Chapter 1

On an alien world, under an alien sun, atop a small hill of alien dirt and rock, an alien paced back and forth. He, for his features were male, wore a black robe with the hood pushed back, revealing shocking white hair, dark skin, upturned eyes, and sharp, pointed ears. He walked back and forth in front of two raised monoliths of something like granite, glancing at the space between them from time to time. He paused once to look out at the other fourteen hills that were spaced in a half-circle facing the rising red sun, each with its own set of stone oblongs. The fifteen hills were the only raised feature on an alien plain of green and brown that stretched what might be east and west as far as the eye could see. Far to the north, a thick forest of conifers and leafy trees marked one edge of the plain while to the south, a lush, verdant jungle marked the other.

A breeze blew suddenly, fluttering the alien’s fine white hair and stopping him in his tracks. He turned quickly to the space between the stones just as a shimmering mirror replaced the empty air. Thinner than a sheet of paper, the mirror was also as deep as space itself.

Another robed and hooded figure, previously hidden, stood up nearby and moved closer to the rippling surface of the new mirror, seemingly studying its own reflection. After a moment, the new figure turned its cowl-clad face to the first alien, just the point of a sharp chin visible. The chin nodded twice and the hooded one moved back to its seat. The first alien glanced up at the sun overhead and noted its position in the sky. A soft sound that might have been a grunt sounded and the alien male stepped back to assume an at-rest position, feet apart, arms crossed over his chest.

Ten seconds later, the mirror rippled again, this time roiling like an ocean surface in a storm. The center of the eight-foot-tall mirror calmed for a second and then a booted foot pushed outward, followed by a black-clad leg and then an entire man. Six feet tall and powerfully built, the man gave up three inches in height to the alien but was easily thirty pounds heavier. The newcomer had brown hair, peppered with gray and cut almost military short, and wore sturdy black clothing of a definitely military cut. The two handguns he wore, one on his vest and one on his hip, reinforced the combative theme of his fashion choices, as did the short, modern submachine gun he cradled under one arm.

He nodded at the pointy-eared alien, looked around the small hilltop, noted the fourteen similar hilltops spread out in an arc around him, glanced down at the open plain below him, observed a small group of people waiting there, and then moved around to study the terrain behind the little hill. Apparently satisfied, he pulled a blue rubber ball from the cargo pocket on his right leg and tossed it back into the mirror, the ball absorbed like a tossed pebble into a pond.

Five seconds later, a muscular bundle of brindled fur bounded through the mirror, the blue ball clutched between serious white teeth. Almost instantly, a black-haired young woman whose strongly Asian features formed a more-than-merely-pretty face followed the dog. Behind her came a sturdy young man with dark hair, an athletic dark-haired girl several years his junior, a beautiful blonde girl whose hair was almost the same shade as the alien’s, and finally a tall, slender young man with brilliant blue eyes and dark, unruly hair.

“Hi Greer,” the Asian girl greeted the alien before turning back to check on the young people behind her.

“Welcome Speaker,” the tall alien named Greer replied.

“Ashley, Greer. How many times have I told you to call me Ashley?” she asked, her eyes watching the others.

“He’s here on official business, Ash. He’s gotta stick to the formalities,” the black-clad older male said.

“I know, Dad, but there’s no one up here who cares,” Ashley said, glancing at the sitting, hooded alien before turning to watch the other young people. “It’ll get better in a moment or two,” she said to them, focusing on the youngest female and the two young men. She spared a single nervous glance at the platinum blonde girl, who seemed completely unaffected by the passage through the mirror.

The blonde girl was holding the bicep of the tall youth, keeping him steady despite his weaving.

“Yeah, you’re right, Ash,” the shorter of the two young men said, pushing himself upright. “Thought I was gonna chuck all over this place for a second or two. How you doing, Jetta?” he asked the youngest female.

“Same. The urge to purge was kinda fierce for a moment there, but I’m better now. What’s up with the beanpole, Stacia?” Jetta asked the blonde, showing none of Ashley’s hesitation.

“He’s weaving and bobbing a lot and his eyes look a little crossed,” Stacia said, moving to grab the tall youth’s other arm with her free hand. Her motion sent the stubby double-barreled gun slung across her back swinging into motion, but it didn’t seem to bother her in any way.

