The Rebel's Cause

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Chapter 4

The drive back was silent and awkward. It seemed Gabriel and Lailah were not only giving me the silent treatment but also each other. Soraya was the only neutral one that any of us would respond to however she’d decided not to speak as well, perhaps deciding it was best everyone had a moment to cool off.

Lailah was the first one out of the car when we reached the penthouse garage, clearly ready to be rid of us. Gabriel, Soraya, and I took the elevator up together, silenced by the awkward tension. As soon as the elevator dinged open at the penthouse, Soraya and I started walking the opposite direction of Gabriel. She obviously wanted to talk about what had transpired however she wasn’t going to have the opportunity to.

"Ava.”

Gabriel’s voice was cold and firm, leaving no room for argument. He hadn’t turned to look and see if I was following him, knowing full well I’d have to have a death wish not to. Soraya threw me a sympathetic look before walking off toward the kitchen, probably to pour a large glass of wine.

I hesitated before starting after Gabriel, giving myself a mental pep talk. I probably should have prepared a will the day I’d arrived here because there was a high possibility he was going to murder me. If he didn’t at least attempt to I was going to be very surprised.

The halls were empty as most of the Elioud were still out for the night and the lights were dim, the penthouse feeling very empty compared to the busy energy it usually had. Gabriel was a man on a mission. His room was at the far end of the hall, secluded and visited almost never by the other occupants of the penthouse. He was a private person. Even Lailah, from what I knew, hadn’t been there much. Maybe because this was where he kept the bodies of those who had defied him in the past.

Or maybe he just liked his privacy. Despite its absurdity, I was leaning toward the first option.

Gabriel jerked the door open and stormed in, still not turning to confirm I was following. He pulled off his suit jacket and tossed it on the bed, reaching up to loosen his tie as he walked up to the window at the far wall.

The room was very simple and yet so him. The walls were dark grey, the carpet a light grey, and the bed frame a deep mahogany. Dark abstract art was hung around the room but the largest piece hung above the bed. On the white canvas was a masculine face, drawn by frenzied thin black brush strokes. The pain in the painting hit me first and I knew I was here to argue with Gabe but I suddenly felt sad for him. I didn’t know his story but I had a feeling it explained the bottled up rage he was lugging around.

“Did you paint this?” I asked, though I knew the answer. I’d closed the door behind myself and was standing just in front of it with my hands clasped together.

“The night we went to get you, do you know what my first thought was?” He turned around, tossing the tie onto the mahogany desk to his left. “I couldn’t wait to have you on our team. Knowing what you’d done and what a valuable asset you were going to be, I was more than willing to help Makeda out for my own selfish reasons.”

The guilt was beginning to eat at me, but I knew I couldn’t speak yet. He was just getting started.

“From day one you’ve done everything possible to make me regret that decision.”

Ouch. That one hurt, much more than I’d thought it would.

He took a few steps forward, the anger blazing behind his eyes. “You could have gotten everyone killed tonight.”

“I know,” I said quietly.

“I don’t think you do. Not only did you risk your life, but you put everyone else in danger. I was told to protect you and I can’t do that if you defy me at every turn! Tonight was just one in a series of nights that have gone wrong. What the hell were you thinking?”

“I wasn’t. I just-”

“Was trying to do the right thing?” His grey eyes were blazing and his body language was extremely tense. He touched a hand to his forehead before dropping it. “You need to start talking and you need to do it now. Why did you intervene with that malevolent at the party? Who was he to you?”

He was really going to kill me now.

“I can’t tell you. I’m sorry.”

Wrong thing to say.

Gabriel advanced on me, closing the space to less than a foot between us. “Ava, I’m done with this. You either tell me now or you’re out of here. I won’t put anyone else in harm’s way because you’ve got some bullshit secret mission.”

“It’s not bullshit. I’m trying to protect someone I care about.”

“At the expense of the Elioud here? You have to stop being so reckless! It’s going to end up getting you killed and I can only watch you so much.”

The anger in me had been slowly building but now it was at the surface. He always knew which buttons to push and an explosion was imminent. “No one asked you to watch me! I’m not a child, Gabriel. I don’t need protecting and I sure as hell never asked for it. I’m not afraid to do this alone and being here makes me wish I was!”

