Shades of Darkness ~ Excerpt

Autumn landscape

Shades of Darkness

Prologue

Three Years Later

 

“So, is it true?” Haden demanded, grabbing Jace’s arm and pulling him into the supply room tucked in the back of  the bar. He kicked the door closed with the heel of his boot and leaned against the frame to prevent any untimely interruptions. Too long he’d been waiting for this moment–too long he’d been searching for the sighted one.

“Did you see her? Does she have it?”

Jace looked over his shoulder as if checking to make sure they were truly alone before answering. Turning back, he nodded, “Yeah, it’s true.”

“You saw it then? You saw the stone?” Could it possibly be true? Immanuel’s Stone was actually here on Earth?

“I saw the stone,” Jace repeated.

“That’s fantastic! Have you told anyone else about it?” Haden stepped closer to his friend, casually sliding his arm around the demon’s heavily tattooed neck.

“No, only you, just like you said. Her warrior nearly killed me, though. I could hardly get close enough to see it. You know, for a minute there, I thought you’d sent me on a suicide mission.”

“I did,” quipped his icy reply. With preternatural speed and strength, Haden grabbed his wrist, trapping the demon in a vice-grip and jerked up. The crunch echoed through the small room as Haden released his old friend, watching his lifeless body sag to the floor. Shadows poured beneath the demon, enveloping him in a thick, black mist.

“Sorry about that,” Haden said, stepping over the crumpled heap, taking care not to let the shadows of Sheol touch him. “But to rise to the top, soldiers must fall…”

Genesis

(The Great Flood)

 

Two by two, the last of the animals stepped onto the great ark as the heavy door slammed closed with a resolute bang echoing all the way up to the heavens.

Angels watched in amazement as the first drops of rain began to fall upon the earth. Before this moment, the world had received all of its life-giving water from underground springs. Rumors of an impending flood had been passing through Heaven and Earth for months, but until this very moment, no one had ever witnessed this phenomenon called rain.

“It has begun,” Tate said, his voice rich with vindication. “God’s wrath will finally rid the world of its evil abomination. Soon, the daughters of Cain will wail in despair, for the Great Flood is upon them.”

“It’s unfortunate the fallen have forced the Father’s hand in this matter. They must realize a lineage of half-breeds would never be allowed to exist.” Unlike his brethren, Liam took no pleasure in knowing what terrible destruction would soon befall the earth.

“Undisciplined and evil…” Tate grunted as the giant raindrops quickly gathered in strength.

***

Mahala stepped from the entrance of his home as a shadow swept across the land chasing away the last glimpse of the sun. The woman he’d taken for his wife, Anisa, lay resting in the back room with their newborn son nestled snugly in her arms. Looking into the dark, ominous sky, a profound sense of impending doom washed over him as the first few drops of rain splattered lightly against his face. The crisp, floral scent of Heaven touched his nostrils, stirring a deep ache of regret in his chest. As the falling moisture gathered in strength, the low rumble of thunder echoed somewhere in the distance, bringing with it a warning of the wrath to come.

His mind raced, rage and betrayal boiling up inside him. “How could He do this to us?” Mahala snarled, spinning around and storming back into his dwelling. As he entered their bedroom, his exhausted wife woke with a start.

“What are you doing?” Anisa asked, her voice groggy.

He charged forward, and her vibrant green eyes suddenly grew wide with fear. It killed him to do this to her, to their son, but there was no other way. “The boy,” Mahala demanded abruptly, steeling his heart against the grief that threatened to swallow him whole. “Give me the boy!”

“What’s wrong?” Panic filled her voice as Mahala pulled the newborn infant from her arms and wrapped a blanket around him.

The look of confusion and, God help him, betrayal that flooded his wife’s fear-filled eyes tore his heart out. Each rapid beat crashed against his chest, a stabbing pain that took his breath away. “The end is near,” he managed to rasp past the lump in his throat. Turning away from his beloved and all he held dear in this world, he took their infant and ran into the downpour of cold, drenching rain.

“Mahala…!” his wife screamed. Her terror cut through him like razor blades. “Mahala! Come back!” her broken sobs resonated through the low, growling thunder. It was in that moment Mahala truly died— His flesh would soon follow.

