The sky pressed down, deep and heavy. If only the sun refused to rise then perhaps the world would be safe, but Gabriel knew better. They were coming, he could feel it. Despite the dark there was something in the air, something electric. For an hour they had ridden toward the site where his brother was killed and were yet to see or hear a single animal other than their own horses.
“When the time comes the animals will be there Gabriel,” Aurora told him gently. “Don’t worry.”
He wondered how she could expect him not to worry when in a few hours he would be dead.
He shook off the fear and tried to clear his mind. Soon he would know what it was like to die and he was luckier than most. He would go to Heaven. He knew there was a God. He also knew he would never see Aurora again and if he were honest, that thought scared him most of all. But they still had a few hours until the battle and instead of worrying he needed to focus on what he was trying to save. As they pushed ahead, he thought about his parents still safe in their beds. He thought about children scattered across the world like brightly coloured confetti. He thought about the men he had fought alongside and the women who waited. He thought about laughter and friendship and the warmth of an embrace. He thought about the spark of a first kiss and the way love could endure a lifetime of mistakes. It was worth dying for, all of it.
“It’s okay Aurora,” he told her. “I know what I need to do.”
But the sadness in her eyes was unmistakable. When he was gone she would be left behind, lost in the space he used to fill. She would have her sisters and he was grateful for that, but it would not be the same. There was a certain safety in knowing you were loved by someone who was more than family. People often believed that family represents the strongest love possible, that blood is thicker than water, but Gabriel didn’t buy into that. Knowing that out of all the people in all the world, someone freely chose to love you and only you, to Gabriel was an emotion that ran even deeper. Two people who chose to stay, who chose to forgive, who chose each other over and over again. What stronger love could there be?
According to Lucius, he and Aurora were destined to find each other, to fulfil this mission, but he knew better than to think that was the only reason she was beside him. Perhaps fate would have them fight this war, but that didn’t explain the feelings he had, or the way light danced in her eyes when she looked at him. As if on que, she reached out and took his hand.
“I love you,” he whispered and she squeezed his hand even tighter. When the time came, he would die knowing that he had been loved completely and it was more than enough for him.
When they reached the site it looked exactly as it had the night Chris died. The winding dirt track, the dense forest off to one side, the sprawling field and that jagged boulder where the cat had been waiting.
“That’s it,” Aurora said, pointing to the field. “That’s where I saw us surrounded by the Reapers.”
Behind the boulder yawned the mouth of an enormous cave and Gabriel stared at it through the darkness. He had never gone all the way inside but figured it was where the cat had been resting before he and Chris came hiking past. Now he knew better. It had not been a cougar and the attack was more than just bad timing. It had been premeditated, planned and executed.
“That’s where they will rise,” he said. “The cat came out of that cave. It leapt onto the boulder and sprang at Chris. It was no accident. The demons sent it to kill him.”
Harrison nodded and quickly assessed the cave. The mouth was wide enough for at least 50 of them to breach at any one time. Too many to pick off one by one.
“Do you think the men will show?” Gabriel was asking.
“Honestly? I don’t know. I tried but they didn’t seem convinced. Demons at dawn is a hard sell mate, especially to men like that.”
“But I saw them,” Aurora cut in. “In my vision, I saw soldiers coming across the field.”
“You also saw us surrounded,” Gabriel told her. “Even if they do come, will it already be too late?”
“Aurora, Gabriel…” Amelia pointed up at the sky.
Morning light was breaking the horizon. Time was running out.
“Alright, does everyone know where they need to be?” Aurora asked. “We don’t have long now.”
“Are you sure Lucifer won’t lead them out?” Harrison asked. “They don’t expect us to be here.”
“Lucifer would never risk himself by breaking the surface. He will command the army from the rear, you know that Harrison. A king never leads his men onto the battlefield, he’s too important.”
Harrison nodded. She was right. “So how many do you think?”
Aurora stared at the cave that would soon unleash hell. “Hundreds. It was difficult to tell from the vision but there were so many Harrison. They came in numbers much greater than ours.”
He swallowed hard. He had been to war and seen the carnage that could be left on a battlefield. It was ugly and it was heart breaking. He glanced at Gabriel and thought of all they had been through together. In a few hours he would have to watch his friend die. The thought tore a hole in his chest.
“Harrison, I never thanked you for helping us,” Aurora said quietly, cutting into his thoughts. “I know how much it means to Gabriel that you’re here.”
“Where else would I be?” He shrugged.
She nodded and squeezed his shoulder. He was a good man and she wanted to tell him as much, but a wave of his hand said she didn’t have to.
“See you on the other side,” he grinned.
She turned and made her way through the snow, her eyes falling over Gabriel. He was so familiar now. Every curve on his face, every rise and fall of his body was hers. He had quickly become a part of her and she marvelled at how little time it had taken to fall in love. She had always been so determined, so focused on revenge that love had never entered the equation. She had imagined this day so many times, the battle, the fighting, but never had it been about love. Never once had she thought there would be anyone standing beside her. So much had changed. When the Reapers stormed out of the cave, she would not face them alone but with an army of people who cared about her. When she fought it would not be for retribution, but to save what she loved. Destiny had intervened. It was the last thing she expected.
