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  • Writer's pictureC.A. Lightfoot

The Guardian- Chapter Twenty-Three


Chapter Twenty-Three

She wasn’t sure how much time was passing if it passed at all. There was pain, which she wasn’t prepared for. The last time she died, Dover hadn’t felt anything, oddly enough. Passing with bullets having torn her torso apart had been relatively painless.

The pain returned, however, when she opened her eyes again. Her lids felt as though they weighed a ton, lifting them a Herculean endeavor. When Dover managed the feat, she was staring into the deadened gaze of her Charge.

This time, she managed a garbled scream.

She faded again.

Opening her eyes the second time, Dover found herself now flat on her back. Blood oozed into the carpeting beneath her, the congealing substance already cold. Embry stood over her, talking to someone out of her eye-line. The creatures were gone. Dover could not move. She let herself be swept into unconsciousness once more.

The third time she regained consciousness, Hanael was there. The senior angel stood over her, his hands on her bloodied face. Dover could not hear his voice, but the shape of his mouth told her he was trying to call her name. He appeared as rattled as she’d ever seen him, blonde hair tousled as though he had run his hands through it.

His eyes strayed to her chest, where the wound exposed her insides, even under the armor the creatures had so shredded. There came a sudden calmness over the angelic face she knew so well and Dover tried to fight back the wave of panic that overtook her.

Dover tried to fade once more.

“No.” She heard his voice, deep and far away, as though she stood at the bottom of a well. The sound pried her eyes back open, no matter how she wanted to drift away. “No, Dover. Stay with me.”

Weakly, the Guardian attempted to shake her head.

“Dover.” Hanael’s voice still echoed, though it sharpened. “I’m here. It’s alright.”

As the Principality went to lift her into his arms, the pain ripped through her a hundredfold. Flesh tore anew as the angel pulled her into his impossibly strong embrace. Dover released another anguished scream, her head rolling back over Hanael’s arm as he carried her through the house.

“I know it hurts, my love. Hold on. Don't let go.”

Dover went limp, unable to fight the pain. Darkness crowded at the edge of her vision, beckoning her back under the pain. Hanael smoothly carted her injured body through the destruction of Roy’s familiar home. Thinking his name again brought a fresh wave of sorrow, pulling at her heart until Dover believed there to be little of the aching organ left.

As Hanael stepped into the front yard, Dover realized that some time had passed. Dawn had broken over the horizon, flooding the empty street with light. Unable to help herself, the Guardian lifted one weak hand, stretching for a tangible touch of light to infuse into her battered body.

For his part, Hanael held her to his chest, pointing her toward the east so she could soak up as much light as possible as fast as she was able. Dover tried to resist, to simply sink back into darkness, but the call of light would not allow it.

Dover’s hand raised higher, taking more, drinking in the power that flooded her system. She closed her eyes again, allowing her body to absorb what it needed.

Giving herself over, the Guardian released a small sigh and drifted into slumber.


The next time she woke, Dover could hear again. She blinked heavy lids, gauging the severity of her wounds by the pain rocketing through her. Since she could breathe through it and her chest no longer felt as though it were spilling its contents on the bed, Dover assessed that she was ready to shift her body at least.

Of course, being awake and in full possession of her faculties meant that the pain of losing her Charge was now in full effect. Dover raised a shaking hand to cover her face, remembering the slide of a claw through her friend’s heart, the desperate attempt he had made to heal her that might have taken his life.

The weight of her failure threatened to crush her soul. Dover’s inadequacy had left four children without their father, a wife without her husband. She’d committed the cardinal sin of her kind and watched a Charge fall dead before her.

“I can almost hear you blaming yourself.”

Turning her head, Dover dropped her hands to look at the angelic man sitting so elegantly in the armchair beside her bed. Hanael looked as though he had been through hell. Blood still splattered his clothing, his hair ruffled, his eyes ringed with dark circles. For all their power, angels still occupied human bodies and were victims of that body’s wear and tear.

