Authors: L. A. Weatherly
Tags: #Speculative Fiction
“We do, we really do,” said Summer dreamily.
He was an idiot. Two beautiful girls, and he was thinking about one from nineteen years ago? Who wasn’t even
any more and had been catatonic for years before her death?
“Well, come on then,” he said, lifting Lauren up in his arms; she squealed in delight. “Let’s see if we can make the fairy tale a little more real for you both.”
Later the dream that was memory came again.
Both girls had now departed. Raziel stood at his bedroom window with a sheet wrapped around himself, scowling out at the flaming Rocky Mountain sunset. The images had awakened him from what should have been a refreshing nap. He could almost hear Miranda’s voice still, so soft and childlike – feel her arms around him as the two of them sank to the ground, the willow branches making a private cave.
“You know, I – I get confused sometimes now,” she’d whispered.
“Do you really?” It had been cold out there; he hadn’t cared. Ah, the smoothness of her neck against his lips – the delicious taste of her life energy, still pulsing through his halo.
Miranda had nodded, green eyes wide. “Since I met you, it’s hard for me to think… It’s like part of me is in another world, and I can’t figure out where I’m supposed to be.”
Hardly surprising, the amount he’d been feeding from her. Raziel had chuckled, only half listening. “First a fairy tale, now another world. I’m not very good at keeping you in the here and now, am I?”
“No, you are! Oh, Raziel, you’re the only thing that does.” She’d reached up to cup his cheek, swallowed hard. “The rest of my life – college, compositions, concerts – none of it matters compared to this, right now, with you.”
“Shall we make the most of it then?” he’d murmured, still caressing her. “Of course, it will probably make you feel even
confused, so maybe we shouldn’t – I seem to have that effect on humans.”
As he’d known she would, Miranda had joyfully acquiesced. He remembered feeling a slight regret that her mind seemed to be dissolving so quickly – though not enough regret to make him hesitate.
Now Raziel gritted his teeth.
did he keep dreaming about this? Ever since the earthquakes, Miranda had been haunting him. She was a woman he’d once enjoyed, yes – for a short while, he’d been almost obsessed with her – but now, after nearly two decades, he wouldn’t even have remembered her if it hadn’t been for the child she’d somehow borne.
He glared out at the mountains. Yes, the half-angel, half-human, wholly impossible
– who, if still alive, had the power to destroy them all, according to Paschar’s vision.
No. Not after tomorrow.
In the window, his reflection showed a handsome, sensitive face with crisp black hair, whose expression was more apprehensive than he liked to admit. Raziel knew the dream would linger for days now. Seeing again Miranda’s image – so like their daughter’s – he pressed his forehead against the cool windowpane and swore softly. Why, out of so many human conquests, had this one young music student begun haunting him?
And why did her memory fill him with such unease that what should have been a time of triumphant anticipation instead felt dark with foreboding?
LEX KNEW THAT MOST OF
the drive to Denver would have been pretty desolate anyway – crossing first the Nevada desert and then the Utah one – but the earthquakes had taken
to a whole new level. Though he longed to just floor it, in too many places there were deep potholes lurking or dramatic ripples in the asphalt – and out here there’d been only aftershocks.
It had still been enough to change the terrain for ever.
Dawn was breaking as the remains of Las Vegas came into view. The Strip had been almost totally destroyed; Alex could make out the jagged base of the Eiffel Tower and half a pyramid. Grimly, he recalled a trip he and Sam had made into Vegas, to scavenge holograph machines for training from the ruins of an angel-themed hotel. Poking around in the shattered building with his flashlight had not been an experience he’d want to repeat. Christ, there’d been
in there when the place went down.
Willow sat in the passenger seat, staring at the devastated city, her face tight. Alex touched her leg, glad when they left the sight behind.
Five hours after leaving the base, they reached Utah. When at last they turned east onto Highway 70, the route was transformed: fresh, smooth asphalt gleamed in the sun.
Thank god. The truck leaped forward as Alex punched down on the gas. It was a relief to be going faster, though the newly repaired road meant it was a route used by Eden staff. It’d be pretty attractive to bandits too – and a truck loaded with half a dozen full fuel containers was a prize they’d kill for.
Willow sat quietly, hugging her knees. Alex took in her expression. “Getting worse?”
She gave a tense nod. “Stronger with every mile.”
