End of Days Page 55

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By the time we get back to the group, the Watchers have caught the rest of the hellions that we’ll need. A dozen hellions are tied up on the ground, flapping around and trying to gnaw through the thongs that tie them.

The Watchers eye us like they know what we’ve been up to. As soon as we land, I hop off and step away from Raffe. I’m glad it’s so hot that I won’t have to explain why my face is so red.

Raffe immediately gets down to business. He explains what needs to be done to ride a hellion out of the Pit and what we might find on the other side. He doesn’t seem at all embarrassed that they assume we made out.

He then talks to the hellions. ‘Take us to the other side.’ He motions along Pooky’s blade and uses his hand to show a sliding motion into the sky.

A hellion hisses at him, all sharp teeth and hate.

Cyclone steps forward. ‘They need a firm hand, Commander.’ He looms over the hellions. ‘Do what we tell you, or you die.’ He makes a tearing motion with his hands.

A hellion pisses at him, squirting a yellow-green stream of foul-smelling liquid that Cyclone barely avoids.

The other hellions seem to snicker. Cyclone leans in, looking like he’s going to strangle them, but Raffe stops him.

I step forward. Let’s see how they respond if they’re treated like I would want to be in their place.

‘Freedom,’ I say.

The hellions look sideways at me.

‘Escape.’ I crouch down to look at them at their level. They watch me with distrust, but they’re listening. ‘No more Pit lords. No more masters. Be free.’ I do the sliding motion along my sword the way Raffe did earlier.

The hellions begin chattering among themselves, as if arguing.

‘Take us with you.’ I point to me and the others. ‘Be free.’ I motion along my sword into the sky again. ‘With you.’ I point to them.

More chatter.

Then they quiet down.

The one in the center nods at us.

My eyes open wide. It worked. One by one, the Watchers nod in my direction with respect in their eyes.

Raffe doesn’t go into the details of Beliel’s involvement with Uriel or with his wings. In fact, he doesn’t even say who the gateway Watcher is. He just says that it’s one of them.

‘Think long and hard about this,’ says Raffe. ‘We’ve always taken pride in never leaving one of us behind. You can stay here together and I’ll find another way to beat Uriel. Or you can come with us, but one of you must stay behind. Isolation is the worst thing that can happen to an angel. You think it’s bad now? It’ll be a hundred times worse when you’re alone, knowing that all your fellow soldiers made it out and left you here. You’ll become twisted, angry, vindictive, vengeful. You’ll become someone you wouldn’t recognize.’

He stares at the squirming hellions tied on the ground. ‘And for that, I’m sorry. I see now my role in it.’

He looks at every Watcher around him. ‘For the rest of you, remember that your families won’t be there anymore. Your Daughter of Man, your children – they’ll all be gone. If this is successful, we’re going to a different time, a different place. We’ll land in the middle of a war. But it’ll be a war where some of the fighters might have your blood in their veins.’

The Watchers look at each other as though trying to process that. I’m having trouble with it myself. Some of us could be their descendants.

They all look at each other, understanding that the gateway Watcher could be any of them.

Beliel is the first to nod. There’s naked hope in his face. ‘I’d do anything – risk anything – for a chance to have the yellow sun on our faces again.’

I clamp down hard on the sympathy that’s blooming for him. I run through the litany of his crimes – my sister, the murders, Raffe’s wings, his part in turning humans into monsters – I list all the names and faces that I knew at Alcatraz.

One by one, the Watchers nod grimly. Each prepared to take the risk.

We don’t tell Beliel that he’s the one until the very last second.

When Beliel finds out it’s him, his face freezes. It’s disturbing to think of someone gazing out into nothing when he has no eyes. The only sign of life from him is his chest pumping in and out as his breathing gets heavier.

The Watchers are somber. Each of them touches Beliel’s shoulder until he flings Thermo’s hand off him. After that, everyone quietly grabs a hellion.

Beliel stands alone in a circle of the only friends he had in his life. He jerks when I prick him with my sword.

Raffe gives the command to the hellions to jump through.

The Watcher-ridden hellions leap at Beliel. He stands frozen, as if electrified, while the hellions fly into him.

Raffe is the first to go so he can usher the Watchers who are sure to be disoriented when they arrive on the other side. I am the last to go so that I can hold the sword and keep the gateway open until we’re all through.

By the end, Beliel is on his knees, his empty eye sockets shut tight and his teeth clenched. There’s shock, but there’s anguish too, even though he volunteered. They all volunteered.

But I’m sure that’s little comfort. Everyone else is making it out of the Pit and leaving him behind. To suffer alone for what will seem like eternity to him.

Alone and unwanted.

Probably for the first time in his life.

I run through the litany of his crimes again as I ride my hellion into the gate that is Beliel.

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