When Gideon’s scream of anguish and pain filled the ancient monastery’s walls, sending the birds that roosted in the crevices into the skies, Sapphira turned and headed back for the door. Only Talon moving into her way stopped her.
“He needs time alone,” Talon explained gently when she glared up at him. “Please, give it to him.”
The silence that followed was deafening. They stood that way until they heard the shower turn on. Talon eyes sad but patient, Sapphira’s angry and full of guilt. It was her fault they had been dragged into the hell realm, her fault Gideon was tortured by her father, her fault he lost his wings. And to make matters worse they had no idea where her brother was.
Ever since they emerged from the tunnel she and Damien had built when they were young to traverse between realms, her memories started to return to her bit by bit. Starting with her brother on his knees in excruciating pain as the spell those trying to protect her wove around them, tearing them apart. Her pain was no less and mercifully she passed out before it killed her, but it was necessary to keep Damien and the universe safe. At least that was what she kept trying to tell herself.
The lives she had lived between then and now were a hazy blur. Some were full of love and family, some painful, some short. Lifetimes in the earth realm away from her mother and brother, but never alone. Gideon was always there, keeping her safe.
Helping her through all the hard times, the pain of her many lives. Always there at her lowest to pick her up, hold her, comforted her, and now she wanted to help take his pain away as he had helped her.
Secrets were unraveling, truths told and sacrifices that could not be foreseen made. Gideon was her guardian, but he was not alone in keeping his charge safe. As Sapphira stared up at Talon’s determined expression, she knew what she would have to do to keep these men who had kept her safe all these centuries alive, what she needed to do to keep her brother alive, and it frightened her.
Talon must have seen something in her eyes because he took a step forward, his eyes widening slightly in trepidation.
“Don’t,” he pleaded softly. “It will not help.”
“How do you know?” she asked sadly. “Everything that has happened is because of me. I don’t even know where my brother is or if he is alive.”
“Giving yourself over to those looking for you will not help him or Gideon.”
“Again, how do you know that? If it’s me they want, that is what I should give them. Then everyone I love will be safe.”
“Or the end of life as we know it will begin.” Talon started reaching for her then hesitated. The only one brave enough to touch her since the spell was broken had been Quinn, and that was only because his special power was that he made all other powers null and void when he touched the person wielding them. Sapphira did not care. The only ones she wanted touching her were Damien or Gideon. “If you leave Gideon will only come after you, and he is in no condition to even leave his bed. That means he will send me and I need some rest. So please, don’t leave the monastery. If not for us, then for your brother. He expects us to keep you safe, and I for one do not want to deal with his temper tantrum when he realizes you are gone.”
A sudden dawning filled Sapphira. Relaxing her stance, she crossed her arms as she smirked at him. “You’re afraid of him.”
“No, I’m not,” Talon sighed patiently, telling Sapphira that the thought of the warrior being afraid of anything was ludicrous. His body language said otherwise. “I only know that if someone allowed my sister to rush into a situation that was incredibly dangerous and stupid, I would be hard press not to gut the idiot. Personally, I prefer my innards on the inside.”
“I see,” she smirked. Talon’s patient expression turned into a scowl.
“What I am afraid of is of no consequence,” he snapped. “If I have to lock you in the dungeon I will. You are not leaving and that is the end of it.”
Sapphira opened her mouth to argue when Loghan rounded the corner.
“Did I hear Talon say he wasn’t afraid of anything?” he asked in a tone that spoke of trouble in the making. Keeping Sapphira in-between him and Talon, Loghan continued on what Sapphira surmised would be his last words. “Spiders,” he whispered loudly in her ear as he grinned at Talon. “Can’t stand the sight of them. Screams like a little girl.”
Sapphira choked back a laugh as Loghan’s eyes went wide and his hands flapped in the air as he imitated a little girl screaming and dancing in fright. Talon’s growl of certain death only made Loghan up his antics, which ended when Talon lunged for him and Loghan had to hide behind Sapphira.
