First Three Chapters – Darkest Betrayal: Fallen Angels (The Brotherhood of Angels Book 1)

darkest betrayal 1Twins of the prophecy…
Sold to a dark angel.
Chase and Aiden Hawthorne have always known they had to stick together. When their father sells them at a young age to a dark angel, they learn to use each other.
Helping each other grow in power and strength, the young men develop talents rare in the angel world.
So much of their lives were kept secret.
And for good reason.
They, along with the blood of two girls, are the keys to the prophecy that foretells the end of all worlds.
Could they still be what their mother died for?
Or will the Rogues defeat the Brotherhood of Angels and destroy the world?

Releases June 27 – pre-order for 99c

 

Chapter One

 

Chase

 

When a boy’s earliest memories revolved around his mother’s murder, a dark and stormy night became a safe place to hide.

Chase turned his shoulders toward his twin brother, Aiden, to block the sheeting rain from their faces. The wind wasn’t much help as it slapped the errant water around them with fierce anger. He shivered. The cold reached deep inside, under his ribs. He would never be warm again. Nothing would thaw the chill that had seeped under his flesh.

Clouds closed in around the rickety boat as it drifted further from shore. A man stood at the bow, pushing a stick deep into the trenches of the choppy waters to move them forward. He raised his arms high and pushed, straining as he worked to move them against the raging winds.

Getting out that far from the South Carolina shores had taken some doing and Chase still wasn’t sure why they were there. Chase’s only guess involved his father and the possibility that he and his brother were going to be thrown into the dangerous waters to be eaten by sea monsters.

Teeth chattering, Chase pulled the oilskin tighter around Aiden and himself. Their father had tossed the crude chunk of material at their feet when they’d arrived at the docks. He hadn’t looked at them when he barked his orders. The treatment wasn’t new. He hadn’t looked at them since they’d been born, unless he was considering what disappointments they were or what he could get out of them.

Dark skies withheld the secrets of the stars with overhanging clouds that tossed and roiled in a desperate attempt to get at the brothers. A minute amount of light came from a lantern swinging back and forth at the front of the dugout-style boat as it rocked from side to side struggling to keep them upright in the choppy waters.

Chase held onto Aiden’s thin arm as they huddled together in the bottom of the vessel. Water collected and pooled under their bare feet. The rain and wind worked together as if the elements hated the boys as much as their father did.

“Hawthorne! I’ll not be waiting at the docks for you. Once we land, you and your whelps will be on yer own.” The ferryman’s growl permeated the layers of wind and rain as he scowled at the boys huddled near their father’s feet.

“There’s no need, Dall. After tonight, I won’t need anything from anyone ever again.” A hulking man, their father wore his name with arrogance and folded his arms over his chest. His thick leather duster flapped around his legs, smacking Chase and Aiden at random intervals. Scott Hawthorne’s back didn’t bend as he glanced in the general direction of his offspring, his face devoid of emotion – which was an improvement from his general expression of hatred and intolerance.

He didn’t give into the torrential storm as it wrought relentless hellfire against him. With his legs spread wide, Hawthorne straddled the midpoint of the boat with confidence.

The man was the devil himself.

He slicked his long dark hair back from his face, exposing an angular jaw under shadowy hawk-like eyes.

Unfortunately, he was all Chase and Aiden knew.

The boat pitched violently to the left, yanking Aiden from Chase’s grip. A small cry left his mouth as he landed on the rough wooden siding.

“Aiden!” Chase reached for him, hurting on the same spot where Aiden had landed. Their twin intuition bound them with more than a birth date as many of their emotions and experiences were tied together. If Aiden felt pain, Chase hurt, too. If Chase had a nightmare, Aiden woke upset. They were intertwined and had been since birth.

Holding out a hand, Aiden wiped at his young face and shook his head. Even though he didn’t speak, Aiden was easy for Chase to read. He didn’t need Chase’s help. His rebuttal, though, stung.

Chase nodded tightly, maintaining the position at their father’s feet as he held the oil cloth up and waited for Aiden to rejoin him.

Hawthorne ignored his sons. Pressing his lips together, he adjusted his stance, ignoring the heel of his boot as it rammed into Chase’s left ankle. Chase bit his lip to fight the pain shooting up his calf.

