Sara was not sure how long they hiked through the trees. All she cared about was that they were not heading for the castle she had seen earlier. Something in there was…hungry. For what she was not sure. She just knew she did not want to go there and find out.
Damien never seemed to tire carrying the dead weight of the huge angel. Even when they had to hike up a steep incline, slipping and sliding on the loose black rock, he did not falter. It was Sara that needed rest. Damien helped pull her over the lip of a very high cliff, hopefully the last cliff, Sara lay on her back staring at the red sky gasping for air.
“How come…you’re barely…breaking a sweat and I’m…about ready to…expire,” she gasped.
“Expire?” he smirked.
Apparently he thought that word was amusing. Sara’s racing heart and starved lungs thought otherwise.
She glared at him.
“The air is different in this realm,” he explained, trying to hide his smile and failing. Clearing his throat as Sara continued to glower; Damien went on with his explanation. “Think of it like this. If you live near the coastline you have more oxygen to breathe. But if you venture into the mountains, or into a different part of the country that is far above sea level, then the air is thinner so it’s harder for you to breathe and you tire faster. Here the air is different enough from the air in the Earth realm that when you exert yourself it’s harder to breathe.”
“Makes sense I guess. So is it the lack of oxygen that is making it seem darker, or is it becoming night time?” Sara asked turning her head to look around. She still was not up to moving much else.
“It’s growing dark and we do not want to be out in the open when it fully descends,” Damien voice wary as his eyes scanned the shadows. Something in the tone of his voice told Sara that whatever lived in the dark was not something she wanted to meet. “Can you stand yet?” he asked looking down at her, his hand extended for her to take, his amusement suddenly back as he waited for her to move.
“I’m glad you find my nearly passing out so amusing,” she snapped taking his hand and allowing him pull her to her feet.
A sudden wave of dizziness would have taken her back down if Damien had not pulled her into his arms to hold her up. Again that surge of power tingled between them, only this time it hurt a little. Like being jabbed by little pins and needles. For some strange reason it felt good. The sharp hiss of air along with his arms tightening around her told Sara that Damien liked it too.
“Why does that keep happening?” she asked breathlessly.
“I don’t know,” he breathed, his forehead resting on the side of her head.
It felt so intimate having him this close, as if he needed her as much as she needed him to hold each other up. Sara felt herself sinking into that feeling of mutual need and safety. After all that had happened in the last hours, days, it was welcomed.
A mournful howl reached through the night freezing the blood in her veins, pulling her from the spell that was weaving around them. With a gasp, she pulled away. The sudden chill that shuddered through her at the loss of Damien’s heat brought Sara to her senses far better than any pail of ice water. What the hell? Sara knew nothing about this man, if he was a man as he claimed, which he did not. What had he said? Not exactly? So many things were not what they seemed here. Was Talon even an angel, or was he some demon in disguise to lull her into a sense of safety only to kill her later. The only thing she trusted was the feeling she felt when Gideon eyes met hers. That familiar sense of home. He she knew without any doubt would not hurt her.
Sara did not know why she felt that certainty. Maybe because those eyes seemed so familiar. As if she had known them all her life. Especially those nights after her mother passed away when, in the safety of her room where her father and brother could not see or hear her, she would silently cry herself to sleep.
As Sara stared up into Damien’s eyes, she realized that he was just as confused and shaken as she was. His wide eyes showed a fear she did not think he was used to. That did not help alleviate hers, but with practiced ease she squashed it down before it could overwhelm her.
“What just happened?” she asked glad not to hear her voice shaking.
“I’m not sure, but let’s not do that again,” his eyes thoughtful as he studied her. She thought his eyes once again widened in understanding, but it was only a flash and he was once again back to thoughtful and confused.
“You’ll get no arguments from me,” she readily agreed rubbing her hands up and down her arms, trying to dispel the tingling that still lingered.