“You’ve always had a death wish, little brother,” Aitan’s voice thick with weariness rumbled. It gave Sapphira the impression he had pulled these two apart more than once, and really had no inclination to do so today. “Save it for the demons. We have a visitor,” he added looking at Sapphira.
“No one knows we are here,” Talon said his anger forgotten. Even Loghan became serious.
“Evidently she does,” Aitan corrected calmly. The reaction to the word she was anything but calm.
“What does she want,” Talon snarled starting down the hallway. Sapphira’s hand was on the doorknob to Gideon’s room when he did an abrupt about face and took a hold of her arm pulling her down the hall with him. “I don’t think so,” he muttered.
“I think she would be safer in Gideon’s room than with her,” Loghan suggested as he and Aitan fell in behind them.
“Who is Her?” Sapphira asked as she tried to keep up with Talon’s long legs. She was by no means short at five foot nine, but he was far above six foot and a lot of that was leg.
“Someone I am sure you will enjoy meeting. I know we all enjoy her company,” Loghan sarcastic tone telling Sapphira this was as far from the truth as he could get.
“I don’t understand…,” Sapphira began just as they entered what she had been told was the reception room.
The room was not very big and sparsely decorated. It was designed to impress with its tapestries from the dark ages that depicted angels and demons fighting in fire and blood, ornate furnishings that consisted of a side table with an oriental vase from a culture that Sapphira had never seen before. A few knick-knacks just as old and expensive finished the impressing, while at the same time two very uncomfortable ornate chairs told visitors they were not welcomed.
During the last few days as she explored the monastery out of boredom. The beauty she had found in this place lost high in the mountains had stunned her, but it was nothing compared to who stood in the middle of the room decidedly unhappy to be there.
Draped in a black cape, long black hair cascading down her back was her mother’s handmaiden, Ayame. Sky blue eyes flashed angrily as they took in Talon’s hand around Sapphira’s arm. The room’s temperature took a steep drop as those cold eyes moved up to Talon’s. This was not the small obedient servant who stood behind her mother wherever she went, waiting on for her every word, her confidant, her best-friend who gave up everything to be with her. This woman commanded attention and radiated power that rivaled the angel’s around her. Well, some of them.
“Get your filthy hands off the princess,” Ayame snarled walking towards them. Sapphira had never seen the petite woman angry before and was so in shock that she could not find her voice to tell Ayame that she was in no danger.
“Watch your tongue, witch,” Talon growled pulling Sapphira behind him. Loghan and Aitan spread out on either side, effectively blocking her from Ayame’s site. “Sara is under our protection and I will not tolerate you barging in here issuing orders like you own the place.”
“Since you can’t seem to do your job properly, Princess Sapphira,” emphasizing the different name, “is no longer under your so called protection,” Ayame snapped. “I have been ordered to hide her somewhere the others cannot find her. Somewhere safe from the likes of you.”
“Over my dead body,” Talon growled moving so he towered over the woman, his wings flaring behind him.
“I can arrange that,” Ayame hissed glaring up at him.
As much as Sapphira admired the woman’s fearlessness – or stupidity, depending on how you looked at it – she had no patience for this.
“Enough!” Sapphira snapped pushing her way between Loghan and Aitan. When they did not budge, she put her hands on her hips and stamped her foot in frustration. It shocked her because it was something she had never done before. Little princess temper tantrums were not tolerated in her house growing up, and to be honest she thought the act beneath her. Those demons and a few of the newly fallen that would whine and wheedle to get what they wanted always nauseated her, and she vowed she would never stoop to that level.
Sapphira frowned as a flash of one of her human lives showed her a little girl who was spoiled and apparently used those same tactics with a fine art to get what she wanted.
Apparently she had. Ugh.
Glowering at the look of surprise mixed with amusement Loghan was giving her, she growled. “Move!” putting power behind those words. Whether it was her power or the shock that she had any that moved the two mountains in front of her, she did not care. Only that they moved out of her way, their eyes wide with surprise. Really! She had lived for thousands of years, even if she did not remember most of them, yet, and was powerful in her own right…well her power was returning slowly but it was there. So she could damn well take care of herself.