Why had they been stuck with a father like Hawthorne? Why was their every waking moment filled with dread and their sleep made of tumultuous nightmares?

Dall spun around. “What kind of humor is this? There’s no landing out here. There’s nothing. You promised there would be something for me to tie to.” He took one hand off his large staff and motioned out into the darkness.

Measured lightning in the not-too-far-off distance illuminated his words to be true. Only pointed tips of waves as the wind tossed them back and forth in the boat’s path greeted their searching gazes.

Stomping surefooted to the front beside Dall, Hawthorne lifted his hand to his eyes against the rain and peered in the direction Dall pointed. He, too, saw nothing. Standing for a moment, he considered the situation. He didn’t wait long as he whirled, grabbed Chase by the arm and thrust him in front of him.

He pressed his son’s legs against the wooden frame of the boat and growled. “What do you see?”

Chase didn’t want to look. He didn’t want to be cuffed either, a common occurrence when he didn’t say or do exactly what his dad wanted.

Grimacing, Chase raised his shaking hand and wiped at the rain running down his face. Sea water splashed over the bow and mixed in his eyes, the sting of the salt water sharp. The scent was underpowered compared to the acrid taste he tried to spat from his lips.

Hastily glancing up toward his father, Chase then turned back where his father pointed. But there was nothing there. He blinked, searching. His father was so certain something should be there.

He shook his head, tucking his chin to his chest. “I don’t see anything but water and clouds, sir.”

Before he could drag his breath back in from speaking, Chase blinked as his father whipped him around, holding him aloft above the water. Hawthorne pulled Chase’s face close to his. “Look again, but be careful what you say. That water is mighty deep and we won’t be coming back fer ya.” His eyebrows drew tight together as he studied Chase’s expression, checking to see if Chase understood what was at stake.

Chase understood more clearly than his father possibly could. He’d been there and watched as Hawthorne had killed their mother. Watching an angel die wasn’t something a child should have to see – least of all when she was his mother.

Nodding jerkily, Chase held his nausea at bay from being whipped around again to face forward. He looked; he searched, but nothing…

Blinking back tears, he turned his head to the side, prepared to take a beating and squinted at the water slapping his cheeks and nose.

There on the horizon to the east of where they were headed stood a landing like an island in the middle of the ocean. Moorings rose high into the clouds and a man stood on the end of the dock, even from their distance his size formidable.

“Well? What do you see?” Hawthorne shook Chase, seeking past him for a clue or a sign of where they should be going.

Chase raised his hand, pointing toward the apparition. “There.”

Hawthorne heaved Chase behind him, ignoring his son as he crumpled to the ground. He grabbed the staff from Dall and pushed the boat in the direction Chase had pointed. Dall leaned away from Hawthorne’s determined grip as he stepped out of the way of the larger man’s hulking mass.

Aiden clutched Chase’s hand and peered into his eyes. He kept his voice low as he spoke. “What did you see?” The soft bluish purple of his lips and pale face scared Chase. How long would they be expected to survive out in the storm? How long would their father expect them to?

Glancing up at Hawthorne’s determined set to his jaw, Chase leaned forward until he could barely whisper into Aiden’s ear. “I’m not sure.” He reached out, clutching Aiden’s wrist and then closed his eyes. Maybe this time, if he tried hard enough, Aiden would be able to see what Chase could see.

They’d been experimenting with their connection since they were six years old, shortly after their mother had died. Chase had things he was good at and Aiden had his own abilities. Sometimes, they were able to help the other with utilizing their talents and other times they couldn’t even tap into their skills.

Hopefully, this time wouldn’t be a disappointment.

Chase pictured what he had seen and pushed the thought toward Aiden, grateful to hear Aiden’s sharp inhale when he received it. Chase’s eyes flew open, pulling back to see Aiden follow suit.

“Do you feel that?” Aiden whispered. His connection to Chase gave him access to Chase’s abilities and he redirected Chase’s focus. “The moon. It’s pulling us the other way.”

Before Chase could investigate the draw on the boat, the front of the boat struck the first mooring of the dock and the small boat rocked and jolted. The jarring of the boat didn’t stop as it fought with the waves, the docking, and their father’s impatient steps to the ladder dangling down the side of the dock.

