Willow and Alex are mankind's only hope. With the world in ruins, the angels are enslaving humanity, moving survivors into camps where they devour their energy, causing slow but certain death. Training a new team of Angel Killers, Alex and Willow's love grows stronger than ever - and success is almost within their grasp. But when Willow senses a terrifying shift in the angels' powers, Alex is forced to embark on a deadly solo mission. Now Willow is left to defeat the angels with Seb, and she has no idea if Alex is ever coming back...
“THE epic end to an epic trilogy!”
The Guardian Children’s Books
“Quite splendidly original... a chaotically thrilling conclusion bringing the whole gripping saga to a satisfying close.”
The School Librarian
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Key Stage: KS4 E; Age 14+
Lexile Measure: 680L
198 x 130mm
L. A. Weatherly is the author of the bestselling Angel series, as well as almost 50 other books for children and teenagers. She’s originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, and lives in Hampshire, England with her husband. Her books have been translated into many different languages.
Visit www.leeweatherly.com to find out more.
“Hold still,” said Alex.
“I can’t!” Willow gasped. She was leaning over the stream, her long blonde hair a slithering mass of shampoo. She shrieked, half laughing, as Alex poured a canful of water over it. “Oh! That is so cold!”
Alex started laughing too. “You’re the one who wanted to wash it.”
“I had to; it was getting disgusting… Is all the shampoo out?”
He grinned as he scooped more chilly water from the stream. “Nope. Not even close.”
As Alex woke up, Willow’s laughter faded into silence.
There was no stream, no ramshackle cabin nearby. He was lying in a sleeping bag in a tent, its nylon walls a deep blue in the predawn light. Even Willow was different. The girl asleep in his arms had short red-gold hair now; it framed her face in untidy spikes.
A dream. Alex smiled as he stretched, remembering that day up at the cabin – and then everything came slamming back and his smile vanished. Christ, no wonder he’d been dreaming about the cabin: back then their biggest problem had been hiding out from the Church of Angels. Now…Alex let out a breath and rubbed his temples with one hand.
Now things were a little different.
The uncertainty was the worst part, he thought grimly. If they just knew what the hell was going on, they could start to deal with it. But it had been three days – three days – and he and the rest of his team still had no clue.
They were finally almost out of the Sierra Madre; their journey north through Mexico had been spent mostly on mountain back roads so they could keep out of sight. Three days of the truck lurching over rough terrain; three days of dust and plummeting views. Three days of sending Seb, the only native Spanish speaker, ahead to high, isolated farms to purchase gas.
“They don’t know yet that something has happened,” Seb had reported each time he returned, lugging enough gas to keep them going – along with food pressed on him by the farmers’ wives. “All they know is that the TV stations aren’t working and the internet is down.”
Alex had felt his team’s tension increase with every rendition of this. The words didn’t begin to tell them what they were all so desperate to know. Homes up here had generators; it meant nothing that the farms still had electricity. What was going on everywhere else?
Did dead TV and internet mean that more of the world than just Mexico City was gone?
With a soft rustle, Willow stirred in his arms. As her green eyes flickered open, they at first held only sleepy confusion – and then Alex saw her remember.
She swallowed and shifted so that her arms were folded across his chest. She rested her chin on them. “Morning,” she whispered.
“Morning.” Alex stroked her spiky hair, smoothing it from her face. “Did you sleep okay?”
“Not really.” She pressed her cheek against his palm. “I – I still can’t stop seeing it,” she admitted in a small voice. “Every time I close my eyes.”
“I know. Me too,” Alex said roughly. The sight of Mexico City as it had gone down – buildings shuddering into nothing; cars and people tumbling into gaping cracks – was one that would never leave him.
Willow’s eyes were haunted. “And I just keep thinking…if Mexico City was the only place affected, then we should be seeing helicopters heading down there to help. The Red Cross or the army or…” She trailed off. She didn’t need to add how silent the skies had been.
Alex gripped her hand hard. “The US could still be okay,” he told her. “If only one or two cities were hit there, they’ll be focusing relief efforts on those for now – not here.” He’d been saying the same thing for days, trying to keep his team calm. Besides – please, god – it could actually be true.
Willow’s gaze was steady. If she’d psychically sensed his jumble of hope and dread, she didn’t comment. Looking down, she trailed a finger across his chest. Finally she cleared her throat.
“So…tell me something about you I don’t know,” she said.
Surprise touched him; it was a game they’d played back at the cabin. “You already know everything about me,” he said softly. He pulled her fully on top of him and wrapped his arms around her.
Her voice was strained. “Oh, I bet there are still one or two mysteries left, if you try… Please?” she added.
Alex knew she was trying to take his mind off what had happened – and her own, for that matter. “Okay, give me a time frame,” he said at last.
“Preteen,” suggested Willow. “Say, between nine and twelve.”
His father’s training camp in the New Mexico desert: cement buildings, burning white in the sun. Alex thought, stroking Willow’s spine. “Have I told you that I broke my arm when I was ten?”
She shook her head. “No, how?”
“I crashed Juan’s motorcycle. He’d just taught me how to ride it, and I thought it’d be cool to go for a night drive through the desert.”
Willow’s body relaxed a little. “You mean you stole his bike?”
Alex nodded, remembering. “Yeah, pretty much. There was a full moon, and I was doing donuts in the sand – and then these two headlights came at me out of nowhere, and I skidded and hit my arm on a rock.”
“Yeah – and, man, he was pissed.Especially since he had to take me to Alamogordo to the hospital.”
Silence fell. With an effort, Alex kept his thoughts from what might have happened to the world. Your turn, he started to say, and then they heard the echo of a truck door closing.
Willow glanced up. “Someone else must be awake.”
“We’d better get moving,” said Alex.
