Devon had moved Alpha 7 and, as a result, they were not very far from Rhylos now. Hide in plain sight—he’d said—though not really. They were in a dead solar system, orbiting a large gaseous planet that glowed deep red. It had hundreds of moons and a thick ring circling its middle for miles.
Ashriel stared longingly at Alpha 7 as the replacement starcruiser Devon had acquired for Natanael shot forward. Only a half hour had gone by and already he missed Anniel.
It would take just a few hours to reach Rhylos this time around.
How would he convince his nephew to return? Gareth, or Cyneolle as he was now called, had been adamant in remaining to protect those he now felt were his people.
He looked up to find Natanael and Eriel’s wary eyes on him.
“When we return to Alpha 7, you will tell me what the big secret is,” he snapped, growing tired of their suspicious behavior.
Both reapers winced.
Natanael opened his mouth, but Ashriel didn’t allow him to say a thing. “You will tell me or I will beat it out of you,” he grated.
Eriel snickered. “Kinky.”
“You,” Ashriel growled, stabbing a finger in Eriel’s direction, “I will place a chastity belt on.”
Eriel’s eyes widened with a little gasp. He looked askance at Natanael.
The other reaper snorted. “Oh, he so fuckin’ will, Erie.”
Anniel plopped herself down on Seth’s couch with a sullen sigh. She looked around and frowned. Seth’s quarters were bare, only a few holovid orbs sitting upon the end tables at the ends of the L-shaped couch. Everything was a neutral gray, the walls stark white and blank. He sat working at his com-unit, barely noticing her entrance.
Pursing her lips, she rose from her perch and walked into his bedroom. It was as bland as the living section, walls white, bed coverings grey, but reclining against the cushions was a gigantic brown bear she’d gotten him when he was just a little boy.
“I… uh-thought maybe one of the babies might like it,” he said behind her.
She turned to look at him. A slight blush stained his cheeks and his baby-fine platinum hair hung in his eyes.
“You’re going to give away my homecoming present?”
He swallowed. His eyes went back to the bear and he shrugged. “Teddy needs someone to play with him. I was never much company.” He walked toward the bed and picked the stuffed toy up.
She came up behind him and leaned her cheek on his shoulder. His loneliness surprised her. “Hon, haven’t you met anyone you might be interested in getting to know a little more beyond just a little physical release?”
She felt when he closed down his telepathic connection. Lately he’d been doing that more and more. It worried her.
“I have too many responsibilities right now.”
Anniel frowned. “Baby, you’re just twenty one.”
He put the bear down and turned to her. “You didn’t come here to talk to me about my love life.”
Anniel took a deep breath considering whether she should pursue trying to get him to open up about his feelings or talk about going back to Rhylos to see her son.
Sighing at his growing frown, she conceded that at least for now she’d back off, but eventually, she needed to sit and have a talk with Seth, one that should have taken place years ago. Remi was right. They all tried to keep seeing Seth like a child. Seth was a fully grown man…a beautiful lonely one.
She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him close for a hug. They were the same height, so she rested her chin on his shoulder and rubbed her cheek against his soft hair.
His hands came up to her waist and she felt his usual hesitance. “Why are you hugging me?”
The sadness in his voice tugged at her heart. They’d had him since he was eight years old, and he still kept himself aloof from their affections. Devon had said it was a fear of being abandoned again. He never recuperated from his parents’ rejection of him. That fear kept him from demonstrating the love she knew he felt for all of them.
“I just want to hug my favorite weretigri aboard Alpha 7,” she teased.
“I’m the only weretigri aboard Alpha 7.”
She ran her squared off nails up and down his back, hoping to coax out his deep purrs.
“I remember the first time you saw me you hissed at me,” she chuckled.
He sighed. “Must you always remind me?”
She giggled again. “Little kitty afraid of the big bad wolf.
He relaxed a bit more against her, but no purrs. She loved when he purred. It was almost as rare as his smiles.
“I’m not in the mood to purr,” he grumbled. “Sorry.”
She pulled back, running one hand through his hair. Pale blue eyes stared blankly at her. He was shielding his emotions hard.
“Sweetie, I want Gareth back home. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
His brows drew together. “But Ashriel, Natanael, and Eriel left a few hours ago to do just that.”
She gasped. “What?”
Seth nodded. “That wasn’t exactly a very smart thing to do right now, but who the hell can contradict Ashriel?”
“Oh-god, we need to go after them.”
Seth grimaced. “Bad time for us to be going anywhere. Dev doesn’t want any of us revealing where Alpha 7 is.”
Anniel crossed her arms beneath her chest and paced back and forth, anguish over the reapers’ safety making her panic. “We definitely need to go back then. We find the reapers and Gareth and come back home.”
Seth frowned, has hand raking through his hair. “Anniel, he left me in charge of the space station, the reapers, and you. I told Ash that if he left, he was on his own. He said he’d get word to Amaranth to help him get back. They can’t come directly back here or they’ll lead the Master Guardians hunting us down right to us.”
Anniel’s level of panic rose. “Where are Drakken, and the weredragons? Maybe they can come with me if it’ll make you feel better.”
Seth shook his head. “Devon left them guarding the mansion on Sjoria. Alluna’s due any day now.”