“Come on.” The words came out in a shaky breath as he turned to Talon.
Even though they were in agreement that whatever had happened between them could not happen again, the problem now was Sara wanted to feel that warmth, that sense of security, those pins and needles running across her skin with the craving of an addict, and the only source of fix was heaving an unconscious angel onto his shoulders. When he turned to look at her, she saw that same wanting in his eyes. It took a lot of will power for her to stay where she was and not reach out to touch him.
“Ready?” he asked his voice hoarse.
The only response she could manage was a nod.
“Follow me,” he said with a bit more surety before he turned and headed towards the woods that bordered the cliff. Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly in an attempt to slow her racing heart, Sara followed him. Another mournful howl, this time closer, hurrying her steps.
They did not walk very far before there was the sound of rustling wings and they were surrounded.
“Far enough,” a voice so deep it vibrated up Sara’s spine commanded.
Damien and Sara froze.
“What have you done to Talon?” another slightly higher voice hissed.
Sara looked towards it to see a blonde haired blue eyed very pissed off angel stalking towards Damien, turning the sword in his palm clockwise before taking a firmer grip on the handle.
“He didn’t do anything to Talon,” Sara answered quickly trying to head off the fight she knew was about to happen. “Talon fought with Lizza and we fell.”
It did not stop the angel’s advance, but he also did not cleave Damien in two as Sara was afraid he would. Another angel came to help the blonde take Talon from Damien’s shoulders, carrying him a short distance away and laying him on the ground. While the blonde hovered, his eyes going from the unconscious angel to Damien and back as if he was not sure if he should stay with his friend or kill his enemy, the other took off a satchel he had looped over his head. Laying it on the ground next to Talon, he began to take out what looked like medical supplies.
“His wing was dislocated when we fell. When I popped it back into place he passed out,” Sara continued seeing that those who still stood glaring at Damien had not relaxed their demeanor. “Damien was helping us escape some demons who were hunting us.”
“I’m sure he was,” the shortest of them snorted. Although since most of them had to be at least six foot five and above, only a head shorter did not make him short in Sara’s eyes.
“Loghan,” Damien greeted calmly, his hands out to the sides in a show of being unarmed. It would have worked if his eyes had not been blazing with hatred. Again, Sara strongly felt there was bad blood between him and the angels. “A pleasure as ever.”
“We never did finish our discussion from the last time we met,” Loghan said, a sinister smile on his lips as he thumbed the blade of his sword.
“I would be more than happy to start where we left off,” Damien sneered, a sword materializing in his own hand. There was a rustle of metal and wings as the others responded to the threat.
“Enough!” the tall dark angel’s voice boomed silencing everything for miles. It did not, however, stop the two hotheads from glaring at each other. If looks could kill, Sara was positive they would both be piles of smoldering ash on the ground.
Deciding that involving herself in the middle of a pissing contest between these giants would not be one of her brightest ideas, Sara moved towards Talon and the two angels looking him over.
“Is he going to be all right? He’s been unconscious for so long,” she asked worriedly, keeping her voice low. The blonde angel looked up at her and smiled. It did not reach his eyes. Those were laced with worry. The second angel had his hands on Talon’s chest and his eyes were closed in concentration.
“He’s fine,” the blonde assured. “We just need to get him out of here. Our powers of healing are hindered by the darkness of this realm. Even for one like Adalrik,” he motioned to the angel with his eyes closed, “who is gifted with healing. Once Talon returns to our realm, he will be fine.” Then, he took a closer look at Sara and did not seem to like what he saw. “How are you holding up?” standing and moving closer to her.
“Well, my best friend is not who she seems to be. I’ve been dragged into hell, chased by demons who are apparently trying to kill me, and now I’m surrounded by angels.” She shrugged. “Just another day in the life I wish I did not have.”
