It wasn’t long before we had exited the ship and found ourselves on the steep slope of a frigid mountain. We were just above the timber line, and the forest loomed ominously before us as we stepped out among the dark pines.
Though I was still feeling slighted by Marc, I could sense the trepidation in his step and I couldn’t help but feel some empathy for him. I was already having some doubts about how I had treated him, and now I was feeling awful for seeing what he was facing now. I had never seen him as nervous and emotionally distraught as he was trudging through the snow.
Lucifel had produced extremely warm cold-weather gear for us. I was surprised by how warm it actually was, because the cloth was hardly thicker than the normal type the angels wore, but I hardly noticed the cool air except when it touched the tip of my nose. Marc, Alan, Keith and I were accompanied by Lucifel, Shatan, Belial, and Verina, as well as four other angels. The only one of the angels I recognized was Mephistel, who gave me a nod when my eyes met his in recognition.
We had only travelled for around ten minutes before we heard the flapping of large, leathery wings pierce the silent night. Each of the four angels drew weapons from their belt. It was the first time I had seen an angel with a weapon in hand since the night they had tried to kill me in the restaurant. Then it had been metallic blades, which Marc had explained to me was due to the fact that they didn’t want to use technology that would be unexplainable in the autopsy. These weapons were very different. They were some type of gun that looked nothing like anything I had seen before, and they hummed with energy. Four guns were soon pointed at winged forms that landed in the pines above us.
Lucifel opened her mouth to speak, but Marc spoke first, “I am Prince Dae’Marca, son of King Ikarus. Accompanying me is the Lady Lucifel of Hell, Grandmaster Shatan, and High Druid Keith Morgan. They are my guests, and are expected by the King.”
“We hear you, prince,” said a voice that came from the tree nearest the front of our troupe, “We will escort you. The king sent us out as the advance party, and he and his entourage will meet you halfway, that is, if you’re willing to put away your weapons.”
At a nod from Belial, the four angels once again holstered their guns in their belts, and we were on the move again. This time there was wariness over the group. I didn’t feel it as much as everyone else seemed to; well, everyone but Keith. We had both reached out with our telepathy and knew exactly where our demon escort was, and they were not in any threatening position. Lucifel, Shatan, and Belial were all as unreadable telepathically as they normally were, but the occasional glance up into the trees gave their anxiety away. None of them were comfortable here.
Within a half an hour we saw lights heading toward us through the trees, and the roar of engines. A moment later we were bathed in the glow of headlights, as monstrous trucks came into view. There were a half dozen of the things, weaving between the trees, and they came to stop in a semi circle in front of us. Out of the center one the uniformed driver stepped out and opened the passenger door. As another man stepped out, dressed head to toe in thick furred garb, the four demons in our escort settled to the ground around him protectively.
The man began walking steadily toward us, the demons now acting as his escort, until he stopped fifteen feet in front of the two angels at the front of our group. He spoke, his voice deep and commanding, “I am King Ikarus. When I heard that you had arrived, I made sure to greet you personally. It is rare that we have such esteemed guests here, and I would hate to make you feel unwelcome. Please, get in the trucks so that we can be on our way to warmer settings.”
This time it was Lucifel that responded to the greeting, “Thank you, King Icarus. I am glad to see that unlike the human realm, the demons have not forgotten respect and civility. We will accompany you. Am I to assume that Shatan and I will ride with you?”
“Most certainly, Lady Lucifel. Right this way, please. I will get the door for you,” the king replied smoothly. It all felt rehearsed, and then I realized that it probably was. Situations like this always had a bit of ceremony to them. After the king had Lucifel and Shatan situated in their vehicle, the other angels followed suit, except Belial and Verina. The king approached us next.
“High Druid Morgan, I am pleased to see you again. It has been several years since we last met, but you are welcome in my halls. I hope that this temporary alliance with Hell will not damage our good relations,” the king said, with a quick glance at the two remaining angels standing with us. Belial’s gaze was unreadable. Verina… was staring at Keith, and quite nervously.
I was about to read her thoughts to see why when Keith responded, and I was brought back to the situation at hand. “Certainly not, King Ikarus. I have found my time spent among the devils to actually be surprisingly comfortable. They treated us fairly, and though there is certainly little love between us, I think that this alliance is a good idea.”
