Book II of the Daughters of Arianne Series
(can read as standalone)
Released February 2009
Mina is Dark Spawn, half-mermaid, half Dark One. A sea witch who lives in the shadows, she is shunned by the merpeople. She seeks no friendships, however, no lasting relationships. Every day is about surviving, fighting the call of the dark blood within her, which demands she submit her ever-increasing powers to their cause. But Mina submits to no one. Until she meets David.
At thirty, David is one of the youngest angels in the Dark Legion, the angelic host dedicated to eliminating Dark Ones. Unlike many of his fellow angels who feel Mina’s death is inevitable, he believes her power can be used for good. When he entreats his commander to be assigned as her guardian against the Dark Ones, he also finds himself cast in the reluctant role of her executioner, if she turns to their cause.
The only problem is he is falling in love with the prickly sea witch. Which means he might risk the universe itself to turn her away from the darkness, and into his arms.
© Copyright 2008 - All Rights Reserved
“She doesn’t need protection,” Marcellus pronounced. Despite the fact most born angels only had a solid black pupil, no hint of white sclera or colored iris, there was no mistaking the murderous intent in the captain’s narrowed dark gaze. “She needs a cage. Manacles. Throw in a gag for good measure.”
Affront accompanied every ripple of muscle and sinew as he stretched out what should have been two impressive wings. Marcellus’s feathers were a glossy green so dark as to be almost black, except for the iridescent shimmer of color, caught by the beams of sunlight filtering in through the Citadel’s arched open windows. One wing still displayed the plumage. The other was now leathery black and vestigial. On closer inspection, it was obvious it had been transformed into a bat’s wing.
David had halted respectfully at the doorway to the main hall, but at Jonah’s glance, he took a step in. He was smart enough to know not to interrupt an audience between the Prime Legion Commander and one of his upper echelon captains. But the wing was flapping back and forth in an uncontrolled manner, as if it had a mind of its own and was trying to free itself from Marcellus’s back by flagellation.
“At least she changed it to a fruit bat’s wing,” David ventured. “That’s the largest bat species in the world. The hog-nosed bat is only about 3 centimeters long.”
From Jonah’s searing look, David suspected his Commander knew he wasn’t attempting to be helpful. If truth be known, he was hoping to instigate.
Marcellus, however, ignored him. “Raphael said he would fix it when he stopped laughing. Which meant I should come back after the next cycle of the moon.”
Jonas’s lips twitched. “Raphael does tend to view life through a more comical eye than most of us.”
“Well, perhaps that’s because he hasn’t had to stand over the bodies of the four angels that have been killed in this pointless effort so far. Since unfortunately what she did to them was beyond his healing skills.”
“You can’t blame her for that,” David protested.
“David.” Jonah sent him more than a searing look this time. “You’re early, which I expect was deliberate. So if you don’t stop speaking without leave, I’ll send you down to the training field until I’m ready for you.”
Marcellus leveled a hard glance at the young lieutenant to reinforce the message, then shifted it back to the Commander. “Let them have her. It’s no more than she deserves. She’s one of them anyway, isn’t she? She’s not of the Goddess’s creation, that’s for certain.”
The amusement that had been flickering through Jonah’s gaze during his captain’s tirade had died away at his reference to the four they’d lost. Now there was a trace of steel there his angels all knew, well enough that Marcellus appeared to recall himself.
“Ah, by the bloody maze of Hell, Jonah. I don’t mean any disrespect, but none of us believe she came to your mate’s aid last month to save you. The witch is bound by that curse to protect the descendants of Ariel. If it weren’t for that, she’d have turned on Anna, too.”
David held his tongue with effort, but couldn’t stop his fingers from closing into fists at his sides. From Jonah’s sharp glance, he knew he’d caught it, and he tried to make himself relax. It was hard, however, for Marcellus hadn’t run out of steam yet.
“There’s never been a Dark Spawn who survived past five years old that didn’t turn into a full Dark One in the end.” The wing slapped against his chest as if underscoring his point. “If the Dark Ones had to take some of ours, I wish to Goddess they’d taken her down with them. Then we’d be done with this.”
At his commander’s silence, Marcellus sighed. “I serve you, Jonah. You know this. But this is almost too much. I speak only the truth of it.”
Jonah studied him a long moment. Then he inclined his head. “Go see to your wing. I’m sure Raphael will fix it now. Tell him I have need of you for other duties in the morning and that will hasten him.”
