“Are you going to get up?”
I opened one eye and saw Charles standing over me.
“Charles? What are you doing standing up?”
“Well, it is morning.”
I rolled from my stomach on to my back and groaned as I moved to a sitting position and bent forward. Since lying on my back was awkward and unpleasant given my wings, I’d quickly discovered that it was best to sleep either curled up on my stomach so that my wings weren’t in the way or on my side with my wings folded tight against my back. I sat for a few more seconds and then gingerly stood up, realizing that it would be impossible to look up at Charles from the position I was sitting in. My wings were simply too large, and if I attempted to sit back it would only cause me more pain and discomfort. I was stiff and sore from the previous night’s adventure, and sleeping on the cold hard ground, even with Nic as my pillow, had only intensified the soreness I felt in my muscles.
Feeling somewhat groggy, I rubbed my face, trying to wake up and brush the sleep from my eyes. Again I looked at Charles, this time a bit more closely. He stood watching me, an almost impatient look on his face. My head still throbbed gently, which I guessed was an unwanted souvenir of my encounter with the Orb of the Bat. As I tentatively moved my arms and legs, I winced. I felt as though I’d been beaten with clubs the night before. Every muscle in my body was stiff and sore from the strenuous activity of the previous day. As the sleep cleared from my eyes and I became more aware of my surroundings, I got a better look at Charles and was surprised to see him looking remarkably healthy.
“Charles, are you alright?” I asked. “You look fine, like nothing even happened to you.”
“Of course I’m fine,” Charles said, looking down at me. “I told you: red-and-blacks have the ability to heal very quickly. I was feeling my usual self when I woke.”
I glanced around for Nic and didn’t see him. As if anticipating my question, Charles continued.
“Nic went on a scouting mission. Gude’s monks are looking for us, and he’s trying to determine the best way for us to get back to your base camp.”
“Charles, you were near death just hours ago. How did …”
Charles cut me off.
“I’ll explain later, Jamie. For now we have to get away from here.”
I frowned a bit and looked down at the ground, ready to come back at Charles with a snide and nasty retort. It was then that I noticed the tattoo on my upper leg had changed. It was almost the same as before, with one major exception. Instead of eleven blank sections, now there were ten. The eleventh had been filled with the image of a bat along with a symbol directly under it – just like the section with the snake in it. I thought back to Loran’s tattoo – the one with the tiger. I guessed that that section of my tattoo would always be blank since he had the essence of the tiger.
I’d told my older brother that I was willing to share the knowledge of the Orb of the Snake with him, but he hadn’t seemed to want to accept that. I remembered him saying that after he absorbed the essence of the bat, he would then take the essence of the snake from me. At first I didn’t quite understand how or why, but it had become quite clear that Loran had intended to kill me. Upon my death, somehow he would be able to have access to the essence of the snake; how all of that would occur remained a complete mystery to me.
I kept thinking that even though I’d absorbed the knowledge from the amulet and had the essences of both the snake and the bat bound within me, there was still so much that I didn’t understand. It was frustrating. My thoughts were interrupted when I heard a rustling in the bushes and turned just in time to see Nic emerging from the eves of the forest into the clearing we’d found the previous night.
“Jamie, I have to tell you that there are quite a few search parties out and about looking for us. I almost stumbled into one while I was out scouting, but I think we can get back to camp as long as we’re careful.”
“Do you have any ideas, Nic?”
“Yes. First we have to quickly strike camp. Then we leave this area as soon as possible, afoot. I think that if we immediately take to the air some of the search parties, depending on where they are, may spot us and get a better idea of where our base camp is. I think it’s important we put some distance between us and the abbey on foot. Then, if and when we think it’s safe, we’ll fly.
“Our camp is a ways from here, so I suspect we can spend a night or two there, but then we’ll have to move on. As Gude’s monks continue to fan out searching for us, I think it’s almost inevitable that they’ll happen onto our base camp, and I’d rather they found the cold ashes of our fires than us.”
I had to agree with Nic. If anything, the events of the past few hours had galvanized my fear of Gude and his monks. Then there was the matter of the angel who had called himself my brother. Loran had exhibited great strength and skill in his fight with Nic, and there was no doubt that he fully intended to kill me. I didn’t need to use my ability to read minds to recall the anger and hatred in his eyes every time he’d looked at me.