Once again I caught Verina’s expression out of the corner of my eye, but this time I did manage to skim her thoughts for a second. Even as her face clouded a little her mind was even more clouded with anger and hurt. I only managed to hear one thought, before I was again pulled away. It was a question that stood prominently in her mind. There’s no love between us? My eyes widened in surprise even as I was pulled back to the conversation again, this time by a question from the king directed at Belial.
“You are Belial I presume?” The angel nodded in reply, and the king continued, “Then I assume from your posturing that you have been charged by your mother to protect the son of Merlin. He has no enemies here. You may take your angelic companion and find your place in one of the trucks. Dae’Marca has been protecting the boy for his whole life, I am certain he can continue that duty here. Consider it a reprieve.”
“Father, I don’t think…” Marc began, but I cut him off.
“I think that is an excellent plan, your majesty. Marc and I will be fine, and Belial could use a break. He has been staying up nonstop to protect us, using some sort of supplement in place of sleep. I am sure he could use the rest, especially if we are preparing for battle.” I surprised myself with how smoothly I was able to respond. I had never met a king before, but something about the way he carried himself said that I was better off showing that I could take care of myself.
“Excellent, then it’s settled. I tell you this, son of Merlin; I did not think that you actually existed. I’m still not certain what role you’re actually supposed to play in all of this, but I am glad that my son chose to see fit to prove me wrong. It’s given Michael the push he needed to come out of hiding. I hope you will enjoy your stay among my halls.” The king finished with a smile, and then turned back to his vehicle, after a nod and a smile to Marc.
“You did good son!” He called over his shoulder, right before he climbed into the passenger seat. I couldn’t help the smug feeling that came over me as I thought that Marc was finally getting everything he wanted, but I lost my arrogance as soon as I looked at my former lover and saw the look of torment on his face. He wasn’t happy at all, and I knew then that I had done it to him. I had caused him the pain that was so clearly etched into his face.
Belial walked off toward one of the trucks with an angry Verina in tow, and Keith gave me a long, understanding look before pulling Alan off toward another of the vehicles, which left Marc and I standing in the snow. He carefully turned his eyes to meet mine, and seemed as if he was searching my soul for something. I didn’t know if he found it or not, but he slowly walked toward me and whispered helplessly, “Why?”
I didn’t have to ask him what he was referring to. I knew how he thought, even without having to read his mind. He wanted to know why I was letting him near me. “Because I realize that things may not have been as serious as they were. Because I realize that your intentions may not have been what I initially thought they were. Because I’m willing to consider forgiving you, even though I haven’t gotten there yet. You abandoned me, Marc, but I know now that it wasn’t your intention. It doesn’t change the action though. Come on, let’s get to the truck.”
“Damien,” he began, and then hesitated. I think he didn’t expect me to turn around, but I did, with a questioning look on my face. He found his words again and continued, “I really don’t understand exactly what happened. All I want you to know is that I would do anything to make it up to you. You seem to think that I’m some kind of monster, who’s been using you all this time. I really do love you, and I really do want to spend the rest of my life with you. I just hope you’ll let me do something, anything, to make things right.”
I sighed, and tried to smile back at him, but I knew that it only came out halfway. “I think I just need some time on this, okay? How about we talk this over more in depth when this battle is over? Do you want to know what I think part of the problem is? I didn’t get to know the real you before we got into this relationship. I knew who you actually were for less than a day before I was in bed with you. How about we treat today as a fresh start and you can show me around your home, so I can find out who Prince Dae’Marca is, rather than his human alter ego?”
Marc smiled back, and I knew that what I had said was exactly what he needed to hear. His hope was restored. He had found what he had been searching for; a way out of the trap. He walked up to me and extended his hand as he said, “Hello, my name is Dae’Marca, that’s with a ‘C’ not a ‘K’. And before you ask, no, it’s not short for anything.”
This time the smile had no problem coming in full, and I took his offered hand as I replied, “No problem, with a ‘C’, got it. I will make sure to put it that way in my phone.” We both laughed quietly as we remembered the day we met. I wasn’t ready to take him back as a boyfriend, but I was certainly glad that we were friends again.
