Heaven Bound | Hell Hunted

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Summary

As the rare result of an illegal immortal tryst, Katherine Ambrose was never supposed to live. Her birth was punishable by her death. Her rarity makes her a liability. By the grace of the High Council of Heaven, after her family is brutally murdered, she’s allowed to live – but it comes at a cost. That was eight years ago. Kitty, now eighteen, is one of the top Slayers of the International Immortal Confederacy – one of Heaven’s outposts on earth. Her goal is to avenge her family by slaying vampires, while also preserving the High Council’s tentative approval by obeying their orders with no complaint or question. After she’s reluctantly sent on a mission into the human world, Kitty finds herself face to face with another rare immortal – but one who is celebrated, rather than condemned. An asset, not a liability. An immortal that Kitty harbors deep-seeded hatred toward and little patience for. When Itzal, a demonic warlord of Hell, declares war on Heaven, Kitty is, inexplicably, his only demand. Once again, Kitty’s right to live is on the line. She must put aside her thirst for revenge and her longstanding prejudices if she wants to survive. But can she ever truly be free? Will Heaven ever let her be? Heaven bound her to their moral will. Hell hunts her for a shadowy purpose. Which path to freedom will bear the heaviest price?

Genre:
Fantasy / Romance
Author:
Caitlin Elyse
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
3
Rating:
5.0 1 review
Age Rating:
18+

SLAYER

My fingers played over the blade of my knife as I watched the street through the dark windows of my car. I was shrouded in darkness, waiting patiently.

There.

The human-like creature wore a three-piece suit, complete with a coat and tie. No mortal would recognize him as a monster. But I did.

He walked past my car like a human on his way home—as if a normal human didn’t mind sub-freezing temperatures and wandered down dark streets in the middle of the night. I didn’t miss the minute droplets of blood spattering his otherwise immaculate suit.

I waited until he turned a corner before stepping out of my car. The freezing air greeted me, and I unconsciously hugged my jacket closer to my body. I hated the cold. The weight of my knives, hidden snugly against my skin, warmed me with the excitement of my next kill.

The vampire turned down another, darker street, and I slipped along behind him. I instantly wrinkled my nose; the street smelled like a sewer.

A frozen sewer, I silently amended as the dim light in the alley reflected off a dirty patch of slushy ice. I made sure to keep to the shadows as I followed the dark figure in front of me. That wasn’t difficult; only one streetlight currently lit this passageway, and it flickered only dimly down at the other end of the road. Every other light pole was burnt out.

The cheeriness of the holiday window displays on the main roads—twinkling red and green lights, fake white trees, and giant cardboard boxes wrapped in multi-colored cellophane—contrasted starkly to the dirty sidewalks, the mounds of trash, and the revolting smell wafting from this tiny side street.

Many find the holidays stressful. Frantic last-minute holiday shoppers rush to make the last of their purchases. Families hastily finish putting up decorations and prepare for the arrival of the in-laws. All to celebrate whatever humans believe the reason for the season is.

The holidays had never bothered me: not with my choice of therapy.

A low hiss broke through the noise of the city traffic. Shit, he’d seen me.

I brought my guard up a second too late. Pain punched through my jaw. I stumbled back a few steps.

The metallic taste of blood filled my mouth and I whipped out two silver knives. The metal blades flashed in the dim alley. My cat-like eyes darted back and forth, assessing.

I shook my hood back from my face, needing to see. My large feline ears marked me as something more than human. He recognized my immortality immediately.

I feinted as he lunged and slammed my body into his side. My knife bit into his temple and his skin ripped with a tearing sound. Blood splattered the asphalt. I spun out of striking distance. The vampire took in his wounds from a distance. His blood-red eyes caught the sickly glow of the streetlight. His too-white fangs bared in a hiss.

The gash across his hairline had already healed.

He lunged for me again—faster than a shadow.

I was ready this time.

Powerful wings ripped from my shoulders. I pivoted sharply. He nearly went sprawling over my knee, startled by the sudden movement. In a desperate attempt to remain upright, he sank his teeth into my arm.