I was also discouraged. Instead of simply going to the abbey, getting the orb and gaining instant knowledge, I was even more puzzled and confused than before. I may have acquired another essence from one of the many orbs – at least twelve if the pattern on the floor of the abbey library was correct – that I now knew existed, but we’d also found another boy just like us, Charles, and I had gained a new enemy in Loran. Instead of becoming simpler, my life was growing more and more complex. It was time to prepare to leave, and with Charles now accompanying us, we began our journey back to Cody and Luc at our base camp. In the past day, with all our adventures, I’d almost forgotten about them, but now I was concerned for their safety and anxious to see them again.
We journeyed on foot for about half a day, avoiding any contact with Gude’s monks. It was slow going, since the forest floor was choked with undergrowth. There were a few times when we heard voices and movement very near us. At those times we crouched down, remaining quiet. Fortunately, we weren’t discovered.
We’d been plodding along for a few hours, and I was beginning to wonder how long it was going to take to get back, when we unexpectedly came upon a small clearing, about twenty feet in diameter. I began to walk ahead, eager to enter the clearing and momentarily escape the bushes and undergrowth that was constantly brushing against my wings and scratching my bare legs. But Nic reached out and took my upper arm, holding me back. When I turned and looked at him ready to ask why he’d stopped me, he responded to my questioning look by silently pointing to the circle.
At first I didn’t notice anything unusual. It just looked like a small circular area in the forest, devoid of trees and underbrush. But then I began to realize that it was totally and completely devoid of any growth at all. There wasn’t one blade of grass, piece of moss or even small tree or bush within the circle. The second thing I observed was that it was a perfect circle. In the past, any clearings we came across had at least some vegetation in them, and they were always irregularly shaped.
This clearing was a true circle. Even the branches of the tall trees around its parameter did not reach out and overshadow it. When I looked up through the dense forest canopy, I could see a perfect circle of blue sky above my head. Nic was the first to enter it, and he did so cautiously.
Still silent, Charles and I followed. Once inside the circle I began to hear a faint sound. At first I thought it might just be the wind rustling the leaves in the trees, or the distant sound of flowing water from the river that coursed though the valley. Almost from the time I’d awoken this morning, the low rushing sound of the slow but steady current of the river had been constantly in the background, following us as we made our way through the forest. But, the more I concentrated on the source of this sound, the more it seemed to be a low hum coming from the circle itself.
It was nothing like the energy compass the orbs emitted, and it certainly wasn’t one of the deafening whines the coffins made, but nevertheless, if I listened closely I could hear something. The more I listened the more puzzled I became. As my ears strained to listen (because it definitely was not very loud), I began to notice that the sound wasn’t at all steady and constant. It would ebb and flow, but not in any particular pattern, and after a while I began to get the impression that I was listening to some type of machine or engine struggling to continue running after being damaged or worn out.
“Do you hear it Nic?”
Nic gave me a puzzled look.
“Hear what, Jamie?”
So I told him what I was hearing – or at least what I thought I heard. But while Nic and Charles both agreed they couldn’t hear anything, they readily accepted my description. And while I didn’t know what Charles reaction might be to my discovery, far too many strange things had happened to Nic and me for him to not believe something I might be attuned to.
“It’s coming from somewhere in here, Nic,” I said motioning my arms around the circle. “It’s coming from…”
I paused and listened, straining to hear the rise and fall of the labored whine and whirl. It was then when it was obvious Nic and Charles weren’t hearing what I heard, that I realized that I was detecting the sound inside my head instead of with my ears.
“It’s coming from under our feet,” I suddenly shouted with surprise. “There’s something under the ground,” I continued. “Right here!”
And then I reached out and pointed a finger to a spot three feet in front of me.
Nic and Charles eyes followed my finger to the place I was pointing to.
“What do you think it is?” Nic asked. “Another orb?”
“No, not unless it’s a damaged one. The sound’s all wrong. It’s strange.”
“It wouldn’t be a damaged orb,” Charles said with a matter of fact tone. “That’s just impossible.”
I looked at him and frowned, wondering what he might know about the orbs. But Nic didn’t wait for me to reply. He walked over to the spot that I’d pointed to, looked intently at it and then brushed the bare and lifeless dirt with the tip of his foot, almost dragging it in a straight line. He paused and did it again. Then using the tip of his sandal he gave a light kick into the ground at the same spot.
“Jamie, there’s something right here under the surface.”
And indeed there was; Charles and I approached the spot and looked down. There was no mistaking the grayish piece of metal that was now slightly protruding up to the surface where Nic had scraped away some of the dirt of the forest floor.
“What do you…”
“A coffin,” I said, interrupting him.
