Title: UnHoly Death
Author: Christine Fonseca
Genre: YA Gothic Romance
Aydan wants to believe Nesy has returned to him in Vanessa. But her lack of memories and incessant nightmares begin to erode his faith. Zane is used to trusting his mind, his wisdom and his angelic senses. But these attributes are no help with Vanessa. He has no way to be certain of her true identity. That is, unless he listens to the one thing he has refused to acknowledge throughout his existence – his feelings for Nesy.
Blind to both angel and demon, Aydan and Zane must now figure out the truth behind Nesy’s identity before all is lost, Azza discovers the truth and the Beast is again unleashed.
Tagline: The line between good and evil has never been so blurred.
Award-winning and critically-acclaimed author of fiction and non-fiction. Lover of books, lattes, and family. Passionate about humanity. Recent titles include Transcend, The Solomon Experiment series, and Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students, second edition.
When Christine isn’t writing a book, she can be found sipping too many skinny vanilla lattes next to a beach with a book in her hand.
The Cold water bites into my hand as silver liquid streams down the drain. My thoughts scroll through every moment of the battle: Nesy’s eyes bulging as Azza’s sword cuts through her armor, piercing her heart; Aydan and Mikayel’s screams splitting through the night sky; Nesy’s mind closing in on itself. It’s all too much. My knees buckle. I cling to the basin and wait for the wave of emotion to pass. Nothing I do erases the images permanently burned into my memories. No amount of meditation calms my soul. No amount of water removes the blood, her blood, from my hands, my arms, my clothes.
Nesy is gone.
I try to shake away the thoughts that refuse to retreat, desperate for a respite I know will never come.
The voice pushes aside my grief.
“Zane. Mikayel’s asking for you.”
I focus on the voice, forcing myself to respond, move, anything. But I can’t. I’m locked in a grief I don’t fully understand; one I never thought I would feel. Not like this.
Never like this.
“Zane! Come. Mikayel’s waiting.”
Cass touches my shoulder and enters my heart. Her presence fills me with a peace only the Anointed can command. I breathe her in and silently beg her to clear away my pain. One moment bleeds into the next. The feelings ebb. I take another breath. Her presence spreads through me. Until finally there is peace. At last.
But for how long?
“I’m coming,” The words are thick against my mouth. “I’m coming.”
I dry my hands and follow Cass away from my quarters. The hallowed halls stream past me in a blur. Everything is surreal and detached, as though I am no longer part of this world at all. I grow thin with each step and I wonder…
Will I fade away completely?
Cass pulls me through the labyrinth towards the Council chamber. Is Mikayel back? Has he avenged Nesy’s death?
Anointed and Mediators run through the halls. Their faces speak a truth I cannot bear—the war has cost more than we’d expected. More than I expected. Sentinals and Guardians pour from portals, their bodies marred with the signs of battle. Blood, demonic and angelic, stain their armor, their tunics, their wings. 1…30…75. I count the angels running past me. Less than half have returned. Are the rest still battling? I know the answer before the question fully forms. The battle is over.
Nesy is gone.
Azza is gone.
My mind reaches for him. His torment and pain flood my senses. My hand searches for Cass’s, desperate to cling to something stronger than me. My legs again buckle under the weight of too much emotion. Mine, Aydan’s, the angels’. It’s more than I can bear, more than any of us can.
Why did this have to happen?
Aydan’s rage lingers in the air. I sense the beast that still lives within him. How long before he succumbs to it? How long before he forgets Nesy and becomes everything Azza has intended.
“This way.” Cass again pulls me out of my thoughts as I walk away from the antechamber, noticing Aydan’s broken shell curled in on itself. Sobs rack his body like waves buffeting a boat. He will not recover from this. If she dies, he will also.
If she dies—
The thought betrays my hopes. Of course she’ll die. No one can survive Azza’s sword. Not even Mikayel. What chance does Nesy have now?
What chance do any of us have?
Cass tugs on my arm as we wind through the halls into a chamber I’ve never seen. The walls shine with an eerie indigo glow. Two large angels, Mikayel and Raphael, pray over a golden angel marred by a never-ending stream of silver blood.
The blood pools around her still body and I know it’s too much. She cannot survive this, no matter how much we pray. My mouth opens to speak; the sound dies long before the words form. Cass again calms my heart.
Or is it Raphael calming me now?
“Go.” Cass nudges me forward. “He’s waiting.” My feet remain glued to the spot, permanently tethered to the floor.
“I need a minute,” Mikayel whispers to Raphael. He nods and turns toward me. A single tear streams down his face.
I’m not used to seeing the Council show such intense emotion, even for those that have fallen. But somehow, Nesy’s death has touched them all.
“She’s not yet dead,” Raphael says as he passes. “But I have no way to heal her.”
I nod, still unable to speak.
“I’ll be back,” Cass whispers before turning to leave with her master. She’s handling this well. She’s stronger than me, stronger than any of us.
When did that happen? I was always the strongest amongst us.
“Zane.” Mikayel’s voice is hollow, detached. It fills me with a profound sadness I can almost taste. “Come.”