As she passed them on her way to stand next to Talon, she realized she had touched them and nothing had happened. Good to know.
“What are you doing here Ayame?” she asked glaring at Talon before turning her attention back to the handmaiden. “Better yet, how did you get here? You are human and therefore trapped in my father’s realm.”
“Hush child,” Ayame admonished moving to touch her as she glanced at the others as if they were not to be trusted. Talon moved so he was in-between them yet not. It brought Ayame up short.
“Close enough,” Talon warned.
Ayame huffed, straightening her elbow length pristine white gloves while she attempted to reign in her anger. Managing a weak smile, she turned to Sapphira, clearly ignoring the large angel looming over her. Something about her demeanor made Sapphira’s skin crawl.
“You’re mother sent me to make sure you were safe. These idiots,” she said in disgust waving at the angels who bristled, “can no longer be trusted and your guardian is incapacitated.”
“My mother doesn’t have the power to send you anywhere,” Sapphira’s suspicion growing. “And it still does not explain how, as a human, you could leave my father’s realm.”
“This…woman is no more human than I am,” Aitan deep voice rumbled with disgust.
“What does that mean?” Sapphira asked looking back at him.
“It doesn’t matter what he is babbling about,” Ayame snapped bringing Sapphira’s attention back to her. “There are powers at work who are trying to find her. Power that none of you could stand against. I am to take Princess Sapphira to a place that is detectable only by those who know it exist, which is none of you. She will be safe there until she regains her powers and can protect herself. Now come, child. We must hurry.”
“Like hell she will,” Talon snapped. “For the last thousand years you have been plaguing us with unfounded accusations and threatening to take Sapphira to this hidden place.”
“It seems my accusations were not so unfounded. Gideon cannot properly protect the princess if he is in love with her,” Ayame hissed.
“It’s because he loves her that she is still alive. If he did not care she would have been dead a long time ago. Orders only go so far, and the demons that have sought Sapphira are formidable.”
“Yet they still were able to reach her,” Ayame sniffed. “Love blinds those foolish enough to fall into its deadly clutches. As proven by the fact the princess ended up in the last place she needed to be and the spell protecting her was broken.”
“If your informant had not led Gideon on some wild goose chase he would have been there,” Talon snarled.
“At the time she was taken you were the one protecting her. So don’t blame that one on the guardian,” Ayame growled mockingly. “Maybe you are in love with her too. Men have always been fools for a pretty face.”
“You might want to step back,” Loghan whispered, his sudden nearness making Sapphira jump. “I’ve seen these two go at it. It isn’t pretty.”
As Loghan pulled her a few steps away, a memory surfaced that puzzled Sapphira. A part of the spell that would have made it difficult if not impossible for Ayame to find her, yet Talon said the handmaiden had known of her whereabouts since the beginning.
“The ugliness within usually ends up leaking out onto the surface, as you should well know, witch,” Talon sneered. “Jealousy is always ugly.”
“I am not jealous!” Ayame snapped indignantly. “And what are you talking about? I sent no informant.”
It was the look Ayame shot Sapphira – one that seemed wild, desperate, panicked – as she stepped away that brought a frown to Loghan’s face as he once again moved in front of Sapphira. This time Sapphira did not protest. Something was not right. The quick change of subject was proof enough Ayame was hiding something.
“What do you mean you did not send him?” Aitan ask his deep voice effectively stopping the argument.
“I did not send anyone,” Ayame repeated her anger replacing the panic.
“Then who did?” a voice asked behind them.
They turned as one to see Gideon standing in the doorway looking pale. Immediately Sapphira went to him.
“Are you sure you should be up?” she asked searching his face for any sign of the pain she knew he had to be in.
Taking her hand in his and bringing it to his lips, he smiled. “As long as you are safe I am fine,” he answered softly, touching her cheek with the fingertips of his other hand. The smile Sapphira awarded him went a long way to healing his broken spirit. Yet a part of him wondered if she would still love him once the fact he was only half an angel finally sank in.
“As long as she is here, she is far from safe,” Ayame snapped.
They turned to see Ayame was trying to push her way through Loghan and Talon and failing miserably. Finally she gave up.
