.” “No, Sam, you can’t!” Ella immediately protests, whipping her head around to show him how horrified she is at the suggestion. “Mother’s death and the deaths of those poor guards and messengers will be in vain if you do, and everyone on the moon base will be in danger with no one to protect or lead them.” “She’s right,” I say, speaking up for the first time. “You know you can’t engage Jonathan again. Even if you were at full strength, he’s declared war, officially this time. You need to lead an army against him, not fight him again on your own and possibly get killed. Remember what the archangels said.” “What did the archangels say, and who is this human?” Luther asks derisively, glaring at me. “She’s a seer, so show some respect,” Sam says evenly, carefully avoiding using my name. “And what the archangels said is of no concern to you. Tell me, Luther. Why did Jasper not merely follow you here to find me? He could have brought you as a hostage and used you as a bargaining chip to get me to go out and face Jonathan. And how do we know he won’t follow you back to the moon base, assuming that’s where you’re going?” “Those are all excellent questions,” I agree. “How do we know we can trust you? It seems awfully convenient that you were spared and allowed to come here without leading our enemies to us.” “That’s right,” Ella says, the reality of it all dawning on her. “You’ve always been one of Father’s most trusted advisors. You would know there was a chance of being followed when you came to us. There’s no way you would take that chance if you were still on our side. You would know you could be leading Jonathan right to us.” Luther’s anguished look melts into one of cold, steely defiance, and he fixes us with a chilling smile. “That’s the idea. There is no other way than Jonathan’s. I should have seen that from the beginning. After the massacre in the dome, Jasper showed me the truth of it all. In exchange for delivering you to Jonathan, I get a top place in his army, and a leadership position over the Earth continent of my choice once Jonathan takes control.” He pulls out a blade I can only assume is one of those rare starstone ones, and points it menacingly at Sam. “If you come quietly, Sire, I promise to give the two women quick deaths.” Sam looks at Luther sadly. “Luther, my good man, you were always a loyal soldier for my father, and I hoped you would be one for me, too. You were kind and indulgent to my siblings and me when we were children, and you always cared so much about the Earth and the beings on it we are entrusted to protect. I admired you and respected you. I’m so sorry it’s come to this.” “So am I, Sire. But you surely see there can be no other way.” “I do, Luther. I see what must be done,” Sam agrees. I’m never concerned for Ella and me during this exchange, because I know Sam won’t let us be harmed. Sam still manages to surprise me, though. In one swift move, he lunges forward, twists Luther’s arm sideways and back until he drops the blade, then throws him to the floor. He’s kneeling on top of him before Luther can even think of getting up. Then, he grabs the blade and brings it down swiftly into Luther’s chest, killing him instantly. A small trickle of blood oozes out of the wound, staining his tunic. There’s a dead angel on my living room floor. It’s kind of weird to realize that if any regular person were to walk in here right now, they would see none of it. No body, no blood, no Sam or Ella, just me standing there looking down at the carpet with wide, stunned eyes. Sam shakes his head sadly and closes the soldier’s still angry eyes. “I’m sorry, old friend. Godspeed on your journey. May you find the truth on the next plane of being that you lost sight of on this one.” He stands up and faces us. “I didn’t want you ladies to see that, but I had no other choice.” “I know,” I say, still holding Ella’s hand. She’s gripping mine pretty tightly, needing my comfort more than I need hers. I don’t think she’s ever seen an angel killed. That makes two of us. “You did what you had to do,” she whispers, looking down at Luther with eyes round as saucers. “We have to get out of here now,” Sam says, pointing to Luther. “Jonathan doesn’t need my blood on his blade to find me anymore, and my lower vibration doesn’t matter. He just needs to follow Luther’s energy signature. He may be on his way here already.” “Does Luther’s energy signature last forever?” I ask. “No, it will fade after a while.” “So, if we move him, it may throw off Jonathan for a little bit?” “It could.” “Then clean his blood off the blade and keep it. We may need the weapon. We’ll move him down to the basement. No regular human will ever know he’s there, and Jonathan will start looking for you where the body is. It may take him some time to work his way back up here, and by that time, we can have things set up to take his blade from him. We still need it, Sam. If he keeps it, it will just lead him right back to you, no matter where we go.” Sam only hesitates for a moment, then realizes I’m right. “Fine, but we need to do it quickly. I still need to teach you to shift, and our time to get it done is extremely limited now. Jonathan has to know I’m in this building. He’ll pinpoint my exact location sooner rather than later. And I want Ella away from here. It’s bad enough I have no choice but to put you in danger. I won’t have her anywhere near that bastard.” “But I want to stay and help,” Ella protests. “No. You are to go straight to the moon base with the rest of our people. Do you understand? Jonathan doesn’t know where it is, and I’m sure Father took great pains to hide it. He wouldn’t have sent most of our kingdom there if he wasn’t sure it was secure. You’ll be safe there, and the ones who are training as soldiers will protect you until Lucy and I get this situation resolved. I won’t risk your life over this, Ella. Jasper killed Mother without a second thought. Jonathan would do the same to you.” Ella only hesitates for a moment before nodding her agreement. Then, she quickly hugs me, pulling me tightly to her so she can whisper in my ear. “Keep him safe,” she says softly. “He can be stubborn sometimes, but he means well. Just don’t let him talk you into letting him put himself in danger. We need him. And we need you. The archangels were right. The two of you will set us free. Just keep him safe so you can defeat Jonathan and put an end to this madness without any more bloodshed. Promise you will.” “I promise,” I say automatically. There’s no question. This is my job, and I’m going to do it to the best of my ability, and part of that job involves protecting Sam. “I don’t know how, but I’ll do my best to protect him, Ella. You can count on it.” “You’ll figure it out when the time comes,” she assures me, just as Kira did. “And he’ll protect you, too. You’ll protect each other. And together, you’ll defeat Jonathan and end this war.” “You seem pretty sure.” “I get feelings about things. I’m almost never wrong. Sam will tell you. I see now that it does have to be the two of you together. Together, you’re stronger. Remember that. And Lucy?” “Yes?” I hold her at arm’s length and look into her earnest, almost babyish face. “I meant it about you being family now. Call on me anytime and I will come to you. You don’t need to ask Sam.” “Yes, she does,” Sam insists, letting me know there’s nothing wrong with his hearing. Or maybe we weren’t whispering as quietly as we thought. “No, you don’t,” she says firmly. “Any time, Lucy. Remember, any time.” She winks at me so Sam can’t see, and kisses me quickly on the cheek. Then, she goes over and hugs Sam, who holds her closely for a long moment. When he lets her go, she disappears. With Ella dispatched to safety, Sam and I have a lot of work to do, and we need to do it now. Wordlessly, we drag Luther down to the basement, hiding him behind some boxes to make him harder for any angels or unsuspecting seers to find. Back in my apartment, Sam teaches me to shift in between dimensions, a skill that comes surprisingly easily to me. He says anyone can do it, but my seer powers probably make it come a little more naturally to me than it might to other people. It’s a simple matter of concentrating on my energetic vibration, which I can readily feel when I focus on it. Once I feel it, I can change it. Higher vibrations will make me invisible to Jonathan, like a guardian angel. Most angels can’t access that high of a vibration, but it’s available to humans. Somewhere between the invisible vibration and the regular one is the shifting one. That vibration gives me the form I need to cross dimensional barriers. Having a destination in mind when I do it will take me right there, so all I have to do to get to the mansion where I will rendezvous with Sam is to imagine it. The lesson takes all of ten minutes to complete, and I have a new skill that will come in quite handy in the coming war. I can’t wait to teach it to the rest of my family. They need to know how to do this, too. I call my grandmother to let her know Sam is bringing the cats to her, which he does while I’m still on the phone, and reappears in minutes. Grandma is only too happy to look after them for me, and wishes us luck while eliciting promises from me to be careful before we hang up. All that’s left to do is wait for Jonathan to find us. In the meantime, Sam tells me again how much he hates this and tries to talk me into letting him go for the blade. He’s not quite at full strength yet, but he’s healed enough he thinks he might have a good chance of succeeding. It’s that knight in shining armor complex again. I can’t help but smile. Harry was a would-be knight himself. Whenever I told him it was dangerous to go walking through a bad neighborhood at night with this charity group he joined that handed out blankets and soup to the homeless, he wouldn’t hear of not going. Even when I showed him solidly researched crime statistics for the area, he insisted on doing it. He had a practical fit when I suggested coming with him to make sure he was safe, though. This, in spite of the fact that I’m a black belt in karate and the graduate of numerous self-defense courses, and never once got hurt in any scrape we found ourselves in during the Peace Corps. On the other hand, I once saw him get mugged in a public park and beaten up pretty badly in the process. I was approaching from the other end of the park at the time and couldn’t get to him in time to help him, but I was able to identify the muggers later in a lineup. Yet, he always worried more about my safety than his own. Hmm…it seems strange to think of Harry now. That fact in itself is strange. It’s only two days past our missed wedding, only two days since I met Sam. Yet it seems like a million years since Harry was part of my life. How is that possible? I never thought I’d be able to let go of his memory or look back on our time together without crying. Now, I’m doing it as a distant observer, almost as if I’m someone else, watching our relationship from afar. My emotional stake in those memories is simply disappearing. Is that the work of Harry in his mansion, helping me get past him so I can do what I need to do? Or has he reincarnated already and it’s the universe pushing me to this new state of being? Of course, the most obvious answer, and the one I’m the least ready to face, is that I’m simply moving on, and Sam’s appearance in my life is the push I needed to start doing it. While we wait, I ask a question that’s been on my mind for a while. “I know angels have warred with each other in the past. But, has there ever been a war between angels and other beings?” “There have been a handful of angel wars over the billions of years since this universe was created,” Sam replies, still kind of grumpy that I’m going to be the one going after the blade. If he could think of a better alternative, he would. “I’m sure other universes have had their own. But no, I’ve just never heard of one that involved other beings. We angels fight once in a while, just like any other imperfect beings. But, angel wars are rare because they are so destructive. We do what we can to avoid them. That is why we have councils and elders and other mechanisms in place to avoid this type of thing. We’re better at peace than humans. Yet, we’re less good at it than some of the other intelligent races of this universe. There hasn’t been a war among my kind that I’ve heard of since long before my birth. I had hoped there would not be another one while this universe exists, and certainly not one that threatens all the creatures in it.” “Yeah,” I agree softly. “Avoiding that would have been nice.” We sit in quiet companionship together for a little while. I’m not sure how long, exactly. Then, the building starts to shake a little, as if there’s an earthquake…something unheard of in Florida. Except, I know Sam and I are the only ones in the building who notice it. Sam looks at me and his pained expression tells me what I already know. The game is on. Jonathan is here. Chapter 11 “We aren’t going to have much time to pull this off, so let’s just do it,” I say, grabbing Sam’s hand. “If we over-think it, we may mess it up, and we can’t afford to let that blade get away.” “I don’t like it,” Sam insists, the butcher knife held stubbornly upright in his hand. He stands on one side of my kitchen island counter, while I face off with him on the other. “I know, I know. But you agreed to this. Reluctantly, yes, but you did agree. You don’t have a better way to get the blade, so we do it my way.” “I could just leave and draw him to me elsewhere, away from you.” “And probably get killed and leave the Earth and the whole universe open to destruction, slavery, and oppression? I don’t think so. Right now, you’re the only thing standing between the universe we know and something unspeakable. We have to defeat Jonathan together. Neither one of us can do it alone. The archangels said so. If you get yourself killed, Jonathan wins.” “Another angel could step in as leader in my place.” “That’s not what was prophesied. It has to be you and me. Don’t be stubborn. Do you want to have the enslavement of the universe, and maybe the multiverse, on your conscience?” Sam is quiet for a moment. He looks at the knife in his hand as if it were a snake. “No,” he sighs at last, resignedly. “No, I don’t.” “And you’ve got no better ideas on how to do this that don’t involve getting yourself needlessly killed?” “No, I don’t,” Sam grumbles through gritted teeth, obviously annoyed with himself with what he sees as his own lack of creativity on the matter. “Then cut your hand and let’s get moving!” Sam looks down at his hand and starts to move the knife toward it, then stops. I roll my eyes in exasperation. This is like pulling teeth! “What now?” I ask, unable to keep a hint of whining out of my voice. I put my head down on the kitchen counter and cover it with both of my arms, sighing loudly. “You’re sure you can shift dimensions quickly, and at will?” “Yes, Sam,” I firmly assure him. “We practiced it to perfection. Then discussed it at length, some more.” We’re running out of time to put this plan into action, and his stalling is starting to get on my nerves. I know he’s not afraid for himself; it’s all for me. But I’m perfectly capable of doing this. It’s an easy enough plan. And as for the shifting, all that takes is a little concentration. Once you learn, you wonder how you ever managed to be so blind to such an innate and natural thing. I can pop out of the kitchen and into the living room in an instant, using a simple dimensional corridor as my travel route. Getting into my mansion is just as easy. The only thing that isn’t easy is getting Sam to cut himself before Jonathan makes his way up from Luther’s body in the basement and does it for him. Sam looks me up and down intensely, as if memorizing every detail of my appearance, then nods. “Okay, then.” Thank God! Finally! In one swift motion, he slashes a shallow gash in the palm of his hand, forms a fist, and squeezes out a few drops of his glittery angel blood onto the counter. He raises his head and looks me meaningfully in the eyes. “Be careful.” Then, he is gone, hopefully to the mansion, as we agreed. I don’t have much time. Jonathan will be here in an instant now. Sam’s fresh blood on the counter is calling loudly to its counterpart on the blade. I already see the tiny red drops reaching upward of their own accord, trying to find their host, sensing he’s nearby, just a dimension away. That reaching is sending out a signal Jonathan can’t ignore. I crawl into the empty storage space under the kitchen island, conveniently cleaned out by Sam and me the night before. Then, I shut the door, and wait. I don’t have to wait long, just as I suspected. Within moments, I hear them. Three angels are in my kitchen. They must have materialized directly there. One of them has to be Jonathan. I suspect the other two are probably his infamous top henchmen, Jasper and Daniel. The three most dangerous angels in creation are mere inches from me, but they don’t know it. They sensed my energy signature when they were here before, but only as a resident. As far as they know, I had no idea Sam was ever there. That means I’m not on their radar as a threat, and am therefore, safe for the moment. I have to use that to my advantage while I still can, because they’ll learn who I am soon enough, and my energy signature will be well known to them. This is my only opportunity to have the element of surprise. “He’s got to be here somewhere,” a booming, angry voice that can only be Jonathan insists. “That blood is fresh. He’s probably still recovering from his injuries and hiding in here somewhere. Find him.” Immediately, three sets of footsteps go off in different directions. I only wait a second or two, since I know these angels will case my entire apartment in short order. I only hope everyone is facing away from the kitchen. If not, I’ll have to make a hasty escape to rendezvous with Sam, empty-handed. Surprisingly, I’m not at all nervous about being caught. I’m only concerned about failing to get the blade. If I can’t nab it, everything we do from here on out will be so much more difficult, as Jonathan will have an easy way of locating us wherever we go in this universe…and we can’t hide out in another dimension forever if we want to actually win the war. I have to get the blade. Slowly, I push the kitchen island door open just a crack and peek through it, looking from side to side for any sign of angels. I don’t see anyone, which means they’re not in the kitchen or living room. Good. Time to make a move. Like unfolding a map, I stretch the rest of my body out to its full length, out of the storage space, and into the kitchen. Jonathan and his cronies may not be in my line of sight, but they are still in my apartment. I sense it. It’s like that feeling you get when you don’t see anyone else around, but you know you’re not alone. Eerie. Quickly, I stand up and check the counter, praying the blade is there. It isn’t. Damn it! Okay, this complicates things, but we planned for this. Sam and I both knew it was a long shot that Jonathan would put the blade down to collect the fresh blood, much less leave it unattended while he searched the apartment for Sam. So, that’s Plan A shot. On to Plan B. I promised Sam if there was no easy grab for the blade, I’d shift out of there ASAP. Live to fight another day. We could always come up with another plan, he said. But what if we can’t? We would always be on Jonathan’s radar, and anyone who got near us would be in danger. I can’t allow that to happen. Getting the blade has to be our first victory. I swiftly grab a paper towel and soak up the blood so I can return it to Sam. The last thing we need is Jonathan using the new blood from Sam’s hand as extra locating power for his blade. I stuff the blood-soaked tissue in my jeans pocket, then carefully press myself against the wall by the corner that turns down the hallway. Tilting my head as slightly as possible, I peer down there to see what’s going on. No sign of angels. I hear them, though. They’re in the bedrooms. There’s really no question of what I must do. I have a chance to grab the blade right now and I can’t let that chance go. We’re not likely to get an opportunity like this again. “Sorry, Sam,” I whisper out lout to myself, barely making a sound, so no one will hear me except me. I’ve never been interested in fighting. As a kid, I only played peaceful, whimsical games. Even things like paintball and Laser tag bored me. The very idea of the military and wars horrified me; from the time I was in high school, I thought we should be more enlightened as a society than to be engaging in warfare with one another. That’s why I spent time in the Peace Corps. I was all about peace and love and using non-violence to solve problems. I still am, in spite of my current circumstances. And I’ve definitely never been the sneaky or even particularly strong or brave type. Just look at how I fell apart for months over what happened to Harry. Strong people don’t do that, at least not for that long. Everything about what I am about to do is completely unlike me in every way. But I’m going to do it anyway. I never knew until now what powers the protective instinct could bestow on you. As long as Jonathan has the blade, Sam is in danger. I can’t let that continue. Sam must be protected. I have to make sure he is safe. It’s not just because he’s my friend and partner. It’s almost a primal urge, and it pushes at my vision, narrowing it to one singular intention. In a moment, I see two male angels moving swiftly back and forth between the rooms down the hall. Having never seen Jonathan, I’m not sure if he is one of them, or if he is elsewhere in the apartment. They are moving too quickly for me to see if either of them is carrying a blade or wearing one in a hilt around their waist. I don’t take my eyes off of them, though. My target will reveal himself soon enough, and I must be ready to act. Finally, one of them stops in the middle of the hall and calls out. “I don’t think he’s here, sir!” I slam myself back against the wall, then run to the far end of the kitchen island, crouching down behind it. That angel was calling in my general direction, which means Jonathan is too close to me, without me knowing his location. Not good. I peek around the edge of the island just in time to see an exceptionally tall, broad shouldered, incredibly muscular Earth Angel with black hair and a deep scar on his right cheek materialize in my living room, in front of the front door. At his waist is a ceremonial two-toned golden rope, which I’ve never seen any other angel wear. Is it a sign of leadership? Tied to the rope is a leather hilt, and in that hilt is the shiny black handle of what has to be the starstone blade. Jonathan! “He can’t have gone far,” Jonathan shouts, not even bothering to look at his minions. Instead, he wanders off into my living room, exploring. His eyes are very keen and sharp, and he is obviously taking in everything he sees with an appraising eye, looking for potential clues in even the tiniest thing. “The blood is too fresh. I knew he was here the other night. I wonder if the human who lives here has any idea they’ve been hosting a house guest.” Oh, buddy, you have no idea. “What are your orders, sir?” one of the angels down the hall calls. “Check the rest of the building and the other buildings and public areas outside for the next few blocks around this place. If you find him, bring him to me. I will wait here in case he comes back. He’s obviously using this place as a hideout. It’s probable he’ll return when he thinks we’ve given up looking for him which is probably what he did yesterday. Either way, he’s not getting away this time.” “Yes, sir,” the second angel says. “Oh, and Daniel? Jasper? Don’t be too long. We need to wrap this up. This standoff with Sam has gone on for far too long. We have other things that need attending to once we get him out of the way. Do you understand?” “Yes, sir,” the first angel says. Then there is silence, so I assume they are both gone. Daniel and Jasper. So it was them. Well, now I know what they sound like, and what Jonathan looks like. That’s helpful….really, really helpful. One should always know their enemy. It’s not like I’ve been trained in war. It just makes good sense. Jonathan turns to the mantle on the fireplace as soon as his officers are gone. Idly, he runs his fingers across the framed family photographs and silk flowers in colorful china vases I keep up there. It’s interesting, watching him touch my things without knowing who they belong to. If he only knew the owner was prophesied by the archangels to be one of the two who could defeat him, he would probably be smashing everything in sight. He is paying extra special attention to my photos, as if trying to figure out why Sam would choose to hide here with me. He is spending so much time with his back to me, in fact, that I can’t believe my luck. Can it really be this easy? I’m about to find out. Quickly, I dash into the living room and hide behind the couch. I don’t know how long I have before Daniel and Jasper come back, so I have to hurry. Peering up above the top of the couch, I see Jonathan turn toward the TV. Wedding photos of my parents and grandparents are on top of it. Again, his back is to me. I can see the hilt of the blade sticking out past his waist, an easy grab if I can get close enough. He is only a few feet away. I’ve got to try. With a sleekness of movement and stealth I had no idea I possessed, I slide around the side of the couch and slink silently up behind Jonathan. I’m close enough I can see the weave in his linen tunic. Using a steady hand that totally belies my level of freaked out-ness, I make a grab for the hilt. To my surprise, I actually get my hand on it. I should have been just a second faster. “Sir, the blade!” the now familiar voice of the second angel, who I take to be Daniel, cries out behind me. Crap! In an instant, I pull the blade from its hilt, capturing it just as Jonathan turns to face me. His expression is a mixture of both utter disbelief and extreme wrath. Well, he’s seen me now, and picked up my unique energy signature. And my direct eye contact with him tells him I’m a seer, even if my energy signature didn’t, which it does. There’s no going back. I am part of this war for sure. To my surprise, I’m perfectly okay with it. In fact, it feels a lot like it was always meant to be my mission, at least for this life. I’ve never felt anything that “fits” quite so well, and it feels good. As if in slow motion, Jonathan moves toward me as Daniel and Jasper come from behind. In the split second before they reach me, I say the only thing that comes to my mind. “Score!” I open my eyes wide and smile the unique smile that only comes with victory over the bad guy, shoving the blade into the waist of my jeans as Jonathan reaches for it. Unfortunately, there isn’t a chance to stab him with it, since Jasper and Daniel are close enough behind me they could easily grab me before my arm fully deployed. Instead, I do the smart thing. I shift out to where they can’t find me, and where Sam, presumably, is waiting. I won the battle! But the war is just beginning. Chapter 12 Shifting into the mansion is like stepping into another room. How did I ever not know how to do this? It’s going to take some effort to avoid constantly using this new power. I mean, where else can it take me? I want to explore. I want to teach everyone I know how to do it! But I must exercise self-control. All of the fun things that come with shifting have to wait until we defeat Jonathan. I hope we take care of him soon, because there are some seriously strong urges to shift through dimensions with abandon going on within me right now. Not only am I psyched about my new power, I feel like a superhero. Looking at the blade in my hand, I must admit we are off to a good start. I grabbed it from the universe’s most dangerous angel all on my own. I’m a badass, and despite my pacifist stance, it is awesome. I am Buffy the Vampire Slayer! “Thank God you’re safe!” Sam is safely in the mansion and visibly relieved, rising up from where he was sitting on the stairs behind me. I turn toward him, so happy he is where he said he would be. I didn’t tell him, but I was worried he would be captured as he was in mid-shift, or he would leave me behind in the misguided belief it was for my own good. To my utter astonishment, he rushes over to me and grabs me in a tight embrace. Whoa! What is this? I knew he liked me well enough, but we’ve only known each other three days. That’s pretty fast to get so obviously attached to someone. Then again, they’ve been an eventful and emotional three days. I guess it’s true what they say about people who share foxholes together forming strong bonds quickly. I awkwardly return his hug, totally unprepared for his show of emotion toward me. The awkwardness is compounded when I have to put my arms around his waist under his one deployed wing and position the blade I’m still holding away from him so it doesn’t nick him, something that is harder than it sounds when you have to do it all in one fluid motion. These blades are so dangerous to angels, even a tiny scratch with one would put him out of commission for months and leave a permanent scar. Not many things will scar an angel, since their healing abilities are so amazing, but this is one of those things; I remember the scar on Jonathan’s cheek. Did another angel put it there while trying to protect their own planet, or did he encounter some previously unknown race with a weapon capable of doing similar damage to the starstone blade? There’s barely time to get myself into a good position to hug him back, though, as he pushes me away almost as quickly as he grabbed me. Then, he puts both hands on my shoulders and holds me at arm’s length, looking me up and down several times over with a keenly apprising eye. He is checking for cuts and bruises, maybe signs of blood. Seeing none, he gasps out loud. “You are unharmed!” I smile proudly, because he makes it sound like a genuine miracle. Surprisingly, pleasing him feels pretty good. “Well, of course I am! I told you I could do it.” I lightly punch him in the ribs under his bandaged wing. He gapes at me, agog. “You mean you actually got the blade?!” “You sound like you didn’t think it could be done.” I put on a false “hurt feelings” tone, teasing him a little. “It seemed unlikely,” he says, logically. “Jonathan was never going to let go of that blade. I was just sitting here, waiting for you to come back, thinking of alternate ways we could stay ahead of him without it. I never expected you to get it. And now here you are, with the blade in your hands. How did you do it?” “Well…” I triumphantly hold up the blade, giving him my best smug smirk and tell him the story. Sam’s eyes grow wide, and he holds out his hands toward the blade as if in a trance. Softly, he wraps both hands around the hilt and takes it from me. I let it go easily. It isn’t my weapon, after all, and Sam needs to retrieve his blood off of it before we stash it somewhere Jonathan will never find it. He holds the glimmering black edge of the blade to his arm, unaccustomedly exposed by the green short-sleeved t-shirt I put on him yesterday, when I’d finally insisted on washing his bloody, dirty tunic and pants. He’s got a pair of Harry’s old jeans on, too, and they look incredibly attractive on him. The shimmery drops of blood along the blade’s edge, which were somehow still wet and glistening after three days out in the open, lift up toward Sam, then quickly disappear through his skin, back inside him where they belong. No trace of them remain on the blade. It is entirely clean, which means it can no longer be used as a weapon against him. Without a word, I reach into my pocket and hand him the paper towel with the rest of his blood on it. He performs the same trick with it, then hands the perfectly white and remarkably dry tissue back to me. He is once again whole, and there is nothing out there that can act as a homing beacon to lead the bad guys to him. I let out a long sigh of relief I didn’t know I’d been holding onto, truly relaxed for the first time in days. “How long will this buy us?” I ask, hoping he’ll say weeks or even years. “This should keep Jonathan away from us indefinitely. He no longer has a way to track me with any effectiveness. The only way he will know if I’m near is if I’m within his immediate vicinity. Then, he’ll be able to sense my energy signature, as all angels can with any sentient being. I’ll wait to raise my signature back to normal until we’re in Vermont, though, just to be safe.” “How near do you need to be to sense someone’s energy signature?” “It’s not exact. Some of us are more sensitive to energies than others. Around five or ten miles is usually reasonable, though he could possibly sense me up to 20 miles away or so if he is particularly blessed in that regard. Or if one of his soldiers is.” “Well, then, we just have to stay out of his way.” “That’s easier said than done. Jonathan will have spies everywhere. If he can’t find me himself, he will have others who will report sightings of me to him. We don’t know which angels can be trusted anymore, as Luther taught us, so we have to be careful. We might not even know we’re being watched. Any report of us will bring Jonathan right to our door. We even have to view other seers with caution until we know them well, because Jonathan may already be bringing them into this war. After all, there’s a precedent. You’re a seer, and you’re in it. And since we plan on recruiting seers, why shouldn’t he do the same?” “How comforting,” I say sarcastically. Great. We might not even be able to trust other seers. Still, I’m glad I got the blade. It makes things just a little more difficult for Jonathan, and that is a good thing. Any little victory is to be celebrated, because it also makes things that much easier for us. “If we weren’t fighting so close to my home, it would be different. Angels of other kingdoms would sense me, but would only know another angel was nearby. Here, and throughout the entire Earth/moon system, other angels will recognize me on sight.” He stops and looks at me, his expression inscrutable. “Jonathan will know your energy signature now, of course. But did he see you?” Oops! Caught off guard on that one. I’m so happy about my victory, I’ve temporarily forgotten I wasn’t supposed to approach or engage Jonathan at all. “Um…yes?” Look at the positive, Sam. Look at the good side. “What?!” Crap. “He saw me.” “How? I specifically told you to only make a grab for the blade if he was nowhere near it!” Sam narrows his eyes dangerously. A dark countenance shadows his face that I’ve never seen on him before. On anyone else, I would think it is barely concealed fury. On Sam, I’m not so sure. It could just be annoyance that I didn’t follow his instructions. Angel emotions are the same as human ones, but their intensity, or lack thereof, are often triggered by different things than a human would expect. Well, if he’s mad, let him be. I did what I had to do, and this is war, after all. We both agreed on that, and agreed we are in this fight together, not as commander and private, but as equals. I have the right to make my own decisions if the situation calls for it, which it certainly did in this case. I raise my chin defiantly. “He was wearing the blade on him in a sheath at his waist the whole time. I wasn’t going to give up what might have been our only chance to get it.” “Lucy, what did you do?” Ah, I see. He isn’t mad so much as seriously concerned. I’ll learn all of his expressions and body language eventually. “I told you I was all in on this, Sam, and I meant it. This just means Jonathan knows it, too, and can recognize me on sight, rather than just sense. Nothing else has changed.” “Were Daniel and Jasper there? “Yes. I heard him call them both by name.” “Did they see you, too?” “Only from the back.” “Well, at least that’s something.” A thought occurs to me. “Can I learn to sense them?” “Yes. And I’ll teach you. It will give you at least some measure of protection if we’re ever separated.” Separated? I don’t like the thought of that. But, I guess you never know what’s going to happen in a war. I will just have to do my best to make sure we stick together. “What are we going to do with that blade?” I ask, changing the subject. “Maybe just open a door and toss it into some different or alternate universe? Or chuck it back into the past, or the future?” Sam shakes his head. “No. We need to know where it is. A blade like this can kill an angel. It’s one of the few things that can without needing any magic attached to it. We might need to use it later, if the war escalates. At the very least, we need to be sure no other angel in any universe or time gets a hold of it. These things are very hard to come by. It’s no small matter for an angel to venture into the heart of a supernova to get the material necessary to make this kind of blade. It’s a dangerous thing to do, even for us, and requires months of meditation beforehand to even attempt it. There are lots of angels who would not hesitate to take it and use it unscrupulously. Even the ones who would hide it and protect it….well, I just don’t want to take the chance.” “Where, then?” “I’m thinking we leave it right here. Jonathan can’t enter without your permission, or without actually having you with him. As long as you don’t get captured by him, this is a perfect place to hide it.” “But he might capture me. It’s certainly a possibility. Shouldn’t we leave it in someone else’s mansion, someone who isn’t involved in this? Like maybe one of my friends? None of them are seers, so they won’t know any of this is going on.” “No. It needs to be somewhere you can get to it quickly if you need it. Besides, you can only access your own mansion, unless someone else invites you into theirs, remember? We can leave it right here, under the rug at the foot of these stairs.” “But, how will either of us ever find it again? These hallways and staircases are always shifting. It may be somewhere completely different in here when we come to look for it.” “Just think of the blade when you shift in. You’ll go right to it.” Oh. Well, if that’s the case, then it seems as good an idea as any. We put the blade under the rug as Sam said. There is nothing to do now but go back to our home dimension and start building our power base. That means a trip to Vermont and trying to make contact with the seer family Sam is sure must be there. It also means an eventual trip to Sam’s home to visit his father, pay respect to his mother, and see what is left after Jasper’s visit. I know Sam will want to put that off as long as possible. Who wouldn’t? We will also need to check in with the resistance training camp behind the moon and send out more recruiting angels to the far corners of the galaxy, and then the universe. We must amass an army of significant size before Jonathan does, and he already has a head start on us. There is much to do. I still really want to explore this place, but once again, it isn’t time yet. Soon, though. Soon. I know I will come back and spend time here. It’s a strong feeling that sticks with me. My mansion and I are not done with each other yet for this lifetime. I will be back. We stand, and I notice Sam moving his bound wing bone. “Can you take the bandage off, please?” he asks, tilting his head toward it. “Is it healed?” I knew he would heal quicker than any human, even being as exhausted as he was after his injury. But broken wing bones are tricky. It’s clearly stated in my grandmother’s book on angel lore. “I think so,” he says, extending the bone experimentally. “The rest and getting my missing blood back helped. It feels like it’s ready to move. I’d like to try it.” So, I unbind the bone, carefully unfurling the wing as I go. It looks perfect. But does it work perfectly? Sam soon answers that question. He wiggles the wing back and forth, touches the flesh over the bone, running his finger along its entire length to determine if it feels whole. Then raising both wings gloriously upward, resplendent in all his angel glory and power, he flies up to the ceiling. He’s fully healed, and it is incredible to behold. Goose bumps actually raise on my arms as I watch him fly. After a few moments of enjoying his renewed wing and recharged strength, Sam floats gently back down to the floor, landing directly in front of me. He smiles broadly, flashing his sparkling white teeth. We grasp each other’s hands, and an unspoken understanding of what we’re facing passes between us. Sam reaches out and lightly strokes the side of my face with his index finger, causing little involuntary shivers to go up and down my spine. I really want to kiss him just then, but don’t. I haven’t kissed anyone except Harry in years, and I’m not sure if this desire to kiss Sam is because I’m developing romantic feelings for him, or because of the intensity of the situation that brought and is keeping us together. And Sam is an angel, which makes it much more complicated. Better to wait until I’m sure on this one before I do anything rash. Besides, I have no idea how he feels on the matter. For a moment, Sam does look like he wants to kiss me, too. But the look is gone almost as soon as it appears. He holds each of my hands in his, and together, we shift out of the mansion. When we reappear an instant later, Orlando and my apartment are far behind. Together, we stand holding hands in a luscious, sweet smelling meadow in Vermont. Chapter 13 The bags we packed and sent here earlier today via angel teleportation (a super handy thing) are still in the bushes at the edge of the meadow, where we left them. This is our new, temporary home. Well, at least it’s the general area where we hope it will be. We still have to find out if the seer family Sam once knew is still here, and if they’ll assist us. I check us into a hotel under my name, since Sam has no ID. Jonathan doesn’t know my name yet, so using an assumed one isn’t necessary. I get only one room to save money, as we’ll need all the cash we can get, living away from home and with me not working. I still have a significant amount in savings, along with the remainder of Harry’s life insurance money, which named me as beneficiary. However, it won’t last forever. If this Jonathan issue drags on and makes me have to sit out the upcoming school year, we’ll need to conserve every cent and find ways to make more money without drawing attention to ourselves. The hotel room has two queen-sized beds in it, much to my delight, so there won’t be any awkwardness regarding who sleeps where. Another good reason to have one room is we can keep each other within sight. Jonathan may not know where we are right now, since Sam’s vibration is still lowered, but that doesn’t mean he won’t find us. Being close to each other at all times is just good sense. It’s better for our mutual protection. We are quite clear with each other on where we stand regarding the coming war….we have each other’s backs. There’s no question about it. We’ve been through enough now that we both know we can totally rely on each other. We sleep the whole first day, exhausted from our ordeal in stealing the blade. The exhaustion is as much emotional as it is physical. The next day, we eat. Room service probably thinks we’re a couple on our honeymoon, because we call them up for literally every meal, and liberal snacks in between. Some of it, we eat right away. The rest, we save for provisions if we need them later. Sam is getting an enormous amount of pleasure out of human food. Each new taste and texture is like a miracle on his tongue, or so he says each time he takes a bite of some previously undiscovered delicacy. Granted, the last time he ate with humans, everything was boiled and salted for preservation, with very little flavoring like we know today. Other than raving over the food, though, he isn’t saying much. Then again, neither am I. We are both keeping our own counsel for now, thinking of how we can best approach the tasks at hand. Sam, I’m sure, is thinking of recruiting strategies. Jonathan has been incredibly successful at getting angels of all castes on his side. The question of whether he is recruiting human seers is still unanswered. All we have so far are the refugees from Sam’s home at their training base behind the moon, and we haven’t made contact with them yet. We both know it is going to take a lot more than that small army to keep Jonathan from taking the Earth. We need angels from neighboring planets and galaxies on our side, and some archangels of our own on our team would be enormously helpful. I’m more concerned with making contact with other seers. Having never met or heard of any other than my own family, I have no idea how to find them, or to approach them if we do find them. And if we find them, will they remember their family’s past with Sam? Will the seeing ability be bred out of their family, and their ancestors’ abilities forgotten? Most importantly of all, if they are still seers and still remember any family stories about Sam, will they be willing to help us defeat Jonathan and protect the planet? So many questions. I wish I had the answers. It would make this all a lot easier to plan. After a day of