Authors: Christine Hughes
Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly Publishing, LLC.
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, duplicated, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior written consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
Text Copyright © 2013
All rights reserved
Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly Publishing, LLC.
Cover by Rue Volley for Vivid Designs
Ethan was bound and determined to keep my training schedule. Up at the crack of dawn, we trekked out, once again into the woods. Ever since his brother betrayed the both of us by siding with Sebastian, we didn’t speak during our trainin
g sessions. Not out loud anyway, at least not until that morning.
I want you to come at me with all you’ve got.
Ethan, how many times can we do this? I’m tired.
We can’t quit, Sam. Sebastian is going to come back. He is going to come for you. Now pick up that rock and throw it at me.
Resigned to do what he asked, I flattened my hand towards the ground and concentrated on lifting the rock so it floated in front of me. His eyes narrowed as it began to spin. My eyes on his, I concentrated on pushing all my power into the rock. I began to float it from one hand to the other.
Immediately the rock lifted into my palm and I threw it with everything I had. He was able to duck and catch it and, before I knew what was happening, it hit me square in the nose.
“What the fuck, Ethan?” Blood oozed through my fingers. The sky darkened with my pain.
“You’re supposed to pay attention.”
“I was paying attention. Shit.” Pulling my shirt up to my face, I tried to wipe away the blood. The pain was already subsiding and I knew, even if my nose was broken, it was already beginning to heal.
“Let me look.” Ethan stomped over; his annoyance was more than obvious.
“No. It’s fine.”
“No, it’s not fine, Samantha. You weren’t paying attention. You always have to pay attention.”
“I will not fucking relax. This is what I’m talking about. You can’t get lazy, you can’t
. Sebastian will come back.” He picked up a rock and crushed it in his hand.
“You don’t think I know that? You don’t think I, of all freaking people, know that?”
“You aren’t the only one who’s lost in all this.” His words barely floated above a whisper as he walked away.
I moved toward him and placed my hand on his shoulder. “I know. We’ll get Lucas back.”
“I don’t think we will, Sam. He’s gone.” He put his hands to his head and screamed, “Fuck!”
“Ethan calm down. Let’s start over. Come on. I’ll throw the rock.”
He spun and grabbed my face. “You don’t get it. I won’t lose you to Sebastian like I lost my brother, like you lost your father. I won’t let it happen. I’d do anything to keep you safe.” His shoulders dropped. “I just wish you’d work a little harder. Help me out here.”
He held up his hands. “No. Forget it. That’s enough training for today. We’ll do it again tomorrow.”
I waited until I couldn’t see him anymore before I turned and walked toward the cliff. All I wanted was peace.
Distracted, I picked the lint off my jeans and stared out into the water. My playlist on low, I let Of Monsters and Men fill me with words of love, love, love
– Sure, if I even knew what that was anymore.
As the sun continued to rise on the morning, my eyes darted impatiently. The music didn’t have its usual calming effect. If anything, I was getting more wired by the minute and I rubbed the back of my neck to relieve some of the tension. Goosebumps came and went, darkness faded in and out. I was sure something was coming, but I didn’t retreat. It was only there that I didn’t need to be strong, that I could let go and try to be me - whoever that was.
Sitting on the edg
e of the cliff where Jesse died and where I’d found out Lucas had betrayed me, often brought me comfort when I couldn’t quell the storm in my head. Legs dangling over the side, I allowed my wings to spread beside me. Swirls, of black and silver, cast shadows and reflected light. The image reflected who I’d become. Their heaviness had lightened over the past few weeks and my shoulders didn’t hurt as much. I ran my hand over the soft feathers as I contemplated everything I wasn’t.
Once blue, the eyes that stared back at me in the mirror were coal black and my skin, once sun-kissed took on the hue of a porcelain doll. But, despite the wings and other changes, my new physical self was nothing compared to what’d happened to me inside. I was no longer th
e same carefree teenager. The only thing that worried me, back then, was what to wear to school. Now my heart, my head and my soul were torn between good and evil. It should’ve been an easy enough choice. Unfortunately, because of all the mess, the fighting and the betrayal, my life was no longer easy. I was one temper tantrum away from transforming completely into an Exiled.
My father was once an Exiled who chose to join the Faith
ful. Instead of reveling in sin, he fought for forgiveness. Instead of whining and moaning about events that occurred out of his control, he chose to do what was right, not what was easiest. And that’s where I struggled most. I didn’t know if I was strong enough for all of it. And more often than not, I wanted to give in to all the temptations and live with the ease of the Exiled. The only thing that kept me from joining Sebastian and his followers was the small piece of my heart, the part only Ethan could find, that reminded me of what I was meant to be - balance. I must fight the Exiled with the darkness that flowed through me. And I must lead the Faithful with the light that pulsed inside my heart. Somehow, I needed to make sure they both lived in harmony. After all, what would there be to hope for if there was nothing to despair?
voice hadn’t invaded since I watched Lucas and him fall through the earth, but I knew he was watching, waiting. He vowed to return and I had no reason to doubt his words. The problem was, I didn’t know when or where he and I would come face to face again.
