St. Serf’s Priory, Loch Leven, County of Fife, Scotland

'You swore!'

“No sodomy!” the shadow barked. “You swore!”

Dantalion pushed himself up onto his hands and knees and snarled, “Idiot!”

Neshrael’s heart heaved. Chilled by a more than earthly terror, it seemed his blood had gelled into a sludge a mere mortal heart could no longer move.

Neshrael's heart heaved.

Not even Shemyaza was mighty enough to dare lift Dantalion off the floor and fling him across a room. Not even Azaziel was fool enough to try. None but Nine could stand up against Eight. Nine—or One, Neshrael thought. From behind, the broad-​shouldered, high-​headed shadow was monumental enough that Neshrael could believe it was even he.

Neshrael's heart heaved.

“Forswearing all others—you swore!” the shadow intoned.

Neshrael understood the words without understanding the speech, but a tongue that could make such thunder of the language of angels could pronounce only doom, even for Dantalion, if not for them all.

Dantalion swayed as he stood, but he only glared at his attacker a moment before he snarled wordlessly and leapt, flinging all his weight at the shadow and shoving himself off again to bump his hip gracelessly against the table. The candles guttered in protest, but the shadow moved no more than if he had been a wall.

“Idiot!” Dantalion hissed. “I wouldn’t have done it!


“It certainly looked as if you were about to…” the shadow said dubiously.

“I wouldn’t have done it!” Dantalion wailed through his teeth. “Are you insane? Climbing on top of—that,” he grimaced, waving his hand jerkily at Neshrael, “after—you know!

'Then what were you doing?'

“Then what were you doing?”

“Scaring him, you fool!” he howled. “And it was working! If he didn’t shit himself it’s because he’s been fasting for a week! And then you charge in here and ruin everything! So get your own letter and go your own way! I wash my hands of you!”

'I wash my hands of you!'

Dantalion spun gracefully on his booted heel and stalked to the door. He yanked it open and immediately yanked it shut again, only with himself on the other side of it.

Even before the gust of cold evening air had struck Neshrael’s face, the shadow threw back his head and laughed. Devil though he surely was, Neshrael had never heard a laugh less sinister.

Neshrael had never heard a laugh less sinister.

“Never fear, he’ll come back!” the shadow said cheerily. “He always does!”

He turned to Neshrael, and the light that rimmed his cheek revealed a grin.

The light that rimmed his cheek revealed a grin.

“Dantalion has the cleanest hands in Christendom, brother! He washes them of me at least ten times a day!” He laughed heartily at his own joke.

Neshrael croaked, “Brother?”


The stranger clapped his big hands over his mouth to catch a gasp of dismay. “Ach! What a blundering oaf I am, as he always does say!” He pointed one of his broad fingers at his eye and said eagerly, “Araphel—by my eyes! How long has it been?”

He grabbed Neshrael in a mighty hug, carelessly pinning his arms at his sides and shaking him like a doll.

“I’m sorry about Cian—Dant—Fie!” He dropped Neshrael onto his feet and frowned in concern. “How long have you been here? I clean my teeth with toothpicks fatter than you. These Culdee houses are worse than Roman jails, wouldn’t you say? At least in Rome they kept us fed, so the lions would have something to chew.”

'At least in Rome they kept us fed.'

He winked and patted Neshrael on the shoulder. Neshrael had lived so long in semi-​starvation that the friendly hand had the weight of a blow.

“Thirteen years…” he whispered shakily. His mind had latched onto that one question through all Araphel’s torrent of words, but now that he had released it, he saw the horror of their plight. “Oh, my brother,” he moaned. “What have you done?”

'What have you done?'

Araphel scratched his head and laughed awkwardly. “Must I tell you? Don’t you suppose you could simply write that letter for me, as a favor to your brother and old friend?”

“For you?” Neshrael gasped.

Before Araphel could answer, the door jerked open and closed again, only with Dantalion on the inside of it.

Araphel only glanced at him over his shoulder. He rubbed his hands together briskly as if washing them and winked at Neshrael. “Miss me already?”

'Miss me already?'

Dantalion yanked on Araphel’s coat sleeve, which at least pulled him up to Araphel’s height if it did not pull Araphel down to his.

“I do not miss you,” he hissed, “ever, anywhere, at any time. I was simply terrified of what you, in your colossal stupidity, might have been telling him in my absence!”

“We were only having a friendly little chat,” Araphel protested.

“Right! As you have wanted to have a friendly little chat with every man, woman, child, and chicken between here and home, while I’ve been trying to pass unseen! He’s insufferable!” he cried at Neshrael. “One can’t have ten minutes of peace unless he’s stuffing his face with piles of sausage and eggs and cheese—and then one has to lie awake listening to him fart in his sleep!”

'And then one has to lie awake listening to him fart in his sleep!'

“You’ve a rare talent for that yourself,” Araphel pouted.

“How would you know?” Dantalion screeched. “I haven’t slept in days, with your snoring!”