“I’m serious, Hawthorne. As soon as you’re gone, I’m leaving.” Dall lifted his chin, staring up at the top of the dock as if he’d never seen anything like it. That would be his last mistake.

Hawthorne pulled a pistol from his waistband and shot Dall in the throat. The momentum of the lead ball pushed Dall backwards over the side of the boat. “I don’t need you anymore.” He turned to Chase and Aiden, his eyes burning with desperate greed. “Now. Get up this ladder and don’t make me wait.”

The lantern tipped, hitting the side of the mooring and cracking. Wind blew away the insignificant flame out and Chase prayed his sight would adjust fast so he could make his way to his father’s side. As he slowly stood, Chase couldn’t believe the light coming from above the docks to illuminate their presence as they bobbed on the sea.

He grasped the bottom rope rung of the ladder and glanced back over his shoulder to Aiden. His brother jerked his chin. He’d be right behind.

Chase climbed, successfully ducking a potential cuffing from his father as Hawthorne bellowed, “Move, boy!”

The ladder swung as Aiden climbed onto the rungs beneath Chase. They climbed, closer and closer to the top. Where were they going? What was up there? Who was that? Why was the light getting brighter the higher they climbed and why was the rain dissipating? Questions swarmed through Chase’s mind like hungry yellow bees. He couldn’t catch them to answer them before another one strove in to take its place.

Pulling himself up onto the warm surface of the dock, Chase moved himself free of the path of the ladder and threw himself down. Warmth permeated his body and the shivers began anew as his body searched for the heat like a baby seeking his mother’s teat.

The sound of Aiden’s soft whimper as he fell to the dock beside Chase gave Chase the energy to turn his head, pressing his cheek against the wood-like material. He stared into Aiden’s deep dark brown eyes. Aiden reached out and grabbed Chase’s wrist, the startling chill to his skin more apparent as Chase warmed up.

Aiden’s thoughts flooded Chase’s mind. “Something’s not right. We need to stand up.”

I don’t know if I can. I’ve been so cold. This feels so good.” Chase pleaded with Aiden, but he knew he would do what they needed to. That’s how they did things. If one didn’t have an idea, then the other would and they would execute the plan. No matter what. They had each other’s backs because they trusted each other implicitly.

Try.”  Aiden’s command strengthened Chase’s resolve.

Pushing his hands beneath his chest, he pushed himself to a standing position and dragged in a deep breath. Beside him, Aiden copied his movements. They were so close, it was hard to tell which aches and pains were Chase’s and which belonged to Aiden.

Aiden met Chase’s gaze. “Do you see that?” Aiden’s lips barely moved as he breathed the question.

Chase turned his attention the direction Aiden indicated with a small flicker of his eyes. Keeping his mouth closed, Chase’s jaw fell slack as he took in the scene before them.

He’d forgotten his father and the man who stood on the dock. He’d been so consumed by the found warmth, nothing else had mattered. As he took in the scene, he wasn’t sure why he was calm and assured when the moment was so terrifyingly real.

Their father stood at the end of the dock, facing the man who could claim wider shoulders and a straighter back than Hawthorne himself.

Hawthorne’s confidence didn’t falter as he tossed back his dark hair and laughed cruelly into the soft wind. “You think your display of controlling the weather intimidates me, Trilorean? I’ve killed your kind, remember? Nothing scares me anymore.” The guttural sounds of his voice had never been so clear, so grating.

Something about the place they had landed seemed to give them a strength to their thoughts.

Chase and Aiden didn’t move as the man strode close to Hawthorne, his eyebrows lifted enough in mock despair. “Be careful who you mock, Scott. That angel you killed was your wife. Her guardian was one of my closest friends.” An underlying thread of steel tied his words together.

Chase looked more closely at Trilorean when he mentioned their mother. How had Trilorean known Mama? The man’s long auburn hair hung straight, as if the winds themselves had no power to sway the strands. His deep green eyes suggested he was Irish but Chase didn’t know any Irishmen who spoke without an accent. The way Trilorean spoke gave new meaning to velvet rock – hard and covered in velvet.

