Paris, France; June 29th, 2012
Claire, blinded by the sun, stumbled through the door of the catacombs, falling haphazardly into someone’s arms. The girl’s arms floundered for something to hold onto, finding nothing but, what she didn’t know, was the stubbly back of her savior’s head. His grunt when she, unintentionally, pulled him down to her level didn’t faze her. She hardly noticed him while she watched the backs of her eyelids replay the unnatural scene she’d just experienced, over and over again. The way that thing had looked at her, clouding her mind with his hypnotic, red eyes would be forever engrained in her mind.
Claire didn’t dare look up for a moment, focused entirely on catching her breath while her legs hung, unused, over the ground. When she realized her compromised position, her face slowly tilted up, eyes following the arms, thick with muscle, wrapped around her up to a broad chest, covered in a tight, black t-shirt. Gasping lightly, she followed his sharp jaw, pausing momentarily on his lips, and slowly her jaw fell. She met stormy grey eyes for a split second and the world around her fell away. Her entire body suddenly felt like dead weight.
“Wow,” she breathed, trying to find her footing when the ground had fallen out from under them.
Kierlan was unmoved, having already seen her picture hundreds of times now on the way to Paris. Nevertheless, he pretended to be as struck by her beauty now as he was when he’d first seen her picture on the plane. “H…hi,” he mumbled, placing her on her feet while he stared into her gorgeous eyes, keeping his hands placed innocently on her arms, steadying her.
“Claire!” James yelled, loping down the sidewalk toward the two taxis sitting against the curb. He shoved Alex into Scottie’s waiting arms and turned back to face the girl, now in the arms of a man who may have very well been the enemy. “Get away from him!” he yelled, catching the attention of pedestrians collected on the street as he ran to her.
Claire looked away from her knight in shining armor only when forced by the strong grip on her waist, wrenching her away. James pushed her behind him, shoving Kierlan a step away when they came face to face. “Who are you?” he demanded, holding his hand out, palm forward. Claire couldn’t see it, and Kierlan didn’t believe it, when a faint, blue light danced across James’s outstretched palm.
“James—” Claire began in a reprimanding tone.
“Claire, get in the car,” he snapped without taking his eyes off Kierlan.
“Go, Claire! I asked you once, I won’t ask again. Who. Are. You?”
Kierlan wanted to laugh at the smaller man, knowing if it came down to a fight, his opponent wouldn’t stand a chance. He didn’t though, knowing his humor wouldn’t be appreciated by the screaming boy. He kept a straight, albeit mean, face when he stood up to James.
“I’m Kierlan Cole,” he said, puffing out his chest the slightest bit. “I’m a private investigator here for—”
“I don’t believe you,” James spat, backing away, forcing Claire to back away, too.
“James, stop—” Claire shoved uselessly at his back, barely budging him.
“Scottie!” James called.
Seconds later, Claire felt herself being pulled away from James and toward the empty taxi. She thrashed against the hands under her arms, but, eventually, she had to give up the fight when the taxi door slammed in her face. Without the worry of his friend hearing, James scowled up at Kierlan’s face with malice. Unimpressed by the show, Kierlan scowled back.
“I know what you’re doing, and I’m not falling for it,” James growled.
Kierlan didn’t show the anxiety the remark created in him. He was a professional. “I would tell you what I was doing here, but you haven’t been listening.”
“Just stay away from us,” James retorted, turning his back on the man to throw open the cab door. Kierlan followed close behind; he had to get in that cab. When James reached to pull the door closed behind him, he caught it before they could lock themselves in.
“Sorry, I thought that I was the guy that saved your lives! You would’ve been crushed if I hadn’t led you out.” Kierlan dragged James out of the car by his shirt, letting him stand on his own when he closed the door again. “I think you’re hiding something, and I want to ask you a few questions.”
“I think you know exactly why I can’t trust you with her,” James bit back. “You weren’t in our tour group, I would’ve seen you. What were you doing down there? How did you know that we were going to need help?”
Kierlan bit his tongue and hissed, through clenched teeth, “As I was explaining to you, already, I have been following Russell Marks for some time. I have found reason to believe that he has been participating in cult activities. They worship a fictional deity and have been known to take part in human sacrifice in their attempt to resurrect this deity.”
