Athios nods. “Your team has found the second, as well,” he answers. “And soon to find the third.”
“How do you know that?” I ask. I know he’s moving closer to me, and I allow it. I know he won’t hurt me.
“Because it’s here.” He swipes his arm. “And the inscription on the second relic is quite explicit.”
Confusion webs my brain. “How in the hell do you know that?” I ask.
Athios is standing in front of me now, and he lifts a thumb to my eye and wipes the edge. “Smeared mascara,” he says. “Because. I am the one who hid them.”
“So, you’re not the younger of the Fallen,” I say. “You’re the oldest.”
Athios nods. “Just . . . younger in appearances. I was younger when I became an angel. But after so many centuries of life on earth, I can hardly be called young anymore.”
I feel myself being drawn to him again. “Athios, please. If you’re using your angel/Fallen mind-woogie on me, don’t.” I look at him. “Please. Let me have my own faculties. For now.”
He simply stares at me with those silvery metal eyes. “I find myself wanting to touch you. Always. It’s . . . difficult not to.”
I don’t know how to respond to that, so I don’t. Instead I question. “So, if you’re not like them, what are you like?”
Athios smiles. “I’m a Death Walker, now,” he states.
“What’s that mean?” I ask.
“I made an ill-fated mistake as an angel by hiding the relics and, ultimately, the Seiagh. I wanted them not only for myself, but to keep them away from others who wouldn’t know how to properly use its magic. It can be a dark, evil book, and I’ve seen too many souls turn black because of it.” He looks out at the sea. “But because I hid it for my own gain, no matter the reasoning, I was banished as a Fallen.” He turns to me. “And the only way to rectify myself is to see its destruction.” He laughs softly. “Which, ultimately, leads to my own.”
I meet his gaze and hold it for sometime, mesmerized once more by the silver beauty. I shake my head and look out over the ocean. “Damn, Athios.”
He laughs and slides a little closer to me. “The North Sea is a tumultuous beauty. Is it not?” he asks.
I watch the water for a moment, at the constant white caps that tip the dark water. Seabirds dip and dive into it for fish, and the crashing of it against the rocks foretells its fury. “Yes, it certainly is.”
“Much like you,” he says. “Riley Poe.”
I turn to him, lean my elbow against the derelict wall of the ruin. “Where are we?” I ask.
“Tantallon Castle,” he offers. “A grand fortress in its prime. None other like it, save Dunnottar to the northeast.”
“How is it no one is around? Tourists, I mean?” I question. In the distance, I see the parking lot. Totally empty. Nothing but green grass and ruins.
“I’ve charmed it,” he admits. “Even from my brethren and yours. But it won’t last long.”
“How long?” I ask.
He lifts my chin with his knuckle. “Long enough.”
“Athios,” I look at him. “I don’t know you. I don’t know what’s real and what’s not. And I’ve just lost my fiancé. This . . . isn’t right. I would’ve never done it on my own.”
“Well,” he says, and takes my hand and places it in his. “Get to know me.”
My head spins, the world darkens, and I slip into another life, another time. . . .
And then there stole into my fancy, like a rich musical note, the thought of what sweet rest there must be in the grave.
—Edgar Allan Poe, “The Pit and the Pendulum”
All along, I’ve known how wrong it’s been to take advantage of Riley, even knowing she’d just lost her love. I can’t help myself. She’s everything I’ve always wanted. Aye, I’ve used my powers to lure her, and I make myself forget at times that I’ve done such because her reaction to me, to my touch, is so powerful . . . it’s what will help me survive what I’m about to endure.
Just that fast, I’m back.
I’ve just witnessed Athios’s entire life. And death. And rebirth.
He smiles down at me. “Now you know me.”
It somehow comforts me to know Athios is truly not a Black Fallen. He’s a victim of circumstance who took the fall. A big fall. His heart is pure. And unlike the other Fallen, he has never stolen a soul. He instead visits the emergency room, where the dying are headed out the door anyway. He uses a little of their life force to maintain his substance here on earth. No one hurt. No foul done.
And he’s only doing it until the Seiagh is found and destroyed.
“Why did you wait so long?” I ask. “If you’ve known all along where the Seiagh is, why wait?”
