She woke in a body that wasn’t her own, surrounded by people she didn’t recognize, in a room so bright it seemed ablaze with a million torches.
No, not torches.
The brightness emanated from the long, flat objects magically suspended from the ceiling. A frightful beeping sound issued from one of the alien contraptions surrounding her bed, and panic surged in her chest.
The strangers jolted back, their faces growing pale in the blinding light. Why? She’d simply asked them where she was. The question should not have inspired the shock and terror that had come over their features at the sound of her dry, unused voice. A voice that was as unfamiliar to her as this room and the people watching her as though they’d just beheld a ghost.
“Pouvriscome?” she repeated.
The man with the graying hair stood motionless, while the woman at his side yelled something in a foreign tongue and frantically reached for an odd object hanging from the bed. Seconds later, more people—dressed in odd-looking white chitons—poured into the room.
Kleio tried to sit up in bed, but strong hands pinned her down. The man garbed in white flashed a ray of light in her eyes, as though the room wasn’t bright enough. He then retrieved the glinting apparatus around his neck and pressed its cold, flat tip to her chest.
What hellish nightmare had risen to enfold her? Where was her husband, her son?
She struggled, bitter tears clogging her throat. “Affisteme.”
But they refused to release her, regardless of how desperately she begged them to.
They exchanged frantic words over her head. Words she didn’t recognize and couldn’t decipher. The more they spoke, the more her panic grew.
Her last memory was of her home in Knossos. The walls had not been smooth and white, but made of sun-dried mud, the ceiling composed of clay tiles that tended to crumble with time. Illumination had come from the sun and lamps fueled by olive oil, not these aberrant tubes that flickered and buzzed like a swarm of angry bees.
Why had she awakened here, in this foreign realm? Hadn’t the gods cursed her enough for loving a man who wasn’t meant to be hers? Hadn’t she paid the steepest price a woman—a mother—could pay?
An animalistic growl tore from her throat as she fought to escape the beasts with their strange white garments and even stranger weapons. They tightened their hold on her, tethering her to the bed. A sharp pain lanced through her arm, and a numbing fog rolled over her. She willed her body to move, but it refused to cooperate, and she was suddenly engulfed by the overwhelming desire to sleep.
Kleio fought the darkness, having been a prisoner of it for far too long, but her efforts were in vain. Exhaustion won out, and she floated toward oblivion again.
Right before the fog swallowed her completely, her husband’s name found its way to her lips, both a heartfelt wish and a silent prayer. “Calliel.”
For four years she spoke his name each night before she drifted off to sleep and each morning when she awoke, but he never came for her. There was a time when all Kleio had to do was think of Calliel and he’d appear, a glorious winged warrior with piercing silver eyes and hair as golden as the sun.
Even when he’d fallen, their connection hadn’t waned. It had grown stronger.
But now, in this futuristic world, where light came from glass bulbs and food could be warmed at the touch of a button, whatever bond had linked them to one another had been severed, setting her adrift.
So she’d adapted, learned these people’s tongue, figured out how to operate their strange new-world machines and live as one among them. They called her Daphne, like the tiny pink and white flowers that had once bloomed in her courtyard. At first she’d argued that her name was Kleio. Whenever she did, her new family would give her that sad, mournful look and a smile meant to pacify, then go right back to calling her Daphne.
In time, she’d accepted the name along with her new life, but not a moment went by when she didn’t wonder about Calliel. What had become of him, of their son, Athanatos? She’d given her soul to save her boy. Why then was she suddenly free?
She’d spent countless hours catching up on her history, trying to understand what had transpired in the past six millennia while she’d slumbered. What she’d learned both fascinated and horrified her. Her entire civilization’s history had been wiped away, all the progress her small village had made thanks to the angels erased and forgotten. Historians called her time period the Neolithic era, neoslithos, the new Stone Age.
How insulting. Her people had invented farming, weaponry, pottery, sculpting…and yet, according to the great minds of today, they’d been no better than monkeys, running around swinging wooden clubs.
