I WOKE UP IN A PANIC, gasping for my next breath. My lashes fluttered open, but everything was blurry at first, swirling, fuzzy points of light blanketed a velvety blackness. I squinted, then blinked a few times and saw that I was staring up at a clear night sky full of stars. My back was flat against the ground, my head resting uncomfortably on top of something coarse and hard. As I rolled over and pushed up with my hands, sharp pain spread through my body, letting me know I hadn’t completely healed yet. But I ignored it and stood up, feeling unbalanced as I swayed. My arms flapped out as if I could fly, but I was only trying to keep from falling. After a few grueling moments, I was finally able to get it together—sort of. I cast a wary gaze around me. A forest thick with vegetation spread out on both sides, quiet and secluded, and a road weathered with age split right through the middle of it. Not too far from where I stood, the moon projected its light upon the dark surface like a mirage in a desert, and no matter how much distance I could gain, I knew I’d never reach the point where its light truly touched.
A deep sigh blew through my lips as a sense of hopelessness claimed me. Though I was certain I was somewhere on Earth, I still didn’t know where exactly I was or why I was there. I glanced down and my chest tightened with panic. Red, crackled smears covered the tops of my black wedge boots, spreading in crimson trails up my jeans, which were also ripped and torn—shredded at the knees. My arms were scratched and bloody, and the white tee had definitely seen better days. I grabbed my mouth, holding back a gasp, swinging another gaze around me.
Suddenly, images shot through my mind like a projector playing old videos. There was a man holding me, running his fingers through my wavy caramel hair. His eyes were like deep, sapphire pools, coaxing me into their bottomless depths. He lowered his lips to my ear. Then, the vision cut out like interfering static. I drew in a deep breath. More images returned, and this time I could make out that the man was familiar. He was around five foot ten, brunette, and had a muscular body from head to toe. I couldn’t see his eyes this time, not because I wasn’t straining, but because he was blurry…no, moving really fast. He threw me to the ground. “Stay down!” he yelled. “They’re coming!”
“No!” I screamed, trying to rise. “Cole!” I couldn’t move fast enough. Everything was happening too fast, yet it seemed to be progressing in slow motion.
But as I rose, something grabbed me, holding me back. Long black arms wrapped around me. Slick, scaly fingers with claws the size of knives interlocked at my waist, securing their hold on me. I kicked back, then tried to squat down and twist free, but the thing’s grasp was too tight, unbreakable. I looked around in a panic, scanning the area, but couldn’t find a trace of Cole. I screamed—more like a shriek of pain. Panic seized me. I blinked.…
The visions stopped. I remembered everything.
There were headlights off in the distance ahead of me, slowly approaching. I glimpsed the overgrown forest on both sides, then swung right and took off running, plowing into the thick vegetation and swerving around trees and bushes. Their branches were like skeletal hands gripping me, cutting into the tender flesh on my arms. But I kept pushing forward, tears building in my eyes like a stream after a flood. Cole. I’d left Cole. I needed to get back to him before it was too late. I couldn’t let them take him. My pace slowed to a swift walk, and I closed my eyes, squeezed them shut, letting my aura guide me. My fingers pressed into my temples, concentrating, directing all of my focus on Charon, the place where Cole and I had been just before I accidentally orbed back to Earth.
A few moments later, I was standing on a land overtaken by war. Smoke rose from fresh craters blasted in the soft, sandy surface. Black ashes fell like snow. It was like a smothering fog making it difficult to see, hard to breathe. I squinted, trying to help my eyes work a little better. There were mountains all around, a small inlet of water separating them from me. The water looked black, empty, and lifeless. Small waves rushed the expansive, sandy shoreline, breaking, splashing, and then retreating back to sea. I couldn’t remember why I was here. But I knew this place. I’d been here before. But this wasn’t how it looked. It was much more beautiful. What happened here? The fresh smoke proved something recent had occurred. I swallowed hard, my pulse rushing up my throat. This place was Charon. Or at least was Charon.
Everything had come back to me, my memories connecting like matching puzzle pieces.
“Cole!” I yelled, my voice frantic, desperate, and afraid. The fact was, I was beyond afraid, because I couldn’t sense him here. They must’ve taken him alive. If he were dead, I would’ve known instantly.
I walked around aimlessly, like a lost puppy, only to find more destruction. I kicked a rock the size of a tennis ball. It scuffed across the grainy, powder-like surface, leaving a trail behind it.
Then the air grew thicker—like pressure building before a storm—and after a moment, I sensed a presence, familiar, but not friendly. Gooseflesh spread across my skin and my teeth ground together. “Show yourself, Limos!” I demanded, my eyes narrowing.
There was a poof of orange, rusty colored smoke. A draft blew through, clearing some of it away. Limos glared at me, a hint of fang showing in his open mouth. He was nearly six foot, long, flowing black hair draping over his even blacker cloak, and his eyes were the color of blood. “Selene, aren’t you supposed to be guarding your human?” His voice was a deep, malicious hiss.
“That’s none of your business!” I snapped, eyes narrowing into a deeper glare.
Limos waved a hand in the air like he was shooing a fly. “My apologies. Though I do enjoy seeing you in human form.” He stepped forward, reaching for me. His fingernails were overgrown—jagged and sharp, like miniature razors. I swallowed hard as he moved closer, leaving barely a couple feet between us. He hesitated a moment, then lowered his hands. “Ah, that’s much better,” he purred, sounding more like a growl. “Selene, you really are my favorite angel.”