As I sat ruminating the past and con
templating my future, the heart-shaped opal pendant that hung from my neck, the Heart of Hope, began to glow and my skin burned beneath it. As long as I wore it, I knew Sebastian could find me. And part of me hoped he would. The part that hoped all this would finally be done. My hand fisted around the sword that lay beside me. Every muscle in my body tensed as I concentrated on finding the source of evil that had invaded my space. My skin tingled a warning, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and my feathers ruffled. I moved into a crouch as I heard a soft footfall upon the morning frost giveaway the intruder. I silently called for Ethan and hoped that he’d hear me. So often the past few weeks, he was nowhere to be found.
When I whirled around, sword drawn in front of me, the tip of it grazed the chin of one of them
, an Exiled. Body oddly contorted with bony wings and a slim sharp sword pointed directly at my heart, it smiled and bared its ugly yellow teeth.
“What do you want?” Anger pulsed as the air around me became electrified. The sea below riled up in response.
“Please, lower your weapon. I am not here to harm you. I am here to deliver a message.” Its voice pierced my ears like nails on a chalkboard.
“I’m pretty sure I asked you a question. Who are you?” I gripped the handle of my ever-present sword tighter.
“I am Malakai. I have a message for the one who maintains balance.”
“Well, you found her. And her name is Samantha. What’s your message?” I pictured driving my sword through its heart and removing its wings, slowly. The image wasn’t as disturbing as it should have been.
I faltered for a moment at the sound of Ethan’s voice.
Oh, thank God.
I wasn’t yet used to the fact that he knew when I was filling with darkness, even if it seemed as though he was avoiding me lately. I hated the fact that, even though I loved him, we could never be together because he was my guardian angel.
Angels and their stupid rules
“Ethan. I’m here.”
Malakai’s smile grew grotesquely wider and thick saliva dripped from his teeth. His paper-thin wings spread out beside him, readying for a fight.
Ethan entered the clearing, sword drawn and pointed at my visitor.
“I am to deliver the message to only you, Samantha. Beg him leave,” Malakai spoke.
“No. You don’t call the shots. You will deliver whatever message you need to deliver then get the hell out of here or Ethan will slice off your wings and I will drive my sword through that thing you call a heart.”
His eyes surveyed the situation. With Ethan at his back and me standing in front of him, Malakai must’ve quickly figured out that I didn’t deal out idle threats. The fact that I could barely cling to whatever control I had left didn’t escape him. As shadows invaded the space and swirled around me, he lowered his sword to his side, folded his wings and bowed his head slightly. “Very well.”
ly bad-ass, I nodded to Ethan. He took a few steps back, lowering his sword slightly; I did the same as my eyes darted around, quickly surveying the area for more of them. I was once again struck with the odd notion that the connection Ethan and I had shared since this all started was somehow unraveling. A low buzz reverberated in my head.
Shake it off, Sam.
It was hard tamping down the growing need to kill Malakai. I hated that feeling. Ethan’s presence was the only thing keeping me centered. “Speak.”
“I have news. Sebastian is planning an attack. Lucas is healing at a slower rate than expected and Sebastian isn’t pleased. He is focused on killing you, killing both of you.” His eyes shifted toward Ethan. “He has a plan.”
“What’s this plan?” Ethan’s voice was firm.
“I am not privy to that information. I am not in his circle.”
“You’ve come to tell me that?” Annoyance dripped from my words. “You come to me promising a message
yet do nothing more than tell us what we already knew? I think it’s time for you to leave. Ethan.” Our swords rose once again.
Malakai held up his claw-like hands and spoke quickly,
“Lucas isn’t healing as quickly as Sebastian would like. That much I know.”
“You already said that. What do you know about Lucas?”
“Sebastian is very angry with him.”
I snorted. “I’m sure.”
Malakai cocked his grotesque head to the side. “His betrayal is the only thing you focus on?”
“It’s the only thing I can focus on.” Rage built up and threatened to break free.
Ethan stepped closer, the tip of his sword grazing the back of Malakai. Eyes wide, he replied hastily. “You haven’t let me finish. I do have a message from one who is in Sebastian’s circle. One you’ve never met but have heard about. One who is tired of Sebastian’s ways. One who wants to return to how it’s supposed to be.”
“And who is the ‘one’ you speak of?”
“He is the one who has sent me to deliver his message.”
Vibrations ran through me. “Stop talking in circles! Give the message you were sent to give or I will kill you. You have no place here.”
“Ahh.” Malakai’s eyes narrowed. “I told him you wouldn’t listen. I told him you were not ready to hear his proposal. You are still…immature.”
“Enough!” The tip of Ethan’s sword pierced the wing of the Exiled. “Go back to whoever sent you. Tell them we don’t talk in circles. If you have nothing to tell us, we have nothing to listen to. Our patience is wearing thin.”
Malakai’s hands flew to his face as he began to shake. It didn’t seem as though whoever had sent him had thought any of it through. This minion was about to crack under the pressure. I was only too happy to speed up that process.
Arms outstretched, he stepped away. “No. No. I was sent. You must listen. Death at your hand would be welcomed in light of what I will face if I fail. You must listen. The purest fallen has sent me. He is ready to make a deal with you to overthrow Sebastian and rid the world of him once and for all.”
My mind raced as I tried to process the information.
Who was the purest fallen?
Ethan whispered and I barely hear him over the din that began to rise around me. “Damien.”