“How long do we have?” Gabriel asked as she approached.
She glanced up and saw that light had already begun to seep through the cracks. “Not long now.”
He leaned in and pulled her close. “I don’t know how to tell you all the things I feel Aurora. I love you feels so small in comparison to what’s in my heart. You’ve changed everything. You’ve given me something to believe in again.”
A single tear slipped over her cheek as she tried to find the words to tell him what he meant to her. “We should have a lifetime ahead of us Gabriel. We had to wait so long to find each other and now that we have… It just doesn’t seem fair.”
“At least we’ve had some time,” he whispered. “Even if it was short, we had it and nothing can ever take that away.”
She held him tight and wished that time could stop, even for a moment. There was so much left to say, so much more to do and feel and share.
“Maybe we could just run away,” she smiled through her tears. “Perhaps no one would notice, not for a while anyway.”
“I think we both know that’s not going to happen, especially not today.”
“I know, but it’s a nice thought.”
He leaned in and kissed her softly on the forehead. “I love you.”
“I love you too,” she told him. “For always.”
He stepped back and Aurora noticed a finger of golden light shining down near the mouth of the cave. “Gabriel, do you see that light?”
He stared in the direction she was pointing but shook his head. “No, I don’t see anything.”
“There’s something I need to do Gabriel. Give me a minute?”
The light was pooling over a single daisy growing out a tiny space between the rocks. He was calling her. She sat down quietly and closed her eyes. The only way she knew to speak with God was through prayer, but she had always been too resentful to try. When Lucius told her she was the one who would ask Him to sanction the battle he had not been clear on how to go about it, but that was nothing new. Lucius was never clear about anything.
Letting out a long breath, she steadied herself and tried to focus on what God might look like. Like everyone else, she had only seen images of Him drawn in books. She had no idea what he really looked like and after a few minutes she opened her eyes and let out a sigh. It wasn’t working.
“How do I do this?” she whispered. “How do I connect with you?”
Her fingers trailed through the loose earth and a light breeze ruffled her hair. She opened her eyes and looked up. Could it really be that simple? Once again, she closed her eyes and this time let her mind connect with the elements of the Earth. The tiny molecules that moulded the soil and the spark that ignited the fire inside her. She felt the pull of the ocean and the rise and fall of the wind. Earth, fire, air and water. The four elements that sustained life and gave energy to all things. Suddenly Aurora felt her body being pulled from the inside like gravity tugging at her heart. Something was happening. She opened her eyes and discovered she was no longer sitting by the cave, but in an enormous meadow carpeted in tiny pink daisies. A blushing sky stretched as far as she could see, and a single red maple tree punctuated the horizon. Sitting cross-legged she looked out in every direction. No one was there but she was not alone.
“Hello? Where am I?”
A light breeze caressed her cheek and the hairs on the back of her neck stood up.
“I know there’s someone here. Where are you?”
And then she felt it, a rush of love so strong that she clutched at her chest. She feared her heart might explode as her mother’s scent danced joyfully around her, and when rough skin brushed the back of her hand her heart opened even wider. Her father.
“Mamma? Daddy? Are you really here?”
She could not hear their response, but she felt it deep inside. Pure unconditional love. She had almost forgotten what it felt like.
“I miss you both so much,” she whispered. “I am going to make you so proud today.”
She revelled in the warmth of their love for as long as she could, then as the sensation drifted away Aurora swallowed hard and tried to refocus her mind.
“We need your help Father,” she whispered. “Please, Gabriel needs you.”
She held her breath and waited, but when no response came, she tried again.
“Your world and your children are in great danger. You have to help us, everything you created is going to die. What are you waiting for?”
Suddenly a blast of hot wind rushed across the meadow. Heat whipped through her hair like air blowing in from a fire front. She reached down and dug her fingernails deep into the earth, steadying herself against its power.
“Do you hear me?” She shouted over the howling wind. “Every living creature will be murdered. The oceans will boil and the earth will burn. Where are you? Why won’t you help us?”
The scorching wind blew even stronger and she screamed out as the tender skin on the underside of her wrist began to burn. The pain was excruciating and she clutched at her wrist in agony.
“What are you doing? Stop, please…”
As quickly as it began, the wind stopped and the meadow fell completely still. The space around her was silent and all she could hear was the soft rise and fall of her own breath. At her feet something moved and she looked down to see a tiny field mouse staring back at her. The mouse twitched its whiskers and quickly hopped onto her palm.
As she gently held it out in front of her, Aurora saw that a symbol had been burned into the skin on the underside of her wrist. God’s seal. The tiny mouse looked at her once more and then darted off between the flowers. Aurora reached down and gently traced the symbol she would carry for the rest of her life.
God could be as ferocious as a wild wind and as gentle as a field mouse. He could love and he could smite. He was all things and He had heard her.