I rolled my eyes. A chill crept up my spine, spilling across the back of my head. “Where is Cole?”
“Do not worry, my child. He is unharmed. I may hold onto him for a little while. That is, unless you are willing to make a trade?”
I took a small step back. “What trade? What do you want?”
Limos half laughed, sinister, evil, like the demon he is. “Oh, Selene, my dear child. I want you. But you already know that.”
I could feel my pulse quickening, shuddering up my chest, into my throat. “No. I can’t!” I swung my head to the right, then slowly to the left, scanning the mayhem previously unleashed by Limos and his hoard of demon followers. “Please let him go!” Tears dripped out of my eyes, making cold, sticky trails down my cheeks. There was an emptiness in the pit of my stomach that clenched into sharp, excruciating pain.
“Tsk tsk, Selene. Was it not your fault that Cole even came here?” Limos turned, arm raised, voice loud and authoritative, saying, “Is this not my world? Look around you, my child! Your god has abandoned this place. I have claimed it for my own.” He lowered his arm, took a small step closer. “Did you really think this world was not on my radar?”
I stared at him, the lumps forming in my throat making it difficult to speak. I had been wrong about this world. It had been an even bigger mistake to bring Cole here. “Limos, please. Don’t do this.”
Limos burst into sinister laughter. A moment that felt more like an eternity passed as I waited for him to settle down. “If only you would have followed the rules.” A sly chuckle rolled off his black, dry tongue. “None of this would have happened. But I am so grateful to you, my child, that you did not follow His rules.”
I couldn’t reply. Limos was right. All of this was my fault. I looked past the demon and gazed at the water, wishing I could jump in and wash away all of my sins. But that was a human desire. Angels aren’t supposed to sin. Even though we were created so differently from people, the truth is we are actually a lot alike. Angels, like humans, have the freedom of choice. We’re not robots. We’re real living beings. We’re not immune to punishments if we make a bad choice. That was how Lucifer, one of God’s most beloved angels, got thrown out of heaven in the first place.
I found my voice. “I will strike you down! You do not have any power over me. Release Cole now!” I stepped forward, keeping my focus on Limos’ eyes.
He rubbed his hands together—slowly, teasingly. “My child, are you threatening me? You want me to release that vampire after you brought him straight to me? You are a fool. If you kept him on Earth where he belonged, I would have never been able to take him. Your vampire was under the protection of Typhon as long as he remained on Earth.”
“Typhon will hear about this! He will challenge you!”
“That is where you are wrong, my child. I have grown stronger. Typhon will not do a thing.”
I wanted to strike Limos that very moment. But I knew I couldn’t. Angels can’t strike demons without His permission. And I definitely didn’t have His permission. If I had just kept Cole on Earth, none of this would’ve happened. Hindsight can be such a bitch sometimes.
Limos cocked his head sideways, watchful eyes all over me like an unwanted and prying visitor, which he was. “Are your stints of amnesia increasing when you orb?”
My eyes went wide. How did he know about that? I couldn’t answer him. I couldn’t let him know just how much I understood his question.
“So it is true?” he exclaimed. “Your eyes gave it away, my child.” That evil laughter returned, rumbling out of his mouth like a tidal wave of evil. “You no longer have him on your side. But you’re not fallen yet. No, not yet. If you were a fallen angel, then I could easily acquire you.” A sly smile curved his lips. “I suppose I should test the waters and take you for my own right now!” He lunged forward, fast—so fast he was impossible to see.
I gasped, stepped back. But he was already there. Too close, his arms opened wide, ready to grab me.
Out of my body a jolt of electricity burst forth, radiating a light so bright it pierced the dark, smoke-filled world around me as if it were a miniature sun. Limos jumped back, ducking down, hands over his face to shield his eyes. He shrieked in agony, hissing words, begging me to stop, to turn off the light. I closed my eyes, stealing a moment to express my gratitude, and then sucked in a deep breath, swallowing the light inside my body as if I were a vacuum.
I walked over to Limos, crouched down beside him. He lowered his hands enough to peer at me, red eyes wide with shock. “You are still under His protection!” he wailed. It definitely was not a question.
I nodded, feeling a touch of a smile on my lips. “Put Cole back on Earth where he belongs, and I will forget the past few hours ever happened.”
“You have won this one, Selene! But we both know your time is limited. Soon you will be fallen. And then you will be mine.” Limos lowered his head, curling his body into a ball, and vanished inside the rusty orange cloud that had brought him to Charon.
I took a deep breath and rose. How was I going to get Cole back? I didn’t have anyone I could go to for help. My only chance was if Typhon would help me—except going to the Underworld would not only take too much time, but came at a high price. The Underworld was off limits for angels. I definitely couldn’t orb there. And even if I could, my powers most likely wouldn’t work there. I’d be a sitting duck, er, angel, with demons of every kind running all around me. I cringed at the thought. No, going to Typhon wasn’t my answer. Somehow I needed to get a message to him, and the only way to do that was through one of his followers. But there were two big problems with that. The first was that I’d be breaking another “angel” rule for the vampire I loved. The second was that you just cannot trust a demon.