James’s eyes narrowed, not so sure anymore in his original resolve. “I can’t stay. We have to get back to the hotel.”
Kierlan moved into his way. “I wanna go with you.”
Taken aback, he held the door as it came swinging toward his gut. “I saved your lives. Let me come with you. If they tried to get your friends before, they’ll come after them again.”
“I know they will. That’s why I have to get them back to the hotel,” James growled. “Let go!”
“I can help you, I have experience in—”
Claire leaned over, holding her head out the door. “James Bellman!” she chastised, getting out of the cab.
James heaved a sigh. “Claire, get back in—”
“Please, stop telling me w…what to do, first of all! Second of all, can you please treat this guy less like a prisoner and m…more like the guy that just saved us? Both of you, please get in the car, now. We have a lot of things t…to talk about!” she hissed, sounding more like a kitten than the lion she was trying for.
James and Kierlan tore their eyes from hers to stare each other down. James was the first to back down. “Fine.”
James pulled himself into the cab, followed by their newest addition, who internally congratulated himself. Claire leaned against the window, feeling the sudden pounding in her head dull when it touched the cool glass. They said nothing while they followed the taxi in front of them toward the hotel. James didn’t look back; he just felt it when Mainyu left the catacombs in search of Claire, just like he knew he one day would. The day had finally come, and now James was without anyone to help him get rid of the, newly-resurrected, God of Destruction.
“Does anyone wanna talk about w…what we just saw? James? I feel like you know something,” Claire mumbled, looking down at her hands in her lap.
James shook his head, wondering where the hell he was supposed to start.
As they approached the hotel, Kierlan made a mental note of the address. The car came to a halt against the curb and Claire was the first out, running headlong toward the other car. Scottie was careful to carry Alex as she woke, muttering incoherencies under her breath. “James!” he called, readjusting her light body. “She’s not doing so good.”
“Who’s he?” Hayden asked, glaring at Kierlan while she pulled herself out behind Scottie, combing Alex’s hair with her fingers. “James, what the hell is going on?”
“We’ll tell you everything when we’re back in the room,” James explained. “We all just need to get out of the open.” He waved his arms as he looked down the sidewalk in both directions, gesturing toward the door. “Go upstairs.”
Kierlan reached for Claire, leading her by the small of her back into the lobby and toward the elevator. In return, Claire’s heart beat the frantic rhythm she walked to in order to keep up with his long strides. His touch made her skin prickle like an electric current; she leaned infinitesimally closer to him, feeling the warmth radiating off his body chase away the last of the misty cold left in her mind by the man in the catacombs. James held Alex’s head, whispering soothing words while he shot short glances back at Claire over his shoulder.
When they’d safely installed themselves in the suite, Scottie and James carried Alex to the master bedroom, laying her on the comforters while she babbled into the pillows. James closed the door when they left her there to collect herself.
“What happened to Alex, James?” Hayden demanded. “And where’s Natalia? And Russell?”
“Russell and his sister are under investigation,” Kierlan said, crossing his arms. He leaned against the wall beside the dining room table where Claire sat. James stood on her other side, biding his time until Kierlan made his move.
“For what?” Hayden shrieked from her position on the couch, beside Scottie.
“Cult activity. He’s affiliated with a group that has been known to partake in things like human sacrifice.”
Scottie chuckled. “Not surprise. That guy always did seem like a rat.”
Hayden didn’t seem as amused. “I’m sorry, who are you?”
He nodded to her in greeting. “Kierlan Cole, P.I.”
Claire raised her hand.
“Uh,” Kierlan pointed to her. “Claire?”
“Is that w…why you were on the plane with us?” she inquired. “For Russell?”
James’s eyes bugged. “You were on the plane with us?” he demanded shrilly.
Kierlan absentmindedly scratched the back of his neck. “I—”
“He helped me with my bag, r…remember?” she said.
Kierlan nodded, suppressing the urge to cover her mouth before she said anything else. “Of course.”
“And what about Alex? What’s the matter with her?” Hayden inquired.
James ran his hand through his hair. “She’s in shock. Claire and her went through…quite the ordeal this morning,” he concluded.