My words fueled his fire and it was clear I’d touched a nerve. “Is that your end goal? To die alone? Because with the way you’re going I have no doubt that will happen. Here, we work as a team-”

“Screw the team!” I didn’t mean it but I was upset. I’d also begun to cry but they were angry tears. I was tired of having to defend myself every time I lifted a finger. “I never asked to be part of your team! They hate me anyway!”

“Because you act like you don’t need anyone!” He was now in my personal space. We both were in each other’s and he was yelling so hard the veins in his neck were protruding. His eyes were wide and his breathing was heavy. He was the most upset I’d ever seen him.

“I don’t!”

“As hard as it is to believe, people care about you! I can’t stand how much I care about you. It drives me insane. You drive me insane!”

“Well, the feeling is mutual!”

I wasn’t sure who moved first but one moment we were yelling and the next we were grabbing each other, our lips crashing together. The passion ignited immediately, an unexpected energy that had us clawing at one another, desperate and ravenous. I’d grabbed his shirt, his hands cupping my face as our lips moved in unison, rough in a way that suggested this was more than carnal desire.

This was a coping mechanism. A distraction.

And a darn good one at that.

I wrapped my arms around his neck and pulled him close, his arms responding immediately and wrapping around my waist. Our lips were practically molded together, breathing secondary to the goal at hand. His kisses were fierce and his hands were rough, fitting for his personality. My hands had a mind of their own, sliding down to grip his shirt and rip it open, buttons flying every which way. I pulled the shirt off, revealing a very toned physique underneath.

His abs alone were enough to make my knees weak.

His tan complexion was glowing in the artificial lighting, the various scars no doubt from years of rebellion covering sections of his abdomen, arms, and shoulders. I didn’t allow myself to dwell on it though, recapturing his lips as he reached around to slide down the zipper on my dress. In a moment it was on the floor around my feet, leaving me in my strapless black bra and black lace panties.

Gabriel’s lips danced down my neck, leaving shivers with every kiss. They kept going until before I knew it he was hoisting me up and my legs were wrapping themselves around his waist.

A little voice had begun to make itself known in the back of my mind, reminding me of one person: Gavin.

No, I needed this. I needed a distraction from my broken and distraught heart.

I tightened my arms around Gabriel’s neck as he walked us over to the bed, our lips continuing their passionate and unrelenting dance. He laid me down and crawled over me, his hand gripping my thigh as I pulled him down to deepen the kiss.

Unfortunately, my subconscious wasn’t going to let me enjoy this much longer. A heaviness in my chest was beginning to make itself known and before I knew it the tears were streaming down my cheeks again. I tried to hold them back but it was no use. My emotions refused to be held at bay any longer.

Gabriel had been kissing my neck but when he moved back to my lips he tasted the salt of my tears and pulled back. “Hey hey. Are you alright?”

I shook my head, my hands on his shoulders but my arms weak. “I’m sorry. I’m such a mess.”

“Don’t apologize.” He moved off me and sat on the edge of the bed, gently pulling me up.

I sat up and crossed my legs, facing him though I was embarrassed. The tears were flowing freely now and the guilty look in his eyes caused my own guilt to grow. “It’s not you.”

“I know...” He reached up to cup the side of my face, swiping away a tear with his thumb. His grey eyes were honest and kind. “He’s a lucky guy. I hope he knows it.”

My heart swelled with appreciation. I couldn’t keep my secret from him any longer. “I’ve been lying to you Gabe.”

“I was out of line before. You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to.”

“No, I have to.” Inhaling deeply, I reached for his free hand, taking a moment to collect myself. “Gavin is being held for insubordination and treason. His trial is tomorrow so Natalia, a fellow I knew at the house, came to me to ask for my help. We were hoping to find the angel who turned against them so we could prove Gavin’s innocence. That was why I wanted to get to the malevolent before you tonight. He would have known where Elyon was.”

Gabriel’s expression was unexpectedly calm, his other hand moving from my face to gently rest on my thigh. “And did you find out?”

“No...” And I wanted to scream. My one chance to save Gavin and I’d messed it up. “I don’t know what to do.” Here came the silent tears again. They were relentless.

