End of Days Page 31

An image of the winged man who called himself Archangel Gabriel, the Messenger of God being shot down over the rubble of Jerusalem flashes through my mind. They looped it for days on TV.

Josiah shakes his head like he’s still having trouble believing it. ‘Uriel said Gabriel had gone insane, that he hadn’t actually spoken to God in eons, that he’d made up all the rules that God had supposedly commanded him to make. He said there was no reason why Uriel couldn’t be Messenger, that he could lie as well as Gabriel. So Uriel had him killed. Killed. He admitted it.’

They stare at each other, Raffe looking just as shocked as Josiah.

‘So what’s the big deal?’ I ask. ‘Our kings used to get murdered all the time.’

‘We don’t kill our own,’ says Josiah. ‘The last time that happened, Lucifer and his armies fell.’ He tilts his head at me as if not sure the message got through. ‘It was kind of a big deal.’

‘Yeah, I’ve heard of him,’ I say.

Raffe lets out a frustrated breath. ‘I can’t do anything about it from the outside.’

‘I know,’ says Josiah. ‘That’s why you have to let Laylah fix your wings. Somebody other than Uriel has to win the election. We’ve got word out to try to find Michael, but it’s unlikely we’ll find him in time.’

‘Why does Laylah think they’d vote for me instead of Uriel?’

‘You still have loyal followers. Rumors have been flying that you’re back, and I’ve been careful to cultivate them in your favor. You have a shot.’

‘No wonder Michael is staying away. Knowing him, becoming the Messenger is the last thing he wants to do. He can’t lead armies in the field if he’s smoothing feathers and buried under administration at home.’

‘You’re the only archangel who can challenge Uriel right now. Even if Michael wins in absentia, an archangel would need to stand in for him until he comes back. If you can do that, then Laylah can stand behind you. She now has every reason to want you to have your wings back.’

‘Raffe, you can’t trust him. Not after what he’s done.’

‘I know it looks bad,’ says Josiah, ‘but have I not made the oath? A life for a life. You gave me my freedom from eternal slavery and gave me the chance to earn a life worth living. And I pledged it to you.’

I push my face toward him. ‘You didn’t look so happy to see him back in San Francisco.’

‘I thought he was dead. I thought I was free of my oath, free to make my own way. But I would never betray Raphael. Why do you think he came to me? I’m the only one guaranteed to be loyal. The only one without a clan, a lineage, or honor to protect that supersedes my allegiance to him. Do you understand?’

He looks at Raffe. ‘I didn’t know what they were going to do to you. I thought they were just going to reattach your wings. Laylah had every intention of following through, but Uriel found out you were here and she lost her nerve. But now she simply has no choice. She has no one to ally with but you. And she’s the only one who can sew your wings back on.’

That last part hits home. With Doc’s arm broken, who else can do the operation?

‘You’re running out of time, Archangel,’ he says. ‘The election is about to happen. And if you can’t stop Uriel, we’ll have a deranged murderer as our Messenger. His word will be law, and everyone who opposes him will fall. This could be the start of a civil war. We could end up having an all-out extermination of not only the humans, but all angels who oppose him.’

I can feel the tension radiating from Raffe. How can he say no? This is his chance at getting his wings back and setting things right. He can have everything he wants. He might even become Messenger and save everyone from this apocalyptic mess.

And then he would go home, never to return in my lifetime.

24

‘Where would you operate?’ asks Raffe.

‘At the aerie,’ says Josiah. ‘Laylah is under guard. She can’t get out. But I could sneak you in.’

‘Go. I’ll follow you with the wings in a minute,’ he says, taking off the backpack that holds his blanket-rolled wings.

‘I should go with you,’ I say.

‘You can’t.’ He takes off his coat and slides the backpack straps on backward so that he’s wearing the pack against his chest. He fiddles with the waist strap, making sure it’s in place. Wearing a backpack this way might not look great on someone else, but on him, it looks like a fitted piece of military gear strapped tight to his broad chest.

‘You need someone to watch your back.’

He arches his back and spreads his wings the way I might stretch my legs after sitting too long. ‘Josiah will have to do. It’s too dangerous for you. Besides, you need to take care of your family.’

A thought occurs to me. ‘Maybe Laylah could help Paige too?’ I hate even saying it, but with Doc’s arm broken, who else can we turn to?

‘If things work out for me, I’ll see if I can get her to help your sister.’

‘Paige doesn’t have any more time than you do.’

‘It’ll be safer for her if we know that we can trust Laylah first.’

He’s right, but my mind keeps spinning. I nod. ‘What about your sword?’

‘I can’t fly with her if she won’t accept me. And that won’t happen until I get my wings back. Take care of her until I return?’

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