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A.O. Esther: Lost Souls (Shattered Glories Book 1)

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In the wars that rage between Heaven and Hell the greatest battles of all are waged within the heart…

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The Encounter

Can an angel die at the hands of evil?

…even through the curtain of pouring rain I could clearly see the eight tails of the flaming scourge lash out towards me with mind-bending speed, slicing through the air. I was not afraid, since I had no idea of what was about to happen to me, but I suspected it would hurt. What was pain like? I could not begin to imagine. In the world where I had come from pain was an unknown, like suffering, doubt, sorrow or fear. But by descending, I had accepted everything associated with being mortal, so I knew that I would soon experience what I had only read about in the Akashic Records.

I squeezed my lips together and felt their stretched skin crack. Am I really so fragile? flashed through my mind as I tasted my own blood curiously. But I had no time for reflection – I had to protect my new, wingless body. I gripped my long Celestial Sword tightly in front of me. Set with moonstones and silver flowers, it radiated a pure white light. I waited for the tails of the whip to reach me, seething like a fiery snake, so that I could parry their blows. I put my faith in the strength given me by God and my determination to stand my ground, even here on Earth.

The force of the blow laid me out flat. The shock took my breath away. The skin on my thighs and arms split as easily as a thin membrane, and my clothes were immediately dyed red. At first I felt nothing, but the throbbing pain and burning anguish that followed hit me like a raging storm. A warm liquid flowed down my body, and when I lifted my head dizzily I saw that it was my own blood. My sword lay abandoned in the mud about fifty feet away, broken in two, its white glow swallowed by thick soot.

Agony tore at my every nerve, becoming unbearable. I could hardly see through the pouring rain and the salt water streaming from my eyes. It took me a few seconds to realise that for the first time in my life I was crying; the rivulets of water were my tears.

Now I was afraid. Terrified, I screamed sharply as my bleeding wounds burst into flame. It felt like my body was going to fall to pieces from the torment. The world started swimming around me, the air was sucked from my lungs. Meanwhile, the scourge raised itself once more into the air and, though I saw its flaming tongues fill the starry sky like radiant bands of light, the next moment everything went black.

I was floating delicately and felt nothing but peace. Everything around me had vanished. The rain-soaked walls of the city were replaced by blossoming fields and gentle slopes. I was walking in an endless sea of flowers, swaying softly and scented like honeydew. I didn’t use my wings – I was in the precious fields of my childhood and I didn’t want to glide over them. The sky was orange, the discs of eight red suns bathing the horizon in enchanting light, their warm rays caressing my upturned face.

was wearing a long, snow-white dress, held together by a silk band at the bosom. I could feel the spring breeze playfully catching the golden hair that fell down to my waist, and I was happy because I knew that I was home at last. I stroked the heads of the rainbow-coloured flowers lightly bending before me and smiled when I heard them chime at my touch. As I grew close to home the flowers started thinning out, to be replaced by the emerald-green path that led to the White Woods. My heart skipped happily as I felt the silky pads of moss underfoot, the ones that glow in the dark. As I spotted the ancient trees glimmering in their mystical light, I lifted my long skirts and picked up my pace. Breaking into an easy run, I had almost reached the first one when its long, white branches that bent right down to the ground shuddered and from behind them stepped a tall figure in a black cowl.

At once I recognised grave danger. Something was very wrong. Evil could not penetrate here, for God’s special garden was invisible to the Dark Angels. I was rooted to the spot, I had no strength to flee. I stared fixedly at the figure in black. Suddenly, a puff of air lifted the edge of his robes to reveal an enormous sword inlaid with onyx and the whip fastened to his side, sparkling with extraordinary iridescence. He stepped forward, until only a single step separated us full of confidence, as I looked on petrified,. Then he slowly drew back his hood. It was Elijah, head of the Dark Angels, dispensing justice with his scourge. I had read so much about him and heard even more evil spoken. His face, like the faces of the ancient gods framed by raven-black hair, was more handsome than any I had ever seen before, although the diamond-blue irises of his eyes glinted cold as ice. He was tall and strong, a hardened warrior; the sight of him was bewitching. I could not take my eyes off him, even though I knew that he was not one of us and had no business in this place. It was rumoured that he had gone over to the other side. I knew this only through rumour, but I knew enough to avoid him.

He’s come to kill me I thought and tried to run, but my legs would not obey my will. His gloved hand reached out towards me and I gathered all my strength to scream, but not a sound came out. I stared, horrified, but as the Dark Angel leaned over me, his face became less and less distinct, until once more everything went black.