Abruptly he bent and coughed deeply, as though with his howling he had scraped the limits of his lungs. This, Neshrael realized slowly, was more than strange… this, and the idea of Dantalion needing to sleep…

Araphel clapped an arm over Dantalion’s shaking shoulders and gave them a squeeze.

“Right,” he said gently. “We shall take that up between us later, you and I. In the meantime…” He looked pleadingly up at Neshrael. “Won’t you help us?”

'Won't you help us?'

Us?” Neshrael gasped. “O my brother…” he moaned.

“Don’t worry—he’s on our side now.”

Dantalion snatched at the front of Araphel’s coat with both hands, and this time Araphel bent.

This time Araphel bent.

“No.” The sudden chill of Dantalion’s voice sliced through Araphel’s good humor like a shard of ice. “No. Allow me to disabuse you of that idea for now and for ever. I am on my side. You are on your side. If I seem to be on your side, it is only because my interests temporarily coincide with yours. That is all.

“But we swore we would help one another,” Araphel mumbled.

Neither flinched, but the fastenings on Araphel’s coat strained as Dantalion’s hands tightened into clawed fists around the wool. Araphel took a deep breath and glanced meekly at Neshrael.

“He is helping me,” he said. “He gave me this body.”

'He gave me this body.'

“Mmhmm,” Dantalion nodded. “What else will you tell him, fool?”

“I must tell him that much, brother. Otherwise he will wonder…”

“The more you tell him, the more he will wonder, don’t you think?”

Neshrael said, “Please… I want nothing to do with either of you…”

'Please... I want nothing to do with either of you...'

Araphel’s gasp of dismay went uncaught. “But I need your help, brother! Aelfden needs my help—I must return to him…”


“Aelfden of Lund,” Araphel said proudly. “Aelfden of Lothere now.”

You?” Neshrael squeaked. Aelfden of Lund was no minor miracle-​worker, worthy of some mossy sacred well or a small stone shrine. And Araphel was no mighty angel, worthy of such a man.

“I know,” Araphel smiled meekly. “Ezeqael was supposed to have him, but he came to Rome years too soon—before Ezeqael had finished his latest task. So I was sent to him instead.”

“And quite a mess you’ve made of it so far,” Dantalion muttered.

'You've heard about Victor?'

“I can’t help it!” Araphel pleaded. “His arrival in Rome was only the beginning of it! Everything’s coming unraveled,” he said to Neshrael. “You’ve heard about Victor?”

Neshrael nodded uneasily.

“Has anyone talked to you?” Araphel glanced quickly over his shoulder at Dantalion. “Baraqiel, or anyone? About what’s happening?”

'Has anyone talked to you?'

Neshrael shook his head. “You’re the first I’ve seen in months. Baraqiel was supposed to come before the end of November, but he… never did…”

Neshrael had waited so long for Baraqiel to come and explain these strange events in Rome that he had scraped the depths of fear and had begun to carve into raw dread. Perhaps their leaders had rebelled again. Perhaps those like he who still toiled away in solitude had been abandoned to their doom.

“No one came to us, either,” Araphel said. “Amarel is there with me. He doesn’t even know whom he must find. And it will soon be that way for all of us if we can’t bend the world back in the way it was supposed to grow.”

'No one came to us, either.'

“While it is still possible to so do,” Dantalion murmured to himself. “The world grows like a briar…”

“So, you see,” Araphel pleaded, “that’s three of us now, and four with him”—he nodded at Dantalion—“and if you will write me this letter, and say that you knew me and thought well of me, then we shall have a good reason to go on writing to one another, and we can help one another. And then we won’t feel so alone.”

While he spoke, Neshrael tipped back his head and stared at his brother’s face until it had melted into a blur, and his unchanging gray eyes were all he could see. Could it be that Araphel had spent so much time with Dantalion that he too could see the deepest-​laid fears and tease them out to profit by them? Or was he simply speaking the hidden fear they all shared?

'Do it, Neshrael.'

“Do it, Neshrael,” Dantalion said softly, “and I shall consider your debt repaid. Bear in mind that my interests will not always coincide with yours.”

“Don’t threaten him, Cian,” Araphel grumbled. “Sometimes a man can get what he’s after simply by asking nicely. You should try it sometime.”

'You should try it sometime.'

Neshrael snorted and choked, and suddenly his chest was seized in a strange spasm. He had lived so long in somber places that he was slow to understand he was laughing—giggling wildly.

'Dantalion--asking nicely?'

“Dantalion—asking nicely?” he asked.

Araphel smiled, but his shrug and sigh seemed born of genuine exasperation. “He’s learning. He does say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ quite regularly now, but if you’re the one to pour the last cup out of the pitcher, beware he doesn’t break it over your head.”

'Beware he doesn't break it over your head.'

“You didn’t even feel it, you dumb ox,” Dantalion muttered.

“No, but I suppose the pitcher did. Poor fellow,” Araphel said with a mournful sigh. “He died valiantly, but needlessly, I’m afraid.”

“Do you see what I am forced to endure?” Dantalion demanded.

“Ach, but he’s Fergus,” Neshrael smiled. “I see what you were meaning…”

“I told you, he could be nothing else.”

'I told you, he could be nothing else.'