I trailed a finger across the dove grey feathers of his angel wings, making each filament shiver and flicker with shades of silver and dark violet. I felt the curves and hollows of his muscular shoulders move under my finger tips as I slipped into the circle of his arms and raised my face for his kiss, thrilling at the spicy-sweet taste of his mouth and the heat of his body on mine.
I closed my eyes as he trailed delicate kisses down my neck and across my shoulder, melting under his touch as his mouth blazed a hot path back to my neck and his breath tickled my ear as I waited to hear him say those four precious words again;
“Do you smell pee?”
I opened my eyes and blinked, rousing myself from the day-dream and trying to focus on reality. My friend Dylan had obviously been the one to speak since he was making the kind of face that suggested he could certainly smell the offensive odour even if Uriel and I couldn’t.
Uriel was a few feet away, rolling her eyes and staying out of the conversation. I sighed. How do you explain to someone who's just getting to know them, that one of your best friends has a nose that would put the most talented sniffer dogs on the planet to shame? Of course, the fact that we were standing in the middle of an impromptu cardboard city half-way down an alley somewhere in downtown
made the details of Dylan’s olfactory abilities a moot point. New York
“D,” I said softly, reaching out for him to help me up and then dragging him a little further down the alley. “You’re being rude.”
He frowned. “No, I’m not. I’m just asking a question. What’s rude about that?”
“I really don’t think our current surroundings should be expected to reek of lavender and white satin, do you?”
Dylan curled his bottom lip in annoyance. “I was just asking a question, Emily. How was that being rude?” He folded his arms and made a little pouty face.
I joined Uriel in rolling my eyes and pointed to the woman curled against the wall to our left. She was wearing a mixture of winter and summer clothes in multi-coloured layers and her small dark eyes watched us from beneath a thatch of tangled and matted grey hair. “I don’t think Josie here really cares what her surroundings smell like so long as she has some clothes to wear that keep her warm. I seriously doubt, however, that she and her friends want to be reminded of their current situation by a teenager wearing an Abercrombie and Fitch Hoodie.”
Dylan sighed and dropped his arms. He knelt down in front of Josie. “Sorry. Didn’t realise I was being rude. I sometimes open my mouth before engaging my brain. It truly is a most disgusting habit. Oh, and the Hoodie was a gift, I mean I’m normally a jeans, t-shirt and pac-a-mac guy myself although I have to say I’m actually starting to bond with the whole Hoodie thing. I think it makes me look much less weedy. What do you think?”
“For goodness sake Dylan, Josie isn’t interested in doing a wardrobe critique!” I smiled an apology to Josie and her friend Rowley who had befriended us for the past three hours we’d spent waiting in their alley.
Josie waved away the apology. “You think he’s the only guy to complain? Don’t hurt no more. We got used to it. Wanna slug?” She held out a bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag and I shook my head.
“Maybe later. I think my date just got home.” A light had gone on in the apartment on the third floor across the street and Uriel was frantically signalling me to come up beside her again.
“You wanna get a new guy, kiddo. Not right for a pretty girl to be hiding in alleyways with the likes of us waiting for her guy. Not right.” Josie took a deep swallow of her liquor, shaking her head.
I grinned and dragged Dylan back up the alley to stand along the wall behind Uriel. She was watching the road beyond carefully, her eyes narrowed. “When I give the word you move, fast as you can to the building door. It’ll be open. Go up to the third floor, room 303. Go in and sit down. She’ll be waiting.”
“Wait. You’re not coming?” I looked from Uriel to Dylan in surprise.
Uriel shook her head. “No, this is something you have to do alone. We’ll be waiting here.”
“We will?” Dylan looked around him anxiously. “They keep staring at my Hoodie,” he hissed. “I think they’re planning to do away with me and steal it.”
Uriel looked at him for a moment and then turned back to me. “Please feel free to get it over with as quickly as possible,” she told me tonelessly and I grinned. “But remember what I told you.” She looked up and down the road again. “GO!”
Uriel gave me a push out into the street and, with Dylan’s stage whispered ‘Good luck,’ I was gone, running across the road and ducking into the door that Uriel had pointed to. It was open like she’d said and creaked alarmingly when I pushed it wider and let myself inside. It was dark in the foyer of the building and I waited for a moment to allow my eyes to adjust. Dylan would’ve had sensory overload in here, I thought rubbing my nose as the smells of the place hit me; urine, mould, damp plaster and the underlying putrid stench of decay.