“What?” Scottie asked.
James nudged Claire’s shoulder. “Go ahead, Eclair, tell ‘em what happened.”
She glanced up at him nervously. “They’re not going to believe me.” Nevertheless, he gestured for her to explain. “During the tour, Natalia grabbed me from the rest of the group, begging me to help her find Russell…” she began.
By the time she’d finished, she’d already had to silence her friends several times when they tried to interrupt. She nodded to them to acknowledge that she was done. “Then Kierlan showed up and helped us out when the catacombs started collapsing.”
Suddenly, they were all tongue-tied.
“Wait,” Hayden said, putting a hand to her head. “This guy just…appeared out of thin air?”
Claire nodded, smugly glaring at James.
“Alex saw that and that’s why she fainted?”
“Wouldn’t you?” James snapped. “I saw him. I have to tell you guy’s something. Something that you’re definitely not going to believe.”
“At this point I don’t think there’s anything I w…won’t believe now,” Claire laughed.
Kierlan hadn’t moved during Claire’s fantastic tale, but he pushed himself off the wall now to approach her. As he walked, he searched his pocket for the metal instrument he needed.
“And you really believe all that?” he asked, wondering how someone so beautiful could be so crazy.
“I saw it with my own eyes,” she insisted.
Claire felt the cold metal slap across her wrist before she’d finished speaking. A snarl of protest caught in her throat when her eyes met the glare of the handcuffs binding her to her chair.
Kierlan pulled a cell phone from his pocket. He made eye contact with her for half a second before the look on her face stung his, already shaken, determination. How could he give her over to Natalia, now, knowing she was unbalanced and so unbelievably meek? “Just a precaution, miss. I wouldn’t want to run the chance of you hurting yourself.”
“Who are you calling?” James demanded, reaching for the phone in his hand.
He didn’t look up, but he ducked easily out of James’s reach. “My office. And a hospital. Your friend needs help.”
“Give me the phone!”
Kierlan finally looked up with a disgruntled frown. “And apparently so do you.”
“I already warned you, Kierlan, put down the phone and get Claire out of the handcuffs,” James murmured with deadly calm.
Kierlan leaned forward, contemplating whether he should confess his reason for being there and who he was really calling, but he didn’t. “Or what?” he challenged, making the call and putting the phone to his ear.
James pursed his lips, looking around the room at his friends convened there, silently watching, and Alex in the next room. He sincerely didn’t want it to go this way, but they would have to find out either with Mainyu on the loose. Kierlan waited for someone on the other end to pick up.
James raised his hands, keeping his palms forward.
Blue energy danced across them, tingling against his skin and crackling like static while his eyes focused on Kierlan’s chest, their depths turning completely white as a bolt of blue energy lurched from his hands.
The blue lightning crashed into Kierlan’s chest with all the strength and awe of nature. His body flew backward, smashing into the wall of the suite while electricity surged through him.
He fell to the floor, chest stained with scorch marks, eyes closed. Claire screamed.
“Oh my God!” she shook as she stared at James’s smoking palms, coherent sentences evading her. When nothing came to mind, she shoved herself out of the dining room chair and crossed the room quickly.
Her knees collapsed under her; she fell beside the still body. Stammering through the sudden obstruction in her throat, she managed to choke out, “James…you killed him!”
Scottie, reluctantly, tore his eyes from James to join her a moment later. Hayden’s attention, however, was focused entirely on her friend. They’d been friends for years, they’d hung out constantly since he started dating her cousin and she hardly knew him. And, after Claire’s speech, she couldn’t tell if her other friend was crazy, or if there were a lot of things she hardly knew anymore. She didn’t like wondering.
Though the electricity that had spontaneously generated in his hand was gone now, black smoke radiated from his clenched fists, reminding them all of what they’d just seen. His face was painted with deep guilt. He hadn’t meant to kill Kierlan. He hadn’t meant to…
Scottie watched the new arrival’s chest begin to rise and fall anew and breathed a short sigh of relief. “He’s not dead. He’s breathing.”