Their eyes met. Once they were out of the mountains, the plan was to return to the main highways; with luck they’d be back in the US by noon. The question was, what would they find?
Willow licked her lips. “So…how long do you think it’ll take us to reach Nevada once we cross the border?”
“Normally less than a day,” Alex said. “Now, though – I guess it depends.”
Willow started to say something else but didn’t. She nodded tensely, and sat up and reached for their tangle of clothes.
Watching her get dressed, there was suddenly so much Alex wanted to say: that no matter what had happened, their group of Angel Killers would somehow be all right. That as long as the two of them were together, they’d get through anything. The words felt hollow, even to him.
At least Raziel’s gone, he reminded himself harshly. The angel’s fiery death above Mexico City had been the one positive in all this.
Willow pulled on her blue hoodie; her tousled head emerged. Alex touched her face, caressing her cheekbone with one thumb. “You are so beautiful, you know that?” he said in a low voice.
Abruptly, Willow looked close to tears. She clutched his hand. “It’ll be okay,” she said. “Oh god, Alex, it just has to be.”
He had no answer. He cradled her face and kissed her deeply, and for a few seconds lost himself in the feel of their lips together.
The low, worried buzz of voices came from outside. Seb, Liz and Sam were all up. He and Willow drew apart, and Alex let out a breath.
“We’d better go,” he said.
The journey to Nevada took three more days.
On his first glimpse of the small brick building in the middle of the desert, Alex was so tired that all he could think was, Oh, shit, we’re in the wrong place. Then his brain cleared a little, and he realized this was it after all.
“What the hell?” Sam demanded from the back. “This is just an electricity substation!” They could see pylons clustered in the building’s yard, stabbing at the sky.
“That’s all it’s supposed to look like,” Alex said sharply as he steered the 4 × 4 over the uneven dirt road.
Willow glanced at him from the front passenger seat but didn’t say anything. They were all exhausted, on edge…and hardly any wiser about what had happened to the world. Though the signs don’t look great so far, thought Alex grimly. The fact that there’d been no border control was kind of a tip-off.
As they’d neared the United States, they’d heard people shouting gleefully about the abandoned border. If true, the ramifications were chilling, but Alex had decided to try it for the sake of speed. And when they’d reached Ciudad Juárez, it had been true all right: people swarming over the fence into El Paso, dropping into the US unchallenged; cars cruising straight through the unmanned gates, honking joyfully.
“Dios mío – they still think there’s something better here,” Seb had murmured.
No one had paid attention to their dusty 4 × 4. They’d drawn their guns anyway. Willow had been driving; she’d sped them across the border, knuckles white on the wheel – and then they were home again.
It was nothing at all like the place they’d left.
Even without the border chaos, it was obvious there’d been major earthquakes in the US too. Whole swathes of the nation’s electricity grids had been knocked out – the night-time portion of the drive had been shrouded in an eerie darkness, without a single light showing. Things were even worse in daylight, with panicked looting going on everywhere they passed, until Alex had decided to stick to back roads again.
How much? he kept thinking. The question pounded at his brain. How much of the world has been destroyed?
They’d almost reached the brick building now. It looked as if it had crouched undisturbed here in the desert for decades. danger of electrocution. keep out!read the weathered sign.
A CIA agent had tipped them off about this place back in Mexico City. The code that she’d given them worked; the gate gave a jerk and slid open. A garage door raised up, leading into the building itself, and inside there was a light. Of course, realized Alex, the place must really be a substation, which meant it had its own power supply. The door slid shut as they drove inside.
The small room contained only a desk with a display of video monitors. On the wall facing them were two elevators: one car-size and the other smaller.
No one spoke as they got out of the truck. Alex drew his pistol. He’d done a scan for energy and knew there wasn’t anyone inside – but he still felt better armed.
They took the smaller elevator down. After nearly a minute, its doors opened onto a large garage. A dozen shiny 4 × 4s were parked, waiting. At one end stood a pair of gasoline pumps, like a miniature gas station.
They stepped out and stared. “Do you think there’s actually gas in those?” Liz asked finally.
“Yeah, definitely.” Alex gave a short, humourless laugh. “Ever wonder where your tax dollars went?”
Their footsteps echoed down gleaming corridors as they explored the bunker. The details they’d been given had done nothing to prepare Alex for actually being here. The vast underground base could support a thousand people for up to two years. It just went on and on: a fully stocked armoury, an industrial-size kitchen, closets piled high with sheets and pillowcases. The silence got to you after a while; Alex kept bracing himself with every door he opened, not knowing what he was about to see.
But there was no sign that anyone had been here recently. And no sign of their missing teammates, Kara and Brendan – last seen in Mexico City.
Willow stood peering into a closet full of cleaning supplies. She gave Alex a worried glance as the others went on ahead.
“Kara definitely knows where this place is, right?” she asked in an undertone.
Alex nodded, not surprised that she’d picked up on his thoughts. Kara had seen the specs on the base. If she and Brendan had made it out, this was where they’d have come.
Willow touched his arm. “Alex, they could still show up.”
She didn’t add that the odds of them having made it through the lurching Mexico City streets in Juan’s old van were infinitesimal…if they’d managed to escape the Church of Angels mob at all. Alex saw again the hundreds of bloodthirsty people, all intent on killing the AKs, and his jaw tightened.
“Yeah, they could still show up.” He heard his voice shut a door on the conversation. How many people he cared about had he now lost to the fight with the angels?
Silently, Willow stepped close and slipped her arms around him. Alex let out a breath and held her, dropping his head down to her shoulder.
“Hey, we’ve found something,” said Sam, coming back to them.
Alex glanced up. “What?”
“Shortwave radio.” The big, muscular Texan still wore the same rumpled clothes he’d had on when they escaped Mexico City. “And it works,” he added.
