Authors: Erica Crouch
Tags: #angels, #Demons, #paranormal, #paranormal romance, #Young Adult, #penemuel, #azael, #ignite series, #ignite, #entice, #Eden, #angels and demons, #fallen angel, #ya
Also by Erica Crouch
Entice: An Ignite Novella
Book 1.5 in the Ignite Series
A PATCHWORK PRESS TITLE
Entice (Ignite, Book 1.5)
Copyright © 2013 by Erica Crouch.
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and plot are all either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons - living or dead - is purely coincidental.
Dedicated to those who know my secrets.
“One fatal tree there stands, of Knowledge called,
Forbidden them to taste. Knowledge forbidden?
Suspicious, reasonless! Why should their Lord
Envy them that? Can it be a sin to know?
Can it be death?”
M TRAPPED IN A SEA
of screams. The cries of war swell and break like turbulent waves, pulling back for a breath before raging forward again to knock me off my feet and drown me under the noise. Voices claw desperately, a greedy symphony of agony that comes from every direction, and I can’t separate out one wail from another. They all merge into one horrifying howl so loud I’m surprised my eardrums haven’t begun to bleed.
Maybe they have; there’s blood everywhere. Who’s to say some of it isn’t mine?
I swing out with my dagger and cut an angel across her cheek. She retaliates, quickly loading a small golden slingshot with molten rocks. Her thin fingers wrap around the weapon and she draws it back, her muscles tense. I spot her mistake before she does, and when she lets the sling go, the rocks soar past me, striking one of her comrades. A slight miscalculation, and I live. The angel she struck, however, is not so lucky. His wings catch on fire, and the demon he was locked in battle with uses the distraction to deliver the final blow.
Her eyes grow wide with horror. A scream begins to bloom on her lips but I pluck away her voice before it flowers, plunging my dagger deep into her chest. She falls to the ground, and I turn away from her just in time to see another angel charging me with a long spear that is dripping in already spilled blood. His eyes are feral and dark, and I duck just before the spear skewers me, sending him toppling to the ground.
Sprawled on his back, the tan angel looks up at me and we lock eyes. Faintly, in the deep recesses of my mind, I recognize him.
I know you.
And he knows me—but it didn’t stop him from trying to kill me.
I try not to think about what I’m doing, who I’m killing. Burying the thoughts under the screams and making them incoherent is easier than acknowledging the lives I take. I scramble forward and put my boot on his chest, pinning him down to slit his throat.
I add two more tallies in my mind to document their deaths.
Five thousand twenty-four
“Azael!” I call out, trying to raise my voice above the clamor of clashing weaponry. It just barely breaks the surface, like a body bobbing up for air before plunging back down to touch the floor of the ocean. I stand on my tiptoes, searching the teeming, bloody mob for Azael. I wait for his excited hoot of a response but am answered by the same surge of battle noises—the clattering strikes of swords, the whizzing of arrows, and the cracking snaps of whips. “AZAEL!”
I push my way through fighting angels, shoving aside both black and white wings. A barbed whip curls around my arm, stopping me short and jerking me backward. Without even thinking, I wrap my hand around the barbs and tug on the whip, bringing the angel attached to the other end toward me.
I don’t have time for this
The angel looks surprised that I’m not taking notice of the filleted skin on my hand, that I’m ignoring the burning sensation that has snaked its way into my veins and slithered around my muscles and bones, making me dizzy. But I’m too distracted with anger—with purpose—to submit to the pain. I have to find Azael.
I uncoil the whip from my arm and tear it out of the angel’s hand. He gapes at me, his hands searching the air around him for a way to protect himself against his own weapon. If it wasn’t so pathetic, it would almost be cruelly comical. I barely spare him a second thought before I flick my wrist, the whip wrapping around his waist like an embrace, and yank the handle toward me, slicing him in two. I drop the whip, black with my blood and red with his, and it lands on the ground between the halved angel.
Five thousand twenty-five
I amend my running total as I continue forward, screaming out for Azael.
WHERE ARE YOU!??
More angels and demons stop and look at me as I run through their fights in a desperate search for my brother. I don’t see his shaggy dark hair anywhere. The usual unsavory stream of thoughts I hear from him during battle is absent, and I don’t see his scythe amongst the shining armory of either army.
The farther I get into the heart of the battle, the less hope I have of finding him, let alone finding him alive. I scream to him in my mind, trying to find his voice trapped somewhere in the corners of my head. But no matter how hard I concentrate, his voice is nowhere; I can’t find him.
I slow my run to a stumbling jog, dodging several more whips, arrows, and singing swords. The jog becomes a disoriented walk, spinning around again and again without any sign of him, and then nothing.
My feet freeze, my legs are numb, and the pain from the injuries I’ve been too stubborn to acknowledge comes slamming into my consciousness all at once.
It feels like I’m holding my hands in the center of the sun, like I’ve picked out a star from the sky and decided to steal it, too envious of the universe’s fire to leave it undisturbed. Heat sizzles into my nerves, starting in my hand and circling up my arm like a decorative ribbon, cauterizing my veins painfully.
