Authors: Allyson Lindt
She winced at the streams of light striking her closed eyelids. She forced one eye open, trying to figure out when her northern-facing window started facing east. It wasn’t daylight after all. Darkness still reigned, and the brightness of the full moon shone through the temple door.
Her surroundings swam into focus. Her head rose and fell at a steady pace, heat seeping into her cheek. Michael’s chest. She must have fallen asleep against him. Vague memories of a few hours ago drifted back as she pressed closer. Did they really fall asleep talking in the temple?
A soft groan escaped from him when she tried to stretch without waking him up. His shoulders shifted with each breath. He muttered and wrapped an arm around her when she shifted.
“Don’t.” His soft command was whispered on the late-night air as he grabbed the back of her tunic and held her in place.
She settled against him, a smile creeping onto her face. “Don’t what?”
“Don’t move.” He didn’t open his eyes. “You’re warm. I’m comfortable.”
Her smile grew, and she lay back down, trailing her fingers along his chest. “As you wish.”
He brushed his lips over the top of her head. “Unless you have somewhere more important to be.”
Ronnie’s eyes flew open, gaze landing on an unfamiliar coffee table. That was right; they stayed up late, talking to Izzy. Her thoughts were clear, the lingering traces of the dream enhancing each one. It occurred to her that for the first time since she started dreaming about the past, she didn’t wake in a cold sweat. She was lucid and aware. She had no idea why Metatron chose to share that with her, but she didn’t mind the warmth it filled her with.
She leaned into the figure pressed against her back. Michael’s arm draped across her stomach. The gesture was so comfortable, it terrified her. With the silence sinking in around them, and the lingering sensations from the dream dancing in her thoughts, she wanted this to last beyond tonight.
She’d pushed Michael away because of the adoration he and Metatron shared. But Ronnie didn’t question his concern for her. He was trying to help. Somewhere along the way, she started to fall for him.
She wanted something more than a fumbling work relationship with him. Something told her that was one of the worst things she could hope for.
A glance at the clock in the kitchen told her it was both too late and too early for anything to be open. It didn’t matter. She needed air. Solitude. More than she’d find even if she didn’t run into anyone else, but the stillness of the early morning would be a nice start.
She extracted herself from Michael’s arms, an ache echoing inside at leaving safety behind. She could have phased out of the room, but she enjoyed the physical contact too much to rush away from it.
Moments later, she tiptoed from the apartment and down the stairs. She paused on the sidewalk in front Izzy’s church, reveling in the simplicity of the night air brushing her skin.
The struggle with Ari in the park seemed forever ago. A damp breeze glided across her bare arms, and she smiled. The clean air and quiet street added to her clarity. She wished the lucidity came with more answers, but at least she could think about the questions now.
“Are we on speaking terms?”
Ronnie walked, not caring about direction. If Metatron could talk to her in their dreams, ignoring her was pointless.
“Took you long enough to figure it out. But, you still could try.”
A hint of smoke floated past her, carried on a dry breeze. Sirens wailed in the distance. It wasn’t Ronnie’s fault no one taught her how to interpret the subconscious messages of the dead angel living in her head. Maybe if Lucifer imbued her with the knowledge of what to do when the voices talked back…
The acrid stench in the air made her grimace. A flash of orange lit up the night sky, flickering in the distance. She hoped whatever was on fire didn’t hurt anyone.
The pain of heated razors sliced her skin—the too familiar sensation of being separated from Metatron. It crept up in intensity. Ronnie frowned. As far as she could tell, Ari wasn’t anywhere nearby, and Ronnie wasn’t trying to get rid of Metatron.
“You’re not? Since when?”
Since she was tired of feeling as if she was being flayed alive, which hardly made her unreasonable. Flashes of orange spread over the city skyline. She hoped the fire wasn’t spreading. What a terrible way to wake up. Her dreams were nothing compared to that kind of horror. Speaking of her subconscious, if Metatron was so helpful, why was Ronnie still in the dark?
“One assumes it’s because you’re still not listening.”
The pain she associated with trying to suppress Metatron intensified, slicing through her and making her stumble. Stronger than she ever experienced before, the scalding cuts shredding her. Where was that coming from? Outside her—that was certain—but beyond that, she couldn’t find the source. She leaned against a nearby post, struggling to catch her breath. Each inhale sent the daggers deeper into her lungs. She coughed.
“Let me help you fight this.”
Ronnie may not be trying to evict her, at least not using any previous methods attempted, but Metatron wasn’t taking over again. Ronnie wouldn’t let her. Ribbons of Metatron’s inky power crawled under her skin, and she searched around them, summoning everything she could find of her own strength to block the pain. Ice flowed through Ronnie, and the throbbing ebbed. Where did that come from? It wasn’t Metatron, for sure.
So much for a truce with the voice in her head. That conversation went downhill fast. Except, as the flow of chill rolled through her, she realized something. She looked inside herself with her second sight to confirm. The icy sensation came from wisps of gray tendrils—Ronnie’s. Her own power. How did she not see that before? Had Metatron kept it from her?
Another flash lit up the night, an orange ball rocketing into the sky and hovering. It sent a wash of knives across Ronnie. She gasped, leaning heavier against her support. Why the fuck did that hurt so much?
“I can’t breathe.”
Ronnie collapsed to her knees, gasping.
“Let me help.
No. She wouldn’t surrender herself, even for relief.
“This pain, whatever it is, could kill you.”
Ronnie doubted that. Heat scorched her bare back, and she didn’t know if it was the warmth of the fire-filled air or something worse. It hurt like God-only-knows-what, but it wasn’t doing any discernible damage. She struggled to find the threads of ice there moments earlier.
“You can’t have them.”