“Are you sure? If it is, it’s not making a sound. Remember how loudly the one Cody was in shrieked?"
But it was a coffin. I was sure of it. My mind had begun to probe the ground and by now the distinctive shape that I’d come to know when we’d first discovered Cody was firmly a part of my memory.
“It’s a coffin Nic, but there’s something wrong with it. I think it’s broken.”
“Can you get it Jamie? Can you do what you did when we found Cody’s coffin?”
“I think so. The ground’s a little firmer here then it was where Cody was buried, but it’s also much closer to the surface then Cody’s coffin was.”
Nic and Charles stepped back to the edge of the clearing. I moved to the side opposite them and extended my hand, in a gesture similar to the one I’d used when I brought Cody’s coffin to the surface. Then I reached out my mind and began to wrap my thoughts around it. While my body was tired from the previous day, I could sense that my mind was stronger and sharper after my absorption of the Orb of the Bat. And although it was still a challenge to grab hold of the coffin and bring it to the surface, by using determined and focused concentration, I felt I would be able to achieve it.
A part of my mind plunged into the ground, and the earth within the center of the circle began to stir. Then slowly like a plant or blade of grass emerging from the ground the object began to arise. It continued upward until its domed top emerged from the dark earth, but then it suddenly stopped and no amount of tugging or pulling with my mind would move it another inch.
The ground had been harder and more densely packed then I first realized. I paused, took a deep breath and resumed my posture. As I concentrated on the task, beads of sweat began to form on my forehead and trickle down my face. By now I’d closed my eyes and lowered my head. The rest of the world began to fade around me as my mind concentrated, focusing on the singular task I’d set myself. I continued to extend my right arm, trying to grip the object just as I’d done the previous time, but the earth held on tightly and I could feel my hand and then whole arm began to shake violently. I reached out my left hand, and firmly clutched my right wrist in attempt to keep my trembling hand under control.
It seemed to take forever, but then the object gave a lurch and it moved rapidly upward. It was then I noticed that the labored and unsteady humming and wheezing coming from the coffin had ceased, but I ignored it and continued to pull it upward. There were loud scraping and grinding sounds as it made its way to the surface, and during the last few seconds of its ascent my head began to ache again, but then the object was finally freed from its earthen tomb and lay silently on the forest floor. It was the silence that surprised me the most. The last time Nic and I had encountered one of these coffins the sound coming from it had been ear splitting.
Nic, Charles and I slowly approached the object. It was certainly a coffin. The long rounded shape, the curved, dome-shaped lid and the strange protrusion where I’d put my hand to open it were identical to the ones both Nic and I and Cody and his dead companion had shared. I stared at it in recognition, but for some reason it seemed different than the other two. Even after Nic and I had emerged from our coffin it had continued to give off a low rumbling hum and Cody’s had done the same thing once it’s loud shrieking had stopped. This one seemed oddly cold and silent.
Bending down, I put my hand in the same spot I had on Cody’s coffin, but nothing happened. I pressed the palm of my hand even tighter against the cold gray metal protrusion jutting from the coffin and concentrated, but it was like touching a lifeless corpse. The other two coffins had almost seemed to be alive. They were warm and hummed as they emitted an energy I could sense. This one was definitely dead. I got up, looked at Nic and shook my head.
Nic appeared not to accept my assessment, and bent down over the lid of the coffin. It was streaked with fresh earth and there were scratches on it from where it had rubbed against rocks on its way to the surface, but otherwise it was cold, gray, and silent. He reached behind his back and withdrew his short sword, put it against the crack where the lid joined the body of the coffin, and wedged it in. With all his strength he began to pry the lid open using his sword as a lever. At first I couldn’t see any movement, but then blinked when I thought I saw the lid give slightly. Nic continued to work on the lid until suddenly a small crack opened. Thrusting his sword into it he began to pry upward. Slowly, the lid began to move. As I watched the opening get larger I bent down next to him on his right side. Charles joined us on Nic’s left as the three of us put our fingers into the open crack and lifted with all our strength.
The lid seemed to be very tight and we met great resistance in our attempt to force it open, but little by little we were able to lift it upward about a half an inch at a time. After we were able to open it about four inches, I heard a loud SNAP! followed by a cracking sound as if something had broken, and the lid suddenly flopped back, opening the coffin and giving us a look inside.
Just like the previous two coffins, this one had room for two angels. The space on the right was empty, but lying in the space on the left was another young angel boy. Unlike Cody, whose skin that had been warm to the touch with a rosy pink glow, this boy’s whole body was gray and ashen. His lips had a purplish cast to them and there were dark blue circles under his eyes. Charles took one look at the boy and gasped.