Gabriel squeezed my hand, continuing to surprise me with this unusual compassion. “It’s not your fault. The fact that you’re willing to risk everything to protect him speaks volumes. You may not have gotten your answer but there’s still a chance the committee could go easy on him. If this is his first offense and he’s the upstanding guy he seems to be, they won’t throw the book at him. Tomorrow I can contact a few people and see what we can do. You should have come to me.”

I appreciated his willingness to help and it did alleviate some of the pressure to talk about it but the thought of coming to him before had never occurred to me. Not only was the situation strange but considering this love triangle I now found myself in I couldn’t have asked for his help with the man I loved. “Thank you but...you and I both know you wouldn’t have taken this lightly.”

He smirked. “I might have surprised you.”

He wasn’t wrong. I was glad I’d told him. It was hard being unable to confide in anyone. “I know.” I laced our fingers together, squeezing his hand. “I want you to know that this has nothing to do with my feelings for you. I just-”

“Love someone else,” he finished for me. “It’s fine. You don’t have to explain. I just wish I’d met you first.”

In a way I almost wished the same. Loving a guardian angel was not only difficult; it was also crazy. There was no future in it and yet the heart wants what it wants.

I smiled lightly at him then looked down at his scars. We were already opening up so maybe now was the time to ask about his past. “Stop me if I’m being too forward but...you obviously did this painting. What happened to you?”

He tensed, looking away. “It was a long time ago. I don’t think about it much anymore.”

His tone suggested he definitely did think about it a lot, maybe even every day, but hadn’t quite dealt with it. I didn’t want to push him so I changed the subject, hoping his wall wasn’t back up already. “This is probably a strange request but is it okay if I sleep here for a few hours? I’m afraid I might have a mental breakdown if I’m alone.”

“Stay as long as you need.”

His kindness was more than I deserved but I was grateful for it. At that moment I just needed to be comforted without judgement. Gabriel was the last person I expected to confide in but I was glad it was him.

We laid down and I snuggled up next to him, the two of us so exhausted from the night that we fell asleep almost immediately. The dreams, naturally, began as soon as I closed my eyes...

They started off innocent enough, the first one sending me on a journey through a forest, meeting relatives and friends along the way. It then warped into a dungeon, dragging me underground to a place riddled with malevolents and possessed. I soared through it as if flying, gliding down the hallways, banking left and right as I flew over the sinister beings. I reached the main room, a massive stone foyer where thousands of spirits and possessed were worshipping the being at the center.

Carter.

He glanced at me as I flew by, his red eyes sending a shiver down my spine as I soared up through the ceiling. Shooting toward the sky, the sun began to rise, it’s glow warming my face. I was so focused on the warmth of the sun I didn’t realize I’d flown up through the clouds and to a foreign world.

A city was now below me, glimmering white and exuding harmony and kinship. I knew this city was some place important but I didn’t know what it was. I had only moments to take in the view before I was being propelled at lightning speed to its center. I was flying through the walls of a massive white building and into a room full of what resembled prison cells. These cells however were the five star hotel version of cells on Earth. They were all white with marble floors, plenty of space, and windows to the outside world. I knew exactly where I was as soon as I got there, slowing to a stop before a particular cell at the very end of the hall.

The cell was spacious with room for a twin bed and desk. The white iron bar door was open however it’s prisoner was seated on the side of the bed. His head was in his hands, fingers curled into his auburn hair. He looked physically okay but it was clear he was mentally exhausted. He donned white pants and a white tunic, his feet bare. How long he had been sitting there, I didn’t know, but my heart lurched at the sight of him.

"Gavin,” I said, my voice barely above a whisper.

His head snapped up immediately, turning to me. The abruptness of the sight of his green eyes shocked me.

Could he see me?

He began to stand, staring me down. “Ava?”

He could!

But I was fading away. My vision was darkening.

No.

I soaked in as much of his eyes as I could, my heart plummeting as my vision closed in on itself.


I woke with a start and was confused for a moment, unsure of where I was. It took me a moment to realize I was still in Gabriel’s room, lying in his bed. I’d rolled over onto my side and he was on his side as well, his back to me. It was still dark so I assumed I had only slept a few hours. Being awake now though I realized I should probably head back to my room. I didn’t exactly want to do the walk of shame in front of a bunch of Elioud who already hated me and would certainly assume I was sleeping with their leader.