Holy hell. Really? How did she take that away? Where was it hidden now? Ronnie wheezed, each breath hurting more. Did Metatron want her dead? And what was she doing with Ronnie’s power?
“I thought this wasn’t going to kill you.”
“The pain won’t. Having my insides torn from me by an unseen source might.”
Ronnie smiled as something occurred to her. Sometimes she was so dense.
With a flash of thought, her form flickered, and she shifted to a quasi-mortal shape. The pain evaporated as her physical body faded. She continued walking, still not interested in being anywhere specific. Fury and hatred tickled the back of her mind when Metatron growled.
Ronnie flew backward before she registered something hot collided with her chest. She slammed into a nearby wall with a grunt and stumbled before finding her balance.
ignore me.” Ari’s threat rolled over concrete and shook the walls.
At least now Ronnie knew where the being-torn-asunder sensation came from. She wished she knew how Ari found her. That might be useful information to have.
“Make her let go of me.”
Ronnie summoned every memory from earlier and reached for the ethereal swords. Static and white noise flowed through her arms, nothing like the power she felt the last two times. Nothing happened.
Another burst of flame, this one only golf ball-sized, struck Ronnie’s shoulder and knocked her back.
Ari stalked forward. “Last cherub I kept was brand new. No memories, just enthusiasm and power. This one is different.” A roar filled her words.
She already had another one? Why would anyone do that willingly? Especially twice. “So you can stay now, right? That’s what you wanted.”
Ari cackled—an honest-to-God-evil cackle. Ronnie might have been amused except the sensation of having her flesh torn from her still consumed most of her focus. Why couldn’t she fight back? Did Metatron want to go with Ari?
“Make her stop, please.”
The terrified whimper echoed in Ronnie’s skull. Was she kidding? Weeks of torment, and she chose now to break? The remainder of Ronnie’s bravado vanished when she stepped backward and tripped on a rock. She fell, and a stabbing pain rolled through her spine and legs.
Ari paused a few feet back. “I have all his memories now. Everything from your priest buddy. Angel of music? Really? How lame. I know how much he adored Lucifer and Metatron, why he had Michael help him keep this little ball of light. That he hopes you won’t be you when this is over.” She smirked. “I don’t want to just stay on Earth. I want what you have and won’t use.”
Oh, shit, she was talking about Izzy. The realization added a heavy layer of dread to Ronnie’s growing panic. What did Ari do to him? Ronnie had to get back to him. But she needed to stop Ari from tearing her apart first.
“If this is what his past is like, yours will be a decadence wrapped in glory.” Ari kneeled in front of her and cupped Ronnie’s cheek. “Just a couple more tugs, and I’ll know what Michael kisses like. What Gabriel can actually do with that spear. And I bet
was immensely powerful. She was an original. I can’t believe I didn’t see that before. You have a fucking original living in your skull, and you not only won’t use her power, you don’t even want it.”
Agony tore through Ronnie. If every bone in her body shattered at once, she didn’t think it would hurt so much. She couldn’t hold back a scream and couldn’t find the strength to make Ari stop. Metatron’s energy slipped from her veins and the mental voice faded.
Without warning, an icy wave rushed in to take her place. Similar to what Ronnie found moments earlier. It wasn’t like Metatron. It was Ronnie. She let it flow through her, and though it didn’t stop the pain, it gave her the strength to fight back. She kicked with all the force she could muster, landing a foot in Ari’s gut. Ari stumbled back, and Ronnie was on her feet in an instant.
Ari caught her balance, but it gave Ronnie enough time to summon her swords. Something she could throw would have been nice, given her reach, but she’d settle for what her muscle memory knew.
Ari held her arms out to the sides, and the buildings around them erupted in flame. “He was intensely powerful and never used it. He only wanted immortality. What a waste.” She looked at Ronnie again, eyes hard and jaw set. “What’s your excuse?”
He’d better be alive.
Please don’t let him be gone.
Screwing with Ronnie was one thing. Fucking with Izzy? He didn’t deserve that. With the ice flowing through her, and Metatron cowering in the back of her skull, she could mute the pain. If Ari hurt Izzy, Ronnie was going to make her suffer. She needed to go on the offensive, and that meant getting closer.
Ari’s attention shifted to something behind Ronnie, and instinct reacted before Ronnie’s thoughts caught up. She lunged, longer sword already aimed for Ari’s neck. This wasn’t the fury that consumed her earlier. It was self-preservation, vengeance, and one hundred percent Ronnie’s. Ari ducked under the first blade, twisted around the second, and then planted a foot in the back of Ronnie’s knee. Ronnie was already turning. She recovered and sliced the edge of blade through Ari’s shirt, leaving a red slash across her back.
Ari snarled and whirled.
A new voice roared through the flames. “This ends now.”
Ari smirked and slid into a defensive posture. “Oh, goodie. Your boyfriend’s here.” The snarl rolled under the growl of flames. “This ends when I have what I came for. Walk away, has-been.” Her gaze never left Ronnie, even as she taunted Michael.
Even if Ronnie didn’t hear his voice, she’d know it was him. His aura filled the air. She tasted him in the single threat—every one of her senses alive and aware. Clouds rolled in, and thunder rattled the sky. Wet smoke surged as black raindrops fell. Seconds later he stood by Ronnie’s side, mouth near her ear. “Walk away.”
He must be joking. “Fuck that.” Her blades flickered, the left one growing and then shrinking again every few seconds.
“I used to look up to you.” Ari’s raw voice danced with the dying flame. “But you’re nothing. None of you. The greats are just names. And
.” She narrowed her eyes at Ronnie. “You have this incredible gift, and all you do is whine about it. So I’m going to relieve you of it.”
She reached out, and Ronnie stepped back, raising her swords. Rain sliced through the semi-transparent blades. What was happening? “Don’t touch me.”