My head throbs from when I was thrown to the rocky ground, trapped under a bronze boy with a scraggly chestnut weapon. The cut skin across my collarbone seems to rip open with each breath, and my arms, legs, face, and back—decorated with gashes, both wide and thin, from daggers, swords, and scythes—prick with the hot tip of agony. The pain is enough to crush me, and now that I’ve acknowledged it, it grows bigger and bigger, becoming a monster of its own.
I call for Azael one last time, but my voice comes out as a whimper.
, I think in the back of my mind.
It’s too late. He’s dead and you’re alone.
I sink to my knees in the orange clay of this strange Earth, dropping my dagger and digging my fingernails into the soft ground. It’s cool and slightly damp, like the clay has become drunk off of the blood spilled from those dying above it. I’m done fighting. Without Azael, there’s no reason for me to fight—for either side. It was him who convinced me to change my allegiance; he gave my fight purpose, direction.
Giving up is the last thing Azael would want me to do, but I’m too exhausted to keep going. Maybe death would be a relief after all these years. Perhaps the angels and the demons who are cut down in this battle are the lucky ones. Nothing good can come from the war. What future would there be after so many have fallen?
Glancing toward the mountain, I look at the two brothers locked in battle. Lucifer and Michael. Dark and light, black and white, Hell and Heaven.
Lucifer’s blade parries against Michael’s, and they circle one another in a twisted, dangerous dance. They’re fighting for two opposing sides and each believes his cause is so righteous that they are willing to kill the other over it. I’m not sure who is right; I’m not entirely sure
A hand grips the back of my shirt and hauls me to my feet. A brief flash of hope sparks through me like white hot electricity.
But when he speaks, the hope dies. I curse the crack of optimism that broke apart my chest.
“Pick up your dagger,” a deep voice says.
I don’t move, don’t turn around to face whoever is going to kill me.
“Pick up your dagger,” the voice says again, “and fight me honorably. I will not kill someone who is defenseless.”
“No.” My voice is barely a whisper. Sometimes the honorable thing is knowing when life is worth fighting for and when it is not.
“Did you hear me?” I’m shoved forward. “Pick it up!”
This time, I turn. “No,” I repeat loud enough for the angel to hear. He has pale hair and bright eyes, dressed in red armor carved with honors he received from previous battles. “Just kill me.”
He pulls his eyebrows together and draws back his sword, considering.
I grit my teeth together. “Kill me, and remember that I refused to fight.”
I want this angel to remember me, to live every day with the memory of the needless slaughter he is taking part in. He has to know that not everyone will fight—that it isn’t one side against the other. The lines of this war aren’t as distinct as he believes.
For a second, he lowers his blade. I can see his options being weighed in the shifting colors of his eyes. His grip loosens on his sword, and I think he’s about to drop it, but he doesn’t. He moves the weapon to his other hand, adjusts his grip, and swings it around, using all of the strength of his shoulders to bring down his blade.
This is it
, I think, closing my eyes to the death blow.
No images flash before my eyes in the face of death. No memories of late nights in Heaven’s garden or busy celebrations in the Great Hall. I don’t remember friends—though I had few. I don’t even think of Azael in this moment. Instead, I remember words. Words from fates I wrote, from destinies I scribed. Words I kept secret in my journals and words I felt and wanted to one day feel. Words that don’t even exist yet. They curl around one another like music notes wafting through the air.
Words words words.
There’s a loud clanging sound and I open my eyes. I see the sword lying at my feet and the angel, fallen before me with his eyes open and glassy, an arrow pierced through his neck. I look over my shoulder to see the archer but only notice the retreating white wings of a small angel with a bow much too large for his or her size.
Shakily, I bend down and pick up my own dagger, sliding it through my belt. When I stand up again, I think I’m dreaming. I must be, because what I’m seeing can’t be real.
Azael is clawing his way up the rocky side of the orange mountain, his scythe held in his teeth. His fingers scrabble for purchase as he climbs higher and higher, hauling himself into the sky. I notice his wings tucked behind his back, useless to him.
Lucifer and Michael are still at the top of the mountain, fighting with broadswords so quickly that they blur together. Even from down here, I can see that the fight is too evenly matched; they’re both equal in skill, size, and technique. Each blow is matched by a block, each block met with a second slicing hit.
“Azael,” I whisper, frozen in my spot.
He keeps climbing toward the sparring brothers. No one seems to notice his ascent. I feel shoulders and wings rushing around me like a furious, beating wind, but everyone ignores me.
I watch disbelievingly as Az finally reaches top of the mountain and takes his scythe in his hand. He creeps behind Michael and does a quick series of hand gestures to Lucifer, who nods almost imperceptibly.
“No,” I say quietly. I step forward, my neck bent back at a painful angle. “No, Az, no...”
Lucifer begins moving faster in dizzying slices and strikes. Michael seems to find his suddenly aggressive movement disorienting too, because when Lucifer strikes low, Michael misses the block. Lucifer’s blade catches him across the ribs, a long, shallow cut.