He motions for me to join him. I stare at the broken body—her body—lying on the altar next to Mikayel. Her wings, limp and lifeless, hang alongside her body and drape along the floor. Silver blood glistens from her wounds and coats her skin. Her breastplate is gone, revealing the full depth of her injuries. Azza’s sword penetrated her lungs and pierced her heart, leaving an angry red gash in its wake.
“She still lives. Barely.”
“Is there anything anyone can do?” The words burn against the back of my throat. I cough, choking on my own grief.
“Perhaps.” Mikayel turns away from Nesy. His gaze locks with mine. “There is something that may help her still, something I have told no one.”
My brows furrows as I try to decipher the look of madness now etched on Mikayel’s face.
“Do you know the way to Azzaziel’s realm?”
“Yes.” My voice quivers.
“I need you to go there. For Nesy.”
“To Azza? No. He’s the reason—”
“Not to Azza.” Mikayel’s voice grows cold. “To the demonic smoke that lives in the labyrinth.”
“It owes me a favor; one I intend on collecting.”
“I don’t understand. What does the demonic smoke have to do with Nesy?”
“It has the power to bring her back.”
I stare at Mikayel in disbelief. There is nothing that can be done for her now, nothing good at least.
“The demonic smoke is something different from us, different from Azzaziel. It has the power to heal her wounds and turn her mortal. But it won’t get involved unless you go and bargain with it.”
“Me? What could I possibly offer? And why can’t you go? You said it owed you the favor.”
“It does. But as you know, the smoke lives in Azza’s realm. He will know of my presence the second I arrive, and Azza can never learn of what we are about to do.” Mikayel swallows hard, the lines of his face like stone. “I know I ask a lot, but this is the only way. A deal must be bartered and Azza must not find out. You are the only one I trust, the only one—”
“Who is expendable.”
“No. The only one I am willing to send. But it must be your choice. Azza will sense your presence if you are only there on my command.”
I turn away from Mikayel. My hands ball into fists at my side. Everything about the request feels wrong—the bargain with this mysterious entity, pushing the limits of the natural order by bringing Nesy back from the dead, everything.
“She is not dead yet,” Mikayel says, sensing my hesitation. “But this is the only way to save her.”
There is no way I can refuse, no way to live with myself if I do. I push aside the growing doubt and fear that clouds my thoughts, push away the image of Nesy dying in front of me, push away my consciousness screaming “No.”
There is only one thing I can say, only one phrase that will form on my lips. “When do I leave?”
“One more thing, Zane, the Council cannot know of this task. Gabriel cannot know.”
I face Mikayel and my face hardens with my doubts. “I will not lie to my master.”
“I’m not asking you to lie. Just don’t seek his permission. I will talk with Gabriel after you’ve left.” Mikayel squares his shoulders and burns into my thoughts. I won’t forsake my master. Not even for Nesy.
Mikayel’s eyes release me and settle on the broken body of Nesy, so lifeless in front of us. “This, her injuries, they’re my fault. I won’t have her die because of me. I can’t let that happen again.”
“Again? So the stories Azza told her were true.”
“I have caused many deaths, yes.”
Anger bubbles through me. “You feel guilty. That’s what this is really about. And you need me to fix it for you.” The words sound more like Nesy’s than my own, only she would be screaming by now.
Mikayel bristles as he focuses his attention back to me.
“I’m right, aren’t I? Sir.”
Anger changes to sympathy in his eyes. “You feel deeply for Nesy, don’t you?”
The truth in his words startles me.
“I recognize the emotion in your eyes. Don’t try to deny it. You will help me because you know it’s the only way to save her. And, Zanethios, you need her to live as much as I do.”
“But becoming mortal, human? It isn’t the same as being healed.”
“True, but it’s the only chance we have. The only way she can survive at all.”
His words hang in the air, tempting me. He’s right about my feelings for Nesy. I do need her to survive. My feelings are more complex than I’ve admitted to anyone, including myself. In truth, I don’t understand them. All I know for certain is I can’t imagine a world where Nesy is gone.
I swallow back the apprehension that lodges in my throat. “Are you certain this demonic smoke will comply with my request?”
“It has no choice. It owes me a favor. But, there will still be a price to pay. It will expect payment. You need to be cautious. Don’t be fooled if it seems to understand you, your heart and your feelings. It is nothing more than illusion dressed up in smoke; a trickster that feeds from the chaos it creates. Nothing more. Do you understand me?”
“You must mind your emotions when you are in Azza’s realm. They have served you well in the past. But with the smoke, they will betray you.”
Shock fills my cells. What emotions? “I have no emotions to mind.”
A smile forms in Mikayel’s eyes. “That may work with your friends and Gabriel. But I know the truth. You are more like me, more like Nesy, than you are willing to admit. Be careful you don’t let that become your weakness.”
Too many words stumble through me. They die before they are spoken, leaving only emotions that swirl in intoxicating patterns—feelings for Nesy, for Aydan. Hope and betrayal. Love and rage. It’s more than I can acknowledge, more than I can tolerate.
And none of it’s true—just an illusion, a trick of my grief, my mind. Something I’ve never acknowledged.
Nothing but a myth.