David managed to stand without expression as Marcellus took his leave with a bow. On the way out, the captain cast an almost pitying look toward him. Like the way one would look at the village idiot, he reflected. Still, he managed to wait until Marcellus had winged off into the blue and white sky before he spoke. “So we just let them have her, like he said?”
“David, do me a favor. Shut up for a minute.” Jonah hoisted himself up on the sill of an arched open window and fitted his silver-white wings out to stretch them fully in the early morning air. As the breeze fluttered through the tips of his secondary feathers, he closed his eyes.
Outside the window was the illusion of a green valley, a silver ribbon of river, a rainbow stretched over the one and diving behind the other. The Citadel was a gathering place in the upper planes of the Firmament for the warrior class, where Jonah might gather with his captains and lieutenants to plan battle strategy. It was also an oasis of sorts, a place for the angels who regularly had to fight the Dark Ones to take their ease.
David went to a squat, traced the etchings on the floor tile with a finger. The design displayed a battalion of angels, fighting the various shapes that evil had taken over the many centuries. Three symbols marked the outer boundaries of the circle. Courage. Loyalty. Commitment. The Semper Fi of the Dark Legion.
“What’s your attachment to the witch, fledgling?”
David lifted his head to look at his commander. “I’m not sure I understand the question.”
“I’m fairly certain you do. Why do you champion her, David, when no one but you and I will?”
David straightened, feeling uncomfortable under the shrewd gaze of a born angel well over a millennium in age. Whereas he’d come from a human soul, and was only thirty years old. Barely a child to most of this company, but enough of a fighter he’d been made a lieutenant in Jonah’s front line battalion. Though it hadn’t been that which brought him here in the beginning.
Regardless of skills, most angels had to undergo myriad trainings before getting their first assignment. Learn about being watchers and messengers, or participate in the heavenly choirs. But from the moment he’d crossed the Veil, David had needed something to fight. Something to believe, a good-against-evil struggle with clear lines. What he’d wanted was the oblivion of eternal dust, not an afterlife.
He often suspected that was why he’d been placed under Jonah’s wing. The older angel had not only trained him to fight. He’d broken David down, torn him open to let the rage and bitterness bleed out, built him up when despair would have taken him. Taken care of him until he could take care of himself.
So he loved Jonah. He couldn’t think of him as a father—too many horrible memories attendant to that—but he could think of him as a brother. A friend, and the commander he respected more than any other.
Last month, he’d had the honor of helping to rescue Jonah from an army of Dark Ones. Or rather, David helped Anna and Mina rescue him. Because of the things he’d seen the witch do, he sure as hell wasn’t going to let Marcellus talk Jonah into abandoning Mina.
“It isn’t the curse,” he insisted. “When I first found her, and thought she was involved in your disappearance, I hurt her to get information.” He didn’t like the memory, that struggle on the sand, his daggers punching into her flesh to pin her to the ground, her cry of pain, but he faced it now. “It didn’t matter. She wouldn’t give you up. That didn’t have anything to do with Anna, I know it.”
Of course, from what he knew of Mina, she was contrary enough to hold her tongue just because someone wanted her to talk, regardless of the subject. As he glanced back down, he caught Jonah’s arch look, telling him the older angel had just had the same thought. But the wry amusement in his expression was heartening.
Jonah didn’t give in to spontaneous bursts of humor, but David had seen more moments like that since he’d taken a mate. Anna. The daughter of Ariel, a mermaid of royal blood. A young mermaid to whom laughter and joy was as easy as breathing. She believed in Mina, too.
David pointed to the floor. “From what I’ve seen, Mina has all of these qualities. Courage, loyalty and a tremendous amount of commitment.”
“We just don’t know to what. Or who.” Jonah studied the ceiling, which, true to the tastes of the wholly male population that frequented these halls, depicted a lush and sensual scene of young women bathing in a variety of poses. “She doesn’t seem to want our protection, any more than my angels want to protect her.”
“Yet four have died because of the necessity of providing her protection, attacks she couldn’t have handled herself.”
“Well, according to her conversation with my mate, she could have. They simply ‘got in the way’.” His expression darkening, Jonah turned so his feet were propped against the opposite side of the window frame and one wing was curved under his body.
“Where is she now?” David ventured.
“We don’t know. Which is why I called you. You’re the only one with a blood link to her.”
“Oh.” At David’s expression, Jonah’s brow rose.
“Why did you think I called you?”
A muscle flexed in David’s jaw. “Let me protect her, Jonah. Before you say no, that I’m too inexperienced, hear me out at least.”
Jonah inclined his head. “You’re always welcome to speak freely, David, you know that. Before I say no.”