He wore what looked like a coat but the material was light and airy in appearance. It shimmered as he moved and something in the way the colors moved over the black reminded Chase of a distant memory. He couldn’t pinpoint the images in his mind before the men spoke again.

Hawthorne’s haughty confidence rang in his voice as he called out. “None of that matters, Trilorean. I want to be an angel. You know I failed at taking Elana’s powers. All I want is to be like her.” There was no unrequited love in his words. He’d hated Elana and the feeling rippled across the space between them.

Lightning flashed at the end of his statement. The hawkish bent to his profile gave him a more regal appearance than he deserved.

Hot light illuminated Trilorean as he hardened his jaw. The shadows graced him and he tilted his head to the side. His voice became deep, melodic as if he could hypnotize the world with one phrase. There was something calming about him, even as he stood like the captain of the storm. He pointed at Hawthorne. “If you accept this power, you have to deal with the consequences. Can you accept that?”

Aiden and Chase watched as the night folded around them. Panic welled up inside Chase’s throat. No. Hawthorne couldn’t have the power of an angel. He didn’t deserve it. He’d killed for it and now he was going to get it?

The unjustness of the moment brought tears to Chase’s eyes and he stepped forward, but stopped when Aiden’s fingers gripped his shirt.

Glancing back, Chase blinked back tears. “But…”

“Just wait.” Aiden watched the men. Of the two, Aiden was less brash, but he was bold. He planned. “Something isn’t right.”

 

 

Chapter Two

 

Chase

 

Striding through the suddenly still air, Hawthorne wrapped his thick fingers around Chase and Aiden’s arms and jerked them to his sides. Chase stumbled, almost toppling from atop his weak legs. His father’s fingers dug into the soft skin of Chase’s inner bicep. Wincing was all he would be allowed to do to react.

With a booming voice, Hawthorne called out to Trilorean, “You wanted twins, correct? This is your only chance. Half bloods are rare enough, but twins? The only thing that would have been rarer was if they were full blooded.” He sneered, glancing at the boys. “But we know that’s not possible, don’t we? These are the twins of the prophecy. You don’t have any other choices.” He lifted his chin in challenge. “You’ll never find another set like them. Doesn’t the prophecy state —”

“Enough.” Trilorean’s hand sliced through the air. He inspected Hawthorne like the lowliest of scum. A breeze rose from around his feet and the shimmering black around him rustled. “I’m willing to pay more gold than you’ve ever imagined. Jewels. Anything you want. Are you sure you won’t take that for payment?” A hint of something desperate creased the border of his irises.

“I told you my price.” Lowering his voice and tightening his hold on their arms, Hawthorne didn’t let his resolve slip at the mention of the treasure Trilorean offered.

Chase wasn’t surprised. He didn’t quite understand what was happening. All he knew was that his father’s rage would be undeniable, if he failed to gain what he wanted. Anger and contentment radiated from Hawthorne and the emotions grayed out anything else Chase could’ve felt – himself or from anyone else.

Aiden’s thoughts pushed through the haze of their father’s emotions. “He’s selling us, Chase. He wants something. Pay attention. Which one is telling the truth and which one isn’t?”

Chase focused. If Aiden could master his self-control when his normally passive persona should be quaking in the turmoil, then Chase could do the same. They were nine-years-old after all. They weren’t babies anymore.

Focusing his gaze on Trilorean, Chase searched for the emotional string that would pull Chase’s understanding toward him. He breathed deeply, straining. After a moment, a hint of hope laced with despair and stubbornness glowed like a beacon and Chase latched onto it with his emotional sensors. Good, he had Trilorean figured out. The man’s intentions weren’t ill. His aura suggested he had something huge he wanted and he was torn, but what about wasn’t clear.

Chase didn’t bother reporting his findings to Aiden. Everything he was feeling and discovering, he’d left himself open so his brother could see it as well. Chase glanced furtively toward his father and pressed his lips together.

Their father didn’t budge in his stance. He wanted to be what their mother had been. But he couldn’t. Chase didn’t need to seek far into his father’s visage. He wore evil like a second skin and he had no problem owning it.