“Hey.” Dover swallowed hard, trying to remove the catch from her voice. “Are you alright?”

“Me?” Hanael responded with something like incredulity in his tone. “I’m not that one that took on a dozen demons with only a druid for aid.”

Dover frowned, remembering the battle. “Han, those were not demons.”

His expression turned slightly amused, as though she might still be under the influence of her injuries. “Take a moment. You’ve been in and out of consciousness for three days.”

Shocked by this, since the battle seemed so recent, Dover struggled to sit up.

Three days?”

With effort, the Guardian pushed herself into a seated position. Though Hanael attempted to assist her, she waved him off almost immediately. No matter how sincere his offer of assistance was, she felt as though she needed to move on her own.

Upon sitting against the headboard, Dover immediately turned her attention to the shredded mess that had been what she called her ribcage. The angelic creature that nearly killed her a second time had sliced right through her armor. She was going to need to find something tougher than Kevlar.

Or, perhaps, Embry had a few wards in that book she’d given him.

Embry.

Lifting her head so swiftly she was surprised she didn’t pull something in her neck, Dover turned to the angel beside her.

“Em. Han, did Embry get out? Lupe, the kids…?”

“All fine.” Hanael cut in before she could delve into an all-out panic attack. “Lupe found the Senora and the children at a hotel a few miles away. They said you sent a friend to help them.”

Thinking of Shae, but knowing she couldn’t ask about her, Dover nodded once. Lying to Hanael wasn’t, exactly, something she wanted to do. Consorting with demons was still a punishable offense for Guardians. The last thing Dover needed at the moment was a reprimand.

“More Embry’s friend,” the Guardian lied softly. “I’ll have to thank her.”

The sentence ended with a pained grunt. Sticky white bandages covered her torso, leaving to the imagination what it looked like below. Unable to resist looking, Dover began to pull the tape away curiously.

Staring at her own wounds might help her deny the pain in her heart.

Roy.

Exhaling a shaky breath, despite the desire to weep, Dover unwrapped the bandages over her torso. Hanael moved closer, sitting on the edge of the bed in his rumpled suit to assist her. Dover allowed it this time, pausing to watch the furrow of concentration between his brows.

He did not look at her, focused on unwrapping her without causing more damage to the inflamed tissue.

“I’m sorry I scared you.”

The whispered words hung on the air. Hanael’s hands stopped for a full beat before he managed to raise his gaze to hers. In those gold-green eyes, Dover saw the raw emotion he tried so desperately to understand. She lifted her hand, ignoring the twinge of pain the action brought her.

Cupping his whiskered cheek with one hand, she was surprised when his came up to cover hers.

“I was terrified.” The angel admitted softly. “I got the Call and came as soon as I could, but…it was almost too late.”

“Roy healed me,” Dover replied in that same whispered tone, emotion catching her voice so that she nearly sobbed. “And it killed him, right in front of me. I failed him.”

Hanael shifted slightly, shaking his head.

“No. You couldn’t have done anything more, Dover.”

Sullen silence fell over the room as Dover kept Hanael’s gaze. The pain in her heart burnt to the soul. She kept seeing Roy fall to his knees, Lupe throwing herself over his prone body. In his last moments, he tried to save her life. It should have been the other way around.

For several moments, the Guardian did not bother to speak. She could still see him, feel the magic he wielded sliding through her body in an attempt to save her life. Why? Why Roy, of all her Charges?

There wasn’t anything Hanael could say that would assuage the pain. It circled her heart, coiled in her belly as a hardened, heavy knot of disappointment that Dover already knew she would be unable to ever really rid herself of.

When Hanael finished removing the bandages that covered her wounds, Dover looked down to inspect the damage. Because of her Guardian abilities, three days was all that would be needed to heal a broken bone or repair a head wound. It was a mark of how lethal those wounds should have been that Dover was still experiencing the intense level of pain she was.

She cupped her breast with one hand, lifting the flesh to examine the healing wounds below. Four jagged lacerations were already in the final stages of healing, leaving thick, lumpy scars in their wake. The skin was reddened, angry looking, and the swipe of claw had left the tears in a serrated fashion.