“Get him out NOW,” he shouted.
Nic quickly bent down, putting his arms under the boy’s back and began to lift him out of the coffin. I put my hands on his lower legs in order to help Nic. As I gripped his ankles I could feel that his skin was almost as cold as the metal of the coffin. Nic and I pulled him out of the coffin and laid him on the ground next to the gray lifeless box of his internment. After putting his ear against the boy’s chest, Nic shook his head.
“His heart isn’t beating. I think he’s dead.”
“Shake him,” Charles ordered. “Try to get him to breath. There may still be time.”
Nic shook the boy while Charles and I rubbed his arms and legs, but he continued to lay before us as lifeless and cold as when we’d taken him from the coffin. Then Nic sat him up, spread his wings apart, and began to rub, then pound on his back while shaking him. There was still no sign of life and I was sure our efforts were useless until I heard a sharp gasp, followed by another. Nic continued to shake the boy, now with more vigor and determination. I looked at the boy’s face just in time to see his mouth open and another gasping breath enter his body. Then he gave a convulsive shudder and began coughing uncontrollably.
For a while the boy continued to wheeze and cough, but after a few minutes his coughs subsided and were replaced by heavy deep breathing. Nic, who’d been hunched down beside him from the moment he’d removed him from the coffin, remained by his side, holding him in a sitting position. A few additional minutes passed as we watched the boy’s breathing go from deep, pulling breaths to slow and steady ones. Over time, I could see the gray pallor of his skin giving way to a pinker tone. I touched his hand, and I could feel the icy chill that originally gripped him gradually being replaced with warmth as his re-awakened heart pumped life-bearing blood through his body.
After the initial crisis passed and the boy seemed to be recovering, Nic sat him up against the side of the coffin, and then stood up to gaze down at him. There was a pillow and blanket in the coffin so I retrieved them and put the pillow behind his back to support his wings, which I noticed were made up of white, gray-tipped feathers. After covering him with the blanket, I scooted back from him and stood up to get a better look at this boy we’d just returned to life.
He appeared to be seventeen or eighteen. Now that the sickening gray color was flushed from his body, I could see that he had a pale, alabaster complexion. It complemented his brown eyes and the long black hair that flowed down the back of his neck to just above the collar of his tunic. His hands were quite delicate as were his feet, with long, thin, straight fingers and toes. His lips had lost their bluish cast and were now pink and full. He was thin and had a fragile appearance. Although he was sitting down, I judged that he was close to Nic’s height, but lacked Nic’s muscularity. To call him handsome would not have done justice to his androgyny, since any fair description of him would include words like beauty, charm, grace and loveliness. It was then that Charles bent down to him.
“Damian?” Charles said in a quiet and calm voice. “Damian, how do you feel? Are you all right?
I turned to Nic and raised an eyebrow. Apparently Charles knew or at least recognized this boy. The boy initially seemed not to hear Charles but after another minute he roused from his stupor. He raised his head slightly and gave Charles a wide-eyed gaze. I was amazed at how deep and haunted his eyes were.
“Damian?” Charles was now speaking a bit louder, although his tone remained soft and calm.
“How did you get into the unit? Who put you there?”
The boy gave Charles a searching look, as if puzzled. Then his eyebrows knit together and a frown came to his mouth. I could see a flash of recognition come to his face. Looking into his eyes, it was as if a resurrected memory had suddenly and unexpectedly bloomed into his consciousness. The boy’s look grew in intensity as his eyes scanned Charles face. Then the look was gone and the young angel’s eyes grew blank and vacant. He put his hand to his heart, and bowed his head.
“Charles,” Nic asked. “Do you know him?”
“By his markings you can see that he’s a Minor Principality,” he said matter-of-factly. “I saw him only once before. I do know that his name is Damian, but I don’t know anything more about him.”
I bowed my head and slowly shook it from side to side. Once more we were confronting mystery. I was beginning to get more and more discouraged. Every time we tried to find answers, we only came up with more questions. Charles remained hunched down next to the boy. Gently he put out his right hand and took the boy’s left hand from his chest and placed it into his. For a few minutes, Charles just remained by the boy’s side and held his hand.
I’d been intently observing Charles one-sided conversation with the boy he called Damian. At first it seemed that he was as deaf as Luc’s brother Jon had been, since he seemed to either ignore or not hear anything Charles was saying to him. But then just as it happened a few minutes before, a light appeared to suddenly go on in Damian’s eyes and I could see his expression abruptly change.
