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          The world of Ceres ran parallel to Earth in what could be considered another dimension and yet was not truly so. Earth did not really know of its existence at all. It had been born when the powers of Light and Dark crossed and brought life where there had been none before. Across the surface of Ceres lived many humans, and a powerful race known simply as Lightlings.

         Lightings had once been humans. Some children had been born with souls so light, so beautiful, that they grew shimmering wings. The beauty radiated out of their very souls with a force that transcended gender so that all who viewed them were left breathless. Some Lightlings had gone to Earth over the centuries, and they had sparked the legend of angels. In humor and appreciation for such a thing, the race had officially adopted the nickname.

         Yet, Lightlings were not the only winged race of Ceres. They had a dark cousin known, appropriately, as Darklings. The Darklings had appeared as a genetic mutation in pureblooded families some few hundred years before. Both halves of the angelic race were nearly identical in all ways; they differed only in the element of their birth, the color of their wings, and the natural gift of those with wings. An angel who was Light, white, and had lightning was a Lightling. An angel who was Dark, black, and had fire was a Darkling.

         Darklings were not as populous as their cousins, though they were common enough. The Darkling gene was recessive and always overridden by Lightling genes if the two were paired together. It was a situation not aided by both sides of the angelic genus being less fertile than most other mammalian species. Angels were born with only one soul mate—a destined mate—and they were only capable of producing children with that mate. Their wings, that thing that made them beautiful and powerful, was also their weakness. Making love with wings exposed could dramatically increase an angel's fertility, but an angel only ever gave their wings to their mate.

         Still, as the dawning of a new century began, both species were safely populous enough to not quite be endangered. Nature and Destiny both loved angels, and Ceres would always find a way to keep the two species alive. It was a situation aided by the royal families who were known for often managing more than one child per generation. There were two kingdoms on Ceres, those of Chalice and Crystal, and theirs were the oldest and most powerful of all angelic bloodlines.

         Queen Alyenna Everbird ruled over Chalice with her husband, Malthus. The dawning of the new century was bringing an increase to their family as well, for Alyenna was heavily pregnant with a daughter. She kept her ears open for every bit of legend and story she could since her child would be born into a changing era. Rumor had begun to speculate about a coming prophecy: the return of the legendary Elemines.

         Ceres, so blessed with magic, was protected by the six elemental beings known as Elemines. Their temple could be seen on the landscape though no mortals had been able to get close. Yet, there was a rumor, a prophecy, that said there were two final Elemines known as Infinity and Shadow. What might be crumbled ruins of ancient temples implied it could be more than rumor, but there was no knowing how things would play out. Only if a child were ever born with Shadow or Infinity as their element would understanding begin to arrive.

         When Alyenna was barely weeks away from delivery, the rumors picked up in force. Elemental power had been moving under the surface of the land. People whispered that the Shadow Elemine was to be reborn soon. Just twelve years before, Infinity elemental power had moved under the land as well, sparking thought that the Infinity Elemine would be reborn. No child had come forward as an Infinity element, yet people still wondered.

         Really, Alyenna did not have much time left to wonder about anything except her family. She had daughter coming soon, and she was also raising her young niece. The little Darkling had lost her parents to a quake, and Alyenna and Malthus had adamantly refused to let anyone else take in the baby angel. She was barely a few months old; she needed her real family.

         Luckier still for the royal couple, they had lucked out in already finding her a guardian. Guardians were men and women, normally humans, who were blessed from birth with special gifts and skills that allowed them to protect and care for angels whose many powers and gifts could make them just as fragile. Alyenna and Malthus shared a guardian, a woman named Talia who had already decreed she would not guard their daughter. She refused to get more gray hair than Alyenna had already given her.

         Alyenna took the teasing in stride. She loved her guardian a great deal. At nineteen, she had been with her guardian since she was five and her guardian was sixteen. She truly, deeply, wished to give her daughter and niece the gift of having a guardian from birth. There was nothing like a guardian's unconditional love.

