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  • Writer's pictureC.A. Lightfoot

The Guardian - Chapter Twenty-Four


Chapter Twenty-Four


The morning after Embry’s visit, Dover woke in her usual place. The bed was so comfortable that she often awoke flat on her back, hair tossed over her face and her throat dry from snoring through the night. Honestly, it was the best sleep she’d ever had.

Since being brought to the Arbor to recover, Hanael insisted she use his bedroom to rest. She often slept in his bed, usually with the angel sprawled beside her. For an angel of the Lord, he was certainly a bed hog.

His side of the bed was cold when she awoke, startled to find that the last twinges of pain seemed to have left her while she slept. Dover spread inquisitive fingers over the thick, dimpled scars, exhaling slowly when the sensitive flesh did not ache. The nerves would never be the same and from what Embry said, a good kick in that spot might split the scars, but for the most part, she was fine.

Once she dressed, Dover stepped through the silent house, glancing up at the ceiling. Dawn rose swiftly over the mansion. She should go to the worship room, to bask in the light of God. Of course, she’d been in constant contact with Light since the day after Roy was killed. Dover had never felt so infused with Celestian power before. Her flesh practically buzzed, she could move any item without concentrating. Every Guardian instinct had sharpened to the point of madness.

Such would be the consequence of not even sleeping in darkness. Dover’s body was drunk with power, leaving her focused and frisky.

So, when she climbed the stairs to the worship room, she knew her intention was to find Hanael, not basking. If she basked any more, she might go supernova.

Ducking into the room filled with celestial creatures, Dover avoided any eye contact with the group, sidling along the eastern wall to the small door adjoining the repurposed ballroom. She paused with her hand on the elaborate brass knob, staring at the assemblage for several long seconds.

Guardians.

Dover watched them all, soaking in the Light, their skin glowing with the infusion of it. Peace softened the features of every face, sharing with anyone looking that they had found true nirvana. No words were spoken in this room, there was only the softness of breath, the hum of happiness that permeated every moment.

Unable to help herself, Dover found her eyes searching for that spot in the back, to the left of the western windows, where her mentor once sat. The space was still empty, as though no Guardian dared take her place. Dover appreciated the sentiment, even more so when she realized that someone had placed a small, silver Star of David there to mark Elise’s spot.

For a moment, just a beat, Dover allowed the grief to consume her. It curled around her heart, a serpent ready to strike at any time. She was reminded of that moment she Rose, staring into the blue gaze of the woman that would be her friend, her guide, her confidant.

But that memory now drew another to the surface. Dover could recall, with utter clarity, how it felt to hold her beloved Elise’s cold body in her arms. The Guardian closed her eyes against the memory, trying to shove the image aside, to un-feel Elise’s deadened flesh in her arms.

Because the memory wouldn’t leave her, Dover twisted the knob in her hand, sliding into the confession room without alerting the other Guardians that anything was amiss.

Ensuring she remained silent, Dover closed the door behind her. For a moment, she rested against the pristine oak, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. Would she ever be free from the pain of losing Elise?

Would it always eclipse the hatred she had for herself at watching her Charge die? Something told her that the twin sins for which she shouldered the blame would be with her no matter what.

Opening her eyes, Dover found the object of her search. Hanael kneeled at the most eastern part of the house, doused in the golden wash of the rising sun through a solitary window.

There was only one window in the confession room because the remaining wall space was taken up by relics from every religion in recorded history.

Secured to every available space were tokens from the major faiths, interspersed with relics from even the most obscure of creeds. Any way to worship the Almighty was represented here, each on equal footing, each respected as a viable thing, a living faith. For Dover, it was a representation of equality that she found refreshing. Guardians, after all, came from all walks of life.

The confession room boasted pale gray walls surrounding the single window. That window was kept spotlessly clean, allowing for uninhibited access to the light that angelic creatures so depended on. If rumors were to be believed, one could also hear the commands of God, whispered into their ear alone.

Dover had never heard the whispers, but she loved the concept of this room all the same.

She waited to be acknowledged, knowing that Hanael took to his prayers with utter sincerity. He was dressed as she expected for a day of work at the Arbor; charcoal gray suit and polished shoes, not a hair out of place. Dover smiled to herself, not surprised when he turned his head to glance at her over his shoulder.

“How are you feeling?” Hanael did not stand.

“Better,” Dover answered honestly.

She approached slowly, allowing Hanael to cross himself. Though she knew his prayers were done, the angel did not move. He kept his head bowed, the rigidity of his shoulders releasing until he appeared slouched. Concerned, Dover took the final steps toward the angel she loved, reaching out to touch one shoulder lightly.