I gazed on as Damian began to look around as if he was finally becoming aware of his environment. At first he simply moved his head from side to side first looking at Charles, then at the coffin he’d been in, and finally into the surrounding forest. It was as if he were coming out of a stupor or maybe a deep sleep. Then I watched as he raised his head and looked at Nic. He frowned and blinked as if he were trying to adjust his eyes, but then quite rapidly his expression changed, his eyes widened, and a puzzled look appeared on his face. Suddenly he lowered his head, scrunched his legs up to his chest, clasped his knees with his hands, and appeared to be oblivious to everything around him. I watched as Nic stood over him, while Charles remained on his knees next to the boy.
“Do you know him Nic?”
“He’s acting a bit strange.”
“I can see that for myself Jamie, but I don’t have any idea why.”
“I know that but…”
My conversation with Nic was abruptly cut off when Damian, hearing my voice, raised his head and looked at me. I watched with interest as his eyes began to dart all over me, as if he was conducting a careful examination. When his gaze finally met mine again, he suddenly got up on his knees and moved closer to me. Then he reached up, took my hand in his, and abruptly stood up in one quick movement. As soon as he was standing he began to jerk on my arm, as if he wanted to pull me along. All the while, he emitted a strange hooting sound.
Once Damian was at his full height I was surprised to see how much he towered over me; it became obvious that I’d been wrong about his height. I was shorter than Nic, but after getting a good look at the boy, I realized that he was almost a half-foot taller then Nic.
I could see Nic begin to tense as the boy continued to grasp my hand and pull my arm, all the while making the same strange, haunting sound over and over. But although he was taller then Nic, I could feel by the way he was pulling me that he wasn’t exceptionally strong. His body was thin and he wasn’t muscular. With his hand still in mine I pulled him back, trying to bring him face to face with me. And while I was certainly not as strong as Nic, I was easily able to resist his tugging and draw him back to me.
When I finally was able to get him to stop pulling at me, I succeeded in turning him around completely so that now he was directly facing me. I looked up into his eyes and concentrated. For a few seconds I met a small resistance, then I felt a satisfying pop in my head and I knew I’d entered his mind, but within seconds my head snapped back and my eyes blinked in shock. As fast as I’d entered Damian’s mind, I’d been forcibly thrown out. I looked back into his eyes, startled at what had just happened. It took me a few seconds to recover from the shock of it. I found that I was a bit unsteady on my feet, but I quickly regained my composure. Nic, always vigilant and observant, reached out and grasped my upper arm.
“Jamie, What’s wrong?”
At first I didn’t realize Nic was speaking to me. While Damian had been successful in halting my mind probe, I’d gained a small amount of information during the few seconds I’d been in his head.
“It was Patrik,” I said, looking at Damian and pointing to the coffin. “He put you in there, didn’t he?”
At the mention of the name Patrik, Damian looked intently down at me while giving an almost imperceptible nod. Then I saw tears come to his eyes as he once more dropped his head and stared at the ground.
“He put you in the coffin and he made sure you were safe. Isn’t that right?” I was now talking in a slightly raised and excited tone of voice. “But he couldn’t get in himself, could he? Someone had to close the lid. He stayed outside and closed the lid, didn’t he?”
This time Damian didn’t look up. If I hadn’t been staring as intently as I was, I would have missed the almost indiscernible nod he gave me, as tears dripped from his eyes onto his tunic.
“Who’s Patrik?” Nic asked.
“I don’t know, I said. “I tried to read his mind, but as soon as I entered it, he pushed me out. It seems that he has mental powers equal to or maybe even stronger then mine. In the few seconds I was in his mind, I was able to find the name Patrik and a few random thoughts. Most of what I accessed didn’t make much sense to me. But I can tell you that Patrik was someone he loved very much.”
“And you weren’t able to find out who Patrik is or was?”
“No, he’s very good at blocking a mind probe, but even though I was only in his mind for a few seconds I can tell you something with absolute certainty, Nic.”
“He was horribly tortured. His mind has been damaged. He has unusually strong mental powers, but someone or something went into his mind and raped it. In some ways his mental abilities are unbelievably strong, but in other ways he’s like a child.”
I could see Nic frowning at my words, but I still wasn’t finished telling him about Damian. I shuddered at the thought of what I’d been able to briefly glimpse in Damian’s mind, but suddenly I wasn’t sure how to proceed.
“There is one more thing, Nic.” I paused.
