End of Days Page 47

I’ve never seen Beliel so chatty. This earlier version of him is going to take some getting used to.

‘If they get their teeth into you, they’ll burrow before you can blink. They’ll work their way up to your head where they gnaw until your head falls off. Then they plant themselves in your neck. Sometimes, they fight, and two or three of them plant themselves before it’s all done. That’s a sight that makes you wish your eyes had been gouged out.’

I look at him to see if he just told a joke, but there’s no change in his expression.

‘A Fallen body is a prize, but they’ll take anything with limbs. They’ll even take rat bodies with the hope that they can move up the food chain so long as they can find the next victim. So watch your feet.’

He slides down the wall, sitting against it. ‘Rumor has it that some of the most powerful Pit lords were once Consumed. Of course, by the time they reach Pit-lord status, they’re beyond insane.’

I like to think I can handle insanity, but this is taking it to a whole new level.

‘So always be on guard,’ he says. ‘You could lose more here than you could possibly imagine.’

Is Beliel really looking out for me? There must be an ulterior motive, but I can’t think of one right now. ‘Why are you telling me all this?’ Maybe he’s not Beliel but just someone who looks like him. He sure doesn’t sound like him.

‘You saved me out there,’ he says. ‘I pay what’s owed, good or bad. Besides, I have a soft spot for Daughters of Men. My wife used to be one.’ His voice trails off, and I can barely hear his last sentence.

‘You’re offering to protect me?’ The disbelief clearly comes through in my voice.

‘No one can protect you, little girl, certainly not a newly Fallen whose eyes haven’t grown back yet. Anyone who says they can protect you is lying. It’s just a question of friend or foe. That’s all.’

‘And you’re telling me you’re my friend?’

‘I’m not your enemy.’

‘What the hell kind of bizarro world am I in?’ I whisper to myself.

I don’t expect Beliel to answer, but he does. ‘You’re in the ruins of the hellion world.’

I think about that for a minute. The hellion world? Not the Fallen world? The hellions and the Fallen do look very different. ‘They’re not the same species, are they?’

‘The Fallen and the hellions?’ He snorts. ‘Don’t let anyone hear you even suggest that. Both sides would tear you to pieces and feed your bits to the Consumed.’

‘This was the hellions’ world before the Fallen angels came? The hellions are the natives of the Pit?’

‘I doubt they were much of anything before the Fallen came. All they’re good for is causing torture and pain. Disgusting little rats. They’re even beneath the Consumed, who won’t eat them because even without a body, a Fallen refuses to drop that low.’

I remember how the hellions tortured both Beliel and his wife, and I can see why he hates them. But there might be two sides to this story.

I look around again at the dim basement.

There are remnants of shattered pottery, bits of faded cloth, broken metal and wood. Someone used to live here. A family of someones, maybe. A very long time ago.

37

Beliel tilts his head, listening. ‘Open the hatch. The other Watchers are coming.’

I’m not keen on letting the others know where we are. I don’t want them to kill me before Raffe can recruit them.

Raffe. He should have landed near Beliel, just like me. What does it mean that he’s not around?

‘Do it, girl. They’re our best hope for survival.’

I hesitate a moment longer. He might be right. Or he might be setting me up for a trap.

Beliel takes the choice out of my hands. ‘We’re in here!’

I quietly slide my blade back into her sheath and put the teddy bear on top. I can’t fight my way through that many Watchers anyway, so I might as well try to keep Pooky hidden for now.

Someone bangs on the hatch. ‘We knew you’d be alive, Big B. Open up. Don’t be shy.’

The wood rattles.

‘You want to live, little angel slayer?’ Beliel nods toward the hatchway. ‘They’re your best chance.’

I could be stubborn and wait until they force it open. But what’s the point? I reluctantly walk up the stone steps and open the hatch.

The Watchers pour in, filling the small hovel.

‘Nice find,’ says Thermo, looking around.

‘Maybe we can relax here for a few seconds,’ says Little B.

‘Oops, time’s up,’ says Howler, slapping his hand on Little B’s shoulder. ‘Back to being tense and hunted.’

The rest just scan the room, silently taking everything in as they walk into the hovel.

More than a dozen Watchers crowd into the space. Some of them sit down on the dirt while others lean against the wall, closing their eyes like they haven’t rested in years. No one talks. No one fidgets. They just rest as if they’re sure they won’t get another chance for several more years.

A loud thunk on the hatch interrupts the quiet.

Everyone tenses, turning toward the opening.

A flapping hellion crashes and tumbles just outside the open hatch. An angel skids after it in a jumble of white feathers and curses.

‘Raffe!’ I rush up the stairs to him. ‘Where have you been?’

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