And there she was.
In spite of all of the lies, all of the deception I’d uncovered, I had absolutely believed the Elder when he’d told me that Alli was gone. It had been his goal, the one thing he was being sincere about. He’d wanted her gone before she could cause trouble. Two minutes ago, I’d known that I would never see Alli again. Now my heart was in my throat, choking me as it swelled.
Alli was here. She’d strode through the door with that no-nonsense, stubborn expression that had always drawn me to her. She stood in front of me now, wearing a black uniform just like mine. I remembered that very first night, when I’d despaired because she wouldn’t be given a white dress like Emily’s. I’d been crazy to think that she belonged in Emily’s color. In black, a pouch around her waist, her new wings open just enough to cast a silver aura around her hair, she looked more fierce than I’d ever seen her. I drank in the sight of her, forgetting that I was in danger. I itched to touch her, unwilling to trust such a moment to my eyes alone.
The Elder solved my dilemma of disbelief for me. He took a step forward, away from me and toward Alli.
This time I closed the gap between us, ignoring the warning bells of my subconscious. But he wasn’t distracted like I was; he pushed me aside before I could do so much as lay a hand on him.
“What are you doing here?” the Elder asked Alli in a tired voice, as if she was merely one uninvited guest too many at a house party.
I watched Alli’s spine stiffen and noticed for the first time that her stubborn pose wasn’t exactly the one I was used to. She was folded in over herself, as if she were carrying her wings like a heavy backpack. Her face was drawn, the skin taut in an effort to hold back her real emotions.
Still, she lifted her chin, drawing herself fully erect. It was a simple motion, but it managed to create the impressive illusion that her presence filled the entire room. She stared at the Elder defiantly.
“John,” she said, declaring the name rather than addressing him by it.
The impossible happened: I saw the Elder flinch. He stood there as frozen as I had ever felt under his gaze.
When the moment had grown long, Alli broke it, her voice calm, almost gentle. “You have no more power here,” she pronounced. “I am the Elder now.”