“Where did Devon go?”
“He’s hiding Remi, Rowie and the babies. Angel and Jazriel are with them. I don’t know where they are. We’re not supposed to communicate at all. If the Master Guardians feel our power, they might be able to find any of us. We can’t risk it, Anniel.”
Her eyes welled with tears, but she felt determined to go and get her son and find Ashriel.
“Okay,” she said turning on her heel and marching out of his quarters. She almost ran into Abdiel who was standing just outside of Seth’s doorway.
Sidestepping the reaper, Anniel stalked to her rooms.
“Wait,” Seth called rushing after her. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m getting my son and Ashriel back.”
“But, Annie, you can’t...“
“I can and I will,” she snapped.
“It’s too dangerous.”
“We’ve been in dangerous situations before, and if you say it’s because I’m pregnant, I will kick your butt.”
She stepped into her hygiene unit and tapped a few directives into the image screen. Seth stood by looking uncertain as the blue rays of her hygiene unit engulfed her. Her scalp tingled a bit, her hair lifting up with the help of the beams. When the unit finally shut off she was clean and her hair done up in many little twists atop her head. It was her shit-serious-ass-kicking hairdo.
Seth’s jaw dropped. He scrubbed his face with his hands and then held them up in defeat. “Alright. I can’t let you go alone. I’ll let the reapers know so they keep a low profile.”
“I want to go too,” Abdiel piped up.
Both Anniel and Seth turned to look at him. If Annie didn’t know any better, she’d swear that the blond reaper was stalking her. He’d been following her around for most of the…
Anniel narrowed her eyes on him. “Ashriel told you to keep an eye on me, right?”
Abdiel blushed. “He said not to let you leave Alpha 7.”
Anniel snorted, crossing her arms beneath her chest. “Did he now?”
Abdiel looked wary. “Yes, but if I just stay by your side and keep you safe, he might not hurt me too much because you left the safety of the space station.”
She’d been about to forbid him from following her, but his obvious distress over Ashriel’s reaction bothered her more. Would he actually punish the young reaper? She snorted, shaking her head. “Look here, Abdy, Ashriel will not harm a hair on your head. I will not allow it.”
She was about to say more, but the tall, blond death angel yanked her into his arms and hugged her tight. Anniel found her cheek resting over a bulging pectoral as he sighed, “Oh, thank-you.” The relief in his voice was hard to miss.
Anniel pressed her palms against his bare, firm, chiseled torso and drew back. “I need to have a serious conversation with Ashriel about the way he treats you guys. You’re not in the holy city any longer. He can ease up on the stifling rules already.”
Abdiel nodded, even as Seth crossed his arms over his chest and shook his head, looking a bit annoyed at Anniel. “Oh, please do talk to him, Anniel,” Abdiel ran a frustrated hand through his shoulder length hair. “He’s so overbearing, especially with me because I’m still a virgin. He wants me to go back to Seraphia, but I don’t want to. I no longer want to be a slave to reaper priesthood. I want to be free, like Dava. I want to eventually have sex, but I want my first time to be special.”
Anniel didn’t miss the way Seth’s eyes gaped at the mention of the angel of destruction, but Anniel understood what Abdiel meant. Even she had vague memories of Davariel... more than three hundred years ago. He’d sometimes pick her up and toss her playfully in the air, or blow ticklish raspberries on her tummy. She remembered his face, and even though she’d been a two-year-old, the beauty of his eyes had always captivated her.
Seth snapping his fingers before her face had her jumping. “Hellooo-I thought we were going back to Rhylos?” he asked cocking his head to the side with an arched brow.
Anniel blinked at him, feeling flustered, and nodded. “Of course. Let’s go.”
Green gas no longer swathed Rhylos. Angry, dark grey clouds swirled over glittering turquoise oceans and deep green forests, promising an unfriendly welcome.
Ashriel gripped the piloting levers situated to either side of the captain’s chair and directed the starcruiser toward the raw grayed out area marking where the city was situated.
“Are you sure you can do this, Ash?” Natanael asked nervously by his side.
Ashriel snorted. “We’re Seraphian born. Flying is what we do, Natanael.”
“He’s not doubting your ability to fly,” Eriel said behind him. “It’s your ability to pilot his new rig?”
He watched the monitors, keeping a critical eye on the degree of his angle of descent. Go in too direct and they would burn up, too shallow and they’d ricochet off the atmosphere.
He clenched his teeth when gravity began kicking in, making an effort to keep his wings pressed tight to his back as his stomach bottomed out.
He descended, making the starcruiser spiral out in ever tightening circles toward the city.
The closer they got, the worse things looked.
“What the hell,” Natanael muttered.
Ashriel pulled back on the throttles, slowing their speed. “Shields,” he commanded wide-eyed.
Laser fire streamed out everywhere, transports exploded, sending streams of fire and plumes of smoke.
“Laser canons engage,” Ashriel barked out. With an angry snarl, he settled himself more firmly into his seat, his muscles tense and ready for evasive maneuvering. “Look at this. Look at the destruction these beings have wreaked upon this poor planet,” he spat, shaking his head, “again.”
“Some creatures just destroy, Ash. Like us,” Eriel sighed.
“We destroy evil, Erie,” Natanael corrected.