Fire seared through my blood and burned in my vision. We tumbled to the ground together, his venomous fangs clamped tightly down. Fabric ripped and skin tore as my shoulder slammed into the asphalt.

I punched a silver blade into his chest, through thick skin, muscles and bone. He released me in shock—he’d forgotten my second blade—and stumbled back. I ignored the venom scalding through my veins and leapt to my feet.

I twisted my knife mercilessly, impatient for him to die. His face contorted in pain and rage. With a vicious snarl, I drove the blade home.

The vampire’s ear-splitting shriek ripped through the paranormal darkness as he collapsed to the asphalt.

The pounding of my heart slowed, and I took a moment to catch my breath. My teeth gleamed in the darkness as I smiled at my latest victory.

I stepped back for a moment, glancing around as I pulled out a small cigarette lighter. The brief, almost pathetic scuffle didn’t attract any notice; the honking cars and dull roar of typical New York City traffic had effectively muffled any noise we made. The lack of functioning streetlights didn’t hurt either.

I would have been foolish to assume the burnt-out lights on the street were out coincidentally. This neighborhood was peppered with dark nightclubs catering to dozens, if not hundreds, of bloodsucking monsters. They fed quite often in this street and several others surrounding it. Darkness made their meals easier to take by surprise.

I flicked the lighter and lit up the carcass. The flame caught instantly, the glow casting eerie shadows against the dark walls of the alley. Setting a bloodsucker ablaze created only the glow of the fire. No scent and no smoke came of it. The burning of a vampire—staked or not—was perhaps the most important experience a Slayer learned. A not-quite-dead vampire could be up and about before a careless hunter realized it had gone.

I waited to be sure the vampire’s form burned completely to nothing, not even ash. It only took a few moments; vampires were just dusty shells of a soulless creature damned long ago, and they burned quickly. Once I was satisfied with the creature’s demise, I turned to walk back to my car. Snow started to fall, covering the mess I’d made. The sweat I’d worked up during the fight already began to chill me.

Opening the door and sliding into the front seat, I paused to take inventory of my injuries. I had only sustained two wounds; fang marks graced my arm and the other, fresher bite scarred my shoulder. The venom traveling through my veins had dulled from searing pain to a throbbing reminder. My immortal metabolism would neutralize the poison for a time before it actually started to do real damage.

I would be home long before then.

The hum of my Porsche’s engine suddenly filled the empty alleyway, and I breathed a content sigh as warm air almost immediately streamed through the vents, driving out the cold. My tires squeaked on the asphalt as I pulled out of the godforsaken neighborhood and made my way out of the city.

Traffic was relatively light, considering it was four days before Christmas. I made the drive out of the city and into more rural territory in less than twenty minutes. I exited the main highway, took a left under it, and drove a while before turning onto a dirt path—no better than a deer trail, really—which few humans had ever seen on a map.

The one streetlight shining over this little road was just as deliberately placed as the lights in the vampires’ territory were intentionally burnt out.

My fingers instinctively brushed over the worn, smooth wood of the pole before finding the small imperfection to turn over a hidden keypad. I punched in a security code of non-human symbols.

A light blinked green and a quiet chime sounded into the dark night before the metal keypad swiveled shut again. The ground rumbled and creaked as a hidden entrance appeared in the road ahead of my car.

I drove down into the opening. The paved road took me underground toward a vast, sprawling collection of huge white buildings. The subterranean cavern was as brightly lit as day. I scrutinized the community as I drove down the street toward it. It wasn’t man-made, but it wasn’t natural, either. The walls were built out of the material ‘starcrust.’ Composed of the outer crust of neutron stars, it was nearly ten billion times stronger than steel. The chamber’s walls glittered dark silver. Overall, our compound was well over fifty acres in size.

Dozens of large buildings, consisting of multiple floors between two and seven stories tall, stood starkly against the dark material of the walls. They glistened brightly under the lights; their walls were composed of a mixture of the starcrust and white marble. Their color wasn’t surprising; this was a branch of Heaven’s government, after all. I pulled into an empty parking space and walked toward the biggest building, distinguished by the huge gryphon crest and the words “INTERNATIONAL IMMORTAL CONFEDERACY” emblazoned above it.

The International Immortal Confederacy—home sweet home, for me.

