"Penn's gone, Daniel," she said, "Miss Sophia killed her. And for a moment, I thought she'd killed me, too."
"I would never let that happen."
"How did you know to find me here? How do you always know how to save me?" She shook her head.
"Oh my God," she whispered slowly as the truth slammed into her. "You're my guardian angel."
Daniel chuckled. "Not exactly. Though I think you were giving me a compliment."
Luce blushed. "Then what kind of angel are you?"
"I'm sort of in between gigs right now," Daniel said.
Behind him, the remaining silver light in the room pooled and split in half. Luce turned to watch it, her heart thumping, as the glow finally gathered, as it had around Daniel's figure, around two distinct shapes: Arriane and Gabbe.
Gabbe's wings were already unfurled. They were broad and plush and three times the size of her body.
Feathery, with softly scalloped edges, the way angels' wings looked on greeting cards and in movies, and with just a hint of the palest pink around the tips. Luce noticed them beating very lightly - and that Gabbe's feet were a few inches off the ground.
Arriane's wings were smoother, sleeker and with more pronounced edges, almost like a giant butterfly's.
Partially translucent, they glowed and cast shifting opalescent prisms of light on the stone floor beneath them. Like Arriane herself, they were strange and alluring, and totally badass.
"I should have known," Luce said, a smile sweeping across her face.
Gabbe smiled back, and Arriane gave Luce a little curtsy.
"What's going on out there?" Daniel asked, registering the worried expression on Gabbe's face.
"We need to get Luce out of here."
The battle. Was it not over yet? If Daniel and Gabbe and Arriane were all here, they must have won -
right? Luce's eyes flashed over to Daniel's. His expression gave nothing away.
"And someone needs to go after Sophia," Arriane said. "She could not have been working alone."
Luce swallowed. "Is she on Cam's side? Is she some kind of ... devil? A fallen angel?" It was one of the few terms that had stuck with her from Miss Sophia's lecture.
Daniel's teeth were clenched. Even his wings looked stiff with fury. "No devil," he muttered, "but hardly an angel, either. We thought she was with us. We should never have let her get this close."
"She was one of the twenty-four elders," Gabbe added. She lowered her feet to the ground and tucked her pale pink wings behind her back so she could sit down on the altar. "A very respectable position. She kept this part of her well hidden."
"As soon as we got up here, it was like she just went crazy," Luce said. She rubbed her neck where the dagger had nicked her.
"They are crazy," Gabbe said. "But very ambitious. She's part of a secret sect. I should have realized it sooner, but the signs are very clear now. They call themselves the Zhsmaelim. They dress alike, and all have a certain ... elegance. I always thought they were more show than anything else. No one took them too seriously in Heaven," she informed Luce, "but they will now. What she did tonight was grounds for exile. She might be seeing more of Cam and Molly than she bargained for."
"So Molly's a fallen angel, too," Luce said slowly. Out of everything she'd learned today, this made the most sense.
"Luce, we're all fallen angels," Daniel said. "It's just that some of us are on one side ... and some of us are on the other."
"Is anyone else here on" - she swallowed - "the other side?"
"Roland," Gabbe said.
"Roland?" Luce was stunned. "But you were friends with him. He was always so charismatic and great."
Daniel only shrugged. It was Arriane who looked concerned. Her wings beat in a sad, agitated way and sent forth a brush of dusty wind. "Well get him back someday," she said quietly.
"What about Penn?" Luce asked, feeling a knot of tears in the back of her throat.
But Daniel shook his head, squeezing her hand. "Penn was mortal. An innocent victim in a long, pointless war. I'm so sorry, Luce."
"So that whole fight out there ...?" Luce asked. Her voice choked. She couldn't bring herself to really talk about Penn yet.
"Just one of many battles we wage against the demons," Gabbe said.
"Well, who won?"
"Nobody," Daniel said bitterly. He picked up a large shard from the stained-glass ceiling and flung it across the chapel. It shattered into a hundred tiny fragments, but it didn't seem to have released any of his anger. "Nobody ever wins. It's close to impossible for one angel to extinguish another. It's just a lot of beating until everyone gets tired and calls it a night."
Luce jolted when a strange image flashed into her mind. It was Daniel being struck directly on the shoulder by one of the long black bolts that had hit Penn. She opened her eyes and looked at his right shoulder. There was blood on his chest.
"You're hurt," she whispered.
"No," Daniel said.
"He can't get hurt, he's - "
"What is that on your arm, Daniel?" Arriane asked, pointing at his chest. "Is that blood?"
"It's Penn's," Daniel said brusquely. "I found her at the foot of the stairs."
Luce's heart constricted. "We need to bury Penn," she said. "Next to her father."
"Luce, honey," Gabbe said, standing up. "I wish there were time for that, but right now, we've got to go."