Frowning, Dover blinked heavily at the healing wounds. They were unlike anything she had ever seen and that from a Guardian that was boots on the ground during a Strife demon infestation.

“God, Han,” Dover whispered. She lifted her head to meet his green and gold gaze. “What the hell?”

“They were demons, unlike anything we’ve seen.” The angel replied quietly.

Dover frowned. “Those were not demons. Why do you keep calling them demons? Didn’t you see them?”

Hanael shook his head twice in an oddly jerking motion. “They were demons, Dover. And they were gone by the time I got there. Embry claimed they fled the second Roy died.”

The hairs on the back of her head rose up when Hanael insisted, again, that the creatures she fought in Roy’s bedroom were of demonic lineage. Perhaps he was only dismissing her assessment because of the damage she received.

He did not know what she did, that there was a wolf in sheep’s clothing wandering about the Arbor. He had no idea, Dover realized, that there was something sinister lurking under the light, under the eye of the Host. Dover reached out to cup his cheek again, finding that familiar gaze.

The innocence she saw there reminded her that she couldn’t reveal what she knew. Gabriel had told Dover to be his operative, to work in secret. She had to keep this from Hanael for his own good. What if the murderer among them was Raziel? It would break her beloved angel’s heart.

“Are you alright?”

At Hanael’s question, Dover feigned a wince and attempted to lie back down. He seemed caught up in trying to help her, moving immediately to allow her to rest against the pillows.

Feeling bad that he was so worn out, Dover tugged on Hanael’s hand until he fell into the bed beside her. She cuddled, gingerly, into the angel’s embrace, inhaling the familiar scent of him under the grime and sweat and blood.

Hanael lay beside her easily, as though he had waited all this time to simply do so. Dover turned her head, still unable to lie on her side, so she was nose to nose with her angel.

“Sleep,” Dover commanded quietly.

“Sleep,” Hanael replied with a smile.

Dover closed her eyes and went willingly into slumber


One week after Roy’s death found Dover spending sunset on the massive covered deck that overlooked the Arbor’s extensive grounds. She had not left the enormous house in that time, trying to recover from the wounds that nearly took her second life.

The Cherubim who considered it their sacred duty to care for higher angels had pampered Dover almost into insensibility. Her Charges were being cared for by Guardians with lighter loads, keeping them safe until she could stand on her own again.

And this evening, she had a special treat.

Embry sat across from her on the wicker lawn chair, a mug of hot coffee dangling from his hand. He arrived for dinner, sliding around the prayers and chanting until he could locate her, ushering his friend onto the back deck to get away from the Celestian whispering. Even after everything he had done for them, angels still feared the powerful druid.

Her friend looked like he’d been through hell and back. His clothing was rumpled, his beard in disarray. Dover hardly recognized him.

It had to be the worry, the grief, and the sorrow.

They sat for some time in companionable silence, drinking Raziel’s strong coffee and enjoying the setting sun. Dover reached out with her right hand, fingers curling around the day’s last tendrils of light. She was under strict Principality orders to remain in direct contact with light until she finished healing.

Dover thought she’d been finished for two days, but Hanael wouldn’t relax to save his life.

Still, since the angels were occupied by their evening worship, it appeared Embry would take that moment to really talk.

“Got a call yesterday,” her old friend said by way of starting the conversation. “From someone called Shae.”

Dover turned to look at her friend, dropping the hand siphoning light from the sky into her lap. She sipped at her coffee, trying to play off the surprise. Why had Shae contacted Embry? How had she known to contact him?

“Oh? I haven’t heard from her in a while, but only God knows where my phone went.” Dover met her friend’s gaze, careful not to look away guiltily.

“She said to tell you, glad you’re on the mend and when you’re ready, meet her at the house.” Embry arched a brow, obviously suspicious. “I got the feeling you’d understand.”

