CHAPTER 1

The afternoon sun wrapped the urban vista of Caelum’s capital city, Hiram, in a brilliant yellow light. These rays poured into the arched windows of the city’s main monastery, where a lone male figure, clothed in a scarlet robe, sat at a desk thumbing through a gold-leafed book.

A stunning plum jewel, set in silver, glittered on his forefinger. He abruptly closed the book and scowled before leaning back in his chair to throw his head back against the supporting rest.

What an idiotic text, he breathed. Only a fool would believe in such miracles. It was not a miracle that saved us.

Gamael Idoni pushed himself away from the mahogany desk, picked up the book, and tossed it in a trash bin. He flicked a disc into the receptacle, igniting the paper, which burned like blue flames. If it were up to me, I would burn all this rubbish.

With a sigh, Gamael turned his black eyes to the massive, ornate entry of his sanctuary. His vision could not pierce its iron framework, but his preternatural hearing alerted him to Urias Marcus’s unique gait creeping towards the door. The older man knew Gamael could hear his approach; therefore, he did not need to announce himself.

“Your Holiness,” Urias began, entering the room. “I have thought on your plans, and I must say I do not approve.”

Gamael slid back in his chair, gathering the folds of his cloak about his shoulders. “Nothing I do requires your consent, Urias,” he said.

Urias hated meeting Gamael’s gaze. The latter’s eyes were cold; their absence of light made Urias shiver. “I meant no disrespect. Your anger against humanity consumes you at times. I am simply concerned for you.”

“Liar!” Gamael roared. “If you are so concerned, you would have done more to protect our sovereign.”

Gamael’s exclamation took Urias aback. His Holiness rarely became excited. The old priest shifted uneasily on his feet as he glanced to the floor, head bowed in submission. He thumbed the fabric of his ivory garments, resisting the urge to draw the hood over his head.

“May I remind you that the sovereign made their own decision. My job was to keep you and Losara from—”

In an instance, Gamael was upon Urias, one hand squeezing the priest’s throat like a vice. “You will remind me of nothing. The colonists could have moved against Austin,” he seethed, releasing Urias to send him tumbling into a chair beside the desk. “You think your one kindness erases everything your people did?”

Urias clutched his throat in pain as he stared at his reflection on the polished stone floor. The wrinkles of his face were more pronounced. Gamael’s powers had drained a portion of his life force, causing the wrinkles in his face to become more pronounced. Urias silently wondered how much longer it would be before Gamael killed him.

Before he could ponder his future fate, a firm click signaled the arrival of someone at the outer door. Soft footsteps crossed the floor, terminating a few paces from his position. Urias lifted his gaze to behold Gamael’s younger sibling, Losara Idoni.

She wore a form-fitted ivory gown, covered by a cloak identical to Gamael’s. Urias thought the color complimented her deep brown eyes. A thick, flaxen braid swept over one of her regal shoulders, caressing her delicate olive features.

Losara looked down at the priest as she addressed Gamael. “Is the old one annoying you?”

Gamael turned away from the harsh light seeping into the room, “None I cannot handle on my own, dear one,” he said. “Urias thinks himself far more important than he is. Now and again, it suits me to remind him of his guilt.”

Urias shuddered at the false benevolence in Gamael’s voice. Did I make a mistake all those years ago? The priest gasped when the words formed in his thoughts, silently praying Losara had not invaded his mind.

Urias feared the Malachim, even as his people revered them for their otherworldly abilities. None had seen any being like them or the technological wonders of their neighbors in the Pleuran habitat.  Gamael and Losara’s gifts, which though beneficial to the populace during a time of chaos, were a constant reminder of what they could have done if Austin Aver had not been so skillful.

For all their contempt, Urias knew their behavior was merely a defense mechanism. They were a product of a vanished species who deserved nothing more than retribution for the deeds of greedy and malicious persons. Knowing this, Urias excused the siblings’ tantrums, preferring to take pity on their loneliness and isolation.

“Forgive me, my lady,” Urias said, rising slightly. “I should have offered you a seat.”

Losara cocked her head, “Had I wished it,” she began, raising her arm, “I would have taken it from you like this.” In an instant, the chair flew out from under Urias. He fell to the floor as the object continued sliding across the room in one smooth motion.