When even that did not raise his head, Dover moved to stand before him. Her back faced the window, the exposed skin of her neck absorbing yet more light. Though Dover almost trembled with the overdose, she concentrated on Hanael.

“Han?”

“Sin.” He whispered the word, as though it were acidic on his tongue. “What manner of sin do you carry, Dover?”

Surprised by this question, Dover dropped to her knees. She ducked her head, attempting to meet Hanael’s eyes.

“Pride,” the Guardian answered honestly. “I mean, I’m a fan of all seven deadlies, but my weakest point is pride.”

A slightly sardonic smirk crossed Hanael’s beautiful face.

“I fear that is the same sin I carry, my dear. I pride myself in what I am, in what I do. I often wonder if that is my downfall.” His eyes remained far away, as though he were looking at something she could not understand. Having not seen the angel this way, being alone enough to do so, Dover placed her hands on his cheeks.

“Hanael,” Dover whispered his name, rewarded when his gaze caught hers. “Whatever your sins, you don’t have to bear them alone. You carry some of mine, allow me to carry yours.”

“That is not possible, Dover.”

He shook her hands off, standing quickly. Dover watched in confusion as he moved away, turning his back to her as though it hurt him to see her face. Dover stood as well, keeping back from him so that he would not feel crowded by her presence.

“I have a mission,” the angel continued. “And that mission weighs on me with every breath. I feel it crawling into my heart, squeezing inside me. The guilt, the responsibility, it follows me even in my sleep. I don’t want you to have to share this.”

Dover nodded once, puzzled by his seemingly erratic thought pattern. What brought this on?

“Is minding Guardians so difficult now? With everything that’s happened the last months?”

“No,” Hanael replied sharply. “Minding Guardians has always been my passion, since before the fall of Rome.”

“Yeah, creepy thought.” Dover broke in, gaining a brief smile from her paramour. “Move on.”

“I have another mission.”

At this, Dover felt the first prickle of suspicion. Fine hairs on the back of her neck stood, suddenly, at attention. Swallowing over a dry throat, Dover stuffed her hands into the pockets of her worn jeans. Something about Hanael’s behavior made her nervous.

“There are things that the Host does not tell Guardians, Dover. We cannot reveal all of Heaven’s secrets to creatures that are…”

“Abominations?” Dover suggested flatly.

“I didn’t say that.” Hanael turned to her sharply. “I don’t mean that.”

“No?” Dover asked, arching a brow in question. She suddenly wished she had her Sigs. Wait. Why did she want a weapon? “We’re undead, honey. I know what that means to angels.”

Hanael’s voice dropped an octave, his whisper almost pained.

“There are things more offensive to the Host than the undead.”

The silence that followed his statement lay heavy between them, pregnant with everything neither of them had the guts to say. There was a look of surprise on Hanael’s face, as though he had not intended to reveal that much. He stared at her across the few feet that separated them, his green-gold gaze wide with shock. Dover swallowed again, this time over the lump in her throat.

He wanted to know if she knew.

She could play dumb, walk out of the confession room and decide what to do later. Gabriel had told her to be covert, to find out what she could. Of course, that hadn’t been possible with Hanael watching her every move. He kept her confined to the Arbor while she healed. Or was that because he suspected she wasn’t truly his agent anymore?

Deciding that spy work hadn’t ever been her forte, Dover used her tongue to moisten dry lips before she spoke.

“Nephilim?” She asked, the word sounding unnaturally loud in the quiet room. “And Cambion? Are they your mission, Hanael?”

Because she was looking directly into his eyes the moment realization hit him, Dover couldn’t deny what she saw. There came a sudden sadness to the emerald gaze, as though he could no longer refute the truth. His shoulders slumped for a moment, weighed down by the knowledge. Dover braced herself, suddenly sure that this moment was going to change everything.

“You don’t understand.”

Dover took a deep breath. Of course, she didn’t understand. The bald guilt in his words twisted something inside of her. Light in her heart went dark as she looked into the face of someone she so cared for.

Something else reflected in those eyes, though. Dover knew Hanael to be zealous and dedicated, but how far did his faith take him? What had he done in the name of his ‘mission’?

The creeping dread that circled her heart overcame the serpent of grief. Dover ducked her head for a moment, winded by the very thought she couldn’t even really form in her own mind.

In that part of her that was a Guardian, however, Dover absolutely had to know.

“It was you, wasn’t it?” She asked, lifting her head to capture that familiar gaze again. “That night, it was you.”