David’s eyes narrowed. “A whole detail is an easier target to find than one angel and one—”
Jonah shot him a look as David lifted his chin. “She doesn’t deserve what Marcellus said about her.”
“David, you’re still close enough to your human life to think that morality is relative, shades of gray. This Legion has fought Dark Ones since before the skies were created. Not a one of my angels has ever met a Dark Spawn worth saving. They’re either wholly evil, the true children of their sires, or so physically deformed they don’t survive. She is Dark Spawn, their child. Daughter of a mermaid, for certain, but that mermaid was a sea witch, from a line of sea witches who were known to embrace the Darkness far more often than the Light. And her personality does nothing to convince them she’s different,” he added dryly.
“Everyone in this Legion has a preconceived notion of Dark Spawns, no room for the possibility of a rare exception—”
“Because there’s never been one.”
“That’s why they’re called exceptions,” David argued. “I’m not saying there’s not darkness to her. But no one, not even Marcellus, can deny there’s something different about her. Maybe she can protect herself and just needs someone to watch her back. But if they do take her, they’ll have to go through me, and you’ll only have lost one of many lieutenants and a Dark Spawn.”
“You’re not listening. Typical young idiot.” Jonah shook his head as David opened his mouth again. “I don’t like her, David. But I love you well, you know this. You’re baiting me, and I’m likely to bash your head in for it.”
David’s lips twisted. “You and Luc are always threatening me with bodily harm and neither of you ever follows through.”
“Would you like us to?”
“No.” David put up both hands in surrender, allowing a small smile. “Training under you is punishment enough. But Jonah, let me do this. I’ve felt a connection to her from the beginning. I think it should be me. Anna senses it too, you know it.”
Jonah rolled his eyes, pushed off of the window to stand again. “She’s been badgering me for a week about it. Though her methods are far more persuasive.”
“We’ve been protecting Mina without trying to understand her. I think that’s the key to keeping her safe. Anna said even she wasn’t able to get very close to her. But she knows more than anyone about her.”
“So that’s why you’ve been spending so much time with her. I was beginning to wonder if my young lieutenant had a crush on my mate.”
That brought David up short. “My lord, I wouldn’t… Couldn’t… I mean, Anna is beautiful and truly I love her. But not… I mean, I don’t love her…”
Jonah’s lips quirked and he waved a hand. Goddess, the boy was young. On earth, he might have been married by now, a father, but up here his age made him practically an infant to the others. He’d grown to manhood in the skies, and brought a rage so strong from his human life Jonah had at first wondered why the Lady had made him an angel, rather than simply reincarnating him into another soul to lance those boils in the earthly realms.
Then, underneath all that, he’d found the shock of a serene and steady soul, capable of a levelheaded calm far beyond his years. David was more than a capable fighter. Using his wits at all times, no matter how thick the fighting got, he came up with ways to defeat greater numbers in hand-to-hand that had earned him the respect of the captains and extra duty to teach his techniques. Plus, no one could match his artistry when fighting with two daggers. Jonah had let him stop carrying a sword into battle some time ago, when he realized the longer weapon was merely a hindrance to the young lieutenant.
But it was also in battle he still saw remnants of the darkness David had brought with him to the gates of Heaven. He preferred to be close to his enemy when he took him out, though Jonah knew his mortal history enough to suspect David wasn’t seeing a Dark One when he plunged his knife in for the killing blow.
When the lieutenant of his battalion fell, David took over the command, brought the battalion through a fight where they were outnumbered three to one. He’d served as acting lieutenant while Jonah looked for a replacement, but several battles after that, the Commander realized he’d already found him.
But on certain things, like this, Jonah still saw the boy. Perhaps, as much as he didn’t want to admit it, that was a strength in this situation. Maybe the witch, or rather Mina—he irritably capitulated in his mind to Anna’s exhortation to refer to her friend, such that she was, by her name—would do better with his least seasoned man, at least in matters dealing with females.
Anna had focused on other attributes David could bring to the protection detail, which had little to do with his intelligence and fighting skills. Though over a thousand years old, Jonah had discovered, with resigned amusement, he wasn’t exempt from the possessive fits of jealousy suffered by newlyweds of all species. When Anna had teased him about David’s handsome face and body, he’d retorted that he didn’t believe her prickly Dark Spawn friend even noticed such things.
“Oh, she notices,” Anna had said, the twinkle in her eye becoming more serious. “She definitely noticed David.”