“It’s still destroying,” Eriel answered.
“Do we have any weapons onboard?” Ashriel asked.
“Down in the hold. Some pulse pistols, laser rifles and a portable plasma canon, among other interesting little boy-toys,” Natanael replied with a cocky grin.
Eriel snorted. “If we step out there, we’re toast.”
Ashriel studied the mayhem before him carefully. There was no orderly semblance to traffic below, but they needed to descend.
Taking a deep breath, Ashriel said, “Hold on… and pray.”
Firing the jets full force, he zipped into the worst of the fray. The starcruiser dipped and spun as Ashriel’s arms moved the throttles around. Laser fire snaked around the starcruiser, just barely missing them. Next to him, Natanael gripped the arms of his chair and cursed repeatedly. Ashriel tipped the nose of the transport down and spun and dodged around exploding crafts.
Behind him, Eriel laughed out loud in glee, “Fuck yeah, Ash. You fly as kick ass as you fight.”
“Shut up,” Ashriel snapped rolling the starcruiser belly up before letting it take a dive straight down, heading once again to the bowels of Rhylos. Luckily, no one seemed interested in following them.
Within the myriad of glass tunnels snaking around the smoke scorched pillars of the city, Ashriel realized most of the citizens of Rhylos were either dead or in hiding. The once bustling metal and glass city was nearly deserted, except for the all out war in the upper levels.
“There’s hardly anyone flying down here,” Eriel observed.
“That’s because they’re above,” Ashriel answered, “trying to wipe out the upper class.
Natanael snickered, “Ah, revenge.”
“It’s disgusting and horrific,” Ashriel grated, leveling the starcruiser out to descend belly first now.
Coming closer to the ground, a few people could be seen walking around, fully armed.
“Is it safe?” Eriel asked, leaning closer to the view screen.
“Probably not,” Ashriel answered gruffly.
Scouting out a place to land, Ashriel spotted a wide ledge jutting out from one of the buildings. He hovered over the ledge, and since no one came out to investigate, he settled the big craft down with the nose pointing to the edge of the ledge. If anyone wanted access to the starcruiser, they would have to fly up.
Cutting the power to the transport, Ashriel huffed out a frustrated breath, not having any idea how he would find Cyn now that he was here.
His answer came in the form of the dirty rebel that helped them get away from the media last time they were there. The filthy humanoid rose with his glowing green metallic wings, like an evil spirit from Hell. He grinned molar to molar, showcasing his blackened rotted teeth.
“Hey, it’s our buddy Groggo,” Eriel laughed.
Ashriel could feel the fine hairs at the back of his neck prickle. “I don’t trust him,” he rasped under his breath.
Natanael sighed. “We don’t really have any choice but to act like we do. Looks like it’s the only way to find Cyneolle.”
Ashriel knew Natanael was right. The more people saw them, the quicker word would get back to Anniel’s son. Ashriel was sure Cyn would come to them.
All three reapers donned their gear of special armored clothing, goggles, and respirators. Devon might have regenerated the planet’s vitality, but there was no telling what chemical weapons might have been used since they left. By the time they opened the exit ramp, Groggo and his cohorts hovered closer to the street below, awaiting Ashriel, Natanael, and Eriel.
“Well if it isn’t the pretty fly boys again,” the smelly man cackled when they finally dropped down to street level.
“Groggo. How the hell are you?” Natanael called out, folding his jet wings neatly against his back.
Ashriel watched Groggo drift down, followed by more than a dozen armed half humanoid, half cyborg beings. They landed in a tight circle around the reapers.
“Welcome back to hell,” Groggo smirked. “Devon of Angelos really created utter havoc here on Rhylos. The upper levels are killing each other off. We’re waiting for them to finish so we can ride up and take over.”
Ashriel resisted the urge to shake his head in disapproval.
“And once you take over, what will you do?” Ashriel spat, unable to keep the disdain from his voice.
The others behind Groggo echoed his chuckles. “Once we take over, we’ll live like gods,” Groggo answered. The mob behind him shouted in agreement, some howling, others whistling.
“So… what brings you pretties back to our lovely planet?” the disgusting man grinned wider.
“Cyneolle,” Ashriel replied. “We need to see him.”
Groggo snorted derisively before spitting another blood-speckled gob on the filthy floor. “You sure have a hard-on for that borg. Why don’t you hook up with one of us instead? Cyn can’t even get a hard on.” A few of the men behind Groggo laughed. “The poor fuck’s frozen in a perpetual state of childhood.”
Ashriel’s eyes narrowed. He didn’t want to reveal any personal information to these derelicts, knowing they would use anything they knew against them.
“Well, do you know where we can find Cyneolle or not?” Ashriel asked with a scowl.
Again, they snickered setting his blood to boil. “Cyn is like the air. He’s everywhere, but unseen.” Groggo grinned wickedly. “If you hang out with us, he just might show up. Besides, the city isn’t safe.”
Ashriel tried not to scoff, as his gaze spanned the decrepit group before him. Like they’d be safer with this bunch of thieves and murders.
Obviously deciphering Ashriel’s suspicious expression, Groggo threw his head back and laughed. “Only a fool would bring harm to such…” his one good eye looked at all three reapers while he licked his lips and rubbed his filthy hands together. “…such special Seraphians like yourselves.”
