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Authors: L. A. Banks

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BOOK: Conquer the Dark
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“Still, he is one man,” Azrael repeated. “
One
human.”

“One human with a
lot
of resources.” She sighed and resumed packing.

“You are one woman with a lot of resources, aided by the forces of the Light.”

She stared at Azrael.

“In the end-times, the last will be first and the first will be last.” He held her gaze. “We are in the end-times, Celeste.”

“But do you know how many minions they have duped
in that one propaganda empire alone? Like, if I wanted to get my words out to the masses, if I had something true to tell people, the propaganda machine would discredit me or wouldn’t cover it. So how?”

“I don’t know how yet. We’ve always been told to have faith and leave the details to the Source of All That Is.” Azrael smiled. “So far, that’s worked for me.”

His easy acceptance made her smile, and he crossed the room to draw her into his arms. Leaning down to take her mouth, his slow kiss under any other circumstances would have made her relax. But its too sweet ambrosia lacquer told her that he was more stressed out than she was.

“What’s wrong?” she asked quietly as she pulled back from their kiss and caressed the side of his face.

“Nothing,” he murmured, then hugged her tightly.

“I thought angels weren’t supposed to lie,” she whispered into his ear.

“It’s not a lie, nothing is actually wrong.”

“You’re splitting hairs and dancing with words—not technically lying, but avoiding telling me what’s bothering you.”

He released a heavy exhale. “I just know this mission will be extremely challenging for my brothers, emotionally—even though they’d never admit it in a thousand years—and I grieve for them.”

“Talk to me,” she said gently as she drew back and gazed deeply into his eyes. “This has to do with Isda and Bath Kol, doesn’t it?”

Azrael nodded and released another weary sigh. “After the war, maybe five hundred years in, their battalion broke the prime edict and lay with the daughters
of man … this was in Atlantis and Lumeria. Our warrior brothers along with their fallen demon colleagues immediately beset the human populations, spawning the Titans and dark Remnants that our Light forces had to rout out. Both angels and demons procreated with humans, even though our angel brothers
knew
this was not allowed. But time and battle fatigue …”

Celeste nodded and drew him into a hug. “That’s how people like me got made?”

“Yes,” he murmured, kissing her temple. “Remnants of Light were scattered throughout the human race, and those hidden recessive genes carrying twelve strands of DNA were buried deep within the populations, only to emerge like you.”

Azrael pulled back and looked at her, tracing the edge of her jaw with his thumb. “After what I have experienced with you, there is no judgment in my spirit toward my brothers about how that happened. But in that day, the Law was the Law. And just as the fallens’ offspring created great misery and havoc, my brothers’ offspring created great civilizations … some were the first pharaohs, some elected to go dark and become great Roman conquerors. That was why there was the Law, because humans have free will and choice here on the earth plane. That choice was unpredictable. Some went dark, even those made by my brothers in the Light. This region that we are about to visit is like walking over a grave.”

When Celeste frowned, Azrael briefly closed his eyes and spoke in a low, somber voice. “My brothers have buried lovers, wives, sons, and daughters in the Nile Valley, Celeste.
When Isda first incarnated here, he was a warrior. Then he broke the Law and was banished from home to forever be a Sentinel. He never turned dark, but when he was informed that his Remnant, a descendant of one of his closest allies, was born, he tracked her through the modern Sudan all the way to Uganda, out through the Caribbean, only to learn that she’d perished. She would have been the daughter of one of his closest angel battalion brothers, generations removed. Thus Isda is a warrior who has lived through the greatness of the African interior empires to watch it fall to colonization, then turn in on itself in civil war. He saw the horrors of the slave trade, fought in the Caribbean to lead uprisings against that. My brother’s spirit is exhausted. And now we have asked him to return to where he remembers the streets and temples paved in gold and with advances to civilization … to what it has surely become now. His heart shatters. That is why he protests so bitterly—he is no coward, just battle-weary.”

“Oh … Az …”

“Celeste, being immortal is a double-edged blade. A gift, and in a human body of flesh, also a curse. You live through it all, and see it all, but then you get to remember it all and feel it all, too.”

Guilt swept through her as she reflected on how oblivious she’d been to their pain. What she couldn’t bring herself to verbalize to Azrael was that a part of her had thought it would actually be easy for them to return to old battlegrounds to scout out possible hiding spots, just because they were familiar with the terrain. In hindsight she now realized how foolish a concept that had been.

“I’m so sorry,” she murmured, now staring up at him,
unblinking. “I never thought of it in those terms, or even thought about how hard it must be for the original warriors that got trapped here to go back to the old empires. I just thought … I don’t know—like they’d know where everything was because they’d been there before.”

“How could you know?” Azrael said as he held her face in his hands. “Being immortal is almost incomprehensible to the human mind, just as we didn’t truly understand the pain, risk, desire, and sacrifice involved in living within the frail structure of a human body. While in etheric form and in the heat of battle, we were invincible. That is why the Source gave us this lesson and left the best of the forces here for so long to experience it all … a necessary thing to develop mercy, empathy, and good judgment, as well as to cultivate respect. We have definitely gained respect.”

“Maybe … I don’t know, Az, maybe Isda should stay here, if going back will be so hard for him?”

“No. He has to face it. Egypt, or Kemet, will spare no man. It was the first great civilization and they were all there … they will all have insights. Bath Kol will have to revisit what Alexander the Great, a direct descendant of his, wrought there against Isda’s people. All of them will feel it. All of them will walk through temples or familiar areas that they haven’t returned to in thousands of years … and their souls will cry out. But they will also be able to feel critical directions through that pain.”