Alex’s pulse leaped. Shortwave radios could broadcast worldwide – they were the one way the planet could still communicate even if other systems were gone. They followed Sam quickly to what was clearly a communications room, where a curved metal desk held a gleaming radio.
Seb stood with his hands propped on the desk; Liz sat frowning as she twiddled the dial. A few times she paused, fine-tuning. Each time there was only static.
She shook her head. “I don’t think anyone’s—”
And then the speakers burst into life.
“…this terrible catastrophe. But do not despair, because I am stepping forward to offer my leadership…”
Alex froze at the male voice with its English lilt. Oh Christ, no – it couldn’t be.
“What the hell?” Sam yelped. “But Raziel’s dead! We saw him die!”
“Quiet,” Alex said tersely.
Willow’s face had drained at the sound of her father’s voice; she clutched the desk. Alex turned up the volume; without looking up, he gripped her hand.
“…those who do not know what has happened, I am deeply sorrowed to announce that the Seraphic Council has been assassinated in Mexico City. This vile deed was carried out by Willow Fields and her gang of Angel Killers, knowing full well that the Council had put down roots of energy in your world. She knew their assassination would cause the very earth to grow unstable.”
Oh, the bastard. And people will believe it too, Alex thought. The world already believed that Willow was a terrorist – and of course Raziel left out the fact that he was the one who’d wanted the Council dead and had manipulated the unknowing AKs into doing it for him.
Raziel sounded aggrieved, sincere: “She is a deranged individual who hates the angels. She is the reason for the earthquakes that have devastated so much of your world.”
So much of the world? Alex swallowed and glanced at Willow. Her eyes had grown too big for her face. The others stood stricken and waiting.
A faint rustle of paper. “In the US, the following cities have been destroyed: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, New Orleans, Dallas…”
Alex’s mind reeled as the list went on and on, over a dozen, each city name a death knell. How could New York City be gone? And Chicago. It was his hometown. He had a fuzzy memory of walking along the lakeside with his mother – of her laughing and calling ahead to his brother Jake to slow down.
Liz was crying. “Is he…is he lying, maybe?”
“No,” Seb said faintly, staring at the radio. “I think he is telling the truth.”
Sam’s broad face was slack. “Dallas…” he murmured, pushing a helpless hand through his hair.
Willow had gone deathly pale. Alex’s hand tightened on hers. “Okay, we already knew it was bad,” he said from between gritted teeth. He glared at the others. “This is not going to break us. Do you hear me? This is not going to break us.”
“…worldwide, the news is also dire. We have confirmed accounts of the destruction of London, Paris, Tokyo, Madrid…”
Finally the terrible litany came to an end.
“There are no words for what has happened,” said Raziel. “Cities have been levelled. Millions have died. And Willow Fields is at fault. She has done this to your world.”
With a small whimper, Willow pressed a hand to her mouth; her shoulders crumpled as if she’d been punched.
“No!” Alex straightened quickly and pulled her away from the others. “You do not believe this,” he said fiercely. “You are never to believe this crap. Do you hear me? It was not your fault. It was him – Raziel. He’s the one who’s done this.”
Willow had a hand over her face, crying. “I should have known – I should have figured out sooner what he was up to. Oh god, all those people…”
Alex folded Willow into his arms as she began to sob. “How could you have known?” he demanded. “You were trying to save the world. Raziel knew that – he used it!” Alex drew back, stroked her hair from her face with both hands. “Willow, don’t believe him! Tell me you know it wasn’t your fault.”
“I…” Willow struggled to speak against the tears. “Maybe not completely my fault, but—”
“It wasn’t your fault at all!”
“Of course it was! I had a role in it, Alex. How can I get away from that – how?”
“You had a role like a pawn in a chess game has a role, querida,” Seb said vehemently from behind them. “That’s all.”
Over Willow’s shoulder, Alex could see the expression on Seb’s stubbled face, his love for Willow clear. “And you weren’t the only one who didn’t know Raziel was spying on us,” Seb added. “I checked too; I found nothing!”
“I know that!” Willow cried. “But if I’d just figured it out sooner—”
“How?” broke in Alex. “You didn’t know he was in your head in the first place!” He gripped her hands. He thought he’d do anything, pay any price, if he could take this anguish away from her. “Willow, there was no way you could have stopped it – none. This was all him, okay? Not you. Never you.”
She clung to his hands, her face tormented. Finally she gave a faint moan and leaned forward onto Alex’s chest. He wrapped his arms around her, cradling her.
No one spoke. In the background Raziel’s voice was reciting the list of cities again. On a loop, Alex thought, his own shock and grief pulling at him.
When Willow at last raised her head, she looked as if she’d aged a decade. “Okay,” she said woodenly. “I’ll – try not to blame myself.” Her eyes were locked on his; her voice lowered to a whisper. “And…I love you, by the way.”
He kissed her, not caring about the others standing there. He knew, though, that this would haunt her for ever, and inwardly he cursed Raziel even more. The destruction of half the world was still too much to take in; his mind kept skittering away from the reality of it. But what the angel had done to his own daughter made Alex want to rip Raziel’s halo apart with his bare hands.
Liz cleared her throat, her cheeks damp. “He’s – he’s still talking.”
Willow let out a breath and nodded; they returned to the others.
Raziel’s voice had become reassuring. “But you don’t need to be afraid! I have a plan that will save us all.”
Alex stiffened. No matter how bad things were already, he had a feeling Raziel was about to make them worse.
“As you know, you currently have no power,” the angel continued. “Sadly, reinstating it everywhere is not an option – we must conserve our resources from now on. And so selected cities are going to be transformed into bountiful Edens, where life will continue as before! There you will have warmth and electricity, food and comfort.”
Alex frowned. Selected cities? But if they bypassed the damaged stations on the grid until they were repaired, bringing back the electricity shouldn’t be that difficult. There was no reason to permanently ration power.