Gradually the road started to climb as they entered the Rockies. Neither of them commented as refugees began appearing: straggling groups weighed down with belongings. Without fail, they stuck out their thumbs the second they spotted the truck. The hope on the tired, dusty faces gouged at Alex.
An older woman holding a little girl’s hand came into view. Willow’s eyes were sorrowful as she studied them. “Heading to Denver Eden,” she said.
“Or Golden. It’s just opened, remember?” The small town was only about ten miles from Denver. Alex shifted gears, hating what he knew would happen to everyone they were passing.
“Yeah.” Willow sighed, still gazing at the woman and child. “So I guess they didn’t hear the Voice of Freedom,” she said softly.
Alex reached across and squeezed her hand. “No. I guess not.”
For amazingly, at least one other person in the world had figured out the truth about the angels. They’d first heard the “Voice of Freedom” a few months ago, when Sam had shouted the four of them into the comms room.
“I was doing a routine check – and
!” he’d said, cranking up the volume.
Don’t trust them. The Edens are a trap – if you go into one, you’ll never come out. The angels are poisonous to us, toxic as rat poison. Do you know anyone who’s seen an angel? Is that person well? Or are they sick and feeble and tired…
They’d stood gaping in wonder. The husky voice coming out of the speakers was androgynous – and utterly welcome.
This has been the Voice of Freedom,
” the broadcast finally concluded. “
I’ll be on again soon. Just listen, and you’ll find me.
Alex knew the broadcasts couldn’t reach more than a handful of people – those lucky enough to have both generators and shortwave radios – but, Jesus, every little bit helped. If nothing else, it was comforting to know that the AKs weren’t completely alone.
An army truck appeared: one of the transport vehicles that cruised near the Edens, picking up refugees. Alex put on a bored expression. As with the other vehicles they’d passed, the driver acknowledged them with a lift of his fingers off the wheel, obviously assuming he and Willow were Eden staff. The truck disappeared and Willow let out a breath.
Alex knew how she felt. Just being on this route made him uneasy; it was the same road he’d sped along a year ago, desperate to reach Willow before her attempt to stop the Second Wave could kill her.
As if to underline the point, they passed a fading poster of Willow tacked to a tree. Her pixieish face was smiling, her long hair Photoshopped short. The headline screamed:
WILLOW FIELDS, WANTED FOR CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY
Neither mentioned it – though they both knew the poster offered a generous reward if Willow was taken alive. Alex’s jaw tightened. Yeah, he could just imagine what delights Raziel would have in store for his daughter if he ever got his hands on her. At least her shoulder-length brown hair looked nothing like the poster now.
An hour later they’d passed through the heart of the Rockies and begun the long descent towards Denver. Conversation had stopped – whatever waited was now only a dozen miles away.
All at once Willow shivered. “Alex, it feels really close. Can we go faster?”
Her voice was a taut wire. Alex slammed his foot down on the gas; their tyres shrieked as they whipped sharply around turns. Willow clutched the dash with one hand.
She was actually trembling now; risking a glance at her, Alex saw she’d gone completely white. “Oh god, stop, stop!”
Stop the car!
Alex screeched over to the shoulder. They were at a lookout point, with pine trees in the foreground and Denver half hidden in the distance, the walled city stretching up to meet the late afternoon sky. Willow scrambled out of the cab; Alex threw on the emergency brake and followed.
She stood staring down at the city, her face twisted in frustration. “I can’t see! These stupid
Alex glanced back at the truck. “Come on,” he said, climbing onto the hood. Seconds later they were both perched on the roof, Willow’s body tense beside his. Alex had a moment of wondering how he’d explain this if their soldier friends saw them, and then all other thought was wiped from his mind. With a cry, Willow leaped to her feet; the truck rocked slightly.
“Oh god, this is it – this is it—”
A chill came over Alex. He rose, gazing down at the city. Lifting his consciousness to view it on the ethereal level made no difference at first, it was still the same – and then the sky over Denver tore open in a vertical slash.
Alex stared. Dimly, he was aware of the massive white-domed roof of the Church of Angels cathedral just below the sight. In the sky, the slit seemed to writhe with life; through it were pink-stained clouds.
Even from so far away, Alex could see that there were thousands, millions – hovering in a shining vortex that faced the gate between worlds like a sideways tornado, twisting and spiralling far off into the distance, spiky with wings. He gaped, lost for words.