Nic looked at Damian and then back to me. I turned from Nic and gazed up at the tall thin boy towering over me.
“Damian,” I said very softly and gently. “Open your mouth, please.”
Damian looked at me and shook his head violently, but I would have nothing of it.
“Damian, open your mouth,” I said a bit louder and more firmly.
Once again the boy shook his head so forcefully it looked as if he were trying to fling it off.
“It’s ok, Damian,” I said and took both of the boy’s hands into mine. “They’re going to find out about it anyway, now please open your mouth.”
Damian looked down at Charles, then at Nic and frowned. Ever so slowly he opened his mouth in a kind of grimace. The first thing I could see was a beautiful set of straight white teeth. Damian stood there for a few seconds with his mouth open and teeth clenching.
“All the way Damian,” I said gently. “No one will make fun of you, I promise.”
Then Damian slowly unclenched his teeth and completely opened his mouth. He held his mouth open for only a few seconds, but it was just enough for everyone to see the gaping black hole where his tongue should have been.
“What…?” Nic started to speak but then stopped, obviously appalled at what he had just seen.
“Someone cut it out,” Charles said.
“But… who… how…?” Nic asked.
Although Damian had by now closed his mouth and was once again standing quietly in front of me, the image that I’d just seen was burned into my mind.
“I don’t know,” I said. “He threw me out of his mind so quickly I wasn’t able to find out.”
“Does he know?” Nic asked, looking intently at Damian and frowning deeply.
“I think so.” I said quietly.
For a about a minute we all stood there. Damian remained quiet and no more of the hooting sounds came from his mouth, although I caught him casting furtive glances in my direction from time to time. In the end it was Nic who finally broke the silence.
“I think this is a good place for us to get into the air,” he said.
“But do you think that’s wise Nic?” I was concerned that we would be seen, but secretly glad for the change of subject.
“Well, we’re now some distance from the abbey and we’ve also made our way around it to the far side of the mountain, so we shouldn’t be spotted by a lookout from the tower. If we get airborne now, I think the dense cover of the tree canopy will hide us from anyone on the ground and besides we might be a bit ahead of them by now. We’ll be at the camp that much sooner and then we can make our plans from there. Besides, we’ll have some of Cody’s delicious food, and fresh water as well.”
I was more than eager to get back to our base camp and therefore quickly concurred with Nic. Charles didn’t seem to have any objections either and Damian just stood silently by Charles’ side. Nic’s mention of food had reminded us of the hunger pangs in our bellies, which were making the prospect of a good meal something we were all eager to enjoy. Nic asked Charles if Damian could fly. Charles took Damian aside and although I could sense a bit of reluctance on Damian’s part to be near Charles, the boy allowed the red and black winged angel to address him. During their brief hushed conversation, I observed that although a frown grew on Damian’s face during their conversation, he nodded his head in agreement at everything Charles said to him. Returning to us, Charles appeared satisfied.
“Yes, he should be able to fly. He’s probably still a bit weak from the ordeal he’s just been through, but as long as we’re not in the air too long I think he’ll be fine.”
Since there wasn’t time to spare, we all stroked our wings and took to the air; in seconds were airborne, heading in the direction of the camp. It was now afternoon and the forest looked beautiful from our height. I kept looking down and over my shoulder to see if any of Gude’s monks were observing us, but I didn’t see anything or anyone. I hoped that I was right.
After about thirty minutes of flight, Nic made a pointing motion toward the ground. Ahead of us was a clearing and I could see that we were rapidly coming up on our camp. Within a minute or so we were descending. Once again, our feet were on solid ground. Cody was to one side of the fire skinning a rabbit. Luc must have been gathering some wood for the fire, because I could see him at the edge of the camp stacking it in a pile.
At first the noise of our landing startled Cody, and he quickly looked up. When he saw who it was, he arose and approached us. Luc also looked up from his task, put down his bundle of branches, and came up behind Cody. As they got closer, they knelt in front of us. I began walking over to them with the intention of telling them to get up, but was stopped by Nic who gently took my arm and held me back.
“Your Highness. Your Grace,” they said in unison. I quietly snickered. It was obvious that Cody had been talking to Luc about the king and the wizard and had been rehearsing him on proper etiquette.
Cody bowed slightly. Little Luc looked at Cody, and then taking his cue from the silver and blue winged angel, also bowed. They looked so cute that I wanted to run over to both of them and hug them, but Nic kept his hand firmly around my upper arm, holding me back. Then he released me and walked over to the two kneeling boys. He placed one hand on Cody’s head and the other on Luc’s.