“I do,” Dover answered with a small smile. She immediately thought of the run-down building in the Bluffs, feeling a sudden urge to Slide right into that Godforsaken place. Surely someone knew something by now.

Perhaps Shae would know how to find Lupe and the kids.

Dover pondered if she would even be able to face Lupe after Roy’s death, shaking off the thought as soon as it crossed her mind. She had to get a handle on her grief. She had Charges to care for.

“Somethin’ you wanna tell me, Dove?” Her friend sat forward to look at her dead on, the smoke from his cigarillo curling up toward the darkening sky.

Shadows danced in her friend’s eyes, reminding her of the power he carried with him even now. Druids were the representation of Earth’s magic, steeped in tradition and in tune with the very battleground on which Heaven and Hell fought. Embry could have taken on the Arbor on his own, Dover thought, especially on a night such as this. She did not know how the moon cycle and phases of the Earth gave him his unique abilities, but from what she could feel emanating off of him tonight, Dover had no doubt as to the power he wielded.

Being reminded of that power made Dover want to get away from him, no matter how ashamed she felt about that.

What Dover really wanted to do was tell Embry exactly what was going on. He would, no doubt, have some insight into what was happening. Did Embry know about Nephilim and Cambion?

Unfortunately, since she was still confined to the Arbor, she couldn’t ask him.

“Han’s got you on a leash, doesn’t he, honey?” Embry asked, sitting back again. He took the cue that she wasn’t at liberty to discuss Shae’s message.

Dover fought a smile, shaking her head.

“I scared him,” she answered quietly. “Scared you, too, if I remember right.”

Her companion exhaled smoke into the air, nodding in affirmation.

“Why were you there, Em?” Dover asked, her brow furrowing with confusion. “How did you know?”

“The fox,” Embry replied, taking a sip from his cup. “You told me there was a fox casing Roy’s place a while back, before Elise.”

Dover’s frown deepened and she turned to him, shifting her weight under her blankets until she was comfortable again.

“When I went over to ward the place, I set a Familiar trap. It was going nuts a few minutes before I got there. I could feel something was coming, so I knocked on the door and sort of bulled my way in.”

“Em.” Dover scolded.

“There wasn’t time for nice,” Embry apologized. “By the time we got the girls and madre into the bedroom, those things were swarming.”

Nodding absently, the Guardian sat back in her chair. He had done exactly what she expected. While the plan worked, it hadn’t been enough to save Roy. Dover thought, perhaps, it had at least saved the children.

“You ever see anything like those, Em?”

The druid shook his head, looking down at his hands. Grief and guilt reflected on his handsome face. Dover reached out to take his hand, sharing both emotions for a moment.

“Those were not demons.”

“I know,” Dover replied, relieved.

Embry took another sip from his cup before setting it back on the table. He turned, slightly, as the volume of prayer rose behind them.

“So, why are these angels trying to convince everyone they were?”

Dover covered her face with her hands. She didn’t have the answer. Since that night at Roy’s, the angels insisting those creatures were not Celestian, Dover’s suspicions grew. She could not decide whom she distrusted more, but every passing day shone more doubt on the Host she had so loyally served. Unable to leave the Arbor, her hands were tied.

Lucky for her, she had a friend with connections.

Swallowing hard, she lifted her head in time to see Hanael making his way toward her through the kitchen. Dover glanced at her friend, shaking her head.

“Em. I think the Arbor has a secret. I need your help.”

As though he had expected this, Embry sat back casually, never letting on that anything was amiss.

“What do you need me to do?”

Dover offered Hanael a smile as he approached the sliding door that led to the Arbor’s well-appointed kitchen.

“Get in touch with Shae,” Dover said when Hanael pulled the door open. “Tell her I’m confined at the Arbor, but I’m looking for clues. Tell her to keep the others close to the vest.”

Confusion and fear crossed Embry’s face. Thankfully, his expression was hidden from the approaching angel.

“What’re you mixed up in, Dove?”

“I’m not sure yet, Em,” Dover whispered. “But I’m going to find out.”

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