“That’s code for your ass is worth more alive than dead,” Eriel whispered in Ashriel’s ear.
Ashriel’s frown deepened. He hadn’t returned to Rhylos to whore himself out.
“How long ago did they leave?” Anniel demanded, feeling her gut twist with dread.
Seth huffed out an impatient breath. “A few hours ago. Calm down. They might still be orbiting Rhylos waiting for permission to land.”
Abdiel snorted. “I doubt it.”
Seth glared at him over his shoulder, ratcheting her nerves even higher.
She scowled at him. “Sethaliel, don’t you treat me like some ignorant, frightened little child.”
He rolled his eyes. “They’ll be fine, Annie. They can’t get into much trouble in a few minutes. We’ll be there in five more minutes.”
She bit her lip and gasped when her baby kicked against her ribs. “Can’t you go any faster? We could combine our powers.”
Seth shook his head, leveling his sky-blue gaze on her with a frown. “You know what Dev said about going too fast. Last time Remi did that, he almost ripped a hole in our realm and all but destroyed a planet. It’s just less than five minutes, Annie. What can go wrong in less than five minutes?”
In less than five minutes, they’d walked into a trap. Groggo assured them they needed to hide. The entire city was at war after the rebels killed king Dred.
They were lead down a darkened alley, guarded heavily by more of Groggo’s gang. Behind the burned out remains of a dumpster, they crawled through a broken window and down a flight of rusted metal stairs.
Overhead, music could be heard, a hard thumping beat. Two of Groggo’s men pushed open a pair of metal doors leading to a long dim corridor. Deep red velvet covered the walls with faded golden designs stamped within. Ashriel frowned when he realized the designs were little cherubs
The rug beneath Ashriel’s boots might have been golden at some point in time, but now it was a filthy, dingy, mustard brown. And it smelled…like sweat, and sex, and urine.
Ashriel wrinkled his nose, looking briefly at Natanael beside him. Both reapers were tense, their silvery grey eyes darting side to side. Ashriel wrapped his fingers around the hilt of the laser sword strapped to his hip even as his feathers puffed out in anticipation of a fight.
They entered an elevator, with golden mirrors lining its interior. The floor and ceiling were lit, and some strange alien tune was playing. They rode down in silence.
When the doors finally opened, they emerged in a wide, brick and concrete corridor. The walls were large bricks with peeling white paint and the floor was rough concrete, covered in layers of dirt and pebbles.
Ashriel’s boots crunched loudly, the sound echoing far ahead. The corridor seemed to stretch into infinity and had a doorway every hundred yards or so. The glaring overhead lighting flickered unsteadily making him feel disorientated. All he heard beside their marching feet was the ticking flicker of the lights and the soft hiss of air coming out of the numerous vents perched low to either side of the corridor.
Ashriel should have anticipated problems when some of the men began fitting their respirators over their faces. The air smelled foul but only a few covered their noses and mouth.
Ashriel thought they used their respirators because of the stench of dank wet mold, which covered the crumbling bricks. There was also the slight scent of decay… like rotting death. It made his skin crawl as he remembered that some of the citizens in Rhylos had become so contaminated from the toxic air, they’d become little more than walking corpses. He’d yet to see one, but would rather forgo such a revolting experience.
His vision wavered a bit and then Eriel stopped to pout at Ashriel.
“I don’t feel so good,” was all the brunette reaper said before he collapsed. Ashriel gasped wide-eyed, and tried to pull Erie to him, but realized he barely had any strength. He felt as if he moved in slow motion. All he did manage was to hold Erie’s body against his and let him slide gently to the floor in a heap of silky black feathers. Ashriel rocked back on his boots feeling numbness tingling up from his fingers and toes. His head felt like it was stuffed with cotton. He frowned, blinking, as he ran his fingers through his dark locks. Everything wavered and swam before his eyes.
Natanael knelt unsteadily to touch Eriel, but collapsed too, his deep blue hair spilling over one black wing as it struck the wall. The other wing slid up Ashriel’s body until it touched his chin and then it just dropped back down to his boots.
Ashriel shook his head, trying to make sense of what was going on, but his mind felt like a swirling vortex, spinning away to dark oblivion. He fell to his knees, his hand skimming over Natanael’s shoulder, and just as his belly made contact with the two fallen reapers, he lost all consciousness.
“Dev’s not happy with what we’re doing,” Seth huffed.
Anniel wanted to scream in frustration. “I thought we weren’t supposed to communicate telepathically with each other? Why are you tattling?”
“I’m not tattling,” Seth snapped in exasperation.
Anniel glared at him. “Well how does he know what we’re up to if you’re not telling him?”
“Angel can see it, and they’re linked. I can feel him getting agitated.”
Anniel gasped. If Angel could see them, maybe she could see if Ashriel and the other two reapers were all right.
Seth heard her thoughts and shook his head. “She doesn’t know them well enough to latch onto their life forces.”
Anniel’s gut twisted in anxiety, resulting in another swift kick from her daughter. Placing her palm over her softly rounded belly, she looked pleadingly at Seth. “Once we land, you’ll be able to feel them out, won’t you?”