***

Mahala looked down at the small bundle in his arms one last time before walking through the chamber doors of the Dark Court. Stiffening his resolve, he placed one determined foot in front of the other until he stood before the three lords of the underworld. My God, how things have changed… Once powerful, noble warriors he would have proudly fought beside and died for, any one of these three.

Now, seated before him in a throne room that stunk of sulfur and rotting flesh, he barely recognized his long-ago comrades, fallen and exiled for crimes of treason against their creator.

“Mahala,” Lorca greeted, his scratchy voice no doubt burned raw from the sulfurous gas hissing through the cracked rocks jutting up behind them. “It’s been a long time.”

In a moment of weakness, he nearly changed his mind. Every muscle in his body screamed for him to turn back and flee this hell. Surely the floods would be preferable to this. But Mahala was not ignorant to prophecy, and to return his son to Earth would be to condemn the infant to certain death.

“Come…tell us, what brings you before the Dark Court, and not empty-handed I see.”

“The Great Flood is upon us.” He looked from Lorca, who seated on the left, to Gahn, who sat on the right, and tried to avoid the piercing gaze of the disfigured abomination positioned in between them. The one whose beauty had once been beyond compare—the one responsible for orchestrating this cluster fuck that ultimately led to one-third of the angels falling from grace.

“And what do you think we can possibly do about this?” Gahn asked.

“Nothing…nothing can be done!  His will is in motion, and we are all helpless to stop it!” he said, desperation edging into his voice.

“So why are you here?” Lorca snapped.

“It’s my son.” Mahala held the small, delicate bundle up before the court. “I seek asylum for my son. The Nephilim race will be wiped from existence unless you save him.”

“And we should care why?” Gahn asked.

“Because…Nephilim are gifted. If given the chance, I am confident my son will serve the Dark Court well. Please, take the boy. If I return to Earth with him, he will surely die.”

The three sat there, motionless, contemplating his request. The seconds dragged by until finally, Gahn stood and stepped down from the throne. “Leave the boy,” he commanded with a dismissive wave of his hand. “The Nephilim shall be granted asylum as you request.”

Mahala’s relief was short-lived. Dread quickly engulfed him as the ramifications of his actions slammed into him with wrecking force. He’d just made a deal with the devil in exchange for his son’s life—a life he’d just indentured to the lords of the underworld. Yet, unable to bear the thought of watching his flesh and blood die, he placed a kiss on the newborn’s forehead and laid the blanketed bundle on the floor before forcing himself to step away.

A shrill infant’s cry filled the chamber and Mahala froze. Every instinct inside him raged in protest to the injustice being wrought upon his innocent son. He looked back to see Gahn standing over the child and thought, if for only a moment, he might have seen a softening in the demon’s coal black eyes as the infant’s pale green gaze stared up at him.

Gahn reached down to pick up the tiny bundle, his long, gnarled fingers circling the infant’s chest. Mahala forced himself to walk out the door, each step carrying him farther and farther from his infant son. He had no choice. This was the only way to ensure survival of the Nephilim race.

Mahala walked through the chamber doors and back to his mortal wife. She’d never forgive him—not for this, and not for God’s wrath which, even now, was pouring down upon them. But even if she did grant him that small mercy before her death, he knew he was to blame, they all were, and no amount of begging or pleading would absolve him of his sins. The fallen had been strictly forbidden to take mortal wives, and the children born of these unions were a cursed race. They had infected God’s beloved, and their day of judgment was finally at hand.

 

Chapter One

Present Day

Olivia stood in front of the floor-length mirror. A beautiful woman dressed in white that she no longer recognized stared back at her with haunted, vacant eyes. Her floor-length gown, adorned with sequin and pearl beading, ran down the length of the six-foot train in an intricate design worthy of a queen. The back of her dress was cut in a deep V, stopping just above her waistline. A jeweled tiara sat nestled securely in the upsweep of her jet black hair, just like the one she often wore as a little girl. The veil of purity lay draped beside her jewelry box that sat on the desk in the corner of the dressing room.

Piano music wafted through the vents of the old church, carrying a beautiful melody through the stale air of the old church. Olivia sighed in resignation and reached up, unfastening the clasp of her necklace. The heart-shaped stone fell away from her neck, and she placed it in the palm of her hand. Closing her fist tightly over the stone, she turned away from her reflection and walked over to her jewelry box.