Moving slowly and carefully, I climbed out of the bed and searched for my dress. It was on the floor at the end of the bed, so I quickly slipped it on and grabbed my heels, treading softly to the door. Being careful to make as little noise as possible, I opened the door and slipped out into the hallway, shutting it behind me.

“Well, this is rich.”

I jumped, whipping around to face the source of the voice.

Lailah.

She was wearing a black silk and lace nightgown with a black silk robe and it seemed she had just arrived, possibly intent on knocking on the door.

“Nothing happened.” I wasn’t sure why I felt the need to say it but I wanted to calm the situation before it exploded unnecessarily.

“So, you’re just sneaking out of Gabe’s room because you had an innocent slumber party? I knew you weren’t who you said you were so this doesn’t surprise me. The last person left to defend you is Gabriel and even he can barely stand you so why wouldn’t you throw yourself at him?”

I didn’t want to allow her words to affect me. I wanted to be the bigger person. But it was hard to ignore the shortness of my breath and the ringing in my ears. She was trying to get a rise out of me and it was working. I wanted to remind myself that her anger was valid because if the situation were reversed and Gavin was involved I would have strangled them both by now. But I couldn’t focus on that. I was so tired of her attitude, the same attitude she’d had since day one. “You don’t know anything about me and you apparently don’t know Gabriel either.”

That struck a nerve. Her eyes narrowed, crossed arms falling rigid at her sides. Having no regard for the hour or sleeping occupants of the penthouse, her voice went up in volume. “Listen to me, you bitch. You mean nothing to him. Nothing. He’s using you because he figures he can get laid and get the rebellion some prominence once other groups know you’re with us. He doesn’t care about protecting you. He tolerates you because you’re useful and as soon as you’re not, he’ll get rid of you so don’t get too comfortable.”

My face was hot but I held back as much as I wanted to let loose. “I’m not stooping to your level, Lailah. Say what you want about me but Gabriel is a good person and wouldn’t use people for his own benefit.”

If my face was hot, hers was flaming, judging by how red it was becoming. “Why do you think you’re here and not with another rebel group? It’s not as a favor to Makeda. He specifically asked to take your sorry ass in to help our rebellion and give us power. Already other groups are looking to us for guidance. He doesn’t care about you. You’re a prop. A gimmick. Nothing more!”

The door opened behind me then and Gabriel stepped out, now wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants. His voice was furious as he whispered, “What the hell is going on?”

I didn’t want to look at him. Tears were beginning to form in my eyes and if I looked, the sight of his face would surely have me crying, something my pride wouldn’t allow in front of Lailah.

Lailah looked surprised and almost embarrassed for a moment. It only took another moment though for her to remember why we were arguing in the first place, her expression shifting to anger. ”Why is she leaving your room in the middle of the night? Explain that to me.”

“Lailah, enough. The entire house doesn’t need to hear whatever you’re upset about and that is between Ava and I.”

"Excuse me? You’re defending her over me?” Lailah looked ready to explode.

I wanted to run away but Gabriel was standing just beside me and I didn’t want him to think this conversation was upsetting me.

“I’m not defending anyone. Nothing happened so there’s nothing to be upset about.”

I knew I shouldn’t have been hurt but I was. It was something different hearing it from Lailah but coming from Gabriel...

“I want her gone. Tonight. I’ve had enough.”

Gabriel stepped forward, his shoulder brushing mine. “Lailah, I said stop.”

“No, Gabe! I’ve had enough! Did you sleep with her?” The last sentence had come out as a half whisper. As much as she was trying to control it, she was upset.

Gabriel was quiet for a moment. “Lailah...”

“You did, didn’t you?”

“No, Lail-”

“No, I’ve heard all I needed to hear. Go to hell. Both of you.” With that said, she stalked off, sparing us no glances.

I wasn’t sure of what to do but I needed to be alone. I was also reminded of the moment Gabriel and I had shared and realized I shouldn’t let this situation ruin how I saw him.

“Are you alright?”

The hallway was dark but as I turned to look at him I saw the apology in his eyes. “Don’t worry about it. I’m going to...head to my room now. Good night.”

He looked as though he wanted to say more but all that came out was “Okay...goodnight.”