She didn’t blame historians for their faulty assumptions, though. She blamed the heavens. As Calliel had feared, a Great Flood had come, wiping out most of humanity...and her history along with it. It had taken thousands of years for mankind to achieve the progress her small civilization had enjoyed in the so-called Stone Age, all because the angels had thrown a temper tantrum.
Kleio couldn’t help but wonder, had the flood wiped out the fallen and their cursed offspring as well?
She couldn’t bear the thought of existing in a world without Athanatos, without Calliel. And yet here she was, imprisoned in a home she could never call her own, living with a family who insisted on addressing her by someone else’s name.
“Daphne, darling, are you ready?” Joyce shuffled into the living room, a large purse strapped over her shoulder. “We’ll have to leave soon if we’re going to beat the Christmas rush.”
Christmas, short for Christ’s mass, meant to celebrate the birth of Christ, yet another pivotal event she’d slept through. “Sure, Mom. Let’s go.” She’d promised Joyce she’d go shopping with her, and Kleio wasn’t one to break a promise.
At first, pretending to be Daphne had been both physically and emotionally draining, but in time it had gotten easier. Joyce and Theo had taken her in, given her a home, helped her recover from her injury. The least she could do to repay them was allow them to believe their daughter had survived the car crash and her subsequent coma.
They had just pulled the plug on the machine that was keeping Daphne alive when Kleio had awakened in the deceased woman’s body. No wonder they’d looked at her as though they’d seen a ghost.
Kleio pulled on her jacket and followed Joyce to the car, tightening the scarf around her neck as a light drizzle began to fall. The probability of a white Christmas in San Francisco was low, but December was rainy season and considered one of the coldest months of the year.
Once ensconced in the white Audi, Joyce gave her a wistful glance. “We used to do this all the time when you were little. You always begged me to take you to Union Square so you could see the Christmas tree.” Joyce watched Kleio for a reaction, hoping against hope that a memory would miraculously unfurl in her mind.
Kleio simply smiled, saddened by the desperation she caught in the woman’s soulful brown eyes. She understood better than most the agony of wishing for something that could never be. “We can pass by and see it, if you like.”
A gleam of pleasure cut through the pain, and Joyce beamed. “That’s a wonderful idea, darling. Maybe—” She didn’t finish her sentence.
Then again, she didn’t have to. Kleio knew exactly what the woman had been about to say.
Maybe the tree will trigger a memory, the past four years will melt away, and you’ll be my Daphne again. Then I’ll stop seeing a stranger each time I look at you.
The rain picked up speed, pummeling the windshield with violent fists. Dark, churning clouds gathered in the distance, blocking all traces of the sun. Funny, the forecast hadn’t called for a storm today.
“I’m starting to think this wasn’t such a good idea.”
“Nonsense.” Joyce kept a firm grip on the steering wheel as the car coasted forward. “It’s just a little rain.”
Cars. That had been the greatest adjustment of all. Who would’ve thought that in the future people would travel around in steel boxes, catapulting forward at inhuman speed?
When they neared the Golden Gate Bridge, Kleio gripped the door handle, as though the futile act could protect her from a two-hundred-foot plunge into San Francisco Bay. The three-mile long suspended bridge always sent ice chips skittering along her spine, and today was no exception.
Joyce assumed her fear stemmed from the car accident Daphne had suffered, and Kleio didn’t bother to correct the woman’s misconception. What could she say?
I hail from a time when the only means of transportation were a stubborn mule and a pair of scuffed sandals. Oh, and let’s not forget the angels.
She’d flown with Calliel a time or two, before he’d been ruthlessly stripped of his wings. She remembered what it had felt like to soar thousands of feet from the ground, the world below fading, becoming a tangled blur of shapes and colors. With his arms fastened around her, she’d felt safe and ridiculously happy, as though there wasn’t a force in heaven or hell powerful enough to pry her from his grasp.