mostly silent pondering, and plenty of eating, I decide to take a shower. I don’t know when I’ll get another chance to clean up, and Sam seems to stay clean naturally, the dust and grime falling off of him of its own accord. No matter what goes on, he is perpetually glowing and always smelling sweet. Unfortunately, the same isn’t true for me (and every other human on the planet), so the opportunity to wash seems like one I should take while I can get it. Sam is dozing in the big chair next to the table by the window, so he doesn’t even notice me leave the room. I undress as quietly as I can so as not to disturb him, then hop in the shower. The hot water feels glorious, like a real treat I never fully appreciated until now. I scrub and shampoo my scalp and rinse until my hair squeaks, then apply the washcloth vigorously, removing every trace of dirt that may be lurking anywhere on me. I feel like a whole new person when I step out, drying my feet on the soft rug just outside the shower door, and wrap the impossibly fluffy hotel towel around me just above my breasts. I go to the mirror above the pedestal sink and wipe off the steam with the back of my arm, intending to brush the tangles out of my hair. Kira is there, just above my left shoulder as always; I’m so used to seeing her there, it’s almost like she’s an extension of me. I pick up the brush and start to pull it through my hair, and almost ignore her completely. I do talk to her quite often, but it’s not as if I feel like I have to say something every time I look in the mirror. This time, though, I catch a brief glimpse of her expression as I un-knot another tangle, and stop brushing, taken aback. She looks sad. I’ve never seen Kira looking sad. Guardians are generally cheerful angels; it’s in their nature. That’s why this can’t be good. Jonathan isn’t supposed to be able to see or communicate with the guardians. Did he manage to find a way? Is he pressuring them to join him and abandon their charges? Or has she received another unpleasant message from the archangels? Either way, I’m concerned. “Kira, what’s wrong?” I whisper, still trying to avoid disturbing Sam, in case he’s getting some much needed sleep in the other room. “It’s nothing,” she replies quietly in her feminine chipmunk voice, her head bowed low, heavy chestnut bangs nearly covering her eyes as she stares at her miniature bare toes sticking out from under her shimmery white guardian-style dress. Hmmm. Not buying it. “Say, Kira, do you know how to get in touch with the guardian angels of the seer family up here? The one Sam stayed with a couple hundred years ago?” I ask, changing the question to get her to lower her guard. Oh, she’ll tell me what’s wrong. I know her too well to fall for her denial. She looks up, a plainly fake smile plastered on her delicate face. “I don’t know any of them personally. However, I can send out a telepathic message and see if any respond. If they do, I can have them talk to their humans and see if they’ll meet you.” “Excellent. Can you do it now?” “Certainly.” Kira closes her eyes and lets her face go totally blank and expressionless. She’s concentrating, sending a message only other guardian angels can hear. She remains that way only a moment, then opens her eyes again. “They have responded.” “That was fast!” “Telepathic communication is almost instant. It is a very efficient way to send messages.” “Why doesn’t Sam use it to check in on his father, then?” “Only guardians and archangels have the ability. We wouldn’t be able to perform our jobs as well without it. Other classes of angels don’t require it as we do.” “Makes sense. So, will their people talk to us?” “They will.” She smiles again, and once more, I can see it’s put on for my benefit. In fact, I kind of think I see tiny, diamond-like tears sparkling in the corners of her eyes, but she’s so small it’s hard to tell if it’s that or just the sunlight reflecting off her shimmery skin. “Great! When do we do it?” “Tomorrow at lunch at the diner in town. They said it’s the only one, so you can’t miss it. It’s really old and looks like a prop from a movie from the 1940’s. You will be meeting with a man named John London and his sister, Linda. They are both seers from the family Sam stayed with during the War of 1812, and they do still have family lore of him. They have also heard some talk of the issue with Jonathan through angelic channels, but aren’t aware it has progressed to the point of full scale war to protect the Earth. They are most interested in meeting and talking to you.” “That’s great, Kira!” I exclaim, thrilled that the issue has been taken care of so easily. Now, I’ve got to get her to spill her secret. I know from experience the best way to do it is to catch her off guard. “So, why are you so sad?” I ask, abruptly shifting gears in the conversation. I look her directly in the eyes in the mirror. This time, she doesn’t look away. Her pretty little face drops into a mask of sorrow. Those are definitely tears, I’m sure of it. “I must leave you,” she says, her voice full of emotion. In fact, she sounds like she’s about to cry. I’ve never seen an angel cry. I’m not sure I want to. In fact, I’m not sure I heard her correctly. Every human has a guardian. In fact, all sentient beings directly created by God have them. I’ve never met a person without a guardian angel. Many animals have them, too, though their guardians are a different caste of angel from ours. “Why?” I ask, genuinely confused. “I thought you had to stay with me through every lifetime, or you would lose your position to another guardian.” “I already have,” she whispers, choking back the sobs I know now are just below the surface. “The guardian council replaced you? But you’ve done nothing wrong.” I’m already gearing up to go to bat with the council to insist on keeping Kira as my guardian. They won’t take her from me. I will not allow it. “It’s not that, Lucy,” she says, and my righteous indignation on her behalf evaporates. “It’s just that you have another angel to protect you now. You don’t need me.” “What other angel is protecting me?” I know the answer as soon as the question leaves my lips. “Sam isn’t my guardian angel,” I protest before she can answer me. “No, he isn’t a guardian angel, nor is he trained to be one. But he has taken responsibility for your welfare above his own. That means he takes my place. Each person only needs one angel looking out for them, trained or not. You no longer have need of me, at least for now.” Now I feel like I’m going to cry. Kira has been with me my whole life. I’ve never known a time when she wasn’t right there above my shoulder. In fact, she’s been with me in all of my past lives, even though I don’t remember them. “Will you be back in my future lives?” I ask. There’s got to be a way we can be together again. “Oh yes!” she is quick to reassure me. “You’re not getting rid of me that easily, Lucy McDonald. I may even be back in this one if Sam leaves you, or if, God forbid, anything happens to him. This is a war you two are entering, after all. You never know what’s going to happen. In the meantime, I get to take some time off, like Aaron.” “Is there a big break room in the sky for you all somewhere?” I ask, forcing myself to laugh. Kira giggles in spite of herself. “Something like that.” “But what about the war? Won’t the guardian angels be drawn into it? Aren’t you concerned about protecting the universe?” “We are primarily concerned with protecting our charges and our own kind. That doesn’t mean we don’t care about the universe. We all live in it, you know. But our jobs are very well defined. And the war hasn’t even come close to making its way to our realm…the break room, as you called it. It may not. We are not like other angels, as you know. It will be far more difficult for Jonathan to affect us and what we do than it will be with angels of other castes. We have nothing to fear from him yet. However, the guardians who are with humans on Earth will do what they can to protect them if it comes to it.” “What if I say I don’t want you to go?” “I don’t have a choice, Lucy, and neither do you. I already have my orders. I can’t disobey them, or I’ll never be assigned to you again. I’ve been with you since your first life, billions of years ago. I want to be with you for all of them. That means I have to do what the guardian council tells me, if I want to be sent back to you again, and I do.” “I’ll miss you,” I say, honestly. “It’ll be weird to not see your little outline just behind me everywhere I go, or full on when I look in the mirror. You’ve been a good friend.” “We’ve always been friends in thousands of lives, Lucy. You just don’t remember it right now. We will meet again, make no mistake about it. I’ve got to go. The council is calling me. I’ve already stayed longer than I was supposed to. I just didn’t know how to tell you, and didn’t want to leave without saying goodbye. They won’t let me stay here any longer. We have to say our goodbyes now.” I have to make this easy for her, even though it’s pretty damn hard on me, too. It’s the least I can do for her, after all she’s done for me. “Goodbye, Kira,” I say, sadly, reaching out my finger to stroke the side of her face. It feels like silk. Then, I smile my own fake smile. “Tell Aaron I said hello, and that all is forgiven. I love you, tiny angel. Enjoy your vacation. And try to stay safe. You don’t know how this is going to go.” “Don’t worry about me, Lucy. That’s not your job. It’s my job to look out for you. At least, it was. And it will be again. You be the one who stays safe. Promise me.” “I promise. At least, I promise I’ll do my best.” “I know. And I know you will be brilliant.” With that, she is gone. I am without a guardian angel on my shoulder for the first time in all of my lives. It’s weird to suddenly feel so alone. I guess that’s the way most people feel all the time, not knowing the always have an angel friend with them. Maybe the human race would be happier and less lonely if they knew. I turn away from the mirror and finish brushing my hair, not wanting to look at my reflection without Kira in it. Her absence will take some time to get used to. Once my hair is tangle-free, I dress. Form-fitting jeans, white socks and sneakers, and a bright yellow tie-dyed t-shirt boasting a white peace sign on the front. A casual, yet put together look that is an excellent expression of my personality and beliefs. The new seers may as well know exactly who I am from the start. I walk back out into the main room of our hotel suite where my new guardian lays, still sleeping. I don’t wake him. Tomorrow will be busy enough. I want him to stay at his peak strength for everyone, especially me. Instead, I prop myself up on some pillows and turn on the TV, keeping the sound down low so as not to disturb Sam. Losing myself in the silly pleasure of some mindless sitcoms from my youth, I soon drift off into a sleep full of pleasant dreams, visions of tiny guardian angels frolicking in the sun behind my eyelids. Chapter 14 Sam looks at me through heavily lidded eyes across our table at the diner. I don’t think he got as much sleep last night as he appeared to. If he did, it was marred by bad dreams. He isn’t fully rested, but he’s doing his best to not show it. I know he’s thinking about what comes next and how we’re going to pull it off. A waitress comes and brings two cups of coffee, heavily sugared and with lots of cream. She thinks they’re both for me, since she can’t see Sam. He’s raised his vibration back to normal, feeling the need to stretch his wings, and confident this place is too remote for Jonathan’s spies to have reached it yet. At his usual vibration, I’m the only one in the diner who knows he’s there. The heavily sweetened coffee the waitress brings isn’t something I’d normally drink. Soymilk with stevia or honey in a cup of organic coffee is the only way to go as far as I’m concerned. But today, it seems appropriate to indulge in a little junk. We deserve it. We’re about to embark on a war, for God’s sake. A little sugar to get us going can’t hurt. Besides, I think Sam will like it better this way. He does. He looks around to make sure no one is watching us, since what they would see is a coffee cup raise itself into the air. Then, he takes a sip and smiles at me, his first genuine smile since we arrived in Vermont three days ago. It’s nice to know he can still find joy in things. I told him of Kira’s departure before we came to the diner, as well as her declaration of his new responsibility. He took it in stride. In fact, he told me he was surprised she hadn’t left earlier. Once he declared his intentions to protect me out loud, her role in my life this time around was effectively over. He knew what he was doing when he spoke those words, and he knew what they would mean to Kira. Taking my hand and looking me in the eyes with a plain honesty that was so pure it was almost painful to see, he assured me he had no regrets. I believed him. I still do. “I’m not going to be some shrinking violet or damsel in distress, you know,” I assured him. “I intend to be just as much a guardian to you as you are to me. If anyone wants to get to you, they’ll have to go through me, and I promise you I won’t make it easy for them.” He started to protest. Of course he did. It is in his nature, and I could see the objection in his eyes, the words forming on his lips. Then, he just started to laugh. “I guess you do have a bit of the warrior in you, Lucy McDonald. And since there’s no manual for me to follow in being a guardian angel to you, I suppose there’s nothing to stop you from being the same to me. Truly, I believe you’re capable of it. The archangels wouldn’t have chosen you if you weren’t able, and you’ve already shown signs of the great power of which they spoke. We’ll bring more powers out in your training, I’m sure. Besides, after you snatched the blade from Jonathan, I knew you could do anything you put your mind to.” “I’m glad you realize it,” I said, graciously, smiling with him. “I’m surprising myself a lot lately, to tell you the truth. I’m doing things I never imagined doing, and they’re coming easily to me. I’m kind of excited to start exploring what else I can do.” “I’m sure you’ll be spectacular,” Sam said, genuinely. “But remember, I will always do my best to put myself first in the line of danger where you’re concerned.” “Only if you beat me to the front of the line,” I assured him. We absently held each other’s hands then, and it was like we were shaking on it. Now, at the diner, we wait. We’re there a little early to make sure we don’t miss our appointment. Neither of us is very hungry, so the coffee is holding us over until John and Linda arrive. As promised, they are right on time, walking in the door at noon on the dot. I recognize them both in an instant. They don’t look any different than anyone else in the place. They’re typical Vermonters, wearing jeans, black t-shirts with rock band logos on them, and open-toed leather sandals. With practically matching long black hair and pale skin, they could be twins, and for all I know, they are. However, the giveaway to their identity is their piercing, emerald eyes. I know those eyes. They are the same as mine, my mothers, my brothers’, and my grandmother’s. They’re seer eyes, part of our special connection to the angelic world. No one else has eyes like ours. The angels have their unique, giveaway eyes; so do we, it seems. They spot us right away, and immediately walk over to our table, their little guardian angels fluttering easily above their shoulders. I let out an involuntary wistful sigh and absently feel my own shoulder, rubbing it gently as they approach. Since Kira left, my awareness of everyone else’s guardian angels has become painfully acute. I notice them on everyone like never before, whereas in the past, they’d mainly been a part of the normal scenery of everyday things. Now, I feel Kira’s loss quite keenly as I observe everyone else silently and obliviously co-existing with their guardian angels. I know Sam is supposed to be my new guardian, but it’s not the same. True guardians are so different from Earth Angels. Having him there is a comfort, the best in the world, but it’s no substitute for Kira. I miss her. I shake myself out of my reverie as John and Linda approach us. They are both of medium height, slender and muscular, in their late 30’s to mid-40’s, I’d guess. Both of them smile at us as they get closer to our table. I hope this means they will be friendly and amenable to working with us. “Lucy and Sam?” Linda speaks first, her voice soft and light, with definite warmth and friendliness behind it. “That’s us,” I say, my voice sounding hollow and far away after so much silence over the past few days. I motion for Sam to slide over and he does. John slips in beside him and Linda sits beside me. “Thank you for coming.” “We rarely get direct messages from other angels through our guardians,” John says, his face open and welcoming. “It seemed important that we meet with you.” “Have you ever met any others seers beyond your own family?” I can’t help it. I have to ask. It isn’t at all pertinent to what we needed to discuss, but the curiosity is too strong shake off. “No,” Linda says, shaking her head. “But we know you exist.” “My family personally, or just other seers in general?” “We know about the seven original families,” John clarifies, “but you are the first of them we’ve met in person.” “Ok,” I nod. “I just found out about the seven families a few days ago. I knew there were other seers, but I’d never met any besides my relatives. This is virgin territory for me.” “Us, too,” John says. “Our understanding is most of the seer families are far removed from the truth of their heritage. They know they can see angels, but not much else. We’re lucky that our relatives kept track of things through all these centuries. Our oral histories tell the whole story.” “Like about angel magic?” “Exactly.” “I’m not really sure what we can do to help you,” Linda blurts out, frowning. I quickly assess her as friendly, but cautious. It’s a good thing to be, especially in this kind of situation. She’s smart to be guarded. She still doesn’t have the full story, and has no idea what we’re asking of her. “Did your guardians not explain the situation?” Sam asks, surprised. “Only vaguely,” John jumps in, trying to mask what he apparently feels is his sister’s rudeness. “The thing is, we’re not exactly sure what’s going on. All we know is our guardians told us they got a message from yours, and that you needed to meet with us to talk about a coming war. We’ve heard talk of rumors of a dangerous angel in the area from our own guardians, and passing Messenger and Nature Angels. But so far, they’re just rumors. We have no other details beyond those.” “Oh, they’re not rumors, believe me,” I assure them. Sam and I give them a rundown on the situation with Jonathan and the apocalyptic possibilities for the Earth, and indeed, the universe, if he should succeed in his plans. “The archangels say Sam and I are the only beings standing in his way,” I explain. “That’s why they killed my fiancé, so I would be focused on the mission. Jonathan doesn’t know Sam and I are supposed to lead the resistance against him, as far as we know, but he does know Sam is the only angel to stand up to him and live to tell about it. That is enough reason for him to go out of his way to eliminate Sam. And he knows I’m helping him now, so he’ll be looking for me, too. He knows what I look like and he knows my energy signature, but he doesn’t know my name yet. Getting the blade makes it harder for him to find Sam, and me by association. But he’s got spies everywhere, and will probably find us eventually. While he’s looking, we need to recruit as many other angels and seers as we can, to form an army to stop him. We thought being up here in a remote part of Vermont, with a seer family who has more information on seer heritage than we do, would be the best place to start.” Linda and John are silent for a moment, but they do some fascinating non-verbal communication with each other using their eyes and facial expressions. It’s like a body language Morse code. I wish I could interpret it. Sam watches them, too, his face plastered with curiosity. Finally, Linda speaks, addressing both Sam and I equally. “We can help you.” I breathe an audible sigh of relief. I didn’t even know I was tense until that moment, but the feeling of relaxation intense. Sam, too, looks visibly eased. “How?” I ask. “We can hide you,” Linda says determinedly, a plan apparently already formed in her mind. “There is a spell that will let us shield both you and Sam from other angels. It will keep Jonathan and his minions from finding you, as your energy signatures will be imperceptible to them, and to all other angels in the universe. You’ll have to stay in our village, though, since they can still recognize the two of you on sight. In the meantime, we can send out a call to arms to the angels we know in the area, and through our guardians. They will spread the word to the angels they know, and so on down the angel network, until even angels who are far away across the universe know about what is going on here. We’ll also use our guardians to get the message to other seers. Once humans and angels start coming, and we think they will, we can create a hidden training camp in our town that Jonathan will never find.” “Will you use magic to hide the camp, too?” “Of course. It’s a spell that hasn’t been used for centuries, but we still have the instructions. It should work.” “Won’t other people in your village notice something going on, with all the new arrivals and military training?” John shakes his head. “The village is a small one, with only about 150 people in it, and they’re all related to us. Seers. The village is even called London, after our last name. It’s on the edge of the woods, on the Canadian border, with plenty of room to expand, if necessary, without attracting the attention of neighboring towns.” “A seer village!” I exclaim, astounded at our good luck. This must be meant to be. “That’s incredible!” “Why would you do this for us?” Sam asks, genuinely curious. “We’re strangers to you.” “But you’re not,” Linda insists. “Our family lore includes the stories from the time you stayed with our ancestors during the War of 1812, and how you helped America win. We grew up hearing tales of Prince Sam, heir to the Earth Angel kingdom. And angels and seers are supposed to work together. It’s part of our respective jobs.” “Not only that,” John adds, “but Jonathan is a threat to us all. As seers, and as residents of the planet, we’re obligated to work with you to ensure he doesn’t succeed.” “I’m sure other angels will come, but do you think any seers will?” Sam asks. “So few still know what they truly are anymore.” “Of course they’ll come. The desire to help is ingrained in seers,” Linda says. “You’ve probably felt it yourself, Lucy. What do you do for a living?” “I’m a Kindergarten teacher.” “See? Right there. You are ingrained with the inborn desire to help others. Of course, those who can’t see angels can be born with this desire, too. But seers always have it. It’s part of our nature.” I ponder this for a moment. My family has a long history of community service. My grandfather served in Korea and Vietnam, and, though not a seer, has been involved in veterans’ organizations ever since. No wonder my grandmother fell in love with him; he is just like her. My grandmother works with various charities, and has since I’ve known her. So did my mother. Both of my brothers give liberally of their time and money to charitable causes, take in homeless strangers, and teach their children to do the same. James even started his own charity to help those who are going hungry in the community, and won a local humanitarian award for it. I was in the Peace Corps, and part of my attraction to Harry was his commitment to community service. It seems the desire to do good things for others and help make the world a better place really is part of the seer heritage, as well as the non-seer part of my family. It would certainly explain why I was so eager to jump into fighting a war for the planet, and ultimately the universe, when I know nothing about fighting and have always been a committed pacifist. It would also explain why the desire to kill Jonathan boiled in my blood from the moment I saw how horribly he injured Sam. Protect the planet, protect the people, protect the angels. It could be the seer motto. “So they will come because they feel that’s what they’re meant to do?” Sam asks. He shoots a look at me. I know he’s thinking this explains everything about my own attitude. Linda nods. “They will come. And we will teach them as we will teach you. A meeting like this should have happened centuries ago. It is high time all the families re-learn who they really are, and what they can do.” “Do you think we can take down Jonathan and his army?” I ask. “That remains to be seen,” John says. “We don’t know how strong he is yet, or how big his numbers are compared to what we’ll build. He has a head start on us, but probably not by much. All we can do is try, and we must all be committed to the cause.” “And if we’re understanding you right,” Linda continues, “the longer Sam stays out in the open, the better chance there is of Jonathan finding you both.” “That’s true,” Sam says, taking a small sip of coffee. “As we said, his spies could be anywhere. Even without the blade in his possession, we still have to be careful and watch out for him.” “You’re too important to take any kind of risk,” Linda says decisively. “John will collect your things from your hotel and check out for you. Lucy, you and Sam will come with me back to our village, and John will meet us there. We need to get the two of you cloaked immediately. Even a small chance is too much of a chance to take with you. You’re the leaders here. The archangels decreed it, and that means something. You need a secure base of operations, and we can provide that to you.” I glance at Sam. Should we trust them? I instinctively feel they are trustworthy, and we should do as they say. But I will go with whatever Sam wants to do. Sam nods back at me, understanding my unspoken question. He wants to get started building a realistic defense against Jonathan as soon as possible. He will go. And I will go with him. “Then let’s do it,” I say, throwing a ten dollar bill down on the table to cover the coffee and a tip. “It’s time Jonathan learned not to mess with the seers and angels of planet Earth.” Chapter 15 I am amazed at how small the village looks. I was expecting a small town, since Vermont is full of them, but this place is almost like a settlement on the frontier. I can actually see from one end of town to the other at the top of the main street. There is nothing but woods behind the scattering of buildings. But it’s not in the middle of nowhere. It only took fifteen minutes for John to drive us from the diner to the town line. And what little bit of town is there is apparently modern. I see telephone lines, a cell phone tower in the distance, a grocery store and gas station combo, a public library, and cars lining the paved streets. One café nearby even advertises wi-fi in its window in bright neon letters, and there’s a long brick building with a playground beside it I’m pretty sure is an elementary school. What I can see of the town looks utterly charming, like the type of place you’d put on a postcard if it was covered in snow or the leaves were decked out in their fall colors. It’s cozy, and most of all, it’s safe, or at least, it will be. And with the back being woods, it will be easy to defend it. I like it immediately. John and Linda take us back to Linda’s place, a 1950’s era tract house that looks like it came straight out of “Leave It to Beaver.” There is already a crowd of about a dozen people waiting for us in the cramped, green-walled living room when we arrive, most of them sitting cross-legged on thick, brown shag carpeting. Word of our presence and situation has apparently already been circulated among the family. These are the other seers, the ones who will be helping us. In the back of the room, I see two people who are definitely not genetically related to the Londons. Maybe in-laws? One is African-American in appearance, and the other looks Japanese. Oh, but they aren’t really. I see it now. There is a faint glow to them both that I recognize immediately, even before I notice the sparkling blue of their eyes and the tell-tale glimpse of feathers peeking out from behind their backs. They’re angels. Their extra-long tunics and bare feet identify them as Nature Angels, undoubtedly from the nearby woods. These guys are probably on quite familiar terms with the London family. They must be here to help, too. How much do they know about Jonathan? Have they encountered him? Does Sam know them? A million questions run through my mind. There’s no time to ask anything, though, because John and Linda are ready to get down to business. Our bags are taken upstairs by one of the younger family members and we all file into the living room, looking for any place to sit we can manage. Sam and I score the couch only because everyone makes way for us to have it. Already, they’re treating us like we’re in charge. It’s so weird, but I know I need to get used to it. John and Linda made it clear we were going to be the leaders here. After brief introductions to their extended family of cousins, aunts, uncles, siblings, parents, and grandparents, all of whom give Sam and me an astonishing amount of respect and reverence, telling us what an honor it is to meet us both, John brings the room to silence with a finger to the lips. He does not introduce the Nature Angels. I glance at Sam. He is looking at the two winged observers intently. “Do you know them?” I whisper, leaning in close to his ear. “I’ve seen them before when I’ve been on the planet’s surface, but we’ve never met formally,” Sam whispers back. “Obviously, they’re Nature Angels. Their kingdom and mine interact regularly, but I don’t know them all personally, like I do with my own people. I’ll try to get an opportunity for us to talk to them later.” John is speaking. “We have come together to address a common threat to us all,” he announces. “As you’ve all probably heard by now, a rogue angel named Jonathan has his eye set to take over the Earth, its human and animal inhabitants, and the angels who protect it. He has already done this to the other planets in this solar system, the ones with non-intelligent species, using them as practice. Once he takes Earth, he will then move on to take over other inhabited planets in this galaxy and the beings in those places, including the angels. He will keep going in this way, taking over galaxy after galaxy, until he has become the dictator of the universe, shaping it and us to his will. Should this happen, it would be only slightly less catastrophic than an apocalypse. We must stop him here, before he progresses any further in his evil quest.” An assent of nods and mumbled “yeses” follow his declaration. “This woman, Lucy McDonald, is from a branch of the European seer family, which, as you know, is our own seer family of origin,” John continues. “With her is Prince Sam, the heir to the Earth Angel kingdom. You remember the family stories about the time our ancestors took him in. Sam is the only angel so far who has stood up to Jonathan and lived to tell about it, and Jonathan is out for his blood. If he lets Sam go uncaptured, he will lose the faith of his army. He knows Lucy helped him get away, so he will be looking for her, too. The archangels have declared that Sam and Lucy are the only ones who can lead the Earth to defeat him, and Lucy has been identified as the most powerful seer in more than a generation, though she knows little of her magical heritage or her other seer powers. We must teach her, and at the same time, help her and Sam put together an army of seers and angels who will band together to defeat Jonathan and his own army. This is a sacred task with which we have been entrusted. We must not fail in it. Currently, those of us in this room, and some members of Sam’s kingdom who are in hiding in a training camp behind the moon, are the only ones standing between freedom and slavery for the entire universe. As such, we must use our full seer powers for the first time in centuries to perform our jobs to the fullest. We must cloak Sam and Lucy from the perception of any other angels, and we must start recruiting the army we will train to save us all.” A bunch of “so be its” sound out around the room. It’s kind of like a religious meeting, only without the “amens.” “They’re going to do a spell,” I whisper to Sam, suddenly feeling like I’m in a Harry Potter movie. “Yes,” Sam whispers back. “But remember, it’s really just a different use of physics. Most humans knew it eons ago, but the art was suppressed by the various religions that sprung up. Only a few people know how to practice it to its true potential now. It’s different on other planets. They use it freely across the universe in many places.” “So we’re the backward, narrow-minded ones,” I surmise. “Yes, but no less loved and cherished than anyone else,” Sam assures me. “And there are other civilizations like yours that have suppressed the knowledge of magic and its use. The universe is a very diverse place. There is room for everyone.” “I know.” John asks that the furniture be moved to the periphery of the room, and we all pitch in so it’s done in a flash. He then requests everyone sit in a circle on the floor. The two Nature Angels take their place in the circle, sitting directly opposite of Sam and me. They don’t look unfriendly, but they aren’t smiling, either. I wonder how much they know. Are they spies for Jonathan? How can John and Linda be sure they can be trusted? I want to ask, but everyone, including Sam, seems eager to get this ritual started. If Sam isn’t concerned, I won’t be. But I do want to talk to those angels as soon as the opportunity presents itself. Linda is putting a lot of different objects in the center of the circle. She seems to be the one in charge of the magic here. I feel a nagging sense of regret that my own family never knew about any of this. My grandfather and father may not have been able to participate in such rituals, as they weren’t of the seer bloodline, but my mother, brothers, grandmother, and I could have taken a much more active role in the family gift if we’d known. We might not have made much of a difference in the world, but maybe we could have done some good. Linda lays out a handful of small fir branches on the floor in the middle of the circle. She arranges them into an odd pattern that is part triangular, part circular. Then, she lights three white candles, each evenly spaced through the pattern like an arrow. Four sticks of incense are placed on each side of the branches and set to smoking, releasing a heady, almost hypnotic scent throughout the room. She leans forward and pulls a variety of leaves, flowers, grasses, soil, stones, and bird feathers out of a leather pouch I never saw her carrying, and scatters them around the branches in a seeming random way. There could be a purpose to each placement, but if there is, I can’t figure it out yet. I hope they will teach me. Finally, the people on either side of her hand her two clear crystal bowls of water, and she sets these on either side of her odd branch pattern. I suddenly see that everything that is on the floor in front of us is supposed to represent the elements of earth, fire, wind, and water…the powers of nature. No wonder the Nature Angels are there. It’s beautiful, in a simple, elegant way. Linda murmurs an incantation in a language I do not recognize, closing her eyes and leaning over the makeshift altar on the floor before us, inhaling the scent of the incense. I look at Sam, and he immediately understands my unspoken question. “Enochian,” he whispers. “The ancient language of the angels.” I raise my eyebrows, surprised. “People know that?” I mouth silently to him. “A few,” he whispers back. “It was taught to early humans of the select seer families, and some branches still retain the knowledge. It is powerful when used in the right way. The words themselves can manipulate the physical universe.” Holy cow! After her incantation, Linda withdraws a stone knife from her pocket. It is not starstone, I note with some relief. According to Sam, the starstone blade I took from Jonathan and the one we lifted from Luther are two of only a handful of such blades known to be in this galaxy. Without a word, both of the Nature Angels hold out their hands and allow Linda to slice their palms with the knife. They lean forward and squeeze precisely twelve droplets of their blood into the bowls of water, one angel per bowl. Then, they hold up their palms so everyone present can see them heal as if no cuts were ever made. Man, if only humans could heal like that, it would revolutionize the world! And that’s probably the reason we can’t. The universe, in its vast wisdom, realized that this was too much power for our species to handle responsibly. I wonder how many inhabited planets out there have races who can heal like the angels, or if any can be trusted with that ability. Linda then nods her head toward Sam. He seems to know exactly what to do, and leans across me to hold out his hand to her. Linda slices his palm the same way she did with the other two angels. Sam squeezes out six drops of blood into one water bowl and six into the other. He sits back, holds up his hand so everyone can watch it heal, then rests it on his lap. Then, apparently, it’s my turn. No one says anything, but Linda nods in my direction. I hold out my hand, figuring that’s what she wants, and sure enough, she slices right across the front of my palm. She doesn’t cut deeply, but it stings like hell. Following the lead of Sam and the other angels, I make my hand into a fist and squeeze six drops of blood into each bowl of water. I sit back on my heels, not sure what to do next, since I can’t insta-heal like the angels. Sam takes my hand and puts it between both of his. I feel a slight warmth go through my hand, and when he releases it, the cut is gone. That is something that will come in handy! Angels at full power are incredible beings. Linda then slices her own hand, puts her own blood drops into the water bowls, and reaches over for the Japanese-looking angel to heal it. She mumbles another Enochian incantation over the bowls. It is a complicated language with no obvious grammar or any words that can be recognized from repetition. It is also full of sounds I’ve never heard made by a human tongue, and some sound supernatural in nature; I’m sure it takes special powers for a human to be able to speak that way. I wonder if I can. “Please hold hands,” Linda directs in English as she finishes her Enochian recitation. Everyone in the circle does as she says. Sam’s hand feels warm and strong in mine, and I notice a few rough calluses on it for the first time. This is an angel who has been used to hard, manual work in his life, not just a pampered prince. I kind of like that bit of knowledge. Of course, now isn’t the time to be pondering such things, so I turn my focus back to Linda. “Oh Mother Earth, Father Universe, and God of All,” Linda intones, looking upward toward the ceiling, her head tilted slightly back. “We come together today to ask your protection for this angel, Sam, and this human seer, Lucy. We ask that you cloak them from their enemies, so that no one who wishes them evil may sense their presence henceforth. Create a protective barrier around them that their enemies’ senses may not penetrate, we implore you. With these offerings, we give respect. With their blood mingled with that of their kin, we give our consent for our request to be done. With our hands held in this circle, we call on your power to make it so, using our own power to draw yours to us. The seers and the angels in this circle have given of themselves to enact this protection. Thus let it be done. When we see your sign, we will know that our request has been granted.” Linda bows her head, eyes closed. There is silence for a moment as everyone looks around at each other, wondering if this will work and if a sign will present itself. We don’t have long to wait. Just as Linda finishes speaking and bows her head as low as it will go, the water in the two bowls forms into two miniature pink spouts, rising up above the level of the bowls and higher and higher into the air until all the water and blood is gone from the bowls. It rises and stays suspended in the air above us, almost to the ceiling. It is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. It may be physics, as Sam said, but it still looks like magic to me. Then, without warning, the two spouts of water arch back toward Sam and me, joining together to form one spinning circle above our heads in a horizontal position, kind of like a large, watery, slightly bloody halo for two. The water halo spins above us for a moment, then comes splashing down over us, drenching Sam and me from head to foot in its pink wetness. A golden glow emanates all around the two of us for just a moment, hovering slightly above our skin all over our bodies. Then, the water and blood disappear entirely, transported to who knows where, leaving us as dry as when we entered the house. Wow. “It is done,” Linda concludes, looking at Sam and me with satisfaction. The participants in the circle smile and nod their agreement, even the two heretofore expressionless angels sitting across from us. I look at Sam expectantly. He gives me a solemn nod, but with a hint of pleasure in his eyes. We are protected. It will take the most extraordinary of measures for Jonathan, or any other angel, to find us now. We are safe for the time being. The spell is not impenetrable, but it is strong, and it will buy us the time we need to prepare for what we must do. Now, we can finally get to work protecting the planet. Chapter 16 “Sam! I need a break. Can’t we just stop for a few minutes?” I beg as he dodges the thrust of my rubber dagger one more time, sending me stumbling into the kickball outfield. I look around at the army of four dozen seers and a dozen angels we’ve gathered on our makeshift training ground in the playground behind the local elementary school. Most of the humans look tired, but determined. All of them are obviously in better shape than me. With ten years of daily yoga and chasing five-year-olds around nine months out of every year, I thought I was in excellent condition. For a regular person, I suppose I am. But the seers and angels we’ve recruited with John and Linda over the past six weeks are warriors. The humans are all part of John and Linda’s family, and have been raised training daily for battle; their knowledge of the overall angel community meant they always realized a situation where they would have to fight against or with angels could happen one day, and preparation was key. I feel impossibly inferior next to them. The angels never seem to tire out at all, and are even more expert fighters than the seers. I am painfully aware of being the odd person out, and my muscles know it, too. The two Nature Angels who were with us at the casting of the cloaking spell are each leading a regiment, one with John as second in command, and one with Linda. Their names, I soon discovered, are Jacob and Jared. They’re part of a group of their kind who have been protecting the upper northeastern wildernesses of the world since long before humans walked the planet. Both of them have known the Londons since the European settlement of this continent. There are about 100 Nature Angels just for this area alone. The angels we’ve recruited so far have come from their ranks, and more have promised to arrive soon, once they’ve completed their current assignments. Many of the local Elemental and Messenger Angels have also pledged their support as soon as they can re-arrange their work assignments to get away to join us. Unlike the Earth Angels, the Nature and Elemental Angels have to keep up a more constant level of work to the natural world in their care in robust condition, and the Messenger Angels are constantly moving from one place to another. It’s difficult to pin them down, but they know what’s at stake here; we know we can count on them to be there for us as quickly as they can arrange it. Sam and I make up a regiment of our own, having elected to train solely together until our numbers expand in a significant way. Eventually, we will co-lead our own regiment of top fighters. For now, we train in the same area as the others and do the same exercises, but work one-on-one instead of in a group. In fact, Sam insisted on training me himself. As much as he respects everyone who has joined us, he doesn’t trust anyone else to prepare me to face Jonathan and his minions on a battlefield. He firmly believes that since he has actually fought Jonathan, he is the best candidate to be my teacher. No one argued with him. The angels among us may not be part of his kingdom, but both they and the humans among us all know our special designation by the archangels. I get the impression everyone here will do what either one of us says, when it comes