Chase leaned imperceptibly forward to catch a glimpse of his brother. Just knowing he was there wasn’t enough anymore. Chase had to see him. Looking at his father had left him feeling empty and alone. As long as Chase had Aiden, he knew he’d never be alone.

Trilorean searched Hawthorne as if he suspected the man would give in; would change his mind. The hardness in Hawthorne’s eyes promised there was no going back.

Pinks, oranges, and lavenders lit up the sky as Trilorean looked upward, closing his eyes and spreading his arms wide.

Flashes of light split the clouds across the sky outside of the haven Trilorean had created for them. Wind picked up and the force of it pushing from Trilorean whipped at Chase’s hair and he shrank from the biting gusts.

Trilorean opened his eyes and ignored Hawthorne. He looked at the boys, each in turn, and his eyes softened. Through lips tight with power, he spoke with command. “So be it.”

Holding out his hand, he jerked his fingers toward him. “Send the twins to me so they will be protected across the veil. Once they are clear, I will give you what you demand.” His jaw clenched and he tucked his chin. “Remember, Hawthorne, the rest of what happens is based upon your actions… your choices.”

Scoffing, Hawthorne shoved the boys from his side. Watching Trilorean, Hawthorne brandished his pistol and trained the muzzle at Aiden’s head. “Don’t push me, Trilorean. I don’t have anything invested in these… boys. Not enough anyway.”

Chase was a few paces behind and winced as he saw their father’s intentions.

Hawthorne watched Trilorean, keeping his gaze trained on the angel’s imposing form. Hawthorne’s words carried all the threats he could conjure. “I’m watching.”

Chase turned back to his father and puffed up his small chest. “Me, sir. Use me.” If either of the boys was to die, it would be better if it was Chase. Aiden had talents and gifts that the world needed. Chase was a pale second compared to his brother. He didn’t resent it, he just recognized reality.

Sporting a sly grin that revealed shaded teeth and a crack in his normally pristine lips, Hawthorne half-shrugged. He aimed the pistol in Chase’s direction. Chase didn’t flinch. It wouldn’t be the first time their father had threatened to kill him. It certainly wouldn’t be the last.

With a small jerk of the gun, Hawthorne indicated Chase needed to turn around and head toward Trilorean. Chase did so, but his shoulders were straight and he moved with a measured pace that he refused to speed up. No matter what, Hawthorne wouldn’t know how terrified Chase and Aiden were. He didn’t deserve anything from them again.

As Chase crossed an invisible line, Trilorean’s countenance lost the glow he’d been projecting. Instead, the warmth increased and Chase’s fear and loneliness faded. The smell of cookies overcame him and he looked around, startled. That’s how his mother smelled. Was she there?

He ran to Aiden, grabbing his brother’s hand in his. “Do you smell that? It’s Mom. Is she here?” He continued searching around them. Had they died? Was she there with them but they couldn’t see her? Maybe she hid from them. Maybe they hadn’t died yet, but they were close. They had been so cold. Maybe their father had shot them and they just didn’t know it yet.

Chase spun from Aiden. His skin no longer ached from dehydration. Hunger pains disappeared from his stomach. His back didn’t hurt and the cuts and bruises from his father’s last beating had vanished. What kind of sorcery was this? Angel’s couldn’t fix everything. If they could, why hadn’t they saved their mother? Why hadn’t they stopped Trilorean? There were so many questions and Chase couldn’t summon enough rage to focus on them.

His relative calm scared him. He should be feeling anger and resentment and loss, but his emotions were tightly controlled like under a thick gelatinous mask.

There was a different look to the world’s appearance. The wind didn’t blow as hard and the water seemed to fall around them as if in a bubble, never striking them. It moved in a different curve than the rest of the rain outside the dock.

Trilorean moved closer to Hawthorne, leaving the boys at his back. He shifted what appeared to be his jacket but was instead wings which he unfurled behind him.

Chase and Aiden weren’t surprised. Wings on men and women were common in their dreams. Their mother had had wings. She used to wrap shimmering white wings around them as she worked; carrying them with her as if the wings were extra appendages and nothing about them was out of the ordinary. They hadn’t seen wings since she’d died.

