CHAPTER ONE “C
an I take your order, sir?” asked the cute girl with the blond ponytail and a smile wide enough to split her face in two.
Aaron Corbet shook himself from his reverie and tried to focus on the menu board behind her. “Uh, yeah, thanks,” he said, attempting to generate interest in yet another fast-food order. His eyes were strained from hours of driving, and the writing on the menu blurred as he tried to read it. “Give me a Whopper-with-cheese value meal, and four large fries to go.”
Aaron hoped the four orders of fries would be enough to satisfy Camael’s strange new craving for the greasy fast food. Just a few days ago the angel had given him a song and dance about how creatures of Heaven didn’t need to eat—but that had been before he sampled some of the golden fried potatoes. Angels addicted to French fries
, Aaron thought with a wry shake of his head. Who’da thunk it?
But then again, who could have predicted this crazy turn his life had taken? he thought as he waited for his order to be filled. The angel Camael had become his companion and mentor since Aaron’s realization that he was born a Nephilim. He remembered how insane it had all sounded at first—the hybrid offspring of the mating between a human woman and an angelic being. Aaron thought he was losing his mind. And then people he cared about started dying, and he realized there was much more at stake than just his sanity.
Aaron turned away from the counter and looked out over the dining room. He noticed a couple with a little boy who appeared to be no more than four years old. The child was playing with a blue plastic top that he must have gotten as a prize with his kid’s meal. Aaron immediately thought of Stevie, his foster brother, and a weighty feeling of unease washed over him. He recalled the last time he had seen his little brother. The seven-year-old autistic child was being dragged from their home in the clutches of an angel—a soldier in the service of a murderous host of angels called the Powers. The Powers wanted Aaron dead, for he was not just a Nephilim, he was also supposed to be the chosen one spoken of in an angelic prophecy written over a millennium ago, promising redemption to the fallen angels.
At first it had been an awful lot to swallow, but lately Aaron had begrudgingly come to accept the bizarre twists and turns that life seemed to have in store for him. Camael said that it was all part of his destiny, which had been predetermined long before he was born.
The child had managed to make the top spin and, much to his parents’ amusement, clapped his hands together as the plastic toy careened about the table top.
The prophecy predicted that someone very much like Aaron would be responsible for bringing forgiveness to the angels hiding on Earth since the Great War in Heaven, that he would be the one to reunite the fallen with God. It’s a big job for an eighteen-year-old foster kid from Lynn, Massachusetts, but who was he to argue with destiny?
The spinning top flew from the table and the little boy began to scream in panic. Again Aaron was bombarded with painful memories of the recent past, of his foster brother’s cries as he was stolen away. “I think I’ll keep him,” the Powers leader, Verchiel, had said as he handled the little boy like some kind of house pet. Aaron’s blood seethed with the memory. Perhaps he was
some kind of savior, but there was nothing he wanted more than to find his brother. Everything else would have to wait until Stevie was safe again.
The child continued to wail while his panicked parents scrambled to find the lost toy. On hands and knees the boy’s father retrieved the top from beneath a nearby table and brought the child’s sadness to an abrupt end by returning the toy to him. Though his face was still streaked with tears, the boy was smiling broadly now. If only my task could be as simple
, Aaron thought wearily.
“Do you want ketchup?” he heard someone say close by, as he turned his thoughts to how much farther he’d be able to drive tonight. He was tired, and for a brief moment he considered teaching Camael how to drive, but that thought was stricken from his mind by the image of the heavenly warrior in the midst of a minor traffic altercation, cutting another driver in two with a flaming sword.
Aaron felt a hand upon his shoulder and spun around to see the girl with the ponytail and the incredibly wide smile holding out his bags of food. “Ketchup?” she asked again.