Again, the silence stretched between them, broken only by her gasping breath that seemed unnaturally loud. Hanael inhaled deeply before he spoke, as though bracing himself for what he was going to face now.

“I never meant to kill her.”

For Dover, the entire world slammed to a stop.

Her question hadn’t revolved around a female. She’d thought that Hanael had set up Roy to be killed, for being the abomination that was his mission. But when Han spoke, those six words ricocheted through her head on an endless, screaming loop.

I never meant to kill her.

It dawned on her in one terrible moment. The memory came barreling back into her mind. Holding the body in her arms, cutting the heavy cord with her hunting knife, screaming for someone to help her.

Tears had gathered in Dover’s eyes when she opened them. Hanael was moving toward her, but she stepped away until her back hit the glass behind her, one hand thrown up to ward him off.

“Elise. You killed Elise.”

He seemed to realize his mistake a second after she spoke. Dover was still looking into those familiar eyes when he understood what was revealed hadn’t been what she worked out. And it was then that Dover knew the full weight of her would-be lover’s sins.

“And Roy?” Dover swallowed thickly, her free hand braced on her knee as she fought for breath. “You killed them.”

Hanael did not speak for several seconds, as though he were unable to find the words he needed. He continued to stare at her, blinking uncomprehendingly. Dover stared back at him, unable to move her eyes from him, peering into that familiar, beautiful face until the features began to mutate.

“I only wanted the book.” Hanael finally whispered. “She fought me. I did not mean to hurt her. Your Charge had grown too powerful. He was uniting them. I could not allow that to happen, not when their every breath is an affront to God.”

Dover’s rage began trickling into her mind beneath the grief. It rose slowly inside of her, a distant call to battle under the hurt and anger she could feel fighting for dominance. Everything she had done since the day she found Elise hung in her apartment came back to this one creature before her.

Hanael’s betrayal seared into her bones, leaving the mark of treachery on her marrow.

“God?” Dover scoffed, pushing away from the window. Her flesh buzzed with the infusion of light, the fullness making her bolder than usual. “If God really commanded this, you wouldn’t have hidden. You wouldn’t have lied to my face while I grieved and fought for vengeance.”

Dover shoved the angel in the chest with both hands. It was a mark of how much she shocked Hanael that his body actually moved backward at the hit. As a full angel, his power ought to have eclipsed hers. He could swat her down on a good day as though she were nothing more than a gnat.

But this was not a good day. Dover felt her body tremble with rage as she faced the angel she’d been falling in love with. All she could see in those green-gold eyes was the betrayal, the lies, the absolute revulsion of what he had done in the name of the Almighty.

“I didn’t want to sully her name,” Hanael defended as Dover stalked him across the confession room. “If the others knew what she was, what she came from, they would have burned her in disgrace.”

Recalling Hanael’s angry words to her on the day of the funeral, Dover exploded. “And it wouldn’t have mattered! You goddamned coward.”

She hit him in the chest a second and third time, her mind a whirl of information as the pieces finally slid into place. As though she’d been given the key to a cipher, Dover suddenly understood a year’s worth of mystery wrapped in this one lie. The fact of Hanael’s guilt only served to fuel her anger.

“You sent your minions to Roy,” Dover shouted, aware that she was probably alerting the other Guardians that something was wrong. “Why? Why didn’t you face me yourself? Were you too afraid you might have to kill me, too, Han? Were you not fucking angel enough to do it yourself?”

“It’s not like that, Dover. I love you.”

Her hand pulled back into a fist a beat before she let it fly with every ounce of angelic might she had in her body. Hanael’s head snapped to the side with a sickening crack, his body stumbling a few steps before he managed to right himself.

Barely controlled rage now shone from his eyes. Dover felt oddly vindicated by that.

Hanael had murdered her best friend, killed her Charge and he thought he could still say that he loved her? No.

“This is my mission, Dover” Hanael replied, swiping at the trickle of blood her punch left on the side of his mouth. “These half-breeds are nothing more than a stain on Celestian law.”

“Who commanded you to string Elise up like a puppet after you murdered her?” Dover demanded, stalking toward him. She could see that he did not want to hurt her, but she couldn’t make herself care. Every feeling she’d ever had for the beautiful angel before her had swiftly morphed into something alien and mean.

Never had she wanted to destroy a creature so thoroughly in her either of her lives. The coppery taste of violence rose to the back of her throat, begging to be released.

“They are abominations, Dover. Outlawed by God. It is my duty to seek them out, to destroy them.”