         Eliana, her niece, had a guardian who was also a Darkling. It happened rarely, but did happen, that an angel of either color would become a guardian themselves. In fact, there was often only one condition that sparked it, but that was for Eliana to discover as she grew up. Maduin Grimoire, though just seven, was already partway through his needed training and was very protective and possessive of his little princess.

         Alyenna had her eye on someone else entirely for her daughter. She had been eyeing the boy since she had discovered she was pregnant. He was just now twelve, and his father was an ambassador between the kingdoms. His young age in no way stopped him from being alarmingly skilled in multiple forms of combat; a true necessity in a world whose magic had creature all manner of feral beasts that most Earthlings would call monsters, but Cerelians just called annoying.

         When it was truly only a matter of days, Alyenna finally sent a message to the boy's father to request the young guardian's presence. Her first clue that he would, indeed, be perfect was that she did not even hear his approach in the garden until he cleared his throat. She immediately looked over her shoulder and smiled. "Hello, Alexander. Come sit with me."

         Alexander Solomon had grown up in the courts. He was already trained in the etiquette and manners suiting a courtier. He bowed gracefully and then walked over to sit beside the queen on the bench. He eyed her very pregnant belly intently and then told her, "She is restless."

         "Ah, you have magic as well." Only magic would have sensed the agitation of her unborn child who was, indeed, restless and cranky. The moment an angel was conceived, it had a mind and soul. Alyenna had been communicating with her daughter for all of her pregnancy, and even Malthus had spoken with her. Fathers of angels could reach their children, too. "What is your element, Alexander?"

         He hesitated. "We call it the Moon."

         She arched a royal brow. "But it is not actually the Moon element?"

         "No, Majesty. We don't truly know what it is, but I am capable of using spells of all elements. Sand, Air, Fire, Water, Sun, and Moon. I can access them all, but, my preference is for Moon."

         She studied his violet eyes, and the way they shifted color with his mood, and just smiled to herself. The color of the Moon element was purple. "Ah, well, perhaps someday we will know more. The magic on Ceres is a curious thing. Not everyone has it though everyone still has an elemental power." She tilted her head. "What do you know of angels?"

         "A bit," he admitted readily. "I have been studying them since I was old enough to read. Father always told me I had guardian gifts, and I want to use them. I wish to be a guardian someday, though I admit I'm not entirely sure what it means to be one."

         "Allow me to help," she offered on a smile. "Angels are separated into three classes from birth. The two most common are Wizard and Warrior. Warriors are of exceptional strength, and they cannot use magic. On the other hand, Wizards possess exceptional magic and their strength lacks. I am a Wizard. My husband is a Warrior. Little Eliana is a Wizard. Joshua, the heir of the Crystal Kingdom, is a Warrior."

         "And what will our princess be?"

         "Special." She rested a hand on her belly. "One in a thousand, you will find a Shaman. They are both Warrior and Wizard; they have the strength and magic both. Their powers harmonize with life itself and give them a beautiful music inside their hearts. It is through this music that they fully utilize their magic, and many other gifts even other Wizards cannot use."

         "I see," he said slowly. "She will need a guardian who can use magic." Not all guardians had magic. Not all needed it.

         "She will need a guardian who can use magic and who is quite strong within his or her own right." She sighed. "She will need a guardian who is also stubborn, strong willed, and perhaps a bit devilish as well. She is going to be a terror, Alexander, in the best of ways. I'm afraid she is much like her mother: she will want to always have her way. She will be perhaps a bit of a smartass, and she will love unconditionally in a way that will bruise her heart easily. Her magic feels as if it should rightfully belong to a healer, and they are unfailingly gentle."

         "You have picked me." It wasn't a question because he knew well he wouldn't be there otherwise.

         "I have." She put a hand on his shoulder. "But that is merely because I think you are perfect. Sitting here with you, I am more certain. Your presence has calmed her. But I cannot merely ask you to just blithely agree. What binds a guardian and an angel is a beautiful, profound thing. It is a great deal of love." She took a very long breath. "And it may result in the guardian doing something that will be the hardest thing in their life."

