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CHAPTER 19. OUT OF SIGHT

At the top of the stairs was a flat brick wall. Dead ends of any kind had always made Luce claustrophobic, and this one was even worse because of the knife poised at her throat. She dared a glance back at the steep flight they'd climbed. From here, it looked like a very long and painful fall.

Miss Sophia was speaking in tongues again, muttering under her breath as she skillfully eased open another hidden door. She shoved Luce into a tiny chapel and locked the door behind them. It was freezing inside and smelled overwhelmingly of chalky dust. Luce struggled to breathe, to swallow the bilious saliva in her mouth.

Penn could not be dead. That whole thing could not just have happened. Miss Sophia could not be that evil.

Daniel had said to trust Miss Sophia. He'd said to go with her until he could come for Luce

Miss Sophia paid Luce no attention, merely made her way around the room, lighting candle after candle, genuflecting at each one, and continuing to chant in a language Luce didn't know. The twinkling votives revealed that the chapel was clean and well maintained, which meant it must not have been too long since someone else had been up there. But surely Miss Sophia was the only one on campus who would have a key to the hidden door? Who else would even know this place existed?

The red tile ceiling was sloping and uneven. Broad, faded tapestries cloaked the walls, depicting images of creepy half-man, half-fish creatures battling on a roiling sea. There was a small white altar up at the front, and a few rows of simple wooden pews ranked along the gray stone floor. Luce looked around frantically for an exit, but there were no other doors and no windows.

Luce's legs were shaking with fury and fear. She was in agony over Penn, betrayed and lying alone at the foot of the stairs.

"Why are you doing this?" she asked, backing up against the arched chapel doors. "I trusted you."

"That's your own fault, dear," Miss Sophia said, roughly twisting Luce's arm. Then the dagger was back at her neck and she was being marched up the chapel's aisle. "Trust is a careless pursuit at best. At worst, it's a good way to get yourself killed."

Miss Sophia pushed Luce toward the altar. "Now be a dear and lie down, would you?"

Because the knife was still too close to her throat, Luce did as she was told. She felt a spot of coolness on her neck and reached up to touch it. When she took her fingers away, the tips were red with dots of blood where the knife had pricked her. Miss Sophia slapped her hand down.

"You think that's bad, you should see what you're missing outside," she said, making Luce shudder. Daniel was outside.

The altar was a square white platform, a single slab of stone no bigger than Luce herself. She felt cold and desperately exposed atop it, imagining the pews filled up with shadowy churchgoers waiting for her torture to take place.

Looking straight up, she saw that there was a window in this cavernous chapel, a large stained-glass rosette like a skylight in the ceiling. It had a complicated geometric floral pattern, with red and purple roses against a navy-blue background. It would have been a whole lot prettier to Luce if it had offered a view of the outside.

"Let's see, where did I ah yes!" Miss Sophia reached below the altar and returned with a thick length of rope. "Don't wiggle, now," she said, waving the knife in Luce's direction. Then she set about securing Luce to four holes drilled into the altar's surface. First each ankle, then each wrist. Luce tried not to writhe as she was tied down like some sort of sacrifice. "Perfect," Miss Sophia said, giving her intricate knots a firm tug.

"You planned all this," Luce realized, aghast.

Miss Sophia grinned as sweetly as she had the very first day Luce had stumbled into the library. "I would say it's nothing personal, Lucinda, but actually, it is," she cackled. "I've been waiting a long time for this moment alone with you."

"Why?" Luce asked. "What do you want from me?"

"You, I just want eliminated," Miss Sophia said. "It's Daniel I want freed up."

She left Luce on the altar and moved to a lectern near Luce's feet. She hoisted the Grigori book onto the lectern and began rapidly flipping through the pages. Luce thought back to the moment she'd opened it and seen her face next to Daniel's for the first time. How it had finally hit her that he was an angel. She'd known next to nothing then, and yet she'd felt certain that the photograph meant she and Daniel could be together.

Now that felt impossible.