“No,” whispered Willow. He put his arm around her; she clung to him. “Something terrible – any second now—”
She broke off with a cry as the angels surged forward, starkly white against the sunset of their own world. As they poured through the gate, a sound came like the cracking of a giant whip; there was an explosion of light, searing the world into a faded reflection of itself. Alex wrapped his other arm around Willow, shielding her as a wave of energy roared past; he buried his head in her hair to hide his eyes from the burning light.
Slowly, the world returned to stillness. The only sound was the rustle of the wind through the pines.
Alex dared a look. The sky over Denver was a solid mass of angels, their ethereal bodies reeling; some were making hasty landings, gliding down into the city. Whatever had happened, they obviously hadn’t expected it either. In the angels’ world it was now twilight, with a single star shining. Then the gash between worlds shrank as the sky seemed to knit itself together. The star winked from view, leaving blue sky and clouds.
Alex exhaled. “Hey,” he whispered, rubbing Willow’s arm. “Whatever it was, it’s over now.”
She had her fingers pressed tightly against her forehead; after a pause, she swallowed. “I can still sense Seb – I don’t think we were affected. We’ve always been separate from them, so I guess…” She trailed off.
“Affected? What are you talking about?”
She looked up then, her eyes wide and tearful. “You – you don’t know what that burst of energy meant, do you? You don’t know what he’s done.”
Alex stared down at her with dread. He knew he didn’t have to answer; his incomprehension had to be written all over him.
Gazing out at the angels, Willow shivered. Her tone was flat, defeated. “Alex…the angels aren’t linked any more.”
OMEHOW THEY WERE DRIVING AGAIN
– still heading towards Denver so that they wouldn’t pass the cruising army truck again too soon. It was as much thought as Alex was capable of right then.
“Not linked,” he murmured at last. He gripped the wheel with clammy fingers. “Are you sure?”
Willow sat statue-still. “Yes,” she said quietly. “I felt it when the energy rushed past. It’s something Raziel’s done on purpose, to protect them. He used the energy of the gate opening to…to sever their connection, somehow. I think some of them died when he did it. I could hear them screaming.”
She crossed her arms tightly. “Anyway, they’re safe now,” she went on, her voice wooden. “We can still kill any one of them, but to destroy them all, we’d have to—”
“Kill them one by one,” Alex finished. He saw a dirt road and took it; once out of sight, he brought them to a lurching halt. The world was battering at his skull. He clutched at his temples, squeezing his eyes shut. “Oh,
He felt Willow slip her arm around his waist and press close. “Alex…” she whispered.
No other words followed. What could she say? There were millions of angels in the world, with millions more just arrived. Even with more AKs, to kill the creatures singly could take generations. Humanity would be destroyed by then; the angels would have moved on to leech off some other world.
God, why hadn’t he attacked sooner? He’d been so positive he was right – but what if he’d done what Sam had wanted instead? They could have forgotten about recruiting new people and only picked off angels that were hunting solo. They might have done it that way.
They really might have done it.
Slowly, Alex scraped his hands down his face. Through the windshield was a piercing blue sky. The dirt road sliced through a grassy field, heading up into the mountains.
Willow took one of his hands and pressed it against her chest. “Alex, please don’t blame yourself! It’s not your fault.”
“Yeah? Whose fault is it?”
“No one’s!” Her tone was pleading. “Fate. Life. You’re an amazing leader. And if you had it to do over again, you’d make the same choice, you know you would.”
He’d never been less interested in hypotheticals. He’d screwed up – end of story. And, yeah, big comfort to know that if he had it to do over again, he’d
A long pause wrapped around them. There was the sound of birdsong and the faint ticking of the engine. “Should we call the others?” Willow suggested finally.
Alex pinched the bridge of his nose and didn’t answer for a minute. “I can’t tell them this over the phone, Willow,” he said in a low voice. “I just can’t.”
He hated the sympathy in her green eyes. Softly, she said, “All right, but we need to let them know we’re okay, at least. And that the next Wave has arrived.”
“We will, but just—” He broke off and gripped her hand, not looking at her. “Just give me a minute.”
How the hell was he supposed to tell the base this when they got back? Exactly what combination of words could he use to break the news to his team that their efforts had been for nothing and the world was doomed now…and all because they’d trusted him?