I paused outside the tall, missile-proof glass doors as a facial scanner beamed a bright blue light into my eyes. I squinted; my green eyes were sensitive to sudden, bright light. They were handy to have in the dark though. A smaller light blinked green at me and a musical ping granted me access into the facility.

Casually swinging my keys around my fingers, I walked into the building, ignoring the wary glances of the other immortals lounging in the lobby. I knew what they saw when they looked at me.

Blood, first of all. Vampire bites tended to heal slowly, so blood from one, much less several, would run freely. The lightest blonde layers of my hair would be streaked a muddy red with it; the darker brown would be almost black because of it. It had stained a good bit of the right side of my white t-shirt, where I’d been bitten, and spattered the rest of my five-and-a-half foot frame. All in all though, as far as occupational hazards were concerned, I could have come in looking a lot worse.

My yellow-green eyes had slit pupils in their current feline state. They were likely over-bright from the thrill of the kill.

And of course, my large ears made me the most conspicuous. They were lynx-like, feathered with black tufts of fur that stood out starkly from my light blonde hair.

My black boots were still wet with snow. They squeaked on the marble floor, which swirled with patterns of white and gray. The whole establishment screamed a not-so-subtle ‘heavenly’ vibe. I put my palm against a screen in the wall close to the lobby doors. It came alive with my info, including my picture, name, age, race, and stats. My gaze flickered over the information below my picture while I waited for my IIC profile to update.

I inherited my feline traits from my father. He had been a Lyski – a feline earth elemental, sort of like a demigod. My eyes and sharp teeth I got from him too. My wings though, golden with black flight feathers, has been passed on to me from my mother. A fallen angel.

In general, having fallen angel blood was uncommon. Fallen were still considered by the ranks of Hell as ‘angelic’ and therefore taboo to anyone from the underworld, and no self-respecting heavenly immortal would dare be caught fraternizing with a fallen brother or sister.

A union like my parents’ had never been recorded in the confederacy’s history, and likely never would again: mostly because it was illegal.

I skipped down to my kill number. A light flashed blue over my palm. My lips twisted in a smirk as the computer updated my fatality number to 228.

I was a Slayer: a profession of immortals who hunted and killed other immortals—dark immortals.

My chosen quarry?

Vampires.

The IIC hand-selected and trained an entire wing of immortals strictly for the ‘Slayer’ profession.

An explosive expletive flung across the expanse of the lobby made me look up. My eyes narrowed. I logged out of the IIC system and stalked in the direction the shouting came from.

My best friend, Darien, faced off with Candace. His black-feathered wings quivered behind him in agitation. The lithe, dark-haired girl’s milky violet eyes glittered maliciously. Gossamer wings of an indigo hue fluttered behind her, momentarily catching my gaze.

Shut it, Candace!” Darien’s hands balled into fists, and his small band of friends discreetly backed off a few feet.

“Unprofessioned!” the dark girl taunted him. “Unable to go anywhere, do anything. Must be so awful, the rest of us going up, and you’re stuck here, cleaning the cafeteria. Your girlfriend must be so disappointed.”

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Darien snarled. “And it’s none of your business what profession I choose. Or don’t.”

The girl appeared to nonchalantly examine her fingernails as I walked up. “I make it a point to know everyone’s business, Darien.”

The sound of my approach made the irritating fae look up, feigning surprise. “Oh, look—here’s your insignificant other now!”

She gave Darien a simper before turning to me, her malice obvious to everyone in the room. “Oh—you just missed all the fun, Katherine. Darien and I were having a wonderful little discussion about what a worthless member of society he’s turned out to be. Not a good look for someone with his…history.” She tsked through her teeth.

Post-battle adrenaline coursed through me at the first step of an old dance—Candace preying on my friends to get a rise out of me. It worked more often than I probably should let it. “Candace,” I managed through clenched teeth, “If you value your eye sockets, you’ll leave him alone.”

“It’s a shame, really,” Candace continued as if she hadn’t heard. “You know, his heritage isthat of a demon, even if his mother was a human. Doesn’t that technically mean it’s your job to hunt him? To slay him?” She drew out the word ‘slay,’ mocking me with her tone.

