Chapter 2

We had to take the F train to down town, and there was nothing quite as strange as standing so close to something that I had been wondering about since I was tiny, and knowing I would soon be getting all the answers I had been looking for.

I had toyed with other ideas about what they were, sure. Ghosts, aliens, government produced robot spies- all had been dismissed fairly quickly. It was amazing, earth shattering, and I couldn't quite help the small part of me which leapt with hope. Death was something I had learned to live with, but it didn't mean I hadn't wished very much that there was some way that I could escape my fate.

Roark stood slack, an ipod glowing at her hip, and her head moving very slightly with the beat. I looked at the name of the song playing; it had a gothic title, apparently by a punk rock type band that I didn't recognize. The blood on her clothes and hair was gone, and her wings stretched off at odd angles. Where they would have had to bend improbably to fit, they sunk, in substation, into the walls. In other places, the tips left grisly smears of blood on the metal and plastic seats.

I nudged her side with my elbow in what I hoped was a discreet fashion. My arm was trembling, and a thousand questions on the back of my tongue, chalky and uncomfortably without being spoken. What would happen if someone walked into her? What would they see if I fell over onto her? Would I look like I was floating?

"What are you listening to?" I was all I asked. Damn it. I needed to grow some nerve.

Her eyes opened slowly, and I could see that they were deep teal from the angle I was standing. She pulled out one ear phone to offer me. I raised it gingerly. A brutal bashing of instruments met my ears, the tempo so fast that I could hardly pick out the melody. I handed it back. Maybe she had super quick hearing as well, and slower music bored her.

She looked at me, a single white eyebrow rising above her sunglasses, and I made a face. She leaned back against the wall and closed her eyes, a slight smile on her lips.

When the train came to a stop, I took Roark's hand and haled a taxi. Normally I would have walked the ten blocks home, but somehow I was nervous to get her back quickly. If I didn't, she was viable to disappear. Or maybe worse: some of the other ones could reappear. After what I'd gotten to see, I didn't think I would have been able to deal with that.

The driver smiled at me with yellowed teeth from beneath his wide rimmed hat, but gave me a strange look when I waited for Roark to clamber into the cab first. She tucked her wings neatly behind her and leaned against seat in front of her to make room for their bulk. It was fascinating to watch the way they moved, almost separate from her body

We rode in silence and got out immediately. I paid and thanked the driver. He tipped his hat and said something in a different language that I had the distinct impression was an insult, mostly because Roark snickered loudly behind me. So she was a bilingual angel, then. Fascinating.

I lived alone on the fortieth floor of a nice complex. It was less of an apartment, more like a sweet, filled with the best furniture money could buy and enough food for ten. My illness ate at my fat reserves all the time, too much energy wasted on an immune system trying to stave off a constant onslaught of infection. The doctors didn't want to put me on any more antibiotics; they took out the good cells in my body just as easily as they took out the bad ones, leaving me defenseless against virus.

It was sort of nice, in a shallow kind of way. I would always been thin, no matter how much I pigged out. On the flipside, my brown hair would always be drab and my skin was too pale, eyes constantly rimmed pale purple. In other words, I looked like a 1930's vampire, minus the she-devil smile.

My cat Botticelli greeted me at the door with an arched back and a reedy meow. I smiled at him and offered my fingers to lick, and he slipped between my legs to sniff the air shrewdly. Roark bent down and patted his head, and he purred, amber eyes following her as she took the initiative and stepped inside.

She looked around, unabashed, with the sort of easy comfort that I was already beginning to expect from her.

I leaned against the edge of my granite kitchen counter just to watch her. She ran her hands over books, drawers and the front of the TV, flipped through a photo album on the end table quickly, paused in front of the wall portrait of my parents. When she was done, she sat down on the couch in my living room, staring out the window onto the New York City skyline.

"It's a very nice place. You live here alone?" she asked, not bothering to face me as she spoke. Maybe it was better that way; I didn't know what emotions might have been on my face.

Seeing her in my home was even weirder than talking to her on the street. So close to familiar things, her wings brushing over the back of my couch and touching the floor on the other side- it was dream-like.