"You're just sitting there swooning over him, aren't you?" Miss Sophia asked. She smacked the book closed and banged her fist on its cover. "This is precisely the problem."

"What's wrong with you?" Luce strained against the ropes binding her to the altar. "What do you care about what Daniel and I feel for each other, or who either one of us dates in the first place?" This psycho had nothing to do with them.

"I should like to have a word with whoever thought putting the fate of all of our eternal souls in the hands of one lovesick pair of infants was so brilliant an idea." She raised a shaking fist high in the air. "They want the balance to be tipped? I'll show them tipping the balance." The point of her dagger gleamed in the candlelight.

Luce drew her eyes away from the blade. "You're crazy."

"If wanting to bring to a final head the longest, greatest battle ever fought means I'm crazy" Miss Sophia's tone implied that Luce was dense for not knowing all this already"so be it."

The idea that Miss Sophia could have any say in ending the battle didn't add up in Luce's mind. Daniel was fighting the battle outside. What was going on in here couldn't compare to that. Regardless of whether Miss Sophia had crossed over to the other side.

"They said it would be Hell on earth," Luce whispered. "The end of days."

Miss Sophia started laughing. "It would seem that way to you now. Is it such a surprise that I'm one of the good guys, Lucinda?"

"If you're on the good side," Luce spat, "it doesn't sound like a war worth fighting."

Miss Sophia smiled, as if she'd expected Luce to say those very words. "Your death may be just the push Daniel needs. A little push in the right direction."

Luce squirmed on the altar. "Youyou wouldn't hurt me."

Miss Sophia crossed back toward her, and brought her face close. The artificial baby-powder old lady scent filled Luce's nose, making her gag.

"Of course I would," Miss Sophia said, bobbing the wild silver frizz of her unkempt hair. "You're the human equivalent of a migraine."

"But I'll just come back. Daniel told me." Luce gulped. In seventeen years.

"Oh, no you won't. Not this time," Miss Sophia said. "That first day you walked into my library, I saw something in your eyes, but I couldn't put my finger on it." She smiled down at Luce. "I've met you many times before, Lucinda, and most of the time, you're a downright bore."

Luce stiffened, feeling exposed, as if she were naked on this altar. It was one thing for Daniel to have encountered her in other livesbut had others known her, too?

"This time," Miss Sophia continued, "you had something of an edge. A genuine spark. But it wasn't until tonight, that beautiful slipup about those agnostic parents of yours."

"What about my parents?" Luce hissed.

"Well, my dear, the reason you come back again and again is because all the other times you've been born, you were ushered into religious belief. This time, when your parents opted out of baptizing you, they effectively left your little soul up for grabs." She shrugged dramatically. "No ritual to welcome you into religion equals no reincarnation for Luce. A small but essential loophole in your cycle."

Could this have been what Arriane and Gabbe had been hinting at in the cemetery? Luce's head began to throb. A veil of red spots took over her vision and she heard a ringing in her ears. She blinked slowly, feeling even that tiny brush of her eyelids closing like a blast through her whole head. She was almost glad she was already lying down. Otherwise she might have fainted.

If this was really the end well, it couldn't be.

Miss Sophia leaned close to Luce's face, sending spit flying with her words. "When you die tonightyou die. That's it. Kaput. In this lifetime you're nothing more than you appear to be: a stupid, selfish, ignorant, spoiled little girl who thinks the world lives or dies on whether she gets to go out with some good-looking boy at school. Even if your death wouldn't accomplish something so long-awaited, glorious, and grand, I'd still relish this moment, killing you."

Luce watched as Miss Sophia raised the knife and touched her finger to its blade.

Luce's mind reeled. All day, there had been so much she needed to process, so many people telling her so many different things. Now the dagger was poised over her heart and her eyes grew fuzzy once again. She felt the pressure of the blade's point against her chest, felt Miss Sophia probing along her breastbone for the space between her ribs, and she thought there was some truth in Miss Sophia's maddening speech. To place so much hope in the power of true lovewhich she felt she was only barely beginning to glimpse herselfwas it naive? After all, true love couldn't win that battle outside. It might not even be able to save her from dying right here on this altar.

