“Where did you come from, Daughter of Adam?”
Ireyne’s heart began to pound against her ribs.
The angel before her was inhuman in his beauty, alien and lovely. His hair tumbled in obsidian curls down to his chin, and his eyes were a kaleidoscope of color, though they were cold as they studied her. His face was beautiful: pale, sculpted, and wintry in the midday sun. Great golden wings unfurled from his back, ruins of ancient languages flashing gold over his bare arms. He assessed her as a predator might prey.
He bared his teeth with a harsh, animalistic nature. “Answer me.” He commanded.
Ireyne clamped down on her fear, hating the effect he had on her. “I come from Chicago.” She answered, putting a hand to her chest.
The angel didn’t stop circling her. “And are you a World-walker, human?”
“My name is Ireyne.”
“Why would that matter?”
“Because,” she frowned. “I’m not just another human.”
He cocked a black brow. “You’re not?” Ireyne nodded firmly. “Are you a witch?” He went on. “A lycanthrope, a vampire, or a Fae?”
Ireyne frowned and put her hands on her hips, scarlet brows furrowed deep. “No.” She said, begrudging and sharp.
“Then that must make you just another human.” He grinned brutally.
“Well maybe I’m what you just said,” she gestured futilely to him. “A World-crosser.”
“World-walker.” He corrected, rolling his eyes.
“That.” She reaffirmed, before crossing her arms. “What are you, anyway?”
He put a hand to his chest as if making sure she was indeed speaking to him. “Me?”
“You know what I am.” The golden wings sprouting from his back spread further. “I am Ramiel, Son of the Archangel Michael and Envoy of the Angels.”
Ireyne’s brows rose. “Michael, Michael? Like — the Bible Michael?” She asked in surprise.
A ghost of a smile graced his mouth, gone before it ever took form. “The Bible Michael.” He affirmed.
Ireyne looked around in sudden fear. “Where are we? In Heaven?”
Ramiel shook his head, and his curls bounced just slightly. “No, we’re not in Heaven. We’re in The Middle.”
“What is The Middle?”
“Exactly what it sounds like.” He said, gazing at her unblinkingly. He really was frighteningly foreign, in spite of his human-like aristocratic attitude. An entirely different entity from anything Ireyne had ever encountered. “It’s the middle ground between Earth and Heaven. Sort of like a second level where souls with unfinished business wander.”
“So… purgatory,” Ireyne concluded.
“Essentially.” He gazed at her once more, depthless eyes calculating. Ramiel prowled a step forward, wings flaring as he stalked like a panther in the brush, just as lethal and alluring. He was no more than an arm’s length away now, and Ireyne had to tilt her head up to look at him. “Which is why it’s so…” he searched for a word. “Peculiar, that you’re here.” His fiendish smile was a slash of white across his face. “So, how did you come here?”
The slightest whisper of curiosity in his frigid tone had her looking into his face, observing him as he had her. But she was met with only coldness in his gaze. “I don’t know.” She said, shrugging jerkily. “I was just walking, and then there was this chanting in my ears, and then…” She trailed off, searching for a possible explanation, and found none. ¨And then I was here.”
Ramiel just leveled a cold, disbelieving stare at her, eyes colorful and without end. “Tell me the truth.” He said, crossing his muscled arms over his chest.
Ireyne blinked. “I am.”
“You must think I’m stupid, Ireyne.” He snapped her name and Ireyne flinched back, despising the flash of victory in his eyes.
She stood straighter. “And you must think I’m absolutely insignificant.” She snarled back.
A hint of surprise, and then a simple nod. “That sums it up.”
Ireyne’s vision flashed red.
She pushed him.
She pushed the son of Michael.
Ireyne had a sudden, visceral fear for her life. She had just shoved the son of an archangel. A lethal predator, which could kill her in a single move, a single breath, if he felt like it.
Ramiel had no emotion except the barest hint of surprise on his face. “You just pushed me.” He stated, voice far-off and uncomprehending. Ireyne half-thought he was in shock.
“I did.” She swallowed, and her mouth tasted like cotton.
Ramiel’s wings rustled as they folded against his back, tucked in tight to his body. “That was quite an audacious move,” he commented plainly again.
The anticipation had built and built inside Ireyne until she was bursting at the seams. “Just tell me if you’re going to kill me or not.” She begged, shutting her eyes.
“I’m not going to kill you.”
Her eyes shot open. “You’re not? But your father –”
“I am not my father.” His face softened, almost imperceptibly, and Ireyne knew suddenly that he was not the creature he presented himself to be. Still dangerous, still something to be frightened of, and yet, not untouchable. But his face hardened once more, that wall rising behind his eyes.“Do not ever push me again.” He commanded in a voice that left no room for argument.
Ireyne nodded, eyes wide, but she did not lower her chin. Ramiel may have been an angel, but he would not take something she refused to give. She was no dog he could break into submission. She might not have known how she got to The Middle or how she’d get out of it, but she did know one thing. Her pride would outlast everything else inside of her; it was her best trait and her worst. She wondered idly if Ramiel could relate to that, if he too was so prideful sometimes it was painful, but he had turned away from her and was looking north, to the horizon.
“What?” Ireyne asked, curiosity overpowering her frustration.
“Hush.” Ramiel hissed. He searched the horizon once more, brows furrowing deeply.
“Hey,” Ireyne huffed, coming to stand beside him.
But he did not speak, just clenched his jaw as his eyes followed some invisible point through the sky.
Suddenly, he said, “You need to go.” And gold-scaled metal armor spread over his forearms and chest.
Ireyne’s heart fell into her stomach. “What? I — I can’t.”
“What do you mean you can’t?” He snarled.
“I don’t know how I got here!” She screeched, with no kindness in her voice.
Ramiel rolled his eyes as if Ireyne was the most belligerent and frustrating being to exist before tugging her into his arms and spreading his wings.
Ireyne looked up in pure terror. “Wait –”
He shot into the sky.