Ember x, p.33
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       Ember X, p.33

         Part #1 of Death Collectors series by Jessica Sorensen
 
Page 33

 

  My mind starts to melt to his request, but the touch of Raven’s hand on my arm pulls me back.

  “Em, get it together,” she commands.

  I blink the feeling away and stagger back. “I told you to stay away from me. ”

  His finger shifts to bone and beneath the hood, flames ignite. He swoops for me and I duck to the floor, flat on my stomach. He hovers above my head, his cape flowing onto my back as he puts his mouth to my ear and his breath smells like a thousand stolen graves. “I got your mother to kill you, imagine what else I can do. Do not go against my wishes, Ember Rose Edwards. The only answers you need are from me. ”

  I feel him whisk away, a hush of air across my back. When I push back to my feet, he’s gone and Raven and Ian are staring at me, their faces frozen in horror.

  “Em,” Raven speaks tentatively. “Are you okay?”

  “Yeah… I think so. ” But I need to get the hell away from all this madness. I need to breathe.

  “Look,” she says in her stern tone as she fixes her hair. “You’ve been through a lot the last couple of weeks and I don’t want you home alone, especially on Halloween—you know how crazy things get sometimes. ”

  “I know… Alright, I’ll go. ” I snag my jacket from the banister and dash for the door. Against the Reaper’s warning, I’m going to Asher for answers. I’ve been forced by the control of death too much in my life and I think it’s time to break free of it.

  “Um… Em. ” Raven steps in front of me and spreads her hands out to the side of her. “You need to change first. ”

  I shake my bloody and ripped clothes. “I’m sure no one will notice. It’s Halloween. ”

  She shoos me toward the stairs. “You may not care, but I already have other plans for you. Big plans. One that will make Asher fall on his knees. ”

  “I’m not really worried about how I look right now or whether or not Asher will fall on his knees,” I pause at the bottom step. “I’m only going because I need to talk to Asher about something and it’s not important if I look hot. ”

  “Just give me like an hour,” she pleads, with her hands crossed in front of her. “One hour to work my magic and then we’re out. Okay?”

  ***

  Two hours later we’re still in my room. I’m sitting on my bed, while she lines my eyes heavily with black eyeliner, then she traces my lips with a red lipstick. Every one of her touches brings quietness, not death. Something has changed in her—or maybe in me. I need to test it out, find out if death has finally left me. Or if it’s left her somehow.

  “I still can’t believe you had sex with him,” she says for the thousandth time.

  “Why not?” I wonder. “I had to have sex sometime. ”

  “Yeah, but I always thought you’d be in love when you did?”

  I frown at her. “Why?”

  She brushes some mascara on my eyelashes. “Because… you’re always writing about how you feel… you’re so poetic and kind of a romantic. ”

  I snort a laugh. “No, I’m not. I’m far from it. ”

  She disagrees with a shake of her head, but stays silent.

  I try to text Asher to see if I can persuade him to come to my house instead, but he won’t answer my text.

  “Keep texting him all you want,” Raven singsongs, adding the finishing touches to my makeup. “But he’s under strict orders not to let you off the hook from going to this party. ”

  I growl at the phone and shove it aside. “I just need to talk to him. ”

  She leans back and admires her handiwork. “I am damn good if I do say so myself. ” She steps aside so I can look in the mirror. My grey eyes sparkle against the silver and black eyeliner and my lips appear full and plump. She’s tucked a rose over my ear and my black hair flows down my back. Around my neck is a choker centered with a rose and a black dress fits against my body. My feet are laced up by a pair of my black boots and black feathered wings span out from my back.

  “Isn’t it a little weird, though,” I say, inspecting myself in the mirror. “I mean, the black feathers… people already think I made Laden disappear and that might set them off more. And then there’s the Mackenzie thing…” I haven’t shared the truth about that with Raven yet.

  “Who gives a shit what they think,” she declares, flicking a mascara wand through her eyelashes. “You didn’t do anything and if anyone gives you crap, you’ll knock them out—bring out the bar-fighting Ember I know. ”

  A black ribbon secures the entire front part of the dress together. “I do like the costume. ”

  “Well, you make one hell of a Grim Angel,” she says, clipping the lid onto the eyeliner.

  My head snaps in her direction. “Is that what I’m supposed to be? I thought their bones showed through their skin. ”

  She gives me an once-over. “On some they do… the ones that go crazy. But some are as beautiful as the Angels of Death. ” Her cell phone beeps from inside her purse. She takes it out, reads it, and then sends a text before putting it away.

  I run my fingers along the soft petals of the rose in my hair. “I thought you said you didn’t know much about them. ”

  “After you talked about them, I went back and picked up the books to try and refresh my memory. ” She reapplies her lipstick in the mirror. “You looked so upset that I couldn’t remember anything. ”

  I stroke the tips of my wings. “So what else do you know?”