Moments later I found myself back in the rain-soaked city. Semi-conscious, but even so I noticed that I was no longer lying on the cold stone and that my wounds were no longer burning with the torturous pain of a few minutes before.

Someone is holding me in their arms, I thought.
Someone for whom my body is as light as a feather.
Someone I don’t know.

I tried to open my eyes, but could not. The black waves undulating in my consciousness seized me again and again; all at once I was swimming and floating in a vacuum free of pain and fear. Deep within I suspected that this was probably only a temporary state, but my mind did not want to let go of this sense of peace.

Then I smelled something that reminded me of someone. Someone I was sure I knew. I sifted through the ocean of my memory. Something seemed to suggest that it was the smell of a man.

The smell of a very handsome man, a man in a black cowl…

I awoke. The first thing I saw was a handsome stranger. He was leaning over me and I luxuriated in his cool, radiantly blue eyes, glittering like diamonds.

How could someone be so perfect?

Drops of water glistened on his dark hair. There was a small dimple on his chin, covered with light stubble that lent his otherwise stern face a boyish attitude. I realised I was losing myself in his gaze.

Why is he looking at me like this?
And why am I not standing on my own two legs?

As if he had heard my silent questions, he gently set me down on the ground and reached his left arm around my waist, as though afraid I might faint at any moment. I trembled at his touch, and for a moment my knees wobbled so that he immediately clasped me to him. He put his arm tight around me, while with his other hand he brushed the rain-soaked hair off my face.

“How do you feel?” he asked and looked deep into my eyes.

I could hardly stand and had no idea what I was doing there.

“Awful,” I replied honestly. “Everything hurts and I feel dizzy.”

"You lost a lot of blood,” he said, leaning down and running his hands carefully along my wounds, which made me double over with pain.

“Sorry!” he said. “I have to see how your wounds are healing.”

Stunned, I followed his gaze. My stomach turned at the sight of the dark lacerations all over my body. A cold sweat ran across my brow, while the pain sweeping my nerves almost brought me to my knees.

“I’m going to take you away from here,” he said determinedly and grabbed me by the arm. When I did not move, he added: “Don’t be afraid, I won’t hurt you.”

Why would he say that? Why should I be afraid?

“I…” I faltered, “I feel terrible.”

“I know.”

He looked at me patiently, his face unflinching, and started to pull me gently after him.

“We have to go. Let’s not waste any more time!”

“Who are you?” I asked in a daze and tried to remember where I had seen that face before.

At first he did not reply.

“Who I am is not important right now,” he said at last with measured politeness, although the corners of his mouth hid the traces of a smile.

“What happened? Why can’t I remember anything?” I asked.

“I’ll explain everything, but we have to get to safety so that I can see to your wounds.” He glanced stealthily around, as if afraid that we were being watched.

“Where are we?” I persisted.

“In the dark forest of Umbra, just outside the city of Spero. Now please can we go?”

The impatience in his voice made me curious. My mind was searching feverishly for my last memories while I examined my saviour’s face and dark clothes.

“You’re not one of us,” I told him vaguely, although I did not know exactly what I meant by that.

“Indeed,” he replied coldly.

“Then…” I began, but at that moment it began to rain again and the unexpected cold shower drowned my words.

I was startled fully awake.

Suddenly it became clear. Dozens of memories played out before me and it all started to make sense: the beggar whose life I had saved… the appearance of the Dark Angels… the fiery scourge cutting through the dark night… then the pain and suffering following its blows… the taste of my tears mixed with blood, and the handsome stranger who was so cruel to me… My lips opened to scream at the shocking realisation, but with a single movement he clasped his hand over my mouth and leant very close to me.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” he said in a steely voice that would brook no opposition, then looked at me expectantly as if trying to decide whether he’d been forceful enough.

I trembled at this unexpected reaction. I swallowed hard, fear already creeping into my bones. I nodded and he took his hand away. A red mist clouded my mind as I understood that one of my own people had very nearly drained the life out of me.

“Elijah!” I cried out. “How could you do this to me?!”

“Don’t be so hypocritical. Down here we’re enemies,” he answered coldly.

“You could have killed me!”

“It’s your own fault,” he retorted. “Why did you come at me with a Celestial Sword?”

“I had to protect those people!” I shouted, my face flushed.

“No-one asked you to,” he shrugged. “You lot ought to let us get on with things, but you always interfere in everything. The people you’re so vehemently defending aren’t nearly as good as you think they are. Not to mention those false Prophets. Most of them belong in hell, you’ll see for yourself.”

