Kara Nightingale sat on a cold stone floor. She felt numb and empty, drained of all feeling. She could hear a frayed chorus of distant moans from the other prisoners, and she wondered when she would start having hallucinations herself. She didn’t want to lose her mind to shadows in the forever darkness of her prison cell. The voices of the dead and the forgotten were her only companions.
Over time, the jagged grey walls had become a comfort to her. She had had no visitors since the archangel Zadkiel himself had brought her to the prison and thrown her in the cell. He had ridden on the back of one of the great eagles, like a knight riding on a powerful steed. She had dangled below in the bird’s sharp talons, like prey ready to be eaten. Zadkiel had been the last person she had seen, and she wondered if she’d ever see another soul again.
Kara sighed. She grabbed a sharp pebble and turned to face the wall behind her. She reached up and pressed the rock into the stone with just enough pressure to make a small indent and form a rough line. She sat back on her heels and admired her work. Each mark accounted for one day. She counted twenty-eight tiny marks. She wasn’t sure if her calculations were correct; it was hard to determine time in Horizon, because darkness surrounded her all the time, and she never saw the light of day. But she figured it was about right, give or take a few days. But what did it matter anyway? Angels were not mortals. Time had an entirely different significance in Horizon. Her very first assignment as a guardian had taught her that.
Her throat tightened. She remembered the first time she had been locked up in Tartarus. She could see David’s smiling face when he had come to rescue her and had stood at the threshold of her prison cell. Her knight in shining armor, he had said. But no one had come for her this time. She had been locked up for nearly a month, forgotten like an old pair of shoes.
It wasn’t doing her any good to dwell on the past.
She was amazed she was still sane. The insane moans and howls of her neighbors led her to believe that there were at least a dozen others in here, locked away on separate levels. How many levels and cells there were in all of Tartarus? She could only guess¾thousands perhaps. She wondered how long the other prisoners had been left to fade away until their minds couldn’t tell the difference between reality and illusion. How long until she began to moan and wither away? Perhaps counting the days kept her mind functioning and sane.
She burned with desire to speak to the council and claim her innocence once more. It kept her going. She hoped that one day soon she could stand up to them and prove once and for all that she wasn’t a demon spy, but a regular teenage angel, if such a thing existed. She wasn’t the enemy they accused her to be. They could trust her. She was one of the good guys wasn’t she?
Kara sat back. Her head smashed against the hard wall. She knew she had really made a mess of things. She had nearly killed a fellow guardian. Then, she had escaped from Tartarus, without waiting for her trial. She had forgotten her mandate to save the mortals and had been preoccupied with a selfish quest to save her mother’s soul. She had become an angel vigilante, an outcast from the supernatural world. What the council would do with her now, she could only guess. Though she knew it was going to be very unpleasant…
With a sigh, Kara let her head fall on her knees. She remembered the evil grin on the archangel Zadkiel’s face. Dust and small debris had fallen from the ceiling and into her eyes when he slammed her prison door shut. His eyes had gleamed with gratification. Broad wrinkles, like potato chips, had formed on the top of his bald head. His deep-set black eyes and heavy brows had mocked her. She remembered wondering why he looked so satisfied. It seemed to her that the archangel had a personal vendetta against her and couldn’t wait till she was locked up. Zadkiel had ignored her pleadings to take her straight to Gabriel. He had ignored her information about Asmodeus’s plans... she wasn’t even sure he had heard her at all. It was as though he had become deaf. He wanted nothing more than to shut her up, throw her in prison and be rid of her for good.
Kara swallowed her resentment. She shook her head. “I’m so screwed—”
Kara froze. She strained her ears and realized the voice came from the wall behind her.
“Who’s there? Who said that?”
Kara turned around on her knees and faced the wall. Closer inspection revealed a large crack like a lightening bolt in the jagged rock. The voice came through there. She edged closer to it.
“You need to get out of here, Kara,” said the raspy voice through the fissure.
Kara imagined that the voice belonged to an elderly man. The image of Merlin, the wizard with wispy white hair and a scruffy white beard that brushed the floor, popped into her head. “You need to stop Zadkiel before it’s too late.”
“What—? Who are you? And how do you know my name?” asked Kara. Her lips brushed the sharp rock wall. She strained to see through the crack, but she was faced with only shadow.
There was a moment of silence, and then the man spoke again.
“I heard the guards talk about you before. I know you are the guardian angel, Kara Nightingale. I also know that you are different from most angels, and that you possess unique and incredible powers, powers that frighten and anger the High Council. You have many enemies in the Legion, my dear.”