We climbed into the truck and sped off into the night, heading to the home that Marc had grown up in. My doubts were beginning to fade, and for the first time in awhile, I felt that I was finally heading in the right direction.
The ride to the estate was bumpy, but quick, and when we came to halt at the gates I was surprised at how much ground we had covered in so little time. I had thought that the snow would have impeded our travel more, but whatever type of trucks we were in, they had handled the icy terrain beautifully.
The manor that loomed before us out of the crystalline landscape was enormous. The structure reminded me of the pictures I had seen of Buckingham Palace. Glowing lamps like torches pierced the dark night and seemed inviting and warm. Marc and I hadn’t spoken much during our trek, but now that we had arrived I couldn’t help but say, “Wow, this is your real house?”
“Yep, this is where I spent my early years, until I apprenticed under Keith to learn the ways of the human world.” Marc explained wistfully, “My childhood was either spent inside those walls, or in the cliffs up above. You won’t be able to see them from here, but there is a community of my people that live in caves in that mountain.”
“Wow, doesn’t it get cold in there?” I asked in wonder. We were moving again, but now we were on a plowed driveway that led into the estate grounds, so it wasn’t nearly as bumpy as before. I tried to look up at the cliffs that Marc was pointing out, but I couldn’t get a good view from my seat in the truck.
“Well, back before we had modern amenities like heaters, sure. We may not be technology savvy as a people, but that doesn’t mean we’re incapable of learning how to use it.” Marc replied, a little defensive about my question.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean any offense. I would think that even with heaters it would get cold, but I’ve never handled cold well. These jackets are amazing though; lightweight and still warm enough to survive in the mountains with.”
“I hate to admit that anything the angels produce is worthwhile, but you’re right. These are pretty handy. I’m sure I’ll end up ripping it one day when I shift in it though. I don’t keep clothes around for very long, as you well know by now,” he replied and we shared a knowing smile.
The trucks stopped and we got out in front of the large wooden doors of the palace. Four demons stood guard on the stone steps leading up to the doors, and I could see another two on the rooftops, watching the trucks. We all got out at once, and stood in the snow, waiting to be told what to do next. It wasn’t long before King Ikarus waved us all forward as he headed toward the doors.
As a group we made our way past the guards and into the palace. If I had thought that the outside looked opulent, I was even more impressed by what I saw behind the doors. The grand hall we stepped into was richer than anything I had ever seen. It was decorated in golden pieces, magnificent paintings, and crystal chandeliers ran the entire length of the ceiling. The hall was also very warm, and I found myself wanting to take my jacket off as soon as possible.
As if in answer to that thought, we were immediately met by what I could only assume were servants. They were in human form, but I knew from what Keith had said that they were most likely all demons. We quickly received offers to take our jackets, and were told that they would be put in the chambers that had been prepared for us. Each of us complied, and the servants dispersed.
“Let us head first to the council chamber, so that we can decide exactly how we will proceed. Time is of the essence,” the king said to the group. Lucifel bowed her agreement, and the king led us down the grand hall to another ornate set of doors. He opened these to reveal a room with a large wooden table with comfortable chairs set around its entire circumference. He immediately moved with his guards to the head of the table and took a seat in the best chair in the room. He then motioned for the others to be seated.
Lucifel sat in the chair at the opposite end from the king, and Shatan sat to her right, while Belial took the chair to her left. Keith sat immediately to the king’s left, and Marc took the second seat to the king’s right. I wondered why he had left the seat open, but didn’t question him and sat down to his right instead. Verina sat next to Belial, and Alan sat next to me. Just as the demons guards had taken up a protective position around the king, the four angels did the same for Lucifel.
I assumed that the meeting would begin, but everyone remained silent for another minute until the doors once again opened and a regally dressed human stepped into the room. He looked similar to Keith in age, but whereas the Druid’s features were light and fair, the newcomer had braided black hair, and his skin looked as if it had seen a great deal of sun. I wondered at his identity until he took the seat that Marc had left open next to the king.