“You’ve both done an excellent job in keeping the camp safe and secure. We all thank you for that and we’re glad to see that you’re safe.”
Nic was talking a bit more formally to the boys, and I was slightly surprised since before our trip he had told Cody that formality was not necessary, but I remained silent.
“We’re all tired and very hungry and could use one of your delicious meals, Cody.”
He removed his hand from Cody’s head. Cody looked up and smiled. Then he arose along with Luc and they headed back to their chores.
“Come on Luc, let’s make a real feast for everyone,” Cody said to Luc.
Cody put his arm around Luc and Luc smiled back at Cody. I could tell that in our absence they’d grown to be close friends and I smiled privately to myself.
I’d just remembered something. Cody quickly turned around and lightly bowed his head. I almost laughed when Luc, following Cody’s lead, did the same. They both spoke almost in unison.
“Yes, Your Grace?”
“I just wanted you to meet two new members of our band. This is Damian,” I said motioning toward the tall thin angel on my right. “He can understand what we say, but he can’t speak. We rescued him from a coffin just like the one we pulled you from,” I said looking at Cody. “Make sure that he feels safe and welcome.”
Cody looked over at Damian and gave him a broad smile. Damian returned Cody’s smile with a shy one of his own, but I noticed that he only turned up the corners of his mouth and kept his teeth locked.
“And this is Charles, who...”
Charles interrupted me and stepped forward. He paused just as he had back in the abbey library when Nic had first come upon us. I could see him look at Cody then Luc and back to Cody again and I could have sworn that as Charles stood there a brief flash of recognition moved across his face – much like the one he’s given Nic and me in the abbey library – but as I looked closer it was gone and I brushed the thought away. Then he executed a slight yet formal bow, and offered his own introduction.
“Charles, Archangel and first Counsel to the Legion of Red and Black, Keeper of the Keys of Hadrian, Historian to the Wizardry, and Scholar of the Imperial Institute of Governance. I’m pleased to meet you.”
I looked at Nic and rolled my eyes. He just smiled back at me.
I may have been a wizard, but in a short time Cody had preformed his own special magic with the rabbits he’d snared, along with some wild herbs and other items he and Luc had managed to forage in our absence. We’d all been hungry, but it wasn’t apparent just how hungry we were until we started eating. Everyone took large portions and we sat in total silence. The only sounds made were gulping and chewing noises followed by the grunts and sounds of pleasure each of us would occasionally emit over the delicious meal.
After we ate, Cody and Luc cleaned up and then joined us around the fire. I sat cuddled with Nic; my head was on his chest and he had one arm around me. His other hand was lightly stroking my hair. Cody and Luc were sitting opposite us across the fire. Charles was to our left. And Damian, who had eaten the meal sitting next to Charles, had moved over closer to me. Throughout the meal I’d noticed that he would occasionally look up from eating just to stare at me, and now he seemed to be intently studying me. I was temped to try another mind probe, but decided against it. I was the first to break the silence.
“Charles, where’s your mate?”
“My mate? What mate?”
“The one you were buried with. Nic was with me. Cody’s mate was dead. Damian remembers someone named Patrik. Even Loran talked about someone named Alexander. What happened to your mate?”
Charles brow wrinkled and a look closely resembling a grimace briefly appeared on his face. He answered rather abruptly, and as he spoke I noticed his voice had taken on a sharp tone.
“I don’t have a mate, I never did.”
“Well, who were your buried with?”
“Nic and I, Cody and his mate, and Damian were all buried in coffins. What about you?”
“No, I wasn’t buried in any coffin. And what makes you think that Cody had a mate?”
“Well, there was a dead angel in the coffin with him.”
“Maybe so, but that doesn’t mean that it was his mate.”
“So if you weren’t buried, then where were you?”
Charles became silent.
Then Niklas cleared his throat and began to speak.
“Charles, from the first moment we met I’ve suspected that you hold some interesting, if not important, information concerning our lives, our fate and even our destiny. Your scholarship and intellectualism seems quite impressive. I was hoping that you could shed some light on a some of the questions we have regarding our history and our current situation. We’ve learned some things from Jamie as he assimilated the knowledge of the amulet and the essences of the orbs, but the longer and more complicated our journey becomes, the more I realize that there’s so much more to learn. And now that you’ve joined us and we’ve discovered and saved Damian, there are even more questions in my mind. Is there anything you can tell us?”