         He looked up quickly. "What?"

         She curled her hands together. "Alexander, you know that angels only have one destined mate." He nodded, and she closed her eyes. "Destined mates cannot be apart against their will. Even voluntarily can be excruciating. We enter into what is known as Angelic Separation. I could call it depression, but it would not encompass the agony we endure every second. It is the double-edged sword of the glory we feel when we are with our mate." Tears glimmered across her eyes. "Alexander . . . if one half of a mated pair dies, the other will enter into Separation and never emerge. They will stop eating. Sleeping. They will not smile or laugh. They will barely breathe. Their souls will slowly corrode and dissolve until the feathers fall from their wings and the wings break off entirely."

         His stomach churned. "They'll die."

         "If they are lucky. Otherwise it is nothing but an endless sea of suffering. A guardian . . ." She took a deep breath. "A guardian's ultimate duty is to—to kill their angel if the angel's mate dies. To end their suffering before it is too late and their halo breaks." A tear slid slowly down her cheek. "I saw it. Talia . . . Talia had to end my sister's Separation when her mate was killed in that quake. And when I saw how pitifully grateful Janeya was to reach her end, I finally understood how Talia could bear it."

         "That is why we must love our angel," he realized very softly. "We must love them enough to kill them if needed." He drew a long breath. It was a daunting realization, but it seemed to explain why such powerful beings needed guardians at all. "What of angels who are mated to humans? Do humans suffer Separation?"

         "They do, unfortunately. A human who is the destined mate of an angel has a soul not much less in beauty than their mate. To suddenly lose their angel would devastate them no less. They might be able to hang on during Separation a little longer, but they, too, would waste away. The angel's guardian would mercifully save them as needed. That is why a guardian is often shared between two angels, or an angel and their mate."

         "And if a guardian is the mate of their angel? It happens, right?"

         "It does, and actually more often than most realize. It is one of the reasons why some guardians find themselves with more than one angel they can love. Eliana and Maduin will be that way." She said it confidently. "Angelic bonds can form even as children and will grow until the angel reaches final maturity at eighteen and their soul fully develops to entirely support the force and fury of their emotions. Already I can see the bond forming between Eliana and her dark guardian. Should the unbearable happen and Eliana lost, Maduin would need to turn to a fellow guardian to save him."

         He said slowly, "So if I was to be your daughter's guardian, I would someday need to guard whomever her mate turned out to be. What if her mate has a guardian? She is to be betrothed to Joshua, isn't she?"

         "Anthony and I hope so anyway. Until he met Gillian, he and I were betrothed ourselves. We have discussed giving up if this generation does not work as well. There are other ways to cement our alliance through blood. Perhaps it will fall to Eliana and Maduin to be the tie; Maduin is of Summerwing blood as well, though a generation or two removed." She shook it off. "As for Josh, as of this moment, he does not have a guardian himself. His parents are looking, but, well, as I said. You can't pick just anyone. Should one be found for him, and he were to be my daughter's mate, you would share duties with his guardian."

         It was a lot to think about. He had always loved angels of both colors, and he had been glad to have guardian gifts. He still felt that way. Perhaps a bit more honored, in fact, that he would be born capable of protecting such fascinating creatures. "I will accept the task of being your daughter's guardian if I love her the way I should when I meet her."

         Her smile looked almost secretive. "I cannot ask for more, Alexander. She is to be born within a week, at most. I would ask that you take up residence within the palace and turn yourself over to Talia for training." She grinned briefly. "She knows me so well, she will be able to prepare you for my child." She laughed. "Everyone is so worried about my personality that they just don't realize Malthus' sheer tenacity and tendency to speak his mind is what they really should watch for!"

         Alexander took up immediate residence in the palace, and Talia was more than glad to start training him. She was more bemused than vexed when he promptly proved to already be on her level. Her seventeen extra years in no way gave her an advantage. She took it for a sign that the princess would be vastly more troublesome than her mother. She also did not doubt that Alexander would be the princess' guardian. Alyenna wouldn't make that mistake.