The walk to my room couldn’t have passed quicker. It wasn’t far at all but shutting the door closed once I was inside felt as though I had put a much-needed barrier between my emotions and everything going on. I wanted to cry. I certainly needed to. But the tears wouldn’t come. I could only think of one thing in that moment.

I needed to get to Gavin.

Now.

My only option was through Natalia. I was going to go to her and demand she take me to him. If he was going to be tried tomorrow I wanted to be by his side. I didn’t care whether I was allowed. I was Elioud, part angel, and bonded with the energy forever. I knew I couldn’t be the first Elioud to attempt to go to...wherever I was going. Was it heaven? Or some sort of angelic city in the sky? None of the fellows had ever mentioned where they went when they weren’t on Earth. Perhaps to keep my curiosity from sending me there. Now I had no choice.

I wanted to go.

I grabbed a small black travel bag from the closet and began to pack only the essentials. I didn’t know how long I would be gone but I didn’t want to carry much with me. Judging by the way everything had been provided at the fellow mansion, I was sure it would be similar where I was going...if I was welcome.

Grabbing a pen and a sheet of paper from the bedside stand, I wrote a quick note to Gabriel. I mentioned nothing of where I was going, only that I had to go and I would be back and to not go looking for me. I was sure he would disregard the last part but it was no matter. Where I was going he couldn’t follow.

After showering, I dressed in black track pants, a slim black hoodie, a dark jean jacket, and black boots. Slinging the strap of the bag over my shoulder, I left the room.

The penthouse was still quiet. It was five in the morning, an hour until sunrise, so everyone was asleep. Sneaking out was going to be a breeze.

I was sure to walk with light steps as I made my way to the elevator, ensuring the sound wouldn’t echo through the hallways. I’d just reached it and the doors were opening when a voice spoke from behind me.

“Ava?”

Crap.

I turned around, racking my brain for an excuse as my eyes landed on Malek. “Hi.”

He was dressed in sweats and a t-shirt, holding a bottled water. I’d clearly run into him during his walk back to bed. “Where you headed?”

“To meet with Makeda. I’ll be back in a couple hours.”

“What’s in the bag? You moving out?” he joked.

I smiled as casually as I could. “Is there a reason for the Spanish inquisition?”

His eyes became apologetic. “Sorry, didn’t mean to pry. I’ll see you when you get back.”

I nodded at him. “Get some sleep.”

Malek gave me a small smile and turned to walk away. It was clear he didn’t believe me so I needed to hurry before the cavalry came running.

As soon as I hit the lobby level, I ran out to the street, attracting curious stares from the building security. I hailed a cab and gave the driver the cross streets before informing him that I was in a rush. Paranoid about being followed, I watched through the back windshield for anything strange for half a mile before I felt safely far away.

I wasn’t sure if Natalia and Amos would still be at this location but I was hoping they were.

The building we pulled up to was just on the water at the bottom of Manhattan, the glass windows shimmering in the rising sun. It was at least twenty stories high but Natalia had written that they were on the tenth floor. I wasn’t sure whether there were other fellows living here but there was certainly some sort of protection on the building. I could sense the supernatural energy as I approached the lobby door.

The man at reception stared me down as I approached, clearly wondering who I could be visiting at such an early hour.

“Hi...I’m here to see Natalia and Amos.” I flashed him my friendliest smile as I approached the counter, hoping it would work.

His tone was curt. “Name?”

“Ava.”

“Go on. Second elevator. 10B on the tenth floor.”

Well, that was quick. He must have been told I might come.

Nodding my thank you, I started for the elevator. By the time I reached the floor, I’d rehearsed my speech twice on how I was going to convince Natalia to take me. Three times by the time I was knocking on the apartment door.

The door swung open only a second later, revealing Natalia who seemed not even slightly surprised. “Good morning.”

I took in her exotic white outfit, intrigued as to where she was going all dolled up before the sun had fully risen.

She was wearing a beautiful white silk dress, bejeweled with long sleeves and over it a sleeveless white cotton vest that reached the floor. Her long blond hair was pulled back into an elegant twisted bun and simple dangling silver earrings hung from her ears, tear drop crystals at the end. It was all very ethereal looking fashion, as if the clothes had come straight from Heaven.

“Good morning. Did my invite to this shindig get lost in the mail?”

She smiled lightly, ushering me inside. “No, we were expecting you to crash the party so I’ve made preparations.”

