Authors: Melissa Thomas
by Melissa Thomas
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events or locales, is entirely coincidental.
PHOENIX CONTRACT Part Two
Series: Fallen Angel Watchers
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
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COPYRIGHT ©2015 by Melissa Thomas
Published in the United States of America.
The author respects trademarks and copyrighted material mentioned in this book by introducing such registered items in italics or with proper capitalization.
Genesis 6: 1-4
When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.
Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.
The frail figure in the hospital bed stirred and produced a raspy cough as he struggled for breath. “Magnus?” Matthew said. The priest dragged the oxygen mask from his face. “It’s nearly dawn. You should be going before the sun rises,” he whispered, struggling to lift his head.
Magnus allowed the magic that permitted him to walk unseen among humans to dissipate. He stepped forward. “How did you know I was here?”
Matthew mustered a faint smile. “The shadows in the room are longer when you’re present, old friend.”
A frown furrowed Magnus’ brow as he cast a suspicious glance at the wall. The room’s blackout curtains were drawn, and only a dim nightlight lit the space. The Celt issued a soft snort. “My magic doesn’t alter the shadows,” he replied with a sour note.
“If you say so,” Matthew agreed. “Have you been brooding in that corner all night?”
“Yes, and I don’t brood.” Magnus did not pursue the original question further.
Matthew had his secrets, Magnus kept his own.
“Come over here so I don’t have to shout,” Matthew wheezed, barely audible above the whir and beep of the monitoring equipment.
Magnus moved closer, being careful not to disturb Aiden as he passed. The girl was asleep in the room’s only chair, her legs curled beneath her and her head pillowed on her arms.
“How is she?” Matthew asked.
“Sleeping soundly. She’s been at your side for the last thirty-six hours.” So had he, but he left it unsaid. His old friend would know.
“Poor child.” Matthew gazed upon his adopted daughter with teary eyes. For a long time the priest remained silent.
Magnus respected the silence.
The priest’s eyes were clear when he turned his head to Magnus. “How long have I been asleep?”
About thirty hours. Troy and Katsue have been taking shifts during the day.” Magnus felt it important for Matthew to know how strongly his people cared for him, to know he had never been left alone. Magnus had also kept a vigil.
The priest gave a slight inclination of his head, acknowledging the unspoken message. “How are you?”
The question startled Magnus. “Me? I’m fine. Why would you even ask?”
He cut his response short, realizing the stupidity of denial. Matthew knew him too well to buy such an outright lie. The Celt met his friend’s knowing gaze. Magnus’ gold eyes never blinked or wavered.
“I died, didn’t I?” Matthew said.
“For less than a minute,” Magnus agreed. “CPR might have brought you back.”
“Except you didn’t use CPR, did you? I doubt you even know CPR, Magnus.”
The Celt’s jaw adopted a stubborn set. “I’ve seen it performed. It doesn’t look that difficult.”
“If your argument is that you applied magical CPR, I can’t say that I’m buying it.”
Magnus regarded the priest from beneath hooded eyes. “I’m not selling anything, and you’re living on borrowed time.”
“Even though you promised you wouldn’t do this,” Matthew said.
“I do not break promises,” he said unequivocally. Magnus lived by his promises. His word was his bond. “I promised not to make you truly immortal, a promise which I’ve kept. What I’ve done is postpone your death, which remains inevitable.”
Matthew closed his eyes, obviously praying for patience. Magnus had long thought to inquire whether God ever answered, but he deemed the question disrespectful and rude, so he never voiced it aloud.
“We never said goodbye,” Magnus said. If his voice contained a note of despair, he would not have recognized the emotion to name it. He understood little of loss. He and Matthew often went months, once years, without speaking. Why did it matter so much that their conversation would finally end for good?
Matthew sighed. “Magnus, I know this is difficult for you. I’m sorry. I came home because my heart is failing. I came home to die.”
Magnus glanced at the sleeping girl. She looked so innocent. He wasn’t the only one who would mourn the priest’s passing.
“I haven’t altered your mortality, only delayed your death.”
“Do you know for how long?” Matthew asked.
Magnus shook his head. “For however long the power I gave you lasts. It won’t be for long,” he warned. Mortals passed in and out of the Celt’s life, as transitory as raindrops. He had exactly one friend and was unprepared for grief. It explained his petulance but did not excuse it.
Matthew remained silent for so long that Magnus braced for condemnation. “Thank you,” Matthew said finally. “I might be ready to meet my maker, but Aiden needs more time to prepare. I’d planned to speak with her today.”
Magnus exhaled. An ironic smile twisted his lips. His old friend had found a way to turn a selfish act into a noble deed. Magnus would not argue. “The offer stands. In all the years I’ve known you, I always thought you’d change your mind in the end. In over two thousand years, you’re the only person I’ve offered immortality to.”
“Thank you, but I won’t change my mind,” Matthew said. “You’ve been a good friend, Magnus, but I’m not suited to eternal life. I’m prepared to end the suffering this wretched shell endures.”
Magnus ground his teeth, suppressing his anger at the sheer waste of his friend’s decision. “You’re right. The sun is rising. I should go.”
