Razael remembered the sound of the angel chorus.
It was thunderous and holy, blazing enough light and energy to tear apart a star… yet contained and shaped by Love, rendered beautiful instead of deadly, harmonious and achingly full of life. It was angelsong times a thousand, their voices raised in praise of the Most High.
Choir was the closest he’d come to God.
But he was Fallen now—something he knew every minute of every hour with perfect clarity. It had been a mere hundred years since he Fell—lost to the Sin of Lust like the weakest angeling—but that century was a small drop of time in his immortal life. For a hundred millennia before that, he had been fully in the Light, Warrior class Seraphim, a Dominion of his own to care for, protect, and instruct. He’d been known for his Wisdom, a Warrior’s instinct tempered by experience and Virtue—something laughable if not outright ironic, considering his Fall from grace. But even in shadow, he was still Seraphim—made, not born, created by the Most High—and his life would have no natural end, not unless some unholy act befell him. He could be slain, but not by his own hand and by precious few others.
Angels were hard to kill.
There were times Razael wished that wasn’t true.
He floated in his angelic form, the tenuous cloud of energy—of soul—that comprised him when he wasn’t choosing to manifest in the image of Man. It was a dark cloud of energy, given he was in shadow, but it was still the form in which he most easily forgot his Fallen state. No black wings pulsing energy at his back. No angelings gathered around, their human halves glowing with Virtue that couldn’t be dimmed by their shadow angel side. It was difficult to be near them—angels were made to love God, and the God-spark within humans and half-human angelings called to him with unceasing allure. Humanity was God’s second-born child, coming after angelkind, but humans were the more beloved of the two. Many in shadowkind hated humans for it—their Envy overriding their Love. Perhaps one day, Razael would become so riddled with Sin—Wrath and Lust and Envy and Pride—that he would forget the Light and hate them, too.
But that day had not yet come.
Now he found himself protecting two human women, their unborn children, and two baby angelings. Their souls blared like a clarion call through his dark palace. He’d forbidden his angelings from partaking of that sweet temptation, but one—Asa, who he loved like a son—had already succumbed. And in doing so, Asa had miraculously turned to the Light once more.
And that changed everything.
Razael’s Regiment was in chaos because of it.
Once Fallen, angels and angelings were doomed to remain in shadow all their days. This was an immutable Truth Razael had known from the earliest days. And yet… his most beloved warrior had proven this Truth a lie.
Now every angeling in shadow wanted what Asa had miraculously obtained, not least because the war was going badly against them, and that might be their only salvation—a salvation long thought impossible. If Razael were a nobler angel, he wouldn’t be hiding in his ethereal form in his chambers—he would be among them, reassuring them, instructing them, leading them. It was his duty, honor, and privilege, having taken their vows and promised to protect them in return.
But what could he tell them? He no longer knew the Truth. And no angel worth his wings would admit to such a thing.
That vexation—and the aching in his own heart—made Razael seek his angelic form, the bliss of the cloud, his remove from the temptations of the flesh. But even in cloud form, the energy within him roiled and raged. Wrath streaked lightning across it, crackling and singeing the air. Envy pulsed a poisonous gas that filled his chambers then dissipated. Even in vapor, he was the embodiment of Sin—the Light was forever lost to him. He knew this like he knew the limits of his own being. And yet, the same doubt tormented him. What if it were possible? He may be doomed, but what of his angelings? They were unleashed by Sin, doubly tempted by the allure of humanity and the promise of redemption. Some would make the attempt, he was sure of it, even though none knew the Truth of how it had happened.
Razael had doubled the guards on the human women, using only his most trusted angelings—the ones barely in shadow, their Virtues still pulsing strong—but the women in his palace were only the nearest temptation. The whole world of humanity was a mere flick of the will away. And he was sending his troops there in regular shifts to patrol the streets of Seattle and wage a hopeless war against Elyon and his forces—ostensibly, a war to save the very humanity which tempted them.
In Truth, Razael feared all would be lost.
His angelings in shadow. The humans and their technology, pushing into the immortal realms. Even the dark angels like Elyon who were prosecuting this war would take it too far. The war would escalate, now that Light and shadow were battling not only to save humanity but, on the shadow side, for their own redemption. And once the angels of Light and shadow were both fully engaged in it—not just angelings brawling in the streets—then…
The Warrior Angels would rise.
And the End of Times would be upon them.