But it had to. Her heart still beat for Danieland until that changed, something deep inside Luce believed in that love, in its power to turn her into a better version of herself, to turn her and Daniel into something glorious and goodLuce cried out when the dagger pricked her skinthen in shock as the stained-glass window overhead seemed to shatter and the air around her filled with light and noise.

A hollow, gorgeous hum. A blinding brightness.

So she had died.

The dagger had gone deeper than it had felt. Luce was moving on to the next place. How else to explain the glowing, opalescent shapes hovering over her, descending from the sky, the cascade of twinkles, the heavenly glow? It was hard to see anything clearly in the warm silver light. Gliding over her skin, it felt like the softest velvet, like meringue frosting on a cake. The ropes binding her arms and legs were loosened, then released, and her bodyor maybe this was her soulwas free to float up into the sky.

But then she heard Miss Sophia bleating, "Not yet! It's happening too soon!" The old woman had torn the dagger away from Luce's chest.

Luce blinked rapidly. Her wrists. Untied. Her ankles. Free. Tiny shards of blue and red and green and gold stained glass all over her skin, the altar, the floor beneath it. They stung as she brushed them away, leaving thin trails of blood on her arms. She squinted up toward the gaping hole in the ceiling.

Not dead, then, but saved. By angels.

Daniel had come for her.

Where was he? She could barely see. She wanted to wade through the light until her fingers found him, closed around the back of his neck, and never, never, never let him go.

There were just the living opalescent shapes drifting toward and around Luce's body, like a roomful of glowing feathers. They flocked to her, tending to her body in the places where the shattered glass had cut her. Swaths of gauzy light that seemed to somehow wash away the blood on her arms, and on the small gash at her chest, until she was fully restored.

Miss Sophia had run to the far wall and was pawing frantically at the bricks, trying to find the secret door. Luce wanted to stop herto make her answer for what she'd done, and what she'd almost donebut then part of the silver twinkling light took on the faintest violet hue and began to form the outline of a figure.

A bright pulsing shook the room. A light so glorious it could have outshone the sun made the walls rumble and the candles rock and flicker in their tall bronze holders. The eerie tapestries flapped against the stone wall. Miss Sophia cowered, but the shuddering glow felt like a deep massage, down to Luce's very bones. And when the light condensed, spreading warmth across the room, it settled into the form Luce recognized and adored.

Daniel stood before her, in front of the altar. He was shirtless, barefoot, clad only in white linen pants. He smiled at her, then closed his eyes and spread his arms out at his sides. Then, gingerly and very slowly, as if not to shock her, he exhaled deeply and his wings began to unfurl.

They came gradually, starting at the base of his shoulders, two white shoots extending from his back, growing higher, wider, thicker as they spread back and up and out. Luce eyed the scalloped edges, yearning to trace them with her hands, her cheeks, her lips. The inside of his wings began to glow with velvet iridescence. Just like in her dream. Only now, when it was finally coming true, she could look at his wings for the first time without feeling woozy, without straining her eyes. She could take in all of Daniel's glory.

He was still glowing, as if lit from within. She could still clearly see his violet-gray eyes and his full mouth. His strong hands and broad shoulders. She could reach out and fold herself into her love's light.

He reached for her. Luce closed her eyes at his touch, expecting something too otherworldly for her human body to withstand. But no. It was simply, reassuringly, Daniel.

She reached around his back to finger his wings. She reached for them nervously, as if they could burn her, but they flowed around her fingers, softer than the smoothest velvet, the plushest rug. The way she'd like to imagine that a fluffy, sun-drenched cloud would feel if she could cup it in her hands.

"You're so beautiful," she whispered into his chest. "I mean, you've always been beautiful, but this"

"Does it scare you?" he whispered. "Does it hurt to look?"

She shook her head. "I thought it might," she said, thinking back to her dreams. "But it hurts not to."