“It was written that way,” he says. “Not until the Archivist arrives could events unfold. Ms. Maspeth only just arrived a year ago. I had no choice but to let things unfold as they would have naturally.”
“So, by now my team has found the second relic?” I ask.
“Yes.” He glances at the sky. “It won’t be long now until the third relic is found.” His gaze returns to mine. “I fear there’s going to be a war, Riley. My brethren have created an army of Jodís. They’ll bring them all. No match for your team. And my priority now is to keep you safe.”
Yet another man wanting to ensure my safety. Where were all these guys when I was boozing it up and smoking weed as a teenager?
“No, your main priority, Athios, is to make sure the Seiagh is destroyed.”
He gives me a slight nod. “Correct.”
“You know I’m going to fight when my team arrives and the Jodís and Fallen get here?”
Athios sighs. “I feared as much. But, yes, I guessed you would.” He looks at me. “Please know I never meant any harm to come to your friend,” he says. I had no idea my brethren had followed us. I would’ve taken you . . . elsewhere.” He sighs again. “But I wanted to ensure your team found the second relic.”
“What about my fiancé? Eli?” I ask. It almost hurts to say his name now. And I’m not sure I want to hear his answer.
I look at him.
He glances across the ruins, in the opposite direction of the sea. “They’re here.”
I glance in the direction Athios does, and although I don’t see anything, I believe him. I can hear voices in the distance.
“Riley, please,” Athios says, and cups my jaw with his hand. “I don’t think I’ll get to say a proper good-bye once this starts,” he goes on. “Can I have one last thing for my soul to keep?”
“What—?” The moment my mouth opens, Athios lowers his head and claims it with his. Long and possessive, his velvety warm tongue gently and slowly explores me, tasting the corners of my mouth, suckling on my bottom lip. His hands move down my back to cup my bottom and pull me tightly against him. Fire shoots through my veins and my hands wrap around his neck and, God help me, I can’t stop. I kiss him back.
I kiss him good-bye.
His mouth slows, his lips resting against mine, gently kissing, inhaling. “Thank you,” he whispers against me. “Like it or not, you’ll always be with me, Riley Poe.”
I pull back and look into his mesmerizing eyes, liquid metal shimmering in the fading light. They’re almost the color of his hair now, which also has an unusual shade of silver tinting it. I don’t understand any of this. Not a bit.
But it’s real. That much I know.
Then Athios kisses one cheek and whispers something in my ear in that foreign, painful language of angels. He does the same with the next cheek, the next ear. It sounds . . . familiar. How, I don’t know, especially since I just thought it was so foreign. But I’ve heard it before. He pulls back and looks at me. “You’ll be safe now. But still, be careful. Watch your teammates. They’ll need it. And when the Seiagh is destroyed, take cover. A gale like you’ve never experienced will occur.”
“Okay,” I say. “What about you?” I ask. Somehow, and for some reason, I care.
He smiles. “I’ll be fine. And also, know this. You may still have a chance to rescue your mate. And, your friend. Your mentor, Conwyk, gave you a . . . tool. Speak to him. He’ll know where you can look for your man. Now.” He sweeps down and takes a final kiss from me. “Until, Riley Poe.”
Out of nowhere, a tumultuous force as fierce as the North Sea appears. It’s Noah, and his rage is evident in his morphed appearance, the change in his voice. He lunges at Athios like a bolt of lightning. The wind picks up, and before my eyes, Athios disappears.
Gone. Like a vapor.
Noah swears and grabs me by the shoulders and turns me to face him. He doesn’t even change back. His face is full-blown vampire, jaw unhinged, fangs dropped, and mercury eyes on fire. He shakes me. “Are you okay?” he all but growls.
“I’m fine!” I yell over the wind. “Victorian,” I say. And that’s all I can manage.
“I know, honey,” he says, and for a second I almost want to laugh. A full-blown vampire calling me honey. It strikes me. “Eli and Vic might still be alive!” I yell. “Athios just told me!”
“We’ll search after this”—he sweeps his hand over the air—“is over!”
“Promise?” I holler back.
He nods. “Here!” he yells, and hands me my sword. “Be careful!”
I roll my eyes.
The others hurry into the ruin. “Riley!” Sydney and Ginger yell simultaneously. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, fine,” I holler back. “Let’s get this done!”