Razael had been there in the beginning, the original War in Heaven when the archangel Lucifer rebelled against God. The other archangels, led by Michael, were commanded to put things right. Razael was merely a Warrior class Seraphim, and the power of the archangels was unmatched—a direct channeling of the Most High. No ordinary Seraphim could stand against them, but Lucifer was an archangel. Yet, they overpowered him and cast him down—not just to the shadow realm, but to an unspeakable place of eternal torment. A Dominion of Darkness, forever separate from God and man and angelkind. It was worse than destruction, but even the Warrior Angels could not destroy what God had formed—they could only trap Lucifer. That endless torture seemed unrighteous to Razael, even at the time, which should have told him his own Fall would come, sooner or later. Those Seraphim who had sided with Lucifer—like Elyon—were cast down as well, but only to a newly-formed shadow realm. The separation of Light and shadow began at that moment, and from then on, those angels who Sinned would Fall into shadow, separate from God, doomed to wallow in that Sin for eternity. The shadow realm was Penance, and one any sane angel would accept with grace—for the alternative was the Dominion of Darkness where Lucifer suffered his endless torment.
After the War in Heaven, the archangels had gone to rest in the presence of the Most High—their reward for their victory—but they promised to rise if the shadow angels once again made war on the angels of Light. And then the price of their Sin would be to join Lucifer in eternal damnation.
The terms of peace were simple.
And Elyon was bent on violating them.
And with his folly, all would be doomed.
Unless… there was a path to redemption. Then, suddenly, everything was in play. Elyon’s forces might abandon him. Or Razael’s might quit the battlefield in pursuit. But if that pursuit meant mating with humankind, the forces of light would come after them… and that alone would bring the Warrior Angels out of their slumber. And the humans themselves… they were already encroaching upon the immortal realm with their technology. Soon, they would be part of the immortal realm, regardless of angel thoughts on the subject.
Was it possible the Most High intended for angelkind and humankind to mix? To mate? To love? Such a thing seemed impossible, but Razael learned long ago that the ways of God were inscrutable to the likes of him. He was no Aeon, sitting at God’s right hand. Even the Warrior Angels knew more the intent of the Most High. Seraphim like him were made for suffering and struggle—ever since humanity had been created, Razael secretly believed the Seraphim were the template. A first draft. He was not human, but his struggles, his temptations… they were the same as those that tormented humanity.
Would the salvation of angelkind come through their Love of humanity?
He had no idea.
And the End of Times might come before they could discover the Truth.
Razael floated with these thoughts for a long, timeless stretch but still found no answers. Eventually, he sensed one of his angelings enter the throne room adjacent to his chambers. He forced himself into human form—an oversized, black-toga-clad manifestation. He avoided the exact appearance of a human or angeling to prevent deception—those who encountered him should know what he was. There were few Virtues he could claim in the shadow realm, but this small integrity was one.
He strode from his chambers to meet Laylah in his throne room.
She turned at the door, startled. “My lord! I figured you were resting—”
“There’s no rest for me, Laylah.”
She looked stricken. Her angeling-beautiful face was drawn into lines, made even more severe by the full body armor she was wearing, probably fresh from rotation in the battle. It was a mistake to burden her with the state of his mind—in Truth, he rarely shared such things with anyone. Only Asa, but now he was in the Light. Laylah had taken his place in Razael’s inner circle—her human side shone bright, but the anguish from her unrequited love for Asa had further darkened her soul.
Razael need not add to her distress. He beckoned her closer. “No rest for me while this war requires fighting,” he added to ease her mind.
She relaxed slightly, shoulders dropping, head nodding as she stepped closer. “The toll is great on everyone, my lord.”
“What are the rumors today about Redemption?” he asked more lightly.
“That acts of great Kindness might trigger it.” She smirked. “Kindness followed by vigorous rounds of sex.” She was holding back laughter.
It was funny—his angelings were almost all Lust-fallen, so sex was a constant pre-occupation—but Razael just shook his head. “And this brings Redemption… how?”
Laylah’s expression shifted to one of great contemplation. “Kindness makes humans horny? Then sufficiently strong orgasms lead to True Love?” She fluttered her fingers. “Insert magic here, and… presto! Redemption!”
Razael nearly smiled, which was almost as painful as the heartache this discussion resurrected. “True Love on the part of the angeling? Or the human?”
“Unclear.” Laylah rolled her eyes as if she thought it all nonsense.