“This is my eldest son, Kai’Fallon. He has recently taken over the duties of my military adviser,” the king said in introduction. The older prince nodded in respect to Lucifel and Shatan, but he ignored everyone else in the room except for Marc. The look he gave his younger brother was what I could only describe as utter contempt. I immediately disliked the man.
The meeting went fairly quickly. It was apparent that all of the big players were on the same page about how to react to Michael calling them out. They would send a response within the hour, saying that they would agree to meet Michael on his terms, but they would also plan a surprise for when things went south. No one doubted for a second that whatever terms Michael set would be a guise for a trap, and they were going to counter with a trap of their own.
Of course, they all knew that Michael would see that coming, but it was the best option they had. Why disappoint him? If he wanted to fight the entire war on a smaller scale, both the demons and the devils of Hell were more than willing to cooperate. Both organizations fought better in the small skirmishes. The hope was that whatever Michael had in store for them would be no match for their skill in subterfuge and ambushes.
I kept my mouth shut. I wasn’t about to weigh in on any issues that didn’t involve me directly, and for the first half of the meeting I hadn’t even been mentioned, despite the fact that Lucifel had said that Michael had requested my presence. I was going to go along with whatever they suggested anyway, regardless of whether or not it put me in harm’s way. I had resigned myself to the fact that I was here, and if I had to face death in order to save my father’s life, I was going to do it.
At some point I heard the name “Merlin” mentioned, and I perked up at the sound. Someone had asked me a question, and I had missed it because I had been thinking about my father. Keith saved me from my awkward dilemma by sending the question directly to my mind. “The king wants to know if you agree with the plan so far.”
“Oh, yes I think that I can agree with everything,” I replied as smoothly as I could, feeling relieved that I had been saved from embarrassment. I sent a quick “thank you” to Keith before I turned to the king to see if there was anything else he wanted from me.
He smiled in response, and then clapped his hands on the table and said, “Good, good! It’s settled then, until we get a response from Michael, we’ll go forth with the plan as discussed. Lady Lucifel and Master Shatan, if you would please come with me, we can send our reply to Michael together. As for the rest of you, please enjoy the palace for the short time we have. If you would like to rest, there are chambers that have been made out for you.”
The king stood to leave, and we all rose out of respect. The king left through a side door. Lucifel and Shatan followed close behind, their entourage of guards in tow. Kai’Fallon left through the main doors without another word, though he did sneer at his younger brother as he walked by. The rest of us just stared at each other, though it only took me a moment to realize that everyone except Verina was staring more at me than the others.
“What?” I asked, completely confused by their shared action.
“Nothing, just none of us expected you to agree to the plan so quickly. Especially considering how you acted at the meeting when we were with Hell,” Keith replied. I suddenly got the sinking feeling that I had just agreed to something terrible.
“What exactly did I agree to?” I asked, my voice shaking just a little.
Belial cleared his throat before answering, and he looked at me with a mixture of sympathy and admiration as he said, “My mother had just proposed that we use you as bait, keeping you front and center during our entire meeting with Michael, almost tempting them to kill you. They’re hoping that it will show Michael that we don’t care about your life, and he’ll stop thinking that he’ll crush our morale by killing you.”
I was suddenly sick to my stomach and dizzy. I quickly sat back down at the table and held my head in my hands. Marc laid a hand on my shoulder in concern; Alan came to my other side and did the same. I didn’t know what else was going on, but I heard Keith say, “You know, I’m a little tired, and I think I could use the rest that they offered us. Anyone else want to find their rooms?”
“Yeah, I could use the rest,” I heard Verina reply. I heard them excuse themselves and the door to the room close behind them. It was then that I chose to look up at the looks of concern spread among those remaining. I was slightly surprised to see that Belial had chosen to stay, but I was kind of glad that he had. It was nice to know that I had his support.
“Are you going to be alright?” Marc asked, giving my shoulder a rub as I turned to meet his eyes. I surprised myself when I realized that I actually would be. I didn’t feel much fear at all, and instead I was actually glad that I had agreed without knowing the terms of our plan. That meant that I hadn’t needed to go through the uncertainty of making the right choice.