For some reason, voicing all this out loud brought tears to Sara’s eyes again. The thought that once again her life was taking a road she did not want to travel yet had no choice in angered her. There was no turning left or right, no turning back. Just some unseen force pushing her onward to whatever destiny was laid out before her. Angry at her situation and the fact she was crying in front of others – she hated crying in front of others – Sara turned away from the blonde angel and wiped forcefully wipe the tears away.
“What the hell did you say to her, Michel?” Damien snarled.
Sara looked to see him pushing tbrough the angels surrounding hin and stalk towards her, sword raised, eyes flashing with fire and a possessive rage that frighten her as he glared at Michel. He had no right to act this way. They barely knew each other. Before Damien could reach her, the blonde angel had notched an arrow to a bow Sara had not seen before with a speed her human eyes or brain could not comprehend; ready to stop Damien from coming closer.
“Stop!” she yelled moving in between them. Both men froze, their eyes not leaving the other.
“Get out of the way, Sara,” Michel commanded, his voice a deadly calm that told her he would shoot Damien in a heartbeat and not cry over the spilt blood.
“Do as he says, Sara,” Damien said just as deadly. “I don’t want you to accidently become injured.”
“No,” Sara answered firmly. “No more fighting. I’m tired and hungry and I want to go home, crawl into bed and pretend this was all a bad dream.”
Damien eyes moved to hers, softening with sadness. “I’m afraid it is too late for fairytales, Princess.” he said softly.
Something about the way Damien said princess touched a spot deep within Sara she did not know existed. Another part of her that had been kept hidden for far too long. With a sounding like a gong that reverberated through her and out, that sudden awareness reached out touching everyone and everything around her as it spread out like a wave a pebble would cause if tossed into a pond.
It also woke a memory.
One she never knew she had.
Sara tried to grasp it, but it slipped through her fingers, falling back into the hazy mist it came from, yet not totally gone.
“Why did you call me that?” she whispered.
“Because that is who you are,” Damien answered, his voice still gentle, his sword lowering. There was a sadness in his voice and expression that frightened her.
“You said I was a puzzle, that you did not know why Lizza brought me here,” she reminded growing angry at the thought he had been lying to her this whole time.
“I didn’t know why,” Damien answered, his sword disappearing into the mist where it had come from. “It wasn’t until I held you in my arms,” there was a growl of displeasure from the angels but Damien chose to ignore them, “the second time that….” More growling and rustle of feathers and metal. Damon glared at the angels who glared back then turned his attention back to Sara. “It wasn’t until then that I started to realize who you were. The fact that these particular angels are here to protect you confirms my suspicions.”
“Then who am I? Why am I here?” she demanded stepping towards him. She wanted to push at him in frustration, but the memory of what his touch did to her stopped her.
Damien looked around at the angels then at the trees behind them. “Not here,” he said quietly. Sara opened her mouth to protest but he hushed her. “The trees have eyes, and I do not think everyone here knows who you are.” He looked at someone behind her as if confirming his suspicions, then back at her. Apparently one of the two angels behind her knew. “I would rather not be the one to let slip that little secret until we are safe.” Then he looked around at the others. “Although I don’t think I need to worry about that any longer.”
Sara followed his gaze and saw that all their eyes were on her, each one wearing a look of shock. As if they were seeing her for the first time. It was unnerving. It was also when she noticed Gideon was not with them.
“Where’s Gideon?” she asked her eyes still searching in case she missed him, or he was lurking in the shadows. Somehow she knew when it came to conflict he was not one to lurk, so that meant something was wrong. Sara looked at Michel and saw how uncomfortable he had suddenly become. Something was wrong. “Where is Gideon?” she demanded.
“Distracting the horde,” the tall dark one rumbled.
“What does that mean?” she asked suddenly angry and frighten all at once.
“It means we need to get you out of here before they figure out he is just a distraction and come looking for us,” the one Damien called Loghan answered walking up to Michel. He shot a venomous glare at Damien as he passed.
Damien smirked in answer.