Which it was not. And he could see the torment in Laylah’s soul—the part darkened by the loss of Asa. She was strong in Virtue, but he feared her humor was a cover for a pain deeper than she might manage—and that she might be tempted even more than the others.
“Have I told you of my Fall?” he asked, beckoning her near as he took a seat on his throne.
“Uh… no, my lord?” The humor had dropped from her face, and her eyes had gone wide.
This indeed was something he hadn’t shared with any of his angelings, not even Asa. After his Fall, he’d taken a long Penance before attempting to form his own Regiment. Those pledged to him did not dare to ask, and he did not encourage it.
“I had a Love that was True.” His voice had crept up to near angelsong. Laylah winced, and her face paled. With difficulty, he brought it back down. “She captured my heart, and I foolishly thought that was all that was necessary—that I could love her, lay with her, and remain in the Light. That we could start a new era for angelkind where we could have the fruits of our love and keep them. But it didn’t work, Laylah.” Obviously. He was leading her with this story.
“But you created Erelah,” Laylah said softly, speaking of his angeling daughter, the product of that union.
The reminder stung—and renewed speculation about his angeling daughter must be running rampant through the Regiment. Erelah had come to him—Fallen—and he wished nothing more than to keep her in his Regiment, protect her and cherish her and make the best of their world of Sin. But then she’d found her Redemption and gone back to the Light, just as Asa had… “My daughter’s Fall was brief. Her mating with the dragon was unusual. Her True Love of him was not merely an angeling’s magic—it was deep treaty-magic, born of Love and Death.”
“But she also had a child without Falling again.” Laylah’s voice had dropped to a whisper as if she were afraid to say such things in his presence.
And his daughter’s child was both his great joy and his bitter reminder he had failed where she had succeeded—in creating a family born of Love. “Again, a child of the treaty.”
“There are whispers about Oriel, too. And Tajael,” she said. “Both spent time in shadow. Both returned to the Light.”
“Again, brief spells in Sin.” Razael sighed. “I fear the common factor is a Fall so brief as to be more a stumble than anything. These special cases do not bear on an ordinary shadow angeling’s chance at Redemption.”
“Asa was an ordinary angeling.” The shine in her eyes betrayed what she actually thought, even if Razael hadn’t been able to see the wound gaping in her soul.
“He was not,” he said with Kindness. “As you well know.”
“Well, sure, I mean…” Her face wrestled to keep the tears at bay.
“He was full of Virtues, Laylah. As are you.” Angelings didn’t truly understand the gift of their humanity—even when they Fell, dragged down by their angel side falling into shadow, their human souls still shone with Virtue. For angels, this was not the case—he was made of Sin in a way they were not. He never told them—there was no use to it—but perhaps he was mistaken. Perhaps this was key to Redemption, at least for them.
“I was never good enough for Asa.” But Laylah said it without bitterness as if there were some measure to which she simply didn’t equal. Still, she swiped a hand at her face, roughly wiping away the incipient tears. “But he was in shadow for a decade. If he can do it…”
“Why can’t we all?” His smile was pain once again. “I wish for it, Laylah. But there’s great danger in this. I need you to tamp down the rumors while we continue to prosecute the war. We cannot be distracted, or all will be lost.”
She put on a mask of determination. “Of course, my lord.”
“Our best hope still lies in turning Elyon’s son, Micah,” he said, gently. “How fares the woman carrying his child?” She was one of the humans he was protecting, but he had yet to visit the nursery Asa had constructed for them. Razael had stayed away just as he’d instructed his Regiment to do. He’d authorized more frequent orgies to satisfy the urges brought on by the womens’ nearness, but he did not partake himself. Most angels in shadow indulged in the Sin of Lust with the ones they protected, but Razael never did—he was setting an example, he hoped, or perhaps just clinging to the few Virtues he could. Chastity had never been his strongest Virtue in the Light, but he found it easier in shadow. Laylah was one of the few he trusted to guard the nursery—partly because he knew she had a preference for men, and partly because her heartbreak with Asa was still fresh.
“Micah tells Ren that he loves her,” Laylah explained. “She must have True Love of him because she’s in a constant state of distress about their separation. And she’s upset that Molly has left to be with Asa.” Laylah winced as she said that but carried on. “And she’s concerned about Eden, the other one—the one carrying Elyon’s child.”
Razael frowned. “What is her concern there?” His focus had been on the external threats to the women—from his own Regiment or Elyon coming to claim them.
