Book I of the Daughters Of Arianne Series
Released November 2008
Some destinies are made to be denied… As the Prime Legion Commander for the Goddess, Jonah has been battling the Dark Ones for centuries. He has led countless angels into battle, and has seen too many of them slaughtered. Now, his noble spirit has begun to tire with the weight of endless war—which allows a Dark One to strike a blow that severs his wing and knocks him into the sea.
Anna is a Daughter of Arianne — a direct descendant of the mermaid whose poignant legend and lore is much darker and more complex than the human-made fairytale. For tragedy and isolation are the fate of all the Daughters of Arianne. Anna’s longing for love compels her to risk her very life to protect and hide the fallen Jonah. And the longer Jonah delays his return to the heavens, the more Anna’s secret passions are tempted.
Anna knows that Jonah’s destiny lies beyond her desire—and that if she repeats her ancestor’s mistakes, heartache will be her only reward. But as she falls more in love with him, Anna wonders if she’s destined to lose her heart and her dreams to save Jonah’s soul…
© Copyright 2009 - All Rights Reserved
The function of the wing is to take what is heavy and raise it up into the region above where the gods dwell. Of all things connected with the body it has the greatest affinity with the divine. —Plato
Lightning flashed, the sky unnaturally dark. His doing, or his enemies’? He couldn’t tell anymore. But bloodlust required instinct, not thought, and pain could be ignored. As he roared his fury, the resulting heat that shot through his sword blade illuminated his surroundings. A hundred shadows converging, almost indistinguishable from the black clouds, but the nearest one was close enough to become an opponent. The Dark One’s death scream made Jonah’s lips curl in a satisfied, feral smile, despite the foul taste of the creature’s blood splattered across his mouth.
Good or evil, what did it matter? It all came down to this in the end—battle. Those who were the best would be left standing, if luck and skill held.
But the Lady didn’t stand with them on this ground. He fought for Her, but he never sensed Her presence in this. It was that lonely thought which defeated him, took his attention for a blink and let his enemies strike the sword from his hand. It went end over end through the heavens, arcing and then arrowing down toward earth. He spun, twisted, but the sweep of the battle-axe he couldn’t evade was a dull gleam among a malevolent tapestry of red eyes and bared fangs.
Perhaps they’d aimed for the spine, intending to cleave him in half. An irony, since that reflected his mind these days. But instead they severed one of his wings. Struck it from him with a terrible hollow thunk like the chopping of a tree. A bolt of agony rocketed through his upper body, numbing his legs and arms for a key moment.
Balance gone, he hurtled down among them. Jonah struck out snarling, fighting with bare fists. Blood ran down his back, dripping onto his thighs as brutal talons tore at the open wound.
Using the last reservoir of concentration he had, he electrified the air around him. The shattering flash jolted his own muscles and nerve endings, wrenching a hoarse cry from his throat that was lost in their shrieks. But the smell of burning flesh was grimly sweet.
Now falling free, he spiraled down and down, unable to control anything as he dropped for miles, his one wing making the descent an unpredictable, wild twisting that tore away his ability to stay conscious.
It didn’t matter. He’d prefer death to dismemberment. Another lightning flash, not his this time, outlined the demonic forms of his attackers. A few had recovered enough to dive after him. They would try to take him alive, he knew. And then all Hell would break loose. Literally.
When his body fell into the sea, his velocity sent up a plume like a geyser. As he hit, he knew the wake would impact the shoreline a few miles away like a storm surge. Coming out of nowhere, it would baffle the ever ignorant and oblivious humans.
A pebble dropped in a pond could create ripples, affecting everything it touched in subtle, but undeniable ways.
The fall of an angel could drown the very heart of Earth.
* * * * *
As a flash of lightning struck the ocean surface thirty feet above, Anna paused, her hand resting on the whale's side. The subsequent boom of thunder was powerful enough to send a vibration through the rippling water. The humpback made a keening noise, but did not stop, her dark flank moving at a sedate but determined pace under Anna’s fingers, forward and away.