Sara gave him a look that said not helping. Bowing his head, Damien rearranged his features in a more neutral expression.
“I’ll help Adalrik with Talon,” Loghan said. “Either you or Aitan can carry Sara, and then we will….”
“I don’t think so,” Damien uninterrupted, moving so he stood directly behind Sara, their bodies almost touching. Almost was almost too much.
Sara did not want the others see the affect Damien had on her, but with him this close it was becoming very difficult not to lean back against him. Feel his warmth, and that strange pins and needles sensation that she craved. The angels had already voiced their opinion on the subject of him touching her, and they were not too happy with how close he was now.
Too close, she thought breathlessly.
As if he had heard her, he stepped back one step. Suddenly it was easier to breathe.
“You think you can defeat all of us?” the tall dark one rumbled.
“No,” Damien said calmly keeping his eyes on Michel and Loghan. Adalrik was still kneeling next to Talon, his hand on Talon’s chest eyes closed in concentration. “But do you honestly think they will allow you to leave? She is too valuable. The gates will once again be guarded, and this time they will not allow you to leave. If you want to escape, you will need me.”
“We do not need your help?” Michel scoffed dismissively.
“You do if you want to find a way out of here the others don’t know about,” Damien said his voice low and dangerous. “And you would do well to take me with you.”
“And let you loose on Earth? On purpose?” a red headed angel snorted his accent thick. Looking at him more closely Sara could see that his leather was a bit more intricate with designs that were sewn in different color thread. His red-orange hair was long, down his back, braided close to the head on the sides with two small braids falling on each side of his face, the rest was in some sort of intricate braid she could not see, holding it back off his face. He had a large double bladed axe in his hand and his green eyes held amusement as he stared at Damien as if he was daft. Like the others, he was well over six foot. “I think not.”
“Do you have another plan, Celt? I’m willing to listen to any ideas you may have for escaping the most tightly sealed realm in existence,” Damien snapped.
“If it’s so tightly sealed, then why do your kind always seem to escape?” he asked sweetly.
“Enough,” a weak voice commanded.
All eyes turned to Talon. A weight Sara did not realize was there lifted from her chest. She started towards him, but Damien grabbed her arm stopping her. The effect was immediate. Both of them sucked air in as the pins and needles shivered across their skins, several times more intense than before. It seemed the more they touched the harder it was to let go.
Stepping so his body touched hers from shoulder to waist, his nose buried in her hair Damien whispered, “Don’t.”
One whispered word, a plea, and Sara could not pull away from him. Looking up into his eyes, she saw his worry, his need, his determination, even fear and she wanted to take that look away.
“Stop,” Talon barked. This time his voice was more firm, more in control. “No one touches them,” he added a little more softly. “We do not have a choice now. We need to take Damien with us.”
“Talon,” the tall dark one protested.
“No Aitan,” Talon said.
Sara was able to tear her eyes away from Damien to see Talon was on his feet, if unsteady. He looked at Michel who shook his head slightly, his brows furrowed with worry. They were not expressions that put Sara at ease. They were expressions of uncertainty, apprehension. Like Damien, they knew something. Something that would change Sara’s life forever.
“What has been done cannot be undone. Now we must live with the consequences, whatever they may be,” Talon said ominously. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, looking around him counting heads. “Where is Gideon?” Alarm replacing the unease.
“He led the horde away so we could find you and the girl,” Aitan rumbled. “We don’t know where he is, or if he is alive.”
Alive? The thought of him in the hands of those monsters, wounded, or worse dead, gave Sara the strength to pull away from Damien, although it cost her. Gasping she tried to reorient herself as the world spun out of control and pain twisted her insides, almost doubling her over. Behind her, Damien made a noise of intense pain, as if he was gritting his teeth to keep from crying out. Sara wanted desperately to stop his pain, but she knew if she stepped back into his arms she would not be able to think clearly.
