Of course, there was a tiny little problem. I didn’t know what plan b was.
Ok, that was more than a tiny problem. It was a huge problem. Add in the torrents of midnight water through the serpent’s fangs, the flames blasting from his throat and being wrapped in a black forked tounge threatening to slice through my wings, and things were looking dire. If Delaney had been here, she would have been freaking out. A pang jabbed my heart and I winced. Memories rushed over me as fast as the acidic waves–my mom’s teary eyes, Delaney’s cheeks scrunched up in worried wrinkles…I sniffled.
Gabriel’s fingers crushed against mine, cracking my knuckles. ”Let her go, Serpent!”
“You wish, angel!” A wave swept over us as we rattled around the serpent’s cavernous jaws, tethered only by strands of dark flesh. ”I shall deliver you to Samantha on a silver platter, and then we will all feast upon you!” The maniacal cackles booming above us sent shivers down my spine. ”It’s been too long since we’ve had an angel here.” Another wave crashed against the silver fangs, sprays of dark water spewing over our backs. I plucked a finger bone out of my hair and fought back my own wave of bile. ”A guardian angel like yourself–why, that’s a celebration worth Christmas! If we believed in such things!” A second round of cackles echoed around us as the fangs tightened, shutting out even the waves. The fleshy walls quivered. ”In just a few miles, we’ll reach them. And from what I hear, angel, there’s no question of getting your soul…or the girls.”
Gabriel’s wings enfolded around me, pressing me into his chest. ”Don’t say a word,” he whispered, pressing his hand across my lips. ”Don’t worry. I’ll get you out of here.”
I fingered one of his feathers. In the black light, it was pulsing with swirls of white racing up and down each feather, whispering with sparks of hope. But although it was warm to the touch, it held nothing of the searing heat it had on the surface. I glanced up. He pressed his forehead to mine and I closed my eyes, not wanting to see my reflection in his dim blue eyes.
I didn’t need to ask. I could feel his weariness and fear with the burbling of the never-ending stream of worry in his mind. His eyes were creased, the strain of fear worn deep in his forehead.
Just like my father had looked when he stared at the locket of my mother.
My thumb stroked the white feather and his wings trembled, drawing me closer to him. Tucking my head into his neck, I closed my eyes. A single hot tear escaped, rushing down the bridge of my nose and dropping off my chin.
Do it for love. My fingers tightened around the feather but didn’t tug. Do it for love.
Hell wasn’t love. Samantha had said the River of Despair had run on desolation, depression, fear, loss. It was heavy in her dark feathers swirling around my feet, her own bitterness and loss tinged in the memories now burned in my mind. There had to be something I could do. The ultimate act of love and faith.
“Ariella?” Gabriel’s voice held an edge. His weary eyes narrowed, already dimmer than they had been moments ago.
“This is killing you, isn’t it?” I swallowed the sorrow. My lips were dry and cracked like I’d eaten five bags of popcorn, making every word painful. ”Being here. It’s making you weak.” I reached behind me, running my hand over my own wings. They fluttered against my hands, the few feathers brushing against me. All light, no substance.
“It doesn’t matter, Ariella.” His eyes were grey, the blue of a sea long forgotten. ”All that matters is that we get you out of here.”
“And my dad,” I reminded him.
“Ariella…” He pressed his lips together. ”I can’t save them and you.”
“Almost there!” the serpent cackled, jostling us as our bonds tightened. ”Just a few more moments before I cross over the bridge of temptation.”
Gabriel grit his teeth. ”Once he crosses that bridge, we’re in hell proper. I’ll have no power.”
“What if we…” I leaned towards him, holding my breath.
He raised his chin, brushing his lips across my forehead. “As much as I want to, it wouldn’t do anything but make me happy.” A grin tugged at tired lips. ”Of course, I might as well die happy.”
“You can’t die.” Tears flowed and I didn’t bother to stop them. ”Who will come back for me next time?”
“There will be other angels.”
“I don’t want other angels. I want you.” Closing my eyes, I buried my head in the nook of his neck and let the hacking sobs I’d been holding in go. My tears pooled in the base of his neck, soaking his feathers.
Please, I prayed. Please help us. Please help us.
“Almost there!” Our bonds dropped as the jaws cracked. ”Almost”–
As the water slammed in, we were thrown from side to side. Gabriel tightened his grip around me, his wings blocking out most of a searing scream that rattled my bones. The fiery blasts’ from the demons throat extinguished. The jaw went slack, the tounge flapping to the side. Crunches and cracks sounded from somewhere above as something hard and firm slammed underneath us. I peeked out around Gabriel’s wings. Through the creature’s gaping silver fangs, I could see silver grass. And no water.
“What…” Gabriel tightened his grip as I tried to step out. ”Wait. We don’t know…”
“Of course you do.” A small furry head popped up, grinning. ”Hey guys. Miss me?”
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