That was when she saw Tess, lying on her back at the edge of a stony promontory in the foothills of the Dolomites, not far from where Arriane had first sensed that something was terribly wrong.
Tess looked like she was dying—but angels did not die. Her wings flailed out unnaturally on either side of her. Blood streamed from them, pooling on a flat rock beneath her. She was alone.
She was alone.
Arriane was a hundred feet above her in the air, but the dull silver gleam in Tess’s hand was unmistakable.
But why would Tess possess a starshot?
Arriane dipped down so quickly the wind roared in her ears. She landed on a light-gray boulder a few feet in front of Tess. Her wings cast a circle of light in front of her, enfolding Tess’s body in a cool halo of illumination. It was easy to see now: The starshot had lacerated the demon’s left wing. It wasn’t completely severed, but the formerly powerful copper wing now hung by the thinnest strand of empyreal fibers.
Rage flashed through Arriane—she would murder whoever had done this. Then she looked at Tess’s ashen face, eyes barely open, gazing up at her.
And she understood.
There was no one else to blame. This harshest of all wounds was self-inflicted.
Only hours earlier, Arriane had been thinking about the purity of an angel’s skin, how nothing ever left a mark. But it wasn’t absolutely true—some things left permanent scars.
Lucifer could do it with the ink of his tattoos.
A starshot wound could do it—if it did not kill the angel.
The mingling of—
The demon held the starshot in her right hand and drew it near the wound again, as if intent on amputating the gilded wing from her body. But her fingers trembled so badly that the starshot sliced into other sections of the wing, spewing blood from its muscle-thick center. Only then did she seem to register Arriane’s presence.
“You’ve come back.” Her voice was as thin as the mountain air.
“Oh, Tessriel.” Arriane’s hands covered her heart. “They will never heal from this.”
“That is the idea. I needed something to remember you by.”
“Don’t say that.” Arriane dropped to her knees, crawling to where Tess lay upon the ground. “What were you even doing with a starshot? Bartering with Azazel? That isn’t done!”
“It is done when the need is great enough. If I cannot have you, I do not want anything at all.” Tess grimaced as she thrust the starshot in a downward slicing motion across her mutilated wing. It made a sound like flesh being ripped apart, but it did not sever the wing completely. “It is harder than you think.”
“Stop it!” Arriane yelled, shooting out her hand to grab the starshot from Tess.
In a flash, Tess turned the starshot on her. “Stay back,” she said weakly. “You know what will happen if you touch me.”
Arriane studied the fallen angel she loved, covered in the blood that—if she touched it—would work like poison against her.
But even knowing that didn’t stop Arriane. She needed Tess to know that she was not alone, that she was loved.
The memory of Tess laughing echoed in her ears and warmed her insides; the image of Tess, dear, sweet, beautiful Tess, played across Arriane’s eyes as she did the unthinkable:
She lunged toward Tessriel, throwing herself on top of the demon, grabbing for the starshot, crying out in anguish as Tessriel’s blood seared her. It was the singular pain of demon blood on angel flesh, like a thousand dull swords driving into her soul.
Blood on blood was even worse.
Arriane gritted her teeth, nearly going mad with the pain as she wrested the starshot from Tess’s hand.
“Let me go!” Tess’s fingernails tore at Arriane’s throat until they broke the skin and Arriane’s own blood began to flow. An animalistic howl left Arriane’s lips.
Her blood actually boiled as it met Tessriel’s, turning to acid on her body and singeing off her skin. Wherever their blood commingled, bubbles rose up on the left side of her body, ugly scars knotting up her leg and torso and neck.
Still Arriane did not let go.
“Now see what you’ve done.” Tess’s lips were blue from losing so much blood. Sadistic laughter punctuated her anguish. “Even my blood is anathema to yours, and yours to mine. Just like”—here her voice faltered and her eyes began to drift—“just like they always said.”
“Stay still!” Arriane tried to focus beyond the acidic burning; the only thing that mattered was stanching the flow of Tess’s blood. She weighed the two limp wings in her hands, not knowing what to do.
“You’re making it worse!” Tess shrieked.
“Stop! You’ve lost too much blood already.”
Tess was convulsing, but she steadied one hand on the rock and raised her head just enough to stare deep into Arriane’s eyes. “You have broken my heart, Arriane. You cannot be the one who heals me.”
Arriane’s lip quivered. “I can. I will.”
She tore at the skirt of her dairymaid’s gown, using her teeth to rip the flimsy fabric into shreds. It will never work, she thought as she wove and stretched the fabric into a clumsy sling, draping it carefully around Tess’s gushing left wing.
She quickly wove another sling, working until her fingers were numb with cold and fear. Tess’s body continued to seize, but her eyes were closed, and she did not respond to Arriane’s admonitions to wake up.
These slings would not do. Tess’s wounds needed celestial intervention. That would require Gabbe’s help, and Gabbe would be furious—but she was Gabbe, so she would help anyway. Tess’s wings would never be the same, but maybe someday she could fly.