Gideon could not be dead. She would feel it, wouldn’t she? Hugging herself tightly, Sara closed her eyes and concentrated on those amazing clear blue eyes. Those blue eyes that felt like home. She tried to concentrate on other features but for some reason they kept slipping away. As if something was keeping her from seeing them.
Behind her, Damien growled in warning.
“Easy, half-breed,” Talon’s voice said very close to her.
Half-breed? Sara opened her eyes to find Talon in front of her. When she turned towards Damien, she could see he was not happy Talon was so close. Again she wondered why Damien was so possessive when they had only met a few hours ago, and why that possessiveness felt so right. When he looked down at her and saw her frowning at him, his anger faltered. She could tell he wanted to say something, but he kept his mouth shut. Sara was not sure if that was a good thing, or a bad thing, but at the moment she did not care. Gideon was somewhere out there, on his own, with a thousand demons after him. She had better things to worry about than misplaced over-protectiveness.
Talon’s voice brought her back to him.
“Sara, Gideon is your guardian angel. There is a link between you that allows him to know when you are hurt or in trouble. Now that you know who he is, that link should work both ways. If he is still alive you should be able to sense him,” he said gently.
Sara did not like the word ‘if’. Gideon was not dead!
“How?” she asked surprising herself with the calmness of her voice.
“Close your eyes. Concentrate on him,” he instructed. “He has been with you since the moment you were born into the mortal realm. You have always known he was there on some level. Concentrate on how he makes you feel.”
“Home,” Sara breathed.
Talon smiled down at her. “Yes, home,” he said.
Sara closed her eyes and once again brought the image of Gideon’s eyes to mind.
“You don’t know what you are asking her to do,” Damien snarled behind her.
“You know as well as we do that she can do this, even with what has happened,” Michel said patiently. “Whether you like it or not they are linked. It was part of the price. Don’t think that a short time with her will erase what was done.”
“And when she does find him. When we are brought together what then? You know the prophecies as well as I do,” Damien hissed, his voice low so the others could not hear. Sara felt him at her back and it momentarily distracted her. This time not so much pins and needles, but a need that was deep in her soul to become one with Damien. A low groan told her he felt the surge between them. This did not make any sense. Why was he affecting her like this?
“Can’t…concentrate,” she said through gritted teeth. This time she kept her eyes closed, because if she looked at Damien there would be no more thinking.
“Damien, please,” Michel appealed just as quietly. He too sounded closer, but again Sara did not dare open her eyes. “You cannot stop what is already set in motion, and we need Gideon. Back away from the princess.”
There was a moment of silence, then a noise of frustration and Damien was no longer behind Sara. “This is not over,” he snapped.
“I know,” Michel said his voice weary.
“Sara, concentrate. Where is Gideon?” Talon gently urged.
Taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly, Sara once again focused on that sense of home. It was there…faint, flickering. Her heart began to race as the thought he was dying filled her with dread. Falling to her hands and knees, she pushed that feeling away and grasped onto that flicker presence, willing her strength into him. It flickered once more, like a flame in a breeze threatening to blow out. Then, slowly, it started to grow stronger, more sure.
Sara, his voice breathed in wonder through her mind.
Before she could answer, a presence so foul engulfed both of them, constricting, smothering, demanding obedience. Sara and Gideon screamed, their backs bowed in pain as they gasped for air that was not there. Sara’s entire life was suddenly flashing in front of her mind. As if someone was looking through a slide show, pausing every once in a while on a memory, taking special note of one thing or another until the images were finally at the present. Then images she did not remember, places she had never seen before from a past that was hers, yet not, began rushing by at a pace that made her dizzy. Just as suddenly as the presence appeared it was gone. Sara collapsed to the ground sucking in precious air, her body trembling with terror.
I have waited a long time for you, Sapphira, a low lazy voice filled her mind. Welcome home.
Copyright 2018 Heidi Barnes