"Yeah. My parents died when I was young. Elsie- my aunt- got custody, but she lives in California, so…" I gestured around.

Elsie was a great woman, but I didn't really like talking about her. Or thinking about her. It made me feel guilty, like there should have been something more between us.

Roark looked back at me. "She owns a chain of hotels," I went on, bored by my own explanation. "We aren't in one, but this is easy for her to afford. She comes back every once in a while to keep child services from coming. I'll be eighteen in two years and a bit, though, and then it won't matter."

She nodded, seemingly as uninterested as I was. "I'm thirsty. Do you have anything to drink?"

"What would you like?" I pushed off the counter and walked to the fridge, yanking it open with unnecessary force. "Orange, cranberry, orange extra pulp… water… Diet Coke?"

"Cranberry juice."

I noticed a blinking new message on the answering machine while I was pouring her drink. I clicked it on, and Elsie's voice spilled into the room, filling up the space with warm radiance. I smiled, paying more attention to the sound of her voice than to her words.

"Hey honey, it's me, your loving aunt. Happy birthday! I'm so sorry I'm a week late, you must just hate me. God, you're such a little angel, though, not to complain. One of the hotels in California Bay had a fire in the lobby. Can you imagine? Burned down a good couple thousand dollars of stuff, smoke damaged half the light-show bar. Absolute hell trying to make up for. Anyways, I sent some more money to your account so you can buy yourself something nice. You just haven't been getting about enough, darling. Also, don't make any plans for Spring break; I have a surprise for you. Love you, doll face!"

She finished with a loud kissing noise. Typical of Elsie, she didn't call me the same name twice.

Roark found wasn't paying any attention, instead fiddling with her hair ribbons. I sat across from her, and for the most part she ignored me. Botticelli came over, curled up in my lap, yawned, and gradually fell into a cat nap.

"Aren't you going to ask me who my parents were and all that jazz?"

She spoke without turning. "You already know what I have asked. If you want to stall, that's your decision. I will not stop you."

I scowled, crossed my arms, and started to speak. "My mother was a photographer named of Mary Cale, from Virginia. My father was a lawyer, Mark Strays, born in Chicago. They met at Penn State College. My mother didn't change her name when she married. I was six when my mother died on a trip to the Arctic, the ice flow she was on melted. My father died of alcohol poisoning a few months later. Happy now?"

"I'm sorry." The way she said it was different from the way most people did. I wasn't sure if it was better or not.

A flush of emotion colored my face and I looked down. I didn't need people to tell me they were sorry. I wasn't sorry. "It's fine."

"Did they see us as well?"

"I'm not sure. If they did, no one ever mentioned it. Seems like the kind of thing you might inform your kid about. But then, I was really young."

She was silent for a moment, and I drummed my fingers on the arm of my chair impatiently. Her long pauses were bothersome, not because they kept me waiting, but because I had no idea what thoughts were traveling through her head. I'd gotten pretty good at guessing what most people thought, simply because nobody would outright talk to me in any honest way. She was just subtle on a whole nothing level.

"Is it my turn?" I asked when I could come up with no other reason for her silence.

She hummed in agreement. "If you would like it to be, human."

Human. The way people called lost puppies puppy, and droopy-eyed dogs at the SPCA dog. "Okay, as long as you are in my house, it's Meghan. Not 'the human' or whatever, alright?"

"As you wish."

"You're already dead, right? So you don't really need to eat. Where does the food go after you eat it, then? I mean, you don't need to pass it through a digestive system, because you're not alive, so you don't need nutrition. Right?"

"I am not sure. I assume it filters from my body and returns to whence it came."

I leaned forward, excitement building. So close that I could have grabbed her is she tried to run away. "So, if you are an angel, then tell me: how do I get into heaven?"

"I do not know anything about death." She sighed in a defeated sort of way. Guilt and confusion warred with each other in my chest. I knew that I'd said something wrong, but I had no clue what it was. "I do not live in heaven; I have a duty that had brought me here."

"The rip?"

She smiled vaguely, her eyes drifting. "It's a divide between life and death. Heaven and hell, I suppose you could call everything beyond it. Not everyone goes there when they die, only a few are reborn as angels or demons."