After calling in, all Alex wanted to do was get away from this place – head for home and get the announcement over with. Willow shook her head. “We need to get some rest first.” He could see her own pained shock, her worry for him. “Neither of us has slept in over a day, Alex.”
He started to argue; the thought of crashing the truck with Willow in it stopped him. He’d made enough cataclysmic mistakes already. He pulled the truck farther up the road, concealing them in a grove of trees.
Though he was sure he wouldn’t be able to sleep, a bone-aching weariness claimed him once they’d spread out their sleeping bag in the back. He stripped down to his boxers and crawled thankfully into its soft haven, where he drifted off with Willow nestled against him.
He awoke abruptly several hours later, unsure where he was. Then it came back in relentless detail. The truck’s windows were misty with condensation; he reached over and wiped one clean. Moonlit fields and a clear starlit sky. No sign of flying angels – those who weren’t staying nearby must have already moved on. Or were in their human forms now, merging seamlessly with the rest of the population.
Except for their eyes. You could always tell an angel by its eyes.
Alex took in the peaceful landscape, seeing instead a country full of Edens – a
full of them, for ever, because of what he’d done. Willow was curled asleep against his chest; he absently rubbed her shoulder as his thoughts pummelled him.
But was there a chance Willow had been wrong?
His hand stilled and stopped. His heart quickened despite itself. Not that he actually believed it – Willow was an excellent psychic. But come on, wasn’t it at least
? Okay, so maybe the odds were only one in a million…yet that still meant there was a slim hope this wasn’t true.
And if there was any hope at all, he had to know.
Alex hit the display button on the sat phone. Almost midnight. The newly opened Golden Eden was about five miles away – he could jog there, check things out, and be back by two.
Just having a plan was a relief. Alex eased his arm out from under Willow – she murmured and turned to her side. With a hasty groping in the darkness, he found his clothes and rifle. He slithered out of the sleeping bag and climbed silently to the front of the truck. He squeezed open the door.
Cool night air sent goosebumps across his chest. Alex got out and guided the door shut behind him, pressing it hard so it would latch. He yanked on his jeans and T-shirt, then crouched down quickly to tie his sneakers. As he checked his rifle, moonlight glinted on the barrel.
He could just see Willow through the window he’d wiped clear. He knew she’d be fine – no one would venture up this remote road after dark – yet for a second he found his fingers resting on the door handle. But there could be no debate, none – he had to find out, and the sooner he left, the sooner he’d be back. He let his hand drop and turned away.
When he was far enough away down the dirt road, he broke into a run.
Alex had been to Golden before: a small town high in the Rockies where tanned, perfect people shopped at specialty grocery stores. Now it had been made into an Eden to deal with the Denver overflow and a concrete wall girded it, with fresh barbed wire glinting at its top. As Alex approached from the hills, he could see new housing had been thrown up, nestling among the ten-million-dollar homes like poor relations.
Lights were still on, even at this hour – people were savouring having electricity again. Alex grimaced; many of the lights were blue and flickering. Raziel had a depressingly firm grasp of American psychology all right: offer them TV, and they’d come.
Finding a good spot was harder than he’d imagined; he was acutely aware of time ticking past and of Willow left back in the truck. Finally he settled on a hill to the north near what looked like a service entrance. He could see the dark shapes of army trucks just inside the gates.
Not many angels were out, but enough. Lying on his stomach, Alex held his rifle to his shoulder and forced himself to be patient as the creatures swooped across his crosshairs. For at least a quarter of an hour, none gave him what he needed.
Then his chance came.
A small cluster appeared, circling together. Alex began tracking them closely. “C’mon, c’mon,” he whispered, his muscles relaxed even if his mind wasn’t. “You can’t stick together all night…”
As if overhearing, one angel peeled away from the other two; in the magnified lens, Alex could see the fiercely beautiful male face. He followed the angel as it started to dive, focusing only on the halo’s pure white centre.
Not yet…not yet…now!
The crosshairs exploded into light. As white fragments twisted in the moonlight, Alex jerked his head away from the lens and looked for the other two. There they were, still close by. Ordinarily, an angel would feel another’s death intensely – react at once.
The angels kept gliding away, great wings calmly stirring at the air.