Trilorean’s silvery black wings stretched out to his sides. He raised his arms to the skies and reached out, grabbing a bolt of lightning in his fist. His arms shook as he turned, yelling something into the wind. His words rolled and twisted as he chanted, rising in volume as wind buffeted around them.

Aiden moved close to Chase and they clutched each other in their arms.

Hawthorne’s face glowed with euphoria as he watched Trilorean get closer and closer with the bolt.

Trilorean thrust the bolt into Hawthorne who filled with power, his body shining and bulging with the emission.

Large, dark, and austere wings swelled up behind their father, half-lifting him from his feet. His face became beatific as he watched them from his new position. He dropped the gun as he reached out both hands to feel the new flight forms on his body. A light filled his countenance and then darkened as he turned a twisted smile toward them.

Backing up, Trilorean reached out his arms and pulled Chase and Aiden back, further from Hawthorne whose laughter burst from him like a barking growl. “You can’t protect them now, Trilorean. Not anymore.”

He tilted forward as if to charge but a swirling vortex opened behind him, revealing a large black hole of nothing. Glancing behind him, his arrogance was wiped clear with true fear. He spun back to Trilorean. “You tricked me!”

Trilorean pulled Chase and Aiden close. “Do not watch.” He tucked their faces gently against his chest and turned his own gaze away.

Just as quickly as Hawthorne was transformed, he was sucked into the hole.

Aiden and Chase gasped in unison. What had happened?

Hawthorne was gone. Where did they belong? If their father wasn’t alive anymore, where did that leave them?

Chase grabbed Aiden’s hand as he slipped to the side toward the water off the edge of the dock. “No! Aiden!” Chase pulled his brother back and they huddled together as they watched the storm fade around them.

The night calmed around them.

Their father had just sold them. They’d just lost everything they’d ever known. He was a bastard, but he’d been the only family they knew.

What was going to happen now?

 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

Chase

 

Trilorean turned toward Chase and Aiden, his voice harsher than his expression. “You’ll be alright now. He will not be allowed free from Outer Darkness. No one escapes.” A pained expression twisted his resolve, but he blinked it away. “Come, we have a lot of work to do. Your training starts in a short amount of time.” His wings folded behind him and molded back to his form like a duster, the tips trailing around his worn boots.

Before moving on, he knelt on the dock, staring into their eyes as if he was searching for something. He focused first on Aiden and when he turned the startlingly intense gaze toward Chase, Chase could’ve sworn he could see deep inside his very soul.

Chase winced at the brightness of Trilorean’s face. Even though they had crossed the veil, he was still brighter than anything Chase had seen barring the mid-day sun. Not adapted to the new plane, Chase’s eyes narrowed and squinted and widened as he tried to adjust. He blinked rapidly, seeking someway to soften the onslaught to his eyes. Curiously, he captured the emotion of regret and melancholy wafting his way from Trilorean.

Why would the powerful angel feel regret or wistfulness? What could he possibly long for?

The deep timbre of his voice broke through Chase’s thoughts. “As you heard, I’m Trilorean. The tri- suffix means three and lorean is our root word for angel. I’ve lived three angel lifetimes which is longer than the earth’s life. My name from before… I don’t remember.” His eyes twinkled. “Nevertheless, I’m a recruiter, but I’m also the protector of prophecies. As you probably gathered, you are my newest recruits.” He narrowed his eyes and studied Chase and Aiden in turn. “Do you understand what has just happened?”

Chase nodded, as the oldest of the brothers, just by minutes, he had to protect his brother and lead the way, even if he didn’t want to. He swallowed. “Yes, our father sold us. You bought us.” Chase bit his lip and then burst out. “Except, we’re not slaves. How can he do that? How can you have done that? We’re not property.”

Trilorean nodded gravely. “Yes, I did purchase you from that man. I am responsible for you until you turn sixteen or I die.” He winked, softening his tone as he spoke. “Whichever comes first. Unfortunately, it’s no longer your choice if you belong to me or not. You’re not old enough to be on your own and your guardian gave up his rights. You’re nine years of age now. You’ll reach your physical apex at twenty-five and not age a day over. As long as you’re an angel, your physical traits will never fade. You will develop talents as you train and grow here, but you’ll never experience humanity again.” Sadness rolled off him, taking Chase by surprise.

