There she way...but there her precious Laila was, standing beside a handsome young man with

Robby? Was that Robby, all grown-up? Nicola’s eyes widened. The two were hugging and grinning and laughing, so happy it made Nicola’s chest hurt.

They were together again.

Joy was deposited directly into her heart, filling her up, overflowing. One day, Nicola and Koldo would join them. She’d had knowledge of that before, but just then, it sank deep into her spirit, coming alive. Yes, one day.

“Koldo needs me,” she said. “I have to—”

An unassuming-looking man suddenly paced in front of her, claiming her attention. He had dark hair and kind, dark eyes. He wore a white robe, his hands anchored behind his back.

Oh, good. Someone else to pester about this. “Sir,” she said. “My name is Nicola, I’m human, and I need—”

“Clerici. Hi. Nice to meet you. I have a problem and—”

“Sent Ones are not angels, you know,” he said, interrupting her again. “We’re often called angels, and sometimes we refer to ourselves that way, but if we break down the pieces, we aren’t angels. Really, we are humans with special abilities. And yes, we have longer life spans and wings. We also fight evil.”

O-kay. Trying again. “Sir. I know all that. It’s been explained to me. But I really need to—”

“Our people serve the Most High, who is a Holy Trinity,” he said. “The Merciful One, the Anointed One and the Mighty One. We—and you—were created in His image. We are spirits, we have a soul, and we live in a body. Your spirit is your power source, what lives forever, and your soul is your mind, will and emotions. I’m sure you’re well acquainted with your body.”

“I am. Now. I’d like to leave and—”

“The Most High gave each of us a sword of fire. A sword you wielded,” he said, and stopped. Just stopped and stared over at her with an enigmatic expression.

“Hey, you can’t be any more surprised than I was. But there’s no time to ponder the reasons. Koldo is out there, and he needs me, and I’m going to find—”

“You didn’t wield the sword because you married Koldo, although that plays a part, I think.”

Argh! Would he never allow her to finish a sentence?

“You wielded it because you were adopted into the Most High’s family. That adoption is the true origin of a Sent One. Perhaps one day you’ll even grow wings. Now, however, you will fight for us.”

Wait, wait, wait. She was now a supernatural being, meant to join this warrior’s army? Head...spinning... “I’m happy to help you. I am. But I’m going after Koldo first,” she said in a rush before the male could stop her. She would do whatever was necessary to succeed. “We’ll talk about all this other stuff when he’s safe.”

“I know where he is,” Zacharel said. His first words since this had started.

Nicola spun to face him. “What! Why didn’t you tell me? Where is he? What’s happened?”

“There was nothing you could do to aid him. You would only have harmed him. And my attention was and is needed elsewhere, where I can do some good. Another of my warriors is missing, and his friends are near the breaking point.”

“The part about Koldo is true,” Clerici said, cutting her off. Again. “Any Sent One who has been whipped for the Water of Life cannot be aided until their wounds have healed.”

“I agree. I have attempted to convince the Council to abolish the tradition, but they insist on continuing it the way Germanus did. I will continue to work on them, though. But until I succeed, to aid Koldo is to condemn one’s self to the same pain he now suffers.” He turned to Zacharel. “For all but her. She can aid Koldo. She’s his other half, an extension of his being. Whatever she does to aid him will be as if he’s doing it himself.”

A muscle ticked in Zacharel’s jaw. “To escort her to him is to die myself, for I cannot fight the Nefas. I’m not bound to the warrior, thus anything I do on his behalf before he is healed will be considered aid.”

“I know. But you can aid and protect her.”

Zacharel’s shoulders straightened, and he jolted, as if he’d just experienced a startling revelation. “That’s true.”

So...he and his men couldn’t hurt the bad guys unless they threatened her? Otherwise they’d be helping Koldo. And they could help her, even though she was Koldo’s other half, because she was also half...well, Nicola. Had anything ever been more confusing?

Clerici’s head tilted to the side, returning to his study of her. “Are you ready for battle, Nicola?”

For the man she loved? “I am.”

“Koldo will be upset if she’s injured,” Zacharel said.

“He can’t be upset if he’s dead,” she said—and guess what? No one interrupted her.