James didn’t dare to share in his friend’s relief, knowing he was going to be thrown to the dogs when they regained the ability to speak. Claire was too fixated on Kierlan’s face to question what she’d seen, yet, eyes roaming over the sweat-slicked skin down to the scorch marks disrupting the fabric of his t-shirt. The smooth flesh of his chest was blackened between the singed edges of the hole in the shirt. As her eyes trailed down, she noticed the gun handle peeking out from the waistband of his pants.
His body convulsed once with the electric current coursing through him before he fell slack in her arms. Claire couldn’t put her finger on it, she would’ve been content to sit there and stare at him forever, memorizing every facet of his face. So beautiful.
She was brought out of her admiration by a bloodcurdling shriek.
Alex stood in the doorway to the master bedroom, mouth closed over the scream, head held in her hand. Dark hair fell in disarray around her shoulders and her hand was crusted with blood. “What happened?!”
James’s mouth went dry.
She didn’t leave the doorway but her eyes slanted to find the unfamiliar man in Claire’s arms. Personally, Alex hadn’t thought her boyfriend of three years was capable, morally, of hurting another human being, since he’d declared himself a pacifist before they’d met. However, hearing the noise in the suite’s living room, including the accusations that followed, she’d been forced to awareness, staggering out of the bedroom to investigate. She could remember nothing of how she got there, only that she’d had the strangest dream: Natalia was blonde and had cut a chunk out of her hand, making a demon materialize out of thin air. Seeing what the room had become, she wondered how badly she might have misjudged James, or any one of them.
She slowly left the bedroom, approaching James like a frightened animal. “James,” she murmured soothingly, hesitantly reaching out for him. He leaned into her when her hands wrapped around his arms, relishing in the warmth she offered that he would never feel again. “What happened?”
Looking around at their faces, he wished they could return to the time where being James Bellman meant being normal. He hadn’t needed to use his powers in lifetimes, not since that first time, before he knew that the inevitable couldn’t be stopped, even by his otherworldly means. This time would be different, he could feel it with Mainyu’s return, but for better or for worse, he couldn’t tell. Gingerly, he gripped her wrists and peeled her away from him.
“He was going to expose us,” he explained softly. “No one can know what happened today.”
“Y…you electrocuted him!” Claire interjected. “With your hands!”
James forced himself to look away from the hurt in Alex’s eyes and turn in Claire’s direction. Rather than tell her to shut up like he wanted to, having interrupted his time with Alex, again, he nodded. “You all saw what I did. Now you know that I’m not like you.”
Alex reached for him again, wincing when his hands met hers, disturbing the slice in her palm. “Baby, you’re scaring me,” she said. She didn’t dare question herself on where the vicious gash, the same from her dream, had come from.
Seeing the painful cut, he studied her palm for a second before he pressed their hands together. Alex tried to pull her arm from his grasp with an objective snarl, but it wouldn’t budge.
“You’re hurting me!” she snapped before she realized it wasn’t true. Her hand was fine and feeling better by the second, wrapped up in a pleasant, cool sensation emanating from his skin. She stopped thrashing only long enough to watch their hands and the soft, blue light glowing between them. Eyes wide, she stood frozen in place until he released her, stepping away when she held her hand to her face.
The skin there was smooth, the only evidence of the gash being the crusted blood.
She flipped her hand, back and forth, searching for the missing cut, but there was nothing on either side. “What? What the—?” she gasped. “How did you do that?”
He pursed his lips against the grimace on his face. “I’ve been keeping a secret from you guys. You’re not going to believe me, so just…sit down and I’ll explain everything that’s going on.”
No one moved.
“James, you need to explain this shit right now, cuz I’m this close to a breakdown,” Scottie growled, holding his thumb and forefinger an inch apart.
Alex crossed her arms, though her hand was left palm up. Her eyes occasionally flickered down to it, watching for any chance that the illusion would shatter. They waited.
“I’m an angel.”
Alex scoffed, giving him a look. “Now’s not the time to be cute, Bellman…”
He held up a hand to silence her, to which she begrudgingly obliged with an indignant expression. “I’m not being cute. My name is Hosrael and I am a guardian angel. Your guardian angel,” he concluded, gesturing with his chin to Claire.
Suspiciously, she pointed to herself. “Me?”