“Yes. I guess when I said I was in, I meant I was in all the way. It’s time to end this war, and if I have to lay my life on the line in order to do it, so be it. I want to make sure that my father doesn’t die because of me.”
The nods of acceptance from my three remaining friends told me that the matter was closed as far as they were concerned. I was about to say that we should probably get some rest as well when Belial spoke again, and I learned why he had stayed back with us.
His voice wavered somewhere between fear and excitement, but I wasn’t sure which was more prominent. “If it’s not too much trouble, would you take me to see my brother?”
Marc’s eyes widened for a moment, and then he stammered, “Of course… I’m sorry, I should have expected you to request that, but I had honestly put it out of my mind. He will most likely be in the library. We can go there now if you’d like.”
“I would also like to meet him if I could,” I said in support, and Alan also nodded emphatically to show that he agreed with me completely. Belial looked between us and smiled appreciatively.
With a confident grin, the angel asked, “Then what are we waiting for? It’s been a few thousand years too long.”
We left the room together, and Marc led us into the opposite wing of the palace. Climbing two flights of stairs and down a long hallway, we eventually came to another set of double doors. Marc turned to Belial as he rested his hand on the door handle and asked, “Are you sure about this?”
“Of course. Why wouldn’t I be? He’s my brother, and he was once my best friend. Open the door, Marc. Please.”
Marc nodded and twisted the handle. Almost immediately we were hit with the scent of old books. The room was lit dimly, with another ornate chandelier hanging from the center of the ceiling, high above us, but the light was enough for us to see how impressive the room actually was. The room was four stories high, with three being above us and one being below. Shelves covered every inch of the walls, and each shelf was stuffed with volume upon volume. A narrow balcony circled around on each of the floors, connected by ladders. To me, it was paradise, and I knew that I would be able to lose myself in this room for years if I were allowed to stay.
Movement out of the corner of my eye caught me to look over and see a man standing with a book in hand, muttering to himself about something. I swore I recognized him, and then I realized where I had seen him before. His white hair and flawless features were an exact replica of the human image that Belial had worn briefly in Hell. He was just as gorgeous, though I didn’t feel quite the same pull as I had toward Belial’s same features. I stole a glance at Alan and found that he was having a similar reaction upon seeing our angel friend’s twin, and I wondered if his thoughts were also like mine.
“Brother,” Belial whispered, but the room was quiet enough that Lumial heard him, in apparent recognition of the voice. He looked up in surprise, and when he saw Belial he took a step back. At any other point along the balcony he would have run into the railing, but he had been standing in front of the ladder that led to the next floor down. Suddenly he was falling through the air, and the only one of us with sense enough to react was again, Belial, who simply shouted “Brother!” at the descending angel.
We needn’t have worried, for Lumial managed to right himself in the air and land on his feet. Since he had fallen roughly fifteen feet, I expected him to have been hurt at least a little, but he sprung back up to a standing position almost instantly, and was climbing the ladder back toward us before any of us could even blink. When he arrived at the top he pulled up his pant leg to reveal a set of high-tech metallic boots. With a grin he said in explanation, “I designed these for instances just like that. Provided I can manage to land on my feet, these are designed to absorb impacts incredibly well. I imagine that they’d have other applications as well, but for now they just prevent me from killing myself. It’s good to see you brother, though I have to say that you’re the last person I expected to see today.”
“Does that detract from the fact that I’m here, finally, after all these years? And it’s good to see that you’re still inventing things. Mother would be proud.” Belial winced as soon as he finished the sentence, but Lumial just smiled sadly as he walked up to his brother and pulled him into an embrace. They held it for a few minutes, which were uncomfortable for the rest of us, but we let them have their moment without any interruptions.
As they pulled apart Lumial broke the silence. “Mother isn’t here is she? I’d hate for her to ruin this reunion. And to answer your question, no, it doesn’t detract at all. Though I wish it could have happened sooner. There is so much that has happened over the last couple thousand years. So many times I wish I would have had your advice. I knew that you were alive, but I didn’t know much else. Who are your friends? Other than the young Dae’Marca here, I know I haven’t met the other two.”