All five of the young people were visibly armed with varying numbers of weapons. The lanky blue-eyed youth and Ashley each had a single holstered sidearm, although the youth also had a combat tomahawk hanging from a harness down his back and a messenger-type bag slung across his body. The blonde carried only her stubby two-barreled weapon, but the other two, whose similar facial features spoke of siblings, bristled with enough weapons to arm professional soldiers.

Each had a rifle, a sidearm, and a slung tomahawk, as well as a long-bladed sheath knife apiece.

All five young people wore sturdy boots and outdoor clothing cut much like the first, older male’s apparel. Each person in the group also wore a large-sized backpack.
“Who is here on greeting duty, Greer?” the older human male asked.

“Just the Princesses, Ian. Eirwen has her normal retinue but Neeve is by herself, except for Torg, of course,” Greer said.

“That was a smooth transition, Watcher,” Ian said to the seated alien. There was no reaction, but Ian turned away as if he hadn’t expected one. “Ash?”

The pretty girl flashed her father a quick eye roll but turned dutifully to the seated one. “The Passage was clear and level, Watcher,” she said formally. This time, the seated alien nodded.

“Are we supposed to say anything?” the shorter of the two youths asked Ashley.

“Not really, Mack. It was your first time through the Looking Glass, as Dad calls it, so you have nothing to compare it to. Also, remember, everyone, ixney on the hank-you-eys,” she said.

“Right, no acknowledgement of potential debt,” the blonde, Stacia, said. She had let go of the other youth, who now stood on his own, his features looking more settled, if not completely. “You better, Declan?”

He took a deep breath and looked around. His gaze settled on the small group on the plains below them, then turned back to his friends. “Yeah, this place is a bit unsettling—at least, its magic is.”

“You still have it? Your magic? Not cut off or diminished?” Mack asked.

“No, not cut off. Quite the opposite, in fact. There’s so much power here, I feel like I’m drowning in it,” Declan said, turning his attention to Greer.

The silver-haired elf was watching him with narrowed, worried eyes. “Welcome to Fairie,” he said to the group, his eyes coming back to look at Declan before he turned and led the way to a path down the hillside.

Chapter 2

Rome, Italy, Earth

It occurred to me that my Heavenly case officer, the angel Barbiel, was something of a troublemaker. It wasn’t the first time I’ve had that thought.

The Capuchin crypts that lie under the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini are a somber place, being as they are liberally decorated with the bones of a purported 3700 Capuchin friars. It is macabre, undeniably artistic, and enormously impactful. It is not designed to be horrifying but rather a reminder to all the living that life goes by quickly and we are all just temporary residents on this planet. The prime directive for visitors is for one to engage in a silent contemplation of the five chapels—emphasis on the silent part.

“It isn’t a demon thing at all, Chris, so I really can’t give you any information,” my angelic intelligence source said loudly into the silence. Since I was the only one who could hear him, see him, or otherwise be aware of his presence, it wasn’t an issue to anyone but me. But it was his repeated attempts to bait me into asking him for information that was causing trouble. He seemed to revel in his knowledge of why the Catholic Church had requested we come to Rome and then let us cool our heels for four days while they paraded us from one venue to another.

I nodded slightly to acknowledge his words, keeping my eyes on the Crypt of the Skulls. He moved closer. “We can’t get involved in matters between God’s children,” he said, leaning down to try and catch my eye. I nodded again and turned to move to the Crypt of the Pelvises. Father Adolfo, my assigned guide and handler, was watching me closely, as were the other twenty or so people who seemed always present at any tour by team God Hammer.

Don’t get me wrong. Our welcome in Rome had been enthusiastic and heartfelt. Throngs of people had flocked to every location we visited. Our first and, to this point, only meeting with the Pope had not been the private, closed doors Holy war council I had envisioned. Instead, it had occurred on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica, right in the square, witnessed by thousands and broadcast on Pope Television around the world. The days that followed were filled with tours of the Vatician, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pantheon, and even the Duomo in Florence. Much of it happened in daylight hours, which narrowed the attendees from our side down to just Tanya and me. Today was just me, myself, and I, my lovely mate smart enough to beg off for a day of downtime for the twins.