         One week later, while the rest of Ceres watched a rare but fascinating eclipse where the Earth blocked the sun, the high princess and heir to the throne of the Chalice Kingdom was born kicking, screaming, and generally unhappy with the entire birth process. Her Shaman power was clear from the get-go for anyone who heard her unhappy cries felt utterly miserable as well. Neither her temperamental personality nor her Shaman voice were at all a surprise.

         What was a surprise was that she did not resonate with the normal Light power she should have gotten from her parents. She also did not seem to resonate a Dark power that might have implied an unexpected, yet relatively natural, inheritance of the recessive Darkling genes that had made Alyenna's sister a Darkling as well. Nearly all Lightlings by that date had a recessive Dark gene somewhere.

Instead, the newborn angel seemed to be resonating both. There would be no way of knowing just what it all meant until her wings finally broke in at or around the age of two years. It did not really matter what power blessed her for she was still, clearly, an angel. The sunlight that poured in the window illuminated a fierce and fiery halo that made her radiant. The halo was no metaphysical effect; all angels literally glowed in the sun or moon's light, and it was the manifestation of the beauty of their souls. She was a surprisingly beautiful baby, even physically, and she had inherited her mother's blue-black hair that marked the royal bloodline.

         After she had been bathed and returned to Alyenna, she was still unhappy. Alyenna had no doubt she knew why. She looked at Talia and smiled. "Fetch Alexander, please." She watched her guardian slip out and then smiled at Malthus as he sat beside her on the bed. "Are you pleased with your heir?"

         His fingers trembled as he lightly touched the dark hair on his daughter's head. "Did you have to give me such a beautiful child, Aly? She will be lethal at sixteen!"

         She bit back a laugh. "She will be well-guarded." She looked at the door as it opened and Alexander peeked around the side. "Alexander. Come meet your princess." She patted the bed with her free hand. "Join me."

         He climbed up to sit beside her, and his breath caught as he saw the tiny newborn in her arms. "She's so small!"

         At barely seven pounds and only thirteen inches long, the baby was indeed exceptionally delicate and tiny. The frame came from her mother as well; Alyenna barely stood at five-four in height, and she was quite slender herself. "Here," she said softly. "Hold out your arms."

         He did so, and she put the baby gently into his care. He felt enchanted with the little princess as he looked at her delicate features and soft hair. She was very fussy still, and he softly nuzzled her cheek with his nose. "Hey," he murmured. "It's okay now." He lifted his head as she opened her eyes, and he found himself staring into the iridescent green eyes that marked all Lightlings. These eyes, however, were deeper and more luminous than any he had ever seen.

         She stared up at him with something like wonder in her eyes and then she sighed and snuggled against him without a further fuss. In that moment, he fell helplessly and hopelessly in love. "I'll guard you," he whispered. "I promise."

         Alyenna leaned her head against Malthus's shoulder and just smiled. In a very soft voice, Malthus murmured, "I concede, Aly. You were right. He is perfect." In more ways than one, in fact. He should never have doubted his wife's instincts for their child.

         "What is her name?" Alexander asked.

         Malthus smiled. "Maitena. It means 'butterfly princess.' We were thinking to call her Mai for short."

         "Maitena." He liked it. His little butterfly. He would never let anything hurt her. Ever.



         Unfortunately, a little pain must always enter into any angel's life, and it inevitably occurred at the age of two when their wings started to break in. It was a painful and often frightening process for the toddler that was far worse than teething. The pain was not just physical but metaphysical since the wings were technically affixed to the soul and only looked as if they were connected at the back.

         The wings grew from the soul outward toward the back where they would break through the skin and unfurl the first time. After that, the angel would be able to keep them out as a physical set of limbs or put them back into their soul where they resided as pure spiritual energy. To touch an angel's wings was to literally touch their soul, and it was the reason why an angel only gave their wings to a destined mate. During Unfurling, as it was known, the baby angel was often unhappy to be held by anyone but a guardian, whose core power could heal an angel as profoundly as it could destroy them.