Clerici brushed his knuckles across her cheek in the gentlest of caresses. “I like the way your mind works, female. Now, go get your husband.”

Even the smallest light can grow until there’s no darkness left.

NICOLA HAD NEVER been to war. Well, not in the natural realm, fighting with her physical body. But even if she had, she knew it wouldn’t have prepared her for this.

Zacharel flew her toward the side of a building in—she wasn’t sure where she was anymore. There were multiple structures, a bridge, water, black birds in every direction, and the air was supercold, even damp. There were about fifteen soldiers with him, flying beside him, and oh, they were a majestic sight.

The sky was dark, the moon high, stars twinkling from their perches. The Sent Ones had somehow colored their wings black with tiny diamond sparks throughout the feathers, and the long appendages blended perfectly into the night.

To the left, she could just make out Jamila’s beautiful face. There was fear in her eyes, but also a little excitement. My coworker is a Sent One, and I had no idea. And what was that sound? The...rattle of snake tails? The rustle of unmowed grass? The hiss of an animal being threatened?

“Serp demons,” Zacharel said. “As I’m sure you know, they are almost as evil as the Nefas, and they are poisonous to all life. They feed upon destruction.”

The Nefas were worse, and Koldo was related to one. But look at everything he’d done to overcome his heritage and his past. He might have been born to vileness, but he’d crawled out of it, was no longer a part of it.

Jade-green eyes locked on her. “These creatures wish to hurt Koldo. Can you kill them?”

“Yes.” No hesitation. Evil wasn’t to be tolerated.

“Good. Because they’ve sensed us, which means the starting bell has rung.” To the others, he shouted, Only kill those who approach the girl.

Somehow, the words reverberated through her mind rather than her ears.

There was no time to question him, no time to marvel. He swooped down and dropped her on the street. She landed with a thud, dust pluming around her. Demons shot out of the shadows, headed straight for her—but Zacharel’s men were there, their swords of fire lighting up the night and striking the demons before they could reach her. Grunts and groans sounded. Heads soon rolled.

Thankfully, there were no other humans around. It was too late, she supposed.

Before she had time to unfreeze from petrifaction—thought I was prepared...thought wrong—Zacharel scooped her up and resumed his breakneck pace toward the building, which was looming closer and closer. Closer still. He never slowed.

She squeezed her eyes closed, expecting to crash. But then he dived down. Farther and farther. Surely they would reach the ground any! Impact never came. The air chilled another degree, and she looked on. They were now underground and—going farther dooown. She swallowed a yelp of panic.

When they landed at the bottom of a cave, Zacharel set her on her feet and released her. Then, he and his men lined up behind her, making her a big fat target. Gasps of shock resounded through a now-active campsite, followed by growls of rage. Footsteps scrambled. Bald-headed warriors raced toward her. Just before they reached her, Zacharel broke formation and attacked, swinging his sword of fire. Shouts of pain and panic rang out. The gasps and growls were replaced by grunts and groans.

Baldies kept coming, and the rest of the warriors broke from behind her, as well, stepping beside her to save her from being run down...or decapitated. Their swords danced through the air, cutting, slicing. Flesh burned. Screams joined the chorus. The winged soldiers darted up, flipped in the air, plunged low, moving so quickly she had trouble tracking their progress. Some of the Nefas ran away. Some ran toward the action. But Zacharel and the others couldn’t chase them.

“Nicola,” Zacharel said from beside her. “Do something to draw attention to yourself. Get the rest of them to attack you.”

Yes. Of course.

No, she thought a moment later. She was here to fight, not to watch the action from afar. Not to watch others be struck down defending her. She could do something. And she would.

She held out her arm and peered down at her hand. Her empty hand. What had she done to summon the sword before? She thought back. Laila had just died. Oh, my darling Laila. The demons had just threatened Nicola. She had imagined her life with Koldo.

Nothing delighted her more than the thought of rescuing Koldo, of living her life with him, the way she’d been born to do. And she would.

“You and your men gather as many of the enemy as you can,” she said to Zacharel, “and I’ll deliver the deathblows. Don’t do this to help Koldo, but to save me from their wrath. You know they’ll come after me if I survive.” Hopefully, that would save everyone from any kind of penalty.