The apartment was nice but simple. It almost looked as though the décor had been copied straight from a catalog, all neutral tones of light brown, grey, and white. Perhaps angels could use their powers to decorate? That would have been convenient.

Amos was seated on the light grey couch and stood as I entered, towering above us. He was wearing an all-white outfit as well. A pair of cotton pants, a tunic, and a similar men’s version of the white floor length vest along with his signature silver wrist cuffs. His long dark brown hair was pulled back into a braid and though he was in human form he still had almost as powerful of a presence as his angelic form. His smile, though, was nothing but warm and friendly. Almost fatherly.

“Okay, if you’re coming with us we need to get you changed.”

I was surprised, watching Natalia head for the bedroom in the far corner of the living room. “But I didn’t even ask you yet?”

Amos’s smile stayed put as he spoke. “We discussed it and realized you would probably demand to come along, especially after the dream. So rather than argue a losing battle, as might as well accept it.”

“How did you know about my dream?”

“I was your guardian for over two decades. I’m still connected to you, more importantly your subconscious.”

Did that mean he knew about what had happened with Gabriel? I shuddered at the thought, especially considering he was basically Gavin’s best friend.

I wanted to ask questions but Natalia had called my name, signaling the end of our short conversation. I walked past him, analyzing what exactly my connection with Amos meant. What else could he see?

A little while later I was dressed in an outfit that felt surprisingly natural to wear. It was beautiful but almost too elegant, though I’m sure it would fit in where we were headed.

“The goal is to blend in and get to the council building undetected. The fellows will be able to sense that you’re an Elioud but it’s not uncommon for outside Elioud to visit the city of Ezra.

“Ezra?”

“The capital of the Heavens. Named after the first head of the council who was a high priest on Earth and helped exiles find Jerusalem.”

I turned to the mirror as Natalia finished the side twists in my highlighted light brown hair, pinning the remaining bit into a bun. The outfit was white like Natalia’s but different in style. The high quality cotton pants were skin tight and covered by white high heeled boots that reached my knees. The top was silk with thin straps, falling down to my knees with slits at each side up to my waist, allowing movement for my legs. Over my shoulders I wore a thin white chiffon wrap, pinned by a simple circular silver broach. The final touch was a wide silver cuff on my right wrist. Dressed in this getup I felt as though I should have been making business deals while on a catwalk on a beautiful beach.

“So, what’s the plan?”

“Well, Amos and I are turning ourselves in.”

I turned to face her, my interest in my reflection dissipating. ”What? You can’t!”

Her eyes were sad. “We have to. It’s the only way. We need to give our testimony in hopes that it will help Gavin. Which is why once we get there you can’t be anywhere near us. They’ll know who you are if we’re seen together.”

“Natalia, there has to be another option.”

“This is the only way. We cannot hide while Gavin is punished for protecting us. He is the reason Amos and I are even together. No matter the punishment, we cannot abandon him. He would do the same for us.”

She was right. He would. I couldn’t argue with her on that. “Well, what can I do?”

“Keep yourself safe and get out of there as soon as the sentencing is done. Even if...even if it doesn’t go well.”

I didn’t know if I could keep that promise, despite the desperation in Natalia’s voice. For her sake though, I agreed, hugging her tightly. “Thank you, Natalia. Thank you for everything.”

She returned the hug just as fiercely. “Of course, Ava. We owe you so much.”

Pulling apart, we walked back into the living room, the heartfelt moment over.

“You two look beautiful. Ready?”

“Ready,” Natalia answered.

Amos slung a black duffel over his shoulder, standing. “Alright. Let’s walk through the lobby just for the fun of it. I want to see the look on that nosy lobby attendant’s face.”

Making our way down to the lobby, we’d just stepped out of the elevator when someone opened one of the entrance doors across the way.

My heart stopped as the newcomer walked in, unsure of what to do. How had he found me so quickly?

Gabriel began strolling toward us, a determined look on his face. Not angry or disappointed, just determined and somehow...calm?

Rather than stop or react, Amos and Natalia continued to walk toward him, seemingly unbothered. We met at the center of the lobby, stopping with a couple feet between us. Before Gabriel could speak, Amos removed the duffel bag strap from his shoulder and tossed it to him. “Took you long enough.”