She’d been wrong.
The wind blustered, shaking the vehicle until it groaned. The bridge seemed to rattle beneath them, and fear snatched the air from her lungs. “Turn back.”
“I can’t.” Joyce gave her a sympathetic grin. “We’re almost there. Don’t worry, honey. We’ll be fine.”
No, they wouldn’t. This was no ordinary storm. Kleio felt it in her bones. Darkness swept over them, cold and greasy and familiar.
The bay suddenly bubbled. Similar to a leviathan rising from the depths of the sea, a giant wave surged, accumulating in mass as the car arrowed forward. Surely, the swell couldn’t reach two hundred feet in height, could it?
Kleio closed her eyes, uttered another desperate prayer. “Calliel, where are you? I need you.”
The darkness thickened, finding purchase in her soul. With a thunderous whoosh, the wave crested over the bridge, washing everything from its path. Joyce screamed as she lost control of the Audi. The sedan flew sideways, sweeping across the blacktop in a graceful glide reminiscent of Cal’s wings.
Then, with an ear-splitting clang, it breached the metal barriers and plunged, nose-first, into the hungry bay.
Cal scanned the mournful faces crowded around the conference table, painfully aware of his recruits’ expectant silence as they waited for him to speak. They relied on him for advice and direction, but to his great dismay, he had absolutely no idea what to say to them. The situation was spiraling out of control, and he was as helpless as the ever-increasing number of bodies slowly piling along the coast.
Over the past few months, powerful floods had spread throughout the nation, obliterating entire cities, claiming thousands of lives. The Apocalypse he’d so feared was no longer a threat looming in the distant horizon.
It was here.
As the leader of the Watchers, he considered it his responsibility to stop it. Problem was, for the first time in his immortal existence, he found himself devoid of answers. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Each of the Sacred Four had fulfilled his or her destiny, save for the last, which Cal had yet to find.
The Apocalypse should not have begun so soon, and yet it had.
Marcus, noting Cal’s hesitation, promptly came to his rescue. “There seems to be a pattern to the floods, which implies the attacks aren’t coincidental or random.”
Cal gave Marcus a grateful nod. His second-in-command always had his back, and he thanked the heavens the Hybrid had forgiven him for casting him out three and a half years ago. Their relationship would never recover entirely. Cal was well aware of that. Marcus’s faith and loyalty had been shaken. Never again would he follow Cal’s orders with blind conviction. But he was here, still fighting alongside him.
To Cal, that meant a lot. It meant everything.
“The hurricanes began in the Florida Keys late this summer,” Marcus continued, “then slowly made their way up to Louisiana. Then several disasters struck San Diego and most recently, LA.”
Major cities had been left in ruins, entire towns washed away.
“This shouldn’t be happening,” Regan said, echoing Cal’s sentiments. “I may not be well-versed in the language of the angels, but I’m pretty sure the prophecy says a Great Flood will come only if one of the Sacred Four fails.” Frustration flashed in her amber eyes. “We did everything to the letter. Jace killed Athanatos, Ben iced Kyros, and Emma took out Kora. I don’t get it. Where did we go wrong?”
“We didn’t go wrong. I did.” Emma, who sat beside Adrian worrying her bottom lip, finally decided to join the discussion. “You guys all insist that it was Kora I was meant to kill, but I was never convinced. I think my target was really Diane, but I let her get away.”
Diane, a Kleptopsych and one of Athanatos’s former followers, had been a thorn in the Watchers’ side for years. Cal would’ve discounted Emma’s statement, were it not for the fact that Diane had an uncanny ability to control water. Who better to instigate the floods that were ravaging the northern hemisphere than a creature graced with the power to wield water like a weapon?
“That still doesn’t explain how she travels from one location to the other in the blink of an eye,” Adrian pitched in. “The hurricane struck Louisana less than an hour before San Diego was hit. If Diane really is behind these floods, then there’s only one explanation.” He directed an accusing glance Jace’s way. “She’s traveling via the catacombs.”