right down to it. I’m not surprised Sam is looking at me with such exasperation now. He’s the only one in the village who would dare to, but I wouldn’t really blame anyone who was training with me if they were frustrated with my progress. It’s not the first time I’ve begged for a break since we started doing this. Sixteen hour days of training with only one day off a week is worse than being in the Army! A person can only take so much, and I’m obviously able to take far less than anyone else here. “Lucy,” he says, his patient tone belying his expression, “we’ve got to keep it up. Jonathan won’t show any mercy when we battle him. I can’t let your safety be compromised. You need to be ready when he comes, and you’re not. We must keep training.” “Sam,” I plead, sweat dripping down my face and into the crevice between my breasts, the light red tank top and black Lycra shorts I’m wearing doing nothing to keep me cool, even in the exceptionally crisp Vermont summer. My long hair is done up in a high ponytail and my neck is still raining sweat down my back like a waterfall. “This is ridiculous,” I say, patiently. “Look at me! I’m a wreck! I’ve been trying so hard to keep up with the rest of you, but I just can’t. Every human has their physical limits. I am way beyond mine. My muscles hurt so badly, I don’t think I could walk back to the house without help, and it’s only across the street! I’m thirsty and hungry and I need to just sit down for a few minutes, for the love of God! Please, have some mercy. I know Jonathan won’t show any, Sam, believe me, I do. But you can!” I bend forward and put my hands on my knees, shaking the perspiration out of my eyes, and take some deep, restful breaths. Even the few minutes I’m taking to beg for a break is a welcome respite from the non-stop movement I’ve been at since before dawn. It’s now well after noon, and I have no idea how the other humans aren’t ready to break for lunch yet, or just break. To a man, and that includes the women, they each look like they could go on like this all day. Well, not me! Sam approaches me and lifts my head up with a finger under my chin. Even after hours of tough physical activity, he looks as fresh as if he just stepped from a shower, and he smells like a meadow. I shudder to think how I must smell, and do my best to not notice, or get too close to him. “We are the leaders in this war,” Sam says gently. “You must be equal to the task. You’ve got it in you. You just need to access it. I don’t understand why you haven’t already. The physical training should have brought some of your powers out by now.” “Maybe the archangels were wrong. Maybe I’m not meant to be a leader,” I say with a hint of dejection. “Just because they decided I have some special powers that make me a good candidate to defeat Jonathan doesn’t mean they’re right. Look at these people, Sam! Now look at me. I can’t do what they’re doing. They are born soldiers. I’ve always been a pacifist. I was willing to train and do this, I really was, but I am not made for it. I’m sorry, Sam, but I’m just not!” I’m practically in tears at this point, frustration overtaking me like a runner who has been on my heels for an entire race. “I’m so sorry, Sam, I just can’t do this!” Weeks and weeks of training with swords, daggers, hand-to-hand combat, spears, and even halos--those things make formidable weapons when used the right way--of running, doing gymnastics, weight lifting, and all kinds of other Olympic-style activities with only short breaks for water and meals, then sleep, and doing it all again the next day are finally catching up with me, and I can feel myself on the verge of hysterics. The last thing I want to do is cry in front of Sam or seem even weaker to him than I know I already do. His hopes are so closely pinned on me being his partner in this. I can’t bear the thought of disappointing him. I just know I cannot do another thing today. I’m not sure I’ll ever be up to the task of becoming a soldier ready to take on an angel army. I will make easy prey for Jonathan on the battlefield. Thank goodness I at least know how to shift away to safety. Maybe it’s better if I just go home and do grassroots recruiting from there. I can find seers and angels to send here and strengthen the movement. It’s possible that’s what the archangels envisioned for me, and Kira and Aaron misinterpreted it. After all, I’m a good recruiter and community leader. That is the perfect job for me in this war, not this physically excruciating battle training. “You are meant for this, and you can do it,” Sam says, softly. “I know you can, even if you don’t. You are a seer. You have powers you don’t even realize yet just from that simple fact. There are all kinds of other, unique powers in you, too. I told you when we first met that I could feel them emanating off you. All of this physical work should have prompted your subconscious to unlock and reveal those powers to you. That’s why I brought you right into this instead of meditation and working with magic, which would be the usual way. I thought this method would be quicker. I see now those powers are buried more deeply than I imagined. But they’re there, Lucy. They create a ripple in space around you. No one else here has that, you know. You can do far more than you realize. It’s in your DNA. You are the leader of the seers on this planet. They all recognize it. Surely you’ve noticed how they all defer to you, how they look at you with such respect? Even the other angels look at you like you’re something special. It’s time you realized it, too. More importantly, you need to start believing in yourself as we all believe in you.” “But what if your confidence is misplaced?” I feel so defeated. He tips my face upward, and I close my eyes, not wanting to look at him. The feeling of shame at my own physical weakness when so many people are depending on me to save them is overwhelming. “It isn’t,” he assures me. “We can all sense it. You could, too, if you’d let yourself. Your kind and mine can always sense a born leader. That’s you, Lucy.” “But I’m so exhausted,” I protest. “My body is telling me what my brain has been trying to for days. I’m not up to this task.” “You are,” Sam insists. “I’ll prove it to you.” That gets my attention quickly, and I level him with a suspicious look. “How?” Any time an angel tells you he will prove something to you, be prepared for something akin to a miracle. Trust me on this. “I wanted to wait until you discovered your powers on your own, but I see now you need assistance. That’s perfectly all right. You had no knowledge of even your most basic seer powers, much less your special leadership ones, until you heard the archangels’ prophesy. You might still uncover them on your own, but I can’t bear to see you suffer needlessly anymore, and frankly, we don’t have time to wait. Trust me and what I’m about to do, Lucy, and I think you will be pleasantly surprised.” Without another word, and before I can ask any more questions, he places his left ring finger against the lower middle of my forehead, right on my third eye chakra. I feel a slightly cool, tingling sensation run through me from head to foot, and then the feeling of floating upward. I close my eyes involuntarily, but I know my feet aren’t touching the ground. He’s levitating me, and there’s something else, too. The cool tingling spreads over every inch of skin on my body, making the hairs stand up everywhere. The pain and soreness vanishes from my tortured muscles, my thirst is quenched, the hunger that’s been gnawing in the pit of my stomach for hours dissipates, and I feel an energy and strength forming in me unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life. The longer he keeps me floating in place, the more power I feel building in me, until I actually do feel like a superhero who could easily take on the world and kick its ass. I even sense my already taut and firm muscles growing slightly larger and harder, and I’m almost certain the many, many bruises I’ve accumulated over the past few weeks are disappearing. My heartbeat slows to a low, strong, steady beat, and my concentration narrows to focus entirely on the spot Sam is touching. I see a white light emanating from my third eye, and I know deep in my soul that it is power. My own personal power as a seer, and it is formidable, just as the archangels predicted. It was in me all along, just as everyone said. Sam just activated it. Suddenly, everything is clearer to me than it’s ever been. I can see my life, my heritage, and my abilities all laid out before me like a map. This power is in every seer, part of who we are, but mine is bigger, stronger, and more nuanced, with added, special abilities. How incredible! I could have accessed it at any point. I just didn’t know it was there. Sam quite literally led me to it. For the first time since we started training, I feel like the leader I’ve continually been told I am. I also feel ready to train again. Heck, I feel ready to take on the world, the galaxy, the whole universe, if necessary. Oh man, let anyone try to hold me back now. It can’t be done. I am a force of nature. And Jonathan, you’re going down! Suddenly, and without even feeling it, I am on my feet again, and I open my eyes when Sam withdraws his finger. As I look at the world around me, it’s like I’m seeing it for the first time. I swear, the colors are brighter and the sounds and smells are heightened…food probably tastes better now, too. Then, I see Sam smiling beatifically at me. And a bit smugly, too. But to me, he is the most beautiful sight of all. “How long did you know you could do that to me?” I ask wondrously, and just a bit accusingly. “Always.” Sam’s smile turns into a mischievous grin. “And you didn’t because…?” I leave the question hanging in the air. I want an honest answer. Why did he let me suffer for weeks and let me think I was worthless as a warrior before showing me my real power? It seems kind of cruel, though I know Sam is the exact opposite of that word. “Like I said before, I wanted you to discover it on your own, through the training. I did discuss it with John and Linda. I thought at first maybe they should be the ones to teach you to access your seer powers. We are all curious as to how they will differ from other seers, as you’ve been prophesied to be so powerful. But, they felt like our time was best spent training, and that you needed to work with us and become physically strong before working on discovering and honing your seer skills. They thought your powers would come out in training, too. I still think they would have, eventually. But I couldn’t let you go on being miserable. Seeing you suffer was actually hurting me, Lucy. It was time to show you.” “I didn’t do anything to you, by the way,” he says quickly, anticipating my next question. “I just opened up your awareness so you could see and access it all for yourself. It was like opening a book for you, nothing more. The contents of the book were already inside you, ready for you to see and use. And you did. How do you feel?” “Wonderful,” I admitted. “I can go on training now. I can do anything.” “I know.” “I want to show my family. They may not have the extra powers I saw in the light, but they do have standard seer powers they can learn to access and use. We need all the people we can get to join us. Let’s bring them here. They may need my protection, anyway, especially if Jonathan finds out they’re related to me.” “I’ve been thinking the same thing. We’ll talk about it more tonight, after dinner. You’re right about them needing your protection, and I should have thought of it when we came here. Forgive me for being distracted. But I see it clearly now. Being here is the best place for them, even if they don’t train with us. There are non-seers here who are all playing their part in keeping the camp going; your family could join them if they prefer. We’ll leave it up to them, but they should have all the information.” “Absolutely,” I nod in agreement. “For now, though, shall we continue our epic battle?” He means training, and he raises his golden blond eyebrows in mock jest at me, waiting for my consent. “Let’s do it,” I say, pulling my rubber dagger out of its sheath at my side and assume my fighting posture once more. This time, I’m going to keep going, and I’m going to win some of these skirmishes. The powers within me tell me so, and I know it’s true. Chapter 17 Dinner is a communal affair, just as it would be in a military mess hall. There is a designated cook who doesn’t train with us, but who provides us with simple, nutritious and energy-rich meals three times a day. Long tables and benches line the community room of the village church where we’ve set up our dining facilities. It reminded me of regimented high school lunch tables at first, with everyone sitting in their own cliques, but I’ve gradually become accustomed to it. I’ve even come to enjoy it, because it gives me the opportunity to talk to the other seers and angels in the camp, and everyone is mingling more as they get to know each other better. I move from seat to seat with great regularity at these meals, always seeing someone I want to talk to some more. The angels are especially welcoming and forthcoming with information, and I’m learning so much more about the world and the universe as a whole than I ever realized was possible. My comrades in this camp, because that’s really what the village has turned into at this point, are everything I could have wanted and more, and I am pleased to count them all as friends, regardless of species. In fact, I don’t make a distinction between humans and angels anymore when I say “people,” because we’re all working for the same cause, and actually not all that different from one another. Usually, we have some brief free time after dinner, where we go outside to watch the Northern Lights, which are often visible in this remote, upper part of the state. Sam proudly pointed them out to me the first night we were here, telling me how they’re maintained by a special group of angels, distant and ancient cousins of his who have been doing this astonishing work since the Earth was created. Sometimes, we watch TV together at the church or take in a movie at the village cinema. Other times, we just lay out under the stars and talk, getting to know each other even more, and strategizing about winning the war that hasn’t had its first official battle yet. The younger seer soldiers, who aren’t more than 18 or 19, usually play video games together, far enough away from the adults to not be disturbed in their own game-related conversations. We go to bed pretty early, no later than 10 or 11 pm, because we get up before dawn to have a communal breakfast and an informal strategy session before starting each day’s training. Most of the humans in our group already live in the village, so they go to their own homes. The three seers who have come from elsewhere, plus the angels and I, are assigned to the homes of those who have enough room to accommodate one or two of us. Sam and I are staying at Linda’s house in an attic guest room she made up especially for us, with twin beds. No one said it, but it was an unspoken assumption that, as this movement’s leaders, we would stay here with the leader of the London family, who is also the mayor of the village. Linda only had one guest room, and asked Sam and I if we minded sharing. She didn’t want to put us in a situation that made us uncomfortable, which was nice of her. We assured her we were okay with it, and Sam even went so far as to point out how he was my de facto guardian now and needed to be near me to protect me…a fact I thought was a bit TMI. Then again, Linda surely noticed my guardian angel was missing the moment she saw me in the diner, and was too polite to ask why. Even though there is nothing going on between Sam and me besides friendship and being sort of co-workers, I like the idea of sharing a room with him and having him always nearby. I’m still in love with Harry and definitely consider myself married to him in my graveside ceremony, but I can appreciate a sexy angel, and especially one like Sam, who always treats me with such gentleness, compassion, and respect. What warm-blooded woman wouldn’t enjoy that kind of relationship? He’s the best kind of friend and I care about him more than I can say. And there are times, many times, actually, when Sam looks at me with what I swear is longing. I may have returned those looks a few times…inadvertently, of course. There are no official prohibitions on human/angel relationships of a romantic nature or otherwise. In fact, they are to be found throughout history, and even into the present day. They’re by no means common, of course, but not unheard of, either. As might be expected, there are angels, and seers who do not approve of such relationships due to their own prejudices, but that can be found in nearly any society on Earth, and no doubt throughout the universe. The fact is, we could be a couple if we chose. Some people in the camp seem to think we are. Whether we would choose to be is a moot point, due to my loyalty to Harry, but the attraction is undeniably there. If Sam were to approach me in a romantic way, I don’t know what I’d do. I still love Harry and miss him, and if things were different, I would still want to be with him and marry him as we intended. But, I also know myself well, and know my body would respond to anything Sam may want to do. For simplicity’s sake, especially with war coming, it’s a relief it hasn’t come up as an issue between us. Tonight, I spend my after dinner hours talking with some of the newest recruits, a pair of cousins from John and Linda’s family on their mother’s side. Both females, they are only a few years younger than me, but already have so much more angel knowledge than I do. Everyone here does, though I am quickly catching up. Sam’s opening of my third eye has helped me tremendously in understanding a lot of things I previously had trouble wrapping my mind around. The young cousins talk to me about learning angel magic when they were children, such as summoning certain castes of angels or individual angels who are known to them, and when such a spell should be done. We also talk about the angel language, Enochian, and how everyone in the village is taught it from the time they are young enough to form words. All members of the London family are bilingual practically from birth in both Enochian and English, even the ones without the seer genes. I get them to teach me a few words to use to impress Sam, and make a mental note to ask Linda if there are any books on Enochian I can study in my limited free time. Becoming fluent in this language like the others may be useful at some point, and I want every advantage I can get. After chatting with the girls for a while, I’m ready to head back to Linda’s house and get ready for bed. I’m not exactly tired per se. Thanks to Sam’s little trick with my third eye, I’ve got tons of energy and much less mental need for sleep than I previously did, but I do recognize that my body needs to unwind and rest. I haven’t seen Sam since dinner, but I know he’s nearby. He often spends his evenings talking to the other angels, making recruiting and battle plans with them, talking about their homes, and telling stories of their own personal adventures on and around Earth. So far, we only have Nature, Messenger, and Elemental Angels in our ranks, so they all have interesting stories of their own kingdoms to tell each other. Only twice in the six weeks we’ve been here has Sam joined any of the humans in a social activity. Once, he came to the movies with a large group of us, something he appeared to enjoy quite thoroughly, as it was a comedy. The other time he joined us, he gathered with a group of some of us younger adults to watch TV. Both times, he sat next to me, close enough our sides were touching, his head slightly above mine thanks to his height. He always seems to seek me out wherever we are, putting himself near me whenever he can manage it. In fact, his patterns where I’m concerned are so predictable, I already know he will appear on the street shortly after I start to walk back to Linda’s house. He always materializes seemingly out of nowhere to walk me back each night, even if we aren’t together when I begin the walk. Just as I expect, Sam appears at my side almost as soon as my feet hit the street after I leave the church. I don’t ask where he’s been. It doesn’t matter. He was doing what he needed to do, wherever he was, and so was I. He’s here now, just as always, and that’s the point. Sam is nothing if not reliable. “Are you enjoying your new powers?” he asks, falling into step close beside me, just shy of touching my side, per usual. His voice is soft, gentle, and almost like a warm, loving hug, the vibrations of his speech enveloping me with comfort. I enjoy his company immensely, regardless of what we are or are not to each other. I even revel in it when we’re training, and he is mock-kicking my ass over and over again. “They’re not new,” I reply, smiling up at the stars. “But yes, I’m having a great time learning what I can do. I never imagined seers could do so many amazing things.” “You can do more than most.” “Well, I’m still learning what’s normal, what is exceptional, and what pertains to just me. It’s a fascinating journey.” “You’ll naturally become more powerful over time. Many of your abilities will present themselves only when needed, so be prepared to continue being surprised by what you can do. When a new ability comes to you, it will feel totally natural and you’ll know instinctively how to use it, but you’ll likely be a bit stunned by it at first. Just so you know.” He raises his eyebrows and wiggles them comically, and I laugh. We walk in silence for a while, until Linda’s house comes into view up the road. It is only three blocks from the church, so it isn’t a long walk. Nowhere in town is a long walk, actually. The entire village is only a square mile in size. However, a lot goes on there, that’s for sure. “I think we should bring your family as soon as possible,” Sam says, as we approach the house. “I gave it some thought, and you’re right about them being in danger. I’m so stupid to have not thought about it before. Jonathan has the sense of your energy, and your family will have similar energy signatures, enough that he will be able to guess a relationship if he gets near them. If he does, he will use it against them…and you. That would cause us to have to use valuable resources to mount a rescue mission, if he doesn’t kill them outright. Their guardian angels will only be able to do so much to defend them against such a powerful, higher caste angel.” “Then I’ll call them tonight,” I promise. Honestly, I am trying not to jump through the phone immediately and demand they come without delay. The thought of anything happening to my grandparents, my brothers, their wives, or my nieces and nephew…God, I couldn’t bear it. I’d find a way to kill Jonathan myself, no matter how unprepared for battle I may currently be. He’d never be able to hide from me, and I’d end up putting Sam in danger as a result of my vendetta. That won’t do, so we need to get them all here, now. I’m glad Sam brought it up, because it is something I meant to do weeks ago. Unfortunately, the idea got lost among all the planning and training, not to mention the discovery of all these powers inside me. “Once you talk to them, I can have them transported here right away,” Sam assures me, and I think he can sense the invisible tension that has formed in my muscles. It’s probably showing on my face, too. My emotions are ridiculously readable in my expressions. It’s why I quit playing poker years ago, after consistently failing to win a single hand thanks to my inability to bluff effectively. “Angel teleportation?” I ask, already knowing the answer, but eager to keep the conversation going. “Yes. Jared has a contact who will be joining us soon, and he can pick up your family and bring them here with him. We can have them here tonight if they agree.” “They better agree. Of course, I’m not giving them any choice,” I mumble under my breath. “They are coming here, like it or not.” “If you say it will be so, it will be so,” Sam says, without a hint of irony. He knows me well. I am a typical stubborn Taurus when it comes to things that are important to me, and when I decide something, I normally can’t be moved. “I’ll make the arrangements as soon as you talk to them. Give them time to pack a few things, you know?” “Right, but we’re not waiting too long. They need to get here now. This has been put off for far too long. We’re lucky he hasn’t been back to Orlando.” “Agreed.” We’re already at Linda’s house, it’s so close to the church, so I pull out my cell phone and call her as we head up the cobbled path to the front door. Phones aren’t permitted on the training field, as calls distract when we need to be focusing, so I leave mine in the kitchen at breakfast. It makes it easy to grab at dinner, without having to go back to Linda’s house for it. If any of our relatives or friends outside the village need to get in touch with us and it’s important, they can call the city hall, where Linda’s sixteen-year-old daughter Amanda answers the phones, and she’ll get a message to us. So far, her services in that regard haven’t been needed, which is a blessing. We don’t need outside concerns distracting us while we’re training, which is why I need to get my family here ASAP. I’m grateful my grandmother answers right away, as the enormity of the potential danger to my family truly hits me. After talking to my grandparents, I make a phone call to Matthew and one to James. They all agree to come, bringing their wives and children with them. It’s a good thing they’re seers, because it makes them understand the threat Jonathan poses to them in particular and the world in general much more than it would otherwise. Each one promises to be ready in the morning, and I talk to John and Linda about where to put them when they arrive. A few phone calls by John secures living quarters for everyone among three different families in town who haven’t taken in anyone yet. Sam summons Jared, who sends word to his friend to pick up my family the next day. Finally, it is all arranged. I sit down on my bed, relieved. However, I won’t be totally comfortable until they’re all actually here. Sam knows this, bless him. In keeping with the theme of being my partner and friend, he does something he hasn’t done once in the six weeks we’ve shared a room…he sits down on my bed next to me. Up until now, he has most carefully avoided coming within a foot of it, which is about as far away as he can get in this crowded guest room. We often talk to each other from our own beds, but approaching my bed has been out of the question for him. Accordingly, I’ve avoided his in a similar manner, since it seems to be what he wants. Now, he is sitting beside me, and takes my hand in his, touching me outside of training for the first time since we arrived. He says nothing, just sits there and holds my hand. Soon, without thinking about it, as if it is the most natural thing in the world, I rest my head against his shoulder, feeling safer and more protected than I ever have in my life. He pulls me closer beside him and wraps one arm around my shoulders in a way that is clearly meant to be comforting. We sit there like that in silence for a long time. There is no need for words. There is an unspoken understanding flowing between us that we are, indeed, more than just friends. What we are to each other, I don’t know and neither does Sam, but this moment we’re sharing together is enough for now. I nestle into Sam’s strong, taut body, enjoying the feel of him next to me. Eventually, I fall asleep sitting up leaning against his chest. When I wake up, I am tucked into my bed, wearing my pajamas, and clean socks are on my feet just as I like, because my feet get so cold in bed without them. I know Sam must have done these things, then gone to his own bed, gentleman that he is. Sam isn’t in his bed, though the covers are shifted just enough I can tell he slept in it, and then made the bed after he got up. He can’t have been gone long. He’s likely outside, getting ready to meet my family when they arrive. That’s something I can’t miss. I quickly bounce out of bed to track down Sam and be there beside him to welcome my loved ones. My family is coming, which means I can relax. They’ll be safe from Jonathan and his spies, and I can rejoice in the comfort of knowing they’re safe within the borders of the village of London. Chapter 18 The smell of breakfast waiting for me down the road at the church wafts through the open window as I throw on my training clothes and a light jacket, pulling my hair into a high ponytail without bothering to look in the mirror. Eggs, toast, and fruit are usually on the menu, to give us humans the protein we’ll need to keep up our energy for the day’s work; I usually take my eggs in the form of an omelette filled with green peppers and onions, with veggie bacon on the side. All the angels are vegetarians, as are three of the other seers, so I’m not the only one who won’t eat meat. That makes me feel better, since I don’t want to be any bother to our hard-working cook with my dietary preferences. I expect there will be some kind of protein smoothie offering as well, along with orange juice, bottled water, and coffee. Our cook, whose name is Max, tries to mix it up so we don’t have the same thing every day, but there is always a theme to things, and that theme is energy and power. I brush my teeth at lightning speed, wash my face, and head downstairs. Sam and Linda are nowhere to be seen, but they have to be waiting for my family. They’re scheduled to arrive any minute, and Linda, as mayor, is always part of the welcoming committee for new recruits entering the village. Sam was sweet to let me sleep, and is no doubt acting as my proxy greeter, which is kind of him, but I don’t want to miss their arrival. I need to look at them and see for myself that they’re all unharmed. Besides, I miss them. Bounding outside into the dim morning flickerings of the sun that only barely sets this time of year at these latitudes, I see them about three houses up the road. Sam, Jared, an angel I don’t recognize, John, Linda, and my family, all standing in a group. They look like they just got here, as their luggage is still at their feet. Sprinting, I practically fly toward them, and throw my arms around each of them in turn, beginning with my grandmother and ending with my newest infant niece, Charlene. “Have you been here long?” I ask as I eagerly look them all over for any signs of obvious injury. I can’t quite believe that they haven’t been hurt. Thank God we had the foresight to get them here when we did. There was no way they were going to stay off Jonathan’s radar forever. “We just arrived not two minutes ago,” Grandma assures me, patting my hand in the doting, comforting way of hers that seems to come naturally to grandmothers everywhere. “Sam, why didn’t you wake me up?” I poke him lightly in the ribs with my elbow, a slight accusing arch on one eyebrow. “I wanted to be here when they arrived!” “You had such a hard day yesterday, I wanted to let you sleep as long as possible. You needed the rest.” He doesn’t say it apologetically, simply states it as fact. “Well, thank you,” I say, disarmed somewhat by his frank kindness. “Still, I feel I should have been here the instant they arrived.” I turn back to my family. “I had every intention of being here.” “No worries, my dear,” Grandpa assures me. “We made it here safely, and it’s much more important for you to get your sleep. A tired seer isn’t going to save the world. From what we’ve heard, it’s quite the training camp you’ve got going here. If I was 30 years younger, I would be training right with you.” I know he would. My grandfather is proud of his military service, and rightfully so. Even now, at 86 years old, he would have no problem taking up arms with us if he thought he could be of any use on the battlefield, regardless of whether he could see the enemy. Sadly, depending on how large Jonathan’s army gets compared to how many we are able to recruit, we might have to bring him into play, along with other elderly and child volunteers, including the non-seers of the village. It’s not the ideal we’re striving for, by any means, but you do what you have to in desperate times. The United States even started signing up elderly men for the draft in WWII, though they never had to use them. The young and old are the very ones we want to protect the most, besides the Earth itself. If we can keep them out of the fight, we will. “How was the trip?” I ask, curious what they think about teleportation. “So cool!” my brother James gushes. “It’s the most amazing thing. One minute we were all together at Grandma’s house with our luggage, then an angel appears. He introduces himself, then asks us all to hold hands in a circle, which he joins, too, and then we’re here in Vermont, just like that. It was unreal! I thought I was in a sci-fi movie for a minute there. Only it was better, because it was real!” I laugh. James hasn’t talked like this since he was in high school. He may be 33 years old, with a wife and two kids, but the 15 year old in him is still very much there. Even more so than in Matthew, I think, who has always been the most mature of us all, and, at 35, is the picture of stoicism and responsibility. Still, even Matthew smiles when I ask about the travel arrangements. They all do. There is some excited chattering from everyone about the wonders of angel teleportation and how they want to do it again soon. We exchange some pleasantries, and gradually, the people who will host my family come out of their homes to welcome them. Assignments are made. My brothers volunteer as soldiers, as I expected they would. They are curious about exploring the seer powers they didn’t know they had, and proud to do their part to protect the world with other seers like them. They’re finally doing something that makes them feel connected to their special heritage, and I know from experience it’s an incredible sense of belonging. I’ve no doubt they will be spending most of their limited free time with the other seers, learning all they can about their forgotten ancestry and all that comes with it. My sisters-in-law, not being seers themselves and with young children to care for, are assigned to the nursery. All of the village’s children under the age of 14 are in the nursery all day. Some of them get schooling, while the really young ones do something akin to daycare. Matthew’s wife, Sarah, goes with the daycare volunteers, while James’s wife, Claire, a fourth grade teacher before her marriage, volunteers with the school group, where she will teach reading and cursive handwriting to the second through fifth graders. My nieces and nephew go with their mothers. Matthew’s 6-year-old daughter Allison is the only one old enough to attend school. James’s 2-year-old son Jamie and 9-month-old daughter Charlene, will be in the daycare program. Of the village children, there are a fairly even mix of seers and non-seers like my brothers’ children. Seer or not, they will all be protected and kept entertained for however long we have to be here. Grandpa volunteers in the armory to keep our battle weapons cleaned, sharpened, and ready for use, and our practice weapons in good shape for our daily use. Grandma is asked to join the village’s Council of Elders. Their job is to advise us on strategy and to use magic to contact angels who might be good recruits, or willing to act as recruiting agents in their home realms. She is thrilled at this assignment, since she knows it will be the perfect opportunity for her to learn what it really means to be a seer. The other women will teach her everything they know, and she can finally reclaim what should have been her birthright from the beginning. In any of the seer families in the world who are still in touch with their heritage, she would be part of an elder council by now, anyway. I feel good about this assignment for her, knowing it is exactly everything she ever wanted, however secret she thought her desires were, and that she will be the first in our family in thousands of years to be a true elder of the tribe (though she’s been acting that role in a de facto way for years). With her and what she will learn, we can again become what we once were as a family millennia ago…what we’ve always been meant to be. She’s brought the family angel book with her. I see it sticking out of the side pocket on one of her two suitcases. I also spot two cat carriers, no doubt containing my beloved felines, Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester. The entire family have packed lightly out of necessity, only bringing what they really need (and in the case of the kids, some of their favorite toys). They know this isn’t a vacation. It’s kind of like a witness protection program, at least for them. I still can’t quite bring myself to think of any angel as evil, even Jonathan. Power hungry, crazy, megalomaniacal, and misguided, yes, but not evil. Angels are inherently good; it’s part of their essential nature. It would take something universe-shattering to turn one totally evil. It’s possible such an event happened to Jonathan; however, it’s far more likely that, in his own misguided way, Jonathan thinks he’s doing us all a favor by trying to put us under his rule. Still, he’s gone far enough down the bad path that he will do what is necessary to bring his plans to fruition, including going against the universal angelic rule to protect the sentient beings of this realm. Instead, he will kill the ones who stand against him, as he’s already proven with his own kind. My family and I are all here because I stood against him, just like Sam is here because Sam stood against him. I can’t feel guilty about my actions now that they are protected. If something had happened to them, that would have been one thing, and I’d have felt terrible. Even then, though, I still would have been convinced I did the right thing by standing against him to protect the world, and ultimately the universe and multiverse. It’s the way I was raised, I muse, feeling an immense love for all of my family as they stand there so bravely before me in this strange new world. All too soon, they are whisked off to their new temporary homes to get settled. They’ll join the rest of the community in their chosen roles later in the day, probably after lunch. Their hosts will give them a tour of the village and a briefing on everything that’s going on before thrusting them into the middle of it all. They won’t have much time to get acclimated, but no one who comes here does. We can’t afford the luxury. They’ll have to adjust to their new reality as quickly as possible, and I know they will do just fine. We are a hardy bunch who adapt quickly, and bounce back with the ease and effortlessness of rubber balls. We all hug again and exchange “I love you’s,” and then they are off to receive their orientation, leaving the welcoming committee on the street, watching them go. Once they’re all in their homes, I turn to the new angel who brought them. He is of average height with short, slightly tousled dark hair and a clear complexion. His clothing and wing length identifies him as an Earth Angel, the first we’ve recruited, besides Sam. As part of his kingdom, Sam almost surely knows him, though he’s given no indication of it yet. I know this newcomer will be changing into human training clothes right after breakfast and joining us on the kickball field, either as the leader of a new regiment or part of an existing one. “Thank you for bringing them here,” I say to him, genuinely grateful. “It was my honor,” he assures me, bowing slightly. It’s still a bit disconcerting when new angels do that with me. Their respect for seers is huge. It’s almost like we’re celebrities, and it makes me squirm a bit every time they treat us like we’re superstars. Thank goodness they get used to being around us quickly and soon start to see us as comrades and not commanders….well, except in the case of Sam and me, who actually are the commanders here. My name is Lucy,” I say, offering him my hand to shake. It is not a practice among the angels, but most of them know from observing us that it’s what we do. He shakes my hand as if he’s done it before. Like most Earth Angels, he’s dealt directly with humans on occasion, so he probably knows most of our customs. “Luke,” he says, introducing himself. “Nice to meet you, Luke. Welcome.” I nod at him, smiling. “Thank you for joining us.” “I could do no less,” he assures me with all due seriousness. I can tell right away that he is committed to our cause and will be a good soldier for us. Eventually, they all wander away to breakfast, leaving Sam and me alone on the street. We stand there in silence, each of us lost in our own thoughts, wanting to speak to each other but not quite knowing what to say. After a while, we walk together to breakfast, side by side, but not quite touching, as usual. I wonder if it will ever change. Chapter 19 A couple of hours after breakfast, we are all on the field working on our sword training. It’s one of the few (well, okay, only) areas where I’ve actually shown any skill prior to Sam activating my inner powers. Sam insists I’m a natural with the sword, and I see no reason to doubt him, since he’s been training with swords since he was a child. I’ve got to admit, it feels good to hold a sword in my hand, kind of like it belongs there. I’ve wondered more than once since we started this if I lived a previous life where I was a medieval knight or something. Maybe one day I’ll get a chance to explore the many past life doors in my mansion and find out. I’m actually avoiding getting repeatedly knocked down by Sam today, which is a big improvement. I became quite adept at ducking and avoiding sword thrusts early on, but I don’t have the strength to match a sword-on-sword duel yet. Sam’s powerful upper body strength allows him to easily disarm me every time I try. Today, though, I’m managing to hold my own, with just a few wobbles here and there. I’m finally developing muscles, and it’s great! I really think I could take on another woman with a sword at this point. Maybe soon, I’ll be able to take on one of the younger guys and win. My brothers are on the field, too, starting their own training. I can already see they’re miles ahead of me in strength, but they don’t have the agility to duck and roll like I do. Between the three of us, we could take some contenders. I’m pleased to see that they both look happy, invigorated even. They have a strong sense of righteous purpose that they never realized was in them. Plus, they have a whole new side of their heritage to explore during the little downtime we get. They’re in their element, and it shows. It’s so rewarding to see such a different side of them. This is what they were born to do, what we were all born to do. We’re all pretty much involved in our own training exercises with our regiments…or in my case, partner, since Sam and I are still working on our own….when chaos erupts in the middle of the field. Humans and angels alike shout and go running in different directions, getting away from a disturbance of some kind. Sam and I drop our swords and move closer to the inner field so we can get a better look. A cloud of dust rises up from the field, momentarily obscuring the view. When the dust clears and everyone who was in the middle of the field is safely standing on its edge, we are all amazed to see a full regiment of at least six dozen Earth Angels standing there, bruised, battered, and bloody. Most of them have torn tunics. All are carrying swords, daggers, and battle halos, and some look seriously injured. Those who aren’t are obviously exhausted. Standing at the head of the regiment is none other than Ella! I blink, surprised to see the sheltered, sweet angel princess. The most girly and feminine angel I’ve met so far is now standing before me looking grim and determined. She is incredibly changed from when I saw her six weeks ago. Now, she looks like a soldier. When Sam sent her to the hidden moon base where most of his people were training to be an army, it was supposed to be for her protection. She wasn’t meant to learn to fight. Yet here she is, looking like she’s not merely been in a calamitous battle, but commanded it! Sam is at her side in an instant, and I’m hot on his heels. As he’s looking her over, patting her up and down to make sure she’s okay, I turn and address the gaping crowd. “It’s okay!” I shout, making sure I put enough power in my voice that everyone hears me. “This is Ella, Sam’s sister. She’s one of the good guys. Just hang out a moment while we find out what’s going on, okay?” Everyone on the perimeter of the ball field nods and mumbles in agreement, fascinated by this new turn of events. The angels who have been training with us approach Ella’s group, wanting to get the news, but the humans stay back for the time being. We’re all learning to live and work together, but there’s still a strong sense of “us” and “them” among both groups. We’re getting better at it, but we’ve still got a way to go before we