“You didn’t exactly give me much notice,” was Gabriel’s annoyed response.

I looked back and forth at them, confused. “Amos, you contacted him?”

Natalia spoke up, her tone kind. “We did. You need protection Ava. We couldn’t leave you alone to fend for yourself and Gabriel has been to Ezra many times.”

“I was born there,” Gabriel added.

The plot thickens. How did I not know this? Mr. Difficult himself had been born in Heaven’s capital? What else was he hiding?

“Well, I guess I don’t have much of a choice now.” I was annoyed. I knew I shouldn’t have been because they were only looking out for me but I was tired of feeling like a child that needed to be babysat. I knew I was being irrational though so I didn’t comment further.

“Ava, it’s only for your protection.”

I nodded at Natalia, not exactly looking to start an argument. “It’s fine. Let’s go.”

We started out the door, heading toward the water across the street. Not a soul was in sight which was unusual for New York, though we were in a less busy part of the city. The sun was halfway up, causing the water to shimmer as it rippled. The small yachts tied to the dock swayed in the water, the atmosphere peaceful.

Gabriel had run to change in the lobby restroom and came back looking very much a part of our group. He was wearing cotton pants similar to Amos’ with a heavy white shredded sweater. He’d concealed his weapons under his outfit as I’d concealed mine, and surprisingly the look suited him. It wasn’t hard to believe he’d grown up in Ezra and dressed like this many times before.

We moved to stand at the water’s edge and formed a circle. Without speaking, we all locked hands. There was a moment of silence, the sun casting a warm glow over us.

And then it happened. My stomach was never prepared to dematerialize, a term used to describe the way fellows traveled, or rather disappear and reappear at their destination. It felt like traveling on a super-fast rollercoaster while having your insides scrambled. I closed my eyes each time, hoping it would help the sickness I would no doubt feel. Each time was a little less difficult but if flying on a plane were an option I would take it.

In what felt like only milliseconds later, we were appearing at our destination. I felt queasy but my legs were steady which was a good sign. The scenery was enough to distract me anyway.

“Where are we?” I asked.

Gabriel was the one to answer. “At the top of Mount Kunlun in Tibet. I hope you’re not afraid of heights.”

It was beautiful but it certainly was high. Tens of thousands of feet high. We were standing atop a flat area, our shoes sunken into the thin layer of snow. The view of the ground below was blocked by a layer of clouds. It was almost hard to believe that we were above the clouds but the cold wind and thin air confirmed it.

We weren’t quite at the tip top though. The ground sloped upward ahead of us to the literal top. At the top of the hill was the most majestic tree I’d ever seen.

It was massive, at least twenty feet tall, the branches reaching out in every direction. The wild part though was that the leaves seemed to be sparkling in the moonlight.

“That is the cosmic axis,” Natalia said, answering my question before I could ask it. “That’s the gate and our way in.”

I was somewhat afraid to approach it, almost feeling unworthy, but everyone else had already begun to walk up the hill. Setting aside my reservations, I followed behind them, climbing up to the tree that would take me to Gavin.

Gavin. He needed me. He needed us.

Natalia spoke again as we came to a stop just before the tree. “Amos and I will go first to make sure no one is around that would recognize you.”

Gabriel nodded. “See you on the other side.”

Natalia and Amos started for the tree. Natalia led the way, walking straight for the trunk. It shimmered as she approached and then stepped through it. Amos followed suit, the two of them disappearing as though they’d never been here to begin with.

“Ready?” Gabriel asked, looking over at me.

“I guess so...” Or maybe just no?

“You’ll be fine. It’s like walking through a doorway. It doesn’t feel like dematerializing.”

I was more so worried about being smited for sneaking into the capital of Heaven but it was nice to know I wasn’t going to feel sick once I got there.

“Okay, let’s go before I change my mind.”

“Alright, I’ll go first.”

Happy to oblige, I waited for Gabriel to walk toward the trunk before following. My steps were slow and once I’d reached the trunk I fought the urge to close my eyes. Reaching out in front of me, my hand went straight through the trunk, feeling only air. Taking a deep breath, I took another step forward and then another, walking straight into the tree. I was through it in three steps and what I found on the other side was astonishing.

It was just as beautiful as I imagined it would be, and more.

It was the city from my dream. The city of Ezra.


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