My hands curled into fists as I willed myself to remain calm. “If that were the case, Candace, you would be first on my list.”

She opened her eyes wide at me, her expression entirely too innocent. “Me? What is that supposed to mean?”

I knew she knew what I meant, but I clarified anyway. “You’re a dark fae. Whether you admit it or not, your heritage is much darker than Darien’s ever will be.”

The other immortals started to edge away from us. Whenever Candace and I butted heads, other people tended to get caught in the crossfire. No one wanted to be one of those people.

Her expression remained childlike. “I’ve been here since I was a child, what would I possibly know about the dark side? But Darien… no, Darien didn’t arrive until after his twelfth birthday.”

Darien tensed at the unspoken accusation, and my own anger spiked in response.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Darien hissed at her.

“I think you know exactly what I mean,” Candace taunted him. “It’s interesting, that’s all I’m saying. You never choosing a profession, officially proclaiming your allegiance to the IIC. But, I guess as long as you’ve got your Slayer girlfriend to protect you, it doesn’t really matter who else you’re loyal to, does it?”

I didn’t have time to react. Darien launched himself at the fae. Shock suffused her expression. Her head cracked against the ground as Darien’s weight knocked the breath out of her

“You are such a bitch!” he snarled at her. His brown eyes flashed red for a brief moment, then it was gone.

Candace threw her hands up over her face and tears filled her eyes. “Darien, wait, stop. I’m sorry. I was just teasing! I really didn’t mean it! Please don’t hurt me!”

Hesitation appeared on Darien’s face. He warily stood up, allowing Candace to sit up on the ground. I willed myself to stay still; Candace and I had fought one too many battles on home soil for me to risk getting punished for it. Again.

But as soon as Darien gave her enough room to stand, she tackled him. Before he could move to defend himself, she slapped him. The sound of it made my blood boil. It wasn’t supposed to hurt; it was supposed to be degrading.

“Come on, Darien, did you really think I was that weak?” she mocked him. “Oh wait, of course you did. Because you’ve got no profession and don’t know any better.”

Darien snarled at her and tried to kick her off. She only laughed and hit him again. I knew, whatever strange hybrid-demon morals he had, Darien didn’t actually want to hit a girl. Even if she was a nasty, vindictive girl.

Darien smashed his knuckles into her cheek.

Okay, maybe I was wrong.

Her head snapped to one side and she sank her fingernails deep into his skin.

I finally jumped in.

I twisted a hand into her hair and another hand around her arm and hauled her bodily off of him. He looked like he was going to try and follow after her. “Stop, Darien!” I snapped at him as I pulled her away from him.

She turned her attention to me now. Like outstretched claws, she raked her fingernails across my shoulder, aiming for my face. My recent wound tore open again. I hissed at her and threw her away from me in disgust. She stumbled backward and landed on the floor.

Instead of going for her usual parting taunt at me, she aimed it at Darien. “See? You let her fight all your battles for you. Coward! When are you going to grow a pair and fight for yourself?”

Darien tried to lunge at her again, but I held his arm in a tight grip. “Come on,” I muttered under my breath. “She’s lost, let’s go. I have to go see Kenric.”

I could feel the burn of the vampire’s poison becoming more insistent. The last thing I needed was muscle decay because I didn’t see a Healer fast enough.

I pulled Darien away from the smirking fae and led him down toward the Healer’s quarters.

“I hate her,” Darien snarled. “She just knows how to rub me the wrong way.”

“She does it to everyone,” I muttered, thinking not-so-fondly of all the times she’d pulled the same stunt on me. I examined my wounds again and sighed. Blood dripped down my arm and left crimson splatters on the pristine floor.

“Are you okay?” Darien asked me.

I waved him away. “I’m fine. I’m heading to Kenric’s. Can I meet you in the lounge in a few?”

He nodded slowly. “Okay, yeah sure. I’ll see you in a bit.”

“Don’t go after Candace!” I barked at him and he waved me off.

I turned the corner of the hall, entering the Healer’s quarters. I knocked on the third door on the left.