No, no reason…except to gain control.
“…meanwhile, emergency camps are being set up. The military is providing assistance. Make your way to one of the temporary camps, and soon there will be glorious Edens for all!”
Great. So Raziel now had control of the military too. Alex could practically see the angel’s feigned sad smile as he finished: “These are dark times, but a new dawn is coming. I will take care of you. That is my promise.”
After a pause the message began once more.
Seb’s jaw was taut. “These Edens will be—”
“A trap,” finished Alex flatly. “Yeah, I bet he wants to conserve his resources; he’s just knocked off half the angels’ food supply. So now he’ll lure people to live in a few centralized places where he can control everything.”
“Like fish in a fish farm,” whispered Liz.
On the radio, Raziel was denouncing Willow again.
“Oh, man.” Sam’s voice was bleak. “How is he even still alive? How?”
Alex shook his head; he had no idea. Raziel had been battling rival angels above the lurching streets of Mexico City – there’d been a flash of light they’d all thought had meant his death.
Yeah, right. They should have known better – beings like Raziel stuck around until the bitter end. Alex grimaced and moved to snap off the radio; Willow’s hand flew out to stop him.
“No, wait,” she murmured. “I can almost…” She trailed off, staring at the speakers as Raziel said again, “But you don’t need to be afraid! I have a plan that…”
“Afraid,” Willow echoed. Abruptly, her face cleared. “There’s something we haven’t thought of!” she gasped. “Alex, remember on top of the Torre Mayor, when my mind linked with Raziel’s? I sensed that half the angels had died – because he knew it. But there was something else.”
Alex saw again their altercation atop the highest building in Mexico – Raziel running after the AKs with a howling Church of Angels mob just behind. “Go on,” he said.
Willow took a breath. “He was scared. He still is; I can hear it in his voice. Because with so many angels dead, the survivors are vulnerable too now.”
Harsh excitement swept over Alex. Of course. The angels were creatures of energy, all linked. If you killed one, they each felt it.
And if enough died, the rest would follow.
He gripped Willow’s hand urgently. “How many more have to die?”
“Not many.” Willow’s expression went distant again; Alex could practically feel her studying the brief encounter with her father. “The number was almost right there in his head… I think we’re talking hundreds, not thousands. More like one hundred, even.”
A hundred angels. Alex didn’t move as electricity sizzled through him.
Liz looked dazed. “But…that means we’ve almost defeated them.”
Her words seemed to rouse Sam. “A hundred?” he yelped. “Hell, we could do that in a week!” He slapped the desk. “Okay, who’s with me? I say we leave here right now and go kill us some angels!”
“No,” Alex said sharply. “We’ve got to plan this carefully – really carefully.”
“You want a plan?” retorted Sam. “Okay, here’s one: we go out there, start shootin’, and don’t get caught! Now, come on!”
Alex’s voice rose. “There are only five of us! The second we kill one, they’ll all feel it; they’ll know we’re still around! If they wipe us out before we finish them off, then that is it, for ever.” He rapped a fist against his palm, his mind ticking as he considered options, then discarded them.
“We need a bigger team,” he muttered. “A lot bigger. We’ve got to lie low for a while – months, a year even – let Raziel think we died in Mexico City. And then when there are enough angels gathered in one place, we’ll strike – get rid of them all at once.”
“But what about the Edens?” protested Liz. “If we wait too long, he’ll fill the whole world with those places!”
“Let him,” said Alex curtly. “The angels would still be feeding from humans anyway. The important thing is to get rid of them. No mistakes, no screw-ups – just get rid, for good.”
The others exchanged glances…and Alex knew he’d convinced them. Even Sam. Willow’s eyes were steady on his; he could feel her love for him – her support. He let out a breath, daring to imagine a world without the angels.
“Oh Christ, babe,” he murmured. “I can’t tell you how much I hope you’re right about this.”
“She’s right.” Seb was sitting on the desk, fiddling with a paper clip. He looked up, his gaze on Willow. “I can sense what she’s getting very easily.”
The tips of Willow’s ears reddened, and Alex knew that Seb meant the psychic link he and Willow shared: the only two half-angels in the world.
Willow had told Alex everything that had happened between her and Seb – the way they’d kissed that night in Mexico City. Though Alex hadn’t enjoyed hearing it, he’d known it was his own stupid fault. He and Willow had fought over her friendship with Seb, and he’d been too stubborn to make up with her before the terrorist attack that had separated Willow and Seb from the others. The weird thing was that he couldn’t bring himself to dislike Seb any more. The half-angel was a good guy – his only crime was being in love with Willow.
Liz cleared her throat. “Listen, I think we should…not celebrate, but… Well, I mean, we’re all still alive, and it looks like we might really have a chance again, and…” She tried to smile, her eyes still red. “Besides, I found what has to be the biggest pantry in the universe. The food’s mostly military issue, but there’s a whole mountain of it.”
Alex touched her shoulder. “That’s the best idea I’ve heard all day.”
They sat up planning for hours in the base’s rec room: a too-large space that felt almost cosy with the mood that had gripped them all. Their new knowledge made the air crackle with hope – gave them something to think about instead of all the destruction.
Eventually, though, the long, fraught journey caught up with them. One by one, they dropped off where they sat, until only Alex and Willow were still awake, lying curled up on one of the sofas, holding each other.
“Are you okay?” he asked in an undertone, stroking his thumb across her cheekbone.
She let out a breath. “Kind of numb. But, yeah… You?”
Alex nodded. “Now I am.”
He had no intention – none – of making his strike against the angels until they were ready. Because if he did this right, his plan would work. Then not only would what was left of the world be saved, but he and Willow could have the long life together that they both wanted.
The crystal pendant he’d given her glinted around her neck. He touched it gently, feeling its warmth from her skin. Willow swallowed and reached out to trace his eyebrow with her finger. The motion was full of wonder, as if she were discovering him for the first time.