“Impossible.” Jace bristled.“I’ve made sure all access points are sealed. No one gets in or out without my knowledge.”Lia, who sat beside him, squeezed his hand, and Jace instantly calmed.
“Then we’re back to square one,” Marcus grumbled. “Our only hope is to find the last of the Sacred Four and put an end to this.” He turned his attention to Cal. “Any ideas where to start looking?”
Something stiff and painful gathered in Cal’s chest. He admired each and every Watcher in this room. Fate had tested them all, and they had triumphed over their demons. Now it was Cal’s turn, but he wasn’t sure he was up to the task.
Not when the soul they sought was the very one that had led to his fall. He’d turned his back on the angels, on heaven itself, for the simple joy of knowing Kleio’s touch. Then he’d lost her—painfully, violently—and he’d spent the past six millennia mourning that loss.
Angels weren’t meant to love, but when they did, they did so fiercely. They weren’t meant to grieve, but when grief did indeed enter their hearts, it threatened to tear them to shreds. How could he seek out the person harboring his wife’s soul, only to go through the agony of watching her die all over again?
Because there was a good chance none of the Sacred Four would survive the final challenge, whether they succeeded or not. If Cal had learned anything throughout his existence as an angel, it was that every victory demanded a sacrifice.
“I wish I knew.” A wistful note entered his voice, and he quickly crushed it. The last thing he wanted was to reveal what this soul meant to him. If he did, the Watchers would begin to doubt his commitment to the cause, which would in turn cause their own commitment to falter.
He couldn’t have that. Not when the end was upon them. He needed their trust—their loyalty—now more than ever.
Marcus released an aggravated sigh. “If we can figure out where Diane will strike next, assuming she’s the one behind this, maybe we can stop her before more lives are lost.” He stared at the map hanging from the wall. A blue pin marked each location that had been hit.
A feeling of impending doom washed over Cal. Since he’d fallen from grace, his ability to sense shifts in the atmosphere had significantly diminished. But now, precognition hit him with the force of the tsunami that had devastated San Diego.
A voice resonated deep inside him, ringing with fear and desperation. “Calliel, where are you? I need you.”
Ice slid down his spine to congeal in his gut. It couldn’t be.
Images flickered through his mind—a woman with black hair and huge, frightened brown eyes, a wave cresting over the Golden Gate Bridge, a white Audi careening into the bay…
Marcus stood and went to examine the map more closely. “If the pattern holds, my guess is the next target will be—”
“San Francisco.” Urgency drove Cal to his feet. “Jace, I need you to open a door for me. Get me as close to the Golden Gate Bridge as you can.”
For once, Jace didn’t question his orders. He closed his eyes and concentrated, his palms directed toward the vast network of tunnels snaking beneath the Watchers’ complex. “Done.”
Cal rushed to the exit, anxious to get to the basement. There, he could gain access to the catacombs, where time and space were warped. Through those tunnels, he could make it to San Francisco in mere minutes. He only hoped he wasn’t already too late.
Marcus grabbed his arm, delaying him. “Let me come with you.”
Cal shook his head. “You can’t. You’ll drown.” Since the Great Flood, all descendants of the Nephilim suffered from a lethal weakness to water. It crippled them, hindered their ability to swim and was one of two ways to kill their kind. He couldn’t risk any more of his men, especially Marcus. “I have to do this alone.”
Breaking loose from Marcus’s grip, he shot out of the boardroom and went in search of the woman who’d cost him not only his grace, but his heart.
The Audi struck the water, and Kleio’s bones rattled from the impact. Given the height from which they’d fallen, it was akin to hitting concrete. The airbags exploded, filling the car with a dusty substance that seared her nostrils and clogged her throat.
She coughed, as frigid water began to submerge the vehicle. Before she could react, another wave hit them, and the Audi flipped over several times, only to be carried away by the angry current.