“I’ll answer that in order,” Belial replied with a chuckle, “Though you make it difficult on me. You’re still the same old excitable Lumial you’ve always been. So, first thing, Mother is here, but don’t worry, she’ll come nowhere near you. We will be leaving again shortly. I’m slightly surprised you haven’t been kept in the loop. Before I explain what’s going on though, this is Alan, you will like him; a lot.” I couldn’t help but smile as Alan shook Lumial’s hand, and then blushed as he pulled his hand away. Once again I found the fascination that Belial had with Alan interesting. However, as I began to see Alan interacting with our new angel friend, it dawned on me as to why. Alan acted like Lumial, even if the angel was more mature. I wondered if Lucifel’s fascination with Alan was for the same reason.
“And this, is the son of Merlin, though everyone in this room calls him Damien,” I extended my own hand, and Lumial quickly took it in his and shook. He looked me in the eyes with his blue eyes sparkling, and I could see the intelligence and wisdom buried within them. His eyes reminded me of Keith’s.
Lumial smiled wide as he said, “Greetings, Damien, and well met. I knew your ancestor. Pen’Arthrun and I spent a great deal of time together. Merlin and I didn’t get along quite as well, but I hope you won’t hold that against me too much. I assume by your being here that this reunion is somehow related to your lineage.”
“Indeed it is, brother. Time to fill you in I suppose,” Belial replied, and then he began to relate the tale of what was happening with Michael, and the meeting between their mother and King Ikarus. While they stood and talked, I began to walk around the library, examining the many different books. Most of them were in languages I didn’t recognize, and in all the time I didn’t find a single book in English.
Alan was helping Belial fill in the details, but I noticed that Marc was following me. I didn’t mind at all, but when we were far enough away from the conversing angels that I knew I could speak without risking interrupting them, I turned to Marc and motioned him toward me.
“Look at them, Marc,” I said, gesturing back to the pair of angels, who were animated and excited as they discussed the issue at hand. They were communicating so easily, and they hadn’t seen each other in thousands of years. I had expected them to have spent more time on the reunion side, getting to know each other again, finding common ground, but they hadn’t needed to do any of that. They had said all that had needed to be said in the one hug they had shared. I envied them, but I knew how to get what they had.
Marc regarded them with interest, but he didn’t reply to my request. Instead he just listened to me. I think that he somehow sensed that I wasn’t done with my thought, even though I hesitated before I continued. “Do you see how they are? They got over millennia of no communication, the disruption of their family, and all the lies they had to tell in between, all with an embrace and a few lines of dialogue. Now they are talking as if they hadn’t been apart at all, and they’re already up to speed. They aren’t wasting any time at all.”
He looked at me then, a question in his eyes. He knew what I was getting at, but he didn’t want to be the one to voice it. I decided that I didn’t want to force him to either. This wasn’t his fault anymore, it was mine. I was the one that hadn’t fully apologized, but now I was ready. Now I was going to make things right again.
“I don’t want to waste any more time, Marc,” I said, and then I pulled him into a kiss. It was gentle, but still filled with passion and longing. We held it long enough that we both gasped for air when it was completed, but as soon as our lungs were filled again, our lips found each others’ and continued the perfect kiss.
We parted again, but this time we didn’t feel the need to continue, for just staring into each others’ eyes we were able to sense the feeling of the kiss, the passion and the longing were almost palpable in the air. Once again we were one, only this time I was certain that there were no ulterior motives. He wasn’t using me, and he never had been.
“I love you,” he said, though he hadn’t needed to. His eyes told me enough, but I repeated the words back to him anyway. We embraced, and the simple act of him holding me so close was enough to make me wonder why I had ever shied away from his embrace. It was like being held inside perfection.
The door to the library swung open suddenly, and Keith walked into the library. He looked over at us and smiled, but the smile didn’t last long. Belial and Lumial stopped talking and looked over at him, just as Marc and I also gave him our full attention. He spoke, and his voice was firm and certain, “Michael has sent his response. He has chosen our meeting place. Avalon.”
There was a gasp from everyone in the room except for Alan and myself. I didn’t know what it meant, but for some reason the name struck me like a bolt of lightning, and for the second time in a short while, I was sick to my stomach.
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