“Were you talking to me?” he asked, embarrassed, as he took the bags. “I’m sorry, I’m just a bit dazed from driving all day and …”
He froze. His foster mom would have described the strange feeling as somebody walking over his grave, whatever the hell that meant. He never did understand the strange superstitions she often shared, but for some reason, the imagery of that one always stuck with him. Aaron missed his foster parents, who had been mercilessly slain by Verchiel, and it made his desire to find his brother all the more urgent. He turned away from the counter to see a man hurriedly going out a back door, two others in pursuit.
The angelic nature that had been a part of him since his eighteenth birthday screamed to be noticed, and senses far beyond the human norm kicked into action. There was a trace of something in the air that marked the men’s passing as they left the store. It was an aroma that Aaron could discern even over the prominent smells of hot vegetable oil and frying meat. The air was tainted with the rich smell of spice—and of blood.
With a polite thank-you he took his food and left the store, quickly heading to the metallic blue Toyota Corolla parked at the back of the lot. He could see the eager face of his dog in the back window. Gabriel began to bark happily as he reached the car, not so much that his master had returned, but that he had returned with food. “What took so long?”
the dog asked as Aaron placed the bags on the driver’s seat. “I didn’t think you were ever coming out.”
Being able to understand and speak any form of language, including the vocalizations of animals, was yet another strange manifestation of Aaron’s angelic talents, and one that was both a blessing and a curse when it came to his canine friend. “I’m starved, Aaron,”
the dog said eagerly, hoping that there would be something in one of the bags to satisfy what seemed to be a Labrador retriever’s insatiable urge to eat.
Gabriel also loved to talk, and after Aaron had used his unique abilities to save the dog after a car accident, the Lab had suddenly become much smarter, making him quite the dynamic personality. Aaron loved the dog more than just about anything else, but there were days that he wished Gabriel was only
a dog. “I’d really like to eat,”
he said from the backseat, licking his chops.
“Not now, Gabe,” Aaron responded, directing his attention to the large man sitting with his eyes closed in the passenger seat. “I have to speak with Camael.” The angel ignored him, but that didn’t stop Aaron from talking. “Inside the restaurant,” he said. “I think three angels just went out the back door and …”
Camael slowly turned his head and opened his steely blue eyes. “Two of them are of the Powers; the other, a fallen angel”—he tilted back his head of silvery white hair and sniffed, the mustache of his goatee twitching—“of the host Cherubim, I believe. I was aware of their presence when we pulled into the lot.”
“And you didn’t think it was important to say anything?” Aaron asked, annoyed. “This could be the break we’ve been waiting for. They might know where Stevie is.”
The angel stared at him without emotion, the plight of Aaron’s little brother obviously the furthest thing from his mind. With Camael, it was all about fulfilling the prophecy—that and finding a mysterious haven for fallen angels called Aerie.
“We have to go after them,” Aaron said forcefully. “This is the first contact we’ve had with anything remotely angelic since we left Maine.”
Gabriel stuck his head between the front seats. “Then we really should eat first. Right, Camael?”
he asked, eyeing the bags resting on the seat. “Can’t go after angels on an empty stomach, that’s what I always say.”
The dog had begun to drool, spattering the emergency break.
Camael moved his arm so as not to be splashed and glared at the animal. “I do not need to eat,” he snarled, apparently very sensitive to the recent craving he had developed for French fries.
Aaron opened the back door of the car and motioned for Gabriel to get out. “C’mon,” he said to them both. “We have to hurry or we’ll lose them.” “May I have a few fries before we go?”
the dog asked as he leaped from the car to the parking lot. “Just to hold me over until we get back.”
Aaron ignored his dog and slammed the door closed, anxious to be on his way.
“Do you think this wise?” Camael asked as he removed himself from the front seat of the car. “To draw attention to ourselves in such a way?”
Aaron knew there was a risk in confronting the angels, but if they were ever going to find his brother they had to take the chance. “The Powers answer to Verchiel, and he’s the one who took Stevie,” Aaron said, hoping that the angel would understand. “I don’t think I could live with mysel...