Seth’s brows drew closer together as he dipped the throttles of silver comet forward. “I’ll try, Anniel. We don’t want to let on that there are two Alpha Angels on Rhylos again.”
“Three,” Abdiel corrected. He leaned forward in the tiny transport to look at either of them with a worried little frown marring his perfect face. “I’m one of you now too, right?”
Anniel patted his cheek. “Yes, baby. You’re one of us too.”
When she looked forward again, her eyes grew round. They were coming upon Rhylos fast, but aside from that, there were thousands of space vehicles buzzing around the planet.
“There weren’t that many before, were there?”
Seth remained quiet, but Abdiel had no such restraint. “That doesn’t bode well. Looks like there’s civil unrest. Word must’ve gotten out. Look at them. They’re circling like vultures, just waiting”
“Vultures?” Anniel frowned, looking from Seth to Abdiel.
Seth’s lips tightened into a firm line before he said,. “Mostly space pirates looking for a place to call home. They sweep in and take over after the natives virtually wipe themselves out.”
“They actually go in and sell the natives weaponry of mass destruction to help them along,” Abdiel added.
Anniel gasped. “That’s horrible.”
“That’s the way of the universe.” Seth said with a sigh. “The LOS won’t interfere. Rhylos is worthless for the league council. Everybody hold on. We’re going in.”
They’d taken the Silver Comet Garethiel had left Ashriel. It jerked as Seth put the engines in full burn and they slipped under Rhylos thick atmosphere lighting up like the crafts brand name.
Gravity began kicking in and Anniel felt like she was about to get sick.
Another yank and her eyes widened when she realized the ground was flying up to meet them incredibly fast.
“Seth,” she cried out.
“Easy. I’m trying to keep us from getting shot at.”
Almost as if on cue, a volley of laser fire streaked past them. Seth dipped and spun the Silver Comet, weaving past exploding ships and laser fire. After passing the worst of the fighting, he tipped the nose of the transport straight down and hurtled into the darkness below. Behind them, Anniel heard a loud thump followed by Abdiel’s groan of pain. Black feathers floated about, but she was too terrified to look back.
Finally, Seth slowed down and leveled the Silver Comet to come to a coasting stop in the middle of a deserted street.
Anniel breathed a sigh of relief.
“Next time let me fly,” Abdiel snapped angrily. “Now let me out. Look at my wings. My feathers are all screwy.”
Seth opened the side doors and let the disgruntled reaper out. His hand squeezed Anniel’s thigh as he looked at her in concern.
She nodded, taking deep breaths as she observed Abdiel stalking to the front of the transport to shake out his ruffled feathers.
“Come on. We’re about to have company.”
They both stepped out of the transport and walked to Abdiel as he folded his wings neatly behind his back.
The stifling breeze smothered Anniel almost instantly, bringing with it the stench of death. Anniel wrinkled her nose and her stomach roiled in protest.
Seth turned, his eyes glowing briefly. He held up his hands as three respirators flew into them from the Silver Comet.
Anniel looked at him askance when he handed one to her. “I thought we weren’t supposed to use our powers.”
“The rules have changed,” he said, his gaze on something behind her.
Light flashed, catching her eye. She turned to see Abdiel unsheathing his divine sword, the inside of his eyes completely black in kill mode.
The smell grew worse and even as she drew the strap to the respirator over her head, she already knew what was drawing closer.
Anniel turned her head just as the first one shambled out from a darkened alleyway.
It was just a little boy, his reddish-gold hair smeared with grime. His skin was grey, but not like the Grei aliens. No. This was not some hybrid Grei-humanoid mix. His ears were pointed, and he only had two big toes on either foot, but that wasn’t what horrified Anniel. His eyes might have been big orbs at one time. Right now, they were nothing but milky mush, dripping with a greenish maggot filled goo. A walking corpse.
More of them appeared, scuffling forward, raising their arms toward her, Seth and Abdiel.
“Annie, get back into the Silver Comet,” Seth ordered unsheathing his own sword.
Anniel felt down the leg of her flight suit and wrapped her fingers around her favorite laser sword. Slipping the long metal hilt from its sheath, she activated the blade, which sprung forth in a blaze of blue-white light. “Not on your life, kiddo.”
Abdiel gave her sideways glance and smirked. “That is so hot.”
And then his wings spread out and he was airborne.
Abdiel cut a gruesome path into the mob of shambling zombies headed straight for them, his sword and wings destroying everything in his path. It was mesmerizing to watch, but Seth was yelling at her to move. There were more approaching.
Anniel ran, lifting her blade over her head. Back and forth she swung, doing her best not to look into their faces, trying not to think that at some point these were living, breathing people who had families.
“Annie, stop it,” Seth called out, obviously reading her thoughts.
“I’m trying,” she answered cutting down an elderly woman. “Oh-god.”
Corpse. She’s just a corpse.
Behind the elderly woman was a tiny girl. Her golden ringlets reminded Annie of when Gareth was a baby and she froze, arm held back for the killing blow. The baby girl held up her arms, as if wanting to be held. A sob escaped Annie’s throat at the sight, even as she bared little milk teeth and snarled.
That was all it took for one of the zombies to grip her sword arm, startling her.
The hilt slipped from her fingers as another corpse grabbed her other arm.