There was no denying David was a striking man. All angels were, but human-born angels, unlike born angels, retained the human characteristics of the eye, complete with iris. David’s were a rich brown, and his hair was a pleasing complement of brown and chestnut streaks that fell to his shoulders, as most angels did unless they chose to trim it back. He had a tensile strength to him that Jonah could evaluate with a commander’s eye. The lad wasn’t overly bulky, but his shoulders had a good breadth for the knife work he did. The fine length of arms and legs were well-integrated with smooth, toned muscle.
He’d always liked the character in the boy’s face, even in the beginning, when he was delivered as little more than a train wreck in the vessel of a fourteen-year-old’s soul. Sharp bladed nose, well-cut chin and jaw line, high brow. Then there was his most impressive trait – his silence. David was serious, quiet, which made his sudden fierceness in the thick of battle so at odds with his contemplative nature and the occasional flicker of humor that could ease the occasional tensions among the men.
When he’d finally investigated other heavenly skills, it was found he was a deft musician, with impressive skills in magic wielding through the playing of instruments. But he’d been clear that his preference was staying on the front line, fighting the Dark Ones until a higher purpose appealed to him. Jonah was glad to have him there, though at times he had an equal desire to send him into the safer climate of composing music. He’d become very fond of the boy.
“If this witch gets you killed, I will not think well of her.”
“You don’t think well of her now.”
“True,” Jonah admitted. He also knew David’s idea had the sound of truth. While he didn’t have to like it, he wouldn’t send the boy in blind. “If I agree to your request, I need to be sure you can accept an understanding of the terms of it.”
David straightened. “I accept.”
“Young idiot,” Jonah repeated irritably. “Listen first. As much as I love Anna, there’s a larger reason we’re expending resources on protecting Mina. Over the Canyon, we saw evidence that the powers she can command are formidable. But from the energy I felt from her when the Dark Ones had me, I believe she’s only tapped into a tenth of her capabilities.”
David’s attention sharpened. “She was hiding her full range of power?”
“Anna said her mother died when she was seven years old and she’s been on her own ever since. She may lack training, confidence. A goal.” Jonah gave him a pointed look. “So far her goal appears to be survival. Much more might be possible if she has a greater aim.”
“And that worries you as much as it gives you a reason to protect her.”
“It worries me more than it gives me that reason to protect her,” Jonah warned. “Anna insists Mina’s heart is good. Much as I don’t wish to admit it, you’re right. Your connection with her might provide us valuable insight on whether or not she is an ally, an enemy, or”—he held up a hand at David’s expression—“could be used by our enemies.”
David’s eyes flashed. “So I could be the doorway to her death warrant.”
“If she taps that power and turns it to evil purpose, and you’re able to give us early warning of that, she’ll be the one to open that door. You’ll simply be the messenger.”
David went back to a squat on the tiles and stared at the design there. “Nothing’s ever easy here, is it? Never like the storybooks, where you can just ride in swinging the sword to save the day and the girl.”
“No. You know that as well as any of us.” Though Jonah regretted saying it, particularly when he saw David’s head bow, the pain that crossed his face. Moving across the room, he laid a hand on the young man’s shoulder, offering simple comfort for the unintentional prick at an old but nearly fatal wound. “Can you accept the task?”
“If we just leave her be, she might focus only on surviving and never grasp any potential, good or bad. Neutral.”
“When it comes to power, there is no neutral. If the Dark Ones take her, they will force the decision.”
“So we watch over her until she decides. If she makes the wrong decision, we kill her.” David rose, facing his commander. “I guess I thought there was another reason we were protecting her.”
“I’ve told you the reason this Legion must protect her. We serve the Goddess.” Jonah’s tone was sharp, all commander again, and David automatically shifted to respectful attention. “I’ve got no problem with your desire to protect her for her own value. But if I order you onto this detail, it will be because I’m certain you can focus beyond the swinging of your sword.”
David had the grace to flush and take a step back. “That’s not—”
“It is some of it. There’s no shame in wanting to protect a woman, David. And unlike Marcellus, I don’t wish any harm upon the girl, though I don’t deny I wish she was a problem we didn’t have.” His expression hardened. “But no matter the personal feelings any of us have—you, me, Marcellus or Anna—it doesn’t change the fact she has the power to be a strong ally for the Dark Ones. If she can become our ally instead, she’ll be a lot safer. That I can promise you.”
The Prime Legion Commander pinned him with his dark, direct gaze that could see through any lie, rationalization or half-truth. “So, will you be able to stay clear enough to make the right decision? Can you accept the responsibility that comes with her protection? For you to get the answer you want, I need the answer I want.”