Laylah sighed. “That’s actually what I came to see you about. She hasn’t eaten hardly anything since she’s arrived, and it’s going on four days now. If she were angeling, I wouldn’t be concerned, but…”
Razael rose from his chair. This woman was starving herself? And he’d been too focused on his own troubles to notice a human wasting away under his supposed protection? “A human must eat more frequently. And especially one with child. Is she ill?”
“Well, yes… but an illness of the soul, my lord.”
Even worse. A thousand curses in angeltongue flashed through his mind. How negligent could he be? “What is the source of this?” He could sense their souls shining bright—as all humans do—from across the palace, but to truly peer into a soul and discern its troubles, he needed to be in the same room. He turned and strode to the door of the throne room, already resolving to see for himself before Laylah answered.
She hurried to catch up. “She was with Elyon, my lord.”
Razael threw her a sharp look—she was holding something back. “This is known.”
“Many times.” Laylah grimaced as she strode at Razael’s side. “She has no love of him, my lord.”
Rape. Wrath surged through Razael’s body, sudden and sharp. Elyon was an angel of the darkest sort, but he was most known for his untempered Lust. He had surely used his dark magic to induce pleasure in the woman as he formed a child within her—and he probably carried on with the physical act as well. That was trauma enough, but only once was required to get her with his child. Repeated violations… Razael’s Wrath seethed. There was no reason for it save the evil delight Elyon took in tormenting the humans he loathed.
Laylah had to run to keep up with him.
He did not slow his pace until he arrived at the door to the nursery.
The guard there startled up to standing. “My lord!”
Razael ignored him but paused before the door. He needed to contain his fury and bring only gentle Kindness with him into the nursery.
“She has not eaten?” he confirmed with Laylah.
“Nor spoken, that I’m aware of.” Laylah frowned. “Ren was convinced she would come out of it. Asa offered a life kiss, but she flinches away from the touch of any male. I tried, my lord, but she’s like a… a cup that is cracked and ready to break. I feared—”
“You were right to come for me.” Angelings can bestow blessings and life kisses—tapping their angel side to bring healing and life-giving power—but they do not have the power or finesse of an angel. “I will find a way to her, Laylah. I won’t let Elyon claim her even in his absence.”
Laylah nodded and quickly magicked open the door.
Before he entered, he changed form—reducing his size to that of a normal man. If she were skittish in the presence of males, then he would do everything he could not to frighten her. She need not know what he was… he merely needed to reach her to heal her. But when he stepped into the room, he only made it halfway across before being arrested by the sight of her. She had the face of an angeling—the purest of human beauty elevated by a touch of the divine—but that external beauty was marred by the dark circles under her eyes and the limp blond hair that fell past her shoulders. Yet it wasn’t the physical beauty that captured him—the shine of her Virtues was blinding. He’d seen Protector class angels with fewer and of less power. Combined with the beaming purity of the child she carried, she was a small sun lighting the room with her soul.
All except for the deep chasm that had nearly broken her in two.
He saw now what Laylah meant by her… fragility. One wrong thing, one slight harm, and her soul might shatter completely. A body could live on without a soul, but not for long. And she was with child…
Razael stood absolutely still, stunned by the realization of what stood before him. The reason her Virtues shone so strongly was precisely because of the cataclysmic break inside her—she was holding her soul together by sheer force of will, for the benefit of her child.
She literally lived for the child within her.
It was breathtaking in its glory and grace.
He was drawn forward like a magnet, even as a surge of warning coursed through him. He’d loved a woman like this once—a woman who shone so bright he could scarce look away. Elizabeth. He would have rather burned to ash than turn away from her brilliance, she was that instantly addictive. He had loved her in the first moment, and that love had only grown as he’d come to know her. It was a trap from which he hadn’t wanted to break free… and it had broken him.
This woman isn’t Elizabeth. And yet, their souls could be twins. “What is her name again?” he whispered to Laylah as he slowly approached her.
“Eden,” Laylah whispered back.
Eden. God’s perfect state before humanity’s free will brought their Fall. Even her name called to him.
She didn’t notice their approach, curled up in her chair, knees slumped to the side, arms wrapped protectively around the belly that held her child. Her eyes were open, but she stared at nothingness.
Razael knelt at her side.
The chasm in her soul screeched with pain.
It wracked him. “Eden,” he whispered. “I’ve come to help you.”