The cold feel of their rotted flesh made her cringe, but she shook them off and gave a roundhouse kick, smashing the skull of one of them. She turned to kick out at the one that had initially grabbed her sword arm but a blinding flash of light had her shielding her eyes.
Blinking through her fingers, she saw an angel descend from up above and blast the corpses around her with green fire.
One white wing, one silver and glowing, her son turned to regard her solemnly.
“Oh, Gareth,” she gasped jumping into his arms. Judging from the way he stiffened, she knew she’d startled him.
Slowly his arms came around her. “Why have you returned?” his deep raspy voice questioned.
Anniel held him tight, her hands fisting his blond dreads. “I won’t leave you behind, baby.”
He turned his nose into her neck, his arms tightening a bit more. Behind him, she saw Abdiel approach and felt Seth’s presence a little behind them.
“Why?” he whispered.
“Because you’re my baby, and I won’t leave you ever again,” she choked out on a sob.
He pulled away from her a bit, and for the first time, she took a good look at his face. The skin on the right side was torn, exposing a gleaming silver skull with a mechanical eye. His forearms were covered in metal also, and around his neck was a metal ring with blinking lights. Her knees almost gave way, but she gripped his broad muscular shoulders hard.
“Oh, you poor thing,” she gasped touching his one good cheek.
He covered her hand with his, making her realize how big his hands were. “These are my battle scars. I wear them with pride,” his gravelly voice declared.
She didn’t want him to feel bad. Letting her eyes sweep him again, she realized how much he looked like his father and obviously Ashriel. His hair was a darker blond, and his skin much lighter than hers, but the shape of his good eye, his nose and even his towering height were reminiscent of his dad and uncle. Anniel let her finger slide down his jaw to his mouth and smiled. His lips were full like hers. He was actually very beautiful despite the metal hardware.
“So you call yourself Cyneolle?”
“Yes. I prefer that name.”
“I... I guess I need to get used to calling you that.”
He remained observing her for a few seconds. “I thought you were just here for the reapers.”
Anniel gasped and gripped his shoulders again. “The reapers? It’s my fault they’re here. I wanted to come get you, but Ashriel didn’t want me to come back. He came here to find you himself. Do you know where they are?”
“Yes,” Cyn replied. “We must hurry though. I was on my way to retrieve them when I heard that you’d come down here.”
“It’s as simple as this. You do as I say, and we don’t kill your buddy.”
Ashriel looked warily at where Eriel laid. He was strapped down, still unconscious, in the middle of a glass cylinder. Just beneath him was a mesh floor with a trap door. Below was a churning horde of decaying zombies, reaching up frantically toward Eriel’s listless wings. They draped down either side of the table to splay across the floor.
“There’s a timer on that trap door. If I don’t put my palm against the scanner so that it registers my heartbeat, the trap door opens and your pretty friend is dinner for my buddies,” Groggo laughed.
Ashriel sneered, wishing he could just unsheathe his divine sword and cut the bastard to pieces.
They’d forced Natanael and him to wear a black soctanal, the scant covering young reapers wore while training to become holy warriors.
“Now,” Groggo said clapping his hands once, “I think it’s show time. You two just follow Hatzi out into the showroom, strut your stuff, and be friendly…and pray that at least one of you gets hired for the night, otherwise your buddy will be tied by his toes and I’ll just dip him into that tank full of ragers.”
Groggo snapped his rotted teeth twice. “They’ll nibble on him a bit, but don’t worry. I won’t let them kill him...“ he cackled, ”yet.”
“You’re going to regret this,” Ashriel hissed.
Groggo snorted. “I doubt it. Now get the fuck out of here and make me some credits.”
Ashriel and Natanael followed a group of Groggo’s men, led by a large male that looked like an Edenian ape. They strode down the corridor to another elevator.
Ashriel glanced over at Natanael. He couldn’t believe this was to be his fate. To be sold as a whore. What terrified him most was the possibility of Anniel coming in search of him or her son.
Shame filled him. He’d wanted to bring her son back to her, instead he’d fallen into a trap. The memories of her warnings of what could befall him shamed him further. Never had he felt so defeated and powerless. There was nothing he could do. He would not endanger Erie’s life by attempting to escape.
Sooner or later Devon would come for them. Of that he was sure. He just wished the demon archangel of the Alpha Angels would do so before Anniel attempted it.
Ashriel would never forgive himself if she came to harm because of his own stupidity.
The doors to the elevator opened after they’d ascended for a few minutes. The blast of music made Ashriel cringe.
Natanael gripped Ashriel’s arm. “They can use your body, but they can never touch your soul. Remember that, Ash. This body is nothing more than a receptacle. What’s inside is untouchable.”
Ashriel stared in awe at Natanael’s spiritual strength. Never again would he look down upon reapers who’d fallen into prostitution.
Cyn summoned Chameleon to bring Rayne. They would leave her in the starcruiser Ashriel had flown to Rhylos with Seth and Abdiel standing by to lift off as soon as they retrieved to missing reapers.
Nothing had prepared anyone for Chameleon’s appearance. Anniel gaped as he emerged from the shadows, materializing as if by magic. In his arms he carried a still unconscious Rayne. His entire body, including massive wings tucked behind his back looked like liquid silver. When he came more into the circle of light cast from one of the street lamps Abdiel gasped.