Nothing will stop us this time, Alex vowed to himself, and to her. We’re going to defeat them.
As he kissed her, he felt something close to joy, despite the shattered world that lay above.
Sometimes when I looked back on my old life I could hardly believe it.
My old life: that was the one where I lived in Pawntucket, New York (population 19,000), and thought I was just a normal teenage girl. Or at least as normal as someone nicknamed “Queen Weird” could hope to be. I went to Pawntucket High, drove an old Toyota, skipped as many classes as I could get away with. And it never, not even once, occurred to me that I might not be completely human.
In some ways, I hadn’t changed much since then. I still loved tinkering with engines; my favourite colour was still purple. But in other ways, I was a million miles apart from that girl. Once I’d combed vintage clothing stores for the bizarre and wonderful; now I usually just threw on jeans and a T-shirt. They were easy to run in – and with the life we led now, you kind of had to take that into consideration.
I guess the biggest change of all, though – apart from realizing the truth about myself – had to be guns. I’d always hated them. Sometimes boys at my high school would talk about going hunting, and it would make me shudder: the idea of actually stalking a living creature; of aiming at it and pulling a trigger; of seeing it crumple in front of you, so that it ceased to exist any more – I couldn’t understand how anyone, ever, could bring themselves to do it.
That was before I knew we were at war.
I crouched on the ground with the cold weight of a rifle in my hands. I wielded it expertly, aiming and shooting like a machine as explosions seared overhead: white petals that fell, glittering, against the darkness, as angel after angel was killed.
In the unearthly glow, I could see the outline of Salt Lake Eden with its barbed-wire fence. Around me were the shadowy figures of other Angel Killers, the echoes of gunfire, muffled shouts.
“Man, that’s gotta be almost it,” muttered Sam next to me. Another explosion lit his broad face, showing it gleaming with sweat. “It has got to be.”
I started to reply, then broke off at a sudden flash of white. “Sam, look out!” I cried. I flipped onto my side, quickly tracking the angel.
He scowled as he saw it corkscrewing down at us; we both shot at once. A second later, shards of light were drifting on the air. I let out a shaky breath as Sam and I glanced at each other. Just on my own, I’d already shot, what – four, five? That’s got to be way over a hundred by now, I thought feverishly.
The words had barely formed in my mind when a dozens-strong flock soared at us out of nowhere, their pale, glorious figures etched against the stars. My veins chilled. How could they even still be alive now – how?
I pushed the thought away – not helpful. As the angels plunged into an attacking dive, I squeezed the trigger and shot. Fervent gunfire was going off all around me; I could hear people swearing. Above, three angels burst into nothing, but there were still way too many. We weren’t going to make it this time—
No. We were.
Still shooting, I reached within for my own angel: the shining winged twin with my face. Some distance away I saw that Seb’s angel was already flying, fending off an attacker with quick, strong thrusts of his wings.
In my angel form, I paused only long enough to make myself tangible so I could grab the sensor from my pack; then I was hurtling through the air too. Wings spread, I darted in front of one of the approaching angels, and it veered off wildly; another appeared, and I did the same, swooping back and forth.
“It’s Willow! Get them while she holds them off!”
Even with adrenalin surging through me, I was still amazed at the accuracy of the detail: every angelic feather was outlined in blue-white light; the faces were all individual, all enraged as they screeched at me.
Don’t think. Defend. Around me came a series of explosions so fast and furious that I was flying in a hailstorm of light. Time shifted to slow motion – a long scream that echoed in my ears; a halo bursting so close by that I could see every dot of light, spiralling off into the darkness. Finally there was only one angel left – and then someone shot, and that one was gone too.
“That’s it!” shouted Alex’s voice. The night-time vanished as the room’s lights burst on, leaving us blinking. “We’ve done it!” he called. “All the angels in the world are gone!”
My human self exhaled as cheers from almost a hundred people echoed through the cavernous underground room.
We had rid the world of the angels. Again.
“Good one, angel chick,” Sam said with a grin, giving me a one-armed hug as we got to our feet. His short blond hair stood up in gel-coaxed spikes. “Man, I thought that last bunch was gonna get us.”
“You and me both,” I admitted. Some of my own hair had escaped its shoulder-length ponytail and I quickly pulled the unruly brown waves into place. I hated its current colour, but Raziel had plastered posters of me everywhere – if I went back to my natural blonde I’d be endangering all of us every time I stepped outside. Fortunately there was no shortage of hair dye in abandoned stores.
Reaching up, I took the sensor from my angel as she glided back down to me, her snowy wings outspread.
At one time, seeing a half-angel in action would have brought sidelong stares from the other AKs; now no one paid any attention. The group knew by now that I was nothing like the angels we were trying to defeat. My angel self didn’t have a halo, and she didn’t feed – not from human energy or anything else. I hadn’t even known I was half-angel until I was sixteen.
With a quick flutter, my angel merged into my human self, leaving just “me” standing there. Distantly, I could sense Seb’s angel merging with him too, far across the training room. At my automatic awareness of Seb – the familiar feel of his energy, so like my own – a pang of sadness went through me. I ignored it.
“Okay, guys – take five while we get this stuff turned off,” called out Alex.
I looked over as he started to roll a holograph machine back into place, his shoulders flexing through his T-shirt. He sensed me watching and glanced up. The corners of his mouth lifted as his blue-grey eyes locked with mine. Then someone asked him a question, and he turned back to his work, motioning to a cable snaking across the floor.
I smiled. Alex and I had been together for over a year now, but it didn’t seem to matter – just a look from him could still melt me.
People were standing around the training room, talking in small clusters. Occasionally a burst of laughter floated towards me. It was a relief that people still could laugh – when we’d first found out the extent of the destruction ten months ago, I’d wondered if anyone would ever laugh again.