She'd been traveling with the migrating pod tonight, seeking peace in the nighttime world. Until the storm blew up, she’d been able to look up and see every star, the light of the moon reflected by the floating plankton. In the shadows of the coral reefs, the fish slept, their bodies swaying in the current. Yes, the ocean had its own rhythm, an echoing, pulsing murmur, but something was different about it now, almost as if it had paused just like Anna, ear cocked for something that wasn’t quite right.
The clouds had blown in swiftly, thickening around the moon and then covering the pale orb, casting their shadows on the sea as the flat panel of it built into a moving panorama of turbulent waves, rain drops striking so fast and hard they stippled the flow. Though she’d sought tranquility tonight, Anna had to admit the ocean now reflected more of her true mood.
Of course, the sea was ever moving and changing, unlike her relationship with her own kind. She wondered that anyone sought the company of mermaids, then chided herself for the uncharitable thought. But by the Goddess, she didn’t go to the palace that often. Was it too much to ask her cousins not to be so insular and self-centered? She’d just wanted to see them, and they acted like they wanted her gone within minutes of her arrival.
Maybe she should have phrased it differently. Hello, all. I’m visiting because I’ll be dead in eleven months. Just thought I’d let you know I’ll miss you.
But she wouldn’t, would she? She missed what they’d never given her, and she’d hoped for one fleeting moment of that, now that her time was getting short.
She wouldn’t regret tying their hair in knots while they slept before she slipped away. Or pressing her hand and forehead for one long moment against the solid door to Neptune’s throne room.
At another resonant clap of thunder, she turned, glad for the distraction from her disturbing thoughts. No, something did feel odd, as if the plates had shifted, sending a seismic wave through the water like a startling pulse of pressure. Surely the whales had detected it?
When Anna saw the whale’s mate holding back, testing their surroundings as she’d been doing, she knew he had sensed the strangeness as well. No wonder the pod was moving at night. She’d thought it unusual, but until now they’d seemed so placid, unhurried. But whales tended to anticipate things. The mother must be moving the baby to safety while her mate guarded her back. She wondered what it would be like to have someone like that.
Oh, Great Lady, she did not want to think about that, either. She was alone. She would always be alone. It was time to make peace with it, with all of it. And really, she had been fine for all these years, knowing. It was just that now, there was nothing—
She cried out as an object shot down through the water before her, seizing her in the turbulence. When something slashed against her hand, she convulsively closed her fingers on it as she was somersaulted backward. Though a somersault suggested a circular pattern, predictable in its track, she was twisted, upended and thrown while the sea boiled and heaved as if the projectile had been a bullet striking the ocean’s heart.
Ramming into a coral reef, she was punctured by the sharp edges, then the wake seized her and dragged her body along the coral, pulling several scales loose from her sensitive tail. Her left tail fin was spliced, wresting a full scream from her.
When the wave passed and she was floating clear, a fine mist of her own blood swirled about her like the inky passing of a squid. Trembling, Anna saw she still held what she’d reflexively clutched, the blood from her hand flowing around it.
It was a feather.
But not just any feather. She forced herself to keep her wits about her and hold onto it, for it was obvious this did not belong to a seagull or swan haplessly plunging to earth. It had an iridescent milky gleam, with a blue aura that shone even though it was detached from its owner. She swallowed, her eyes wide, her scrapes forgotten as she realized what it must be.
An angel’s feather.
There were fanciful things said of angels. Like how a merchild might see one at night, winging through the sky like a shooting star. If that should happen, the child should only chance a look and then duck her head, make her wish. If one had the remarkable experience of being in the presence of an angel, speaking was forbidden, unless the angel commanded it. Otherwise, the tongue would simply disintegrate in your presumptuous throat.
An angel was the highest echelon after the Goddess Herself, doing Her will. Lords of the air, the skies, even the earth and water. Nothing limited them but the Lady. They could be agents of destruction or life, depending on Her will, reapers or saviors.