Chameleon’s shiny liquid exterior morphed. His hair was stark white and flowed down to his waist, his eyes were the typical bright grey of reapers. His wings turned blue-black.
Chameleon tilted his head a bit to the side, regarding Abdiel curiously.
“Oh-my-god. Iophiel,” Abdiel said in awe. “Everyone thought you were dead.”
“He did die,” Cyneolle responded when Chameleon remained silent.
Anniel bit her lip and stared at the intriguing creature before her. He looked…too perfect. Like a doll.
“Iophiel,” Chameleon finally said slowly, as if testing out the sound on his tongue.
“Whatever he is, he has an aura,” Seth said narrowing his eyes. “He’s a sentient being.”
“Yes,” Cyneolle said in his deep raspy voice, “But ninety percent of the memories of his past life are gone. So, the reaper Iophiel died. This is Chameleon.”
Anniel gulped. “Why is he called Chameleon?”
The platinum-haired reaper extended his arms to Seth, giving him the unconscious girl. As he passed Rayne into Seth’s arms, his form morphed again. He turned into an exact replica of Seth.
They all stared wide-eyed. Chameleon only grinned and then morphed into Anniel.
She gasped. “Wow. That’s…creepy.”
Chameleon changed back into himself as a reaper. “We must leave. It becomes increasingly dangerous to remain here.”
Anniel’s heart skipped a beat as she looked to her son. Placing her hands on his thick biceps, she looked up into his eyes. “Are you coming back home with us?”
He remained staring at her a moment, his nostrils flared, jaw tight. She could feel the tension in him. Just as she was about to beg, he replied, “yes.”
Anniel wrapped her arms around him, her joy immeasurable.
“I still don’t feel right, sending you off alone,” Seth huffed behind her.
She turned to look into his disgruntled countenance.
“She will be safer with us. It is very dangerous here,” Cyneolle said to him. “You and the reaper can defend yourselves and keep the girl safe. I will ensure...“ he stopped suddenly and looked at Anniel. His eyes bore into her with an intensity that had her holding her breath. “I will ensure no harm comes to my mother.”
Anniel had to swallow down the sob that threatened to burst from her heart. She wanted to hold him again. Her baby. Her big, seven-foot, gigantic cyborg baby.
She walked between them, noticing that the few beings that prowled the darkened streets scattered out of the way as they approached. Everyone seemed terrified of Cyneolle and Chameleon. Not that she would blame them. The pair were quite intimidating.
When they finally entered an underground casino, Anniel was amazed at the amount of creatures gathered there. She wondered if they knew that Armageddon was taking place on the upper levels of the city.
She wrinkled her nose when she saw a good number of creatures collared and chained. There was a Grei alien making use of a poor Merulian. Anniel couldn’t tell if the Merulian was more male or female because they tended to be hermaphroditic.
Her heart slammed against her ribs when she caught sight of Natanael’s head of inky blue hair. He was reaching behind him, clasping Ashriel’s hand with a smile.
From what she could see through the crowded, smoky room, both reapers were nearly naked, wearing only a strip of black satin that fell a little past their knees. It was held up by a gold band low on their hips, leaving their hips, legs, and most likely most of their ass bare. A soctanal. She knew it was what young reapers wore before taking their final vows as holy warriors.
Cyneolle and Chameleon must have spotted them also because they headed right in their direction.
They stopped a few feet from Natanael. He turned, grinning with a toss of his abundant blue locks and froze when he spotted them.
The blue-haired reaper rocked a bit on his bare feet when Ashriel plowed right into him from behind.
He shook his head, spitting out the mouthful of hair he’d gotten when he walked into Natanael, and then his eyes met hers over Nat’s shoulder.
Anniel’s throat closed up as her heart slammed against her ribs. She had to swallow a few times to be able to speak.
With superhuman effort, she tore her gaze from Ashriel’s bewildered one to look at the ugly ape-like alien next to them.
“How much?” she demanded crossing her arms under her boobs. Apeman’s eyes immediately focused and locked on them. Typical male.
She’d worn a long overcoat, stuffed with various weapons, but mostly it was to hide her belly. Still it had a deep V cut, showing her double D’s and was slit up the sides to show off her long legs now clad in patent leather thigh-high boots.
Apeman wasn’t the only one enjoying the view.
Ashriel’s jaw was slack as his eyes traveled up every inch of her slowly. She almost didn’t hear the Hazdraec speaking to her, too busy feeling herself begin to throb and grow wet with Ashriel’s heated perusal of her body. When his glittering gaze settled on her face though, his lips tightened into a thin line and his nostrils flared. Grey eyes flared beneath tightly drawn brows and fury just radiated off him.
Oops... she thought to herself. Too bad.
Cyneolle nudged her.
“That’s fine,” Anniel coughed, not sure exactly what she was agreeing to.
The entire hall fell silent. Even the strange cosmic music stopped. The Hazdraec stared at her dumbfound as well as the Gorgundts flanking the reapers.