I heard movement from inside, and a light appeared beneath crack. A moment later a sleepy-looking dark-haired man opened the door. He was shirtless and wearing pajama bottoms.

“Hello, Kitty,” he said in a voice thick with sleep.

“Hey, sorry for waking you up.”

He stifled a yawn. “Sure. It’s what I’m here for. Come on in.”

I followed him inside. He flipped on the lamp next to a table covered with books, papers, and various equipment. I tried unsuccessfully to ignore his shirtless physique. Kenric was not by profession a fighter, but like most other immortals within the IIC, he spent ample time in the gym and training facility. It definitely showed in the perfect six-pack he currently sported.

“What’s the problem?” he asked as he motioned for me to sit at the exam table. I snapped my gaze up to his face. His eyes, one green, the other blue, sparkled with amusement.

“Vamp bites,” I showed him my arm while pretending I hadn’t just been caught ogling him.

He glanced up at me as he examined the bites. “These usually heal faster than this, it looks like you just stepped out of the fight.”

I frowned. “Well, there was a...uh, problem with Candace in the lobby.”

Kenric groaned. “Ugh, Kitty, not again?”

I scowled at him. “Look, she attacked Darien. I was just getting her off of him. She got pretty well under his skin and things were escalating.”

Kenric sighed. “I’ll let it slide this time, but please try and stay out of it next time. Let her get in trouble. Hell, let Darien get in trouble. If another Ambassador was here, I’d probably have to put you on probation, or something.”

He pushed the bloodied fabric of my ruined shirt up over my shoulder and I winced. The venom seared hot in my veins now. He put his hand to my skin and instantly cool relief blanketed the poison’s burn. Kenric’s power was fluid-like. It flooded the body, purging any unhealthy or flawed substance in its path and leaving clean, wholesome tissue and bone in its wake.

“It seems you’re enjoying the holidays,” he said as he worked on me. “What’s this, the fifth one this week?”

“I’m just getting started,” I replied, grinning back at him.

His laughter disturbed the feathers of his wings, which distracted my gaze. One black, one white, they were a very visual aspect of his angel-demon parents.

Kenric was the head Ambassador of the NYC branch of the IIC. He was also a skilled Healer, which was rare for an immortal with a partially dark heritage.

“So…what happened tonight?” he asked. “With the vampire, I mean.”

I crossed my legs on the stool. “The usual: Vampire kills human, I stalk vampire, vampire tries to kill me, I kill vampire. End of story.”

Kenric smiled at my quick synopsis, and I shrugged. “Nothing interesting. Or challenging. All done?”

He nodded at me, a smile still lingering on his face. “You’re good to go.”

I smiled tentatively back at him. “Thanks. You’re the best.”

His smile widened. “That’s what they tell me.”

He stood, and I followed suit. I headed toward the door when I noticed the stack of files on his desk. One of them was stamped with “EYES ONLY”. My brow furrowed. “Something important going on?”

Kenric glanced self-consciously at the files on his desk. “Oh. High Council meeting. Over in the conference building.”

I raised my eyebrows at him. “High Council meeting?”

He nodded. “Mm-hmm. First thing in the...” He checked the clock pointedly. “Well, in a couple of hours, anyway.”

I grimaced. “Sorry again, for waking you up.”

“I’ll live,” Kenric replied. “I’ll probably just be expected to sit there and look like I’m sort of paying attention.”

I snorted. “Hey, as long as it’s you, not me.”

He laughed “Honestly, I prefer it that way too. But probably best to try and at least look like I prepared.” I rolled my eyes at him and he chuckled again. “Go on, get out of here. I want to go back to sleep.”

I gave him a mock salute and a smile and walked out. My smile faded as I closed the door behind me though. The file bugged me. Kenric was head of the NYC IIC, but he wasn’t a member of the High Council. The lower heavenly councils, yes. But the High Council rarely convened anywhere near here. My brow furrowed, contemplating. Why would Kenric be called to the High Council? Was he in trouble? Was the IIC in trouble? Was he getting promoted? I selfishly hoped he wasn’t getting promoted. Kenric had saved my ass on more than one occasion, and that had a lot to do with his current position in the IIC. Besides, I would miss having him around. He was my oldest friend – my first friend, from when I first came to the IIC, nearly eight years ago.