Humans were the only species that treated the existence of angels as belief instead of fact. It was grimly amusing, how many real things humans considered myth or wishful thinking. Or nightmares. No one knew why the Deity allowed humans to exist in such childish ignorance of what the rest of them knew. Though Anna, who was as much a part of the human world as that of the merpeople, had her theories.
While she knew angels existed, she might have scoffed at some of the stories, for no one she knew had interacted with one in any significant way for decades, but her great-aunt, Neptune’s sister had been saved by an angel. It was still one of the most vivid memories of the old merwoman’s life, though it had happened when she was little more than a child. Trapped in a lost shrimp net, she’d fallen into the Abyss, a series of reefs and caverns that went down so far no one knew how deep they were. Currents had taken her into the caverns, tumbling her over and over. She’d fought the net until, exhausted, resigned to her own death, for the more she struggled, the deeper into the tunnels she was carried.
Then she’d found herself in a place of fire. Heat, far below where heat existed in the ocean. Instead of dying by fire, Aunt Judith, or Jude as they all called her, had been untangled and led out of the place by an angel. He’d been so beautiful that whenever she remembered him, she cried at the memory. Jude had been blind ever since, a sea creature dependent on others to be her eyes. While she thought the angel had taken her sight to keep her from coming back, she bore him no ill will for it.
“He cut himself when he helped free me from the net. I remember his blood was blue, like the sky…”
The feather Anna held was stained with that blue. The water could not dislodge the fluid, as if the feather refused to release an intrinsic part of itself, realizing its surroundings were not where it belonged.
Perhaps the blood was simply from where the feather had gotten pulled out. Though thinking of an angel being plucked like a chicken seemed almost…sacrilegious. But they weren’t gods. Just incredibly powerful beings compared to everyone else, like the whales to plankton. But they could be harmed, couldn’t they?
She was sure that was a thought that most…no, no mermaid had ever had. Underscoring yet another reason why she was out here by herself.
What if the sudden storm above was one of the battles between angels and the Dark Ones? Everyone knew they were happening more frequently of late, creating violent weather patterns that made her glad she could seek the shelter of the ocean depths.
Yes, angels were beings of terrible power. Their ways were a mystery, but they were essential to the balance and protection of everything. Anna hesitated, watching the track of bubbles from the unknown missile settle, disperse, while the ocean still heaved uneasily.
No, she should follow the whales. Stay out of this. Whatever this was.
Then she saw the wing.
Except for the ethereal glow, she might have thought it a manta ray, the lazy flow of its wings rippling like a blanket dropped into the water, or the long strands of her vain cousins’ hair, moving like thick ribbons of silken seaweed.
But it was turning in uneven circles, heading down, down. It had the same blue fluid not only clinging to it, but drifting around it in a way that reminded her of how her own blood had clouded at the coral reef. Only, an angel’s blood simply made the wing more beautiful, colors of sky and moonlight together, pieces of the firmament severed and drifting in her world.
She was swimming toward it before she could think of the wisdom of doing so. As she did, she realized she was by herself. A glance showed all other sea life had vacated the area. It was as if she’d found herself in a quiet oceanic chamber where she faced a challenge that called to her alone.
She caught the wing in her arms as it came down. It startled her, for it had such substance, a weight that started to take her down with it. It felt limblike, the arch and spine covered with layer upon layer of feathers. The feathers tickled her bare back, drifted over her breasts, the line of her bare stomach, the nip of her waist. As she turned with it, bemused, the elongated tip curved around her hip. As if the wing were holding her, as much as she was holding it.
She realized then she was warm. Not a warmth caused by temperature–this sensation came from the inside. It called up a vision of strength, protection. A sense of…connection, making her acutely aware of the loneliness she always carried within her, like a vital but despised essential organ. The warmth helped soothe it, the feathers whispering over her cheek and her lips like a lover’s regard. Understanding, acceptance, love. And more than that.