He sighed, relieved. "I want you to feel safe with me." The glittering light around them fell like confetti, and Daniel pulled her to him. "It's a lot for you to take in."

She bent her head back and parted her lips, eager to do just that.

The loud slam of a door interrupted them. Miss Sophia had found the stairs. Daniel gave a slight nod and a blazing figure of light darted through the secret door after the woman.

"What was that?" Luce asked, gaping at the trail of light fast fading through the open door.

"A helper." Daniel guided her chin back.

And then, even though Daniel was with her and she felt loved and protected and saved, she also felt a sharp stab of uncertainty, remembering all the dark things that had just happened, and Cam and his thundering black minions. There were still so many unanswerable questions running through her mind, so many awful events she felt she'd never understand. Like Penn's death, poor sweet innocent Penn, her violent, senseless end. It overwhelmed Luce, and her lip began to quiver.

"Penn's gone, Daniel," she said. "Miss Sophia killed her. And for a moment, I thought she'd killed me, too."

"I would never let that happen."

"How did you know to find me here? How do you always know how to save me?" She shook her head. "Oh my God," she whispered slowly as the truth slammed into her. "You're my guardian angel."

Daniel chuckled. "Not exactly. Though I think you were giving me a compliment."

Luce blushed. "Then what kind of angel are you?"

"I'm sort of in between gigs right now," Daniel said.

Behind him, the remaining silver light in the room pooled and split in half. Luce turned to watch it, her heart thumping, as the glow finally gathered, as it had around Daniel's figure, around two distinct shapes:

Arriane and Gabbe.

Gabbe's wings were already unfurled. They were broad and plush and three times the size of her body. Feathery, with softly scalloped edges, the way angels' wings looked on greeting cards and in movies, and with just a hint of the palest pink around the tips. Luce noticed them beating very lightlyand that Gabbe's feet were a few inches off the ground.

Arriane's wings were smoother, sleeker and with more pronounced edges, almost like a giant butterfly's. Partially translucent, they glowed and cast shifting opalescent prisms of light on the stone floor beneath them. Like Arriane herself, they were strange and alluring, and totally badass.

"I should have known," Luce said, a smile sweeping across her face.

Gabbe smiled back, and Arriane gave Luce a little curtsy.

"What's going on out there?" Daniel asked, registering the worried expression on Gabbe's face.

"We need to get Luce out of here."

The battle. Was it not over yet? If Daniel and Gabbe and Arriane were all here, they must have wonright? Luce's eyes flashed over to Daniel's. His expression gave nothing away.

"And someone needs to go after Sophia," Arriane said. "She could not have been working alone."

Luce swallowed. "Is she on Cam's side? Is she some kind of devil? A fallen angel?" It was one of the few terms that had stuck with her from Miss Sophia's lecture.

Daniel's teeth were clenched. Even his wings looked stiff with fury. "No devil," he muttered, "but hardly an angel, either. We thought she was with us. We should never have let her get this close."

"She was one of the twenty-four elders," Gabbe added. She lowered her feet to the ground and tucked her pale pink wings behind her back so she could sit down on the altar. "A very respectable position. She kept this part of her well hidden."

"As soon as we got up here, it was like she just went crazy," Luce said. She rubbed her neck where the dagger had nicked her.

"They are crazy," Gabbe said. "But very ambitious. She's part of a secret sect. I should have realized it sooner, but the signs are very clear now. They call themselves the Zhsmaelim. They dress alike, and all have a certain elegance. I always thought they were more show than anything else. No one took them too seriously in Heaven," she informed Luce, "but they will now. What she did tonight was grounds for exile. She might be seeing more of Cam and Molly than she bargained for."

"So Molly's a fallen angel, too," Luce said slowly. Out of everything she'd learned today, this made the most sense.

"Luce, we're all fallen angels," Daniel said. "It's just that some of us are on one side and some of us are on the other."

"Is anyone else here on" she swallowed"the other side?"

"Roland," Gabbe said.

"Roland?" Luce was stunned. "But you were friends with him. He was always so charismatic and great."