But the human race is resilient, I guess. Down here, nobody wanted to dwell too much on what had happened to the world; conversations about it were practically taboo. The whole base knew that we had to focus on defeating the angels – not waste our energy grieving over the past.
I sighed. Good advice. So why was it so hard for me to follow it sometimes?
Liz made her way over to Sam and me, her sharp-featured face slightly flushed. “Good thing we’ve gotten so much better lately,” she said. “I cannot believe that we have less than two months left before the attack.”
Sam stretched, looking like a quarterback relaxing at half-time. “Yeah, I can’t wait for the real thing,” he drawled. “’Bout time we kicked those angels’ asses for ever.”
“If we succeed,” Liz pointed out testily. “It’s not guaranteed, you know.”
“I’m with Liz; we need all the practice we can get,” I said. I glanced at the centre of the hangar-like room, where an elaborate set rose up – a depressingly accurate representation of what used to be Salt Lake City, right down to the coils of barbed wire and perky sign: welcome to salt lake eden, a bastion of the angels’ love!
A bolt of hatred for my father went through me. His Edens were everywhere now; hardly a week went by that a new one wasn’t announced on the shortwave. And we suspected that the places were even worse than we’d first thought, though we didn’t have any information from someone who’d actually been inside of one. The barbed wire glinting on top of the set’s fence said it all: once you entered an Eden, you didn’t come out again.
The strange thing was how much the Edens had helped us.
Because while most people were only too happy to flock to them, a tiny minority didn’t. They stayed on in the devastated cities or in the thousands of “dark towns” across the country, scavenging to survive. Raziel’s Edens didn’t just lure millions with their ease and electricity – they also made it clear exactly who the scrappy rebels without angel burn were. As a result it’d only taken us a couple of months to put together a good-size team of ninety-four recruits. I just really hoped that Raziel could take a moment to appreciate the irony when we finally made our move.
So I guess that was another way I’d changed: the Willow Fields of just over a year ago hadn’t been a vengeful person. But then, she hadn’t had my memories.
Liz started to chew a fingernail and caught herself. “Willow, are you sure you can’t get anything psychically about Founding Day?” she asked anxiously. “Not even a tiny hint?”
I pushed my thoughts away; I knew better than to dwell on all this. “No, I’m way too emotionally involved,” I said, managing a smile. “Sorry – psychic drawback number five.”
To be honest, I was getting tired of people asking me that, though I couldn’t really blame them, with the attack drawing so close. Salt Lake City had been the first Eden; in two months they’d be holding a massive Founding Day celebration, with thousands of angels circling overhead.
And we’d be right there waiting for them.
Everyone’s attention went to the centre of the room, where Alex was clambering onto one of the crates that made up our mock Salt Lake Eden. I smiled as I watched him, my tensions easing. I seriously didn’t think I’d ever seen anything quite as sexy as the sight of Alex wearing camouflage trousers and a black T-shirt. Unless it was the sight of him not wearing them.
He jumped on top of the crate; as he faced the team, he looked relaxed and confident, his dark hair tousled. “Okay, listen up!” he shouted. “That was excellent work, everyone. I’ve just got a couple of things to say—”
A chorus of good-natured groans. Alex grinned and swung himself down to a sitting position, legs dangling. I could see the toned outline of his chest against the T-shirt.
“Yeah, I know; I’m never satisfied, right? So, first of all – everyone still needs to work on disguising their auras. I saw a lot of you forgetting as the simulation went on.” Alex’s eyes met mine – Seb and I taught the classes for the energy work – and I nodded. The team was trying hard, but it just didn’t come easily to most humans.
“They’ll get there,” I said for us both.
“Good. And in terms of everyone’s shooting…” Alex paused, scanning the crowd before he smiled. “Guys, that was awesome. Your time was eight minutes twelve; that’s better than it’s ever been.” He scratched the back of his neck as he added casually, “Oh, and by the way – the program was set for two-fifty.”
Excitement rustled through the room; there were scattered cheers. Sam, Liz and I exchanged a jubilant glance. Two hundred and fifty angels. And we only needed to kill about half that many.
“So even with the aura work, we’re not in bad shape already – you can all be damn proud of yourselves,” Alex said firmly. “But what you cannot do is start getting cocky. Like I’ve said, shooting real angels is different. You’ve got to be aware of what the simulation can’t mimic.”
There were grim nods from around the room as he talked about angel burn, describing the ease with which an angel could link minds with you – how you’d only have seconds to break away before they started feeding from your life force, and then you’d be theirs for ever, worshipping and damaged. My fingers tightened on my rifle as I thought of my mother, sitting lost in her dreams.
“I don’t want to lose any of you, okay?” Alex’s voice was low, but it carried to every corner of the room. “Not a single one – and if we do this thing the way we’ve been planning, then I won’t.”
Emotion gripped me, recalling the dozens of nights Alex had lain awake beside me, going over the plan. They trust me, he’d said once, rubbing his forehead tiredly when I’d urged him to get some sleep. I’ve got to make sure they’re right to.
On top of the crate, Alex gave a sudden grin. “Okay, enough of that,” he said. His gaze picked out a tall guy with brown hair. “Paul, dude – you do realize that if these weren’t laser rifles, you’d have taken Chloe’s head off, right? You want to explain what happened?”
And as Paul winced and attempted a response, I smiled dryly – because I wasn’t the only one who’d been affected by Alex’s grin lighting up his strong, regular features. I could sense the fluttering pulses around me like a flock of hummingbirds. Even if I’d had no psychic skills whatsoever, I’d have known that half the girls down here had a crush on my boyfriend – it wasn’t hard to figure out, if blushes and admiring sideways glances were anything to go by.
The other half all had a thing for Seb.