He couldn’t gather his thoughts with so many different emotions surrounding him from Trilorean and Aiden in turn. Chase couldn’t figure out his own feelings. What was appropriate to be feeling? He couldn’t discern between his own anger and Aiden’s or his sadness and Trilorean’s.

Aiden nodded as if he was listening intently to Trilorean but instead he spoke to Chase with his thoughts. “What do we do? We’re stuck.” Panic transferred from Aiden to Chase.

The urgency of Aiden’s emotion pulled Chase’s gaze from Trilorean. He reached out and grabbed Aiden’s arm until his brother looked him in the eye. With an imperceptible movement of his head, Chase forced his thoughts across their connection. “As long as we’re together, none of this matters.”

Trilorean watched them. Something akin to pride replaced his melancholy. He held his tongue until they returned their gazes to his. “When we get to the gate, you’ll have one last choice. If you join me, you’ll become a lorean-in-training and eventually earn your positions in the Brotherhood of Angels. If you decide not to go further, you’ll be left to wander Tealsdor.” He spread his arms and looked past the boys, inclining his head for them to look.

They turned slowly, taking in the clouds of multiple shades of pinks and purples, blacks and blues. Unlike misty clouds which seemed to phase out in a gradual process, the clouds were thick and contained, as if they really were made of wool like their mother’s dress or like the milk they had once seen in a bucket splashing at a farm. They had substance that may or may not cling to them.

“When you wander Tealsdor, before you change to a lorean or instead of becoming a lorean, you will continue to grow and age and eventually die, like you would on Earth. But you will always see the memories of your short life. You will only see glimpses of each other and many times they will be your memories. It would be enough to drive you insane.” His voice fell into a near-whisper. “Or you can choose to go to Outer Darkness… where your father went. You can’t get out.”

“Where’s our mom?” Chase blurted his question before he could stop himself. Aiden seemed frozen, his fear and confusion so thick, Chase could barely think around it.

“I imagine she’s in Nevaeh, the light side. Humans refer to that part of the planes as Heaven. I’m stuck in specific planes with the jobs I have to do. She would never be in… Cynnistear, the dark side. She’s… let’s just say, people or angels as pure as your mother aren’t seen in my part of the planes.” Something glimmered in his eyes as he spoke and he cleared his throat, glancing down toward his knees. He looked away from them. Something in his words didn’t ring true.

Chase shook his head. He couldn’t hide what he knew. He blurted out, “You’re lying. What part isn’t true?” He studied Trilorean, ignoring Aiden’s gasp at his boldness.

Trilorean shifted back on his heels. “Ah, you’re tied to emotions. That will be a blessing and a curse for you.” He pressed his lips together. “You’re right. I did lie. I’m not sure where your mother is. I suspect… I think she is in Outer Darkness, but I can’t be certain, it’s where loreans go when they die. Death for angels isn’t natural. We’re not supposed to die. So when we do…” Something sparkled in his eyes and he cast his gaze downward. A significant spike in his sadness crashed into Chase whose own eyes stung with instant tears.

“Outer Darkness? Is that… Can we go there?” Chase furrowed his brow. Why couldn’t they go to their mom? Where was she?

“I’m not certain she’s there. If you went to check, you’d never be able to leave. If she was there, you’d be miserable together. But if she’s not there?” Trilorean left the question unanswered as he’d stated, no one was allowed to leave.

“Is Cynnistear… Do you live in hell?” Aiden pushed past Chase’s shoulder and he asked the question like he would ask a question in a school environment. He braced his shoulders to keep his fear from showing, and Chase pushed some of his strength through their connection.

They dropped the Mom-stuck-in-Outer-Darkness thing. If it was hopeless, why drag it through the dirt?

Trilorean chuckled, even as the soft breeze was finally allowed to pick up the long length of his hair. “No, child. I live on the darker side of the veil. But I don’t necessarily live in hell. Not what you guys refer to as hell, anyway. There’s a lot you’ll be learning when you go to HALO, if that’s something you decide to do.” He looked down and then nodded as if answering a question no one had asked. “I’m going to lead the way to the Gates. Follow me, and when we get there, you will make your decision. Let me get far enough ahead of you that you can talk about what you want to do.”