truly look at each other as brothers and sisters. I hope we get there soon, because we need that bond to make ourselves unbeatable. Sam is beside himself at his little sister’s sudden and traumatic appearance. “Ella! My God, what happened to you?” he exclaims, holding her at arms’ length, giving her another once-over with his eyes, as if he can’t quite believe she isn’t hurt. She is dirty, with a slight cut on her forehead that is already starting to heal, and her long, golden hair is hanging down in a mass of wild tangles, but she otherwise looks fine. Well, except for the fact that she is visibly traumatized. She is quiet for a moment, trying hard to be strong and not cry. I can tell by her slightly crumpled expression. If she is the leader of this group, she would want to be strong for them. However, her front only lasts for a second in the face of Sam’s great love and concern, and she collapses into the arms of her adoring big brother, sobbing. Sam holds her close, rocking her back and forth like a little child, shushing and soothing her, running his hand along the back of her hair. Everyone is completely silent, even the angels who came in with her, giving brother and sister their moment. The fact that they’re the ruling family of all the angels who just arrived with Ella probably has something to do with it, too. “Oh, Sam, it was horrible!” she cries into his shoulder, sobbing some more, not looking up. “We were training, just like we’ve been doing every day. I’ve gotten really good! I decided to learn to fight so I could be useful. I don’t know how he did it, but Daniel found us! And he brought an army of angels with him. There were hundreds of us, but there were thousands with him. We had so many masterful fighters, but we were still no match for them. They slaughtered most of our people, Sam! Even the women and children who weren’t fighting. Most of our kingdom was in that camp! I thought we were hidden. We did all the right spells to cloak the place, and it was in a secure and hard to find location. Father saw to it. It’s why he sent us all there. But then there Daniel was with his enormous army, with no warning. We had lookouts, too. But no one saw them coming. It was brutal. They showed no mercy at all!” She sobs some more, and Sam holds her closer, being as soothing as he can with this delicate girl who never experienced violence a day in her life until now. “Ella, I’m so sorry,” he whispers. “It’s all my fault. I should have made sure the camp was hidden better. I helped Father choose the location. It was even me who suggested establishing such a camp would be a good idea. I should have been there. I should have done something.” “Oh Sam, there was nothing you could have done,” she sniffles, looking up at him, tears streaking the dirt off her pretty cheeks. “We were betrayed. That’s the only way Daniel could have found us and gotten inside. Someone gave us away, along with the spells we used to cloak ourselves, so Daniel and his people could undo them. I don’t know who gave us up, but it doesn’t matter. The damage is done, and we’re all that’s left. Most of the Earth Angel kingdom is gone. It’s just us, and the few who are on assignment on the planet’s surface or on diplomatic missions to other planets. But me and my group here, we’re all that’s left of the resistance. And that was just one regiment of Jonathan’s army. The whole thing must be huge. How are we ever going to fight him now?” “We’ll get more recruits,” Sam assures her. “We’re working on it all the time. There are a lot of angels who haven’t even heard about what’s going on, and those who have heard rumors, but don’t understand the seriousness of it yet. Others have promised to join us soon. We just need to get the word out more intensely and widely now. We have to build up our numbers to match Jonathan’s. I know some angels are joining him because they’re afraid of the power he’s already amassed, and they feel our side doesn’t stand a chance. We have to prove them wrong and show them we can win.” “We better do it soon,” Ella says quietly, her voice shaking slightly. “If there’s a spy in our midst who cares so little for us that they’re willing to give us away to be slaughtered like that, there’s no time to waste.” “We’ve got to find the spy,” the angel Jared says, coming up to us, brushing a dark lock of hair out of his eyes. He looks like the mere idea of a spy disgusts him. That’s good. Maybe he should be the one we send to root out the traitor. Other nearby angels of all castes nod their agreements. I even see the guardians on the seers agreeing, though they are invisible to the other angels. “How did you get away?” Sam asks in amazement, incredulous that his little sister escaped such horror. “We all hid,” Ella says, looking down, ashamed. “We’re the weakest soldiers from the camp, so we were already in the back of the battle. When it became apparent it was going to go badly for our side, I led the ones closest to me into hiding. I decided it was better that some of us survive to get away and keep the resistance going, even if we’re not the best fighters. All of us are new to it, and still learning, but we can learn, Sam. I took charge of our group until Daniel and his troops left. Once they were gone, we took care of the bodies as best we could, then I brought us here. Oh, don’t worry!” she quickly added at the look of alarm on Sam’s face. “We couldn’t sense you and Lucy here at all. Your cloaking spell is effective. I sensed Luke. He was with us for a while, and I knew he was going to join you. When I sensed his energy, I knew you couldn’t be too far away.” “You don’t need to feel bad, Ella,” Sam assures her, as he pulls away. He continues to hold her hands, though, like he doesn’t want to let go of her for fear Daniel will come snatch her away. “You did the right thing, and you saved people. That’s incredibly brave, and I’m proud of you.” A slight look of relief spreads over her fair face, and I know she’s happy with the praise. She needs reassurance right now. “We need to cloak this whole town,” Sam continues, concerned. “It should have been done weeks ago, but I’m glad it wasn’t, or you wouldn’t have been able to find us. But we must do it now. If Daniel was able to break the spell used to hide the moon camp, there’s nothing to stop him from walking right in here if he gets word of our location. We need a spell that only a handful of us know, so it can’t be leaked to the enemy. Only angels who already know where this place is should be able to find it, and we can send out recruiters from among our ranks to bring new soldiers here.” “Should we recruit any more angels while there is a spy out there?” I ask. It doesn’t seem like a good idea, since we don’t know who we can trust. “We have to,” Sam says. “We’ve got to get our numbers higher. Besides, if the spy comes here, we’ll have a much better chance of discovering him…or her. What is it you humans say? Keep your friends close….” “But your enemies closer,” I finish for him, nodding. He’s right. If we can lure in the spy, we will have a much easier time of discovering who it is, because we’ll be examining any new angel arrivals much more closely from now on. There’s got to be a new angel intake process initiated. I’ll get John and Linda later and we’ll go to the elders to come up with a plan to make sure we can trust any new angel who joins us. Sam takes Ella and her scruffy band of survivors into town to get them cleaned up, fill them in on what’s been going on here, secure lodgings for them, and allow them to get some rest. There is talk between him and the angels who’ve been in camp for a while about having to build some barracks, as the town is quickly running out of available space in people’s homes. I stay behind and re-organize the training, putting the human second-in-commands in charge of the temporarily angel-less regiments. I know they’ll be back later, but the training needs to continue without them. I can’t believe I’m the one making sure training goes on, not after my pitiful display yesterday when I begged to be given a break, and even to go home and become a recruiter. But today, I am a new woman, and I won’t let my people down. They need to train, and train they will. I join James’s group and partner up with him, since he seems like he needs the most help getting used to this. Matthew is already swinging a sword like it’s his job. We must share the same natural ability. I smile as the thought of sharing something so unique with my big brother fills me with pride. We work hard, and I move from one group to another to see how they’re doing in between sparring sessions with James. The improvements in all the humans surprise me. We’re coming together as a formidable group much more quickly than I realized, especially the humans among us who weren’t brought up to be soldiers. Even among the London seers, who’ve been training on at least a semi-regular basis since they could walk, I don’t think a single one of the seers here ever served in the military. I’ve got to admit, I’m proud of what we’re becoming. Sam and the other angels don’t come back until we’re almost done for the day. Ella and her group aren’t with them, which doesn’t surprise me. They will join us on our next training day, which is the day after tomorrow. By that time they will be well rested and their injuries healed, ready to continue learning to be soldiers. We finish up for the day with just a few more exercises, then head back to the church for dinner. I know the after dinner conversation will revolve around increasing our recruiting efforts and getting the village cloaked. After a disaster like what happened at Ella’s camp, the importance of increasing our numbers and impressing on all angels and seers the seriousness of the situation is more acute than ever. Besides training, it has to be our number one priority from now on. If we lose sight of it, we’ll all be Jonathan’s slaves before long. Chapter 20 Alone with Sam in our room again after the most unusual day yet in London, Vermont, I mull over how our private time is still the most awkward part of any day. At the same time, in a bizarre way, it’s also the one I look forward to the most. We rarely talk in depth at these times, and I do miss the first few days we knew each other when we talked openly about everything. But now, it’s like there’s something between us that I can’t quite describe. I know he feels it, too, even though he doesn’t say so. It’s there, in the looks I catch him giving me out of the corner of my eyes when he thinks I’m not watching. Maybe it was the delirium from his injuries when we first met that made him so open and talkative, and his real nature is the stoicism he’s been presenting to me since he healed. Apart from his lack of conversation of any depth, though, he’s still the same Sam, with the same honor, nobility, and inherent sweetness, and that’s good enough for me. Regardless of whether he’s talkative or silent, there’s still something so deep and kind, strong and protective about him, I can’t help but be drawn to him. Any woman would. I find I I want to be around him all the time, and miss him when I’m not, even if it’s just for a few hours at dinner when we separate into our different groups. Being with him feels good. I still love Harry, I truly do, but I can’t deny how Sam makes me feel. Not only does being with him feel good, it feels right. Whether it’s the work of the archangels or something even more cosmic in nature, I know wherever Sam is, that’s where I’m supposed to be, too. Make no mistake, I don’t feel like I should be with any male in a romantic way except Harry. Yet the undeniable attraction between me and Sam is making me question even that notion. In fact, I’ve been questioning it a lot. Harry gave me my freedom. Should I give it to myself, too? We don’t bother hiding from each other when we change into our bed clothes. I do turn my back when I take off my shirt to put on my pajama top, but that’s about it. Sam slips out of his training clothes, exposing a miraculously chiseled abdomen that is remarkably free of any chest hair. Every inch of perfect, lightly tanned, slightly glowing skin is silky smooth and taut, as if it were poured over his well-formed muscles. He turns away, too, as he slips out of his white human boxers and into a clean, satiny black pair. He complained at first about them being restrictive, and I didn’t dare ask what they were restricting. I knew what he would say, and I just couldn’t bear to hear him say it. Now, he seems to enjoy wearing them, and maybe even gets a kick out of putting them on in front of me. I still have no idea what angel genitalia look like, but I know his rear very well at this point. It is just like a human’s, only much more well-defined, muscular, smooth, and rounded. His ass looks like you could literally bounce a quarter off of it. I would love to give it a test to find out. I’m pretty sure he could crack nuts open with it if presented with the task. Seeing his buttocks every night while he changes is now one of the best parts of my day. I’m not kidding. I want to take a picture of it, blow it up to huge proportions, frame it, and hang it on the wall above my bed here at Linda’s house. I’m sure it would inspire absolutely amazing dreams. At the very least, it would provide some extra motivation in the mornings, knowing I was training to fight to protect that wonder of nature. He turns back toward me as he adjusts the elastic band on his boxers, and I move my eyes to the right, toward the window, pretending I wasn’t looking. I know he knows I was, but as we’re still keeping up pretenses with each other, I may as well go through the motions. “You did wonderfully today,” he says, sitting on the edge of his bed. “Your natural skills are coming out beautifully, just like I knew they would. You’ll just keep getting better from here.” “Thank you,” I say, meaning it. “I don’t know how long it would have taken me to get there on my own.” “If we’d had more time to explore it naturally, that would have been ideal. I just want you to be really clear it wasn’t anything I did that caused you to have those abilities. They’re not something I can bestow. Your powers were already there, hiding within you from your birth. I just unlocked them for you.” “I know.” I do know. The powers and abilities I’m feeling are as natural as can be, and I know they are a part of me, coded into my DNA. It actually feels weird to think that there was a time when I didn’t know they were there. “We’re sending Jacob and some of the angels from Ella’s regiment out tomorrow to find new recruits,” he says, jumping right into the topic at hand. “They are going to approach all of the remaining Earth Angels who haven’t been contacted yet, as well as the Nature Angels in other parts of the world, the angels who protect the other planets in this solar system who haven’t joined Jonathan’s army, the rest of the Planet Angels in this galaxy, and the Galaxy Angels themselves. We’ll also be recruiting select Elemental and Messenger Angels, though we won’t be able to get all of them. Their jobs require constant attention, more so than the other castes, so we have to leave most of them to do their work. Going out into space is the most important thing. We’ve got to expand our efforts beyond just this planet if we’re going to have a chance against Jonathan.” It made sense. While Earth was Jonathan’s first target, he expected it to be an easy win, and would move out to the other inhabited planets in the galaxy, and then the universe soon enough if given the opportunity. “What about the humans?” I ask, knowing we need more seer recruits, as well. “We have two angels from Ella’s group who will be approaching seer families in South American and Australia, since there are more in those places who remember the full extent of their heritage than in other places on the planet. After we’ve recruited from those families, we’ll start approaching the known families in the other parts of the world. Then, we’ll look for seers who may not even know what they are. Linda says there’s a spell for finding seers, and we’ll use it when we get to that point.” I’m perfectly okay with leaving the recruiting efforts to Sam and the more experienced seers. They have the connections I lack. My role needs to be solely working on developing my abilities so I can be the leader the archangels declared me to be. Sam seems to know this, too, as he’s never asked me to help with recruiting (or anything else), and I’ve never told him I wanted to be involved in it. There are plenty of others here who can do it much better than me. “Our recruiting committee will bring people back here as they get them on board. We’re also going to cloak the town tomorrow, before breakfast. Well, John, Linda, and the Council of Elders are going to. They’re the ones with access to the appropriate magic.” “That’s good. We probably should have done it when they cloaked us.” “True, but I’m glad we didn’t,” Sam admits. “If we’d done it then, Ella and her group wouldn’t have been able to find us, and they’d be wandering around out there, vulnerable to Jonathan and his army. At least they were able to get away and get to us safely. Thank God.” He raises his eyes to heaven, as if in silent prayer. Angels don’t talk a lot about God. Most of them are just as in the dark about God’s true nature as the rest of us. They know He exists, and that’s about all. Angels may know a little bit more about their part in the grand scheme of things in the universe than most other sentient beings, but even so, they still have plenty of questions about the meaning of their existence, just like anyone else. Their part in the setup of the universe is as natural and mysterious to them as our own. So, seeing Sam look like he is praying is an unusual thing, not just for him, but for any angel. He’s said before that most angels, except for a few very faithful ones, don’t even know if God listens to their prayers, which, again, is similar to humans. But, at least he’s trying. It can’t hurt, and it might help. “Thank God,” I agree. We sit, staring at each other for a moment in an uncomfortable silence. There it is again. That impression he gives that he wants to say something more, but doesn’t. It’s more than a little frustrating. Sam’s hands are trembling slightly, though he tries to hide it by clasping them together. He’s thinking about what could have happened to Ella. I know him well enough by now to read some of his body language, though a lot of it remains a mystery to me. Without letting myself think about it, I get up and go over to his bed, sitting beside him as he did for me last night. I take his hands in mine and steady them, looking up into his face. His eyes are clouded with a million concerns. I want to take them all away. “Sam,” I say, my voice sounding to me like it’s coming from a million miles away, almost like it’s not even me. “It’s okay. Ella is okay. She survived. She’s safe. You don’t have to worry about her anymore. She’s here with us, and we’ll protect her.” “I lost two of my brothers in that battle,” Sam whispers, locking eyes with me. I see the hint of tears in them, but he won’t let them fall. I’m grateful, since I don’t think I could deal with a weeping angel. I’ve got to take baby steps where my new relationships with the angels are concerned, especially Sam. I’d probably start crying myself, and I hate it. Growing up with two older brothers tends to toughen you up emotionally, or at least makes you feel like you have to be tough to avoid the teasing and torment big brothers tend to rain down on their little sisters. I need to be strong for Sam. And I totally forgot he has six brothers. He never talks about them, and the only member of his immediate family I’ve met is Ella. I could slap myself. How could I have forgotten such an important thing? He told me about them when we first met. I’m such an idiot. I should have known at least some of those brothers would be at the moon camp. If they’d made it back here, he or Ella would have already introduced me to them. “I’m so sorry, Sam,” I say, meaning it with all my heart. “I should have asked about them. Of course they were with Ella. Almost everyone in your kingdom was there. You know I understand what you’re going through, what with losing my parents and Harry. And I know you must be in a lot of pain right now. Talking helps. Will you tell me about them?” Sam gives me a slight, almost imperceptible nod. “Their names were Gregory and Lemuel,” he says quietly. “They were my middle two brothers. I’ve got two older and two younger than them. Now, they’re both gone. They were the mischievous ones, Lucy. Always getting into some kind of trouble or other, continually regaling me, Ella, and our other brothers with hilarious and often ribald stories of their adventures. They were born pranksters, and never ready to grow up. It’s why Father wouldn’t give them assignments on Earth without supervision and mainly kept them at home; he was worried they would cause havoc wherever they went if they weren’t carefully monitored by a more mature, conscientious angel at all times. He was right. They were a thorn in my side more than once, but I loved them every bit as much as any of my other siblings, with the exception of Ella, who has always been everyone’s favorite. Gregory and Lemuel were determined to live by their own rules and create new ones wherever they could. They were stupid, immature, and frequently annoying. God, I’m going to miss them!” I could see the tears forming again, bigger and more visible this time, sparkling like the purest diamonds. “Is there anything I can do?” I put a hand on his shoulder, and lightly stroke his hair with my other one. I really, really want to make him feel better. He shakes his head ever so slightly. “Where are your other brothers? Are they okay?” “The youngest two are here on Earth on long term assignments. Jared will be collecting them to bring here. The older two married into families of angels protecting planets on the other side of this galaxy. I haven’t seen them in centuries. I’m sure we’ll make contact with them eventually as we get word about what we’re doing farther out into space. They will be part of our first line of defense for the rest of the universe.” “And your father?” I hate bringing up the subject, since it reminds Sam he no longer has a mother, but the Earth Angel king is still an important player in all this. “Still at home, guarding the seat of our kingdom. Jonathan will try to take the throne once he knows Earth belongs to him. In the meantime, Father will continue doing the work of the kingdom on his own, protecting the Earth from space-based threats. He’ll need people to help him eventually, but we can’t spare any right now. Maybe when we have large enough numbers, we’ll send some people back home to take part of the burden off him.” I can’t take seeing him so sad. Surely a hug will help let him know I care and that he’s not alone. That wouldn’t be out of line, right? I test it before I can talk myself out of it, throwing my arms around his broad shoulders and holding him to me with as much love as I have to offer, which, for Sam, is clearly endless. I’ve touched Sam before, but this time, it’s different. I feel something electric that resonates through my entire being, down to the atomic level. It’s like two pieces of a puzzle fitting together, and it stuns me. I know Sam says soul mates are among the rarest things in the universe, but I swear we may be among them. What else could cause that kind of feeling of completion? It’s like the curtains in my mind have been pulled back and I can finally receive the message all of time and space is broadcasting it to me…that it’s Sam, not Harry, I’m supposed to be with, and always have been. My soul practically cries out to me that it’s been looking for Sam since the beginning of time. The revelation stuns me, and I go still with the enormity of it for a moment. Sam doesn’t seem to notice. Instead, he wraps his arms around my waist and holds on tightly. I’m both surprised and delighted at his response. In fact, he buries his face in my shoulder and inhales deeply of my hair. I’m thrilled, and thankful that I took a shower after dinner so I’m all squeaky clean and hopefully smelling good. After a while, but much too soon as far as I’m concerned, we both mutually draw back, just a little, our arms still on each other, but with a small space between us. Sam looks into my eyes with a heavy lidded gaze that I know all too well from dating human men, but have never seen on an angel. It’s even more intense than on humans, and is the look I’ve been waiting for all this time without realizing it. I return it with one of my own. Slowly, we lean toward each other and our lips touch. It’s very light at first, but it sends shivers through my whole body. This is where my lips were always meant to be, from the moment I was born. I don’t know how I know it, but I just do. They just fit, in a way they never did with Harry. I thought Harry was the one. I was sure of it. But he never was, even without the interference of the archangels. We might have had a happy life together, but it wouldn’t have been entirely satisfying. I realize I would have always known, in the back of my mind, something was missing. The truth is revealed to me at last. This is where I am meant to be, by Sam’s side, always. An attachment releases in my heart, and then I’m not married to Harry anymore. I can feel my soul reaching out for Sam’s, like it’s wanting to touch the other half of itself it’s been missing for so long it. Are we soul mates? Is this longing an indication that we are one of those most elusive and exquisite of pairings? It sure feels like it. The kiss intensifies, and soon we are grinding our lips together so hard I think mine might get bruised. I don’t care. I just want to be as close to Sam as possible. Our hands are in each other’s hair, pulling, twisting, and tangling, bringing us closer together and then farther apart over and over again as our lips seek to meld into one whole piece of flesh. Then, his mouth is opening, and I respond in kind with no prompting. His tongue is in my mouth and mine in his, probing, licking, running along each other’s teeth, tasting every inch of the inside of each other’s mouths. We open wider in unison, and our kissing intensifies some more, like we are trying to swallow each other whole. There isn’t an inch of flesh on our mouths and tongues that hasn’t been touched by the other of us. I’ve never kissed this way. It’s more than kissing. It’s reuniting bodies and souls that were always meant to be one. The satin pajama tops I’m wearing suddenly feel like too much of a barrier between my skin and the bare skin of his chest that’s pressed up against mine. I run my hands down his smooth back, lightly scraping his silken skin with my fingernails, then move back up again with my fingertips. There is absolutely no resistance, as if I really am touching a piece of finely woven silk, or the surface of a deep, still pool of water. His hands run down the lengths of my ribcage on each side and start to make their way up underneath my pajama tops, just as I’m moving my own hands down to rip off the buttons and toss the interfering thing aside. I’m absolutely convinced what we’re about to do is something we’ve both been waiting on for centuries. Then, suddenly, he stops, and pushes me away, holding me by the shoulders at arm’s length. The move is so swift and unexpected that I keep making kissing motions with my mouth for a moment before I realize my lips are no longer touching his. “Hmm…ah…what?” I mumble dazedly. I pull my head back to look at him, still a bit crazed from the intensity of everything. Why aren’t we kissing anymore? “I can’t do this, Lucy,” he whispers to me fiercely, though his eyes say otherwise. He grips my shoulders a little bit more tightly, and I come back to reality, aching to have him kissing me again, and more. “Why not?” I’m totally confused. He was just as into it as I was. His feelings couldn’t have been clearer. He returned my passion with an equal, and perhaps greater measure. Is there some rule about no sex before marriage for his kind? There could be. It’s not like we ever talked about it. Now would be a good time to start. “You’re still in love with Harry,” he grits out through clenched teeth, quietly, but with an intensity that says it’s taking every inch of willpower he possesses to not finish what we started. Harry? Oh. Harry. In the passion of the moment, I’m embarrassed to admit I actually forgot he existed, once the bonds of our symbolic marriage released. Now, forced to think about him again, I know my feelings for Harry are nothing more than fond friendship now. Sam has no way of knowing it, of course. He can’t read my mind (at least, I don’t think he can). If you’d asked me if I was still in love with Harry a week ago, or even earlier today, I would have said yes without hesitation. Now, I’m keenly aware I never knew what being in love really was until I met Sam. Harry’s presence in my life is a distant and fading memory in the face of the sheer power within my love for Sam. It seems like it’s been ages since I sat in front of Harry’s headstone, arguing with Aaron on my would-be wedding day, though it’s only been a few weeks. So much has happened since then, and I’m a changed person in so many ways. The only thing that seems sure and clear anymore is Sam being the one. My true one. It may be a brand new revelation, but now nothing in the universe makes as much sense to me as the two of us being together. I need to let him know, and discover if he feels the same way. Closing my eyes, I look deeply within myself, knowing my next words could change my life, and probably all my future lives, forever. Chapter 21 “I’m not in love with Harry anymore,” I say, slowly, as the words come to me from a place of pure honesty. They feel strange on my tongue. I never thought I’d be saying them, but after they’re out there in the world, hanging in the air between us, I realize it’s true. I’ve finally let Harry go. What’s more, I seem to have somehow given myself to Sam in the process, without knowing I was doing it. The words may sound odd, but the feeling couldn’t be more right. “You don’t sound sure,” Sam says with a rueful laugh, and I realize my slow answer must have given him doubt about my sincerity. “I can’t be with you if you’re not sure, Lucy. One thing I won’t ever do is take someone to my bed whose heart belongs to another. There can’t be any ghosts between us if we’re to go one step farther.” “There’s no one here but you and me,” I assure him. “No ghosts.” “I want to believe it,” he says softly, stroking my hair. I lean into him a little, enjoying the feeling of his fingers lightly brushing my scalp. “You know I want you. My feelings can’t have been clearer, and I’ve never tried to hide them. I’ve wanted you since the day we met, when you tended my wounds so gently and lovingly. Not only are you beautiful, you’re special in so many wonderful ways. You’ve got a good heart, a strong, giving spirit, and bravery like I’ve never seen on a human and very few angels, whether or not you acknowledge it. I’ve never met anyone like you, regardless of species. My God, Lucy, I ache for you. But I won’t act on it while you’re still in mourning for Harry. I won’t share this with another man. Not this. If we come together, you have to be mine and mine alone. I won’t have it any other way. I need to know I have you, wholly and completely, without the trace of anyone else on you. There can’t be even the smallest part of you that still belongs to Harry.” “Harry is a part of my past, Sam.” I nuzzle his neck and kiss him lightly there, causing him to grip my hair a little tighter. It’s not painful, and I enjoy the tingly, pulling sensation. “You are my future.” “How can that be, when you were mourning the man so profoundly just a few weeks ago? Just a few days ago?” “I was mourning him.” Why bother denying what was true? “But,” I continue, “my feelings for you sprung to life the first time I saw your face, though I refused to admit it to myself. I felt guilty, because I felt like I was betraying Harry. The more we’ve been together, the more those feelings have grown, and I’ve tried my best to keep them to myself, because I didn’t know how you felt, and because I wasn’t sure if I was totally over Harry. But I’m sure now. When we kissed, all of those old feelings for him went away in an instant, and now it’s like they were never there at all. I’ll always love him as a person, and as someone who was once truly special to me, but that’s all. Sam, I love you like a woman loves a man. It’s the clearest thing I’ve ever known. Never, not once in my life, have I felt as connected to anyone as I do to you. It felt like my soul was reaching out toward yours when your lips touched mine. I know Harry let go of me the day you entered my life, and would want me to be happy, even if that means moving beyond him. Wherever he is, he’s got to know I was always meant to be yours. You must feel it, too, and if you do, then you know my heart is yours and yours alone. It’s there for you, if you want it. There’s no question, Earth Angel. I know.” He stares at me a moment, as if he’s not quite sure whether to believe it. “I felt my soul reaching for yours, too,” he whispers, his sensual red lips mere millimeters from mine, causing me to shiver with desire. “We may be soul mates. There’s a test we can do later. If you’re sure…” “I am sure. I swear, Sam, there is no one here but you and me. No one in between us. Harry is gone, and I’ve left him in my past, where he belongs. I want to be with you, always. Nothing in my life has ever felt as right as this.” “I feel the same way,” he says, eyes brightening, believing me. I relax fully into his arms, relief washing over me like waves on the beach. Then, as it often does at inopportune moments, a question pops into my head, and I have to have an answer right then. I only try to resist the impulse to ask for a moment before giving in, as I know I’ll ask at an even more inappropriate time later if I don’t do it now. “Do angels have sex like humans do?” I blurt it out, just as Sam is leaning in to kiss me again. It’s obvious where this is leading, and I want it, but I also have questions. For a moment, there are two Lucys within me, one who wants to get naked with him as quickly as possible, and one who has to know what to expect from our approaching coupling. I never did like surprises. My long history of wrenching surprise party details out of people and seeking out my hidden birthday and Christmas gifts bears witness to how surprises drive me nuts. I like to know what’s coming, bad or good. Sam gently pushes me back toward the bed into what will soon be a horizontal position. “We do. As you’ve seen, we are not all that anatomically different on the outside, other than the wings and a few other minor things. Inside, we are also more similar than you’d expect. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, angels do have sex with each other for recreation, and my large number of siblings is evidence enough that we also do it for procreation. It’s more for recreation when we’re young. There are no inhibitions against it, since it’s a natural act. It’s when it comes to love that it’s different. Love changes the entire landscape of sex for us, irrevocably.” “How?” I ask, as he carefully lowers me back onto the pillows and climbs over me, straddling each side of my legs with one of his knees. “We mate for life,” he says, his voice low, with a primal edge in it I’ve never heard him use. It’s sexy as hell. “Once we find our true love, we never copulate with another. It’s kind of like the geese on this planet. If our mate were to die before us, we would not take another. It’s a little different for me because I’m a prince of my kingdom. Royalty among our kind have arranged marriages. It’s the same throughout all the angel kingdoms of the universe. We are not permitted to search for our true love until we produce at least seven heirs. Once we’ve fulfilled our reproductive obligation to our family line, we can find a true love with which to mate, if that love is not our spouse. Our spouse is free to do the same thing. We remain married to maintain the royal alliances between our families, but we never come together in an intimate way with anyone but our true love again. With non-royal angels, it is much simpler.” “Does this mean you have a betrothed?” I ask, suddenly jealous. I don’t want to be the mistress on the side, even if I am his true love. “No. My parents wanted me to find my own mate. Unlike most royal parents, they put my happiness first, and as the primary heir, they were more than willing to give me free rein in this. They felt it would be better for the future of the kingdom. Wisdom is a strong suit in my parents.” I breathe an audible sigh of relief. “This pleases you?” “It does. I don’t want to share you, either.” “Once we do this, there’s no going back,” Sam warns me, giving me one last chance to back out. “If you have any doubts at all about being with me, now is the time to express them. If you change your mind later, you will be consigning me to a celibate existence, as I will never again lie with another.” “I would never do that to you, Sam. And I’m sure. No turning back. It’s you and me from now on. No doubts. I want you, and only you.” “Then I accept your heart, Lucy McDonald, and consider it the greatest honor anyone has ever bestowed upon me. In return, I give you mine. I am yours. We belong to each other now, and no one will ever come between us. You have my word on it.” No words have ever sounded sweeter to me. “I accept your heart, Sam, and am equally honored that you chose to give it to me.” “There was never any choice for me. Only you. I would have waited to the end of time for you, Lucy. But, I must admit, I’m glad I didn’t have to.” He smiles that charming, dazzling smile that I’ve only seen on him and no other angel. Maybe it seems special and different to me because I love him, or maybe he really is just a unique kind of angel. Either way, I can practically feel all my molecules vibrating in response to it. Then, I’m acutely aware that, while the world is still the same, somehow everything is different. Something inside me changes. I am no longer just Lucy. I am LucyandSam, a totally new being, and always will be. My soul finds his and clings to it, two pieces of a puzzle fitting perfectly together. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we will always find each other, because we are part of each other. The story reveals itself to me in this moment, something my soul always knew, but has kept hidden from me until now. Our souls were always part of each other, and though we lost track of each other long ago, it will not happen again. I’m absolutely certain on this point. This is the beginning of a story that was interrupted at the dawn of time. Now, it will continue as it was meant to. I never knew true love before Sam. Harry was a nice diversion, but only that…someone to keep me company until I found my other half again. This is a love so deep and profound, I feel it in every inch of my being, and it is wonderful. And that’s before we start making love. They say sex is like riding a bicycle…you never forget how to do it. It’s been months for me, but Harry and I were pretty active. I only ever had sex with two other men before him, and I can barely remember them. Still, I know how to do this, and am more than a little bit proud about being damn good at it. It’s a skill that’s always come naturally to me. But once Sam swiftly finishes the unbuttoning job I started on my pajama tops and rips off my panties in one smooth motion that leaves them in tatters, rendering me completely naked on the bed underneath him, I feel like a kid getting on my first bike without training wheels. It is all completely new, and I don’t even know where to put my hands anymore. What is this going to be like? I can’t wait to find out, but I’m slightly alarmed at the same time. What if I don’t measure up to his expectations? More importantly, how can one angel make me feel so completely disarmed and inexperienced? I may as well be a virgin again, for all the delicious nervousness and lack of prowess I’m feeling. Sam doesn’t seem to notice my awkwardness. Instead, he stares down at me with a look of such powerful love mixed with indescribable lust that I feel like I might melt right into the sheets. No one has ever looked at me that way, not even…that person I used to be engaged to. What was his name again? Why can’t I remember? “It can be overwhelming for a human coupling with an angel the first time,” he says, gently. “Just let your instincts take over. I won’t do anything to hurt you, I promise. Just the opposite, in fact.” He wiggles his eyebrows in a highly suggestive way. I nearly orgasm right then. Sam as an angel is sexy. Sam as a mostly naked angel on top of me is the stuff of sexual legend. “I…I don’t know what to do,” I stammer stupidly. “It’s not like I’ve never done this before, but now, it’s like all that is gone and I’m a newbie. I don’t want to disappoint you.” “You could never disappoint me, Lucy,” he whispers, leaning down to flick his tongue in my ear, and I swear I’m the first person to discover the human ear is capable of an orgasm. I moan in exquisite pleasure. “Don’t think about what you did before,” he instructs me. “With me, you are new. Just let yourself feel, and do what comes naturally. Don’t think, just do. Got it?” “Yeah.” I close my eyes and let my mind go blank, all memories of times in bed with former lovers disappearing forever, erased by the powerful presence that is Sam. It’s like none of it ever happened, and I really am a virgin, waiting to have my first time with my one true love. It’s magical. I feel transformed. I reach out to remove Sam’s boxers, but find they’re already gone. Instead, I’m confronted with the most magnificent, perfectly built male parts in the universe. To my surprise, he is circumcised. I wonder briefly if all male angels are, or just some, but quickly decide it’s not important. As my eyes grow wide in amazement, I reach out for his fully engorged, erect manhood (angelhood?), wrapping my right hand around it, feeling my fingers stretch out as they strain to meet together on the other side. At the same time, he slowly unfurls his wings, spreading them out to their full length and width like a great white superhero cape, only much more impressive. His sleek body has a delicate golden glow about it, and I can feel his entire being pulsing with energy, which is made manifest in the glowing. The only thing he’s wearing now is that teardrop-shaped blue crystal pendant he never removes. It makes him even sexier, if that’s possible. “You are absolutely gorgeous,” he muses, stroking a lock of my hair, rubbing the fine strands between his fingers. It’s the first time he’s ever commented on my looks and it nearly sends me into an orgasm again. Damn, if even his words make me dissolve into convulsions of pleasure, what’s it going to be like when he’s inside me? I think I may need a seat belt for this. “Stunningly beautiful inside and out,” he continues, moving his fingers to my hardened nipples, where he lightly pinches and twists them, then puts both hands entirely over my breasts and rubs them deeply. His hands are warm and the heat radiates into my breasts, making them putty in his hands. He kneads them like bread, then leans down and kisses each one, gently at first, then harder and more roughly, using his tongue to swirl the nipples into almost razor sharp peaks. “I’ve never met a human so thoroughly lovely in every way as you, Lucy. You are perfection.” He looks up from my bosom just long enough to finish his thought out loud. As he moves down to better access my breasts, which he continues sucking on while moving one hand under my back and the other under my ass, my own hands are forced to leave his manly part, so I raise them instinctively to his wings, where they quickly become entangled in the mass of gossamer feathers that feel too light and nearly formless to even be real. Each touch of them sends shivers through my fingertips and into my whole body. Every single feather is an erotic machine unto itself. Then, those lovely wings that are awesomely dripping of sex wrap around me, gently cushioning me in a cloud of ecstasy, and my knees rise up to lock around his waist. I am tingling with ecstasy in every molecule of my being, my lady parts lifting frantically in an unspoken plea for him to enter me. I think I might explode if he doesn’t do it soon. Each time his tongue flicks a nipple, I have to keep myself from screaming out his name and begging him to put his cock where it was always meant to be. If he doesn’t do it in the extremely near future, Linda is definitely going to know what’s going on between us, and there’s a good likelihood the whole block will, too. But he waits, moving his fingers down to flick my engorged center of pleasure, rubbing it with the pad of his thumb, then with his whole hand, all the while keeping his other hand under my rear, gradually pulling up on me so my hips and pelvis are almost grinding into his, and would be, were his second hand not on my most sensitive area. He moves up slightly to kiss, and then