“Well played, dear one,” Gamael laughed. “That will be all for today, Urias. Go tend to the business of your flock.”

The elder’s joints creaked as he raised himself on a knee to stand. Losara, fueled by mercy, reached out and touched his face. A golden light limned her fingers, warming Urias’s cheeks. The creases lining his skin diminished significantly with her touch as a surge of strength flooded his frail body.

Of all the gifts of the Malachim, this was the one for which he was most grateful. “Thank you, my lady,” Urias said with genuine relief.

“You may leave us, Urias,” Losara ordered. “I wish to speak with Gamael alone.”

The priest nodded and swiftly exited the room, closing the door behind him. Urias breathed a sigh of relief as he rested against the heavy door. In his mind, Gamael Idoni walked in darkness, but his sibling Losara was of the light.

Urias wondered how two beings born of the same flesh could be so different. He quickly dismissed such notions in favor of fleeing far away from Gamael’s sphere of influence.

Within the chamber, Gamael picked up Urias’s chair and set it next to his desk. He gingerly patted the crimson cushion, motioning Losara to be seated. “I take it you have come to report on Crawford Lear and company,” Gamael said, folding his arms across his chest. “Are they awake?”

Losara perched on the edge of her seat, studying Gamael with keen interest. “Before we get into that, why do you torture Urias so?”

“I am sick to death of him playing savior. It is time he admitted we are superior to his feeble species.”

“If we were superior, we would not have been driven into exile nor forced to assimilate into human society.”

“I do not wish to rehash it. I would rather hear of the grand architect.”

“It has been more than a month since Crawford Lear woke. The pilot remains unconscious, but the others are as well as they can be,” Losara said, picking up a quill from the tabletop and feathering it lightly. “Crawford grows restless without news of his companions.”

“The architect’s human blood makes him weak; susceptible to their maladies,” Gamael huffed. “He may prove difficult to deal with if we delay their reunion.”

“I would not underestimate him,” Losara said, “as Pharloe’s descendant, he is the only one who can help us now.”

“Pharloe,” Gamael mused. “That name is but a memory.”

Losara smiled gently. “You prefer Betera?”

“Like I care.”

“Your feelings are your prerogative. I only point out that the architect is important to us.”

Gamael heard the emphasis Losara placed on the declaration. “Yes,” he complied. “And we must make sure he is aligned with us. His companions may be the key to that.”

“Exploiting these creatures will not assist us in our endeavors,” Losara countered.

Gamael jumped to his feet in defiance. “When ZARA is mine Crawford Lear will have served his purpose and will die along with the rest of humanity.”

Losara was still, her countenance smooth as silk. “Take care that your anger does not devour you, Gamael.”

“What I have planned will free us and give us the means to do as we please,” Gamael said, toying with Losara’s thick braid. “Since we cannot return to the place of our birth, we must live out our lives here. To do that, we must rid this planet of the humans.”

“Now it is you who sounds like Austin, the very being you despised.”

“We could have rid ourselves of them, but things had to be Pharloe’s way,” Gamael’s voice rose in anger. “We should have shown them the full measure of who we were. That child ruined everything!”

That child. Losara inwardly sighed.

“What was done was for our protection.”

“How safe do you actually feel?” Gamael said, staring off into space as if contemplating a different future within his grasp. “The time for negotiations has passed. We can never live with them nor they with us.”

Losara folded her hands gingerly in her lap. As always, every conversation with her sibling descended into a battle of wills. “I will speak with Aiko Kogane and ready everything for us to move forward,” Losara breathed.

Gamael smiled insidiously at Losara. “Cheer up. Once we gather our strength, this unpleasant situation will have a happy ending.”

“With your motivation, it may very well,” Losara said, rising from her seat to take a few steps towards the chamber’s entrance. “But are you so removed from fear that you are prepared to shoulder the consequences of such a destiny? A destiny nearly a century in the making.”

Gamael made to join Losara. “I fear nothing with regards to our future, dear one,” he said, chin held high. “It is everyone else who should fear me.”

“Your devotion is admirable, Gamael,” Losara said, pausing in the hall, “yet I believe you misread the situation. Crawford Lear’s role as our sovereign’s instrument may be the very catalyst that changes your tune.”

  TO BE CONTINUED