“Why?” Dover shot back, throwing her hands into the air.

“Because they upset the balance.” Hanael continued, his eyes bright with fervor. “The tools we have to hurt demons do not affect Cambion the same way.”

Dover frowned. “And what kills angels won’t hurt Nephilim. You’re afraid of what? An uprising? Killing them only makes that more fucking likely, Han!”

He moved with angelic grace toward her, capturing Dover by the biceps. The Principality lifted her to the tip of her toes, capturing her gaze with his. The light in Hanael’s once-familiar eyes was unnatural, filled with the passion of a zealot. For the first time, Dover felt a trickle of fear creep up her spine.

“God has spoken to me. I must do everything I can to eradicate them, Dover. Nothing will stop me.” He pulled her closer until their faces were but scant inches apart. “Not even you, Guardian.”

He used her title as though it were a slur and Dover reacted without thought. She hauled her right knee up sharply, catching Hanael between the legs. Angels in human form had human anatomy, so the angel dropped her as he crumpled to the floor.

“Abomination or not, I won’t let you do this.” Dover spun, kicking out her leg again to smack her booted foot across the angel’s face. She followed it with a second kick, standing back as Hanael covered his bloodied face with both hands.

“Don’t do this,” Hanael pleaded through the injury. “Dover!”

She had already stepped over him, throwing open the confession room’s door. Guardians stood, bewildered, in the worship room, light still infusing their bodies. Dover paid them no mind, winding herself through the gathering throng until she could reach the main doors.

In the hall, she swiped a pair of pistols and a knife from the table where Guardians dropped their weapons, knowing she would be forgiven when they all knew the truth.

Her mind was a whirl as she stowed her weapons into her waistband, heading for the staircase that would lead her down the floors toward the front door. She had to get out of here, warn her Charges. How many of them were Nephilim in hiding? She would have to move them, immediately.

Dover’s thoughts crashed and melded in her mind as she headed for the staircase. Should she contact Gabriel or Tarc? Would they know what to do? She had so lost herself in her own mind that the shout of her name had her jumping in her skin. Hanael’s booming voice reverberated through the Arbor, the tone sending a chill down her spine.

“Dover Ellis!”

She stopped on the stairs, staring passed a few Cherubim that stood at the next landing. They were holding fresh linens, matching expressions of astonishment on their faces. Dover couldn’t recall the last time she’d heard a raised voice in the Arbor. Had she ever?

“Stop,” Hanael commanded as he pushed through the gathering crowd of Guardians and Cherubim. “You will remain at the Arbor, Dover.”

“No,” Dover responded before turning to look up at him. “I am leaving.”

“You have been commanded to remain, Guardian.” Hanael continued, taking a step toward her.

In one swift motion, Dover pulled one of the handguns from her waistband, aiming it directly at the angel moving down the stairs. Though the ammunition wouldn’t do anything permanent to him, the bullets would hurt like hell. Dover almost wished he would ignore her silent threat and take another step.

“Ellis.” This voice came from the doorway to the third-floor parlor, just to the left of the landing. Dover could see Raziel standing there out of the corner of her eye. “What is the meaning of this?”

“Did you know?” Dover asked of Raziel, her eyes and weapon still on Hanael. “Were you party to killing Elise? Roy? Is it only Nephilim? Do you let the demons take care of their own?”

“What are you talking about?” The angel asked, not moving from her position.

Betrayal wrote itself clearly in Hanael’s eyes. Dover chuckled darkly, the sound resonating through the Arbor’s staircase as she did so. She shook her head twice and adjusted the grip on her unfamiliar weapon.

“Did you think I’d keep the secret, Han?”

She scoffed at the rage now clouding his face, the features she’d considered beautiful only hours ago now seeming demonic, alien. Raziel came forward several steps, her eyes on Hanael as her counterpart glared at Dover for all he was worth.

“You ridiculous girl, is this what you wanted?” Hanael took another step. “If you rise against me, I will destroy everything you hold dear, you insipid ghoul.”

Dover smiled, reaching with her free hand to grasp a sliver of light as it came through the Arbor’s northern windows. Hanael and Raziel flanked her, but the threat was contained to the angel before her. She could feel Hanael grasping at the light behind her, apparently aware of what she was going to do. Dover had to think fast.

She had to get out of the Arbor.

“You killed Elise, sent angelic minions to kill my Charge and I’m the bad guy? You’re a fucking coward, Hanael and I won’t rest until you’ve paid for what you’ve done.”

Without awaiting a response, Dover flung herself into the Slide with Hanael hot on her heels.




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