lightly bite, my neck near where it joins my shoulder. My hips are moving up and down against his, my hands still running through the feathers of his wings, only on the insides of them this time, rather than the backs. When he moves up even more to kiss me on the mouth again, I grip his waist, glorying in the rock hard muscles there, then graze my hands along his rib cage, feeling the outline of each bone, and finally make my way to the front of his chest, where I slightly rub his perfectly round nipples and run my fingertips along the outline of his finely chiseled pecs. It’s like being seduced by the most erotic sculpture in the world. “Sam,” I beg. “Please…” I can’t quite articulate the words. His touch and kisses have nearly taken the power of speech from me. He needs no further encouragement. I know in that instant that he was just waiting for me to ask for it out loud. He needed to hear the words, not just the cues from my body. He is a deeply literal angel. I numbly make a mental note to remember that from now on. Sam will only do something like this with my express verbal consent. The perfect lover and the perfect gentleman. Oh, God, this is the best thing in the world. Before I can say another word, he hikes up my hips the rest of the way to meet his, and then he’s inside me, all the way to the hilt. I gasp in shock at the brief twinge of pain and feeling of something breaking as he enters me. What the hell? Was that a hymen? How in God’s name did I get another one of those? He feels me tense and sees my bewildered look. “I told you it was all new with me,” he mumbles, running his finger along my lower lip before gently biting it. I kiss him back, reveling in the feeling of him inside me at last. A million pleasure centers go off at once within me on every square inch of feminine flesh his manhood touches. When he breaks to kiss my neck and behind my ears some more, I ask, “Did you do this to me?” “No,” he groans, lips lost somewhere in my hair. “You did. You became a virgin again when you gave yourself to me. Without even knowing it, you rearranged your molecules to create a new maidenhead. Part of you wanted to only be mine, and to only have ever been mine. With my angelic energy around you, you were able to make that desire a reality. Soon, you’ll learn to control it and will be able to create whatever you want, even without a boost from me. This is just the beginning of what you can do, Lucy. You have no idea what you’re capable of accomplishing. There’s a reason the archangels chose you to lead this war beside me, and I’m discovering all the reasons why right along with you.” Good enough for me. I can always ask more questions later. There are more important things going on at the moment. That, in itself, is a frankly remarkable concession for me to make. “Cool,” I moan as he nibbles on my earlobe, all thoughts of questions banished from my mind. Then, he drives more deeply into me than I ever imagined possible. I lift my hips way off the bed to meet his thrusts, and he takes my mouth with a fierce release of passion he’s been holding back this entire time, while he let me get used to him. He’s not holding back anything anymore, and we are pushing and thrusting and shoving, kissing and biting and licking every inch of each other, our hands all over each other at once, soft and rough, gentle and savage at the same time. Sam growls like a feral beast, and I shriek like an approaching storm. It is intensely romantic and unbelievably violent at the same time. I feel like we may actually tear each other apart in our eagerness to experience every inch of us as one being. There’s that feeling of our souls reaching out for each other again, and as we both reach our incredibly loud, primitive, and shuddering climaxes together, they touch at last. The wide-eyed look of utter amazement on Sam’s face tells me he feels it, too, and it’s something he’s never experienced. I’m glad. I want this to be something we’ve only shared with each other. If we didn’t belong to each other before, we do now, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I know in my heart, without asking, that Sam wouldn’t, either. Sam collapses on top of me, then rolls slightly to the side, keeping me wrapped closely to him with both his arms, his wings still circling me lightly like the world’s coziest and safest cocoon. I nestle up against him, my arms around his waist, my hands between his back and his wings, feeling both the skin and the feathers together. It is the most comfortable, protected, and loved I’ve ever felt in my life. I know beyond any doubt I am cherished. Sam needs to know I feel the same way about him. I tip my head up from its resting place just below his chin and kiss him lightly on the lips. “I love you, Sam,” I say softly, the louder parts of my voice weighed down by deep, ancient emotions. “I love you, too, Lucy,” he responds, sounding young, innocent, and hopeful, as a human man sounds when he’s saying it truthfully for the first time. I snuggle back up against him. It’s all that needs to be said for now. I sleep nestled in his embrace, the best sleep I’ve had since we arrived in Vermont, and, truth be told, probably ever. When I wake up in the morning, he’s gone, his clean, meadow-like scent still lingering on the sheets like a ghost. Chapter 22 For just a moment, I freak out. Have the archangels taken Sam from me the way they took Harry? After all, Harry was removed from my life because he would be in my way in the war against Jonathan. What if they did the same thing to Sam, because I fell in love with him? But, no. They wouldn’t. Would they? Sam was clearly prophesied to be the other part of a team that consisted of the two of us alone. He’s needed in this battle as much as I am. And I just can’t bring myself to believe the ultra-perceptive archangels wouldn’t have known we are soul mates. You can’t separate soul mates once they’ve found each other; they always find each other again. The archangels had to know, and they put us together anyway, instead of keeping us separated and working on the war from different locations. They won’t take him from me. They can’t. He’s got to be here somewhere. Okay. I’m chilled out about his absence now. And that attitude clears my head, allowing me to think rationally. I know where he’s gone. It’s our day off from training, the one day a week we get any extended rest. He’ll want to use the opportunity to talk to Ella, since they haven’t had a chance to talk in-depth and alone since she arrived yesterday. I get dressed in some comfortable jeans and a long-sleeved green t-shirt with the Tree of Life symbol on it. The fabric is thin and light, perfect for these slightly cool summer mornings in Vermont. Grabbing a quickly toasted frozen waffle and munching on it plain, I head out into the streets and toward the most private place in town…the entrance to the woods behind the recreation center. No one else is around, but since it’s our day off, I’m not surprised. Everyone is going to sleep in a little bit longer than usual. Even the angels, who don’t need as much sleep as the rest of us, are still in their beds. The town seems strange when it’s so quiet and empty. As I munch down the last bit of my crumby waffle, I see them, exactly where I expected them to be. Brother and sister are standing close to each other, engaged in a deeply private conversation. I don’t feel as if I’m intruding by approaching them; Ella said I was family, after all, plus I’m the co-leader of the army that lives in this town. Also, I instinctively know never keeping secrets from one another is part of the package of the new status between Sam and me. He won’t mind me being here, and neither will Ella. In fact, I need to know what they’re discussing. Whatever it is has to concern me in some way. Besides, I also miss the warm energy of being in Sam’s presence and want to be near him again. As I walk up to them, I see Ella is still wearing her angel clothes, but has cleaned them, her tunic and pants being pristine and fresh. You’d never know she was in a brutal battle just a day ago. She appears beautiful and young as always, but something has changed in her eyes. They are older than her face now, wiser, and sadder. I’m sorry for her. Loss of innocence is always painful, both in the person who loses it and for the people who see it happen, especially in someone as naturally happy and bright as Ella. The battle has changed her, but I don’t know in what ways. I’m sure it will be revealed in time. I just hope it’s not too much and she’ll be able to mostly bounce back from it. She’s still young and resilient by angel standards. Maybe she’ll revert to something resembling her old self before long. I hope so. “It’s all my fault. I should have been there.” That’s Sam talking, his voice soft and quiet, not wanting to draw attention to their conversation. He needn’t be worried. No one but me will have an inkling of where they are, and most people will probably be in their beds for a few more hours today, anyway. Those who aren’t won’t stray far from home if they can avoid it. The day off is special around here. “Ella,” I greet her, choosing this moment to join them. Sam is taking this too hard. There’s nothing he could have done, and he was needed here. He knows it. He wants to protect everyone, and there’s only one of him. Maybe my arrival will take his mind off his guilt, and make him feel better for seeing me. I already feel amazing at the sight of him. I take Ella in my arms, hugging her tightly. She returns my embrace with a fierceness I’ve never experienced from anyone, as if holding onto me will make everything all right with the universe again. Her faith in my ability to fix this hasn’t diminished, though I don’t know why. I haven’t done anything amazing yet, unless you count the capture of Jonathan’s blade. Yet her belief is so strong, I almost crumple under the weight of it. “I knew you’d be up to join us soon,” she says, scrunching up her face against my shoulder. “I couldn’t sleep. I just stayed up all night thinking about the battle. All of our family and our subjects, lying dead and bloody on every side of me, the awful screams as Daniel and his army killed them, the older ones trying to protect the children and everyone getting slaughtered in the process. Oh, Lucy, I just can’t erase the images and sounds from my mind. I feel like such a coward for hiding, but I didn’t know what else to do.” “It’s okay, kiddo,” I say, stroking her hair, using my best soothing “big sister” voice on her, which is a variation of what my older brothers used to use on me. “You did what you had to do. No one thinks any less of you. And you saved the angels you brought with you. You’re no coward, Ella. You’re a hero. Without you leading them, there would be no resistance left at all except for the few of us here. I’m sure Sam’s told you the same thing. “I have,” Sam assures me. “She refuses to be comforted.” “Just like you refuse to stop feeling guilty about what happened on the moon base and to your mother. You two have got to stop taking the weight of the universe on your shoulders. As far as I’m concerned, you’re both brave and heroic, and you’ve both saved people. You can only do what you can do, and you can’t be everywhere. That’s why we need a bigger army. We need more people in more places, to avoid things like this in the future.” “When will it all end?” Ella’s plaintive question, full of pain and anguish, nearly fells Sam. I can see it. It’s not easy for me to hear, either. “It will end eventually, sweetheart,” I assure her, looking to Sam for confirmation. He nods, frowning with the frustrations of our slow progress. I force a smile to counteract his scowl, and put my face directly in front of hers. We will be victorious,” I say, using the smooth, even tones of assured authority that I know comfort her so much. “We have to be. The fate of the universe depends on us and everyone who joins our cause. We all have a duty to protect it, and we will.” “But how many more of us will die before it’s over?” She is crying lightly, the tears wet against my neck, and the tremble in her voice is crushing me. “I don’t know,” I reply honestly. “War is an uncertain thing. One thing I can promise you, though, Ella, is that Sam and I will protect you, no matter what. You don’t have to worry about Jonathan hurting you. We will make sure he never lays a hand on you, you have my word on it.” “Mine, too,” Sam says determinedly, taking her hand and gently pulling her off of me. I take her other hand, and we form a small circle of three, an unusual family unit standing firm against the forces of darkness, with only each other to look to for leadership and support. No one else knows the position we are in, Sam and me as military leaders, and Sam and Ella as rulers of an entire kingdom of Earth Angels. We are the only ones who understand the burden of doing what needs to be done and making the hard decisions. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep, you two,” she says, sniffling back the tears and giving us a half-smile that seems like the welcome appearance of the sun peeking out on a cloudy day. “We can promise this,” Sam assures her. “You can’t. I know how war works, too. You can try, and you may succeed, but you can’t promise me I won’t get hurt by Jonathan or any of his army. I know you’ll both do your best, and that’s all I can ask of you. Don’t ask more of yourselves.” She’s right, as much as I hate to admit it. Sam and I both want to protect everyone, and especially our loved ones. We’ll each do what we have to in that quest. But Jonathan is a powerful angel and his army is enormous. They’re probably already making plans to take us on as soon as they can find us, and we don’t have nearly enough people do defeat them yet. We may not be able to protect anyone, including each other. But we will die fighting to keep as many people safe as we can, if necessary. That much I do know. “Ella, Lucy, I’m going to see Father,” Sam says, abruptly changing the subject. I expected he would do this eventually, so I’m not surprised. Ella, on the other hand, is plainly horrified. “Sam, no!” she cries, her hands flying to her mouth as if he’s spoken some kind of blasphemy. “Father said to stay away as long as Jonathan is still a threat. He’s our king, and the head of our family. We’ve never gone against his orders.” Sam sighs and slumps his shoulders, shaking his head in consternation. I get his exasperation. Surely Ella sees these are unusual times? They call for unusual measures, and the typical rules can’t always apply. “Sam, would it really be so terrible for you to go see your father?” I ask, wanting to make sure nothing bad will happen to him for disregarding an order from his king. “In normal times, Father’s word would be absolute in our home and our community,” Sam says evenly, not a touch of worry in his voice. “None of the Earth Angels would dare disobey him, not even Mother, if she were here. The recriminations would be terrible. For any of his family, especially his wife and children, it would be even worse than for the other angels in our realm, since we are expected to set an example for the rest of the kingdom. Because of our status, we are held to a much higher standard. If I were to disregard a direct command from him in normal times, I could expect beatings, temporary banishment, possible imprisonment, public penance, or any number of other things as a result. But now? There is no one left to witness my disobedience, and thus no reason to punish me for it. What’s more, there is now every reason to go up there and have a discussion with him, assuming he is still alive.” “Would you know if he wasn’t?” “We’re too far away to feel Father’s energy signature, and with him being all alone at home and most of the Messenger Angels avoiding this area, no, I wouldn’t know. But I assume Jasper left him alive until they take control of the Earth. Someone needs to be there to look out for extraterrestrial threats to the planet and protect against them if any appear. Jonathan wants to control this planet and everyone on it, not see it destroyed. It would defeat his purpose.” “Sam, I’d be careful with Father,” Ella insists. “He knows you’re leading the resistance, but that doesn’t mean he’ll take kindly to you showing up at home when he expressly told you to avoid it until further notice.” “Ella,” Sam presses, wanting her to understand, “there is no reason to keep up appearances with him right now. Only the three of us know he ordered me to stay away. He can have no objection to me coming to see him. Father has been in battle before, long ago. He will understand why I must come in spite of his order. You don’t need to worry for me where he is concerned.” Ella eyes him suspiciously, and I can tell she is trying to figure out if her adored older brother is lying to her. I’ve seen that look before, on my Kindergarteners. Really, I’m almost insulted on Sam’s behalf. I truly don’t believe he would lie to her unless there was a massively good reason. At the same time, it’s also touching that she’s so concerned for him. I’m sure, as the heir to the throne, Sam is held to the highest of standards, even more so than the rest of his family. In normal times, what he is proposing would be unthinkable. But this is different, and King Josiah has to realize it. Sam must be thinking the same thing, because he raises a questioning, almost comical blond eyebrow at his sister. “Have you ever actually seen Father be more than just slightly angry at me for anything?” he asks, prompting her to think back. She carefully considers the question. “No,” she admits after a moment. “You always were such a goody two-shoes.” She smiles then, a real Ella smile that warms my heart, and playfully punches Sam in the arm. “You always wanted to prove just what a good, obedient son you are. But I know you, Sam. Father never knew all the mischief you got up to. You were careful at hiding it.” “And a good thing, too!” Sam laughs, looking far away into the distance, as if remembering some of his secret childish pranks and adventures. “I’d have been locked up until it was time for me to inherit Father’s crown.” “You were still the good kid, though,” Ella says, smirking. “Even at your worst, you were always the best.” “And you, my dear little sister, were the most coddled. You don’t know how easy you had it. There was never anyone looking over your shoulder all the time, demanding perfection. All you ever had to do was smile and plead and you’d get your way. Always.” Sam amusingly emphasizes this last word to indicate how extremely irritating he finds this, when in fact, I suspect he can be just as susceptible to Ella’s charms as anyone. “It’s a gift,” she says breezily, casually flipping her golden hair behind her shoulder in an “I don’t care” kind of way. Then, she gets serious again. “Are you going right away?” Sam nods. “Today, I think. It’s crucial I talk to him now, before Jonathan engages us in battle. He’ll find us eventually, you know, even once the town is cloaked.” “Won’t Jonathan be able to find you if you leave town?” Her tone is even, but her eyes give away her worry. “No,” he reassures her. “I am personally cloaked, and so is Lucy. The seers worked their magic on us the day we arrived. As long as the magic holds, Jonathan will not be able to find us, no matter where we go.” “Do you know how long the magic will last?” “No. But Linda assured us it would be for a long time.” “That’s good,” the relief in Ella’s voice is evident, and she visibly relaxes her pose. “Will you be taking Lucy with you?” Ella asks, taking me completely aback. Will he? I hadn’t even considered it. Meeting Sam’s father and seeing his home would be amazing. But would it be better if I stayed here and helped with the cloaking spell for the town, which I know the elders are doing today? There hasn’t been much time for me to learn seer magic with all the physical combat training I’ve had to do. We both look at Sam expectantly. Sam nods. “I promised Lucy I would protect her, and I am her acting guardian angel. Guardian angels aren’t supposed to leave their charges. We all know I’m not a real guardian angel and I can’t do what they do, so there’s no need to bring it up. But Lucy’s guardian left her under my protection, and I must take it seriously. I would regardless, of course.” He gives me a quick wink, and I immediately see Ella notices it. She cocks her head to the side in curiosity, knowing something is going on between us that we haven’t told her. Innocent she may be, but she’s not stupid, not by a long shot. “What if something happens to the village while I’m gone?” I ask. “Father will be displeased I’m coming,” Sam continues, oblivious to my question or the fact that his sister is preparing a mental Nancy Drew case to discover our “secret” as we speak. “I don’t know how he’ll feel about Lucy being there, either. No human has visited our home since I was born, and I don’t know if any ever did before that time. But I can’t leave her alone. I have a responsibility to her. She comes with me.” He doesn’t consult me or give me a choice in the matter. It’s an imperious, high-handed kind of act which could be troublesome later on if he keeps doing it. He’s not my prince, though he treats me like a princess (and is my metaphorical knight in shining armor). I’m not bound to obey his orders, and we are equal partners in this whole thing. But I do want to go with him, not only to see his home and meet his father, but also because I want to be near him, always. So I don’t argue….for now. There are lights starting to come on in some of the houses up the street, and I know people will be making their breakfasts soon. This is the one day of the week people cook and eat in their own homes, rather than the communal setup we have in the church. Others will start coming outside to enjoy a day of leisure, starting with the kids. We need to get going. “Will you tell my family where I went and that we’ll both be back soon?” I ask Ella as I take Sam’s hand. “Of course. Good luck to you both. Tell Father I love him. And Sam?” “Yes, little sister?” “Be careful.” Chapter 23 The trip to Sam’s home is instant, and only disorienting for a moment. It’s different than shifting, where there is a feeling of the universe moving around you. With teleportation, you’re simply one place, and then you’re someplace else. I’m pretty sure this isn’t something I can do on my own, like shifting. It’s a purely angelic power, and I only get to experience it by holding on to one who is doing it, like I just did with Sam, and like my family did with Luke. The “Dome,” as the Earth Angels call their home, is huge, like a giant city in space, with houses and silvery glowing streets going off in all directions. Trees, all of which are large and impossibly old with long, low-hanging branches, line these streets, and form a forest in the distance. The houses are all different sizes and shapes, made to fit families of every kind. They look similar to human houses, but from a much earlier era, with thatched roofs and whitewashed plaster walls. Small gardens with flowers adorn the yards. There are also a variety of community and public buildings that don’t have obvious purposes, but I assume are used for similar things as their Earth-bound counterparts. Angels of this kingdom must have worked in them prior to being sent to the moon camp. Sam says every adult in the Earth Angel kingdom has a job. I wonder how many of them are left. The sun and sky look similar to what we have on Earth, with clouds floating here and there. It’s all slightly transparent, though, with the vastness of space barely visible behind it all, stars sparkling against the blue sky in a way they can’t do on a planet. It’s a stunning visual reminder that Sam’s home is somewhere far up above the Earth, hidden from human view, except for seers with telescopes. The colors are brighter and more vibrant here, and everything seems to have a slight, iridescent sparkle to it that is innate to its being, not just a pretty angelic decoration. The air is clean and pure, with no hint of pollution like on Earth, and there’s a sweet, earthy scent that reminds me of the tall, soft grasses of the American northeast. The atmosphere is perfectly suited for habitation by humans. Angels can breathe anything, so I wonder if it’s always like this to match the atmosphere of the planet they protect, or if Sam made it safe for me when we arrived. It’s the kind of that is within his powers. In the far distance, behind the thick forest, are snow-capped mountains with peaks poking just above the cloud line. I can hear the sound of water running over stones nearby, so I know there is a stream or a brook in the vicinity. The presence of a decorative fountain in the middle of town shows me water is a part of their society. In all, Sam’s home looks like a brighter, more vivid version of Earth, with a slightly magical quality about it. There is also an extremely subtle, but definitely noticeable, curve in the sky, which tells me this place is a sphere. Rather than continuing to call it “Sam’s home,” or “The Dome,” as the Earth Angels call it, I privately dub it “the AngelSphere.” It seems fitting. The AngelSphere gives every indication of being a thriving city of hundreds of thousands. There may even be individual towns here, and not just this large city we’re currently standing in. The place is too large to see all of it, so it’s certainly a possibility. But instead of the bustling crowd you’d expect to see, the AngelSphere is empty. There’s not a single person anywhere. They’ve all either been killed or sent away. It’s a living place, though; I feel its sentience, just as Sam says the Earth has sentience. It needs its people, and is lonely without them. If the angels don’t come back soon, it will eventually wither and die. Should that happen, those who are left will need to build a new home from scratch, and I know it won’t be easy. It seems like I spend an eternity taking everything in, still clinging to Sam in the same position as when we teleported. However, in reality, we’ve only been there a few seconds when I hear a low, richly toned voice behind us. “Son,” the voice says, and I swear it sounds just like Darth Vader. “I thought I sent word you were not to come here.” Darth is angry, but not overly so. More annoyed than anything, really. Sam lets go of my hand, and turns around to face his father. On instinct, I turn with him. Darth is not as tall as Sam, but close. What he lacks in height, he makes up for in imposing presence. This angel is a king among his people, which I must be sure to remember and respect, and he carries that regality with him like it’s part of the fabric of his being. He wears a long white robe instead of the earth-toned tunic and pants donned by the other Earth Angels. There’s a gold sash around his waist like Jonathan wears, and a long gold collar around his neck. These are things I assume indicate his leadership position. His hair is shoulder length, dark brown, and smooth, glistening an almost indigo hue where the sunlight bounces off of it. His eyes are the same sapphire blue of all angels, his nose is long and angular, and his red lips are pressed in a thin line. His face is almost triangular, with a wide forehead and a sharp, pointed chin. He has the appearance of a youthful man in his 50’s or 60’s, with smooth, un-wrinkled and unblemished skin. He is muscular, but not chiseled like Sam, so it must have been a while since he had to work those muscles. Taking care of this place on his own will undoubtedly change that in short order. Most interestingly, he has the first facial hair I’ve seen on an angel of any caste. He boasts a beard and moustache combo that makes him appear very much like Gandalf from Lord of the Rings. It’s mostly dark brown with hints of gray in it, and the beard is long, reaching down to his collar bone. Overall, it is obvious he is the king. He carries himself in a way that says he will brook no dissent or disobedience, which I’ve seen Sam do on occasion, yet his eyes are kindly, indicating a benevolent ruler who knows he maintains his position at the discretion and love of his people. His eyes are impossibly weary. He’s been through a lot recently, and it shows. Right now, he is a king with a kingdom in diaspora, and no queen. I feel sad for him, and for Sam, who must be thinking about his mother. “Father,” Sam says reverently, “I beg your pardon for going against your wishes, but the matter was of utmost importance.” “You’ve brought a guest,” Darth points out, ignoring Sam’s explanation as he notices me standing partly behind one of his son’s wings. I know his name is Josiah, but Darth seems like the more appropriate name at this point, at least until I’ve talked to him personally. Sam steps aside to fully reveal me. “Father, allow me to introduce you to Lucy McDonald. She is a seer from the European family on Earth. She saved my life after my fight with Jonathan. Lucy, this is my father, King Josiah of the Earth angels.” I give a tiny curtsey, not sure what the protocol is with angel royalty. It would’ve been nice to have received a primer on it before coming here, but the decision was made too quickly for instructions. So, I just go with my instinct, which is usually good. “Your Highness,” I say softly, lowering my eyes to the shimmering street, mimicking the title I’ve heard other Earth Angels use with Ella and Sam. “Lucy,” Josiah nods to me formally, but his voice is kind. “Please rise.” I do. “Welcome to our home. It is an honor to have a seer grace our humble community. It has been many millennia since we were so blessed, long before Sam was born. I only wish we could offer you more hospitality, but as you see, there is no one left here but me.” “That’s quite all right, sir. I’m just glad that you are well.” “As well as I can be, considering the circumstances, my child,” he says, wearily. “You have my thanks and gratitude for saving my son. Anything I can do for you, just ask, and if it is in my power, it is granted.” “Thank you, sir. I appreciate it.” “So, I assume Sam has taken the place of your guardian angel, or he would not have brought you here,” he says, his tone suddenly a bit brusque, and I wonder just how glad he really is to have me here. He quickly recovers, though. “It is only fitting, of course,” he continues, his voice full of gentleness again. “You saved his life, so he owes you some protection. As you can see, I’ve raised my children well.” My Spidey-senses tingle a bit at his quick but noticeable change in attitude. This is an angel who is hiding something. I don’t know how I know, but I know. Sam’s opening of my seer abilities reveals all kinds of new powers to me all the time. This must be one of them, sensing when an angel is not being totally forthcoming with information. “You have, indeed, sir,” I assure him, being careful to keep the suspicion out of my voice. Instead, I smile beatifically at him to show him my pleasure with how he raised his son. Inside, though, I strongly suspect Sam’s manners and gentlemanly qualities have a lot more to do with his mother. “Father,” Sam says, oblivious to my guard going up, “I hope you are not too angry that I came here. As I said, it is an urgent matter. May we discuss it?” “I’m not angry, son,” Josiah says, and I can tell he means it. “It would be different if the community were here and you’d openly disobeyed me, but what matter is it now? There is no need to keep up royal appearances when it is just us and your seer companion. As far as I’m concerned, this is a family matter, not a matter of state. Let’s sit, shall we?” He indicates some park benches nearby under one of the amazingly long-limbed trees, and we all go over to it, Josiah and me sitting on either side of Sam. “I presume whatever you have to say is known to Lucy?” “Yes, Father. Lucy and I have no secrets from one another. In fact, she is the leader of the human seers in our training camp on Earth. You are aware we are training with seers to get ready to fight Jonathan’s army?” “I am. I think it’s an excellent idea, and a far overdue one. We and the seers should have been working together on many things all along. It’s a shame that connection was lost with most of them. Maybe this Jonathan situation wouldn’t have happened if that were the case. We’ve been very foolish in that regard.” Sam lets that comment go by, having nothing useful to add to it. “And you know the angel training camp behind the moon was decimated by Daniel’s troops yesterday.” “I received word. Ella is unharmed, as I was told?” “Yes, she is unharmed. You still get messengers here? I thought most of the ones in this solar system were in hiding. Except for the ones in our camp, of course.” “There are still some who risk the possibility of being captured to do their jobs. I receive messages daily, and sometimes more. Nothing of importance goes unreported to me if it happens in this part of the galaxy.” Sam considers this for a moment, then decides it makes sense. “Father, we need more troops. After the decimation of Ella’s camp, our numbers aren’t even close to high enough to take on Jonathan, and I think he may be close to making a move to take the Earth, even without capturing me first. Can you recall any angels who are not in absolutely critical jobs on the planet’s surface, or who have moved to other planets, such as my brothers, and send them to us? You could also use the messengers who come to you to send word out to the rest of the galaxy. We need everyone we can get. It’s the only way we stand a chance of winning. We’re recruiting humans and angels on Earth, but we need more. Will you do this for us?” Josiah considers us both carefully, his bearded face inscrutable. “No,” he finally says. He is perfunctory in that one word, and leaves no room for negotiation. The universe seems to stop for a moment, as if it can’t quite believe what it just heard. It must be commiserating with us, because Sam and I are dumbfounded. “No?” Sam says after a stunned silence. He draws the single word out like a piece of ribbon from a spool, not wanting to come to the end of the syllable and get confirmation of what he doesn’t comprehend. “That’s right, Sam,” Josiah says, more adamantly and firm this time. “I will not help you.” Sam’s eyes flash with something I’ve never seen in them before: rage. It is a look I never want to see on him again, both frightening and painful, like a giant wave about to crash onto the shore and destroy the city that lies in its path. Good Lord, what is he going to do? I know he loves his father, but right now, in this moment, he looks like he could kill him and not feel bad about it. I’m not sure about Sam’s next move, but personally, I want to shrink into the boards of the bench and become invisible. Am I about to witness a fight between an angel father and son? I really, really don’t want to be anywhere near that kind of thing, especially when the father and son are also the king and crown prince of the Earth Angel realm. Am I furious that Josiah is refusing to help? Of course. But nothing makes a person so uncomfortable as to be a witness to a fight. Participating is one thing, but just sitting there watching makes you feel like both an intruder and as if you’re being intruded upon. It is super unpleasant. And if Josiah hurts Sam up here, I don’t know if I will be able to help him. Josiah’s strength and abilities are unknown quantities to me. The shifty king might even keep me prisoner here, and I need to get back to my people. They’re counting on me to protect and lead them. “Father,” Sam says evenly, working very hard to remain respectful and remember his place as both son and subject in this relationship, “I do not understand. How can you refuse us in this? You know the danger we face and the consequences if we do not stop Jonathan.” “I do,” Josiah confirms. “But I will not help you in any way, Sam. You must be on your own in this.” I can see the muscle in Sam’s jaw twitching, just like a human’s would if said human were within a hair’s breadth of punching someone in the face. I wince involuntarily, waiting for Sam to make the move and wonder what will happen if he actually raises his hand to his father. Josiah may be a jerk, but he is still king of this realm, even though he is the only resident of it right now. And Sam is not just Josiah’s son; he is his subject. This could get complicated. “For God’s sake, Father, why?” Sam’s rage is barely contained now. He is actually visibly shaking, and I can see his hands balling and un-balling into fists in his lap. “Jonathan’s henchman killed Mother! Another one killed two of your own sons, my brothers! They killed untold thousands more of us, and they threaten the very Earth we are sworn to protect! What is wrong with you?” “Watch your tone with me, boy,” Josiah snaps, eyes narrowing dangerously. “Remember who you’re talking to.” Sam leaps to his feet, towering over his father, who remains seated on the bench. “Believe me, Father, I know who I’m talking to. I’m talking to the angel who raised me to be his heir, who I always admired as a fair and kind king who cared about his people, who always made sure everyone was safe and felt valued, but who wasn’t afraid to make difficult decisions. I’m talking to the man who loved his wife beyond reason and who was devoted to his family, who made sure all of his children got excellent educations, learned how to defend themselves and be good leaders in their own rights, who cared about the Earth, and served as a wonderful example of what an Earth Angel should be to everyone in his kingdom! Where is that angel now, Father? Tell me! Where did he go? Or did Mother’s death drive you mad? Because I certainly don’t recognize the person I see sitting before me now!” Josiah is on his feet in an instant, hand raised as if to slap Sam. I clutch the arm of the bench, digging my fingernails into it. Please don’t hit him, please don’t hit him, please God, let Josiah get my psychic message and back down. This is more than just a family matter. This is also a dispute between a king and his heir, and if the history of Earth has taught me anything, it’s that those fights never end well. Royal family disputes usually get resolved with one party either imprisoned or dead. I won’t let Josiah do either to Sam. I’m not entirely sure of the extent of my powers yet, but I will stop him if I have to. I’ll find a way. Blessedly, there is no need to put my abilities to the test, because Sam catches his father’s hand easily and raises it high in the air, away from him, then flings it down. “Don’t,” he warns, his tone dark and dangerous. “You cannot possibly understand, you ungrateful, stupid boy,” Josiah seethes, nursing his now bruised hand with his other one. Sam apparently hurt him a little bit. “There is far more at stake here than just the Earth. We must protect our own.” “What do you think we’re trying to do down there?” Sam throws his hands up, exasperated. “Jonathan has way too many troops on his side to defeat now. He will take the Earth. We may be able to recruit enough to stop him before he takes the galaxy, but he will conquer more planets and more angels before it’s done. We have to play along in the meantime. Too many angels are afraid to refuse him. They won’t join you, and I won’t ask them to put their lives and the lives of their families at risk for a cause that they cannot possibly win at this point. It is easier to go along, and then subvert him from the inside once he thinks we are loyal to him.” Sam looks at his father as if he has grown two heads. “Loyal to him?” He shakes his head, unable to believe what his father is saying. “Since when are we loyal to tyrants? When do we abandon our planet and its people to the mad plans of one who would enslave them? Where is the father who encouraged me to fight, who told me I was the strongest among us and the only chance we had of defeating this monster? Where is the father who helped me set up that training camp behind the moon, who sent Ella to me for protection? Where is the father who told me the Earth must be saved from Jonathan at all costs? Where is the father I admired? I don’t even recognize you!” “It’s all very fine to say such things when your wife is still alive and most of your kingdom hasn’t been wiped out by the enemy!” Josiah shouts, his voice echoing off the empty buildings all around us. “Should we protect the Earth? Yes! But we must protect our own first, or there will be no Earth to protect! Priorities, Sam! Even if we can’t protect the Earth now, we can protect ourselves. Jonathan will let us live, and may even assign us to a new planet if we please him. Our family and our people will be preserved. That is the most important thing. We have to cooperate now, so we can live to fight another day, once we have time to come up with a workable strategy, if such a thing can be done. Or maybe it won’t be so bad under Jonathan’s rule, as long as we comply with his wishes. He may allow me to be a vassal king once his empire grows. There may even be hope for you, if you turn yourself into him now, and swear your loyalty.” Sam turns a sickening shade of green, and I feel distinctly queasy, too, as we both realize the horrible truth at the same time. “Oh God,” Sam whispers, disgusted beyond words. “It was you! You are the spy! You’re the one who gave away the camp’s location to Daniel! How could you?” “Sam, you don’t understand,” Josiah says, holding out his hands in a placating matter, realizing he’s pushed his son too far. “Daniel promised amnesty and protection for all of our people who are in hiding if I gave up the location of the training camp. I had to think of the needs of the many against the needs of the few. It’s what kings must do.” “You had two sons training there!” Sam shouts in disbelief. I feel tears streaming silently down my face I didn’t even feel coming as I realize what Josiah has done. How could he give up his kids like that? What kind of father is he? And Ella? Isn’t she the favored child? Did he know she was there and not with Sam on Earth when he pointed the enemy straight at her? “Believe me, it was the hardest decision I’ve ever made!” Josiah no longer sounds angry. He is almost pleading for Sam to understand. I know Sam never will. “Two sons,” Sam goes on, close up in his father’s face now, his own face contorted in anger and disbelief, as everything he thought he knew about the angel who sired and raised him vanishes before his eyes. “And you sent an army to kill them! And Ella! Did you know she was there? Did you care?” “I heard Ella went there after she left you. I asked Daniel to promise to spare her and whoever was with her if I told him the location. He gave his word she would not be harmed, and any angels she gathered around her could also go free. He figured there wouldn’t be enough angels in the camp left to matter in the big scheme of things, and he was right. I protected her!” “You couldn’t be sure Daniel would keep his word! For all you know, Ella and the angels who were with her only escaped because Daniel couldn’t find them!” “That is possible,” Josiah admits, “but I like to think Daniel is an honorable angel. He has always kept his word in the past.” “Oh yes,” Sam says sarcastically, raising his eyes to the heavens. “Let’s believe the word of an angel who has turned against everything we stand for and taken up as one of the commanders of a lunatic’s army. We don’t even know his planet of origin, Father! You had no idea Ella would be protected. You just got lucky, whether he kept his word or she escaped through her own cleverness, which I think is the more likely truth!” “I did what I had to do, Sam,” Josiah says quietly. “I have thousands of our people in hiding all over the Earth and this area of space. Not everyone was in the moon camp; far from it. I’m not so foolish as to put all my people in one place. I had to think of them. I’m their king. They are depending on me.” “Correction,” Sam growls, his voice low with barely controlled. “You were their king. But you’ve shown you are no longer fit to rule. And we both know when a king is insane and unable to rule as he should, he no longer has any claim to the throne. The kingdom goes to the heir. That is me.” “I’m not abdicating for you, Sam,” Josiah’s voice is firm, unmoving. “You’re not ready.” “I’m not giving you a choice.” In one swift, fluid motion, Sam reaches out and grabs his father’s golden sash and collar, pulling them off before Josiah has a chance to react. Those must be important symbols of office, because Josiah reaches for them just a moment too late. “We both know our kingdom is our people, not this place. This is just where we live. We can always build a new home if we have to. But I’m not going to let you destroy everything our people stand for, because when you take that away, you take the spirit of the people. They need to know someone is protecting them, keeping them from slavery, and helping them continue to do the jobs they were created to do. That person isn’t you anymore, Father. It’s me. You can go ahead and rule over this empty place on your own, the king of nothing.” Sam raises his hand in the air and calls, “Halo!” A large, round-edged halo sparkling with inlaid multi-colored gems materializes out of thin air just above Josiah’s head, which is kind of amazing. Sam grabs it and sets it above his own