Chapter XI

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Arabia, 788 B.C.

KREIOS WAS FORCED TO look on from a distance as his brother Zedkiel was beheaded by a tusked demon in the darkest shadows. He descended vengeance at the leading edge of his mind. The shadow of a figure took up his kinsman's sword and stole away.

Kreios touched down near Zedkiel's body. The tusked monster snorted at him, obviously unsure what to do next. Kreios made up its mind for it. He roared in anger at the tusked vermin, daring it to come try him. It ran off, searching for easier prey.

Kreios breathed, eyes wide as he knelt at Zedkiel's place of mortality.

He was gone.

The angel wept looking around for someone to kill.

* * *

QUIEL ARRIVED AT KE'ELEI via the horseshoe-shaped mountaintops that overlooked it. The battle below was a pitiful sight. What angelic forces had managed to muster themselves was no match for the legions of the Brotherhood arrayed against them. Those who belonged to El badly needed an equalizing force, something to give them half a chance.

Qiel thought about the liar Anael.

Qiel sought recompense more than anything else. He held out hope that his mother was not dead. It wasn't a simple revenge that he wanted most. It was more complicated than that because while he hated Anael for taking her from him, he reserved some of that hatred for Uriel herself. She had not kept him from the worst evil he had ever known, and yet she had kept him from any usable warning about it. Why did you allow this to happen to me, Mother? Why? He had never felt so unsupported and isolated.

But these thoughts dissipated quickly, and then he beheld the storm of red lightning in the valley below. His eyes told a corner's worth of the story, and instinct illuminated for him the rest of the page.

That is Anael. His hour has come.

Qiel knew how dangerous it was to allow these thoughts to inch past the gates of his mind, but his heart couldn't bear the torture any longer. He, therefore, released his thoughts into fury, unlocking those gates, throwing them open wide. He roared stirring his gift into thunder and flood.

Now would come monsters.

And real terror.

* * *

Elsewhere

MY DREAMS CONTINUED AS I moved in the far corners of my consciousness—or whatever it was I was doing. I walked along the seashore. I could see an expanse of colorful sands, the surf pounding along the boundary on one side, lush forests rising upward on the other.

"She?"

"Airel."

I had so many questions. I blurted them all out in my mind by the thousands in an instant. "Was that place—the ruins?"

"They are just a glimpse of your life."

I wondered what that was supposed to mean. "My life?" I asked, but there was only silence as I walked along the shore. My life was over, as far as I knew. But how did it get rebuilt? And what does it mean?

"These are but symbols for now, Airel. Do not stumble over their meanings. The real question is, do you know why you're here?"

"I don't even know where here is," I said.

"You've always known, girl." She sounded a bit like my father, a bit like Kreios. "You don't need me to tell you you're different."

Yeah, I thought. It's my curse.

"You did well enough."

"How?" I asked. "I was a total screwup. I never did anything with my life. I never became anyone important. I was always just putting out fires, reacting to the latest crisis or injury." I looked down and stopped. "I never did anything with my life."

"You did do something magnificent, though."

I began to cry. "What are you talking about? I lived a train of disasters. I fell hard for the worst boyfriend in history, the ultimate bad boy." I didn't want to admit that even now, I still loved Michael. "And it's because of me that Kim died." I stopped talking then.

"You're funny."

"How?"

"Because despite how vehemently you rail against people who judge you by what they see, you're doing the exact same thing to yourself."

I was silent.

"I can see your heart, though, Airel. And I see greatness. I saw how you were able to forgive Michael sincerely, even as the piercing fire of his betrayal still scalded your heart. And you continued to love him afterward, even though he was the source of so much pain. I saw how you loved Kim despite her behavior at the end of her life. You loved unconditionally, Airel. These are the things that matter."

"Why?"

"You did what matters," She said. "And what you did—matters."

I thought of Kim, Michael, my parents . . . and felt that not much of my life really mattered. But maybe that was what this dream was about—a way to process how I felt about who I was. Maybe this was my life flashing before my eyes.

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