Alex lay without moving as he stared after them. It was true then. He hadn’t really believed otherwise. But now, faced with proof, for a second he wanted to just go berserk and start gunning down every angel he saw, whether it gave away his position or not.
Get a grip, Kylar,
he ordered himself coldly. Dragging himself to a sitting position, Alex watched the angels still flying over the town like they owned it.
Okay, so this was it – the new reality they all had to deal with. And somehow he still had to lead his team, though he didn’t even know any more where he could lead them
…or why. Alex got to his feet wearily, hardly caring if security cameras spotted him.
“Stay down!” hissed a voice.
Alex’s head snapped towards it – and then in a burst of light, he was knocked off his feet; around him ethereal blades of grass flattened as energy howled past. He rose up on his elbows and stared dumbly at the gleaming remains of an angel.
Willow appeared through the trees, silenced pistol in hand. She dropped to her knees beside him. “It almost got you,” she said. Her knuckles on her pistol were stark white in the moonlight. “We’re too close for me to bring out my angel, so I had to…” She stopped, swallowed. After a pause, she added, “You forgot to change your aura.”
Words had left him. “Good shot,” he got out finally.
I had a good teacher,
she always responded. This time she just stared at him, and he realized how upset she was. “Alex, you—”
A noise came from the nearby parking lot. “Wait,” whispered Alex, putting his hand on Willow’s arm. Someone was walking their way. “Get down,” he muttered, and pulled Willow to the ground next to him, both of them flat on the grass.
The footsteps grew louder. The sound of a vehicle door opening. “Yeah,
you are,” said a voice. “Knew I’d left you in here.”
The door slammed shut. Alex craned a hand out for his rifle, which he’d dropped with the blast. He brought it silently across the grass towards him.
A small flare of light illuminated a man in an army uniform. The soldier strolled to the gate and leaned against it as he smoked a cigarette: a dark, lounging shadow with a red glow at its head.
The guy seemed to be staring right at them. Willow was hardly breathing. Silently, she adjusted her grip on her pistol – and at that moment, the moon came out from behind a wraith of clouds; silvery light flashed briefly on the weapon.
Alex’s heart sank as the shadow straightened. “Who’s there?” barked the soldier.
“Don’t move unless I tell you,” murmured Alex, the words not even a whisper. Willow gave a minute nod; he could feel her tension.
The soldier stood gazing intently. Suddenly he turned and walked away. Alex didn’t have a chance to relax before he heard the truck door open again; a second later the guy was back. A
– and then Alex winced as a beam of light illuminated them as if they were onstage.
“Run,” he ordered, grabbing Willow’s arm; as they scrambled to their feet he heard a voice say, “No way, it
The whir of the gate opening, the thud of their own footsteps as they lunged into the trees. “Where’s the truck?” Alex gasped, ducking the black shapes of branches as they ran. Willow had to have brought it; she couldn’t have caught up with him so quickly otherwise.
Her answer came in short, choppy bursts. “About half a mile away – I didn’t know there was a road right here – it’s as close as I thought I could get when I sensed you—”
Light swept over them, sending their running shadows into the trees ahead. “Stop!” bellowed a voice; Alex could hear feet pummelling the ground. “Stop or I’ll shoot!”
He won’t do it; they want to take Willow alive,
thought Alex grimly.
Willow had kept up with him at first but was now lagging slightly behind. Alex dropped his pace to match hers, heard the soldier gaining on them.
“Keep going,” he said, pushing Willow ahead of him. “Do
pay attention to what’s happening to me; just go, go!”
Without waiting for her response, he spun to face the guy, lifting his rifle in the same second. He scattered the ground in front of the running soldier with a spray of bullets that spat at the earth, throwing up rapid clods of dirt. The man swore and stopped. The world burst into brightness as he trained the light directly on Alex.
Alex didn’t move, still holding his rifle at the ready. He couldn’t see the soldier in the glare but could hear his breathing. Up ahead, he was aware that Willow must have stopped too; he couldn’t hear her running any more.
“Drop your weapon and get the hell out of here,” Alex ordered in a low voice.
“No way,” said the guy curtly. “Neither of you are going anywhere – just give up now.”
“Why, so we can be turned over to the angels?” retorted Alex. “Yeah, that sounds really appealing.”
The soldier started forward; Alex sent a muffled volley of bullets through the air, slicing them back and forth. The man jerked to a halt.