“If I can find you, then who knows who else is lurking in the shadows waiting for you idiots to make another mistake?”
Lacing his fingers with Sapphira’s, Gideon moved further into the room, his eyes on the handmaiden. “That is a good point. How did you find us? Our other dwellings I understand, but only a chosen few know about this place and it is heavily Warded against humans and the paranormal alike,” his eyes narrowing in suspicion.
“You cannot hide the power she holds,” Ayame proclaimed with an authority that did not reach her eyes. In fact she looked very nervous as the others parted to allow Gideon and Sapphira through and she backed away from them. “Only I can…,” she hit the wall stopping her words abruptly.
“Only you can what?” Gideon asked calmly. His eyes and posture were anything but calm. This witch they had barely tolerated and trusted even less was not telling them something important.
A feeling, one that was as familiar as the feel of her own hidden wings, flitted through Sapphira. It was the only way she could describe it. One moment it was there, strong, comforting, then the next it was gone leaving her cold.
“Damien,” she whispered, her hand going to her throat. Mentally searching she found him again, and again he slipped through her fingers. He was close by but he was hurt. Badly.
Gideon did not like how pale Sapphira had become. “What’s wrong?” he asked turning to her.
“Damien, he’s hurt,” she breathed looking up at him. “He’s,” she frowned in concentration. “He’s close by.” She looked up at the ceiling. “In the mountains. He’s looking for me and he can’t find me.”
The way Sapphira said Damien’s name, as if he were one of the most important people in her life, left Gideon with a cold dread. There was so much about her that he did not know. Who she was? Why she was hidden? If she had any past loves. Was Damien a lover from that past, from her life before she became human? Was he looking for her because he wanted to reclaim her? Were they mated? That thought had Gideon dropping Sapphira’s hand. If that were so, then she would be lost to him forever.
So much unknown, so much to lose.
It was brought home with clarity that fractured his heart into pieces why guardians were forbidden to fall in love with their charges. Because they were not theirs to have, and to lose her would destroy something inside of him. Especially to one he considered his enemy.
Ignoring her look of confusion at his sudden withdrawal, he turned to Talon. If Damien was this important to her, then he would help find him. “Go with her into the mountains. Take Loghan and Adalrik with you. If Damien is injured, you may need them. Help Damien in any way you can and bring him here,” Gideon ordered not looking at Sapphira. If he did, he would lose his resolve to let her go.
“What about the witch?” Talon asked, clearly not happy to be leaving his commander injured and unarmed with Ayame.
“We will take care of her,” Aitan assured pulling his sword and taking a step towards Ayame who cowered back.
“Gideon.” Sapphira put her hand on his arm, moving so she could catch his eye. She did not like his sudden withdrawal and wanted to assure him she did not feel any differently towards him. When he finally looked at her, the pain in his eyes hurt her heart. “It’s not what you think,” she said quietly.
“We’ll talk about this later,” he smiled. It did not reach his eyes. “Go. Find Damien.” With a supreme amount of effort, instead of kissing her lips as he wanted to, he kissed her forehead and let her go.
Opening her mouth to say something, Sapphire suddenly decided against it. Turning she walked away, Talon and Loghan in tow.
“You let her walk out of this monastery, you allow her to find that demon and you will lose her, angel” Ayame sneered.
If it was what Sapphira wanted, if Damien was the one who made her happy, then he would so be it. Although, until he knew for sure, and even after that, he would not stop protecting her. Turning to Ayame his eyes narrowed.
“We have a special place for creatures like you, Ayame. So until you are ready to tell us the real reason you are here, plan on staying for a while,” the threat clear in his voice.
“I am handmaiden to the beloved wife of Lucifer. If I am missing for too long, he will send others to find me. You cannot keep me hidden forever,” Ayame sneered.
“You’d be surprise what I can do,” Gideon smiled. It was a cold evil smile that promised unpleasant things, and it drained the color from Ayame’s face. Gideon’s smile widen because they both knew that she had every reason to be afraid. Very afraid.
Copyright 2018 Heidi Barnes