I could make out the outline of the stairs and made my way gingerly towards them, almost jumping out of my skin when a light came on. I gulped and looked around. The bare bulb hung on the next landing; obviously it was on a timer or a motion sensor or something, right? I climbed the stairs to the fourth floor wincing as lights came on in front of me and winked off behind. Looking over the hand rail was a big mistake – the foyer was in darkness, no longer visible at all. It was like looking down into a deep dark pit. I imagined people climbing down there into the darkness and never being seen again. Why, oh, why had my family been horror movie addicts?
I stood in front of room 303 for a long time just staring at the door, hoping for some x-ray vision that would help me see inside. Needless to say, that didn’t happen and so I took a deep breath and stepped forward, reaching out to grasp the handle. The door swung open before I touched it. Great, just what I needed – more creepiness. I stepped forward into the room beyond.
The room was text-book creepy; from the single low watt light source in the tiny hall to the dark shadows in every corner and the hulking shapes of either furniture or mad, hunch-back scientists dotted around (There’s that horror movie imagination. again) I resisted the urge to either a) double up laughing or b) run screaming from the room before something with fangs, slime or an assistant named Igor reached out of the dark and gobbled me up. Before I could decide which would be the best course of action a lamp snapped on in the corner of the room, illuminating a woman who was watching me with an expression of intense curiosity. She indicated a seat opposite her own and I talked myself into striding over and sitting down as ‘though sitting down in creepy apartments in front of weird people I didn’t know was something I did every day. Well, ok, just recently it was top of my list of ‘things I do way too often’ but even on my sub-list of ‘weird people I have met in weird places’ this stood out as being particularly not normal.
“So you’re Emily Carson?” The woman studied me as she slipped a match from its box and struck it. She took her time, letting the flame flare and hiss for a moment as she tapped a cigarette on the table and then lit it, shaking the match once or twice to kill the flame. I wrinkled my nose as the smell of sulphur dioxide filled my nostrils. It reminded me of the fireworks displays on Guy Fawkes Night back at home in Dean’s
. Home was very, very far away and I realised how much I would give to be back there again in the time before I knew all manner of things I really didn’t need to know and all manner of people I really didn’t want to know. The woman sat back and took a deep drag of the cigarette before blowing a cloud of blue-grey smoke around us. I gave her full marks for the whole drama of the performance but I could seriously have done without the secondary smoke getting into my lungs. Lynn
I smiled as brightly as I could which under the circumstances possibly only produced a slight lift of my top lip – I wasn’t in the mood to play nice. I wasn’t in the mood to play at all, to be honest. Things needed to be done, decisions needed to be made and we were running out of time. According to Uriel, however, this woman was important and I had to try to act like a well-behaved teen (was there such a thing?) and be patient. Unfortunately patience wasn’t one of my strong points. I swallowed all the ‘hurry-up-and-get-on-with-it’ noises that I wanted to make and let the woman study me down the column of her cigarette, ‘though how much of me she could see through all the smoke was debateable.
“You’re weedier than I expected,” she drawled finally, tapping some ash into a small, battered bowl on the table.
“I’ve actually bulked up,” I told her through clenched teeth. “Lots of demon butt kicking training going on, y’know?” I gave her a grin that practically covered my whole face. In return she raised an eyebrow and pursed her lips a little. Strike one, Emily.
“So, why don’t you tell me all about yourself, Emily? Oh, how rude of me…I can call you Emily, can’t I?” The woman smiled prettily and her eyelashes fluttered for a few seconds.
I had the urge to snap back a few interesting retorts but I bit my tongue and chanced another smile. “Of course.” She nodded and sucked hungrily on her cigarette a little more, squinting at me through the smoke. “Why don’t you tell me what you already know and I’ll fill in the blanks,” I suggested.
She grinned. “Being cautious?” I shrugged. “Clever girl, but then that’s part of your attraction, or so I’m told. You may not be much to look at but your intelligence is apparently quite impressive.” Her brief glance up and down my face told me that so far neither my looks, nor my intelligence had impressed her. Like I cared! I didn’t rise to the bait and after a few seconds she made a flicking motion with her hand, a kind of ‘oh-well-it’s-not-a-big-deal’ kind of thing. “So, I know that you are a month from your eighteenth birthday, that you have a twin brother named Seth, a mother named Joanna and that you are currently trying to stay under the radar because your darling daddy is rather displeased with you. Would that be correct?” I lifted an eyebrow, shifted my feet a little and began twiddling my thumbs. “Alright, I also know that your father is a demon named Asmodeus, a big fish in this little pond of ours. Asmodeus is a Lord of demons; he can come and go from the Hell dimension as he pleases.” I pricked my ears up at that – new information about my recently discovered parent was hard to come by.