He nodded as he stood gracefully from his position on his knees. Moving ahead of them, toward the thick cloudy setting, he shook his wings. A multi-facetted shimmer slid down the black angles of his wings with a slight shudder.

Motioning Chase and Aiden to follow him, Trilorean turned away from the brothers, truly allowing them to discuss their decisions on their own. So far, Trilorean wasn’t worse than their father. They couldn’t imagine anything worse than him, though. As it was, Trilorean was a better option than anything they had on Earth.

Stepping hesitantly forward, they fell in sync with his movements, stepping as he did, but not quite as long of a stride as his long legs provided. The strand of senses connecting them grew stronger, tighter. Aiden’s thoughts merged with Chase’s and talking together wasn’t as much of a struggle. How had their connection grown to be more concrete in just the space of a breath?

Chase could feel Aiden’s thoughts and emotions. He sensed Aiden’s fear, but Chase himself wasn’t afraid any longer. His own fear had turned to resolution. At least, they were away from their father.

Memories from three years before slammed through the brothers. They had been there the night Hawthorne killed their mother. Confusion and hatred swirled around them for all the things that nine-year-olds couldn’t deal with, let alone six-year-olds.

As they walked, memories of their life flashed in front of them as if played on a large screen. Trilorean’s figure faded in and out of view as the clouds moved between them. The path narrowed and the images loomed closer, just out of focus.

Chase didn’t have to speak, but he for some reason sought the sound of his voice. He leaned toward Aiden. “We can’t trust anyone. We can only trust each other. What are we going to do?” He glanced at Aiden, his stomach twisting as they continued walking on ground they could no longer see.

Watching Trilorean’s back, Aiden moved closer to Chase, his mouth barely moving. “I don’t know. There’s not a lot we can do.” He didn’t have to touch Chase to convey his worry or the fact that he felt stuck in the moment. Bitterness twisted his normally smiling face into a scowl.

His mood altered Chase’s optimistic outlook and he scowled as well.

Were they supposed to mourn the death of their father? Nothing they did could bring about tears for his loss.

A memory flashed in front of them, the images becoming sharper, more enhanced. The night Hawthorne ripped their mother’s wings from her back had been stormy, much like the ambience they’d experienced as they’d road toward Trilorean that night.

Their mother had always been able to hide her wings. On the Earth sphere, humans were unable to see them, their mind’s eye mentally molding them to fit with their clothing or their surroundings. But Mother had always wrapped her children in them, carrying them around the house while cradling them in her soft ethereal warmth.

When Hawthorne ripped her wings, her face had paled and tightened. She’d refused to scream as he’d rent her in half. Chase had been unable to breathe as she’d disappeared in front of them.

Memories crashed around them, trying to strangle the life from their bodies. Chase wrapped his arms around Aiden’s head as they both sank to the ground. They stopped moving forward, focusing on the intense pain welling inside them.

How had they forgotten the loss? The odor of singed skin, burnt flesh, and melted hair scorched their nostrils and filled their lungs as they sobbed, gasping for air from the pain to leave them alone.

Their sounds of anguish called to Trilorean and he turned back, rushing to their sides. “Chase! Aiden? Are you alright?” He paused, taking in their states and then placed his hands on their backs. Sending a shot of warm reassurance through them, he spoke gently. “You’re experiencing unadulterated memories. Anything is fair game here. You must focus on something else. Choose a different memory. Anything.”

Chase closed his eyes, bright red pain splitting across his eyelids. He whispered, “Think, Aiden, favorite memory of mom.” His voice trembled, his hands shook. “Like when she brought us those biscuits a few nights before she… died.” As the darkness of their previous memory faded under complete duress, a light warm sensation filled them. The smell of biscuits pushed past the stench and filled them with a happy glow.

Treats and their mother. The last memory of happiness they had with her.

Trilorean clapped his hand on each of their shoulders, helping them up with little effort. He lifted their chins so he could inspect their eyes. After a moment of looking at them both, he nodded. “Good. You’re both strong, in different ways. Hold onto those memories. They’ll get you through the harsh truths of Tealsdor. Nothing else but facing your memories will help you survive. Trust me on that one, boys.”

What did they have to face besides loss and sadness?