Animal Instincts Blood Trail (Vicki Nelson #2)

I’m not going to go, Nico said, firmly, and clicked on the first of the file folders. It was only when the bigger folder opened that I saw the label: THURMOND.

So we don’t know if Scarlett can stop it, Will concluded. But what do we know? What actually happens?According to Rhys, a group of witches, their horses, and their hounds—or bargests—turn into spectral warriors, I informed him. Who can kill supernaturals. But he says the spell doesn’t affect humans. They can’t even see what’s going on without a special ointment on their eyes. Which we don’t have.

No Quest For The Wicked (Enchanted, Inc. #6)

How do the riders make the distinction? Will said doubtfully. When I run as a wolf, I can only tell people apart by smell.The riders only see witches, vampires, and werewolves, like they’re wearing special heat-imaging goggles, Kirsten explained. I pictured a cat in a whole roomful of mice. And they kill everything they see. When the Luparii first used the spell, I’m guessing they called and warned the vampires and friendly witches about their route beforehand.Kirsten shook her head. According to all of this—she gestured at the table—you can’t. You can only run, or hide, and hope they pick someone else instead. If you hear the oliphant blow, you’re already too close.


Oliphant? I said, confused. I swear that’s the name of an unreasonably attractive actor.It means a horn, Owen said, miming blowing on his closed fist. It was a medieval instrument made from elephant tusks. The Wild Hunt uses at least one. When you hear it, it’s a harbinger.

What kind of damage are we talking about here? I asked. How many people can they kill?

Theoretically? Kirsten said. Hundreds each night.I turn back toward him. ‘I’m not stupid enough to give you my sword.’ ‘You don’t need to give it to me. You can hold it while I just touch it.’ I look at him to see if there are any tricks. ‘Why should I risk losing my sword just to see if you’re telling the truth?’ ‘There is no risk. The sword will not allow me to lift it or to take it from you.’ He’s talking to me like I’m an idiot. ‘It’ll be perfectly safe for you.’ I envision myself being in a memory trance within easy reach of Beliel. ‘Thanks, but no.’ ‘Afraid?’ ‘Not stupid.’ ‘You can tie my hands, chain me, bag me, put me in a cage. Do whatever you like to ensure your safety from an old demon who can’t even get up on his own anymore. Once you do that, you know the sword won’t allow me to take it, so you’ll be perfectly safe.’ I stare at him, trying to see through his game. ‘Are you really afraid of me harming you?’ he asks. ‘Or maybe you just don’t want to know the truth about your precious archangel? He’s not what he seems. He’s a liar and a betrayer, and I can prove it. The sword won’t let me lie – it doesn’t pass on pretty words. Just memories.’ I hesitate. I should be turning around to leave, and he knows it. I should be ignoring everything he says. But instead, I stand rooted to the porch. ‘You have your own agenda that has nothing to do with showing me the truth.’ ‘Of course I do. Maybe you’ll let me go after you realize that he’s really the bad guy, not me.’ ‘You’re the good guy now?’ Beliel’s voice turns cold. ‘Do you want to see it or not?’ I stand in the sunshine, looking at the beautiful view of the bay and the green hills beyond it. The sky is blue with only a few puffy clouds. I should explore more of the island to see if there’s something here we could use. I should be coming up with a plan to get my sister better. I should be making myself useful instead of flirting with disaster. But my dream keeps coming back to me. Could Beliel have been one of Raffe’s Watchers? ‘Were you . . . did you used to work with Raffe?’ ‘You could say that. He used to be my commanding officer. There was a time when I would have done anything for him. Anything. That was before he betrayed me. Just like he’s going to do to you. It’s in his nature.’ ‘I know you lied to my sister just for sport. I’m not a lonely, scared seven-year-old, so drop the evil manipulation act.’ ‘Suit yourself, little Daughter of Man. You wouldn’t have believed what you saw anyway. You’re too loyal to the archangel to believe that he was the source of so much misery.’ I turn around and walk into the house. I check to see that Paige is sleeping in her room. I check the cupboards in the kitchen to take stock of the few cans of soup left by the men who were camped here before us. While wandering around, the desire to see what Beliel is offering nags at me. Maybe he’ll show me something that brings me to my senses about Raffe. Maybe I’ll snap out of it and move on with my life – my life with other human beings, where I belong. I can’t even think about what happened earlier with Raffe without my face flaming in embarrassment. How am I supposed to look at him when he comes back? If he comes back. The thought twists my gut into a knot. I kick a decorative pillow on the floor, getting no satisfaction out of seeing it bounce off the wall. Okay. Enough. It’s just peeking into Beliel’s memory. Obi’s men are risking their lives every day, trying to spy on the angels for tiny scraps of intel. And here I am with the best spying device in the world, plus an offer to go into an enemy’s memories. I’ll have my sword with me the whole time, and it’s true that he won’t be able to use it against me. I’ll just get it out of my system and move on. I’ll be extra careful. Regardless of what Beliel has to show me, Paige and I will leave the island afterward, and we’ll go back to the Resistance. We’ll find Mom and see if we can find Doc. Maybe he can help Paige eat normal food again. And then, after that, we’ll . . . survive. Alone. I go upstairs to grab Pooky Bear, then walk outside to Beliel. He’s lying near the fence post, curled in the exact same position he was in when I left. I can see in his eyes that he was expecting me to come back. ‘So what do I do?’ ‘I need to be touching your sword.’ I lift my sword, pointing it at him. It shines in the sunlight. I have the urge to ask it if it wants to do this. But I don’t want to sound stupid in front of Beliel. ‘Come closer.’ He holds out his hand to grab it. I hesitate. ‘Do you need to hold it, or can you just touch it?’ ‘Touch it.’ ‘Okay. Turn around.’ He turns on the dirt without protest. His back is roped with strings of dried muscle. I don’t want to touch him with a ten-foot sword. But I press the tip of my blade into his back anyway. ‘One wrong move and I’ll stick you right through.’ I’m not sure if the connection is enough with only the tip touching his back, but he doesn’t seem concerned about it. He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. I feel something opening in my head. It’s not like the other times when I suddenly found myself somewhere else. This one is weaker, lighter, as if I could choose not to go there if I wanted, as if the sword isn’t so sure about this particular voyage. I take a deep breath too. I make sure my feet are in proper fighting position and brace myself for an attack. And then I close my eyes. 7 I feel a moment of dizziness, then I land on firm ground. The first thing that hits me is the overwhelming heat. Then the stench of rotten eggs. Under a black-purple sky, a chariot is drawn by six angels harnessed like horses. Blood and sweat stream down their shoulders and chests where the harness cuts into them. They strain to drag the chariot and the giant demon who drives it. The demon has wings of course. He could just fly to his destination if he wanted. Instead, he rolls slowly through his domain. The demon is so big he makes Beliel look like a child. His wings flame with what looks like real fire reflecting off his sweaty skin. He carries a stick with a circle of shriveled heads at the top. On the heads, the eyes blink and the mouths try to scream. Or maybe they’re drowning and gasping for air. I’m not sure, because no sound comes out. Each has long blond hair that flows up and around the heads like seaweed waving in a current.