head, where it floats on its own, untethered, just like in all those old paintings of angels from the Renaissance. It must be suspended there by some kind of energy field given off by Sam’s angelic nature. Wrapping the sash around his own waist and putting on the collar, he says, “I declare myself, Sam, son of Josiah, to be the new king of the Earth Angels. Long live the king.” Since no one else is around to echo it as is done on Earth, I mutter, “Long live the king,” quietly, hoping to draw as little of Josiah’s attention as possible. “You know everyone heard that, no matter where they are,” Sam says, leveling his father with a contemptuous gaze. “They know I have the crown and the symbols of office. They will follow me now.” “Sam, don’t do this,” Josiah begs. “It is a mistake. You don’t know what you’re dealing with here. It’s so much more than you know. Jonathan’s power is far greater than you realize, even on his own. With his army, there is virtually no stopping him. You will fail, and you will destroy our people in the process. Only I know how to protect them.” “I don’t believe you. What’s more, I’m disappointed in you. You have broken my heart, Father. Stay here and enjoy your empty kingdom. When and if our people come back, it will be with me as their leader, and I will deal with you more appropriately then. Or just go ahead and join Jonathan’s army now, and I will see you on the battlefield. It’s your choice. I don’t care what you do anymore, as long as you stay out of my way.” Josiah turns away sadly and disappears, gone off to somewhere else in the AngelSphere, away from Sam, his kingdom and his people gone, and his heir turned against him. I wonder what he will do now. As dejected as he seemed, I can’t feel sorry for him, not after what he did to his own children and subjects. He had this coming. Sam stares after the space where his father stood, letting out a long sigh of relief, probably beyond pleased he didn’t have to physically fight his father for the kingship. Then, he turns to me, eyes full of an odd mixture of sadness and renewed determination. “Come on, Lucy,” he says gruffly, his voice cracking just a little. “Let’s get out of here.” He clutches my hand in his, a bit more roughly than usual, and though he’s staring straight ahead, I can see a hint of the usual lightness in his eyes gradually returning to them. “Come on, seer. We’ve got work to do.” Chapter 24 And work, we do. Over the next week, thousands of angels show up to our training camp, along with hundreds of human seers from family lines all over the world. Sam’s call to angels went out across the galaxy; though he is only king of the Earth Angels, many other Planet Angels from other kingdoms came, as well as angels of virtually every caste, including, to our immense surprise and excitement, a couple of archangels who decided to put a real stake in this fight. Those who weren’t already personally invested in protecting the Earth came to put a stop to Jonathan before their own homes and charges became targets. The Earth Angels who came brought seers with them, and other seers came from a magical call sent out by Linda and her band of elders. We’ve had to build barracks to house everyone, but with so many here now and more coming every day, it takes no time to get new buildings up. The town of London is expanding far beyond its original borders, way back into the forest behind it. We’ve gotten close to the Canadian border now, and thanks to the cloaking spell the elders did while Sam and I were in the AngelSphere, no humans outside the town will notice if we cross it. With hundreds of acres of forest between us and the next town, we’ve got plenty of room to grow as needed. No one questions Sam as the new Earth Angel king. Seeing the halo crown over his head was enough for every Earth Angel to follow him. They were actually happy to see him take over the kingship when they heard about Josiah’s betrayal. The angels from outside Sam’s kingdom treat him with respect and acknowledge him as the one in charge here, even the higher caste angels. The lower caste Nature and Elemental Angels on Earth easily accept him, too, as their kingdoms are vassal ones to the Earth Angels. We’re all coming together into a cohesive and increasingly powerful unit. Since I’m already the leader of the seers, and am now looked upon as the consort of the resident angel king, everyone, angels included, is giving me a huge amount of deference. If someone wants to talk to Sam and he can’t accommodate them right away, they come to me. I speak with not only the authority of a military leader, but also a queen. It’s quite a change from directing five year olds in how to play Duck Duck Goose. Who knew so much could change in such a short time? Another of the many things that has changed since our trip to Sam’s home is my career as a teacher. Upon our return to Earth, it became apparent this would not be wrapped up by the time school starts in a couple of weeks, so I called my district to request a leave of absence for the coming school year. My administrators were super kind about granting it, believing I was still having a hard time with what happened to Harry, and told me I was welcome back whenever I was ready. I can’t even think about when and if I’ll ever go back now, because there’s so much to do. Honestly, though, it seems like such a different life now, I don’t know if I will go back when this situation with Jonathan is over. I love my job, but it feels far away, like it belongs to someone else now, someone I used to be, but am not anymore. I don’t know what I’ll do if I don’t return to teaching, but that’s a question that can be tackled when the time comes. There’s no room to give it any attention now. Though he is now the king of the angels in this area, Sam still trains daily with the rest of us. A good king goes to war with his subjects, and leads them into battle. Right now, he needs to be a military king, like Henry V, and he’s extraordinarily good at it. As always, I’m his private training partner, while the rest of the soldiers train in regiments of a dozen or more each. Between recruiting and training, plus entertaining the questions, concerns, and requests of the seers and Sam’s angel subjects, there isn’t much time for us to talk to each other. Our only private time now is when we retreat to our room at Linda’s house each evening. There’s been some call for us to get our own residence, since the other angels see that as more fitting for a king and his consort, but we’ve assured everyone we’re happy with our current accommodations. Plus, every house in town is occupied, so we would need to have a new one built just for us, and that is not a good use of our available resources at this time. Besides, what little privacy we get at Linda’s house would totally disappear if we had our own place; a court of angels and seers would accumulate around us, servants would offer to see to our every need, and dozens, even hundreds of our followers would move in with us, eager to serve and be near their leaders. We don’t want that. We want to blend in with everyone else as much as possible, which is getting to be more of a challenge with each new seer or angel who arrives to take up arms with us. My grandmother is picking up on angel magic like a pro. You would think she’d been practicing it her entire life, which she should have been. Though our family kept the book of angel lore for more than a thousand years, it wasn’t long enough for us to remember our true seer heritage, which was lost long before the book began. She’s catching up on all that lost knowledge so easily, you’d think she knew it her whole life. Together with the rest of the elder council, she was instrumental in putting a cloaking spell on the entire town. With so many elders on the council now, from every part of the world, the magic is quite powerful. There is a kind of Underground Railroad to get new angels here. They are guided by recruiters along routes through space that are always changing. Once near the town, Earth Angels who are stationed around the perimeter of the planet guide them in the right direction, while other angels who stand guard at the border of the town see them coming and lead them inside. Any angel who comes is made to swear an oath of loyalty to our cause and to repudiate Jonathan before being allowed inside the town. New angel recruits are also searched for signs of special emblems on their clothing that might indicate an affiliation with Jonathan, and scanned for traces of the energy signatures of Jonathan, Daniel, or Jasper on them. We don’t want to take any chances with spies entering our camp, or enemy combatants who would be a threat to us before we’re fully prepared to take on Jonathan and his army. It’s not an exact science, and there is always the risk of letting in someone who shouldn’t be given access. We do the best we can, knowing we must take some risks to build up the army we need to stand a chance of winning when the time comes to engage the enemy. When it comes to bringing in new seers, the process is much the same, except they are brought through ever changing paths on the ground, either by angels who are known to them, or other seers. After a month, we are ten thousand strong, not enough to take on Jonathan’s triple-sized army, if the reports of the Messenger Angels can be believed, but getting closer. In the meantime, my powers are really coming to the fore, and I surprise myself every day with what I can do. Most seers simply see and interact with angels; a lucky few know Enochian and can do angel magic. Some seem to have natural fighting skills above what is normal in most humans, and a scattered three or four are able to sense angel energy. I, on the other hand, am a whole other story. I can flip, jump, and somersault like a Ninja, and handle any weapon handed to me as if I’ve practiced with it since birth. My strength is greater than any other seer, though my muscles remain as lean as they’ve always been. The agility I display is almost super-human. Do I feel like a superhero? Oh yeah. And it’s incredibly cool. But that’s not all. I can read minds! Hearing the thoughts of the other seers is easy, and if I concentrate, I can also make out what the angels are thinking…even the higher caste ones, including the archangels who joined us this week. This ability is causing a lot of excitement among everyone, since most angels are not telepathic at all; the lower caste ones can barely read an archangel’s energy, much less read their minds. Only guardians have this particular ability. The archangels who came assured me they were correct in choosing me to be the human leader in this, and for the first time, I believe them. I don’t even chastise them for killing Harry; I finally understand why they did it and, knowing Harry is okay with it makes me okay with it, too. Control of the energy around me is another power I’ve recently discovered. A couple of weeks ago, I totally surprised myself and everyone else in the training yard by stopping Sam’s sword thrust with a flick of my hand, pushing the energy around us back on him. I even knocked the sword out of his hand with another twist of my wrist. It was a truly empowering moment, and one I practiced the rest of the day, making sure I could repeat it at will. The coolest part of my emerging powers so far is my intimate connection with the fabric of the universe. It came on slowly after Sam opened my third eye, well after the other powers became obvious, and I’m still playing with it to learn exactly how it works, but so far, it’s awesome. I can feel, and sometimes even see, the molecules of everything around me, if I pause to concentrate on them. Because I can see them, I can manipulate them using my fingers, like I’m playing a video game on a touch screen. This manipulation allows me to create things out of seemingly nothing; I see how I’m doing it, but it looks like magic to everyone else. Sam says I’ll eventually learn to do the manipulation with my mind alone. The other seers have had their power centers opened up, as well. We need everyone to be as strong as they can be. While none of them have the abilities I do, they all become stronger, more agile, and better able to sense the energy of the humans and angels around them. I’m starting to think maybe we can take on Jonathan’s army without having his numbers. What we lack in soldiers, we more than make up for in power. Having seers on our team, which he doesn’t (as far as we know), is a huge asset to us. When Jonathan comes, I’m confident we can take him. That doesn’t mean training can stop, and it doesn’t mean we’re going to be the initiators in any engagement with him. What it does mean is that our chances of saving the planet are exponentially greater than when we started. One more wonderful thing that’s come out of all of this, something that’s even better than my powers, is my relationship with my new best friend. That would be Ella. Since she arrived in town, we’ve become super close. Any moment we’re not training, and I’m not fielding questions from seers and angels alike, practicing my new powers, or spending what little time I can with Sam, Ella and I are side by side, talking and goofing around like sisters. I often forget she is an angel, she seems so human. Most of the angels seem human-like once you spend enough time with them. Either that, or we become more like the angels. It’s hard to tell which way it goes. The exception are the archangels, who are decidedly alien creatures who tower over us in height and whose ways and mannerisms are unlike ours in every way. I guess when you’re in charge of all the angels in the universe, as well as guarding the universe itself from invasion from other ones, it makes you different than the norm. They don’t scare or intimidate me like they seem to with some of the others, but they are unquestionably unusual. No one dares approach the archangels except for Sam and me; if any interaction goes on between the archangels and the rest of the camp’s residents, it is the archangels who initiate it, which almost never happens. Sam and I let them be unless we really need their attention for something. It’s not that we’re afraid of them; we just recognize the fact that they have their own ways. They aren’t even unfriendly; they are just plainly “other,” even to the rest of the angels in the camp. They train with us sometimes, but they only do it to see how the rest of us are coming along. I get the distinct impression they will do fine in battle without our assistance. These days, I concentrate most of my attention on my duties and my loved ones, and that includes Ella in a big way. She is like the sister I never had, and she says she feels the same way about me. We’ve got each other’s backs, and plan on fighting together alongside Sam when the time comes. Since we’re not at the point of battle yet, we make use of what little free time we get together by doing silly, girly things like styling each other’s hair, making flower crowns, trying on new clothes and modeling them for each other, and doing what girls do best…gossiping. I love her thoroughly, and I’m having difficulty remembering a time when I didn’t know Ella. It seems like she’s always been part of my family. So, things are going well in our little corner of the world. Sam and I are doing great together, learning more about each other all the time, and feeling our bond grow. Even a mere look of love from him can make my toes curl in ecstasy, and he is only too eager to get me alone every night. I love that about him. Heck, I love everything about him. One night, as Sam and I lay naked together in the large king-sized bed we’ve moved into our room, having given the twin beds to some new arrivals in need, satiated from some much-needed and deeply satisfying love making, Sam draws me even closer than I already am, my head snuggled under his chin in one of our favorite cuddling positions. He speaks softly, gently, like a summer breeze through the tree tops. “Lucy? When all this is over, will you marry me?” I freeze, wanting this moment to last forever, to remember every second of it. Goose bumps run down my arms and my stomach flutters with delicious, tingling butterflies. The hairs on top of my head even raise a little. I swear, I’ve never heard a more perfect sentence spoken, or felt more loved and cherished by anyone than in this wonderful, transcendent moment. “Yes,” I whisper, barely able to form a word at all, I’m so stunned and ecstatic. Of course I accept his proposal. “Yes,” is the only possible answer to the question. “Good,” he says quietly. I don’t look at him, but I can feel him smiling that sweet, boyish smile of his, the one he uses when he is at his happiest. I can feel tears of joy forming in the corners of my eyes, not just for me, but for him, too. “What else are soul mates supposed to do?” I tease him, hoping to avoid the typical ‘girl crying at a proposal’ thing. “Stay with each other forever,” Sam whispers, answering my playful question. We are soul mates. We did the soul mate test weeks ago at Ella’s insistence. It was a simple thing involving mixing a single drop of blood from each of us in a circle of angelic runes in the sand, and muttering a short incantation. When our blood drops made their way across the circle from their opposite ends and found each other, blending seamlessly into one, we knew we were one of those rare, special pairs that are so talked about but so seldom seen across the multiverse. As far as any of us know, we are the first angel/non-angel soulmate pair in the history of everything, though we can’t swear to it. Ella couldn’t have been more thrilled at the results. Sam and I were happy for the confirmation, but we already knew. The test was just a formality, for her benefit. “You know we may not see each other again until we’re both in Heaven, once I’ve gone through all the lives I’m supposed to live,” I tell him, reminding him of the big difference in our lifespans. “You’ll continue to be an angel for eons, while I will be born into life after life. There may be a lengthy separation at some point. We’re just lucky we found each other in this life.” “Then I will always find you in any life you lead,” Sam promises me. “Our soulmate status means we’ll always be drawn to each other. Your soul stays the same in whatever life you’re in, and since it’s the other half of mine, I will always be able to sense you and find you. No matter what you look like or who you are in the physical plane of existence, you are always still fundamentally you, because your soul never changes. That is who I love. You’ll be able to sense the connection to me, too, whether you’re a seer or not, and that sense will make you want to be with me. And remember, thanks to the elders, we now know the spell that can make angels visible to those who aren’t born seers. I will use it on you in any life I need to. We will always be together, regardless of where or who you are in any given life. You have my word on it, Lucy.” I believe him. “Then we have a long time to enjoy each other,” I say, smiling as I pull his arms around me and cozy up to him even more. “Yes, we do.” He kisses the back of my neck, then runs his tongue exquisitely down my back to just below my shoulder blades, and back up again. I put one of his fingers in my mouth and kiss it intimately. Sam shudders with barely contained pleasure behind me, and I feel him growing hard with desire for me again. Thank God our physiologies are compatible for sex! “Hey, what is an angel wedding like?” I ask, suddenly curious as to what getting married to Sam will mean, and what the ceremony is like. He grins impishly. Then, rolling on top of me in a movement so swift I barely see him do it, he answers my question in exquisite detail while he makes love to me with the unbridled passion of someone who just had his most cherished dream come true. I know how he feels, and respond in kind, because it’s not just his dream anymore. It’s ours. Chapter 25 “Sam, there are too many angels and seers beyond our borders who know of this place for it to stay a secret,” I say one morning as we’re getting ready to go down to breakfast. The thought came to me in a dream, where someone gave up our location and we were under siege from Jonathan’s army. “Eventually, someone on Jonathan’s side is going to hear about us, or a spy will make it into town. Are we ready when that time comes?” “I think the fact we’re expecting the town is going to work to our advantage,” Sam replies, gathering up the weapons he wants us to train with today and throwing them in a backpack to bring to the field. I nod in agreement. It’s precisely what I’ve been thinking, but I wanted to hear his confirmation out loud. It’s not just Sam I have to protect (though he would say it’s the other way around), it’s my family, friends, and everyone who has come here and placed themselves under our protection. The burden of leadership is really weighing on me now that I know the battle has to be imminent. “I’m glad your brothers are here,” I say, tying back my hair. “Having your whole family nearby makes it seem like our army is complete, though I know we can always use more soldiers. You know, none of them will even say your father’s name? They don’t mention him at all. Neither does Ella. It’s like he never existed to them.” “They don’t abide traitors, and neither do I. And it’s kind of hard to have good feelings about someone who is openly collaborating with the same people who killed your mother. We’ll deal with him together once this is all over.” “What will you do to him?” I can’t imagine they would kill their own father, no matter what he did. Sam and his family have a huge sense of justice and loyalty; being brought up as royalty probably has something to do with it. But I know Sam and Ella, and if their brothers are anything like them, they won’t kill family, or anyone else unless it is in self-defense, or the defense of someone under their protection. “We haven’t talked about it yet. When we do, you’ll be in on the conversation, since you’re one of us now. But I expect something like an extended imprisonment or exile.” That seems more like it. And the fact Sam considers me one of the family enough to be included in a conversation of such personal and intimate importance makes me want to throw him down on the bed and have my way with him in a vigorous way, instead of going to eat. “Maybe one day I’ll get to meet Isaac and Zachariah’s wives and children,” I muse, pulling my green tank top over my head and adjusting the waistband on my stretchy denim shorts. Isaac and Zachariah are Sam’s brothers closest in age to him, the second and third born sons of his parents, who married into Planet Angel families protecting worlds on the other side of the galaxy. They’ve only recently joined us, and I haven’t had a chance to talk to them at length yet, but they’ve treated me at least on an equal par to Ella the few times we’ve spoken. I look forward to getting to know them better. “They couldn’t very well bring their families to a war. Part of them being here is to protect the world they were born to tend, but also to keep the war from reaching their new homes. When we get married, they’ll come and bring their wives, children, and in-laws. Just be aware that angels assigned to planets with sentient beings look like those beings. Their new families won’t look human, like all the angels around here do.” “But Isaac and Zachariah look human.” “They change their appearance to match the place they live or work. Since they’re working here again for the time being, they changed back to human form.” “You can do that? Change your appearance?” I never thought about it before, but I guess it makes sense. “If necessary. It’s one of our abilities, so we always blend in with creatures who can see us. I was born looking this way, and it is my true appearance, as it is for everyone born into the Earth Angel kingdom. But any of us could change it if we needed to, such as marrying into a family that protects a different planet. Our energy signatures always remain the same, so we are recognizable to each other no matter what we look like. Changing takes an enormous amount of energy, so we don’t do it lightly, or often. Why do you think my brothers had to rest for a day upon their arrival, even though they teleported here?” “I see. So, it’s not something you could do to cloak yourself if you needed to hide from the enemy.” “No. Jonathan would recognize my energy signature the instant he got close enough to me to sense it. And, the only sentient alien races I’ve seen are the ones on the planets my brothers now protect, as I was at their weddings. I’d need something to model a new appearance on, and those are the only two I know. Most angels never venture far from home, except the Messenger Angels. Marriage and special assignments are the only times we might do any extensive traveling. But, even if I had another alien race to model a new appearance on, and Jonathan couldn’t read my energy signature, it wouldn’t be worth the expenditure of energy. My, you’re full of questions this morning!” He smiles at me, eyes twinkling. “There’s just a lot I still don’t know. New questions keep coming to me the more I learn.” “Well, there will be time to answer everything that interests you and more, once we defeat our enemy. No question will be off limits to you or go unanswered, I promise.” He runs a hand through his shiny hair as a means of combing it, and I’m envious as it comes out perfectly groomed, as always. Then, he leans over and gives me a long, lingering kiss on the lips that leaves me tingling all over. Man, I love this angel! As we walk to breakfast hand in hand, I look around at our camp, which is no longer a camp or village, but a thriving military town. Friendships are made every day here, and the sense of family among all of us, even the archangels, is tangible. We have our routines and even our blossoming traditions. Though we keep things highly regimented and organized, we also find time for fun and communion with each other. We’ve actually got a really beautiful thing going. I hate to see it end, but I know Jonathan is out there, waiting to make his move, and we have to be the ones to defeat him. Psychic abilities must be among my unique seer powers, because the town border guards sound the alarm as I’m considering Jonathan’s impending strike on us. There are enemy angels on the perimeter of the town. Jonathan is making his move. The enemy combatants can’t see inside the town due to the cloaking, nor can they sense Sam and me, because we are still cloaked. But they can sense all of the other humans and angels inside. They know our people are here, and they must strongly suspect Sam and I are among them. We better be ready to fight, and I truly believe we are, because it looks like we’re going to have to, today. A large crowd that includes Sam and I go to the town border to look at them, these enemy angels. They are all dressed in black military regalia, obviously designed and required by Jonathan, since his face is plastered on emblems on each uniform’s sleeve. Jonathan wants to intimidate us with his fiercely dressed battalion, with their visible, magically enhanced swords, daggers, arrows, and other weapons dripping from slings and pouches on their sharply lined uniforms. I am not impressed. From the looks of my comrades standing around me, neither are they. If this is all Jonathan’s got, our victory will be easier than we imagined. Of course, I should know better than to underestimate Jonathan by now. As the day wears on, more of his soldiers show up, flying in and landing around our town on all directions. As their numbers start to increase into the thousands, they begin to form a ring around the town and gather hands. They’re planning something, but they don’t make any hostile moves toward us yet. We spend the day gathering our weapons, arming ourselves, and going over last minute battle plans. We’ve discussed how we would defend the town if need be; now, we need to put those plans into action as soon as the enemy does something other than just stand there. Right now, it looks like they’re just trying to intimidate us, since they can’t get into the town, but I know what they’re doing has some hidden significance we haven’t puzzled out yet. By nightfall, their numbers are as great as or greater than ours, and, to my horror, there are some higher caste angels among them, including at least four archangels. We’ve only got two on our side. How did he get so many angels to join him and follow him as their leader? They’re so much more powerful than him, they have no obvious need of him at all. What’s their angle in all this? Our own higher caste angels, including the two archangels who’ve joined us, recognize their brethren among the enemy and seethe with anger at the betrayal. Confrontation is inevitable if they stay standing out there too long. The higher caste angels….the ones who protect galaxies, galaxy clusters, groups of lower caste angels, beings of advanced technology and/or intelligence, and entire corners of this universe….want to go out and demand answers from their brothers and sisters on the other side of the border. They won’t wait long to do it. Around midnight, Jonathan himself shows up, flanked on either side by Jasper and Daniel, allowing me to see the faces of these top henchmen at last. They join the group outside, holding hands with them, and they all begin to chant in Enochian. I’ve picked up enough of it now to understand what they’re doing. The angels and human elders among the crowd that has been gradually assembling on our side of the border all day recognize it, too. “They’re trying to bring down the cloak,” I whisper to Sam, Linda, Grandma, and Ella, who are standing closest to me. “They sure are,” Linda whispers back. “And with so many of them, the cloak won’t conceal or shield us for long. It will come down and we don’t have time to reinforce it before they’re able to enter.” “We have to be ready to fight. Now,” Sam says, his eyes steely and determined. “How long until we’re vulnerable to them?” Ella asks, concerned. Though she is shaping up to be an excellent fighter, it isn’t what she was raised for, and she is still traumatized from the massacre she witnessed at the moon camp. “A few hours, maybe less,” Grandma says, nodding authoritatively. She’s picked up on all of the magic and seer lore so quickly, like a sponge soaking up water. She was obviously made for this, but I want to keep her protected. “We should move the elders, children, and non-fighters to safety,” I say, directly to Sam this time. “Yes, we should,” he agrees. “Beatrice,” he says to my grandmother,” will you see to this?” She nods her assent, and he continues. “The rest of us need to get into formation. We have to be ready for them when they make the breach. They won’t wait to start fighting us.” And so, we start preparing ourselves for the battle we knew was coming, but hoped never would. I think we harbored a secret hope this would all blow over, especially when Jonathan saw the type of army we were building and the powerful angels and humans we were attracting. Either that, or his followers would realize the folly of it all and just kill him and go back to their homes. Apparently, that was just a fantasy. Though we hoped, deep down we all knew this confrontation would come. He will cut down any of us he can, but we all know Sam is his real target. I’m his secondary one, because he knows I helped Sam, but he will go for Sam first. Sam must be protected at all costs, that much I know. I want to send him into hiding with the non-fighters, but I don’t bother asking, as I know he won’t go. Sam will fight side by side with us, as any good leader would. I know this. It’s why I’m here, too, a simple Kindergarten teacher trained to be a soldier and gifted with powers beyond my imagination. But Sam is the king now, which makes him even more important than he already was when this started. It is the job of the rest of us to keep him safe, along with as many of our vulnerable population as possible. Can we do it? We are about to be tested. And my seer senses tell me this isn’t the whole war standing at our door. It is just one battle of many to come. The direction of the rest of the war will depend on how we do today. For the sake of the universe, we must be victorious, or others will flock to Jonathan’s side and scorn ours. If that happens, the universe will be lost, and every one of us standing here knows it. Chapter 26 The elderly and children are huddled into the newly built community center on the edge of town. It is strategically placed, close enough to the town’s rear border to allow an easy escape into the woods, but behind taller buildings, so the enemy combatants can’t see it when they enter the town. If the battle goes badly for us, those inside can wind their way through the maze of new construction, into hiding, while we lure the fight away from them. I supervise the exodus with my grandmother, wanting to make sure both my grandparents actually go inside; I know they want to stay and fight with us, my grandfather especially. If only they were three or four decades younger, they would make excellent soldiers. Even now, they would put up a valiant show of force. But I can’t concentrate on my own job if I’m worrying about them, and I will not lose them if I can offer them protection. This community center, and its associated escape plan, is the best protection this town has to offer. “Lucy, you must be careful,” Grandma says, catching my hand as she walks toward the wide, steel-enforced double doors. “The people need you, but your family needs you, too. Don’t let anything happen to you out there.” “I’d feel better if I was there by your side,” Grandpa says solemnly, his hands balling and un-balling into fists, aching to fight with us. “I know,” I say, “but I can’t be watching out for you guys the whole time. We stand a much better chance of winning if I know you’re safe. I’ll be concerned enough about Matthew and James. They’re good fighters, and powerful seers in their own rights, but I don’t know if they’re ready to do this. James, especially, needs more training to really reach his full potential. And I have Sam and Ella to watch for, too. You two need to go inside and promise me you’ll be safe, no matter what happens out here. If I feel like I’m fighting to protect you and the children, it will motivate me to try harder.” “It’s difficult for us, sweetheart,” Grandma says gently. “We’re used to being the ones to protect you. We’ve been doing it for so long.” “And you’ve done a beautiful job,” I say, sincerely. “But now it’s time to let me stand on my own. I’m an adult. I’m trained. I’m ready. I have to be.” “I could at least go help the boys,” Grandpa says, looking out over the crowd, trying to spot his grandsons. They’re already on the front lines and well out of his line of vision. “Grandpa, no,” I say, firmly. “You and Grandma have to protect your great-grandchildren and their mothers. They’re already inside. Now go be with them and make sure they get through this safely. I’ll take care of the boys as best I can.” “Our little Lucy,” Grandma says, patting my hand affectionately, and with a noticeable amount of pride. “Taking care of her big brothers. Who would have imagined it?” “Or leading an army?” Grandpa points out. “I always imagined you staging sit-ins to protest wars, not command them.” I laugh out loud, because it’s true. “You’re absolutely right, Grandpa. But this is a little different than your average war.” “Agreed. Just remember this, Lucy. There are no guarantees any of you will make it through the battle.” There’s barely concealed distress creeping out of Grandpa’s voice now. I need to wrap this up and get them both inside the community center before they grab weapons and insist on following me into battle. They’ll do it if I don’t quickly reunite them with their great-grandchildren, I know they will. “There are never any guarantees in war,” I say, smiling gently. “You taught me that, Grandpa. But you’ve seen what we can do, and in particular, what I can do. I think we stand a chance.” “I think you do, too,” he agrees. We hug and kiss quickly, then I stand and watch as they are hustled inside with the rest of the non-fighters, Grandma entering the building last of all, her exodus supervising job done. There are two guards, one angel and one human, posted at each entrance to the building. It’s all we could spare. If anything goes wrong and Jonathan’s army looks like it’s winning, it is their job to evacuate the people inside. They are also in charge of leading those people to safety and re-forming the resistance in another location, if necessary. I hope it never comes to that, but it’s good to know there will still be a resistance out there, just in case we lose. Once everyone is inside and the doors are closed, I give an appreciative nod to the guards at the front door, then make my way back to the front lines to join Sam. I find him at the very front of the army, Ella, John, Linda, and my brothers flanking him on both sides. The spell that surrounds the town creates kind of a shimmering energy dome around it, and up close, it has a gently reflective quality. Even though I approach from behind, I can see Sam’s reflection on the dome, and it’s clear he’s deep in thought, no doubt considering the enormity of the responsibility he bears for the lives of all the seers and angels in this town. He doesn’t look worried, angry, or overwhelmed. He looks….haunted. Haunted and determined. He is going to go down fighting to save every single life here if he has to. I also catch Ella’s gaze in the reflection. She’s thinking the same thing as me, and an unspoken agreement passes between us as her eyes meet mine on top of the dome. We can’t let him do it. Sam will sacrifice himself to protect anyone here, no question. We have to prevent him from doing it, even if it means giving ourselves up instead. She and I talked about this privately weeks ago, and as far as we’re concerned, we are Sam’s personal bodyguards. We’ll help fight back the enemy with the others, but protecting Sam is our primary objective. Without Sam, there is no army. Yes, there’s the fact that I’m the co-leader here; our army could conceivably go on with just me at the head. The archangels were quite clear that the war could only be won with both Sam and me working together. But, we don’t know if their declaration means we only have to work together to a point to win; for all we know, forming this army together was the extent of our task. Then, there’s the big metaphorical target on Sam’s back in Jonathan’s eyes. Whatever happens here today, there’s no question among any of us that Sam is more Jonathan’s target than me. He’ll kill Sam without hesitation if he’s able. Though he knows I’m Sam’s ally and is after me, too, I suspect Jonathan will want to harness my powers for himself rather than kill me if I become his prisoner. The painfully real danger Jonathan presents to Sam, more than anyone else here, is why protecting Sam has to be the first concern of all of us, including me. Of course, I have my own, personal reasons for wanting to protect him, too, which just gives me more incentive to keep Jonathan as far from my angel as possible. I turn around and look at the swell of seers and angels behind us, all neatly arranged into their assigned regiments. The strongest ones are in the front, except for the archers, who need to be in the back with our last line of fighters, the ones who are new, not as well trained, or not as skilled as the others. Ella should be among them, and is only in the front because of her special dedication to Sam. We all know our parts, what weapons we can use, when we should use them, when to engage in hand to hand combat, how to protect our comrades, and sadly, when to leave them. Though our numbers are smaller, I think the combined powers of the seers, and especially my own unique abilities, will make it an evenly pitched battle. There’s only one variable, and it could make a big difference in how this goes. We don’t know what special skills or strengths Jonathan’s individual soldiers possess. I assume they are all expertly trained, but special powers in the individual soldiers could give Jonathan the edge. He has soldiers from places in the universe none of our angels have seen, and what those soldiers can do is a complete mystery. We’ll have to give this all we’ve got. As I’ve reminded everyone more times than I can count, it’s the fate of the planet we’re fighting for, and for the galaxy, the universe, and even the multiverse, because for Jonathan, Earth is just the beginning. We’re on the front lines of what could be a battle for everything in creation. We have to win. I sidle my way between Ella and Sam. Both have their swords drawn and poised by their sides. I do the same, assuming the battle-ready stance of the rest of my regiment. We all carry magically charged weapons, which are the only things that can kill angels outside of starstones. Putting the power into every weapon in the armory was one of the first tasks the elders completed when we began turning this town into a military base. Not knowing when the enemy would show up, we had to be prepared from the beginning. “How much longer until they bring down the barrier?” I ask Sam. “Soon,” he says, softly. “Is everyone safely inside the community center?” “Yes. I oversaw it myself. They know the drill if they have to evacuate, and the guards will make sure they follow it.” “Did your grandparents put up an argument?” “Of course.” “Lucy, did I do the right thing?” There is the barest hint of uncertainty in his voice. “The right thing?” I reach out with my free hand and place it reassuringly on his own. “Fighting with Jonathan in the first place. If I’d given in and just let him kill me or take me prisoner, he wouldn’t have this vendetta against me, and he wouldn’t be taking it out on all of us now. He might have taken over the Earth, but so many lives would be saved, and he might have gone easier on the planet than he will now. If he wins, he’ll make this world suffer all the more because I put up such a crusade to protect it. I inconvenienced him. He won’t let it slide if he becomes master here.” I can’t quite believe what I’m hearing. “Sam!” I exclaim, incredulous, my inadvertently high pitched tone breaking the silence around us and bringing the eyes of our entire regiment and other nearby ones squarely onto us. Feeling their gaze, I quickly lower my voice again. “Sam,” I say, more quietly, but with force, “you did what you had to do. You did what no other angel in this area would do. You stood up for your planet, your family, your principles, and yourself. Angels like him can’t be allowed to just take what they want at the expense of others. He’s a megalomaniac. Do you really think he would be a benevolent ruler in any case? He wants to enslave us. We’re expendable to him, since he knows we’ll breed and make more slaves. What incentive does he have to treat us well? He’ll do the same thing to other planets if he gets past Earth. He’s already enslaved the other Planet Angels in this solar system, the ones who aren’t protecting sentient races. Someone had to do something. Only you had the courage to do it. I’m so proud of you for it. Because of you, the universe may actually stand a chance at maintaining its freedom. And it’s all because of one very special angel who said no when he was bullied by a tyrant. You started a movement, Sam. You’re a hero, no matter what happens.” “She’s right,” Ella agrees. “I’m proud of you, too, big brother. You are the noblest angel I’ve ever known. You are more than just a hero. You’re my hero.” “I’m glad you both have such faith in me,” Sam still sounds uncertain, not in our faith, but in his worthiness of it. “They’re not the only ones,” says John, who is close enough to hear us clearly. “We all have faith in you, Sam. You’ve proven yourself to be a natural leader, and an excellent one. And you, too, Lucy. If it weren’t for you, Sam wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t have a resistance movement, or this incredible community at all. You both are to be commended for what you’ve done. We wouldn’t follow anyone else but the two of you, together, into a battle like this.” “Agreed,” says Linda. “I agree, too,” Matthew chimes in. “Me, too,” James agrees. “You’re both heroes, as far as I’m concerned. And you, little sister, are an amazing force of nature. I’m in awe of you, and so glad I get the honor of being your brother.” I reach across Ella and give James’s hand a brief squeeze, doing my best to keep back the tears of deep emotion I feel welling behind my eyes. That’s high praise, indeed, coming from an older brother who used to seem to live to tease me. Releasing James and saying a silent prayer for his safety, I turn back to Sam. “See?” I say, smiling at him, hoping he sees the love and faith shining in my eyes. “Everyone agrees. You’re awesome.” He actually laughs a little. “Awesome. There’s that human slang again. I like it. Thank you all for believing in me. I don’t always believe in myself, so I need a little help every now and then.” “Any time,” I assure him. “And you, Lucy, are awesome, too. You heard what the others said about you. You are amazing. Don’t forget you’re just