“Belong in hell?” I asked incredulously, becoming more and more annoyed by his arrogance. “Where does that leave you? There’s more blood on your hands than on anyone’s down here on Earth. How can you be so cruel?”

He laughed bitterly.

“Cruel? I am how I must be. I am the way this world deserves me to be.”

Something broke within me at the cynicism of his words and – heedless of the obvious difference in our physical strength – I rushed at him.

“Did I deserve this?” I screamed, my face a deep red, gesturing wildly at my wounds. I started hitting him with my fists with all my might. “I arrived here innocent and you almost killed me!”

He stood there like a marble statue. He hardly even noticed my pathetic blows , but at last he moved. Delicately, he grabbed my flailing arms and held them behind my back, then drew me closer to him.

“I had no choice!” he told me, looking deep into my eyes. His gaze wandered slowly down to my lips. He released me abruptly and backed away a few steps. “Fagus and Bardo were with me. When they saw your sword, which could have harmed us, they wanted blood. Your blood.”

He looked into the distance then turned his back on me. The moonlight silhouetted his muscular frame sharply, but even so I could see him cross his arms over his wide chest.

“There are many hunting for you, and they’ve already got some of your comrades. If it hadn’t been me you met…” he fell silent for a moment, “you may not be alive right now.”

I knew he was right, but I was still incapable of thanking him for saving my life. I was too irritated by his smug self-confidence. Instead, I asked about the others.

“Why are you hunting us?”

“Why are you fighting us?” he countered. “Why do you lot have to be everywhere?”

“We protect the good, you know that!”

“And who, exactly, is good dear Sophiel?” he asked, though the question was rhetorical, since I knew he was not interested in my answer.

“How do you even know my name?” I backed off in surprise.

“Oh, news of the newly descended angels travels fast,” he replied with icy mockery. “What’s more, you came at us with a Celestial weapon. Tell me, how many of those have they made in the White Woods?

“None of your business!” I snapped back. Then continued mockingly myself, “Why, is your scourge any kinder?”

“There are those to whom it can be kind…” he looked at me with a curious smile. “But it shows my enemies no mercy.”

“It’s a sad state of affairs that you now consider your own brothers your enemies,” I remarked quietly, and could see that I had got to him.

“The Earth is not their rightful sphere,” he snapped angrily. “What’s more, it’s they who interfere again and again in our affairs, without being asked. They deserve to suffer! At least behind bars we can keep an eye on them – until the end of days.”

“So that’s why you didn’t kill me?” I asked in a faltering voice, hardly able to swallow from the lump in my throat. “Is that what you intend to do to me? Make me a prisoner forever?”

Elijah did not reply, and his ominous silence frightened me . He took a few steps towards the path that snaked behind us, and it seemed he was listening to the noises coming faintly from the distance.

My heart was beating faster and faster, my muscles contracted, ready to jump. I realised that my eyes were scanning the depths of the wilderness, looking for possible escape routes. My brain was working feverishly.

Could I make it into the forest before he caught me?

I knew that if I spent too long thinking about it, I would never do it. At the same time, I could not stand idly by while my destiny put such an unusual and tragic fork in the winding road of my life – a road that even I could not see clearly. Ignoring the pain tearing at my body, I collected all my strength and, in a heartbeat, sprang into the dark forest.

Even though it was probably only a matter of minutes, it felt like I had been running for hours. Sweat was pouring off me, my lungs were burning and I was gulping for air. Branches slapped my face and several times I fell amongst the damp leaves, sometimes sliding yards down the steeper hillsides. I tried not to make a sound, but even so I cried out several times in pain and could hardly restrain the sobbing that caught at my throat and threatened to tear my insides apart. I was terrified of what would happen if Elijah caught up with me and did something in anger that he might later regret. I had witnessed his enormous strength

Thorns tore at my mud-spattered wounds and I thought I would faint from the agony. I ran on, sobbing quietly, and went deeper and deeper into the interior of the wood. I could not see the path so there was a good chance I was going in the wrong direction, but I tried to orient my steps by the intermittent light of the moon. I hoped that soon I would stumble upon some help. My whole body throbbed and I sprained one of my ankles, but hurried on, limping. I fell again and hit my head hard on something. When I touched my forehead my hand came away covered in blood. I knew that I was in serious trouble. Short of a miracle, my doom, the Dark Angel, as cruel as he was handsome, would soon find me.

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