Once I get past the horror of the heads, I realize that the eyes are all the same shade of green. How many heads would you have to choose from to be able to collect a group with the exact same shade of eyes and hair? The ground is covered in broken glass and shards of bone. Each wheel is draped with two angels as if the monster demon didn’t want his shiny wheels marred by the rough ground. The Fallen angels are chained to the wheels and are stuck through with all kinds of shards sticking out of their skin. Beliel is one of these Fallen chained to a wheel. His wings are the color of a dying sunset. They must be his original angel wings. They’re half stretched out like he hopes to be able to keep them from being crushed. But many of the feathers are already scorched and broken. I hadn’t thought about how demons become the way they are. Maybe there’s a transition time between being an angel and becoming a demon. Since Beliel still has feathers, I’m guessing this probably means that it hasn’t been long since his fall. His face is recognizable, although somehow smoother, more innocent. His eyes lack that stinging, harsh quality that I’ve come to know. He looks almost handsome without his usual smirk and bitterness, though there’s pain. A lot of pain. But he bears it without a whimper. The wheel rolls, crushing his body against the bone shards covering the ground, making him endure the weight of both the vehicle and the monster riding on it. His face is focused and determined, looking like he’s clenching his jaw to keep from screaming. His wings tremble with the effort to hover above the ground. That protects them from the worst of the damage, but they still drag along the field of sharp bone and glass. As the wheels roll, the angels who are chained to them are getting their wings slowly crushed and splintered. They still carry their empty scabbards, which clank and drag against the rough ground, reminders of what they’ve lost. The giant demon cracks his stick above his head, and it unspools, whipping through the air. The shrunken heads begin shrieking as soon as they’re let loose. They shoot toward the harnessed angels with hair streaking through the air in front of them like snaky spears. When they hit the angels pulling the chariot, the sharp hair begins to shred their skin. The heads open their mouths wide and frantically gnaw on the Fallen. One of them manages to burrow halfway into the back of an angel before the whip gets pulled back. These Fallen angels look starved and are covered in festering wounds. I suspect even angels need their nourishment to fuel their speed healing. Then, in the middle of all this, a pack of hellions with their bat faces and shadowy wings slink toward them. They’re bigger than the ones I saw in my sword’s memories. Beefier and with spotted wings, as if they had disease blooming on them. These hellions have a crafty gleam in their eyes that make them look more dangerous than the ones I’ve seen before. They look around, aware, moving with purpose. The modern hellions seem to have devolved into smaller, weaker, dimmer versions of these. Still, these hellions are nothing compared with the demon lord. They’re shadow creatures against the towering thing riding the chariot, and they’re clearly afraid of him. Maybe they’re not the same species. They don’t look anything like him. The hellions look like toothy bat-winged animals with squashed faces while the giant looks like an angel gone ugly. The hellions are dragging someone behind them. She was probably once pretty, with mahogany hair and gray eyes, but now she looks like a used-up doll. Her eyes are empty, her face blank, like she’s sent her inner self away somewhere. They pull her along the rough ground by her ankles. Her arms drag behind her head, and her tangled hair gets snagged on the spiky bones that tug at her. Her dress is torn into rags, and every bit of her is filthy and bloody. I want to help her up, to kick the hellions off her, but I am just a shadow here in Beliel’s memory. I see faint smudges of the Halloween paint that the Watchers’ wives had on that night when I saw Raffe fighting for them. I don’t recognize this girl, but she must be one of the wives that the hellions were given. Raffe managed to save some but not all. I was there to see how much he tried. Maybe she was one of the ones who ran in panic. The hellions drag the poor girl around all of the chariot wheels, staying far away from the demon while still being close enough to see the angels. They tremble when they have to come near the demon and keep looking up at him, as though afraid that he’ll strike out. The demon hisses at them, and the air suddenly becomes more foul. Did he just breathe a whole lot of stinky sulfur toward the hellions the way a skunk might aim its scent? No wonder the air smells like rotten eggs here. Half of the hellions run off in terror. But the other half stays, curling up and trembling until the demon loses interest. They carefully resume their walk around the chariot. They’re looking at the expressions of each angel as they pass. The Fallen tense up when they see the girl, staring with fascinated horror. They all look carefully at the girl as if they’re trying to see if they recognize her. Many shut their eyes when they see her, like their thoughts torture them even more than what’s actually happening to them. When the hellions finally catch Beliel’s attention, his eyes grow wide in horror. ‘Mira,’ he rasps. The woman blinks when she hears her name. Her eyes seem to focus. She turns her head. ‘Beliel?’ Her voice is vague, sounding like her inner self is still far away. But when she sees him, her face morphs from a blank mask to recognition. Then it turns to pure anguish. She reaches out for him. ‘Beliel!’ ‘Mira!’ he screams, terror in his voice. The hellions sense it, and they hop with excitement. They chatter, nearly clapping their hands together in delight like little children. Then they bare their sharp teeth threateningly, showing Beliel that they’re about to harm Mira in ways he can’t imagine. ‘No!’ Beliel thrashes against his chains, screaming threats against the hellions. ‘Mira!’ Then the hellions dive on the girl. Beliel’s scream is horrifying. Mira finally breaks and screams too, her cries becoming wet and gurgling. Beliel begins calling out in a broken, defeated voice, ‘Raphael! Where are you? You were supposed to protect her, you worthless traitor!’ I finally peek to see if I can get out of here. I can’t take this anymore. The hellions have dragged the girl farther up to keep pace with the chariot to make sure that Beliel continues to see what they’re doing to his woman.Beliel thrashes against his chains. He’s so frantic I think he might actually have a shot at breaking free. These are not the screams of an angry man. These are the nightmare screams of someone having his soul torn to pieces right in front of him. Beliel breaks down and sobs. He sobs for his Daughter of Man. For the girl who even now looks to him to rescue and protect her. Maybe even for their children, who are likely being hunted and killed by someone he thought was his friend. A friend like Raffe. 8 I’m so preoccupied with watching the plight of the two lovers that I haven’t been paying attention to anything else. But now, the back of my neck prickles. My sixth sense is urgently whispering to me, trying to get through all the noise of what’s happening in front of me. I look around. And that’s when I see that the demon lord riding the chariot is staring right at me. How can he see me? I’m just a ghost in Beliel’s memory. But he stares right at me. His eyes are bloodshot, looking like he lives in a world of perpetual smoke. His face is curious and angry at the same time, as if he’s offended by an intruder watching him. ‘Spy,’ he hisses. ‘You don’t belong here.’ His words sound like a hundred slithering snakes, but I can still understand him. As soon as the demon says the word spy, the hellions all look at me. Their eyes widen as though they can’t believe their luck. It doesn’t take me long to figure out that I’m not invisible anymore. The demon takes a good look at me with his bloodshot eyes. Then he whips his stick in my direction. The heads – the screaming, drowning, bloody heads – shoot out toward me at the end of his unspooling whip. Their expressions are a mix of despair and hope. They’re desperately delighted to be heading my way, with their fractured teeth showing in their gaping mouths. Their hair, which should be flying back, reaches toward me. At the same time, the hellions leap at me, all claws and fangs. I stumble backward. I try to turn and run, but the uneven ground trips me, and I’m falling onto the sharp glass and shards of bone. The heads scream as they race toward my face. I’m falling. Falling. I stumble backward and fall onto my butt. I’m back on the island. Beliel, wingless and shriveled again, lies on the ground in front of me. Then a hellion jumps out of Beliel’s back. It leaps at me with extended claws. I scream, crab-crawling backward. It swipes my shoulder as it flies past me. Blood flows down my arm. The tip of my sword is still buried in Beliel’s back. I try to pull it out. There’s resistance, like someone is pulling on the other side. Revulsion reverberates through my arm as though the blade is an extension of me. Two more hellions shove through along my sword like conjoined twins. They pop out of Beliel’s back, which is bleeding from the slit where the hellions came out. They’re leaping out of his memories. I finally yank out my sword and scooch back as fast as I can away from Beliel. The hellions land in the garden with a thump. They roll and land on their feet, shaking their heads and moving drunkenly as they look around the small yard. They squint against the sunlight and lift their hands to shield their eyes. That gives me a second to get on my feet and catch my breath. But then they jump. It’s all I can do to lift my sword and swipe blindly in front of me. I’m in luck because they seem disoriented, and one even trips over its own feet. They change course and stay out of range of my blade. But their disorientation doesn’t last long. They circle me until they get their bearings, gauging my moves with crafty eyes. These hellions are smarter than others I’ve fought in my sword dreams. One feints while the other tries to get behind me. Where’s the third? The missing hellion leaps out of a bush and comes at me from the side. I spin, bringing my sword up to slice the beast. My arms adjust as I move – my angel sword wielding me instead of the other way around. The blade adjusts into a perfect position to cut through the hellion’s torso. It lands on the grass, shuddering and bleeding out. I finish my spin and kick the one trying to get behind me. It lands on the far side of the fence. It pushes itself up and hisses at me. The two surviving hellions back off, keeping their eyes on me. Then they run off and take flight, disappearing into the trees. Beliel chuckles. ‘Welcome to my world, Daughter of Man.’ ‘I should have known you were going to trick me,’ I pant as I put pressure on my shoulder to stop the bleeding. The blood feels slick on my fingers as it soaks through my shirt. Beliel sits up, chains clinking. He’s a lot more mobile than I thought. ‘Just because hellions came after you doesn’t mean what you saw wasn’t the truth. How was I supposed to know they could get through?’ He doesn’t sound at all surprised. ‘What happened to Mira,’ he says, ‘that’ll be you someday soon. And your precious Raphael will be responsible for it. I once thought of him as my friend too. He promised he’d protect Mira. Now you know what becomes of people who trust him.’ I get up shakily and head for the house. I don’t think I can trust myself to be in the same space with that horrible creature for much longer. I could kick myself for listening to him in the first place, but I guess I don’t have to. He already did it for me. 9 I’m washing the blood off my shoulder in the kitchen when Raffe comes back. ‘What happened?’ he asks, dropping a plastic garbage bag on the floor and rushing to me. ‘Nothing. I’m fine.’ My voice is stiff and standoffish. I think about covering up the wound, but my shirt is torn, so I can’t. The old cropped T-shirt is hanging off my wounded shoulder by a thread. No doubt it would be sexy if it weren’t for all that blood. He brushes my hand aside and leans into me to look at the gashes on my shoulder. ‘Are these from the dead hellion in the yard?’ He’s close enough that his breath caresses my neck. I step away, feeling awkward. ‘Yeah. And his two friends.’ He clenches his jaw so hard I can see his cheek muscles twitching. ‘Don’t worry,’ I say. ‘Being around you had nothing to do with it.’ He cocks his head at me. ‘What makes you think I was worried it had to do with me?’ Oops. Did he ever mention hellions to me? Or do I know he worries about them coming after me because I peeked into his memories through Pooky Bear?

Bitter Sweet Love (The Dark Elements #0.5)

I could lie, but . . . I sigh. We all have to accept our faults eventually. And mine is that I’m a terrible liar. ‘I – um . . . saw things through your sword. Not intentionally. Not at first.’ ‘Things?’ He crosses his arms and glares at me. ‘What kind of things?’ I chew my lip as I think about what to say. He then looks at his old sword lying on the counter. The shine on Pooky’s blade seems to dim a bit under his glare. ‘My sword showed you her memories of me?’ My shoulders relax a little. ‘So you know that she can do that?’ ‘I know that she used to be loyal to me and that I trusted her.’ He’s talking to Pooky Bear, not me. ‘I think it was an accident. She was just trying to teach me how to use a sword. I mean, I had never held one before.’ Raffe continues to talk to his sword. ‘It’s one thing to be forced to give up on a bearer because you think he may have fallen. It’s another to expose his private moments.’ ‘Look,’ I say. ‘It’s weird enough having a semisentient sword without being in the middle of an argument between you two. Can you please just let it go?’ ‘What did she show you?’ He holds up his hand. ‘Wait. Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know that you’ve seen me dancing in my underwear to my favorite music.’ ‘Angels wear underwear?’ Oh, man, I wish I hadn’t said that. I’m just digging myself in deeper and deeper today. ‘No.’ He shakes his head. ‘Figure of speech.’ ‘Oh.’ I nod, trying to get the image out of my head of Raffe dancing to some rock song, possibly buck naked. ‘Well, speaking of weird things, the hellions came through the sword.’ ‘What?’ I clear my throat. ‘That hellion you saw on the lawn and two others crawled out of Beliel through the sword.’ I still have hope that I won’t have to confess it all, but he must have gone through angel interrogation school because he gets it all out of me. He frowns and paces around the kitchen as I tell him what happened. When I finish, he says, ‘You can never trust Beliel.’ ‘That’s what he says about you.’ He rummages through the trash bag he dropped earlier. ‘Maybe he’s right. You shouldn’t trust anyone.’ He shoves a mix of canned food and first aid supplies out of the bag. He plucks bandages, ointments, and tape and walks over to me. ‘Where did you get those?’ ‘Alcatraz. Thought they might be useful.’ ‘What else did you find there?’ ‘An abandoned mess.’ He probes his finger gently along my wound. I flinch. ‘I just want to make sure there’s nothing broken,’ he says. ‘Did you know that could happen? That hellions could come out through an angel sword?’ ‘I’ve heard stories but always thought they were myths. I suppose a demon might have some insight into such things. Beliel must have figured he could try to lure some hellions out to help him.’ His hand is gentle as he wipes antibacterial lotion on the cuts. ‘You need to be careful. The hellions are going to be everywhere you are from now on.’ ‘What do you care? You’ll be out of my life the second you get your wings back. You’ve made that pretty clear.’ He takes a deep breath. He presses a gauze pad on my shoulder. I wince. He gently strokes my arm. ‘I wish it could be different,’ he says, taping up the gauze. ‘But it’s not. I have my own people. I have responsibilities. I can’t just—’ ‘Stop.’ I shake my head. ‘I get it. You’re right. You have your life. I have mine. I don’t need to be with someone who doesn’t . . .’ Want me. Love me. I have enough of those people in my life. I’m a girl whose dad left, leaving us with an out-of-service phone number and no forwarding address, and whose mom . . . ‘You’re a very special girl, Penryn. An amazing girl. An I-didn’t-even-know-someone-like-you-existed kind of girl. And you deserve someone who treats you like you’re the only important thing in his life because you are. Someone who plows his fields and raises pigs just for you.’ ‘You’re matching me up with a pig farmer?’ He shrugs. ‘Or whatever it is that decent men do when they’re not at war. Although he should be able to protect you. Don’t settle for a man who can’t protect you.’ He rips a piece of tape from the dispenser with a surprising amount of force. ‘You’re serious? You want me to marry a pig farmer who knows how to use his pig poke to protect me? Really?’ ‘I’m just saying you should pick a man who knows that he’s not worthy of you and who will dedicate his life to provide for you and protect you.’ He presses another piece of gauze next to the first one. I wince again. ‘And make sure he’s kind to you and treats you with respect in every way. Otherwise, he can expect a visit from me.’ His voice is hard and unmerciful. I shake my head as he rips off another piece of tape. I don’t know whether to be mad at him or to joke with him. I move away from his touch, hoping that might take the edge off my confused emotions. Raffe sighs. He reaches out and runs his fingers gently along the last piece of tape that he put on my bandage. I wait for him to continue. When he doesn’t, I wonder if talking about what’s happening between us makes any difference at all. Maybe what I really need is a little space to figure things out. I grab the sword and a can of tuna and head out the back door. 10 Outside, I stand in the sun and let the warmth soak into my bones. I take a deep breath full of the scent of rosemary and slowly let it out. My dad used to say there’s magic in the warmth of sunlight. He used to tell us that if we close our eyes, take a big breath, and let the sun soak in, we’ll see that everything is going to be okay. He usually said that right after Mom had a day-long freak-out session of yelling and throwing things around the condo. Hell, if Dad’s technique can work for one of Mom’s marathon fury sessions, then it should work for the apocalypse. Guys, though, that’s another matter. I’m pretty sure that Dad wouldn’t have a technique that could handle what’s going on with Raffe. There are tiny yellow flowers dotting the hillside of the island, reminding me of the park that we used to go to with my dad before he left us. The only thing out of place is the small group of monstrous scorpion-tailed beasts and the little stitched-up girl with bruises all over her body.Among the tall grasses, my sister puts a bandage on a monster’s finger as if it were her pet instead of a biblical locust designed to torture people in true apocalyptic style. Beneath her oversized T-shirt, I know that Paige’s ribs stick out in clear lines. It hurt to see them this morning when I put her to bed. She has circles around her eyes, and her hands are nothing but bones as she plays nurse to the monster. She sits in the grass beside her pets. I’ve noticed she sits every chance she gets. I think she’s conserving energy. I think she’s starving to death. I have to force myself to walk toward them. No matter how much time I spend with the locusts, I can’t get comfortable around them. As I near, the locusts fly away, much to my relief. I sit beside her on the grass and show her the can of tuna. ‘Remember the tuna sandwiches Dad used to make for us? They were your favorite before you became a vegetarian.’ I pull open the pop-top can and show her the pink fish inside. Paige leans away from the can. ‘Remember how Dad used to plop the tuna onto the bread and make a smiley face with it? That used to make your day.’ ‘Daddy come home?’ She’s asking when he’ll be coming back. The answer is never. ‘We don’t need him.’ Wouldn’t it be great if that were true? I’m not sure I’d come back if I were him. I wonder if he thinks of us. She looks at me with doe eyes. ‘Miss him.’ I try to think of something soothing to say, but I just don’t have it in me. ‘Me too.’ I pick out a piece of tuna with my fingers and put it up to her mouth. ‘Here. Try a piece.’ She shakes her head sadly back and forth. ‘Come on, Paige.’ She looks down at the ground like she’s ashamed. The hollows in her cheeks and between her collarbones scare me. I put the tuna in my mouth and slowly chew. ‘It’s good.’ She peeks at me from beneath her hair. ‘Are you hungry?’ I ask. She nods. For a second, her eyes dip down to the bandage on my shoulder. It’s spotting with blood. She looks away as if ashamed and gazes up at the locusts circling above us. But her eyes keep drifting back to my bandage, and her nostrils flare like she smells something good. Maybe it’s time for me to go. I’m putting the can down when I hear an animal calling. It sounds like a hyena. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a hyena, but my bones recognize the sound of a predator in the wild. My hackles rise on the back of my neck. A shadow jumps between the trees to my left. Another shadow leaps between branches, then several more. And as the next one jumps closer to the nearest tree, I see the shape of teeth and wings. Hellions. A lot of them. The trees around us begin to boil with shadows leaping from tree to tree, getting closer. The mad hyena laugh keeps up its steady call as the mob of shadows leaps toward us. Paige’s locusts fly toward the hellions. But there are too many of them. I grab Paige’s hand, and we run toward the main house. The skin along my spine prickles, trying to sense how close unseen claws are to sinking into me. I yell toward the house. ‘Hellions!’ Raffe looks out the dining room window. ‘How many?’ he calls out as we run to the house. I point to the shadows hopping closer to us from the woods. Raffe disappears from the window. A second later, he bursts out the front door and thumps down the porch, carrying a backpack with a blanket bundle strapped to it. As he runs by the picket fence, we both look at Beliel’s broken chain hanging off the post. Beliel is nowhere in sight. I assume the hellions freed him. They may not like each other, but they’re still on the same team. Isn’t that why Beliel invited me to look into his past, so he could lure the hellions to help him? Raffe tosses the backpack to me. I assume the bundle attached to it is his wings. I slip on the backpack while a couple of Paige’s locusts land beside her. They hiss at the shadows gathering around them. I take a step back. I still can’t bring myself to get too close to those scorpion stingers. ‘We gotta go, Paige. Can you get them to fly us?’ My heart races at the thought of being held by one of these monsters, but I’m more comfortable with that idea right now than being in Raffe’s arms. He’s made it pretty clear how he feels about me – about us – and the fact that there is no us. Raffe throws me a dirty look. He bends over and swipes his arm behind my knees, lifting me up in his embrace. ‘I can go with one of the locusts.’ I stiffen in his arms and try to lean as far away from him as I can. ‘The hell you will.’ He runs a couple of steps before spreading his wings. With two sweeps of his wide wings, we’re up in the air. My arms wrap around his neck. I have no choice but to lean close and hold tight. This isn’t the time to argue. The locusts are just behind us with my sister. Shadows leap toward us through the trees. Angel Island must be some kind of hellion convention center. Either that or these new hellions are far too good at organizing. Raffe leads the way toward San Francisco. Behind us, a cloud of hellions bursts out of the trees after us. 11 As usual, there’s a swarm of locusts funneling over Alcatraz. My hair whips my face from the wind generated by their wings. As we near, a stream of locusts heads our way. They join our little group until we swell into a swarm of our own. The creatures aren’t nuzzling us, but they’re not attacking either. They seem to be joining us on our flight by sheer instinct. The hellion cloud behind us pauses. It’s nowhere near the size of the locust swarm. It hovers in place for a few seconds as if assessing the situation, then the cloud turns around and shrinks into the distance. I take a deep breath and let the tension out. We’re safe for the moment. Raffe watches them go with a frown, deep in thought. I look back at the hellions retreating and realize what the problem is. The hellions aren’t behaving as stupidly as they should. I have a nagging worry about what just happened. What did I release into the world? The funnel over Alcatraz becomes thinner as more of the locust swarm peels off and heads toward us. This new group flows in a spike formation led by a locust with an extra large scorpion tail curled over his head. Something about that makes me nervous. They’re just following my sister out of instinct, aren’t they?