Celeste placed her hands on Azrael’s wrists as he cupped her face, then slowly covered his palms to thread her fingers between his. “What over there will make your soul cry out?”

He pulled her against him and spoke into her hair. “Nothing. I was lucky. When I fought, I was etheric and powerful and then extracted home as the Angel of Death—deemed too valuable at that time to leave for the lesson. I’ve only been incarnate the three short months that I was sent to locate you. And in those three short months I have most assuredly learned to respect the power of the flesh.” He rubbed her back and rested his forehead against the crown of her head, making his confession in a low rumble. “Until I learned loss and pain and want, I was so arrogant, Celeste. Only because of your heartfelt prayer to the Source on my and my brothers’ behalf was the Law repealed, and only because you are not fully human did I slip through the door of judgment on a mere technicality or I’d be in jeopardy of being banished like they’d been—made a Sentinel to roam the earth for all time … because God only knows that once I met you and bonded with you, not falling in love with you was impossible. Not being allowed to join with you created a want … an ache like I’ve never experienced in all of existence. But then you prayed for us all, asked for mercy, and as has been promised by the Source of All That Is, mercy was not denied.”

He released a shuddering breath and kissed her temple with force. “Don’t you understand that is why my brothers so adore you, Celeste? Your forgiveness and lack of judgment allow them to be human, to live and love and not be near perfect as long as their spirits stay in the Light, all without being denied access to returning home. Warriors that have known centuries of banishment can now go home, but chose to stay here and fight in the flesh because of you.”

For a while they just stood there absorbing the magnitude of his words, her spirit and skin soaking in the warmth of his. She thought of Jamaerah, the angel of manifestation, who had seemed to her like a beautiful teenager, a lover of music and art … and whose heart was breaking because he could not love, yet could never go home simply because he’d lain with someone he’d once cherished long ago. His sad, melodic guitar had stirred her conscience that fateful morning they’d met when she’d witnessed him tearfully playing a Carlos Santana ballad, “Put Your Lights On.” She would never forget it.

Maybe it was because the others were so battle-toughened that she hadn’t as readily seen their pain. But she hadn’t truly considered how deeply conflicted the others had to be. Jamaerah had been the only one that had taken up Azrael’s offer to go into the crystal column of Light to return home to heal. That had also made her not understand how deep their wounds were. But she suspected after they walked across the sands of their past, others might elect to leave the earth plane to return home just as Jamaerah did.

Not knowing what to say, she simply tightened their embrace, pulling Azrael closer against her as she rubbed his back with broad palm strokes. He’d once told her that her touch was healing, and she prayed with all her might that it was now.

“It’s going to be all right, baby,” she murmured against his chest, not knowing how in the world it would be. “I promise.”

Chapter 3

U
nder any other circumstances,
their small group would have been flagged by Homeland Security. They were traveling to Africa with tickets purchased the same day as the flight, with only carry-on luggage? And with a bunch of dudes with five-o’clock shadow, a couple of them standing six-two, six-three, six-four, and all looking like military commandos, just by their sheer size, and with foreign-looking women in tow? Get serious.

Only angelic intervention had allowed them to run the gauntlet of heightened airport security, but the guys took the pat-down rather than the body scanner, not sure if the wings in their shoulder cavities might show up.

On the whole, if it weren’t for their connections with the Source, getting a flight to Egypt for eight people leaving the same day, with couples able to sit next to each other at that, would have been impossible. But by 6:00 p.m., the
four couples had made it through the onerous security screening and were in line as their boarding zones were called.

Azrael squeezed Celeste’s hand and kept his gaze slowly roving the restless crowd. She noticed that the other brothers were doing the same, as though expecting a supernatural gang war to break out at any second.

Babies were crying, women in traditional garb, with youngsters and packages destined for family abroad, jostled them. Impatient tourists huffed and puffed, while businessmen looked at their expensive watches and eyed the gate agent to get a move on for first-class passengers. The line snaked forward and Celeste’s attention fractured all over the place wondering who could be a human in cahoots with the dark. Full paranoia set in as she monitored the brothers’ tension, not sure of its source.

When the gate agent asked for her ticket, Celeste almost jumped out of her skin. Clearly the wait to get on the evening flight had worn her nerves down to a nub.

“You okay?” Azrael murmured discreetly once they were in the Jetway.

“Yeah,” she said, glancing around.

“You see something, you say something,” he said in a low rumble just for her ears.

“All right,” she whispered, “but you guys are freaking me out!”

“In the Egyptian Museum
in Cairo? Really. And to think it survived a local uprising because human protesters barred the doors to protect their own national
treasures. How perfect.” Asmodeus threw his head back and laughed hard, causing his rich, dark-brown mane to flow over his broad shoulders. “All this
fucking
time? The demons never cease to amaze me!”

Flawless and handsome, save for the nasty holy-water burn that marred his left cheek, Asmodeus’s tall, muscular body gave birth to raven-hued wings as Forcas nodded and ripped open the dusty storeroom crate. Antiquity surrounded them but their focus was singular.

“Asmodeus—”

“Nathaniel,” he corrected. “Only my modern name, lest you invoke it around those who would know me from the old world.”

“My apologies,” Forcas said with a sweeping bow, causing a cascade of platinum tresses to momentarily curtain his alabaster face and intense, icy-gray eyes. “But do take great care, milord.”

Going to the opened crate, Asmodeus quickly discarded the packing hay and stared down with reverence at the golden bones ensconced in a clear coffin. After a moment he reached out toward the crystal sarcophagus, but then drew back.

BOOK: Conquer the Dark
8.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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