Kara heard the stranger clear his voice, and then he spoke again. “I understand this is your second time in Tartarus, and that you are Asmodeus’s daughter.”
Kara flinched at the last words. It was strange to her how the man had said it so matter of factly, like it was common knowledge amongst all the prisoners. She found herself wondering if this man was another nut job and if some of his sanity still remained. Would he be the kind of nut case that never shuts up and keeps rambling on forever? Would his ramblings accompany her till the end of time or until she lost her mind all together? He knew who she was. Perhaps the other prisoners weren’t so insane.
“My name is Legan,” said the stranger. His voice was soft and kind, not at all the tone of a rambling madman.
He continued, “…and what I have to tell you now is very important. You have to promise to tell the council exactly what I’m about to tell you. You cannot forget a single detail. Promise me, Kara.”
Kara straightened. She couldn’t help but be astonished at what she heard. “Um…nice to meet you, Legan. But what are you talking about? What is it exactly you want me to tell the council? It’s not likely I’ll ever get out…so you might be wasting your time. I have a feeling I’ll be stuck in here for a very, very long time.”
Kara heard the shuffling of feet, and then a soft plop. She knew Legan had just sat with his back against the wall. She pressed her cheek against the wall and felt a cool tingle against her angel skin. The prisoner was silent again behind the wall. Kara wondered if he was preparing his next words carefully, to try and persuade her somehow.
“You need to tell the council,” said Legan finally, “that Zadkiel is a traitor,” he hissed.
Kara noticed the disgust in the pronunciation of Zadkiel’s name, as though the name itself rotted in his mouth. She had never liked the archangel Zadkiel; he had always made her feel unwelcome and grotesque. He had called her demon filth more than once. Kara smiled and felt an immediate empathy towards Legan, for hating Zadkiel, too. Perhaps they could be friends?
“Never liked him,” announced Kara. “He always gave me the creeps. A traitor you say? Are you sure?” She crossed her fingers. “You got proof?”
“Not yet,” answered Legan, and Kara heard the disappointment in his tone. “He has all the council fooled. But I wasn’t fooled. I know which master he truly serves. That’s why I ended up here. He knew I was on to him. He had to get rid of me, you see. I was about to reveal his mark.”
Kara shivered at the mention of the mark. The demon mark was the symbol of loyalty to the demon lord who had made it. A nasty angry scar, a demon’s mark, like a spider’s web, had wrapped around her ankle once. The entire Legion had accused her of being a demon spy because of it. David had pulled away from her when he saw it. Her chest tightened when she recalled his angry and confused face when she had shown him her ankle. She had just brushed it off as if it were nothing. She could never have imagined the chaos it would cause later on. Although the archangel Raphael had removed her mark, he couldn’t remove the distrust it had caused. The damage had been done; she knew¾some angels would never trust her ever again.
“Where is he marked?” asked Kara abruptly, her voice higher than she would have wanted. She couldn’t imagine where the mark would be on him. Clearly, it was cleverly concealed.
“I do not know,” said Legan, and Kara heard him sigh. “The mark is hidden well on him. How he managed to conceal it, I cannot tell. Though he must be using some sort of illusion to mask it. A cloaking device of some sorts, I am not sure. But I know he is marked!”
Kara bit her lip. She questioned Legan’s story. Maybe Zadkiel had locked up the old man, and he wanted to get back at him somehow. Getting involved with a madman couldn’t help her present situation, she knew. With a sigh of resignation, she pushed herself off the wall slowly and sat back down with her back against the jagged rock. She didn’t want Legan to hear.
“You do not believe me,” Kara heard Legan say after a few minutes of silence. “You think I’m a crazy old fool, don’t you? You believe I made this all up.”
“I don’t know what to believe anymore. If you have some issue with Zadkiel—that’s your problem. I have enough problems of my own. I don’t need this right now. Maybe you should ask someone else to help you out.”
Kara threw a stone against the opposite wall. She hung her head.
“I cannot ask anyone else. You are the only one. This is your task, and your task alone. You must believe me, Kara, when I say that only you can do this,” said Legan. Kara heard an urgency in his voice that made her feel uncomfortable. “Zadkiel didn’t return your mother’s soul to the Hall of Souls—”
“What!” Kara jumped to her feet and smacked her forehead on the wall of her cell. “How did you know about my mother’s soul?”