I crossed through the lounge. Immortals were scattered around, watching TV, socializing. Candace had disappeared. Wise of her.

I found Darien hanging out with a few immortal guys around his age, and more than a few girls who hung on the fringes of their little circle. Darien seemed slightly more subdued than usual, given the public humiliation Candace had just subjected him to, but it didn’t seem to have hurt his social standing at all. If anything, the flock of girls who normally hung around him had increased in number.

All of them glanced up when they saw me approaching. Some of them edged away, some of them looked uneasy, shuffling their feet or not meeting my gaze. Not Darien though.

“Everything okay?” he asked me.

I shrugged. “Fine. Kenric fixed me up. Did you know he’s got a High Council meeting in the morning?”

Darien raised an eyebrow. “What does that matter?”

I shook my head. “Maybe it doesn’t. I don’t know, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of him getting called to a High Council meeting before. I guess I don’t like the idea of him in there with all of…them.”

Darien shrugged his indifference. “Stranger things have happened, I guess. I’m sure it won’t be anything like it was with you, back then. I wouldn’t worry about it.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

“Hey, now that you’re all done getting fixed up, can we...uh, go back to my rooms? You know, talk about your slaying, and stuff.”

A couple of the guys behind him guffawed and Darien shot them a glare.

I rolled my eyes, not sure I wanted to know. “Sure, Darien.”

“See you guys later,” he said over his shoulder. He got a few head nods, a few more chuckles, and some ‘laters’ from his friends. I followed him down the adjoining corridor into the wing of the building that housed most of the ’tals who hadn’t chosen a profession yet. I was in the opposite wing, where most of the Slayers resided.

“What was that about?” I asked him in a low voice.

Darien shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. Just the guys being guys.”

I snorted. “Gross. Why would they think that?”

Darien laughed. “Because, you know, I totally want to do you. But it might be awkward after, ’cause I totally just want to be friends, or whatever.”

“Not to mention the Copulation Act,” I snorted. “That might make it a little more than ‘awkward.’”

Darien laughed again. “Yeah, exactly.”

Darien and I continued down the hall until we reached his room. As we entered his quarters, I observed the décor. Two of the room’s walls were a deep red, and the rest were black. He didn’t actually have any hellish symbols hanging anywhere, (the possession of such would probably have him evicted) but the walls were heavily decorated with posters of heavy metal bands, fiery scenery, and other such images.

Darien was a human-demon hybrid. His mother was assumedly the human, since Darien had never known her. It was unspoken knowledge she hadn’t survived Darien’s birth. He’d been on his own since he was a child.

My best friend sat on the bed, and I joined him, folding my legs under me.

“What happened today?” I asked him in a low voice. “You never lose control like that.”

He dropped his gaze to the coverlet on his bed. He picked at one of the stray threads he found there. “It was bad today,” he replied quietly. “I had a lot of...pent-up energy.”

I visibly hid a grimace. It was like a secret code between the two of us. ‘Pent-up energy’ translated to ‘severe demonic urges related to his dark blood.’ It was worse for him than for most dark hybrids. Not having a human mother to teach him humanity made him more susceptible to his darker desires. He was lucky the IIC had happened upon him before Hell’s minions found him. He didn’t like to talk about it, not even to me.

“Candace egged me on. It’s like she knew I was having a bad day,” he said quietly.

I grabbed his fingers before he could completely unravel the threads of his bedspread. “It doesn’t matter if you’re having a bad day,” I told him. “Candace can thoroughly piss off anyone on their best days.”

“I wanted to punch her face in.” Darien said slowly. “But after...it was like being knifed in the gut, Kitty! Like all of these years I’ve been working to control it...poof! Gone! And then I felt like the lowest scum for attacking her.”

“Stop it,” I growled at him. “She knows how to push your buttons and you let her. She only did it so she had room to attack you.”

“That doesn’t matter, really,” Darien said darkly. “It’s the way it felt. All of my dark intentions just flooded to the surface, with only a few insults thrown my way? I thought I was better than that. I thought I had more control than that.” He put his head in his hands.