The eastern sky warmed with shades of rose and gold, heralding the coming of the sun. Magnus left the hospital and headed home on foot, choosing to walk instead of fly because the increasing light would not conceal such activities. He enjoyed the sweet release of being outside again after hours indoors, and so he tarried, ignoring the burning sun rising at his back. He plodded, experienced the slap of each step on the pavement, lumbered with the grace of a mortal, indulging a morbid curiosity. What would it be like to be so fragile, so transitory?
Taking a shortcut, Magnus ducked into an alley between two warehouses which sufficiently shaded him and provided a welcome relief from the deadly rays of the sun. He resided on the river close to the seaport because he liked being close to the water. Huge utilitarian warehouses towered to either side, dwarfing the small building he called home.
St. Sabbas was constructed from cut stone in Gothic style with a highly wrought façade. Originally built in 1826, St. Sabbas functioned as a Catholic church until a fire gutted the building in 1910, killing three clergymen. It stood vacant until 1918 when the son of a wealthy industrialist purchased the church and converted it into a playhouse. The redesign of the church into a theatre had resulted in the extension of the chancel to create a thrust stage and a proscenium arch. The business folded a few years later, and the building often stood vacant. Temporary tenants came and went with the years, and only the historical preservation foundation's success in having the property declared a local landmark had protected it from being razed by developers.
Like the grand cathedrals of Europe, St. Sabbas faced west so Magnus entered via the front of the church in order to keep out of the direct sunlight. The rooms he used for administration and as living quarters lay beyond the building’s easterly altar.
Upon entry, Magnus paused in order to look and listen, extending his awareness through all parts of the building, both board and beam. The old walls contained almost two hundred years of history, whispered tales of mystery and misery, sanctity and sin. Finally, he locked the front door behind him, content his sanctuary remained free of intruders.
Magnus passed through the auditorium where a couple of dozen of the church’s original dark alder pews intermixed with the theater’s black pine bench seats. St. Sabbas retained some of its hallowed air thanks to the stained glass windows depicting biblical scenes. Filtered sunlight streamed through midnight skies and white angel wings, golden haloes and ruby robes, living green and royal purple. He often entered the auditorium to meditate in the center aisle where the light did not penetrate.
Beyond the auditorium awaited the stage and then the backstage, comprised primarily of service areas. Magnus had refurbished several storage rooms to serve as his living quarters. His chamber lay in the most eastern end of the building. Metal shutters covered every window, providing security from both sunlight and intruders. His minimal and utilitarian furnishings consisted only of a king-sized bed and a dresser. He did not indulge materialistic desires, and his most valued possessions were his weapons, displayed prominently upon wall hangers, easily accessible and always handy.
Entering the bedroom, Magnus checked the metal shutters to make sure they were closed and locked. He left his boots in the corner and placed his phone on its charger. He hung his cloak on a hook along the east wall. The garment twisted and twitched, snarling its displeasure at being separated from its master.
“Draco, stay,” Magnus commanded. Finally, the cloak settled with a disgruntled hiss.
Magnus entered the bathroom and shed his clothing, revealing complex interconnected tattoos covering his arms, legs, lower back, and buttocks. Celtic knots formed an intricate lattice of black upon his tawny skin.
He turned on the shower and ran the water until a cloud of steam suffused the small room. Magnus plunged directly into the scalding spray, running his six-fingered hands through his hair and slicking it away from his face. The water soothed the tension from his muscular frame, and he allowed it to drain away. Turning so that the hot water hit his back, Magnus closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the cool tile of the stall. An unaccustomed weariness hung over him. The events of the prior evening had taken both an emotional and physical toll. He had yielded substantial power to Matthew. It would take time to recover.
Magnus got out of the shower and toweled dry. Putting on a pair of black sweatpants, he sank onto the bed and succumbed immediately to sleep. Hours passed at the periphery of his awareness. The sun rose in the sky, and the mortal world buzzed with activity. He did not dream. He never dreamed.
Midday, an almost imperceptible shift of light and shadow occurred within the bedroom, and a cold draft passed over his back. Magnus roused immediately from sleep and rolled to the side. The blade of a sword slashed through the mattress, missing him by an inch. The weapon withdrew and returned for another swift slash as Magnus reached the edge of the mattress. The tip of the blade nicked his arm, drawing blood from his forearm just below the elbow.
Feathers from the down-filled mattress floated white and wispy upon the air currents. Magnus landed on his feet, automatically assuming a deep stance, rooting his center of balance. The sword swung at his chest, and he reflexively jumped back. He felt the kiss of the tip as it passed his chest.
Infuriated at being taken unaware in his home, Magnus continued his retreat, unable to regain his equilibrium. His attacker allowed him no opportunity to recover. He reached the wall opposite the bed and snatched the first mounted weapon to come into his grasp. The Celt knew how to use the falchion—a one-handed, single-edged sword of European origin, similar to a Chinese dao—proficiently, even if it was not his preferred style of weapon.
He parried the next attack, stopping the incoming blade mere inches from his face. The two swords locked, leaving Magnus staring into blue eyes set in a pale face. The tall and muscular albino rivaled Magnus in both height and build. His skin, hair, and eyes lacked pigment. Metallic blue tipped his white hair, and he wore faded jeans and a red tee shirt beneath a sagging black trench coat. He had an undeniable air of