I dismiss the uneasiness as a reasonable reaction to the sight of a large locust swarm coming in our direction. But a second later, the leader proves my worries right. He’s close enough now for me to see the white streak in his long hair. I turn cold when I recognize him. He’s the one who toyed with me by shoving me against the rollup gate of the shipping container filled with desperate people who had been starved for sport. This is the one Beliel said they bred and trained to be part of the locust leader group. He’s bigger than the others, and I remember Beliel saying the leader group got better nutrition. Why is he here? Can Paige order the locusts to turn on him? This one is too twisted and dangerous to live. I don’t want him anywhere near us. When he reaches us, he grabs the arm of the locust Paige was tending to earlier, jerking him to a stop in midair. White Streak looks almost twice the size of Paige’s locust. White Streak rips off a wing and tosses the screeching locust toward the water. Paige screams. She stares wide-eyed as her pet helplessly beats the one wing he has left as he falls like a rock toward the water. He makes a tiny splash in the dark bay. The water swallows him up as though he never existed. White Streak roars at Paige’s other locusts, jabbing his oversized stinger menacingly into the air. Paige’s small band of locusts buzzes in circles, looking confused. They look to White Streak and steal glances at Paige, who is crying over her murdered pet. White Streak roars again. All but four of Paige’s locusts flutter reluctantly into the insect swarm behind White Streak. White Streak’s locusts tighten their circle around us. The roar of their wings is deafening, and our hair blows everywhere. White Streak swings back and forth, staring down Paige. She looks like a little stitched-up doll in a monster’s arms with an even bigger monster stalking her. Raffe must feel my tension, because he flies in White Streak’s path toward Paige. Raffe’s demon wings claw the air around us with every stroke. He pauses in front of White Streak, letting his crescent-shaped wing blades flash in the sun. White Streak widens his eyes like a crazed man. I wonder what he was in the World Before? A serial killer? He puffs up at the sight of Raffe, assessing him. He glances at me, probably wondering whether Raffe will drop me to fight him. He roars at Paige’s locusts, not daring to take on Raffe directly, at least not right now. He may be a killer when it comes to starved prisoners and little girls, but he’s not willing to fight an angel demon. He turns and swipes his tail at one of Paige’s remaining locusts. He doesn’t sting, just uses his stinger to slice Paige’s locust across the face, drawing a line of blood across his cheek. The smaller locust cringes, looking like he thought that the bigger one meant to slit his throat. White Streak turns his back on us as if to show that he’s not afraid. He grabs Paige’s pet by the hair and flies away, with the smaller locust awkwardly fluttering his wings to stay up. The unsure beast turns and gives Paige a distressed look. He doesn’t want to go. But all Paige can do is reach out her hand as he fades farther away from her. This is some kind of leadership challenge, and the swarm seems to be waiting it out to see who they’re supposed to follow. Whatever it is she did last night to rally the locusts against the angels, it’s not working against White Streak. A serial killer versus a seven-year-old girl. No contest. I’m just glad he didn’t make a move to hurt her, thanks to Raffe. Paige is left with the locust who carries her and the two flanking her. Our smaller group probably makes it easier for us to fly without being noticed and shot at, but I don’t like the feeling of being bullied, especially by that marauding insect. We move on. I can see worry in Paige’s eyes. I’m guessing she doesn’t care about having her power taken, but she hates to see her locusts getting punished. 12 ‘We need to go to the Resistance,’ I say as I cling to Raffe’s neck. ‘Maybe Doc is there. He might be able to help both you and Paige.’ My mother should also be there, waiting for us. ‘Human doctor?’ ‘Trained by angels. I think he sewed on Beliel’s wings – I mean, your wings onto him.’ He’s quiet as he sweeps his large demon wings through the air. ‘I don’t like it either,’ I say. ‘But what choice do we have?’ ‘Why not?’ He sounds resigned. ‘Might as well fly into the heart of the enemy where the primitive natives can tear me to pieces, sell my body parts for money, and grind the rest to be consumed in teas for sexual potency.’ I tighten my arms around his neck. ‘We’re not that primitive anymore.’ He arches his perfect eyebrow at me, sending waves of skepticism. ‘We have Viagra now.’ He gives me a sideways glance as if he suspects what that is. We fly over the water and down the East Bay landmass as the sun sets. Steering clear of the aerie, we take the long way around toward Resistance headquarters. There is a surprising number of angels in the air today. They fly in formation from every direction toward Half Moon Bay, where the new aerie is located. When we see a particularly large group in the air, we land in front of a mall and lie low beneath the awning of a Macy’s department store. ‘They must be flying in for the Messenger election,’ says Raffe. There’s worry in his voice as he watches the host of angels flying above us. I unwrap my arms from his neck and step away from his warmth. It feels chilly on my own under the department store awning. ‘You mean there are more angels coming into the area? Like we didn’t have enough on our hands.’ From this distance, the angels look like they’re inching across the sky. Raffe watches them fly overhead. His body twitches just a little, looking like he’s making an effort not to jump into the air and join them. ‘What was it like to be one of them?’ I ask. He gazes at the sky for a long moment before saying anything. ‘My Watchers and I were on a mission once to clear the area of a demon invasion. Except we couldn’t find any demons. But Cyclone, one of my Watchers, was so worked up for a battle that he wouldn’t accept that there was no one to fight.’ He nods toward the angels flying in the distance. ‘We were flying in formation like that when Cyclone suddenly decided that if he could just cause a big enough scene, then the demons would be attracted to the noise and destruction and they’d come to us. So he started flying in circles as fast as he could, sure that he would cause a cyclone.’He smiles at the memory. ‘Half of us joined him as a lark while the rest of us landed to watch and heckle. We started throwing things at him – twigs, leaves, mud, whatever we could find – because everyone knows that a tornado should have debris.’ He has a mischievous look in his eyes as he remembers. ‘The ones in the air, they flew over to a tree that I swear must have been diseased, because it had these rotten oranges still on the branches. They started throwing them at us, and it turned into a giant mud and orange fight.’ He chuckles as he gazes up at the sky. His face is relaxed and happy in a way I’ve never seen. ‘We had orange pulp caked in our ears and hair for days after.’ He watches the angels flying away from us. I can almost see the lonely years creeping back to him like shadows at the end of the day. The happiness seeps out of his face, and he’s back to being a hardened outsider traveling in an apocalypse. ‘You’re sure this human doctor can transplant wings?’ he asks. ‘That’s what Beliel said.’ Of course, Beliel said a lot of things. ‘And you’re sure he’s at the Resistance camp?’ ‘No, but I’m pretty sure he was rescued off Alcatraz by the Resistance. If he’s not there, maybe someone will know where he is.’ I have all kinds of worries about going to the camp and trusting the doctor who messed up Paige in the first place. I sigh. ‘I can’t think of a better plan. Can you?’ He looks at the angels for a little longer before turning and heading into Macy’s. It’s not a bad idea. Paige and I both need to change into some real clothes, so we might as well go shopping while we wait for the sky to clear. We leave the locusts outside and follow Raffe into the store. Inside, the electricity is out, but there’s enough sun coming through the huge windows to light up the front part of the store. Many of the racks are drunkenly leaning or scattered on the floor. Clothes of all colors and fabrics spill into the aisles. In the windows, naked mannequins lie on top of each other in sexual poses. Someone has sprayed graffiti on the ceiling. A crude knight stands alone with his sword drawn against a fire-breathing dragon that is ten times his size. The dragon’s tail disappears into darkness where the window light fades deep into the store. Beside the knight are the words ‘Where Have All the Heroes Gone?’ It looks to me like the artist thought the knight didn’t stand a chance against the dragon. I know just how he feels. I look around and try to remember what it was like to go shopping. We walk through the special-event dresses. The racks and floor are covered in silky sparkle and shine. This would have been my year for the prom. I doubt anyone would have asked me, and even if someone had, we couldn’t have afforded one of these dresses anyway. I run my hand through the shimmery fabric on a rack of full-length gowns, wondering what it would have been like to go to the prom instead of a masquerade ball full of killers. I catch Raffe watching me. The light behind him halos his dark hair and broad shoulders. If he were human, the girls at my school would have died just to be in the same room with him. But of course, he’s not human. ‘That would look good on you,’ he says and nods to the movie-star dress in my hand. ‘Thanks. Do you think it’ll go well with combat boots?’ ‘You won’t always be fighting, Penryn. There will come a time when you’ll be so bored that you’ll wish you were fighting.’ ‘I can only dream.’ I pull out the dress and lay it against me, feeling the soft, sparkly fabric. He steps over and scrutinizes me in my pretend dress. Then he nods his approval. ‘How do you think things might have been . . .’ My voice dries up. I swallow and keep going. ‘If you were human, or I was an angel?’ He reaches out as if he can’t help himself and runs his forefinger along the shoulder of the dress. ‘If I were human, I’d plow the nicest farm for you.’ He sounds completely sincere. ‘Better than anyone else’s. It would have golden pineapples, the juiciest grapes, and the most flavorful radishes in the entire world.’ I just stare at him, trying to figure out if he’s joking. I think he’s serious. ‘You haven’t been to a lot of farms, have you, Raffe? Most of us aren’t farmers anymore anyway.’ ‘That wouldn’t diminish my little human commitment to you.’ I smile a little. ‘If I was an angel, I’d tickle your feet with my feathers and sing angelic songs for you every morning.’ He scrunches his brow, looking like it pains him to try to envision this. ‘Right.’ I nod. ‘Neither of us have any idea what it would be like to be in each other’s world. Got it.’ He looks down at me with sincere eyes. ‘If I were human, I would have been the first in line for you . . .’ He looks away. ‘But I’m not. I’m an archangel, and my people are in trouble. I have no choice but to try to set things straight. I can’t get distracted by a Daughter of Man.’ He nods a little to himself. ‘I can’t.’ I hook the dress carefully back on the rack and make myself listen to what he’s telling me. I just need to accept the situation. I take a good look at him, steeling myself to see determination and maybe even pity. But instead, I see turmoil. There’s a battle raging behind his eyes. A tiny light of hope flares in my chest. I don’t even know what I’m hoping for anymore. My brain can’t seem to keep up with my heart. ‘Just this once,’ he says almost more to himself than to me. ‘Just one moment.’ Then he leans down and kisses me. It’s the kind of kiss that I’ve been dying for since I was born. His lips are supple, his touch tender. He strokes my hair gently. He licks my lips – a probing, wet glide – then touches my tongue with his. Electric sensations zip from the tip of my tongue down to my toes and back again. I feel like I’m drowning in him. Who knew such a thing existed? I open my mouth and grab him tighter, almost climbing into his arms. We kiss wildly for what seems like a year, for what is only a millisecond. My breath is ragged, and it feels like I can’t get enough air. My insides are melting, flowing like lava through my body. Then he stops. He takes a deep breath and steps back, holding me at arm’s length. I groggily take a step toward him on pure instinct. My eyelids feel heavy, and I just want to get lost in the sensation that is Raffe.