I held back a sigh; covertly, I found myself studying Seb’s face as he stood across the room. You wouldn’t have guessed he was Mexican from looking at him; his mother’s family had been European immigrants. From Italy, Seb always claimed – and he looked it, with his hazel eyes and loose chestnut curls. Though I always thought what he really looked like was a rock star, with the light stubble that usually coated his jaw.
Next to Alex, Seb was the best-looking boy I’d ever seen. I could understand why so many of the girls were attracted to him, even without the fact that he was half-angel – which only seemed to make him that much more intriguing to them.
I just wished he could feel intrigued by one of them in return.
In a sudden flash, I realized that Seb was aware I was thinking about him. From across the room, he gave me a quick, almost irritated glance, eyebrows raised; I felt a shutter slam down over his thoughts, blocking me out.
I crossed my arms tightly and looked away. I hated the distance between us, in every sense of the word. There was a time when Seb and I would have gravitated to stand next to each other as naturally as two magnets.
“Looks like we got another member of the CCC,” Sam muttered in my ear.
The Carrera Crush Club. Reluctantly, I glanced back and saw who Sam meant: a tall, leggy girl named Meghan was standing near Seb. She was eighteen, with auburn hair that spilled past her shoulders and a sort of girl-next-door face, so that I could never decide whether she was simply pretty or completely beautiful. But whenever I sensed her energy, it felt like bouncing rays of sunshine.
“No, they’ve been friends for a while; she’s part of that group he hangs out with,” I murmured back. Paul was still explaining, protesting that his rifle wasn’t working. Alex, looking like he seriously doubted it, had jumped down to go take a look.
“Yeah, but check out the way she’s looking at him.” Sam’s blue eyes narrowed. “I’m telling you, she’s got it bad.” Across the room, Meghan said something to Seb. His reply looked teasing; her cheeks tinged pink as she smiled.
Sam shook his head – half jealous, half admiring. “Man, that guy’s the biggest flirt on the planet. Wonder if he’s keeping track? He could be going for a world record of crushees here.”
I made a face and looked away. It was true that Seb didn’t seem to mind being the base’s most eligible bachelor. He wasn’t vain, but there was no way he could be unaware of the effect he had on girls – and I guess he wouldn’t even have been half human if he didn’t enjoy the attention.
But when Seb and I had first met, our minds had touched and explored each other effortlessly, our half-angel connection transcending normal things likegetting to know each other. I’d seen then how much of an extrovert he could seem with his teasing charm – when really, he was anything but that.
He’d told me once that I was the only person who’d ever really known him.
The problem was, no matter how many “crushees” Seb had, I knew that our time down here had done nothing to lessen his feelings for me. In fact, as the months had passed, the only change had been in his growing reluctance to be around me. And, okay, it wasn’t like I didn’t understand it – but I hated that things had come to this. I hated not being close to him any more.
I missed my friend.
“I’m not sure,” I said, fingering a flowing pink sleeve. It was later that afternoon, and I was standing on Liz’s bed in my bare feet, straining to see all of myself in the mirror over her dresser drawers.
“It looks great,” Liz said in surprise.
“Yes, but it’s pink.” I was already taking it off.
“Pink’s got such a bad rep. Okay, forget that one.” Liz went rummaging through her closet again. Back when we’d been recruiting people, she’d always managed to snag lots of expensive clothes from abandoned stores. I hadn’t seen the point since we didn’t have anyplace to wear them, but I guess that was just me.
“Here, try this.” Liz tossed something black and flashing at me: a sleeveless top made of shiny black sequins. I pulled it on; it slithered down my torso like chain mail.
She whistled. “Oh, sexy. That one, definitely. Alex won’t be able to keep his hands off you.”
I gazed at the plunging draped neckline. The black sequins moved when I did, glittering and alive. “No, it’s not right.”
“Willow! Honestly, if you don’t wear that one I’m going to – wait, what are you doing?”
I was taking off the short black skirt I was wearing, struggling to keep my balance on the bed as I stepped out of it. “It’s too much with the skirt – it looks like I should be thirty years old and drinking cocktails.” I pulled on my jeans again. The contrast with the faded denim made the black top even sexier.
There was a pause as Liz studied me. She nodded.
“You’re right,” she said. “That is perfect. Now, jewellery.”
“I’ve got this,” I said in surprise, touching my crystal teardrop pendant. Alex had given it to me almost exactly a year ago, on my seventeenth birthday. I’d barely taken it off ever since.
“What about earrings, though? Look.” She brandished a sparkly pair.
“I don’t have pierced ears.”
“You don’t have pierced ears yet,” she corrected.
I opened my mouth to say, Whoa, hold it right there – and stopped with a gasp. A cold fog of fear had swamped me from out of nowhere, settling icily over my heart. I shivered at its intensity…and then it was gone, along with the words from my throat.
“Hey, don’t look so freaked out! Fine, we won’t pierce your ears if you’re going to be that much of a wuss,” Liz said, laughing.
I shook my head; in the mirror, my eyes looked wide and uncertain. “It wasn’t that. I thought I felt—” I broke off. Remembering how Raziel had psychically spied on me, I quickly searched my mind. I knew how to do it now; if he’d realized I was still alive and was somehow back again, I’d feel him. But there was nothing.
Liz was staring. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” I said finally. And it seemed true. The fear was gone as completely as if it had never been there at all.
“Yeah, I’m okay.” My voice sounded more confident this time – I’d probably just had some kind of weird fast-forward to the attack. I’ll ask Seb if he felt anything too, just to make sure, I decided. He’d be out on the firing range now; I’d collar him as soon as he finished. Then I sighed, thinking of the guarded quality that would come over his energy the second he saw me.
There was a knock on the door, and Meghan poked her vivid head in. “Liz, do you have a— Oh, wow!” Her blue eyes widened; she came into the room, grinning and looking me up and down. “Willow, you look great!”