         Eliana and Mai started Unfurling within mere days of each other, and poor Maduin and Alexander had their hands full trying to keep them soothed. They would frequently find themselves pacing and rocking their angels in an effort to keep them from feeling the pain too terribly. It was not helped any by the fact that both girls had mental comprehension on par with a five-year-old human. Angels developed faster than humans, females faster still than males, and royals faster on top of that. They knew what was happening, and it was scary.

         Alyenna watched them pacing and winced as she stepped into the grand hall outside the throne room. Behind her, a male voice said dryly, "You would just have to have had a Shaman and made us share her misery."

         She turned with a grin. "You're just jealous, Anthony."

         Anthony Summerwing grinned back at her. "I'm not. I'm really not." He leaned down and kissed her cheek. "Hello, lovely. Where's your idiot husband?"

         "It's nice to see you too, Anthony," Malthus complained as he approached. "Get your lips off my wife." He smiled to where Anthony's wife, Gillian, stood. "I still think you're crazy."

         Gillian laughed at him. "Or destiny is."

         Malthus and Anthony—and Anthony's cousin, Robert—had been friends for more than a decade before Anthony had met Gillian. That meeting had canceled his betrothal to Alyenna. The very next year, at her eighteenth birthday party, she had encountered Malthus and found her own destiny had been nearby and unseen all along. Robert, being younger, had not met his mate until barely a year ago. Mauri had immediately joined the tight circle as if she had always belonged, and all three women shared a mutual exasperation for their husbands' antics. Twelve or twenty-something, they still egged each other on as boys.

         Anthony and Alyenna had been best friends since birth and were more like brother and sister than not. There was a year separating their ages just as it did between Anthony and Gillian's son, Joshua, and Mai. The Summerwing family ruled the Crystal Kingdom the way the Everbird family ruled the Chalice Kingdom. They visited each other as frequently as could be managed, though this was the first get-together in several months.

         It was for that reason that Alyenna spotted the delicate brunette slowly approaching and hastily rushed over to help. "Mauri! Oh my." She bit her lip as she helped her surrogate cousin-in-law sit down. In each of Mauri's arms was a tiny, brown haired baby. "Twins." She looked up as Robert walked in. "Because of course you would just have to prove that angels can have twins after all." It was unheard of, to be sure.

         Robert Sheridan grinned at her. "Well, you can't wholly blame me! I blame Mauri's one-quarter human blood." He smoothed a tender hand down his wife's hair. "They're fraternal twins. The elder, Laila, is to be a Warrior. The younger, Kev, is to be a Wizard. He is already brimming with magic where his older sister has none."

         "I wish I'd had just one Shaman," Mauri groused.

         "No," Alyenna and Malthus protested hastily, "you don't!"

         It made the entire Summerwing family start laughing. Perched in Gillian's arms, the fair-haired three-year-old prince looked at his family with a bit of confusion and then looked up at his mother. He shared a five-year-old's comprehension with the two princesses though he was a year older. "Why is it funny?" he asked.

         She nuzzled his white hair, inherited from his father. The two royal bloodlines were nearly opposites in many ways, with one carrying black hair and the other carrying white. The colors were unusual among angels of all ilks, thus setting them apart more. "You'll know when you're a bit older, my love." She winced as she heard the crying briefly gain in force. "However, I am grateful you are now past that."

         Her son also winced a bit as he realized that his best friends were now going through what he had gone through the year before. Malthus admitted, "We have been grateful for Alexander and Maduin. I don't know how you managed without a guardian for Josh."

         "Sheer dumb luck. But, speaking of guardians." Robert turned toward the door and called, "Sami!" When the slim young girl had walked inside, he companionably put a hand on her shoulder. "Meet Sami Dumont. She is just ten years old, and she is already partly trained as a guardian. She will be the twins' guardian specifically and also serves now as one for Josh unless and until we find him his own." He eyed his cousin. "You know, I'm a bit suspicious of that one servant boy in the kitchens. Kayden is his name, right?"