After unbuckling her seatbelt, Kleio struggled to free an unconscious Joyce from her restraints as well. It took several tries before the evil contraption sprang free from its buckle. She labored to open the door, but it was no use. The pressure sealed the door shut as effectively as a smith’s forge.
They were trapped.
Water started seeping in through the cracks, weighing the car down and hastening its descent into the dark depths of the bay. Swallowing her terror, she forced herself to think. She’d already lost precious minutes to shock and indecision.
The windows. She had to open a window. It felt counterintuitive to let more of the ocean into the sinking vehicle, but they needed a way out. Unfortunately, the car’s battery chose that moment to die, and the windows were electric.
She would’ve gladly exchanged this modern-day deathtrap for a stubborn mule. A mule would’ve known how to swim.
Inhaling what little oxygen remained, she raised her knees to her chest and pummeled the glass with her heels, bracing herself for the chilling assault of water. Nothing happened. She hit the glass again, harder this time. Still, the cursed thing refused to break.
With a defeated sob, she surrendered herself to panic. Anxiety surged in her chest with a force equivalent to that of the wave that had knocked them from the bridge. Energy built at her core, spreading to all her limbs.
The next time she touched the glass, it shattered into a million glittering shards. She didn’t understand the mysterious power that had coursed through her, nor did she have time to question it. Hooking her arm around Joyce, she fought the icy inflow of water and slid free of the sinking vehicle. Then she swam as hard as her legs allowed.
Joyce weighed her down, but she couldn’t let the woman die. In the years since her awakening, Kleio had come to care for Daphne’s parents. They were the only family she had in this foreign land. A land devoid of magic, where the gods had forsaken their children and damned them to a single century of existence.
Her lungs burned, screaming for air as her legs kicked frantically at the water. For a moment, she wondered if she was swimming the wrong way. The Audi had spun around so many times, she’d lost all sense of direction.
Then her head breached the surface, and she hungrily gulped down several mouthfuls of blessed air. Unfortunately, the reprieve didn’t last long. Vicious swells promptly rolled in from the Pacific to buffet her and pull her down again.
She gasped as she surfaced a second time, then angled her body toward the rocky shore, while doggedly dragging Joyce behind her. How far was it to land, a mile, two perhaps? Her teeth began to clatter from the cold. She’d never make it. Not without succumbing to hypothermia. In December, coastal temperatures hovered dangerously close to fifty degrees.
Another violent succession of waves hit her, prying Joyce from her grasp. Kleio made a futile attempt to grab the older woman, but the current was too powerful, too determined. It pushed and pulled and knocked them around like a pair of broken dolls, right before it carried Joyce away.
Kleio choked on her grief. Mere moments ago, the woman had been looking forward to a fun-filled day of Christmas shopping. Now, the ocean had swallowed her in a single greedy gulp.
Loss clawed at Kleio, threatening to steal what little resolve she had left. She was powerless against the wrath of the gods, both then and now. Why bother fighting a losing battle?
And then she saw the white wolf. It dove off the damaged bridge in one fluid motion. There was something painfully familiar about the graceful way the animal glided through the air, as though invisible wings graced its back and propelled it forward.
Darkness fringed her vision, but she fought to stay conscious, despite the cold siphoning the heat from her bones. The wolf cut a determined path toward her, and Kleio became convinced she was hallucinating. Somewhere in her foggy brain, a memory struggled to take shape.
She remembered another time, another wolf…
The animal’s teeth clamped over the collar of her jacket, and together they floated toward the distant shore.
When the water finally receded, she collapsed onto the stone-littered coastline, shaking uncontrollably. A muted whimper escaped her lips, and a new fear gripped her. Using her last vestige of strength, she scuttled back, afraid the animal had rescued her only to make a meal of her.
Then she met the wolf’s silver gaze and knew. Her fear melted away, replaced by the sweetest of emotions. “Calliel.” She launched herself at him, wrapped her arms around his thick neck and buried her fingers in his wet, matted fur. “You came for me.”