A tiny Bleep made its way toward them, its furry, round body a pale shade of blue and its little eyes blinking from the top of antennae-like protrusions. A snout resembling a long, thin horn tooted and bleeped at her. Her translator didn’t include the Bleep dialect unfortunately, but she guessed that he wanted some form of payment. One of his four arms raised a scanner to her.
Cyneolle stepped up and swiped a clear chip over the machine making it blip green.
Amazed murmuring went around the cavernous hall and the music started up again.
She wasn’t sure what just transpired, but she had a feeling her son just unloaded a shitload of credits for both reapers.
The Hazdraec wiped his sweating brow and grinned. “They’re yours until sunrise.”
It was just Ashriel and Natanael. Eriel was nowhere to be seen.
Anniel made herself stand taller, hoping silently that Eriel was okay. “Do you have any decent accommodations in this death-trap, or must I take my new toys elsewhere to play?”
The Hazdraec coughed nervously. “Of course. After what you just paid, we’ll put you in the royal chambers.” The hideous ape-man chuckled. “I doubt Dred will be making use of them anymore.”
That didn’t bode well for the king, but at the moment Anniel didn’t care. She just wanted to locate the missing reaper and leave.
Apeman signaled them to follow.
Ashriel began to shake his head, but Cyneolle gripped his arm and growled “walk.”
After one last blistering scowl, Ashriel jerked his arm out of Cyn’s hold and stalked forward.
Anniel had to remember how to breathe. He’d folded his wings back off his back. She could see how beautifully muscular his entire back was and the mouthwatering swell of each butt cheek exposed by the scanty soctanal he wore. Her eyes trailed down his long legs, sighing at how strong they looked. The wings separated and spread a bit, catching her gaze. Each filament glowed blue black and invited her touch.
She almost ran into him when they boarded an elevator. He turned to face her just as she’d reached out to stroke his wings. Her hand ended up on his taut belly. He flinched, his eyes widening a bit. The kidnappers were staring at her interaction with him so she stroked up his chest and throat until her thumb caressed his full lower lip. His eyes were still narrowed. They slid down her body again to stop at where her belly was hidden beneath her over-coat. He took a deep breath, tightened his lips into an angry line and looked back into her eyes with his smoldering ones.
Anniel had to bite her own lips to keep from giggling at his overbearing, grumpy, hot, sexy self. If it weren’t because her son were standing right next to her, she’d grab Ashriel’s head and kiss the hell out of him.
“So,” the ape-like man said breaking the charged silence, “is this going to be like some sort of orgy?”
Anniel felt her face heat up.
Apeman looked at Cyn and snorted. “I guess you’ll just watch, eh Cyn? Your dick doesn’t work at all, does it?”
Anniel’s mortification turned into indignation. How dare the ugly creep talk to her son that way.
“I have no need to alter my biological chemistry,” Cyneolle replied before Anniel could tell the man to go to hell. There is no room in my life for a mate.”
Apeman grimaced. “You don’t need to bond with a person to fuck.” He shrugged his big hairy shoulders, his beady red eyes crinkling at the corners as he showed pointy yellowed teeth in a wide grin. “More for the rest of us I guess.”
Anniel bit her lip and looked at her son. He was over three hundred years old—by Seraphs standards, fully adult. She had to blink back the moisture in her eyes as she remembered him running and laughing in Alpha 7. To her it only seemed like a few years ago. She took in the expanse of his wide shoulders and thick bulging chest. His arms looked like they could crush anything and his legs were corded and thick with muscle.
Cyneolle tipped his head to the side. Even though he still wore his goggles. She knew he was trying to tell her he knew she was staring. The others would notice too.
Anniel looked away. There was no more time to worry about her son when the elevator stopped its descent and the doors opened.
They stepped out into a bright white corridor. The only other doors where a pair of enormous golden ones a few paces down.
Apeman’s communicator blipped and he touched his fat fingers to the device in his ear.
Anniel narrowed her eyes and strained to listen in on the conversation.
“Hatzi,” another male hissed, “What the hell is going on? There four quadrillion boolz in our account? Is that real, or are our accounts malfunctioning with the fucking war going on above?”
“It’s real, boss.”
There was silence over the line and then she heard keys on a pad being pressed. “I’m turning on the security feeds to see who’s with you.”
Anniel tensed up as Apeman looked at each of them.
“Is there something amiss?” Chameleon, disguised as Abdiel asked.
“Cyneolle? Did he unload that amount of credits into the account or did the hot female?”
Hatzi looked at Cyneolle and grinned. “It’s just my boss making sure you are being treated right.”
“Shit,” the man on Hatzi’s com-unit hissed. “Bring me that son-of-a-bitch. If he’s got that many credits then he has more.”
Hatzi grinned. “My boss would like to meet you. We have other accommodations you might like better than Dred’s he says. I guess he’s going to let you all use his personal suites.”
Chameleon grinned and stepped closer to the Hazdraec. “That’s very kind of you. I’m very sure Mistress Anell,” he nodded to Anniel, making her grin at the new name he’d given her, “will definitely be coming back to sample your finery.”
Hatzi gave a weird huffing laugh. “We have another pretty one like these. He’s in my boss’s quarters... um... entertaining a few of our guests.”
“Hatzi, shut up,” the voice on the ear-com hissed, obviously not realizing Anniel’s sensitive canine hearing picked him up clearly.