She remembered the disgustingly satisfied grin on Zadkiel’s face when she had given him the glass jar containing her mother's soul. She realized in a moment of horror that he hadn’t smiled because he could return the soul to the Hall of Souls¾he was smiling because he wasn’t going to. It had given her the creeps then, now she felt a chill pass through her body. What had happened to her mother’s soul?
“I knew a lot of things that went on in Horizon, my dear.” Legan continued, “I’ve been around, let’s say…for a very, very long time. Nothing gets passed me—well, nothing did get past me until they threw me in here. But that doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is what you do now. Trust me when I tell you, he did not return your mother’s soul.”
The ground wavered slightly and Kara hung on to the walls so that she wouldn’t fall over. All this time locked up, and the only happy thought that had kept her going was that she believed her mother’s soul was safe amongst all the other brilliant hovering globes in the Hall of Souls. But now it was lost. She set her jaw. What a fool she had been. She was locked away in prison for absolutely nothing. Kara waited for the lightheaded feeling to pass before she spoke again.
“How do I know you’re telling me the truth and not some fabricated lie from your damaged mind? How do I know you’re not working with Zadkiel to get me killed?”
“You don’t. You have to trust me,” he said in a gently voice.
When Kara didn’t answer, Legan continued. “You must believe me, Kara. I am telling you the truth. Part of you knows I speak the truth—I can sense it.”
Silence descended on the room. Kara ached to be with her mother again. If what the old man said was true, then her mother was in grave danger. She had to do something.
“What…what can I do?” said Kara, and she knew she couldn’t mask the trembling in her voice. “I’m stuck here! How am I supposed to do anything? Do you know a way out of here?” Kara threw her weight against the hard wall, but it was like trying to move an elephant. She knew she couldn’t break her way out. She thought about picking the lock. But was there a lock to her cell door? She didn’t remember seeing one. Desperation filled her. How was she ever going to get out?
“You will not be locked up in Tartarus for long,” informed Legan, as though reading her mind. “Soon you will be summoned to your hearing to face the charges laid against you before the High Council. It will not be easy, since the council has been misled by the poison from Zadkiel’s mouth. But you must stop Zadkiel. This will be your only chance—our only chance. Do you understand? If you do not succeed, we are all doomed.”
Kara felt another chill crawl up her back. She shuddered involuntarily. “What do you mean exactly?” It was bad enough that she was partly responsible for allowing demons to cross over to the mortal world. She didn’t want to have the downfall of the angel world on her conscience, too. It would be too much for one soul to handle. “Uh…I’m completely lost. What is it that I’m supposed to do?”
“You must touch him.”
Kara shook her head. “Excuse me? Are you mad? Touch him?”
“Yes,” said Legan, “a single touch on him from you, and the mark will show itself.”
Panic welled inside her breast. She couldn’t see how she could get close enough to touch him. This plan was going from bad to worse. “They’ll never let me get close to him. I’m the demon spawn; remember? They’ll kill me if I get too close to the council. And then where will we be?”
“But you must, Kara. You must touch him and show the council whose master he’s truly serving. They will believe you once the mark reveals itself. I promise.”
“I don’t know. This doesn’t sound like a master plan.” Kara let her head fall against the wall. An image of her mother’s beautiful face danced before her eyes. Big-band music drifted in her ears. She remembered listening to Billie Holliday while doing the dishes with her mother as they sang along and spilled water all over the linoleum floor. Her nerves fluttered inside her. She owed it to her mother to try. “Okay. I’ll do it.”
“Good,” said Legan, and Kara was sure he smiled. “It won’t be long now.”
Kara wasn’t sure what he meant by that. Was this all a madman’s scheme? How did he know when the council would summon her? How deep were his connections to the outside world? She had been locked up for so long, she had started to forget what it was like out of these walls. Something nagged at the back of her mind.
“Legan. Why haven’t you spoken to me before? Why now?”
“Well, I wasn’t here before. That is to say, I was in a different place.”
“Like below a few levels or something?” Kara wondered just how many cells belonged to the concrete block they called a prison. It was an enormous structure. She figured it must hold thousands of cells. Where thousands of innocent angels locked away?
“Hmmm…yes…I suppose. Something or that sort,” said Legan. “Here they come. Get ready, Kara. We shall meet again soon.”
Kara heard a loud screech followed by a deafening boom. The cell walls shook, and for a minute Kara thought there might have been an earthquake, but she quickly realized that was impossible because they were floating in a giant cube. She whirled around. She wiped the dust and dirt from her eyes and blinked.
Kara stared into the piercing golden eyes of a giant eagle.