“Well Nic, you’re right,” Charles said. “There is more information – information that even the amulet and the orbs don’t have. That information is our history, and how we have come to this place. Much of it is not in the amulet and definitely not in the orbs. For example, all of the things that have happened to you… well, for that matter all of us since we were brought back to life, is not recorded anywhere except in our minds. It is our current history and we must eventually record it. That will be my task once we establish the kingdom.”
As comfortable as I was curled up with Nic, I lifted my head off of his chest and looked at Charles.
“You talk of a kingdom, and I’ve seen references to it as I recall the information from the amulet. In fact, if I access that information, I can find numerous references to a kingdom, but I still have no idea what it’s all about.”
Charles smiled. Then his serious look returned.
“Well, I think it is time for the first meeting of the Circle of Jonas.”
“The what? Come on, don’t be so obtuse Charles.”
I was getting more than a bit annoyed. Suddenly I felt Nic’s hand on my back. I know he was trying to give me a sign to be quiet, but I chose to ignore it. Instead, I rose to my feet and addressed Charles.
“Look Charles, I woke up in a coffin with Nic. We are angels, yet we are trekking from one end of this bloody land to the other. We have no place to call home and currently live in the forest – a place I know we shouldn’t be calling home. There is some crazy band of monks trying to capture us. Nic and I have just been to some fantastic fortress/abbey where we saw sights I could never imagine – one of them was you chained in a library. Every few weeks we seem to pick up another angel or two.
“I’ve been captured, questioned, attacked, tattooed, rescued, and hunted. On top of it all, I found out that I have an older brother who wants to kill me. Maybe you think this is some great adventure, but frankly I’ve had ENOUGH! So convene the bloody Circle of Jones, or the Hour of Happiness, or Story Time for Angel Boys, I don’t care what you call it. I just want to know what’s going on and what I can expect.”
My temper was flaring like a white-hot fire. By this point I was shouting, and my voice rang through the dark forest. I looked around at my companions. The glow of the campfire cast an orange reflection on their faces. It was obvious I’d scared Luc, who was now scrunched closer to Cody. Cody had his arm around Luc and was looking down into the fire. Damian sat quiet and unmoving, but I could see a frown forming on his face. Nic was giving me an angry look, but Charles had a big smile on his face. That made me even angrier. I gave a quick glance to Nic and continued.
“Nic, you can be as mad as your want, but I want answers. Bloody wizard, king or whatever, I want – no, I DEMAND answers. I will not go one step further on this journey until I at least have some idea what’s in store for us. So you can glower all you want and say all you want, but I’ve had just about enough of all this!”
I could tell that Nic knew I was serious. His expression changed from one of anger to concern. He got up and came to me. He took me in his arms. It was too much. I started to cry. I buried my head into his shoulder and sobbed.
“It’s ok, Jamie. I know you’re scared. We’ll find the answers, I promise.”
After a few minutes I was composed. My eyes still burned from my tears, but Nic continued to hold me.
“If you’re ready, maybe I can give you some of the answers you seek,” Charles said.
I wiped a few more tears from my eyes.
“Yes Charles, that would be good right now.” I said between deep gulps of air. “I need answers. I don’t think I can go on anymore without any.”
Nic sat down on one of the logs around the fire. He took my arm and pulled me to his lap. With my wings folded out of the way, I put my arms around his neck and lay my head on his shoulder. He put his arms around me and held me. Then he bent his head down and kissed the back of my neck. The five of us were now all looking at Charles.
“Well then, it is time to convene the Circle of Jonas.”
Charles stood and bowed a deep and formal bow. The look on his face was one of concern and respect. His entire demeanor had become quite deferential. He looked at each one of us. Then he drew himself up in a formal pose and began to speak.
“I, Charles, Archangel and first Counsel to the Legion of Red and Black, Keeper of the Keys of Hadrian, Historian to the Wizardry, and Scholar of the Imperial Institute of Governance, do hereby convene this Council of Jonas. I do this upon the command of His Esteemed Grace, James, Wizard of Icaria, Lord Protector of the Realm, Defender of the Gates of Justice, Vessel of the Orbs of Lon Nol, and Guardian of the Tower of Agramon.”
I lifted my head from Nic’s shoulder and looked in his eyes.
“Is he talking about me?”
Nic shrugged his shoulders.
“He seems to be.”
Charles looked down at me.
“Well Your Grace those are only the most important titles, I thought that you would prefer to skip over the other fifty or so and begin the council.”
“Ah…yes I would.”
“Very well then, I will tell you what I know of our history.”