as much a part of this as me. We wouldn’t stand a chance without you.” There’s another general enthusiastic cheering of agreement around us, and I blush. Grandpa was right. No one could have ever seen this in a crystal ball reading of my future. I feel as unworthy of the praise as Sam does, but I’m grateful to have it, and happy at everyone’s belief in me. As the cheering dies down, a sickening sound washes over us. It sounds like a cross between fingernails on a chalkboard and an injured whale crying out in pain, and as it reaches its excruciating crescendo, the shimmery reflection on the dome wobbles and warps. Sam looks at me, eyes wide, mouth grim. “The border is coming down,” he says urgently. “They’ve done it. They’re coming.” Quickly, he grabs me around the waist with his free hand and kisses me deeply, and with unrestrained passion. All the love and devotion in the universe seems like it’s been smashed together to fit in that one kiss. In fact, it’s suspiciously like a good-bye kiss, and in an instant, I know that’s what he intends it to be, something to remember him by until we meet again in another life if this doesn’t go our way. Well, if he thinks he’s getting away from me that easily, he’s got another thing coming. I just found him! The determination in me to win grows even stronger than I thought it could. I grab him and return his kiss with an equally passionate one of my own. Then, like the shattering of glass, only without any sound at all, the border crumbles and disappears. Nothing stands between us and Jonathan’s army now. They can see us, all of us, for the first time. Even Sam and I are visible. Whatever magic they used to uncloak the town uncloaked us, too. Jonathan looks us both right in the eyes, glinting red streaks of pure evil flashing in his own. There’s no question anymore. He means to kill us all. Jonathan and his army stand there for a moment, taking stock of us, their enemy. Then, they charge. Chapter 27 It all happens in a blur. One moment, we’re standing there in formation, weapons drawn, muscles taut and ready to spring, and the next we’re in the thick of a flood of similarly armed angels of all castes and types. Our two sides are so close to each other at the town line that the enemy soldiers blend into our battalions almost immediately. It only takes a second for almost most of my soldiers to become lost to my line of vision amid the onslaught of the invading army. All I can see are the angels in front of me and beside me, and sense the ones directly behind me. If Jonathan’s soldiers weren’t wearing their distinctive black uniforms, I wouldn’t even know with any certainty who is one of us and who isn’t. My seer instincts kick in swiftly in the melee, and I cut down foe after foe with relative ease. Of all the weapons we’ve used in practice, the sword is still the one that comes easiest to me, though I’m skilled enough with the others. As one enemy angel after another comes at me and I run them through with my magic-infused blade, I crane my neck this way and that to try to spot Sam, Ella, my brothers, or anyone I know. It’s useless. They’re lost in the sea of battle, and it appears for all the world as if I’m fighting the enemy on my own. Soon, they’re coming at me two and three at a time, trying to take down the powerful seer who is quickly amassing a pile of their dead and wounded brethren around her. To my surprise and delight, I find it’s just as easy to take on groups of them as it is to do it one on one. I’m almost an army on my own, and seeing a noticeable reduction in the size of Jonathan’s forces is gratifying. However, I’m getting tired of not knowing where my loved ones are. If any of them are hurt, I need to get to them. The only way to do that is to clear this crowd out a little, just enough to gain some viewing space. Right now, it’s nothing but a sea of soldiers. I know it’s stupid, but I sheath my sword. This is going to require two hands and some concentration, if I can do it at all. This is an un-tested power I’m about to deploy, and one I only know of from the intuition pushing at the front of my mind, telling me to do it. So, as another wave of Jonathan’s soldiers come toward me, I hold out both arms straight at either side, and reach deep inside myself to find the flowing energy of the universe that’s always moving through everyone. Few ever know it, much less manage to access it. I believe I can. Once I feel it, which I do quickly, I grab onto it with my mind. It’s pure power, all full of possibilities, creativity, and brash kinetic force. It demands to be released, but I must do it in a controlled manner to get it to do what I want it to do. Concentrating, I move it down my body and force it out through my palms. I feel the warmth in my palms as the energy builds up behind them. Unfurling my fingers, I let it go. White light shoots from my hands, knocking down the soldiers to my sides as far away as a dozen feet from me. Holy crap, it worked! Nice work, Intuition. I immediately turn ninety degrees and do it again, taking down the soldiers in front of and behind me. I don’t know if they’re dead or just stunned, and I don’t care. I just want to see some of my own people. I specifically target the energy to identify Jonathan’s army and only take them down, so my own soldiers will be unaffected by it. My trick is effective, but it doesn’t go unnoticed. I no longer need to look around for my people. The battle has stopped, and everyone, I mean everyone is staring at me. In fact, they seem frozen in place, their weapons raised mid-fight. But their faces are all turned toward me. Well, I got their attention. Good. Maybe the enemy will realize this is one army that isn’t to be trifled with and go home. The clang of swords, swoosh of arrows, and clacking of spears of just a moment ago is gone. Absolute silence hangs heavily over the town. Even my own soldiers didn’t expect this, though they’ve seen me do similar things in practice. It was always accidental when I released the universe’s energy in the past, though; this time, it was deliberate. Sam said I would learn to control it, and when it really counted, I did, and it was like the most natural thing in the world. Sam’s always right about these things. My people look visibly thrilled at this new development. Jonathan’s soldiers, on the other hand, look horrified. Excellent. With the lull in activity opening up the crowd a little bit, I spot Sam quickly. He is about three dozen feet away, locked in battle with Jonathan himself, swords pressed against each other high above their heads. I should have expected no less. Of course Jonathan was going to go for Sam and leave the rest of us to his soldiers. I can see now that he is reconsidering the wisdom of this strategy. Sam, like everyone else, is visibly surprised by my nuclear blast, but he’s also beaming with pride. Jonathan looks like he’s just seen the Lock Ness Monster. Ella is not far behind Sam, battling a random soldier, and I see my brothers and other friends doing the same. We’ve lost some people, both humans and angels, but no one I know very well. It doesn’t make it any less upsetting; I feel a twinge of sadness at each bloody body I see that belonged to one of our soldiers. But, we knew to expect casualties when we began training. It’s only mildly gratifying to see we’ve managed to take out more of them than they have of us. I hate to see anyone die needlessly, and this all seems immensely needless, all this suffering and devastation because of the ambitions of one insane angel and those scared or crazy enough to follow him. It’s time to take advantage of the break in the fighting. “Remember me?” I call out to Jonathan, whose gaze is boring into me with a malevolent, almost physical force. He raises his eyes to meet mine full on, and for a second, the angel blue of them flashes a deep black. OK, that was weird. I shudder a little. I’ve never seen an angel do that, and I’m sure it can’t be good. He lowers his head slightly, as if he’s about to charge me. “You,” he hisses, drawing the word out long and lightly, like a snake. Well, now I know where the inspiration for the serpent in the Garden of Eden came from…if it wasn’t Jonathan, it was an angel an awful lot like him. “Yes, me,” I say, defiance creeping into my voice, suddenly so over this whole thing. I’m angry. This wanna-be super villain has disrupted my life, put my family and friends in danger, and is threatening not only my planet, but my whole universe. Who the hell does he think he is? He’s no better than any other angel. Why are so many of them following him? “You recognize me?” I shout back, furious now. “Good! Don’t ever forget this face, Jonathan. It will be the last one you ever see, trust me. Maybe today, maybe not. But when the time comes, it will be. Memorize it.” “You took my blade,” he growls, low and grumbly. He apparently means to sound threatening, but I just laugh. Drunk on the dizzying power I just harnessed, I’m becoming bold. “I did,” I admit, openly. “You remember my energy signature, too. I was hoping you would.” “What are you?” he asks, shaking his head, his expression a weird mix of wonderment and disgust. Slowly, he lowers his blade and steps away from Sam, slinking carefully toward me, taking each step as soundlessly as he would if he were approaching a dangerous predator and trying to keep it docile. “I’m a seer. Really, Jonathan, I thought you would be able to spot the obvious. The only humans here are seers like me.” “Not like you,” he insists, coming nearer. “Not like you at all. There’s something different about you. Something I’ve never encountered. You took my blade. No one can get that close to me without me noticing. Even if you changed your vibration level, I would have known. And what you just did with your hands….” He trails off, at a loss for words. “What’s so special about me, then, Jonathan? Tell me. You’ve been from one end of this galaxy to the other. What makes me so different from any other being you’ve encountered?” “I don’t know yet,” he says, his voice taking on a dangerous edge, his eyes blue again and glinting like steel. “But I’m going to find out. And then I’ll make you a weapon for me.” I shake my head, amazed at his arrogance. As if I would fight for him. “Not. Going. To. Happen.” “We’ll see about that.” He turns to the soldiers nearest me. “Take her alive, and bring her to our camp.” Sam teleports directly in front of me. “No one’s touching her, you villain,” he snarls, wilder than I’ve ever heard him. He raises his sword and holds it completely vertical, directly in front of him, indicating he means to defend me. Jonathan just glares at us and watches. A contingent of his soldiers moves in on either side of me, not wasting any time in following their leader’s orders. Sam turns to face the ones coming up on my right, and I sense Ella moving closer to the ones on my left. I appreciate their protectiveness, but it won’t be necessary. Not today, anyway. Using the power I still feel flowing through me, I leap high over the heads of the contingent on the right, landing neatly on the other side, and turn to face them. This puts both contingents in front of me. They rush at me, intent on eliminating Ella and Sam and taking me prisoner. They won’t get anywhere near us. Still harnessing that universal energy, I wave my hand at them, and they all freeze in place. Every last one of them, and it looks like there’s about a dozen. I can feel the molecules that make them up stop moving and quiver instead. The molecules in the atmosphere around them do it, too. They’re like ice statues, frozen mid-stride. Oh, man! I knew I almost froze time the other day! I was sure that’s what I was feeling building up behind my hands. Now, it seems I was right. What a cool power. Of all of them, I think this most recently discovered one is my favorite. I can imagine a hundred or more ways it will be useful. How long the frozen angels will stay that way, I don’t know, but for now, I seem to have sufficiently cowed the other enemy soldiers. None of them seem willing to approach me. In fact, the ones closest to me who can still move all take a few steps back. Ella and Sam gape at me, eyes wide. Still, they move in toward me, flanking me on each side. “Got anything else?” I ask, turning back toward Jonathan, Ella and Sam moving with me, swords raised. He nods toward the four archangels in his army. These are part of the most powerful angel caste in the universe. They are infinitely stronger than Jonathan. Why they’re following him is a mystery to everyone, including the two archangels on our side. The archangels approach me on Jonathan’s command, and I freeze them as easily as I froze the others. “I can do this all day, Jonathan,” I say with utter confidence. But really, can I? I have no idea. Best to just keep putting up a good front. As long as he thinks I can keep it up, there’s a better chance he’ll go away and take his soldiers with him. “This presents an interesting challenge,” he muses, his voice slick and oozy like oil. It’s kind of sickening. If evil has a sound, I’m pretty sure that’s it. I wonder if the truly evil people who have walked the earth, people like Vlad the Impaler, Ivan the Terrible, and Ghengis Khan sounded the same. “Just get out of here while you still can,” I say, putting an extra dose of exasperation into my tone, as if I have better things to do than fight his army and can’t be bothered with it one second longer than necessary. “Take your people and go, cause us no more trouble, and maybe I’ll let this all slide.” “It seems to be the prudent course of action for now,” Jonathan agrees, sounding not angry now, but intrigued. “It isn’t what I would prefer, but it is plain we must come up with a new strategy. One that involves figuring out what you are and how to control you.” “What I am is one pissed off seer you don’t want to mess with, and as for controlling me, you never will.” “We’ll see about that.” Then, quick as lightning, he lunges toward Sam, sword pointed directly at him. Sam is just as swift on the draw and is moving toward Jonathan in an instant. Jonathan raises his sword in the air and begins to bring it down toward Sam’s neck. Sam lifts his own sword to parry the thrust, but I’m not willing to risk the chance of him getting stabbed, or even nicked, with that deadly weapon. “No!” I scream, and fling my right hand outward, telekinetically tossing the sword from Jonathan’s hand. “That’s what I thought,” Jonathan says with satisfaction. Sam puts his hand to his neck, thoughtfully fingering the chain on his pendant. He knows he wasn’t in any real danger, and I know it, too. It was pure instinct that caused me to jump to his defense. It was a noble move, but a tactical error, and we both know it. I feel nauseous. Jonathan now knows I have a weakness, and that weakness is Sam. He’ll look for a way to exploit this and use my love for Sam against me. I just don’t expect him to do it so soon. “Retreat!” he calls, and instantly, all of his soldiers disappear, leaving only the ones I’ve frozen. We’ll interrogate them later. Jonathan remains behind. I’ve got him in my sights. Why not freeze him, too? Taking him as a prisoner in the first battle may make the others think twice about engaging us again. I throw my hands out toward him, but the time freezing energy bounces off of him and up into space, where it dissipates. I try it again. The same thing happens. What the hell? It’s like he’s wearing some kind of magic shield. “You didn’t think I was just any Earth Angel, did you, seer?” he sneers. “Come now. I haven’t traveled the galaxy and no returned with more powers than when I left. You’d be amazed at the beings who are out there, and what they can do. Some shared their knowledge with me willingly. Others required more ‘convincing.’” I’m stunned. What has he done to himself that my time freezing power works on archangels but not him? Once again, he levels his gaze on me. “I didn’t get your name,” he says, exceedingly politely. “I would like to know what to call my adversary. If you don’t mind.” I look to Sam for his blessing. He nods back at me, indicating there’s no harm in it. He clearly believes Jonathan is going to leave us alone for the time being, so he doesn’t even bother moving away. What more can Jonathan do at this point, after all? I can take any weapon away from him, even if freezing isn’t an option. Sam stays in place, sword drawn, defending me against any last minute attempts at shenanigans from Jonathan. Ella moves in even closer to me, her defensive posture indicating she’s acting as defense for both me and her brother. “Lucy,” I say, proudly, quickly recovering from my momentary consternation. “Lucy McDonald. Something else besides my face I hope you won’t forget.” “Oh, believe me, I won’t, Lucy McDonald” Jonathan replies, his voice hard and determined. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have places to go and angels to torture.” “Wha…” I begin, but before I can get the word out, he produces a diamond wrist cuff seemingly from nowhere, slaps it on Sam’s arm, and disappears, taking Sam with him. It all happens so fast, I don’t have time to react until it’s done. Not that I could have done anything to stop him, anyway. He and Sam were too close to each other for me see what he was doing until he did it. Sam obviously wasn’t expecting it, either. Oh yes. Jonathan tested me. And I passed with flying colors. Sam is no longer his target. It’s me. And he knows the way to me is through Sam. What’s worse, Sam is now Jonathan’s prisoner. God knows where the bastard took him. Sam’s gone, and it’s my fault. I crumple to the ground and sob. Chapter 28 “We’ll find him, Lucy,” Linda assures me for the hundredth time, as I pace around the circle of elders. They’re preparing yet another locator spell, a stronger one this time, using Sam’s battle halo, rather than his everyday tunic or his kingship halo, since it’s the most recent thing he wore that’s still here. It should still have a strong imprint of his energy signature on it. In theory. I’m not convinced. A week since his abduction and about a thousand versions of this spell later, and there is still no trace of him. It’s like he vanished from the fabric of the universe. “You said that yesterday, and the day before that and the day before that,” I mumble, sounding grumpier than I mean to. They’re doing all they can to get him back, practically moving heaven and Earth to do it, in fact. I’m just frustrated that I can’t personally do more. How can I save him if I don’t know where to find him? “You can’t be sure it will work this time.” “That’s true,” my grandmother admits, her worried gaze following me as I prowl around the room. “We don’t know what wards Jonathan may have put around Sam to keep him hidden. All we can do is keep trying.” “It’s not good enough!” I cry, pounding my fist into my hand. “We need to get him back. I need him to be here, with me.” Ella approaches me from her perch in the corner of the room. She’s hardly left my side all week, commiserating with me in my misery, just as frantic to get her brother back safely as I am. She puts a comforting arm around my shoulder, and I lean my head on hers, briefly. “We do have other options,” she reminds the group. They know. We’ve discussed them almost as many times as we’ve tried this spell. “Yes, but none of them are practical,” I moan, wishing we could use one of Ella’s ideas. They’re all excellent, just not prudent. “If we just sent out one of the archangels…” she begins. “We only have two of them, and they’re our strongest fighters,” Linda cuts her off, knowing what she’s going to say. “If Jonathan brings his army back, we’ll need them both. Plus, we can’t risk them being captured by one of their own. You heard what the four we interrogated said. Jonathan has promised any of them who join his army their own universes to rule once he takes over this one, and they believe he has the numbers to back up that promise. Other archangels may have been swayed to his side, and that means they may be getting to the guardians. If the guardians join them, Jonathan’s army could recruit regular people, not just seers, and they would all come here to try to fight us. We need every defense we can get, Ella. We can’t send either of them away from the town. Sam wouldn’t want us to, either. You know it.” In fact, our two archangels are in charge of guarding the four I froze in time during the battle. We quickly discovered they wouldn’t un-freeze unless I personally un-froze them….something that took a few tries for me to learn. It gave us an excellent opportunity to get them into the same type of angel-proof restraints Jonathan used on Sam, and put under constant guard in the local police station, which has now been converted into our interrogation facility and prisoner of war camp. Once I un-froze them, they were surprisingly talkative, especially once our own archangels “encouraged” them. Unfortunately, they were all exceptionally hostile in attitude and unflinchingly loyal to Jonathan. It seems, for a mere Earth Angel, and far lower on the caste totem than the archangels would normally deign to speak to, he is extraordinarily charismatic, just as Aaron and Kira said. Even more troubling, he is apparently in touch with some dissatisfaction in the balance of power among a large faction of the more powerful angels. Jonathan gave them a cause they believed was worth fighting for….themselves. Fortunately, an equally large portion of archangels favor the existing system of serving and protecting the various parts of the universe, as they’ve been doing since the beginning of time. The bad news is that with the most powerful angels of this universe so divided, they are heading toward civil war, with the inhabitants of the universe’s planets choosing sides and fighting with them, or becoming prizes for the victors. Jonathan saw this previously hidden conflict on the outskirts of the universe during his travels and quickly capitalized on it with a thorough and potentially do-able plan; the disaffected archangels discarded their prejudices against him as a lower caste angel, and jumped on board with him. Our archangels said there is no precedent for anything like this in this universe as far as they know, and they’ve been around almost since the beginning. There has always been harmony among their kind. Angels of lower castes sometimes have minor skirmishes, hence the mandatory military training most of them go through when they’re young. The archangels, though were always united and above it all. Until now. This makes the disaffected archangels just as much of a problem for us as Jonathan. While we know the conflict is going on around the one edge of the universe Jonathan has so far reached, it may be going on elsewhere, in other similarly hidden locations. If it’s not stopped, it will eventually affect the entire universe. In a way, Jonathan is controlling it by getting the rioting archangels on his side. But neither option…an archangel war or Jonathan controlling the universe and all the angels in it…is a good one. “The spell is ready,” Linda announces, sitting back on her heels. The elders of our group sit in a circle on a sand floor inside their purposefully primitive log cabin meetinghouse, strange Enochian symbols drawn in the amber grains. Sam’s gleaming golden halo is in the middle of it all. Ella and I draw back, letting them do their work. We aren’t magic practitioners, nor are we elders. Despite everything we can both do, this is something we have to leave to the older women who are called to it. For some reason no one knows, the really talented magic practitioners among the seers are always women. We could learn it, but would never reach the level of proficiency as the naturals who sit before us. My surrogate sister and I clutch each other’s arms, hoping this time it will work, as the ladies before us hold hands and begin chanting the Enochian incantation. I know Ella understands every word, and I can pick up most of it by now. They are calling for the elements to come together and pick up Sam’s energy signature, pointing the way to him. After a few minutes, a small flame pops up in the center space of Sam’s halo. The chanting stops, and Linda waves an intricately carved stick with a satchel of herbs hanging from the end of it over the flickering embers. “Show us Sam, King of the Earth Angels!” she commands in Enochian. The flame dances around a bit, and gradually, a shimmery, barely there image appears in its center. It takes a moment to resolve enough to make out any details. When it does, it is still hard to see, and transparent. Still, there is no mistaking what we’re viewing. It’s Sam, in diamond chains…the only kind that can hold an angel…, looking blessedly unharmed, though his symbols of kingship are gone, his battle tunic is torn to tatters, and his skin is filthy and covered in soot and grime. His arms are secured to a rock wall high above him, stretched almost to their limit, and he hangs low, his knees bent, clearly past the point of being able to hold him up, which means all his weight is on his shackled arms. He is in pain and exhausted, that much is plain. But he raises his face as we watch, as if sensing us looking at him, and the defiant glint in his eyes and determined set of his jaw makes his situation plain. He is beaten and battered, yes, but by no means is he defeated. I know Sam probably better than anyone, even his own sister, and I know he will never be defeated or give in as long as he lives. Even now, I’m certain he is formulating a plan to escape and take out as many of the enemy as he can in the process. I actually sense it, as if opening up the window on Sam created a portal for my seer senses to reach through. I can also feel his pain and how hard he is struggling to survive and get back to us. He feels like he failed us by getting captured, and he wants to make Jonathan pay for every life lost on the battlefield on both sides. The feelings are so overwhelming, I actually stagger backward a little. Ella, who has grown astoundingly strong in the past few months of training, holds me up with ease. “He’s alive, Lucy,” she whispers joyfully in my ear. “He’s alive!” “Thank God!” I whisper back. But I’m not entirely happy. He’s alive, but we still have no idea where he is, and he’s being tortured. I feel like my legs are going to crumple under me with the pain of seeing my most cherished love like this, especially when I can’t ride to his rescue. I know he would be tearing the universe apart to find me if the situation were reversed. I’ve been doing my best to do the same, but I feel like my efforts are so pitiful in comparison to what he would or could do. In that moment, I don’t feel worthy of him. Ella seems to sense my despair and momentary self-loathing. “He knows you’re doing everything you can to bring him back,” she assures me. “He knows you love him. It’s probably knowing you’re safe and loving him that’s keeping him going, so don’t you dare feel sorry for yourself. You’re protecting him and keeping him alive just by being here, and by being his. Keep doing that, and he will come back to us.” “You’re right. Of course, you’re right,” I say, ashamed I doubted myself. Sam wouldn’t want me to feel that way, and I always want to live up to his high expectations. I know he sees the best in me, when I can’t always see it in myself, just as I do for him. If he trusts that I’m doing what I can to rescue him while also doing what is best for our people…something else he would want me to prioritize,…then I can be secure in the knowledge he will hang on as long as it takes for us to be reunited. With that realization comes the sure knowledge that we will be reunited. I feel better, but seeing Sam in pain and being tortured is still more than I can stand. I want to go to him now. The time for waiting is over. I can’t just leave him like this, wherever he is. I need to find him. “Reveal this angel’s location!” Linda commands the flame, opening up the bag of herbs and sprinkling them over it. I don’t know what herbs she’s using, but each little flake of green lights up and glows like an orb, floating above the flame, circling it. Bit by bit, they form a line going upward and to the east. There are hundreds, even thousands of tiny pieces of dried herbs doing this, and they eventually make their way to the ceiling and out through the spaces between the logs. I grab Ella’s hand and we run outside to see where they are going. Up and up they go into the late afternoon sky, forming a perfectly diagonal line into the clouds and out of our range of vision. “We’ve got to follow them!” I cry. “Already on it.” Ella unfurls her wings, which she’s only done a handful of times since I’ve met her. An angel with full wing deployment is always something spectacular to behold, no matter how many times you see it. She takes my hand and flies upward, following the herbs, taking me with her. I’ve only flown with angels a handful of times, but I liken it to Wendy and her brothers following Peter Pan to Neverland. Basically, it’s effortless and only requires that I touch the angel doing the flying. Therefore, holding Ella’s hand is all I need to do to stay airborne with her. It is so natural, it almost feels like I have wings myself. We go up, following the glowing herbs, until we’ve almost cleared the Earth’s atmosphere. This isn’t a problem for Ella, since angels travel through space with ease, but I’m going to need some kind of protection from the vacuum and the cold. Once again, she’s one step ahead of me, and wraps a wing around me, giving me a shield much like a NASA spacesuit. She keeps going without missing a beat, taking it for granted that I want to fly into space with her. I love it that she knows me so well. Best friend psychic powers at work! Ella picks up speed as the herbs move faster in the vacuum, and soon, we’re high above the Earth and the moon; in fact, they look like small specks below us. Before too long, a large, white sphere appears above us, shimmering with an inner light, the herbs disappearing in its glow as if going inside. “What is that?” I ask, having never seen anything like it. Ella stops her upward ascent, and hovers in place, frowning in confusion. “It’s the Dome,” she says, perplexed. No wonder I didn’t recognize it. The one time I was here, Sam and I just materialized directly inside. I’ve never seen it from the outside. It’s amazingly beautiful. The AngelSphere. Why would Jonathan bring Sam home? Chapter 29 ““I swear, Lucy, if our father has anything to do with this….,” Ella begins, angry now. “You don’t think Josiah would be complicit in the capture and torture of his own son, do you?” I ask, horrified at the thought. “I would never have thought so before, ever. But now, knowing he was responsible for sending Daniel and his butchers to our moon base, getting two of his sons killed in the process without any visible remorse, and how he wouldn’t help you and Sam recruit more soldiers…I just don’t know anymore. I don’t know my father like I thought I did. He used to love us, Lucy. I know he did. But now, I don’t know anything. He’s a different person, or at least pretending to be one, and if he is, he’s doing a terrific job of being convincing.” “I think we should go up there.” It’s not a question. I want to get inside that orb and look for Sam. I know Josiah can’t be trusted. It’s something I sensed the first time I met him, and I’m sure there’s more going on here than just his apparent eagerness to submit to Jonathan. And if he’s hurt Sam in any way, he’ll have to answer to me. He does not want to be faced with that prospect, I muse grimly. My powers may not work on Jonathan, but no other angel I’ve encountered is immune. I doubt Josiah is, either. “But what if Sam is there?” Ella asks. “What if Jonathan is there, too, and some of his soldiers? We wouldn’t stand a chance against them, just the two of us, even with your powers. Would we? Your strongest abilities bounced right off Jonathan during the battle. It’s possible we might be walking into a slaughter.” “I know. But, it’s worth the risk to me, Ella. If you want to get me in and go back to Earth, I’ll understand. With Sam being gone, you’re the de facto angel queen. I don’t care if your brothers are older than you. You’ve been a bigger part of this than any of them from the beginning. As Sam’s co-leader, I’m putting you in charge. If anything happens to me, they’ll need you back there.” “No way. I’m going in no matter what. I want my brother back, and he is the rightful king. I want nothing to do with leadership until I know for certain….” She trails off and I know what she’s thinking. “He’s not dead, Ella. I saw him, and so did you. He’s being tortured, but he’s alive.” “Jonathan is only keeping him alive to draw you out.” “True. But what did we promise each other?” “That we would always have Sam’s back, first and foremost.” “Are we still sticking to that promise?” “I am if you are.” “And think of it, Ella. What kind of message will it send Jonathan and his people if we’re strong enough to get Sam back? After capturing their archangels, they’ve already got to be wary of engaging us again. Rescuing Sam right from under Jonathan’s nose would weaken their confidence in him as a leader even more. Some of them might even join our side. We have to take the chance, or at least, I do.” “You’re absolutely right,” Ella turns and smiles at me decisively, her mind made up. “I guess it’s time we paid my father a visit.” Following the herbs, she goes up again, pulling me with her, until we’re right at the edge of the AngelSphere. She holds out her free hand, waves it in a circle, and an ancient wooden door appears. I look at her quizzically. “Father always enjoyed putting on a show,” she says by way of explanation. “The door itself is really just a portal, a break in the energy barrier of the orb. It’s invisible unless you know where it is, even when it’s open. The wooden door is just Father’s idea of decorative flair.” “Do we need to knock?” “No. This is all we need to enter.” She indicates her hand, and I’m guessing she means her unique energy signature serves as her key. “Assuming he hasn’t locked me out.” She tries the brass knob and it turns, opening the door. “I guess we’re going inside,” she says. I nod. “Let’s do it.” We go through the door, and are momentarily surrounded by a white, pulsing light. Then, we’re standing on the same street in the same town square where Sam and I met Josiah all those months ago. The place is just as empty now as it was then. The herbs we followed here are no longer anywhere to be seen, having disappeared somewhere between the doorway and the street. What now? We don’t have time to wonder for long. Josiah is there, standing in front of us, arms crossed defiantly. He looks very, very displeased. Good. I hope we’ve really inconvenienced the smug bastard. “Hello, Josiah,” I sneer, putting all the contempt I feel into those two words. “Lucy.” He nods at me perfunctorily, but not without respect. Excellent. He understands my power and treats me as an equal, rather than a subject or an inferior being. “Where’s Sam?” I demand, jumping right into it. I want my angel back this instant. “Where he belongs,” Josiah says simply, as if it were nothing to him. “Somewhere he can’t cause any more trouble.” Ella looks aghast. “Father! You can’t honestly be saying you had something to do with Sam’s capture.” “Not his capture. That was all his own doing, thanks to his arrogance. He should have known better than to think he could defeat Jonathan, even with all of you so-called soldiers. Look at you! A couple of untrained women. What kind of soldiers are you?” He’s feigning ignorance. I know he’s been watching us. He wouldn’t have shown me deference otherwise. “More trained than you think,” I say, dangerously, assuming a defensive stance where I can spring into action easily if need be. “And if you’re not responsible for his capture, what are you responsible for? I’m positive it’s something.” “I, seer, am responsible for keeping my overreaching son out of the way. Jonathan’s army grows larger by the day. This planet will fall to him, then the solar system, the galaxy, and the universe. Jonathan then will start working on conquering other universes, until he controls the entire multiverse. Sam is fighting a losing battle and just making things harder on himself and all of us. Jonathan will be more benevolent toward our kingdom if we accept him as our ruler and don’t fight him. He will show no mercy to the ones who put up a resistance. Give up this madness, Ella! Join with me and welcome Jonathan as our overlord, for your own sake. Your mother would want me to protect you. Even if you don’t give in for me, do it for her.” “You dare bring up Mother in front of me?” Ella asks, incredulously. “You have no right to ever mention her. You’ve been working against everything she believed in for who knows how long, and got two of her sons killed in the process. And if you wanted to protect me, Father, you would be fighting by my side, not giving Jonathan the keys to your kingdom. That’s what you’ve done, isn’t it? You’re deferring to one of your own subjects! Jonathan was part of this kingdom until he disappeared. Why did you never send anyone to find him? Were you in on this from the beginning?” “Jonathan always had ambitions beyond being only the Earth Angel he was born to be, and never accepted the caste system among angelkind. I’ve kept my eye on him his whole life. He’s done many great things for this kingdom. You know it. You’ve seen the bravery and leadership he’s shown. When he left, I thought it better to let him. He needed to see the universe, test his skills, challenge himself in unfamiliar surroundings. If you try to keep a wild angel like Jonathan chained, you’re just asking for trouble. He could have instigated a civil war and overthrown me eventually. Allowed to follow his desire to explore, there was a good chance he would learn why the angel hierarchy is set up as it is, and would come back a valuable asset to the kingdom, a first advisor to me and my heir. Obviously, he didn’t.” “And this is better?” Ella is incredulous, and so am I. “I didn’t expect him to return as a megalomaniac with ambitions of universal domination as a mere appetizer. I thought he would be a more committed, possibly more powerful Earth Angel. But I had to accept what he’d become and work out the best way of dealing with it.” “And being in league with him was your answer? Getting two sons killed because you wanted to keep the peace with Jonathan was worth it to you? You could have come to all of us with this, Father. Together, we might have defeated him before it got this far.” “No. He was already too powerful when he returned. I couldn’t take the chance of endangering any of you, or my subjects.” “Then why did you encourage Sam to fight him?” Josiah is silent. I think I know the answer and I feel sick. Ella’s stricken face is enough to tell me she’s thinking the same thing. “Oh, God,” I moan. “You were hoping Jonathan would kill Sam, weren’t you?” “I love my son,” Josiah insists, indignantly. “Don’t think for a moment I don’t love him. But Sam was raised as my heir, and that meant protecting the kingdom and the Earth at all costs was ingrained in him from a young age. I knew he was our strongest angel, besides Jonathan, and I knew he wouldn’t sit idly by while Jonathan took control of the very things he was sworn to protect. I also knew I’d trained him too well; he would never agree to make Jonathan our new leader, no matter how logically I explained it. By sending him out to fight, I was only thinking of the rest of us, and the Earth. If Jonathan killed Sam, as I expected he would, I could have convinced the rest of the kingdom to submit and things would have been so much easier on all of us. I didn’t want to lose Sam, but as king, I had to think of the good of everyone, not just my son and heir.” “Oh my God,” Ella whispers, disgusted. “And the moon base? You and Sam set that up together before he fought Jonathan.” “It was a place to get as many of you out of the way as possible. You surely noticed I sent my best warriors there first. They were the ones most likely to want to follow Sam in his fight against Jonathan. If they were out of the way, the rest of you would be easier to control. When Sam survived the fight, I knew Jonathan or one of his generals would come here looking for him. Your mother and I sent the rest of the kingdom there to protect you.” “Was Mother in on this?” Ella practically growls. Josiah shakes his head. “No. And Jonathan didn’t know I was on his side. When Jasper came here, he didn’t give me time to explain my loyalty before killing your mother. As soon as Leah said she would never give up the location of her son even if she knew it, Jasper killed her. It was only then that I was able to tell him where my loyalties lay. I gave him the location of the camp from the beginning. It was only when Jonathan couldn’t locate Sam that Daniel was sent there to massacre everyone. It was done to send Sam a message and draw him out. But, whether you believe it or not, I really did make an agreement with Jonathan to ensure your safety, Ella.” “It hardly matters now, Father. You are not the angel I thought you were.” Ella’s voice is hard and emotionless. “You did a good job of fooling us all these centuries, I must say. We really thought you were courageous and honorable. I’m glad we know the truth now. As far as I’m concerned, you are responsible for Mother’s death. And now you say you’re keeping Sam out of the way, when you originally hoped he would be killed. Why bother now, Father?” “With Sam a prisoner, there is a chance to convert him to my side through torture. At the very least, we can keep him from interfering with Jonathan’s plans. Killing him is no longer necessary.” “You’re keeping him here somewhere, aren’t you? You’re letting Jonathan keep him prisoner in his own home.” “Jonathan promised my crown back to me once this is over, if I would swear fealty to him as my overlord. I’ve done it. This kingdom will be mine again.” “Our people will never follow you, not after what you’ve done!” “They will when Jonathan makes them, my dear. Don’t force him to make you do it, too, I implore you. I do not want to see you hurt, but I won’t be able to protect you if you continue to fight against him.” “I will never stop fighting against him. The multiverse is a vast place, Father. There are others like us out there, and even if we don’t defeat him, it doesn’t mean he wins. Most civilizations won’t go quietly into slavery.” “It’s not slavery, except for those who fight. It’s an absolute monarchy, with vassal kingdoms, like mine will be. Every angel kingdom of every caste will be a vassal one, with Jonathan the supreme emperor of them all.” “We already have vassal kingdoms throughout the universe, but no all-powerful overlord for every caste. That’s why the archangels govern by committee, to prevent this exact kind of thing. It’s worked for time immemorial. What’s wrong with continuing that way?” Josiah just stares blankly at his daughter. Ella shakes her head, defiance written all over her face. “No. This is wrong. No being but God should have so much power. It is not how the multiverse was meant to work, and you know it. We will not surrender. I will continue to fight, and my soldiers and friends in arms will fight alongside me. And we will win. You will see.” “If you think you can win against a lower caste angel with the power to command archangels, then you are a fool, daughter.” “No. I just know there are more beings willing to fight than you think. Most sentient civilizations in this and any other universe will not just roll over and accept dictatorship by a madman. Our numbers will grow, and we will become strong enough to defeat him. We are determined. And you, Father, are dead to me. I consider myself an orphan now. I can never follow you again, much less respect you. All I can do is mourn you for the angel I once thought you were and the father I used to love.” “I can’t let you continue to put yourself in danger, Ella. Your mother wouldn’t want you to be involved in this. I owe it to her to protect you. You’ll thank me for this later. Guards!” Two heavily armed angels, both taller than Josiah and dripping with spears, swords, shields, and silver armor, appear on either side of him. “Do you recognize them?” I whisper to Ella. “No,” she replies, quietly. “They must be part of Jonathan’s contingent.” “Take her back to the palace and lock her in her room,” Josiah commands. “Make sure she doesn’t escape.” Ella looks at me, horrified, then turns back to her father. “You think Mother would want this?” she cries. “She died protecting this kingdom. She would be ashamed of what you’ve done…and what you’re doing!” “Do not forget who you are talking to, young lady!” Josiah shouts, his face twisted into a mask of anger and indignation. “I am your father, and your king!” “You may be my father, but only as a ghost now,” Ella says, anger of her own boiling to the surface, though on Ella, it is the size of a gnat compared to the fury Josiah is displaying. Ella just doesn’t have it in her to be truly angry. She’s too kind and gentle. It doesn’t stop her from delivering the most insulting blow of all, though. “You are no longer my king, Father. Sam is, and I will only follow him. In his absence, I will follow Lucy, who I recognize as my queen.” Whoa! What? As if wanting to physically demonstrate her point and show her contempt for Josiah even more, she kneels before me. Oh my God. This is not what I had in mind when we came up here. Sam and I aren’t even married, and I’m no one’s queen, certainly not the queen of an angel kingdom. They’ve been treating me like a consort back on Earth, but that’s an entirely different thing. I’m not trained for or worthy of such an honor! What is she doing? “Ella, what the hell?” I whisper. “I’m not the queen of this kingdom!” “You are!” she insists. “Sam loves you and you love him. You are soul mates. That means you’ve belonged together since the beginning of time. You might not be married yet, but you are the co-leader of the resistance, and the most powerful seer any of us have ever encountered. In the absence of Sam, you are the only leader. The uncorrupted archangels decreed it, and you’ve proven again and again they were right. Married or not, as Sam’s soul mate and consort, you are the rightful queen of this kingdom. You’ve earned it. Everyone in our camp will agree with me. So, I give my fealty to you as my queen, and the rest of our kingdom will, too, as soon as I give the word. As a princess of the Earth Angel kingdom, my word carries authority. If I say you’re the queen, you are the queen.” “So, this is how it’s going to be?” Josiah growls, rage rippling just below the surface of his voice, his every muscle taut with barely concealed restraint from the desire to slap us both. “It is,” Ella insists. “Then I’ll just have to lock you both up until Jonathan has control of the Earth. Guards, take them! You can lock the human up in one of my sons’ bedrooms. Not Sam’s though.” “Why?” I ask, derision dripping from my lips at this weak turncoat of an angel. Sam was right to take the crown from him. Josiah is a poor excuse for a king. Any king who won’t defend his kingdom doesn’t deserve to keep it. “Is that where you’ve got Sam locked up?” “No. Your precious Sam is somewhere you will never find him.” “Is he here, in the sphere?” I insist. “That’s all I will say on the matter. Guards!” The armored angels move toward us. I crouch slightly, tensing my muscles, preparing to spring into action. “Ella, get out of here,” I say quietly, keeping my eyes on the approaching guards. “Go back to the town and tell them what’s going on. Re-fortify the place. Get it cloaked again. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.” “Lucy, I can’t leave you here! How will you get back?” “I’ll find a way,” I assure her. “Just go! If you really consider me your queen, then do as I say. Get out of here and get to safety. That’s what your mother would want, and so would Sam. Go!” “I don’t think so.” Josiah makes a move with his hand, gesturing toward the door. He’s going to lock it. “Ella, now!” I shout. She doesn’t say another word, just looks at me with a mix of worry and admiration. In an instant, she disappears, shifting out of the sphere and back to Earth, just as her father locks the door behind her. “Damn it!” Josiah screams, bending down and pounding his fists on the cobblestone street. Then, he looks up. “Get her!” he cries at the guards, who momentarily stopped their advancement when Ella disappeared. They start back toward me, and I immediately draw on the reserve of universal power that’s flowing through me all the time now, fully accepting and welcoming it as my birthright for the first time. This is who I am. Holding out my arms straight in front of me, palms up, I move the energy down them and out my palms. Bright, white light shoots from them, and I feel the weight and movement of it. It’s pure power from the initial creation of the universe, and I’ve been given the gift of controlling it. It’s a blessing. What I did to deserve it, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll solve that mystery one day. But, in the meantime, I’m grateful to be chosen to receive this extraordinary gift. The energy hits the guards, flipping them off their feet and sending them flying about a mile away into the distance. Josiah looks at me in wonder and then with covetousness. He wants to use me for a weapon, just as Jonathan does. Well, screw them both! I wave my hands around in either direction, stopping time in the sphere, freezing the guards in place. I deliberately exclude Josiah from this…well, most of him. I freeze his body, but allow his head to remain a part of the waves of time that flow around us. Walking up to him, I stand on my tiptoes and put my face almost directly against his. “I will ask this once, and once only,” I say slowly, wanting to make sure he understands every word. “Where. Is. Sam?” “If I tell you, Jonathan will kill me.” “Do you think I care?” To my surprise, I truly don’t care. That’s unlike me. It’s my love for Sam changing me. I’ll do anything to protect him. “He’ll kill Sam, too. He has spies everywhere. He’ll know I told you.” Josiah is almost pleading now. “Any spies here are frozen and can’t hear you. Please, consider it perfectly safe to speak freely.” “Even if I tell you and you somehow rescue him, you’ll all end up getting killed or enslaved eventually. You can’t beat Jonathan.” “Let me be the judge of that.” “You may have special powers, but so does he. You haven’t seen everything he can do. Plus, he has more followers than you. You can’t take them all on by yourself, Lucy.” “That’s my concern. I’ll give you one more chance.” I reach into the velvet pouch tied to his plain brown sash that replaces the golden one Sam took, and pull out what I suspected was there from the moment Ella and I encountered him. A starstone blade. Of course the former monarch would have one. I hold the blade to his throat, drawing a tiny bit of blood as I do. “How many angels have you killed with this blade, Josiah?” I ask softly, drawing the blade down just a little bit, enough to increase the trickle of blood and cause him visible pain. He hides it well, but it’s there. “Not many. It is rare that such a thing is needed. Or at least, it used to be.” He shakes his head sadly, defeated. “Then let’s not add one more to it today. You may be a poor excuse for a father, but you’re the only one Sam has. I don’t want to take you from him, but I will if I have to. Now tell me where he is.” “You will regret this course of action,” Josiah assures me. “You and Sam may be soul mates and you may think you are doing the right thing, but you are not. Jonathan will punish you both.” “I think you put too much stock in Jonathan.” “You will see. When you do, just remember that I am but a poor father trying to protect his remaining children. And that I warned you.” “Whatever makes you able to live with your decisions. Now, about Sam’s location?” Josiah hangs his head low and won’t look at me when he says it. “In your mansion. The herbs brought you here, where you could find knowledge of his location, because they couldn’t go there. They don’t have a key. Jonathan took Sam to your mansion to keep him out of the way, and to draw you to him. Right now, your people on Earth are getting a message from him directing them to give you up in exchange for their lives and good treatment when he becomes their ruler. Believe it or not, Lucy, I was trying to protect you, too.” “I don’t believe it. And how did Jonathan get into my mansion? I thought only I could get in, and people I invited. Like you said, the herbs didn’t have a key.” “People you have invited inside in the past can enter on their own,” Josiah corrects me. “And Sam has been there with you. That first visit acted as his invitation. Surely he explained it to you. Sam is a key to your mansion now, as much as you are, and all Jonathan had to do was use him as one.” I ponder this for a moment. Oh, God, he’s right. Sam did tell me. The mansion was to be our meeting place if we got separated. And that’s exactly what happened, though not in the way either of us imagined. A sickening feeling of violation washes over me as I think of the villain breaking into my personal space and taking up residence there like a squatter. An eviction is definitely in order, and I will deliver it personally. “Thank you for the information, Josiah,” I say, eager to get out of the sphere and over to the mansion. “I’m going to freeze the whole dome now, to be unfrozen at some later date when I feel it’s safe to do so.” Josiah’s eyes go wide. “But you can’t! There will be no one to protect the Earth from alien invaders and other dangers from space! I’m the only one doing that job right now. You’ll be leaving the entire planet vulnerable.” “I think those are the least of our concerns at the moment. Have you fended off any space-based threats since Jonathan came?” “No,” he admits, reluctantly. “I think he may be using magic to keep those things away until he secures the Earth for himself. But I don’t know for sure,” he’s quick to add. “Would you really put your whole planet in danger?” “It’s already in danger. I intend to do something about it.” With that, I wave one hand and freeze the rest of the sphere, including the part of Josiah that can still talk. I’m the only thing in it that is still moving through the normal flow of time. Another power comes to me of its own accord, making its presence known in my mind. I like how new powers do that, arriving within me like friendly, helpful visitors at the exact moment I need them. Using this new one, I place a lock on the flow of time in the sphere. No one but me will be able to enter this place until I release it. Josiah is neutralized for the time being and can cause no more trouble for us. I keep the blade. It may come in handy. Besides, even frozen, I don’t trust Josiah with such a weapon. I slip it into the waistband of my jeans. “I’m coming to get you, Sam,” I say out loud, the time freeze preventing even an echo from forming in this lonely space. There’s no way I’m leaving the mansion without Sam, and Jonathan will find me to be a more formidable opponent than he imagined. I may not stop him entirely on this trip, though it’s certainly possible, but I will rescue my angel. As if it were always second nature to me, I slide out of the Angelsphere’s dimension, shifting into the one where my mansion resides, and where Sam is waiting for me. Chapter 30 I shift in quietly, focusing on Sam, but aiming for behind the staircase. As long as Jonathan isn’t searching out my energy signature, he shouldn’t notice I’m there until I’m ready to reveal myself. I want to get a look at Sam, see what condition he’s in, and what they’re doing to him before I make a move. It will do neither of us any good if I go rampaging in there without a plan. Fortunately, I land just where I intend, and carefully peek out from behind the staircase just enough to see Sam, looking much as I saw him in the vision with the elders. In addition to the diamond chains I saw around his wrists, there is also a set around his ankles. The power in the gems are blocking his powers so he can’t shift out of here. Unfortunately, the power blocking ability of diamonds only works if they are actually touching the angel, or we would have surrounded the entire town with them. There are some Nature Angels among us who could have easily procured a vast supply. An angel I immediately recognize as Jasper approaches Sam with a cup of water and lets him drink. Jasper is wearing thick black gloves that have the glow of power emanating from them. They must be to protect him from being weakened by the diamonds, should he accidentally touch one. Jasper moves away from Sam as quickly as he came, and goes to lean against the opposite wall. I suppose he’s Sam’s current guard. Of course Jonathan would give his main generals the task of keeping such an important prisoner secure. I’ve no doubt Jasper and Daniel are both here and have been taking turns. Other than looking exhausted, Sam seems remarkably unharmed. He might have been tortured many times in the week he’s been here, but he would heal quickly, as any angel. That’s an actual bodily process they possess, and not a real power, such as healing other people. However, just because he heals quickly doesn’t mean I don’t need to get him out of here ASAP. Plus, as I saw with his broken wing bone after his initial fight with Jonathan, the more exhausted he becomes, the longer it will start taking him to heal. He needs to know I’m here. I don’t want him to think I’ve abandoned him. “Sam, it’s me,” I send the message out telepathically, hoping he gets it. Angels aren’t telepathic the way I am, but if I’m the one sending the message, putting it in his head, maybe he’ll hear it. “I’m here, behind the staircase. I’m going to rescue you.” He darts his eyes quickly in my direction, then immediately sets them looking straight ahead again. Excellent! He did get the message, and doesn’t want to draw Jasper’s attention to me. Then, I get a message of my own. He’s not sending it out on a telepathic wavelength, because he can’t, but he’s thinking it, knowing I can read minds. “Get out of here, Lucy,” his thoughts come to me rather frantically. “Stay away. It’s a trap.” Of course it’s a trap. Jonathan wants to draw me out. I knew that before I came here. It’s not enough to keep me away. Nothing is enough to stop me from rescuing Sam. I send him another message telling him so. It would be easy for me to dispatch Jasper, take Sam, and leave. But Jonathan knows where we would go. We can’t even stay hidden here, not just because our people need us, but because Jonathan can get back in here on his own now that he’s been here once. He’ll find us wherever we go, so I want to meet with him face to face and settle this once and for all. If that means fighting him myself, so be it. This is my territory. It’s designed to work in my favor. I’m reasonably sure I can take Jonathan here. The only issue is keeping Sam safe while I do it. Before I can relay this message to Sam, Jonathan appears, materializing in my house as if he were teleporting anywhere else in the universe. Trespasser! He immediately walks over to Sam. “I’ll offer you one more chance to join me,” he says slowly, walking from one side of Sam to the other, like a cat stalking its prey. “Leave me alone or kill me, Jonathan,” Sam says, disinterest dripping from his voice, calculated perfectly to enrage his foe. I can hear Sam thinking. “What is he going to do to me that’s really going to matter, Lucy? If he kills me, we’ll be reunited in every future life we lead, and then forever in heaven. If he keeps me prisoner, there’s a chance I may escape and get back to you on Earth, which is where you should go right now. Either way, we will be together in good time. He can’t keep us apart forever. It doesn’t work that way with soulmates.” “Do you really want to be so obstinate?” Jonathan asks rather pleasantly, oblivious to our mental conversation. He’s turning on the charm, but it isn’t going to work on Sam. “You are a strong, powerful, and well-respected angel in these parts. A king! We could accomplish so much together. Our partnership could be mutually beneficial in so many ways. All you have to do is convince your human to work with me. Do that, and you can have anything you desire. I’ll set you both up as rulers of Earth, or this entire galaxy if you like. You can have the fealty of quadrillions of life forms and be with your true love at all times, except when I need her to help me conquer stubborn civilizations. You’d be safe, and so would your families. Doesn’t that sound nice?” “It does sound nice,” Sam thinks silently, knowing I’ll hear it. “The part about always being with you and our families being safe, I mean. I have no desire to rule anything but my own kingdom of Earth Angels, which was always mine by birthright. Working with this repugnant creature to get any of it, though…well, that isn’t happening. I know you feel the same way. It would be betraying everything I am as an angel, as well as all the angels and seers who depend on me and look to me for leadership.” Not having anything to say out loud to Jonathan, he remains silent and turns his head, refusing to deign to even look at his enemy. His entire expression says his royal eyes are offended by the sight of such rubbish. Jonathan groans dramatically, as if Sam is pushing him to do terrible things he would prefer not to do. I know it’s all an act. “Nothing to say, Sam? I was afraid you would continue to be stubborn. You’ve always been so self-righteous, such a do-gooder. Basically a real thorn in my side. Tracking you down has kept me from getting on with the business of conquering the Earth and moving on to more planets. Allowing your defiance of me in our first fight won’t do in the eyes of my followers. I would have killed you in the second battle on Earth if I hadn’t seen what your woman can do. She’s the only reason you’re still alive, you know.” Sam refuses to say anything about me. “Well, you’ve forced my hand, Sam. This could have been so easy if you would only agree to accept me as your leader. Now, we have to go the ugly route.” Sam still refuses to speak to him, but he does turn back to face him, raising his eyes in question. I know he can’t help it. Like me, he has an idea of what Jonathan is going to do, but needs to hear him say it. “I’ve sent Daniel to your little military camp on Earth with a note to give to your people. They are to either give us Lucy, or she is to surrender herself and come work for me, or I will begin to torture you. Then, if she waits too long, I will kill you as I should have done long ago. And after that, I’ll come down there with my army, and we’ll kill all of them.” I’ve heard enough. The time has come for me to do something. But the fierce thoughts emanating from Sam give me pause. They’re directed at Jonathan this time, not me, even though Jonathan can’t hear them. “Jonathan, you smug, tricky bastard. I don’t care what you do to me, but I won’t let you bring Lucy any pain, and killing me would cause her pain. I hate you, more than I ever thought it possible to hate anyone. Angels are bred for love, and though we are capable of experiencing hate, I’ve never experienced it. I do now. I hate you so much, I would rip you apart with my bare hands if I wasn’t bound in diamonds. Just let me out of these chains, Jonathan. You’ll see what I’m truly capable of doing. I’m not the same angel you fought all those months ago. I will end you if given a chance. Show me just how brave and powerful you are and unchain me. We’ll see who wins. I don’t even need a weapon.” A shudder runs through me involuntarily. I absolutely believe him. Those thoughts were made of pure ice. Jonathan leans in close and stares into Sam’s eyes. His are almost black now, no longer angel blue with the light of goodness inside them, but dark with his increasing evil, little reddish-orange streaks crackling through the black here and there. The sight of it makes me nauseous. He can no longer realistically be called an angel, though he might have all the outward trappings and powers of one. No. Jonathan is an abomination. “So, I see that got to you, though you don’t speak,” Jonathan says, tauntingly. “You may be defiant now, and so may Lucy, but we’ll see how long you both hold out before giving in when the torture begins.” That’s it. I’ve heard enough. I shift out, then shift back in right behind him. “Yes,” I say, slyly, “let’s see. I’m curious to know how that will go.” Jonathan spins around, surprise and horror plastered on his face in a strange mix of confused realization. I raise my purloined starstone blade in my hand, the one I took from Josiah, my eyes blazing with fury. The future of the Earth, and maybe even the universe, is about to be decided in this mansion. Chapter 31 “Lucy, get out of here, now!” Sam yells, his eyes pleading. “He’s going to use us against each other!” I lunge at Jonathan with the blade, but he shifts just a fraction of an inch out of my reach in an instant. Before I can process his unexpected movement and make my own shift, Jonathan starts toward Sam, a sword suddenly in his hands. He was hiding it under his tunic. I could punch myself for not noticing. It doesn’t have the glow of magical enchantment, so the sword won’t kill Sam. But it will hurt him. Not on my watch. “Bastard!” I shout, and wave my free hand to the right, sending Jonathan flying. He lands about 30 feet away, thudding hard on the hallway floor. Jasper glares at me, eyes full of hate. “You bitch! How dare you lay hands on our master!” His hands are curled into claw shapes, as if he intends to scratch my eyes out. Ha! Does he really think he’s got what it takes to fight me, in my mansion? “Your master, not mine. And I didn’t actually lay hands on him,” I say casually, then flip him away like I’m swatting a gnat. He lands near Jonathan, both of them glaring at me with murder in their eyes. I’m not concerned in the slightest. My powers, which were already strong, are even stronger here. It’s not a guess. I just know it somehow. I’m guessing it’s because this is where all possible versions of me come together, including all of my possible and potential powers. I start toward Sam, intent on taking those chains off him immediately. It’s physically nauseating to see him being treated this way. “Lucy,” he begs me as I approach, “you’ve got to go. Our people need you to protect them. You must leave me.” “Ella is there, and we have two archangels on our side. I’m not going to let Jonathan touch you again. Don’t argue with me about it. I’m saving you.” Out of the corner of my eye, I see Jonathan and Jasper approaching us, so I wave my hand at them again and they fly even farther down the hall. The chains aren’t locked, but the diamonds have weakened Sam so much, he can’t remove them on his own. I easily unwrap them from his ankles and wrists and toss them aside as far as I can, then hold out a hand to help him up. He takes it, and I haul him to his feet, just like I did when we first met. Once he’s standing, his strength fully returns in a rush that’s almost visible. His glow is brighter and his cheeks are rosier. “We’ve got to end this now,” I say, hugging him quickly, relief for his safety flooding me and giving me goosebumps. “It’s just them and us here. They’re no match. We’ve got them.” “I think you’re right,” Sam agrees with me, and takes my chin in his hand, tilting my head up. He kisses me hard then, grinding his mouth against mine. I feel my lips swelling a bit, and I swear, if Jonathan and Jasper weren’t there, I would throw him down on the floor and make love to him for days. “I still think you should go and let me handle this,” Sam insists. “As your soul mate, I’m stronger here, too. One of us should be with our people. You know Jonathan sent Daniel down there.” His tone says he’s accepted I’m staying, but he really wishes I would go. Just as I have a strong protective instinct toward him, he has an equally strong one for me. I know he would prefer me to be outside the immediate vicinity of our enemy and his henchman. “Ella went back with orders to tell the elders to cloak the town again, using a stronger spell this time. Daniel won’t get inside.” Sam looks like he’s going to argue with me again, but then stops before he says a word. He knows me, because he is the other half of me. Instead, he just nods, understanding. We stand side by side in battle stance, and wait for our enemies to approach us. Jasper is up on his feet and storming toward us already. Jonathan hangs back for now, obviously waiting to see how far his henchman will get in subduing us. Coward. So he doesn’t want to fight for himself unless he has to. Did he ever actually fight an angel on his own before Sam? It occurs to me in a flash of realization that even during our battle back on Earth, I never saw him actually fight anyone but Sam, who he focused on during the whole thing. Well, wasn’t that just like the typical “charismatic leader”? Let everyone do your dirty work for you, and don’t put yourself in actual danger if it’s avoidable. What a jerk. If his followers knew, they’d abandon him in a minute and either go home, or choose a new, more trustworthy and brave leader. It seems only Jasper and Daniel know the truth, and are shielding this knowledge from the rest of the army to keep Jonathan in power. I wonder why. “The two of you will pay for your disrespect,” Jasper growls, his brow furrowed and his eyes dark. His hands are balled into fists now. He comes straight at us, gaze directed firmly on our faces. I guess he’s planning on hand-to-hand combat. Is he insane? The dude just saw me toss his leader aside like it was nothing, and personally experienced me doing it to him twice. Now he’s coming at me to start a physical fight again? Good grief! He knows I’ll just toss him. Again. It makes no sense. No matter. We’ll take him. And Jonathan, if he dares approach us both. I intend to simply toss Jasper down the hall for the third time since my arrival in the mansion. But my arm, the one that’s been holding Josiah’s supernova heart-forged starstone blade this whole time, has other plans. I keep watching as Jasper gets close, and remain motionless as he reaches into the folds of his tunic for something…a weapon, I presume. Sam is watching me, letting me take the lead in this, trusting I know what I’m doing. Only, I don’t know what I’m doing. My seer instincts take over and move my limbs of their own accord, my plan to toss him a distant memory. This angel needs to be dealt with swiftly and harshly, my inner seer tells me, and I do as I’m told, totally on autopilot now. As soon as Jasper is within range, but before he removes whatever it is he has in his tunic, my arm moves outward on its own, and I stab him right in the gut. The blade goes in easily, like cutting through a banana, and Jasper crumples to his knees. I pull the blade back and watch in fascination as his blood drips off the end of the shiny black tip and floats back into the wound. Unlike most angel injuries, though, this one does not heal. Jasper looks up at us both in anguish for a moment, and a bit of confusion. It’s clear he doesn’t understand how this happened. He wasn’t expecting it, and I certainly wasn’t, either. I killed some angels in our battle back on Earth, but I’ve never killed anyone outside of a military scenario. This is up close and personal. I’m not sure how I feel about it. My inner seer, however, is most pleased. Jasper only has time to glance at us for a fraction of a second before he falls over to the side, dead. “I didn’t mean to do that,” I whisper to Sam, horror and nausea beginning to fill me as the seer senses recede back to where they reside, deep in my mind. “It’s only Jonathan who needs to go. The other angels can be redeemed.” I feel sick. What have I done? “You had no choice,” Sam reassures me, putting an arm around my shoulder and pulling me close to him, comfortingly. “It’s always hard the first time. But Jasper would have killed me and tortured you if given the opportunity. If we let him go, he’d continue on his murderous rampage on Earth in retaliation for my escape at your hand. And he wouldn’t have stopped coming after you. Once they saw what you can do, I became useless to them. They want you now. You did what you had to do to protect us both. Killing Jasper protects our people, too. Who knows how long it will take Jonathan to find someone just as ruthless to replace him?” “I still feel bad about it.” “Don’t. Jasper was one of the first angels Jonathan recruited, and he was a bad guy from the beginning. The chances of redeeming him were slim, Lucy. If we’d killed Jonathan first, there’s every chance Jasper would have tried to pick up where Jonathan left off.” I feel a little better, but not much. I do, however, want Jasper out of my house. I’m not sure where he lives when he’s not Jonathan’s henchman; he’s not one of Sam’s Earth Angels, but he is a Planet Angel of some kind, probably masking his appearance to fit in with the people he’s been fighting. Without knowing what else to do, I think, “Send Jasper home,” then wave my hand at his body. It disappears, and I know with certainty it’s gone back to where it belongs. “You can come out, Jonathan!” Sam calls, his voice full of all the command and authority befitting a king. “It’s just us now. Your friend is gone. May as well face us.” Jonathan slowly approaches us out of the shadows of the long hallway, but he doesn’t get too close. When he enters the light, which seems to follow me around wherever I go in here, his face is a mask of pure rage. “You just lost all usefulness,” he snarls at Sam. “You die. As for you,” he growls, turning to me, “I will call a thousand angels in here to take you into custody and make you and all of your loved ones suffer until you agree to work for me. You think you’re so powerful now. Just wait, little girl. You’ll see what real power is.” “How’s this for power?” I ask, and throw the starstone blade at him. It flies end over end through the space between us, and lands solidly in the middle of his chest. Instead of falling, though, he slowly pulls it out and examines it as if it’s some cheap curiosity from a novelty shop. Even Sam’s eyes widen at this. That blade should have killed Jonathan the moment its tip penetrated the muscle and got down into his angel essence. Jonathan grins evilly at us. “As you can see, I am no ordinary angel anymore. Just as you are no ordinary seer, Lucy.” No kidding. Quickly, I wave my hand and snatch the blade back to me using my now quite powerful telekinesis. The last thing we need is a seemingly indestructible angel carrying around a starstone blade. Of course, knowing him, he’s probably already replaced the one I stole from him. Defeating Jonathan just got way more complicated. “How come I don’t see any guardian angels on your side?” I ask, a thought suddenly occurring to me once the blade is safely back in my possession. “I’ve seen Earth Angels, Nature Angels, Elemental Angels, Planetary Angels, Galaxy Angels, and even archangels in your army, but no guardians. It seems like if you could get some, you might get the ones they watch over to join your side, too. Make your army even bigger? I know you can’t see them, but surely you’ve used your archangels to intimidate them by now. Why aren’t any with you?” “You can see them?” Jonathan’s eyes practically bug out of his face, and he can’t hide the surprise in his voice. It’s the first time I’ve seen him genuinely flustered. I smile, reveling in the tactical blow I’ve just dealt him. Of course he can’t see guardians. Sam explained that when we first met. But Jonathan obviously thought no one could see the guardians. Sweet! I relish the moment. “Of course I can see them,” I tease, tauntingly, careful to not let on that this isn’t a special power and any seer can view the tiny guardians. I want him to think that ability belongs to me alone. “Oh, and you need them, don’t you? You talk a big game to your followers. But as long as you can’t see the guardians, you can’t control them or their charges. You’ll never rule a single planet, much less the multiverse, without them. They’ll always be there, encouraging their charges to defy you, fight against you, and defeat you. Even the archangels can’t see them, though they can communicate with them. But I guess communication isn’t intimidating enough to get the guardians to turn away from their God-given duty. And as long as you can’t control the guardians, your war is lost before it’s begun. You’re just building your army and biding your time, hoping you discover a way to get at least some of the guardians on your side before the rest of your army discovers your cause is hopeless. Am I right, Jonathan?” “One more reason I must have you working for me,” Jonathan sneers, quickly recovering his cool demeanor. “With you on my side, I can conquer the guardians at last, those miniature subversives.” “Yeah, well, you’ll have to catch me first. You see, it occurs to me that this is my house, and I do not believe I invited you in. You’re trespassing. I want you out, now. Not only that, you are permanently banished. You are never to return to this house without my express permission, which, of course, you will never get.” He looks at me, enraged. “Now,” I shout, putting all of my power behind my voice to be sure he, and the mansion, gets the message, “Get. Out. Of. My. House!” I point at him, more for effect than anything, and he disappears, his face red with fury as he fades out and vanishes. I feel a ripple go across the mansion, and I know it is locking Jonathan out permanently, at my command. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before; it makes so much sense. And, much like stabbing Jasper, it my seer senses had everything to do with the inspiration. “Well, at least we know we’re always safe from Jonathan here,” I say, turning to Sam. “Yes, but our friends and family down on Earth aren’t,” Sam points out gently, taking my hand. “You did the right thing, Lucy, but we’ve got to go help them. We know the truth of the war now, but none of Jonathan’s other soldiers do. Daniel is already at our town border, I’m sure, and Jonathan will almost certainly join him immediately. They will use our loved ones to draw us out. It’s good you locked him out of your mansion. But you can be sure he’ll find another way of bringing us to him…and he’ll have more angels on his side when he does.” I fill Sam in on what went down with this father in the AngelSphere. “The new barrier has to be up by now. I think everyone be protected for a while.” “Until Jonathan finds a way in again.” “We’ll recruit more seers and angels to join us. Maybe even some nearby alien races. We’re not letting him win, Sam. I don’t care how powerful he is. We will defeat him. Maybe all it will take is getting the truth about the guardians out to his army.” “Maybe. We can’t be sure, though. And as long as he knows he can use us against each other, he will keep trying. We both know we would let him win if it meant saving each other. Wouldn’t we?” “Yes,” I have to admit. “So what are we going to do? Stay on opposite ends of the universe from one another, or hide in here forever and let others do our work for us?” Honestly, the second idea doesn’t sound too bad to me. Maybe if we could get my family and Ella up in here, too… Sam gazes at me with such deep love, I almost weep. Then, gathering himself together, he reaches under the top of his tunic and pulls off the blue crystal pendant he always wears, similar to the ones worn by so many other angels. Its silver chain gleams in the light. “My mother gave this to me when we had my investiture ceremony, the one where I was officially declared my father’s heir. It’s made from the heart of a blue dwarf star. Most angels get one when they have the ceremony that marks their passage from childhood to adulthood, but as a royal, mine is stronger than average. It has many powers. It can lead you to your true love. It can also remove and store an angel’s powers and memories, and so much more. This particular kind of gem is very precious and rare, because only royal families have them. I want you to keep it.” He holds it out to me. “But I’m not royal,” I say, wary of where Sam is going with this. “Ella recognizes you as her queen because of our relationship. You told me so, and I agree with her. For all intents and purposes, you are the Earth Angel queen. If Ella declares it, and I’ve no doubt she already has, others will recognize you as queen, too. You’ll need this. It’s a symbol of authority, and can be used as a weapon if necessary.” “Sam,” I say, softly, shaking a little. “Why will I need this? What are you going to do?” “What I have to do,” he says, looking at me sadly. “The archangels were right about Harry distracting you. Now I’ve become the same kind of distraction. They won’t remove me because they think we are both required to win the war. But I disagree. You have to protect our people. If I’m there, you’ll always be more focused on protecting me from Jonathan than anything else. Plus, you would be the same type of distraction for me. And like it or not, I believe you’re the more powerful of the two of us right now. You need to lead them, Lucy, and I’ll only be in your way.” “Sam, please…” I begin, looking at the crystal suspiciously. It removes an angel’s powers and memories…. “Lucy, I love you. I love you more than I thought it was possible to love anyone or anything. Thank you for giving me that experience. It’s something I thought I would never know. If I could, I’d stay with you in this form forever. But I can’t. You have a job to do, and I can’t stand in your way. The future of everything is at stake. I can’t be selfish and keep you from doing what you were born to do.” “I was born to love you,” I say, tears rolling soundlessly down my cheeks. He’s made his intent obvious, and in that moment I don’t care about the Earth at all. I only want to be with him, forever, in some other place where we can forget about Jonathan and everyone else but each other. “Sam, please don’t do this,” I beg, grasping his arm. “There’s another way, I know it. We’ve been in this together since the beginning. We still can be. We can get this job done without distracting each other. I know we can. We’re a team. The archangels decreed it. I can’t win without you. I’m not sure I want to.” Sam says nothing, just pulls me to him, his arm around my waist, and hugs me tightly, as if I’m the most precious thing in the universe. Then, he kisses me roughly, passionately and full of need. He slowly moves his tongue around in my mouth, touching every tooth, every inch of my own tongue, every part of my gums, and the insides of my cheeks, as if committing it all to memory. “Yes, you can. And yes, you do” he whispers in my ear, his mouth achingly close to mine. “The archangels didn’t say how long we needed to work together to gain a winning advantage. We’ve got it now. I believe I’ve done my part. The rest is up to you.” Then, he pulls abruptly away and stabs himself in the palm with the blue crystal just as I’m reaching for his hand to stop him. He’s a fraction of a second too quick for me. As soon as the crystal breaks the surface of his skin, he is gone, leaving the pendant on the ground where he was standing just a moment ago, the only reminder he was ever there. “No!” I fall to my knees and scream, pouring out all the grief I’ve kept inside for months in one long, piercing shriek that rattles the walls of the mansion. Much of it is for Harry, the grief I never fully expressed as I should have done, but it’s magnified a thousand-fold, because now it’s for Sam. I can’t lose two loves in the span of a year, I just can’t! How is that fair, after all I’ve done, and all I’ve been through? Sam, how could you do it? How could you? We promised each other we’d be an unbreakable team. Why would you break us and actually think it was a good thing? I don’t know how long I kneel on the floor in front of the pendant, my scream now transformed into wracking sobs. However, after a while, I reach out and pick it up, a new determination filling me. I’m not going to let him do this. He may think he’s doing me a favor, but he’s not. I’m not going back to Earth, our Earth, without him. We save the multiverse from Jonathan together, or not at all. That’s just how it works, Sam. That’s how it works. I slip the pendant around my neck, then spread my hands wide in front of me, opening up a window to the town. I can see our friends and family clearly, already mounting a new defense against Jonathan. Ella and John appear to be filling in as leaders for Sam and me. They are standing at the edges of town, the protection barrier up again as I knew it would be, regiments forming behind them, the elderly and young out of sight. Daniel and a large army of Jonathan’s angels are facing them, unable to come through the new magical barrier, but waiting for the next opportunity. They know it will come. Jonathan is nowhere to be seen. I can only presume he’s gone to get some more archangels on his side, or maybe even more powerful allies, allies who can help him get to the guardians. Who knows what types of races are out there? No one ever said angels were the most powerful beings in the universe. Jonathan can’t come in my mansion again, but he will use other people’s mansions to try to find me. Let him. There are an almost infinite number of universes in the multiverse. And my loved ones are safe for now, being protected by people I trust to do the job as well as Sam and I would do it. That’s all I need to make this decision easy. I close the window, sending them my love as I do, hoping at least a few of them are sensitive enough to feel it and pass it along to the others. That love comes with a message of what I’m doing, so they won’t come looking for me. I know Sam wants me to go back and continue leading the resistance into battle. It’s why he did what he did. Right now, though, I am more of a danger to my people than anything, for wherever I go, Jonathan or one of his spies is sure to follow. Just as Sam was concerned about them using him against me, they will use my friends and other loved ones against me, too. And I won’t be much use to them if I’m grieving for Sam, knowing he’s out there alone, with no memories, away from me. I’m no use to anyone right now. For the time being, I have to be a refugee, on the run from everyone, just to keep my allies safe, stay one step ahead of my enemies, and find my soul mate again. Having made the decision, I feel strangely good about it. I know in my heart it’s the right thing to do. That crystal sent Sam somewhere, leaving me with his powers and memories stored in that crystal. He’s entrusted them to me, and they will lead me to him. As an added bonus, my disappearance will make Jonathan think I’m not coming back. That will force him to change his plans and develop a new tactic for subjecting all of those angels he can’t see, and the beings they protect. It will take him a while, if he can think of anything at all. That’s nothing but good news for me. My army has its new leaders, and they know what to do. The good guys will take up the reins for us, and they will be amazing. They might even win without either of us there. Like Sam said, the archangels never specified how long we were needed on the ground to win this for our side. If our people don’t win without us, there will be a lull in the battles long enough to give me a chance to find Sam and bring him back. Then, we can take Jonathan down together, once and for all. Sam could be anywhere. The multiverse is a vast, almost limitless place. But he’s somewhere, and as long as he is, I can find him. I will find him. I reach under the rug where Sam put Jonathan’s starstone blade all those months ago. It’s still there. I slip it into the waistband of my jeans beside Josiah’s blade. Who knows what I might find out there? Other wars with other Jonathans could be going on in any location, or with other angels like him. Or, there could be peace. I won’t know until I get there. It pays to be prepared. I hold the blue crystal in front of me, letting it rest flat on my palm, the silver chain light on my neck. The crystal pulses bright and deep, filled with Sam’s memories and powers. Everything that was Sam, except his physical body, is in this little teardrop-shaped crystal. As long as I have it, part of him is with me. And it will lead me to him. “Come on,” I whisper to the crystal. “Show me where he is.” It glows a little more brightly, and feels warm in my palm. I turn toward the right, and the glow fades slightly. I turn around to face the doors behind me and the glow fades to almost nothing. Turning back around, I face the doors to my left. The crystal glows so brightly it becomes hard to look at directly, and its heat increases until it starts to burn my palm. I walk toward those doors, extending in a seemingly infinite line down the endless hall. “Show me,” I whisper again, more authority behind my command. I walk slowly down the hall, into the distance. I walk and walk for what seems like an eternity. Every door looks alike, and the walls rarely change, except for the occasional picture or painting in a frame. I know instinctively these are images of me in previous lives and alternate universes. Finally, I come to a door just like any other, only this time, the crystal grows so bright and hot I almost drop it. I release it and let it fall on the end of its chain under my white, flower embroidered peasant top, feeling its warmth against my skin at the top of my breastbone, nestled in the hollow where my two collarbones touch. “Come on, Sam,” I say softly to myself. “Be there. Please be there.” I open the door. To my surprise, I don’t see Sam’s face, but Harry’s. I pause for a moment, confused. Harry’s face is almost like a stranger to me. Why is he there, shimmering before me, beckoning me to who knows where? Will I find Harry alive there? Is it one of the infinite number of alternate universes where he wasn’t killed before our wedding? Will I even know what to say to him if I see him? I shake my head, bringing myself back to reality. It doesn’t matter. I’m not going there for Harry. I’m going there for Sam. The crystal’s meaning is clear: he’s there, in whatever universe is on the other side of that door. Throwing the door open wide, I jump through it, and do not look back.


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