“Yes,” he said. “I’ve been your guardian angel for almost three thousand years now.”
Claire pulled herself from beneath Kierlan, standing and rubbing her temple with her fingertips. “This…this is too bizarre. Four thousand y…years? I’m eighteen, James…Hosrael…whichever!”
“You’re only eighteen this time, but I’ve been watching you for more than just this lifetime.”
She blinked away confusion. “Wait. Like…reincarnation?”
“I’m…I’m Catholic! I don’t believe in rein—”
“It doesn’t matter what you believe, Claire, I’m telling you the truth,” he spat. “You all saw what I can do, what else would I have to lie about?”
Claire went silent.
“Are there a lot of…your kind…walking around?” Scottie asked, collapsing on the couch under the weight of his shock.
“Not too many, the humans grossly outnumber us,” he replied with a shrug. “Only very important humans have us trailing them, protecting them from dangers that would impact them and affect others.”
“Important?” Claire laughed. “I can’t think of any r…reason why you’d need to protect me. Are y…you—?”
“Don’t you dare ask me if I’m sure,” he snapped. “Of course I’m sure; I’ve been following you for three thousand years.”
She ran her hand through her hair as she searched for the answers to life’s great questions in the carpet. “Why?”
James placed his hand on the small of Alex’s back to lead her to the couch, but she flinched away, taking her place beside Claire instead. He masked his pain well. “You are, what my kind calls, a Spirii. It means that trauma in your original life causes you to be reincarnated over and over again until that trauma gets resolved.”
“A…And you know what that trauma is?” she inquired.
“Oh, come on, Claire,” Scottie exclaimed, “don’t tell me you believe any of this!”
“I…” she trailed off, rubbing her forehead. “I have such a bad headache.”
James shot a scathing look at Scottie. “You have to believe it, Claire. Your dreams? They’re not dreams at all! They’re flashbacks. The same flashbacks you’ve had since you were first reborn.”
Claire’s lip quivered. “I don’t…I don’t know.”
His face darkened. “Whether you believe me or not, I need you to trust me and cooperate when I tell you that we need to leave Paris, today. You need to hide while I find a way to fix—”
“Leave?” Alex blurted out, pushing Claire behind her. “Why would we have to leave?”
“Because that man in the catacombs is gonna come after the both of you,” he announced, rendering the room silent.
“Me too?” Alex inquired realizing, finally, that her dream today hadn’t been a dream at all. “Why don’t I have a guardian angel?”
“Because my bosses decided that you were able to protect yourself,” he said. “That man from earlier wasn’t just any man. His name is Angra Mainyu, known by some cultures as the God of Destruction—”
“So now you want us to believe in mythology shit, too?” Scottie erupted.
Hayden placed a calming hand on his chest. “Ya, James. I’m sorry but this is all starting to seem a little too far fetched.”
“You don’t have to believe me,” James growled. “Frankly, I don’t care if you do, but Natalia is—”
“Ya, where is Natalia, James?” Scottie snarled. “Russell, too. Did you zap them with that weird parlor trick of yours, like this guy?”
“Natalia isn’t anything like we thought she was,” he began. “When I found Claire and Alex after the lights went out, that snake had already read the spell and brought Mainyu back to this world. I should have known it was her…I’ve been worried about this since I found out about the robbery at the British Museum.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” he countered.
“Back in December, the British Museum was robbed of one artifact. Two guards were killed to get this thing and everyone thought it was unusual because they only stole a piece of paper from the, extinct, Book of Eternity, an ancient spell book from Persia. The page was relatively worthless except to scholars and anyone who knew how to use it!”
“And you think that spell can resurrect mythical beings?” Scottie accused.
“It did,” Claire murmured softly. “We saw it. What does the s…spell call for?”
James rolled his eyes to the ceiling, thinking. “A structure for him to materialize on, preferably human remains, though there are some substitutes.”
She nodded. “There are plenty of those in the underground. W…What else?”
“Blood. Any blood. The stronger the blood, the more ideal.”
Alex absentmindedly searched her palm. “Stronger? You mean…like you?”