I’d almost forgotten what I was wearing. “Thanks,” I said, touching the sequinned top. Meghan wasn’t really a friend of mine, but I liked her. She was one of those rare people who just always managed to be happy. Before the quakes, she’d been training to be a dancer and had apparently had a promising career ahead of her, before the world became so devastated – yet you never got even a hint of her feeling sorry for herself.
“She won’t let me pierce her ears,” grumbled Liz as I jumped off the bed.
Meghan stared at her. “Seriously? You want to stick a needle through her earlobes?”
“See?” I said to Liz.
“You’ve got pierced ears,” Liz pointed out to Meghan.
Meghan fingered one of her dangly gold hoops. “Well, yeah, but I got them done at a shop. But, hey, what about shoes?” she added brightly. “Do you want to borrow a pair? I’ve got the perfect ones!” She darted out of the room, her rich hair glinting like autumn.
Liz laughed. “No one does ‘enthusiasm’ better than Meghan.”
“How come I’m the only one down here who doesn’t have a dressy wardrobe?” I said, gazing after her.
“The rest of us got our priorities right, that’s all.”
Meghan reappeared with a pair of shiny high-heeled shoes and crouched down gracefully on her long legs. “Oh, good – looks like we’re the same size.” As she began angling one of the shoes onto my bare foot, I started to protest, then just let her do it – it would have been like trying to halt a force of nature. Besides, I was too busy drinking in the shoes. They were a deep wine colour and almost old-fashioned: a chunky heel and rounded toe; a big button perched on the strap. But somehow they looked just…
“Amazing,” said Liz. “Meghan, you’re a genius.”
I turned my ankle this way and that. The shoes gleamed like fresh paint. “These are just…absolutely gorgeous. Thank you so much.”
Meghan sank back on her heels, regarding my feet with a small, wistful smile. “I love these shoes,” she said. “I always think they bring me luck.” She glanced up with a sudden grin. “And you’re going to be the birthday girl, so you get extra luck. That’s the rule. Anyway, I got distracted,” she went on, jumping to her feet. “What I came in here for was to ask if you’ve got iPods. I’m going to make a playlist for the party.”
Officially, the upcoming party next week was to celebrate Alex’s and my birthdays – I’d be turning eighteen, and he’d be nineteen. But really, it was just to give people a chance to let off steam and relax. After months of intense training, everyone was more than ready to.
I shook my head. “Sorry, I was still playing CDs back in Pawntucket.”
“I’ve got one,” said Liz. “Wait, I think I left it in the kitchen. Back in a sec.”
After Liz had gone, a silence stretched out between Meghan and me. I glanced at Liz’s clock. I needed to go talk to Seb soon, but it seemed rude to just leave Meghan there. Turning to her, I started to make some comment about the party – and caught her giving me a sideways glance, lips pursed.
“What?” I said in surprise.
Her milky skin flushed. “Sorry. It’s just that – I mean…you’re half-angel, aren’t you?”
She blurted the words out, and I blinked. Meghan knew I was half-angel. Everyone in the base knew, because Seb and I used our angels to help train people.
Before I could respond, Meghan shook her head. “God, don’t even answer that. I just wanted to know…well…what’s it like?” Her voice was soft, hesitant.
Strangely enough, in all our time here, no one had ever asked me that. I sank down onto Liz’s bed as I tried to gather my thoughts.
“I don’t know,” I said finally. “I only found out a year ago, so it’s still pretty new to me. A lot of times, even now, I’m not really conscious of my angel; I just feel human. And then other times, I’m so completely aware of this other self inside me.”
Meghan had lowered herself into Liz’s desk chair, listening intently. She glanced down, trailing her finger back and forth across the desk. “Do you think – do you think maybe it’s because you didn’t know what you were for so long that you’re with Alex now? I mean, Alex is gorgeous, and he’s a great guy,” she added hastily. “But if you’d known that you were half-angel all your life, then…well, do you think you could ever fall in love with a human?”
Suddenly it was all too clear what this was about. “I can’t really answer that,” I said slowly. “I mean, I can only look at it from my own experience.”
Meghan nodded, her blue eyes disappointed. “Okay,” she said after a pause. “Thanks. I was just curious.”
All at once her emotions swept over me. Usually I had to hold someone’s hand to get something, but this was so strong – an aching sweetness that caught at my throat. This isn’t just a crush, I thought in a daze. She’s really in love with Seb.
I swallowed, shaken by the depth of her feelings – and wondered if I should warn her against caring so strongly for Seb, who’d always been adamant that he could never get seriously involved with a human girl. But Seb had to already know how she felt; he could read auras like other people read comic books. He’d be careful not to hurt her.
Even so, I couldn’t help saying, “Um, Meghan – listen, I’m not sure if—”
I didn’t know whether I was disappointed or relieved when Liz came back just then – I’d had no idea how I was planning on finishing that sentence.
“Here you go.” Liz handed Meghan the iPod. “I think Sam’s got one too.”
Meghan had been watching me with a slight frown; coming back to herself, she took the iPod and fiddled with its dial. She brightened. “Ooh, good, lots of indie stuff. There’s not much point in asking Sam Houston, though, is there? I bet he’s got both kinds of music – country and western.”
Liz grinned. “I think they sometimes listen to classic rock in Texas too.”
“A night of the Eagles and Chicago? Willow and Alex would never forgive me. Okay, laters, gators,” said Meghan, tucking the iPod in her jeans pocket. She glanced at me. “And, Willow – thanks,” she added in an undertone.
For what? I had a feeling that I hadn’t exactly succeeded in warning her away from Seb. I made a mental note to get her alone sometime soon and try again. “Thank you for the shoes,” I replied.
“Hey, I want those back, you know,” she said, laughing. “Your present is that you get to borrow them.”
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