"I won't abandon her. She doesn't have anyone else."
"Luce," Daniel said, rubbing his forehead.
"She died in my arms, Daniel. Because I didn't know any better than to follow Miss Sophia to this torture chamber." Luce looked at all three of them. "Because none of you told me anything."
"Okay," Daniel said. "Well make things as right for Penn as we can. But then we need to get you far away from here."
A gust of wind filtered down from the gash in the ceiling, causing the candles to flicker and making the remaining shards of glass in the broken window sway. In the next moment, they fell in a rain of sharp splinters.
Just in time, Gabbe glided off the altar and came to stand at Luce's side. She seemed unfazed. "Daniel's right," she said. "The truce we called after the battle applies only to angels. And now that so many know about the" - she paused, clearing her throat - "um, change in your mortality status, there are a lot of bad ones out there who'll be interested in you."
Arriane's wings lifted her off the ground. "And a lot of good ones who will come out to help fend them off," she said, gliding toward Luce's other side as if to reassure her.
"I still don't get it," Luce said. "Why does it matter so much? Why do I matter so much? Is it just because Daniel loves me?"
Daniel sighed. "That's part of it, as innocent as it sounds."
"You know everyone loves to hate a happy pair of lovebirds," Arriane chimed in.
"Honey, this is a very long story," Gabbe told her, the voice of reason.
"We can only give it to you a chapter at a time."
"And like with my wings," Daniel added, "you'll have to awaken to a lot of it on your own."
"But why?" Luce asked. This conversation was so frustrating. She felt like a child being told she would get it when she was older. "Why can't you just help me understand?" "We can help," Arriane said, "but we can't unload everything on you at once. Like how you're never supposed to shock a sleepwalker into wakefulness. It's too dangerous." Luce wrapped her arms around herself. "It would kill me," she said, offering up the words the rest of them were circumventing.
Daniel put his arms around her. "It has before. And you've had enough close encounters with death for one night."
"So what? Now I just have to leave school?" She turned to Daniel. "Where will you take me?"
His brow furrowed, and he looked away from her. "I can't take you anywhere. It would draw too much attention. We're going to have to rely on someone else. There's one mortal here we can trust." He looked at Arriane.
"I'll get him," she said, rising.
"I won't leave you," Luce said to Daniel. Her lip quivered. "I've only just gotten you back."
Dawn. The break of the last day Luce would see at Sword & Cross for - well, she didn't know how long.
A single wild dove's coo rang out in the saffron sky as she stepped through the gym's kudzu- swathed doors. Slowly, she set off toward the cemetery, hand in hand with Daniel. They were quiet as they walked across the still grass of the commons.
Just before they'd left the chapel, one at a time, the others had retracted their wings. It was a sobering, laborious process that left them lethargic once they were back in human form. Watching the transformation, Luce couldn't believe how the massive, brilliant wings could turn so small and feeble, finally vanishing into the angels' skin.
When it was over, she'd run her hand over Daniel's bare back. For the first time, he seemed modest, sensitive to her touch. Gut his skin was as smooth and unblemished as a baby's. And in his face, in all of their faces, Luce could still see the silver light manifested inside them, shining out in all directions.
In the end, they'd carried Penn's body back up the steep stone stairs to the chapel, wiped the altar clean of glass, and laid her body there. There was no way they could bury her this morning - not with the cemetery teeming with mortals, as Daniel promised it would be.
It was agonizing for Luce to accept that she would have to settle for whispering a few last words to her friend inside the chapel. All she could think to say was "You're with your father now. I know he's happy to have you back."
Daniel would bury Penn properly as soon as the school calmed down - and Luce would show him where Penn's father's grave was so Penn could be laid to rest at his side. It was the very least she could do.
Her heart was heavy as they crossed the campus. Her jeans and tank top felt stretched out and dingy. Her fingernails needed a good scrub, and she was glad there were no mirrors around so she could see what was up with her hair. She wished so much that she could take back the dark half of the night - could have saved Penn, most of all - while keeping the beautiful parts. The climactic thrill of piecing Daniel's true identity together. The moment he appeared before her in all his glory. Witnessing Arriane and Gabbe growing their wings. So much of it had been so lovely.
So much of it had resulted in utter, bleak destruction.
She could feel it in the atmosphere, like an epidemic. She could read it on the faces of the many students roaming the commons. It was way too early for any of them to be awake of their own accord, which meant they must all have heard or seen or felt some of the battle that had taken place last night. What would they know? Would anyone be looking for Penn yet? For Miss Sophia? What could any of them possibly think had happened? Everyone was paired up and speaking in hushed whispers. Luce longed to linger close to them and eavesdrop.
"Don't worry." Daniel squeezed her hand. "Just imitate any of the baffled looks on their faces. No one will give us a second thought."
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com