I considered for a moment, biting my nails against a wave of trepidation. "Where do the others go?"

"I would not know."

"What decides who goes? God?"

"I have never seen God. If such a figure exists, it lives outside of any perception of mine."

I scowled, frustrated. She could have been lying, but I didn't see why she would bother.

"You said they are reborn, what did you mean? And… can angels die? I mean, if not, even if only a few people came each generation, there would be way too many."

"It takes a lot to kill one of use. No earthly material can do it, and though a wound from one another's swords can weaken our power, it takes more even than that to kill. Certain magic given to us by our lands can render a soul to nothing."

"And the rebirthing thing?"

"In a pit in hell and a cave in heaven, there exists a place where matter occasionally takes a human shape and a hosting soul. I was reborn as a demon, though I remember little of the process." I stared at her.

"You where what?"

She gritted her teeth, and I understood that she was preparing to spill. I leaned forward even farther, elbows resting on the glass end table.

"I was born in hell, under the name Saise. I was powerful, level nine. I had a subordinate named Karreth, who I was fond of. When he was captured by the bright, it was only natural that I would volunteer to get him back. I reached the center of the palace in heaven where he was being kept, and I was ambushed and pushed into the Kimmor."

"The Kimmor is the lifeblood of heaven, a river, but one with many interesting qualities. The deposits of iron in her silt make angels' blades, just as demons make their blades from shards of the Adair, a mountain of glass." Her eyes grew vague, and I snapped my fingers a few times to get her attention. She pursed her lips in irritation but didn't say anything or bother to meet my eyes.

"The highest ring of angels had noticed Saise's power, and had noticed me inside of it. Saise had developed something of a doubly personality, a drop of angelic conscience. I do not know how or why." I furrowed my brow, determined to keep up.

"She and I were driven apart, becoming two people. The Kimmor could not kill Saise, as enough of our spirits are mixed, entwined.

"Saise escaped, and I washed down the river where I was rescued. Saise left heaven and returned to hell, even managing to find and free Karreth while most of the angels labored under the impression that she had been vanquished. Our power was divided.

"The water of the Kimmor has been poison ever since."

I sat, silenced by her revelation. It wasn't that complicated- just really weird.

"Saise," she, voice harsh. I pulled back off my elbows, knocking a magazine to the floor. "She is everything I am not, and yet if I am to defeat her, I must draw her back within myself. She wields my rightful blade even now. Terpsichore, a fine blade."

She looked down at the sword at her hip. Most of it was shoved between the back cushions of my couch. "I named Broken in the hope that she would grow with the name, if not willing to serve me, then at least forced to. It seems a silly, now."

She looked up, taking in my baffled expression, and sighed.

"Our swords are parts of our souls. They have personalities, I suppose. Purpose. My sword is made from Saise's power, while hers is made from mine."

Her eyes flicked closed, like candles being snuffed, and I had to stop my hand before I went to set it on her shoulder. She looked like a child again. It was hard to keep myself from helping her.

"If she reaches level seven before I can master my blade, I am lost. If, at that point, she were to reabsorb me into her body, the after affects could be devastating."

I thought about what she was describing, about being only half of a person, and shuddered. Sometimes I felt uncomfortable in my own body, afraid of the way it was dying around me, but I was still myself. Alive and whole, for a few more years.

I swished my hand through the air, trying to dispel the morbid atmosphere. I wasn't good with emotions. I wasn't good with people in general.

"What do you have to do to get Broken to follow you?"

"Currently, I am here on Earth to train where I cannot hurt other angels. I have been maintaining my invisibility, balancing between both words. It is uncomfortable, to say the least. I know that if I can earn her respect, somehow, she might be inclined to offer service. Beyond that, I have no idea."

Botticelli slit one eye open to observe her. He stood up, stretched, and leapt from my lap onto the floor with a baleful mew.

"You shouldn't be so hard on yourself. You'll just have to keep trying. It's all any of use can do anymore." I didn't mean to tack on the last part, but it seemed to fit, and she appeared thoughtful.

"You could simply be telling me that. Humans are known to wear their wishes like truths."

I laughed once at that, not terribly amused.