Daniel only shrugged. It was Arriane who looked concerned. Her wings beat in a sad, agitated way and sent forth a brush of dusty wind. "We'll get him back someday," she said quietly.

"What about Penn?" Luce asked, feeling a knot of tears in the back of her throat.

But Daniel shook his head, squeezing her hand. "Penn was mortal. An innocent victim in a long, pointless war. I'm so sorry, Luce."

"So that whole fight out there?" Luce asked. Her voice choked. She couldn't bring herself to really talk about Penn yet.

"Just one of many battles we wage against the demons," Gabbe said.

"Well, who won?"

"Nobody," Daniel said bitterly. He picked up a large shard from the stained-glass ceiling and flung it across the chapel. It shattered into a hundred tiny fragments, but it didn't seem to have released any of his anger. "Nobody ever wins. It's close to impossible for one angel to extinguish another. It's just a lot of beating until everyone gets tired and calls it a night."

Luce jolted when a strange image flashed into her mind. It was Daniel being struck directly on the shoulder by one of the long black bolts that had hit Penn. She opened her eyes and looked at his right shoulder. There was blood on his chest.

"You're hurt," she whispered.

"No," Daniel said.

"He can't get hurt, he's"

"What is that on your arm, Daniel?" Arriane asked, pointing at his chest. "Is that blood?"

"It's Penn's," Daniel said brusquely. "I found her at the foot of the stairs."

Luce's heart constricted. "We need to bury Penn," she said. "Next to her father."

"Luce, honey," Gabbe said, standing up. "I wish there were time for that, but right now, we've got to go."

"I won't abandon her. She doesn't have anyone else."

"Luce," Daniel said, rubbing his forehead.

"She died in my arms, Daniel. Because I didn't know any better than to follow Miss Sophia to this torture chamber." Luce looked at all three of them. "Because none of you told me anything."

"Okay," Daniel said. "We'll make things as right for Penn as we can. But then we need to get you far away from here."

A gust of wind filtered down from the gash in the ceiling, causing the candles to flicker and making the remaining shards of glass in the broken window sway. In the next moment, they fell in a rain of sharp splinters.

Just in time, Gabbe glided off the altar and came to stand at Luce's side. She seemed unfazed. "Daniel's right," she said. "The truce we called after the battle applies only to angels. And now that so many know about the" she paused, clearing her throat"um, change in your mortality status, there are a lot of bad ones out there who'll be interested in you."

Arriane's wings lifted her off the ground. "And a lot of good ones who will come out to help fend them off," she said, gliding toward Luce's other side as if to reassure her.

"I still don't get it," Luce said. "Why does it matter so much? Why do I matter so much? Is it just because Daniel loves me?"

Daniel sighed. "That's part of it, as innocent as it sounds."

"You know everyone loves to hate a happy pair of lovebirds," Arriane chimed in.

"Honey, this is a very long story," Gabbe told her, the voice of reason. "We can only give it to you a chapter at a time."

"And like with my wings," Daniel added, "you'll have to awaken to a lot of it on your own."

"But why?" Luce asked. This conversation was so frustrating. She felt like a child being told she would get it when she was older. "Why can't you just help me understand?"

"We can help," Arriane said, "but we can't unload everything on you at once. Like how you're never supposed to shock a sleepwalker into wakefulness. It's too dangerous."

Luce wrapped her arms around herself. "It would kill me," she said, offering up the words the rest of them were circumventing.

Daniel put his arms around her. "It has before. And you've had enough close encounters with death for one night."

"So what? Now I just have to leave school?" She turned to Daniel. "Where will you take me?"

His brow furrowed, and he looked away from her. "I can't take you anywhere. It would draw too much attention. We're going to have to rely on someone else. There's one mortal here we can trust." He looked at Arriane.

"I'll get him," she said, rising.

"I won't leave you," Luce said to Daniel. Her lip quivered. "I've only just gotten you back."


CHAPTER 18. THE BURIED WAR | Fallen | CHAPTER 20. DAYBREAK