End of Days Page 52

Black smoke rises on hell’s horizon above one of the city ruins. I take a step onto the desert rocks near the sand, wondering how far it is to the nearest city. I have a strange urge to see the ruins. It might be an indication of what my world could be like one day.

‘Stop!’ one of the Watchers calls out just as I’m about to step onto the sand.

A hand whips out of the sand and grabs my ankle.

I scream, trying to yank my foot back. I kick the hand, but it pulls me off balance.

More hands burst out of the sand, reaching for me.

I try to scramble back, but the hand pulls me down.

I get my sword out and frantically slice.

Strong arms wrap around my waist, and a boot kicks the severed hand off my ankle, leaving maggots on my leg.

I shut my eyes and try not to squeal. ‘Get the maggots off me!’

Raffe brushes them off, but it feels like they’re still crawling on my skin.

‘So you do scream like a little girl,’ says Raffe with some satisfaction in his voice. I open my eyes a second too soon, because I catch him tossing the severed hand into the sand.

A forest of hands sprout up from the sand to grab it and tear it to pieces, fighting for the scraps.

I scoot away from squirming maggots. Raffe sees my distress and flicks them off the rock.

‘Maggots are freaky hideous,’ I say, getting up. I try to salvage some dignity, but I can’t help but shiver and shake my hands in the air. It’s an instinctive impulse, one I’m not up for resisting right now.

‘You’ve fought off a gang of men twice your size, killed an angel warrior, stood up to an archangel, and wielded an angel sword.’ Raffe cocks his head. ‘But you scream like a little girl when you see a maggot?’

‘It’s not just a maggot,’ I say. ‘A hand burst out of the ground and grabbed my ankle. And maggots crawled out of it and tried to burrow into me. You would scream like a little girl too if that happened to you.’

‘They didn’t try to burrow into you. They were just crawling. It’s what maggots do. They crawl.’

‘You don’t know anything.’

‘Hard to argue with that, Commander,’ says Howler with a laugh in his voice.

‘That’s the Sea of Killing Hands,’ says Thermo. ‘You don’t want to get near it.’

I can see why they call it a sea. The sand shifts like waves. I’m assuming it’s because of the hands or whatever moving beneath it. I can’t help but see the similarities between the Pit and my world now that Uriel and his false apocalypse are creating things like the resurrected crawling out of the ground.

‘Oh, she could have handled the killing hands like the truest warrior,’ says Raffe proudly. ‘It’s the little naked worms that make her tremble.’

‘Maybe we should call her maggot slayer,’ says Howler.

The others chuckle.

I sigh. I probably deserve this, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Now I know how Pooky Bear feels.

I see a small hellion over the desert, and I point to it, excited. But it flies too close to the sand, and three hands shoot out and grab it. The arms are not the length of a regular arm. They reach up at least six feet to grab the hellion. It screeches all the way down until it gets dragged beneath the sand.

One of the guys points to an outcropping of rocks.

The small hellion that was caught by the hands must have been a scout, because a group of hellions flies toward us.

My sword is up, ready for a fight. ‘Don’t kill them. We need them alive.’

The flying creepies come at us all teeth and claws. They’re as big or bigger than the ones that came after me out of the Pit. There are four of them.

Beside me, Raffe opens his wings and takes to the air over the Sea of Killing Hands. The others do the same. Beliel and I are the only ones left on the ground.

They corral the hellions toward Hawk and Cyclone who catch them.

When they come down, they’ve caught all four. They tie the hellions down with leather thongs that some of them had wrapped around their wrists. Apparently, Raffe had trained them to collect bits of useful items from the local environment whenever they were on a mission.

‘You’re smarter than you look,’ I say to Raffe.

‘But not as smart as he thinks,’ says Howler.

‘I can see discipline has broken down during your vacation,’ says Raffe.

‘Yeah, it’s all that lounging on the beach with nothing to do but drink and watch women.’

At the word women, the Watchers become awkward and self-conscious.

‘I have to ask,’ says Thermo. ‘I know the others are wondering this too. Is she your Daughter of Man?’ He nods toward me.

I glance at Raffe.

Am I?

Raffe thinks about that for a second before answering. ‘She is a Daughter of Man. And she is traveling with me. But she’s not my Daughter of Man.’

What kind of answer is that?

‘Oh. So she’s available?’ asks Howler.

Raffe gives him an icy look.

‘We’re all single now, you know,’ says Hawk.

‘They can’t punish us twice for the same crime,’ says Cyclone.

‘And now that we know you’re out of the race, Commander, that makes me the next best-looking in line,’ says Howler.

‘Enough.’ Raffe doesn’t look amused. ‘You’re not her type.’

The Watchers smile knowingly.

‘How do you know?’ I ask.

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