Olivia opened the drawer and placed the necklace inside. She pulled out a string of pearls and fastened them around the base of her throat, being careful to avoid snagging the few curls hanging down from her pearl-pinned French twist.

“You look beautiful,” a husky voice whispered behind her.

Startled, Olivia gasped and spun around, tangling the length of satin and lace around her feet. “Liam!” Her voice shook as a tidal wave of emotions crashed into her—joy, love, anger, pain…sorrow. It took every last bit of her self-control not to run to him and throw herself into his arms. Her heart raced so fast, she became lightheaded and reached out to steady herself against the old, age-roughened desk. Three years… Three long, painful years…

Liam stood in the corner of the small room, statue still, arms crossed over his broad chest. He was just as beautiful as she’d remembered—perhaps a little leaner, which only enhanced the muscular sculpting of his magnificent body. The errant waves of his dark burgundy hair hung in layers, nearly touching his shoulders, framing his strong, square jaw. A muscle ticked in his cheek as he stood there watching her. He seemed different somehow… His eyes, the change was in his eyes that now held a depth born of pain, sorrow and regret.

The prelude to the Wedding March carried up through the vents. The soft serenade filled the room, pulling Olivia from her trance. A rush of pain masked by anger, surged anew, tearing open a wound of heartache that had never completely healed. “Why are you here?” she demanded.

Liam didn’t respond. For the longest time, he just stood there—staring. Olivia started to question her sanity. Perhaps he hadn’t come back at all, and her mind was caught up in some sick, twisted quest for self-fulfilling prophecy.

“I had to see you.” His words came out in an aching rasp that stung all the way to her soul. Oh, he was real. No figment of her imagination could hurt this much.

“Why now, Liam? Why today? This is my wedding day!” Her voice escalated with every word until she reached hysteria. “It’s been three years! Do you know how many nights I’ve cried myself to sleep over you? Oh, that’s right, of course you do! And yet, you still didn’t come back to me. All those times I begged and pleaded, just to let me see you again.”

The haunted look in his amber-colored eyes took her breath away, unspoken evidence that the depth of pain and suffering wasn’t just her cross to bear. “Dammit! Don’t you think I wanted to, Olivia? God knows, I wanted to! But I knew if I came back, even for a moment, you’d never move on. It’s killed me to sit by and watch you mourn over what can never be. Night after night, I begged the Father to give me the strength to stay away from you.”

Liam’s eyes fell on the pearl necklace clinging to her throat that was slowly choking the life out of her. “This is the first time you’ve taken that off in three years.” His voice was so raw, she winced.

Reaching up, she touched her throat, fingering the smooth, cool beads. “I had to,” she whispered. “How can I get married to the man I’m trying to love while wearing a necklace from the angel that holds my heart?” Tears spilled down her cheeks, and she stopped even trying to contain them.

“Do you love him, Olivia?”

Liam’s questioning eyes raked over her. She ached to reach out and touch his beautiful face, just one more time, to feel whole in his embrace once again and let him wash away the years of pain and suffering she’d endured in his absence—to taste that delicious kiss she longed for…

“Look at me!” she cried, grabbing fists full of her wedding dress, holding them out in exasperation. “I’m getting married!” A fresh wave of tears rolled down her cheeks. By now, her make-up would be completely ruined, not that she really cared. How symbolic of the last three years of her life.

“Trust me, I am well aware of this, and that’s not what I asked you.”

“I love him as much as I’m capable of loving someone. I’ve been broken for so long. I just want to feel normal again.”

The Wedding March echoed through the tiny room, and she looked nervously over her shoulder. “That’s my cue,” she whispered, unwilling to walk away from him.

“I wish it was me waiting down there for you.”

Oh God, don’t say that to me! Her hand flew up to cover her mouth as a broken sob escaped her throat. “I do, too,” she breathed the barely audible confession.

A soft knock sounded at the door. “Olivia? We’re ready for you, honey.”

She tore her eyes away from him long enough to cast an anxious glance over her shoulder and called, “I’ll be right there, Mom.” But when she turned back, Liam was gone.

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