         "Kayden Tartino," Mauri confirmed.

         Josh promptly brightened. "Kayden can be my guardian?"

         The adults exchanged a look and then smiled wryly. If Josh was that happy with the idea, then it was likely Kayden was indeed a guardian even if he himself did not know it. It did happen sometimes. Guardians without magic could be easily overlooked. "We'll turn him and Sami likewise over to Alexander for training if you don't mind," Anthony told Alyenna. "He is by far the best we've ever seen, and I don't mean merely for his age. Our guardians jokingly say they wish they could hand us over."

         Alyenna grinned. "He is gifted, to be sure." She smiled at Sami. "Hello, Sami. I'm Alyenna. I'm very honored to meet you. This is my husband, Malthus."

         Sami smiled at her. At ten, she was already quite beautiful, and her striking emerald hair and eyes made her stand out in a crowd. Truthfully, ninety percent of humans shared gender-transcending beauty with angels to some degree or another. Most blamed the magic and did not mind at all. "I am pleased to meet you as well." She frowned toward the throne room as she heard more crying. "They are not happy."

         Mauri smiled at her. "Uh-oh. I hear the healer's instinct stirring." To the others, she said, "Sami is an Air element with great healing magic."

         "Ah!" Malthus gestured to the throne room. "Feel free to offer your help. I am sure Alexander and Maduin will not mind."

         Sami hesitated and then sighed and went into the throne room. Her need to heal was always getting her into trouble. Babies, especially baby angels, unnerved her more than a little. Josh had terrified her when she had first joined the royal household the year before, and she still wasn't sure how to handle her newborn angels. Her nerves weren't aided any when she saw the two boys pacing a bit frantically with very fussy and very upset little angels in their arms. "Uhm. Can I help?"

         Alexander glanced at her, recognized a fellow guardian as well as a healer, and immediately walked over to plop Mai into her arms. "Make her smile."

         Sami boggled at the princess, and Mai stared back with wide-eyed consternation as if she had no idea who this new person was or why she was there. Perhaps miraculously, she stopped crying entirely. To Sami's dismay, she was promptly handed the other princess as well. Eliana also blinked at her and stopped crying. She found herself being pinned under matching iridescent fascination and looked at her fellow guardians helplessly. "I've just met you and already I hate you."

         Alexander and Maduin sat down hard on the floor. "You're the answer to our prayers," the latter complained. "Ugh." He fell over on his back. "Remind me to write to my parents and apologize profusely for what I put them through when I was Unfurling. I have a whole new respect for my own species!"

         Alexander smiled at Sami wryly. "I'm Alexander Solomon. This is Maduin Grimoire."

         "Sami Dumont." She blinked as both little girls leaned in and actually sniffed at her. "Er, what are they doing?"

         Maduin sat up and grinned. "For one, they smell your magic. For another, they're checking to see if you have any angelic blood. You don't, but they're checking anyway. That's how we can identify each other. Every angel has a unique scent that moves through the family tree. You humans match DNA. We match scents."

         The girls were still staring at Sami. "They are really starting to unnerve me."

         "You get used to it," Alexander offered. "An angel's gaze can be very piercing, especially when they are powerful. You've got the two most powerful female angels alive in your arms." He got back up to his feet. "I guess I've got a lot to teach you." He smiled. "How old are you?"


         "Fourteen." He jerked a thumb at Maduin. "Nine.

         Sami stared. She would have though Alexander closer to seventeen. He was much more mature in a way more typical of angels. "I guess I don't mind." She winced and quickly held the girls closer as they suddenly began to cry again. "Uh-oh. Your rest is over, guys." From where she had a hand on each of their backs, she could feel a sudden surge of power under their skin. "Something's moving."

Maduin scrambled up and quickly took Eliana, and Alexander took Mai. Mai curled against her guardian and whimpered in pain. "Alex! It hurts! Make it stop! You make it better!"