Her mouth suddenly felt needy for something…a kiss, the heat of another’s mouth. Firm lips on hers, demanding pressure, coaxing hers open, filling her. It was a startling and yet languorous yearning, like the first press of a lover’s body. Not that she had much knowledge of such things, but this sensation made her feel as if she did, and her fingers curled into the feathers, holding them as she would a man’s hair. Was it her imagination, or did the curve of the wing where the bone held its shape feel like an arm, drawing her closer?
It must be the power of that incandescent light, the magical heat of it. She realized abruptly she was sinking with the wing, had been the whole time she was experiencing that heady feeling that seemed to make her aware of all the parts of herself that could stir a lover. Her mouth, her throat, her grasping fingers, the undulation of her hips…
Even as the wave of sensations amazed and confused her, a tingling sense of unease penetrated them, warning her that the pleasurable light was struggling, fading somehow.
There was also a definite urgency to its downward motion that couldn’t be explained by the weight of waterlogged feathers, mainly because they did not appear waterlogged at all, the feathers floating as easily as the tendrils of her own hair. And didn’t birds—or birdlike creatures—have hollow, nearly weightless bones?
The wing had maneuvered her off the white sand bottom of the nearest shelf, down to another thirty feet below, then to a finger seventy feet below that. From here, she could see one more shelf and then the ocean tipped off into a much deeper cavern, so deep she was started out of her reverie by a sense of vertigo. While she could see the wall of coral, covered with tube sponges and sea fans, below that, things became much murkier, until it went into complete black, where the light from above wouldn’t penetrate, and the water grew far, far colder, no reassuring whorls of warmth. They were over the Abyss.
The wing had seduced her like a siren, and sea creatures knew all about the danger of sirens.
Wriggling out of its grasp, she leaped away from it. Because of her sudden surge of apprehension, she whipped around, half expecting pursuit.
It did appear to hesitate, but she told herself it was just the waters she’d stirred, holding it in a momentary vortex. When it drifted down and landed on an outcropping of coral, it began to slide, tumble toward the edge of the Abyss. As it drifted in that direction, a hunger grew in her heart she couldn’t explain. A need not only to grasp it in her hands again, but the creature to whom it belonged.
The sonorous call reverberated through the waters, the whales signaling one another, the message picked up and carried by a school of fish that exploded out of the edge of the pit and cut past her on all sides.
The instinctive spear of terror through her vitals made her look up. She couldn’t see anything, but somewhere above her, she sensed dark, shifting…monsters. There. Red lights, glowing at a distance like signal lights from boats. Red eyes, a color she shouldn’t be able to distinguish at this depth unless it belonged to something that contravened natural law.
Every creature had a honed fight-or-flight sense, necessary to live in a world governed by survival of the fittest. But this was more than the alarm caused by a predator’s impersonal hunger closing in on her. This was personal, creeping into the marrow of her bones, a dark, anxious poison spreading out from her internal organs. Even as she was able to identify that the intent was to paralyze her with her own fear, she could not seem to counter it, which made it even more terrifying.
Leave him… You cannot help him… No concern of yours… He cares nothing for your pathetic kind…
Dark Ones. The enemies of the angels, of every life form. The power of the compulsion was overwhelming, and it was not a single voice, but many, a malevolent force. As she struggled against it, she managed to throw up a weak protection spell, enough to give herself the space to realize they were not targeting her specifically, but any creature in range that might be giving their target aid.
She couldn’t stand against Dark Ones. And she knew nothing of the battles angels fought. Why should she defy the will of that voice of darkness?
As Anna watched the wing make its tumble, she realized it was being drawn to its master, like an innocent child betraying its parent. It was just an amorphous glow now, falling into darkness, like a candle being extinguished. The darkness of the Abyss was total. Final. It would swallow it.
The owner of that wing was unprotected, wounded. She was as sure of that as she was that much of the fear battering her senses was real, not just the magical effect of his pursuers.
Abruptly she shot forward, using the powerful propulsion of her midnight blue tail to send her over the edge and arrowing down into the Abyss. Seizing the floating wing, she increased the speed of its descent, taking it down, herself with it.
Take me to your master. We must save him if we can.