She smiled at me knowingly and pulled the ashtray/bowl thing towards her across the table, depositing a few centimetres of ash in it before continuing. “I know that you stabbed Asmodeus with a Were knife to rescue a fallen angel named…let me see now…um…” she closed her eyes and made an impatient clicking sound. I resisted spitting out the name that rested on the edge of my tongue. “Ah, yes,” she murmured opening her eyes slowly, “Sariel.” She said the name slowly, like she was licking down his face as she said it and I resisted the urge to find some soap and wash her mouth out. The brief pain in my heart made me stop breathing for a second.
Damn. Even hearing someone say his name aloud hurt.
I concentrated on keeping my feelings from twisting my face and looked her in the eye. She waited, obviously hoping for more of a reaction but I managed to keep my hands and my face steady by calling her every nasty name I could think of under my breath and behind my teeth.
“Sariel and the Brotherhood rescued your family but Asmodeus had already made a move, hadn’t he. Invading your poor mother’s mind and using her to keep track of you.” She tutted softly and shook her head sadly, watching me again. I was prepared for the sudden pain in my heart this time. My mother’s face swam in front of my eyes for a moment, looking frantic and distressed – exactly as I’d last seen her. I allowed myself to blink it away and then met the woman’s eyes again. She smiled. “You outsmarted him ‘though – left poor mummy behind and made it to
, to the stronghold of Sariel’s family and a Brotherhood safe house. While there, you were judged by the other Fallen along with a young French boy called Adrian de la Croix.” She frowned. “Hmmmm. I’m not sure I ever heard the outcome of that particular meeting…” She paused and then, realising that I still wasn’t in the mood to share, she continued, “While you were in Italy , you were a very naughty girl.” She chuckled heartily and I resisted the urge to stick my tongue out at her. “Asmodeus was not impressed that Sariel had taken the prize so many were bidding for, was he? He took back his fallen angel and you took off again.” She paused dramatically. “And now you are here, seeking my wisdom.” She leaned forward and her eyes roamed over my face. “So, did I leave anything out?” Italy
I made a song and dance of thinking about it and then I shook my head. “Nope, that’s pretty much my resume. Congrats on being able to review my crappy life so far in a few sentences. I’m impressed. No, really.” She raised an eyebrow and the corner of her mouth lifted in a tiny show of amusement. She sat back in her chair and blew another cloud of smoke my way. Now, THAT was getting irritating. “So, could you do whatever it is you do before I die of smoke inhalation?” Oops, possibly not the best way to play nice. To my surprise she flopped back on her chair and clapped her hands, laughing happily. I sighed and chewed on the inside of my cheek until the hilarity had passed. In my experience demons, angels, vampires, Weres and all those other night-time scaries who tend to stay under the general human radar have a truly remarkable ability to enjoy the little nuances of our lives – their laughter is usually loud and uncensored. Where us humans (well, ok in my case half-human) try to titter and giggle politely, Demons and the like just let loose and bray like donkeys.
“I have had many names, Emily Carson,” she was saying in a soft voice as she stubbed out her cigarette and made herself comfortable, tucking her legs up under her on the chair and leaning her chin on her hand. “You might know me best as ‘Akashwani’, or perhaps the ‘Oracle’?” I raised an eyebrow and sat forward a little. “I have been on this plane for longer than you can imagine.” She picked at the hem of her long skirt and looked away for a moment, her face going all loose and dreamy like people do when they’re remembering better times. I took a second to study her. Was this THE Oracle that we’d heard about in Classical Studies in school? The priestess of Apollo who was able to tell the future? As much as I wanted to think that the idea was ridiculous I had to admit that a lot of the things I’d once considered to be fairy stories had been proven true just recently – the existence of angels and demons for a start. I studied my hostess a little more carefully. She looked to be in her mid twenties with skin the colour of honey and eyes so dark brown they almost looked black. Her lips were small and pouty, like a spoilt child and her hair was long and the colour of liquorice – it curled softly over her shoulders and glittered blue-black in the light from the lamp behind her. She didn’t look like an Oracle. But then I didn’t really know what an Oracle was supposed to look like.
She gave her head a little shake and smiled at me. “My real name is Serafina and I am the only one of my kind.”
“The only Oracle?” I asked. My curiosity was piqued whether I wanted it to be or not.
She shook her head. “No, the only child of a demon and an angel.”
I couldn’t help the face I made. An angel and a demon? Together? Doing…stuff? Ewww. I mean….Ewww! “So, do you know who your, um, parents are?”
Serafina nodded. “My mother was an ancient demon of the Before Time, she had no name but my father called her Naria.” The ‘before time’? A demon with no name? What? She certainly sounded like my idea of an Oracle – spouting nonsense so that the poor believer could decipher whatever they wanted out of it. Ridiculous. “And my father…” Serafina looked up at me with her deep dark eyes. “My father was the fallen angel Lucifer.”
Well, have to say – I didn’t see that one coming!