         "Angel." He buried his face in her hair. "Just hang on. It won't be much longer." It had been a week. He would lose his mind if she suffered much more.

         Eliana's wings blessedly broke through the following day. The minute Maduin saw the black feathers emerging from her skin, he was able to call in Sami. The healer nearly balked when she found out what she had to do, but she swallowed her nerves and gave in. Quite simply, the safest way to spare an angel unnecessary damage both internal and external was to gently cut the skin of their back to loosen pressure and let nature take over.

         Her hands were steady enough to cut Eliana's skin, and the angel's wings promptly broke out with enough force to make the walls briefly shake. The cuts could then be healed, and her wings drooped as exhaustion claimed her. Maduin let out the breath he had been holding and rocked her as she slept, finally, peacefully in his arms. "She'll be able to go through Awakening at five without any trouble now."

         Awakening was when an angel truly became one. They would manifest their power more wholly and take command of either their fire or lightning, and if they had magic, they would start to use it. It would continue to develop until final maturity at eighteen where it would hit peak and cement. Awakening was relatively safe, if slightly traumatic, in children. If an angel somehow went without Awakening until eighteen or later, it could be deadly to them and the people around them.

         Sami looked at the tiny black wings on Eliana's back and smiled. "I never realized how cute a baby angel's wings can be."

         "You won't say that when your twins start flying and you can't catch 'em."

         She winced. "Please don't remind me. I'm already panicking."

         The door suddenly opened sharply, and a maid said urgently, "Sami, please hurry. Alexander is calling for you. Princess Maitena's wings are breaking through and she's in agony."

         Sami scrambled out the door and rushed through the palace to the princess' bedroom. The instant she opened the door, she realized why there was such a panic. The very walls were vibrating in the force of Mai's cries, and her power was making the air quiver violently. Sami could see the waves. "Oh my god."

         "Sami, hurry!" Alexander snapped. "She's going to tear something!"

         She ran over and grabbed the silver dagger Alexander wore on his hip. It was the mark of Alexander's role as Mai's guardian, and it was only fitting it be used to end her Unfurling. As Sami was about to cut her skin, however, she realized in shock that the feathers poking through the angel's skin were neither white nor black. They were gray. "What the hell?"


         She shook her head and then swiftly made the small incisions needed. Mai's wings almost literally exploded through the openings, and they did it hard enough that the power knocked Sami flat on the ground. Paintings fell off the walls, and the floor cracked in several places. Eerie silence descended as Mai slumped over against Alexander's shoulder and stopped crying. The shimmering gray wings on her back unfurled slowly and then folded once more as she finally fell asleep, exhausted from the soul out.

         Sami carefully got to her feet. "Unbelievable," she murmured. She lightly touched Mai's power with hers and felt, clearly, the Shadow element inside the angel. "Shadow." She looked at her friend and saw the way he had his eyes closed as he rocked Mai. She just smiled. "Alex, did you know they were gray?"

         "I was wondering," he admitted. "Whenever her wings moved, gray power moved in her eyes. The only gray elemental power is Shadow. She always had both light and dark inside her." He rubbed his cheek over Mai's hair. "I don't know how much more she could have taken." He looked at the room in consternation. "Her parents are going to kill us."

         They were more relieved with their daughter's ended Unfurling than they were vexed by the need to do repairs. They had her bed moved into their room until they were done, but she was having none of that. She waited until her parents were asleep before sneaking out of her bed, creeping through the palace, and tiptoeing into Alexander's room. He would always let her snuggle into bed beside him, and his heartbeat let her sleep peacefully without the sanctuary of her room.

         No one really could figure out what her Shadow element or gray wings meant. The most adept historians and scientists just threw their hands in the air and decided to wait. If it was related to the Shadow Elemine, then there was no knowing what it would all mean. Life would just have to go on until they found their answers.

         Whatever they may be.


©S. J. Garrett. All rights reserved. Do not reprint/publish without permission.

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