He shrugged. “Mainyu’s human body can’t sustain all the powers he possesses, so it will deteriorate at a faster rate than a normal human until he, eventually, falls back into the original components that made him. Whose blood did they take?”
“Mine,” Alex whispered.
He exhaled loudly, hopelessly. “I don’t know how Natalia knows all that she does, but she knew exactly what to do to bring Mainyu back. Alex’s blood will only slow his deterioration a little bit, but long enough to prepare a sacrifice.”
“Why my blood?”
“Claire isn’t the only Spirii I’ve met since her first life,” he murmured, folding and nervously unfolding his hands. “You, Alex, are the reincarnation of a very powerful priestess, the sister of Claire’s original incarnation. By today’s standards, I guess you would call yourself a witch.”
Scottie scoffed, turning away from them in disgust. When he faced them again, it was with disgust in his voice. “You guys can’t seriously be buying all of this shit, are—?”
“Shut the hell up, Scottie!” Alex yelled. “This is serious! Me and Claire saw that guy piece himself together right in front of us.” She gave James a look of good faith. “James, or Hosrael, or…whoever he is, is telling the truth.”
He glowered into each of their faces, probing for something in them that wasn’t there. He sighed. “Alright, assuming that I believe you—and I’m not saying I do!—what happens now that this…god is resurrected?”
James frowned deeply. “Alex’s first manifestation, Shireen, banished him to another world to prevent the destruction of the entire planet. Now that he’s back…”
Scottie chuckled darkly. “Great. What does he want?”
James pointed at Claire. “He wanted her then, and he’s definitely going to want her now. And now that he knows that Shireen is back, too, he’ll want Alex dead.”
Claire couldn’t help but sit down when her head started spinning. Hyperventilating, she gasped, “I…need…a bag…”
They ignored her when a scream from outside made them all turn to the window. “Everyone, get back,” James ordered, inching toward the glass.
Far below their room, Mainyu stood on the sidewalk, roaring demands into the faces of passersby. By the time James looked down, the god was holding a woman over his head. Despite the glass between them, the words he bellowed were as clear as day.
“Where is the woman with the hair of sunlight?! The eyes of daylight’s sky?! Tell me: where is Ziba?!”
James turned back to his friends. “Stay here. I’m leaving; I don’t know when I’ll be back.”
Alex stepped toward him as he neared the door, prepared to go with him. “Is it him? The guy from the catacombs?”
James nodded. “Stay here. I don’t know how strong he is, or if they proceeded with the sacrifice, yet. I don’t want you to get hurt.” He held her at arms length, pressing his lips quickly to hers before he vanished out the door.
She stood there, watching the door slam shut behind him. It took her a moment to move. “We have to go after him.”
“Are you crazy?” Hayden breathed, leading her away from the door. “You heard James, Alex. He’s a god! You don’t stand a chance.”
Alex shook her head stubbornly. “But he also said my blood is stronger than a normal person’s! I’m a witch! I can help.”
Hayden grasped her shoulders and lightly shook her. “He told you that you were a witch two minutes ago! You have no idea if he’s telling the truth and if he is than you have no idea how to do anything remotely magical! Think this through for a minute.”
Alex scowled up at her cousin with tears brimming in her eyes. “I trust him, no matter who or what he is! Whether he’s an angel or a human or a freaking leprechaun, he’s still my Jimmy.”
Hayden let her arms fall when Alex shook her away, allowing the smaller girl to stride toward the door.
“Alex, wait!” Claire pleaded without standing.
Alex turned, eyes nearly shut while she blinked away the hot tears. “Claire, please shut up, I can’t take anyone else’s begging right now. I’m going and that’s—”
The blonde girl interrupted, albeit in a voice too meek to match up with her words, “I’m going w…with you.” She held Kierlan’s gun in her raised hand.
“Where did you get that?” Alex demanded.
Claire pointed at the body on the floor.
“What was he doing with a gun?” Alex whispered, more to herself than her friends.
Scottie held a stubborn expression while he rolled his eyes, keeping his arms crossed tightly around himself. Under the expectant eyes of Claire and Alex, he shook his head to clear it. Growling a string of profanity under his breath, he managed to finally glower at Alex as she backed slowly out of the room with Claire. He groaned. “Us too.”