I bit my lip. My only ‘dark intentions’ were toward vampires and dark creatures. I would never fully understand what was happening in his mind.

“Maybe she was right,” his next sentence startled me.

“What?” I asked, shocked. “About what?”

He ran his hands through his bleached blonde hair. “Being a dark creature. Doomed to be killed by a Slayer, eventually.”

“Don’t say that, Darien, what are you thinking? Candace is just a bitch who likes to play with people’s emotions and hit them where it hurts. She’s a poisonous fae with bad breath.”

He couldn’t help it, he smiled at that. “Probably from being a man-eater. I hear man makes your breath stink.”

I laughed outright. “Come on, really, could I ever slay you? You’re my best friend. You put up with my crankiness.”

His lips twitched again as he fought another smile. “Well, you are kinda cranky most of the time.”

I punched him playfully in the shoulder. “Shut up, you’re supposed to tell me I’m being too hard on myself.”

He snorted derisively. “Right, and then you’d hit me for lying to you.”

I laughed and flipped onto my back. “Yeah, you’re probably right.”

He flopped back to lie beside me. We stared up at the ceiling in silence for a few minutes.

“Are you feeling better now?” I asked quietly. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Darien shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. I should probably just avoid Candace for a while.”

“I make that a general rule, myself.” I replied, a hint of a laugh in my voice.

Darien quirked a smile.

“Listen, I’m beat. It’s like, three in the morning and I should probably get to bed. You should too.”

He sighed. “Yeah, maybe you’re right.”

“You’ll feel better once you’ve had some sleep. It always seems worse, at least to me, when you’re tired.”

He nodded. “Okay.”

I thumped him playfully on the shoulder and sat up. “See you in a few hours?”

He nodded again, still staring at the ceiling. “Sure.”

My brow furrowed. “Hey.”

He finally met my gaze.

“Don’t beat yourself up too much, okay? Nothing really bad happened. Candace got what was coming to her.”

He looked back up at the ceiling. “If you say so.”

I nodded. “I know so. See you tomorrow.”

“Night.”

I walked back to my rooms, turning over the evening’s events slowly in my mind.

Darien losing his control. Granted, it was Candace, and I’d bashed her face in a couple times myself, but Darien was usually more level-headed. And his eyes, they’d turned red, I’d seen them. Red eyes were universally, unequivocally the mark of a hellion. No creature not belonging to hell’s depths sported such eyes. But they’d cooled back to his normal brown. Maybe it was just a fluke. A flash of anger.

As much as I hated to admit it, Candace was right, at least partly. Darien really did need to find a profession. Something to pour his energy into, really focus on.

What profession might take him, though? Slayers, Trackers, and Warriors were probably out for him; he hadn’t ever really showed an interest in the combative arts. Sleepers took years to build up the trust to even be invited to the profession. He wasn’t a Healer, and he wasn’t really good with technology, so being a Technician was out.

I mulled over the twelve professions available to heavenly immortals. Twelve professions. Twelve immortals.

My brow furrowed. Twelve of the highest ranked, most esteemed immortals below Michael himself. The ultimate authority within the Heavenly Realms, above even the Heavenly Council that oversaw the affairs of the IIC.

Kenric had been called to meet with these twelve. The High Council.

Formally referred to as the “Elite”, the High Council was comprised of the heads of the twelve professions of the heavens. They directed military strategies, wrote new laws, defended Heaven’s gates, and exacted punishment upon the unlucky immortals who broke their most scrupulous laws. For them to interfere with the IIC, normally the Heavenly Council’s domain, was a bad omen. Something was happening. Something big.

A finger of cold ran down my spine in foreboding as I threw my unfortunate clothes in the trash and stepped into the shower to quickly rinse off the rest of the evidence of my night out.

Hopefully Kenric would be able to fill me in tomorrow. My last encounter with the High Council eight years ago had been anything but pleasant, and I was reluctant to be anywhere near them again, lest they decided they had changed their minds about letting me live. Kenric would know I would be uneasy until they had gone.

I climbed into bed, worn out. Maybe my advice to Darien would hold true for me too. Maybe I would feel better once I’d had some sleep.

And for once, the High Council could wait until tomorrow.

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