  She bites down on her glossy lip. “A lot, but I want you to prepare yourself for what I discovered. ” Then she grabs my hand and pulls me out the bedroom door. “They are exceptionally beautiful. So beautiful in fact, that some humans can’t actually see their beauty. ”

  I follow her down the stairs. “And what about the insanity part? Is that true? Do they really lose their minds from the burden of death and the Reapers’ blood?”

  She stumbles at the front door and realigns her foot into her white satin high-heel. “They can, if they give in to the wrath of death. It’s all about good and evil with these things, I guess. At least, that’s what the book said. ”

  I turn sideways to fit through the doorway. “As in the Grim Reaper? He’s the wrath of death, right?”

  She stutters at my knowledge. “Yeah, that’s the Grim Reaper. The belief is that a Grim Angel is a hybrid of Angel blood, mixed with Reaper blood, mixed with human blood. ”

  It’s dark outside, the stars and moon shining brightly. We hop into her car and I have to lean forward because my wings are uncomfortable to lean back on. Raven takes her wings off and tosses them into the backseat before she climbs in, then she starts up the car.

  “Reapers are considered the bad version of death. They collect the evil souls and they are very powerful. Allegedly, the Grim Angel breed was put on Earth to stop some battle between the Angels of Death and the Reapers over who should get which souls. . . or maybe it was that one of them was stealing souls. ” She adjusts her mirror and backs onto the street. “The Grim Angel lives on Earth as a human, carrying both the power of Heaven and Hell in their bloodstream—their bodies hold balance to keep the Angels of Death and the Reapers at the same level, so neither would have more power over the other. ”

  “You make is sound like the Angels of Death are as bad as the Reapers,” I say, noting that her version of the story matches up with the one I read in the book. “Aren’t Angels the good ones?”

  “In some ways, yes. They are the ones that collect the good souls, but the book said that they got greedy trying to balance out the soul collection when Reapers started stealing innocent souls. ” She sighs heavily. “But anyways, I guess Reapers constantly try to trick Grim Angels and mess with their heads so they would surrender to death and join them. It’s like a game to them or something, even though, technically, neither the Reapers nor the Angels are supposed to interfere with their lives. ”

  Her tires screech as she peels onto the highway. The sidewalks are flooded with kids in Halloween costum
es carrying bags of candy and the houses are gleaming with purple and orange lights. A girl in an Angel costume skips down the sidewalk, holding her mother’s hand in front of a house with an eerie mist across the front lawn. Can Angels and Grim Reapers really exist?

  I rotate away from the window and lean against the door. “So what happens to the Grim Angels that don’t lose their minds? They just live being tortured by death until they die?”

  Raven doesn’t answer right away. “Basically, I think so. ”

  I’m reminded of Asher’s tattoo and the story: One girl with death on her shoulders connected them both, and with a single choice she would save the world. But the fight would not be easy. He had to be talking about a Grim Angel.

  She reaches into the backseat, swerving her car as she hunts from something. “Here, there’s the book. ” She tosses a book onto my lap and regains control of her car. “It actually doesn’t say much more than what I’ve told you, but I marked the pages if you want to read through it. ”

  “Thanks. ” I open the book and flip on the light above the console. “And I mean that. You really didn’t have to go re-check this out and read it. ”

  She fiddles with the temperature, turning it up then down. “Look, Ember, I know I’ve been a really shitty friend for most of our friendship, especially during the last week or so. But I want to start over—I want to be a better friend. ”

  “You’re a good friend. ” I flip to the page she marked. “And last week’s bitchiness is totally acceptable considering… what happened. ” I pause, one thing still bothering me. “But Raven, can you do me a favor and never call me crazy, even when you’re mad?”

  She nods with regret. “I’m so sorry. That was such a low blow. And I know you’re not crazy. ”

  I’m not so sure anymore. In fact, I’m starting to wonder if a Grim Angel lives inside me.

  As we drive over the bridge, we both stop breathing. The road is still stained with the X and the median is scuffed from the collision. There is a small spot decorated with flowers and ribbons.

  My mind flashes back to the bar fight and the way Asher took down a guy twice his size without even so much as blinking. Could Asher have killed him to protect Raven? But why would he decorate the scene? “What do you think happened to Laden?” I ask, trying to convince myself that there’s no way it could be Asher, but deep down my heart and soul disagree. “Do you think he’s… Do you think Asher really killed him?”

  She clutches onto the steering wheel. “You know what? I really don’t want to know what happened to him. If Asher killed him, then so be it. ”

  I clear my throat and distract my thoughts onto the book. “Grim Angels are the most important and most dangerous breed of Angels that have ever existed. They have a direct insight to death…” I read aloud with a shiver. “They have the power to either destroy the human race or save it, depending on where their legions end up lying. ” I glance up from the pages. “But how can they destroy the human race? That’s what I want to know. ”