There’s a mix of longing and sadness in his eyes, but he’s not letting me get any closer. Seeing that brings me back to myself. Back to the here and now. The invasion. My mom. My sister. The massacres. They all come rushing back. He’s right. We’re at war. On the verge of an apocalypse filled with monsters and torture in a nightmare world. And I’m standing here, a moonstruck teenager pining for an enemy soldier. What am I, crazy? This time, I’m the first to turn away. 13 The vault in my head feels full, and my churning emotions need a break. I wander deeper into the store, away from Raffe. In the dim area before the store gets really dark, I find a display platform to sit on. It’s bright enough for me to see but dark enough to be just one of the shadows if anyone else is watching. Sometimes, I feel like my whole life is lived in this twilight space between sunshine and darkness. I sit and brood over the fallen racks and broken pieces of our old civilization. When I get tired of that, I look into the dark part of the store. I can’t see anything but keep imagining things that may or may not be moving. But then, as I look around, I do see something. Behind a tilted sign near a sea of shoes and several fallen mannequins is a small flashlight. It’s on, but it’s weak, casting more shadows than light. I put my hand on the soft fur of Pooky Bear and debate whether to run away or to investigate. I don’t feel like running to Raffe, so I hop onto my feet and walk quietly in the direction of the flashlight. Before I can get there, someone steps into the light. It’s Paige. She’s still in her oversized T-shirt that hangs crookedly off one shoulder and falls past her knees. Her tennis shoes are almost black with dried blood. The dim light hits the hollows of her face, emphasizing her skeletal features beneath the stitches and casting long shadows from her hair onto her neck. She walks toward the mannequins like she’s sleepwalking. She looks mesmerized by something on the floor. I take another look at the mannequins and realize that one of them is a man. He’s lying on his back on top of the scattered shoes with his head and shoulders mixed with mannequin limbs, as if he collapsed onto them. One pale hand stretches toward the fallen flashlight while the other clutches a scrap of paper over his chest. He must have died of a heart attack. Paige kneels down beside him like she’s in a trance. She’ll see me if she looks up, but she’s too preoccupied with the man. Maybe she smells people now the way a predator might smell prey. I know what she’s about to do. But I don’t stop her. I want to. Oh, Christ, I want to. But I don’t. My eyes burn and sting with tears. This is too much for me. I want my mom. All this time, I’ve been thinking that I’m the strong one, that I’m making the hard choices and carrying the weight of responsibility for my family on my shoulders. But I realize now that the toughest choices, the ones that will haunt us for the rest of our lives, are ones that my mom is still sheltering me from. Isn’t that what happened when the Resistance caught Paige like an animal? I was still trying to feed her soup and hamburgers while my mother already knew what she needed. Wasn’t she the one who took Paige out there to the grove so she could find a victim for her? I can’t even look away. My feet feel leaden, and my eyes refuse to close. This is who my sister is now. Her lip curls, flashing the tips of her razor-grafted teeth. I hear a faint groan. My heart almost stops. Did that come from the man or from Paige? Is he alive? Paige is close enough to be able to tell. She lifts his arm up to her mouth, showing all of her razor teeth. I try to call to her, but what comes out is just a puff of breath. He’s dead. He must be. Still, I can’t look away, and my heart pounds in my ears. She stops with his arm in front of her mouth, her nose crinkled, and her lips drawn back like a growling dog. The piece of paper the man is still holding is now in front of her face. She pauses to stare at it. She pushes the man’s hand out to get a better look. The skin of her nose straightens, and her mouth closes, hiding her teeth behind her lips. Her eyes warm as she stares at the paper. Her mouth begins to tremble, and she moves his arm back onto his chest. She leans away from the man. Paige puts her hands up to cradle her head, swaying gently back and forth like a worn-out woman with too many problems. Then she spins and runs off into the darkness. I stand in the shadows, my heart slowly tearing over what she’s going through. My baby sister is choosing to be human against all her new animal instincts. And she’s doing it at the cost of starving to death. I walk over to the man and bend down to see what he’s holding. I step around high-heeled shoes and makeup jars to reach him. He’s still breathing but unconscious. Still breathing. I sit down shakily next to him, not sure if my wobbly legs will hold me up. His clothes are dirty and worn, and his beard and hair are scraggly, as if he’s been on the road for weeks. Someone once told me that heart attacks can last for days. I wonder how long he’s been here. I have the craziest urge to call an ambulance. It’s hard to believe that we used to live in a world where complete strangers would have given him medicine and hooked him up to machines to monitor his condition. They would have looked after him around the clock. Absolute strangers who knew nothing about him. Strangers who wouldn’t have even rummaged through his stuff to steal useful items. And everyone would have thought that was perfectly normal. I lift his arm to see what’s on the paper he’s holding. I don’t want to take it out of his hand, because whatever it is, it must have been important enough for him to get it out and grip it as he’s dying. It’s a torn and stained piece of paper with a kid’s crayon drawing. A house, a tree, a stick figure adult holding the hand of a stick figure kid. Scrawled along the bottom in shaky block letters are the words ‘I Love You, Daddy’ in pink crayon. I look at it for a long time in the shadowy light before I put his hand back down gently on his chest. I drag him as carefully as I can until he’s lying flat on the carpet instead of on the pile of mannequins on the tiled floor. There’s a backpack nearby that I also bring and set beside him. He must have taken it off when he started to feel bad. I rummage through and find a water bottle. His head is warm and heavy on my arm as I tilt it for the water. Most of it spills out around his lips, but some of it trickles into his mouth. His throat reflexively swallows, making me wonder if he’s completely out.I put his head down, making sure there’s a folded jacket to cushion it. I can’t think of anything else to do. So I leave him to his business of dying. 14 I find the most normal clothes I can for Paige. A pink shirt with a sparkly heart, jeans, high-tops, and a zip-up sweater. I make sure everything but her shirt is a dark color so she won’t be seen at night. I also make sure that the sweater has a big enough hood to shadow her face in case we need to go unnoticed. For me, it’s black boots, black jeans, and a maroon top that will hide the blood that’s bound to stain it. I just hope that blood will be someone else’s instead of mine. I might as well dress postapocalyptic practical. I also grab a down jacket that’s as light as a . . . I put it down and pick a dark fleece jacket instead. I’m not in the mood for angel reminders right now. Raffe has found a baseball cap and a dark trench coat that covers his wings. He looks good in a baseball cap. I mentally roll my eyes at myself. I’m such a dork. The world is coming to an end, my sister is a man-eating monster, there’s a dying man in the store with us, and we’ll be lucky to survive another night. And I’m here drooling after a guy who doesn’t even want me. He’s not even human. How messed up is that? Sometimes, I wish I could take a vacation from myself. I shove his coat and cap into my backpack with more force than necessary. By the time we get out of the store, the angels are gone. Raffe moves to hold me for flight. I step back. ‘You don’t have to. I’ll catch a ride with one of the locusts.’ I have to force the words out. The last thing I want to do is be in the arms of a scorpion-tailed monster. But Raffe has made it all too clear that this – whatever this is that we may or may not have between us – is a nonstarter. He’s made it clear that he’s leaving. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that trying to make someone stay with you when he doesn’t want to is a recipe for heartbreak. Just ask my mom. I clench my teeth. I can do it. So what if it’s utterly creepy to walk into the arms of a nightmare creature with a needle-sharp stinger that almost killed you? A girl’s gotta have some scrap of pride, even in the World After. Raffe watches me as if reading my thoughts. Then he looks at the locusts. His lip curls as he assesses them, his eyes scanning from their thick legs to their insectile torsos to their iridescent wings. He looks at the curled stingers last. He shakes his head. ‘Those wings are so flimsy I wouldn’t trust them to carry you. And those overgrown nails – you’d catch an infection if they scratched you. You can ride one when they improve on the design.’ He steps forward and, in one smooth motion, lifts me into his firm embrace. ‘Until then, you’re stuck with me being your air taxi.’ He takes flight before I can argue. There’s a wind blowing from the bay, and it’s pointless to try to hold a conversation. So I relax my muscles and tuck my face into the curve of his neck. Maybe for the last time, I let his warm body shelter me. As the sun sets, I catch a few fire glows below us, probably hidden campfires that got out of control. They look like tiny candles in a shadowy landmass. We have to land four times on the way south to avoid being seen by angels. I’ve never seen so many in the air before. Raffe tenses every time we spot the flying formations. Something serious is going on with his people, but he can’t get anywhere close to them, much less get involved. With every passing minute, I can feel his urgency to get his feathered wings reattached so he can dive back into his world. I try not to think about what will happen in my world when he does. Eventually, we fly over the Resistance headquarters – otherwise known as Paly High. It sits like every other deserted group of buildings, with no indication that it’s anything special. In the parking lot, every car faces the street so it won’t have to do a U-turn to get out. Assuming Obi’s escape plan has been executed properly, the cars are gassed and ready to go, with keys in the ignition. As we descend, I see bodies hunched behind tires and trees and lying out in the open like the dead. A few people scramble here and there in the moonlight, but they look the same as people moving everywhere else in the World After. Obi has done a nice job of training people not to bring attention to their headquarters, even though the camp must be overflowing now that they’ve rescued the Alcatraz refugees. We circle above the grove across the street from Paly. The moon is rising in the twilight shadows, letting us see without being seen. There’s still enough light to see a few shadows scattering into the bushes as we come down. I’m surprised there are people out here at dusk, considering how spooked everyone is of the monsters in the dark. When we land, Raffe lets me go. The night air feels cold on my skin after being held by him for so long. ‘You stay here out of sight,’ I say. ‘I’ll see if I can find out whether Doc is here or not.’ ‘Not a chance.’ Raffe reaches for my backpack and pulls out his trench coat and cap. ‘I know it’s hard for you to wait while I scope out the situation, but I can handle it. Besides, who’s going to watch Paige?’ As soon as I ask this question, I know it’s the wrong thing to say. You don’t tell an elite soldier to stay behind and watch the kids. ‘Her pets can babysit.’ He puts on his coat, carefully shifting his shoulders until the wings settle beneath the fabric. He slips on the backpack for good measure. His feathered wings are wrapped in a blanket and strapped to the pack, looking like an ordinary bedroll. His demon wings can mold themselves to his back, but the pack hides any unusual bulges that might catch someone’s eye. Everything about this situation makes me nervous. Raffe is walking into a camp full of hostiles. Paige shouldn’t be so close to people who wanted to tear her to pieces. And the last time I saw Obi, he had me arrested. There’s also a part of me that doesn’t want Raffe eavesdropping on people. Of course, I’ve repeatedly trusted him with my life, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s one of the enemy. Any minute now, we might have to choose our loyalties. When that happens, I’d be an idiot to think we’ll be on the same side. But my instincts tell me that out of all the things to worry about right now, that’s low on the list. My sensei always told me to trust my instincts, that my gut knows things my brain doesn’t and can figure things out faster.

Of course, my instincts have told me things about Raffe that haven’t panned out. My cheeks warm at the thought of what happened with him earlier today in bed. He flips the collar on his coat and buttons it all the way up to cover his bare chest, then puts on his cap. Even though we had a warm day, the October night is chilly enough that he won’t look suspicious. California nights can easily be twenty degrees colder than the days. ‘Stay here, Paige. We’ll be back soon, okay?’ Paige is already busy quieting her locusts and hardly seems to notice us. I don’t like leaving her, but I can’t take her into camp either. The last time she was here, the frightened Resistance people lassoed her like an animal, and who knows what they would have done if the locusts hadn’t attacked. I can’t expect the angry villager attitude to have changed since then. As soon as we start moving, I feel eyes watching me. I keep looking around, but I don’t see anything. On the edge of my vision, though, I see shadows shifting. ‘Locust victims,’ whispers Raffe. I’m guessing this means that they haven’t been accepted into camp. I don’t think they’re dangerous, but I rest my hand on Pooky Bear, taking comfort in the soft fur. Then I take a deep breath and continue through the dark grove. 15 The school grounds are quiet and seemingly deserted. I guesstimate that there must be a few thousand people here now. But you’d never know it. Obi has done such a great job of setting up the refugee camp that even the new people follow the rules. They know not to walk out in the open. The amount of trash here is no greater and no worse than trash floating anywhere else in Silicon Valley. The entire campus is so quiet that I’d almost be surprised if I saw anyone here. But once we get close enough to the buildings, we can see the dim lights glowing inside. The windows are covered by blankets and towels, but some have been put up sloppily, letting light and motion slip through the edges. I step up to a window and peek through a crack. The room is jammed with people. They look reasonably well fed, some almost clean. I don’t recognize them – they must be the Alcatraz refugees. I look through another window and see the same. With this many new people, the whole place must be filled with chaos and confusion. I see a guy through one window who comes into a classroom with a bag of food. He passes it out, and it’s gone in no time. He puts his hands up and says something to the people still reaching out to him even though the food is gone. There’s an argument, but the man slips out of the door before it can get too heated. The lucky ones gobble up their food as fast as they can while the others watch with an intensity that’s uncomfortable. The crowd mills around, churning until a whole new group of people stand in the prime spot near the door, probably waiting for the next batch of food. ‘What are you doing?’ asks a harsh voice. I spin around to see two guys in camouflage holding rifles. ‘Just . . . nothing.’ ‘Well, do your nothing inside where the birds can’t see you. Weren’t you listening during the orientation?’ ‘I’m looking for someone. Do you know where the twins are? Dee and Dum?’ ‘Yeah, right,’ says the guard. ‘Like they have time to talk to every teenage girl crying for her lost puppy. Next thing you know, you’ll be asking to see Obadiah West. Those guys have a whole camp to run. They don’t have time for stupid questions.’ I can only blink at them, probably convincing them that yes, I was planning on asking some stupid questions. They point us to the nearest door. ‘Get back to your assigned room. Someone will be bringing food as soon as they can, and you’ll be shipped to a nice hotel room when it’s dark enough to hide the envoy.’ ‘Hide from what?’ They look at me like I’m nuts. ‘The angels.’ One gives the other a look that says duh. ‘But they can see in the dark,’ I say. ‘Who told you that? They can’t see in the dark. The only thing they can do better than us is fly.’ The other guard says, ‘They can hear better than us too.’ ‘Yeah, whatever,’ says the first guy. ‘But they can’t see in the dark.’ ‘But I’m telling you—’ I stop when Raffe taps me on the arm. He nods toward the door and begins walking. I follow. ‘They don’t know that angels can see in the dark.’ I forgot that I know things about the angels that maybe other people don’t. ‘They need to know.’ ‘Why?’ asks Raffe. ‘Because people need to know that angels can see us if we ever try to’ – attack them – ‘hide in the dark.’ He eyes me as if he read my thoughts, but of course, he doesn’t need to read my mind. It’s pretty obvious why it would benefit the humans to know the angels’ powers. Raffe walks beside me up the steps to the doors. ‘You can talk until your lips fall off, but it won’t do you any good. These are foot soldiers. Their job is to follow orders. Nothing else.’ And he would know. He’s a soldier himself, isn’t he? A soldier for the wrong army. It dawns on me that even though Uriel is creating a false apocalypse and is out to kill Raffe, that doesn’t mean Raffe is willing to help humans win the war against his own people. I’ve had plenty of humans try to kill me since the Great Attack, but that doesn’t mean I’m willing to help the angels wipe out the humans. Far from it. The guards watch us until we walk into the building. As soon as we get inside, I have to fight a wave of claustrophobia. The hallway is crammed with people moving in different directions. When you’re my size, being in a crowd means all you can see are the torsos and heads of the people nearest you. Raffe looks even more uncomfortable than I feel. In a crowd this tight, he can’t help but have people brushing up against his blanket-wrapped wings strapped to his backpack. We can only hope that no one notices anything strange. He stands stiffly with his back to the door without moving in. He looks so out of place that I almost feel sorry for him. He shakes his head at me. I try to blend in as best I can. We shouldn’t have to be here long before the guards leave the area. Obi must have his hands full with all these new people. I sprung the Alcatraz rescue on them at the last minute, so it’s a wonder he even managed to collect boats and organize people to rescue the captives on the island. Of course he didn’t have time to prepare for them once they got here.I imagine it’s been quite a day for the Resistance. Obi’s not just running freedom fighters anymore. He’s had to put together a refugee camp full of scared, hungry people while still keeping the organization as stealthy as possible. I have my issues with Obi. I can’t say he’s going to be my best friend or anything, but I have to admit, he’s taken on a lot that no one else would. I consider going deeper into the building to try to see if I can find Doc or Dee-Dum. The twins are sure to know where Doc is. But it’s too crowded and chaotic in here, and I don’t like the idea of being trapped in the middle of a building full of panicking refugees if something happens. I’m about to tell Raffe we should go as soon as the guards move on when I hear my name. It’s not a voice I recognize, and I can’t tell who said it since no one is looking at me. Everyone looks busy having their own conversations. Then someone else says my name on the other side of the hallway. Still, no one is looking at us. ‘Penryn.’ I see the guy who spoke. He has curly hair and wears a huge shirt that hangs on his scarecrow shoulders and a pair of oversized pants held up by a cinched belt. It’s as if he’s used to being extra large and hasn’t mentally adjusted to his postapocalyptic weight. He’s several people away from me down the hallway but still close enough to hear. I don’t recognize him or anyone around him. ‘Penryn?’ asks the woman speaking to the guy. ‘What kind of name is that?’ They’re not calling me. They’re talking about me. The guy shrugs. ‘Probably some foreign name that means angel slayer.’ ‘Yeah, right. So do you believe it?’ ‘What? That she killed an angel?’ How did they know about that? He shrugs again. ‘Don’t know.’ He lowers his voice. ‘All I know is that it would be amazing to have a safety pass from the angels.’ The woman shakes her head. ‘No way would they keep their word. How would we even know if they’re really putting a bounty on her head?’ I exchange glances with Raffe at the word bounty. ‘Some street gang could’ve just made this whole thing up to kill her,’ she says. ‘Maybe she’s one of their enemies or something. Who knows? The whole world’s gone crazy.’ ‘I know one thing,’ says another guy closer to me. He wears glasses with a big crack on one lens. ‘Whether it was the angels or gangs or demons from hell who put the bounty on that girl, it ain’t gonna be me who turns her in.’ He shakes his head. ‘Me neither,’ says another man nearby. ‘I heard it was Penryn who saved us from that nightmare on Alcatraz.’ ‘Obadiah West saved us,’ says the woman. ‘And so did those funny twins. What were their names?’ ‘Tweedledee and Tweedledum.’ ‘That can’t be right.’ ‘I kid you not.’ ‘Yeah, but it was the girl Penryn who told them to do it. She’s the one who got them to rescue us.’ ‘I heard she threatened to sic her monster sister on them if they didn’t.’ ‘Penryn—’ ‘She’s a friend of mine,’ says one woman I’ve never seen before. ‘We’re like sisters.’ I lower my head, hoping no one recognizes me. Luckily, no one even notices us. As I make my way toward the door, I see a flyer taped to it. The only thing I catch as I pass are the words ‘Talent Show.’ I have visions of amateur tuba players and tap dancers. A talent show is an odd thing to have during the apocalypse. But then again, it’s an odd thing to have at any time. Raffe pushes through the door, and we head back into the night. 16 Outside, the air is fresh and quiet compared with the stuffiness and noise inside. We skulk in the shadows until we reach the adobe mission-style building that Obi uses as his headquarters. This door has the same flyer. I pause to read it. TALENT SHOW Don’t miss the biggest thing since the last Oscars! Bigger than the Great Attack! Bigger than Obi’s ego! Bigger than Boden’s BO! Come one, come all To the greatest show of all! Win a custom-made, bulletproof, luxury RV! Filled with every survival supply imaginable. Yup. Even that. Next Wed. at noon at the Stanford Theater on University Ave. Amaze your friends. Befuddle your enemies. Show off your talents. Auditions every evening Ladies welcome The usual betting rules apply on the contestants. ~ Brought to you by You Know Who ~ This flyer has comments scrawled all over it in different handwriting: ‘Nothing could be bigger than Obi’s ego.’ ‘Is that what the ladies are calling it? Hey, Obi – leave some women for the rest of us, would ya?’ ‘Obadiah West is a great man. A hero. Even I’m thinking about giving him a kiss.’ ‘It’s the talentless show!’ ‘Be nice or I’ll crack open your skull and drink the sludge inside.’ ‘Will the contestants be wearing clothes?’ ‘I sure hope so. Have you seen the men here? Hairy, dude. Seriously hairy.’ I’m guessing these guys miss the Internet. Raffe pulls open the door, and we step into a dimly lit hallway. The main building is busy with people but far less crowded than the first building. The people here walk with confidence, whereas the group in the other building looked lost and unsure. These are probably old-timers compared with the Alcatraz refugees in the other building. I even recognize a few faces here and there. I duck my head, hoping my hair will hide my face. There’s the woman I did laundry with when I was first captured by the Resistance. She’s holding a clipboard and checking off items. She’s the one who adored her dog. I’m almost surprised to see she’s still with the Resistance. I heard they let all the barking dogs go when they found out the angels had superhearing. There’s the clerk from the first aerie hotel. He’s smiling tiredly as he talks with a woman. He looks much more relaxed than he ever did at the aerie, even though they’re each carrying a bag full of guns. I wonder if he was a Resistance spy. And there’s the cook from the original camp in the woods. He was nice to me and gave me an extra scoop of stew when he found out I was new. He rolls a cart with packages of crackers and Fruit Roll-Ups down the hall. Everyone looks exhausted. And everyone is armed to the teeth – handguns, rifles, knives, tire irons, and anything that might cut, smash, or rip. Everyone here carries at least two weapons.

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