The Church was brilliant, really, because the world was in love with our babies, their tiny faces plastered across televisions, internet blogs, and magazines all over the globe.

The most famous picture of them was with the Pope, holding both in his lap, his face lit up with a genuinely delighted smile.

So by this point, we were feeling like our usefulness to the Church was for PR and photo ops. Barbiel had told me repeatedly and loudly at every holy venue I had visited that the Vatican really did have a need to consult with us but that they were having some internal issues on how and what, not to mention when, to divulge it to us. And seeing how it didn’t pertain to demons or Hell, he, as an Angel of the Lord, wasn’t allowed to slip us any info on it.

“All God’s Children, Chris,” he said. I nodded again, glancing at the angel but catching the black-clad docent’s suspicious stare.

“Even children from a different… family… from a different, um, location,” he said, facing my side while I faced the bone art.

I coughed into my hand, “Ca-fairieee!”

Adolfo looked alarmed and the young docent seemed affronted. My fault really. Even knowing of my past life as one of Barbiel’s brothers, I hadn’t really ever thawed my frosty relations with the Big Guy. I might know I was Malahidael, brother angel to Barbiel, in a past life, but I felt like Chris Gordon, the guy whose family was sacrificed to a demon. That attitude might have popped up on several occasions. Nothing horrible, just a wise crack or two.

Apparently my lack of somber respect had been noticed by a few of the more aggressively devoted. Hence the docent’s frown.

“Yes, they are another family of children and they do come from another location. But while I can’t tell you which family it is, I can say it isn’t the folks from Fairie. Although they might have some of the same issues, come to think of it,” Barbiel said.

I lost my patience. In my defense, it had been going on for days and this time, Tanya wasn’t here to buffer us.

“Just what the Hell can you tell me, Barbiel,” I said, rounding on him. Oops. The faces around us reflected shock and that particular look of concern people get when dealing with crazy.

Screw it. The damage was done. Might as well continue.

“Plus now they all think I’ve gone Froot Loops,” I said to him, waving a hand at the people around us, who in spite of the no-camera rule seemed to be cell camera happy.

He grinned, clearly enjoying himself.

“Let me guess: You had another bet? How long before you drove me mad, right?” I asked.

“No, just if I could get you to snap,” he said, ear-to-ear smile making him look like a high school kid instead of an immortal angel of Heaven.

“Does Michael know about this bet?” I asked. His grin faded a bit. “Thought not. Congratulations. Now they think I’m nuts,” I said, ignoring the people who clearly thought just exactly that.

“Ah, Christian…” Father Adolfo started uncertainly.

“Just a second, Father. I’m dealing with an Angelic issue,” I said, turning back to Barbiel. “You gonna help me out here or just leave me hanging?”

A smaller grin came back on his perfect face. Around me, the concerned onlookers suddenly sucked in air and widened their eyes, turning from me to look at the space Barbiel occupied instead.

“They’re just seeing silver and gold lights and hearing some chime-like sounds when I talk,” he said.

“So talk already. What are we here for?” I asked.

“So the others aren’t from Earth or Fairie. So they are not terrestrial, therefore they are…” he prompted.

“Extra-terrestrial,” I said.

He nodded. “But you might want to ask the good father about what they keep under the Vatican,” he said, smirking just before he vanished into thin air.

Turning to the now-awestruck Adolfo, I raised one eyebrow. “Whatcha keeping in the Pope’s basement, Father?”

His awe changed to shock and then, a moment later, resignation. Still watching me, he nodded and pulled his cell phone from a pocket. Stepping back, he made a call.

I looked around at the awestruck onlookers before locking eyes with the docent. “So, think we can make an allowance about the picture-taking thing? My wife, you know, the Angel of Night? She’d think this was cool,” I said.

He understood enough of my English to nod. Once. Sharply.

Father Adolfo put the phone away. “We have a new appointment,” he said.

“Great. Let me grab a selfie for the missus and we can be on our way,” I said, feeling like we were finally getting somewhere.

Copyright John Conroe