It was only after Arriane had bandaged Tess’s wings as best she could manage that she looked down at her own body. It was a miserable tableau.
Her neck blazed with pain. Her dress had fallen to pieces along the left side. Her skin was mottled with swirling blood and silver pus and flaking angel tissue. She had nothing to dress her wounds. She had used all of the cloth for Tess.
She fell across the demon’s lap and sobbed. She needed help but could not carry Tess in her burned and battered state. What good would it do, anyway?
Maybe Tess was right: When one lover suffered from a broken heart, no matter how badly the other wanted to help, she couldn’t be the one to heal it.
As far as possible, Arriane realized, each soul had to be content alone before plunging into love, because one never knew when the other would move out of that love. It was the greatest paradox: Souls need each other, but they also need to not need each other.
“I have to go,” she whispered to Tess, whose breath was shallow, labored. “I will send help for you. Someone will come to take care of you.
“I love you and will never love another. The best way I can honor that is to go now and fight for the kind of love we shared, the kind of love I believe in. I hope someday you find what you are looking for.” A tear slid down Arriane’s cheek. “Happy Valentine’s Day, my one and only.”
A shooting star danced in a bright arc across the sky. North—just the direction Arriane would need to fly to find Daniel and Lucinda. Her neck throbbed when she rose from the rock, but despite her injuries, her wings felt powerful and pristine. She spread them wide and flew away.
THE VALENTINE OF DANIEL AND LUCINDA
LOVE LONG AGO
Luce found herself at the far end of a narrow alley under a slit of sun-bleached sky.
“Bill?” she whispered.
She’d come out of the Announcer groggy and disoriented. Where was she now? There was a bustling brightness at the other end of the alley, some sort of busy market where Luce caught flashes of fruit and fowl changing hands.
A biting winter wind had frozen the puddles in the alley into slush, but Luce was sweating in the black ball gown she wore … where had she first put on this tattered gown? The king’s ball at Versailles. She’d found this dress in some princess’s armoire. And then she’d kept it on when she stepped through to the performance of Henry VIII in London.
She sniffed at her shoulder: It still smelled like smoke from the fire that had burned down the Globe.
From above her came a set of loud bangs: shutters being thrown wide. Two women poked their heads out of adjacent second-story casement windows. Startled, Luce pressed herself against a shadowed wall to listen, watching as the women fussed about with a shared clothesline.
“Will you let Laura watch the festivities?” said one, a matronly woman in a simple gray cowl as she pinned an enormous pair of damp trousers to the line.
“I see no harm in watching,” said the other, a younger woman. She shook out a dry linen shirt and folded it with swift efficiency. “So long as she doesn’t partake of those bawdy displays. Cupid’s Urn! Hah! Laura’s only seen twelve years; she’s far too young to fetch a broken heart!”
“Ah, Sally”—the other woman sighed through a thin smile—“you’re too strict. Saint Valentine’s is a day for all hearts, young and old. It might do you and the mister a bit of good to be swept up in its romance yourselves, eh?”
A lone peddler, a short man dressed in a blue tunic and blue tights, turned down the alley, pushing a wooden cart. The women eyed him with suspicion and lowered their voices.
“Pears,” he sang up to the open casements, from which the women’s heads and hands had disappeared. “Rotund fruit of love! A pear for your Valentine will make this next year a sweet one.”
Luce edged along the wall toward the alley’s exit. Where was Bill? She hadn’t realized just how much she’d come to rely on the little gargoyle. She needed different clothes. An idea of where and when she was. And a briefing on what she was doing here.
Medieval city of some sort. A Valentine’s Day festival. Who knew it was such an old tradition?
“Bill!” she whispered. But there was still no answer.
She reached the corner and edged her head around.
The sight of a soaring castle made her halt. It was massive and majestic. Ivory towers rose into the blue sky. Golden banners, each emblazoned with a lion, billowed gently from high poles. She half expected to hear a blare of trumpets. It was like stumbling accidentally upon a fairy tale.
Instinctively, Luce wished Daniel were there. This was the kind of beauty that didn’t seem real until you shared it with someone you loved.
But there was no sign of Daniel. Just a girl.
A girl Luce recognized instantly.
One of her past selves.
Luce watched as the girl strolled across the cobble-stoned bridge that led to the tall doors of the castle. She moved past them, to the entrance of a fantastic rose garden, where the blossomless bushes were sculpted into tall, wall-like hedges. Her hair was loose and long and messy, trailing halfway down the back of her white linen gown. The old Luce—Lucinda—gazed longingly at the garden gate.
Then Lucinda stood on tiptoe, reached a pale hand over the gate, and from the middle of a bare-branched bush, bent the stem of a single unlikely red rose toward her nose.
Was it possible to smell a rose sadly? Luce couldn’t say; all she knew was that something about this girl—herself—felt sad. But why? Did it have something to do with Daniel?