Thoughts on the wild, the weird, and the romantic from author Joy Nash

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Joy Nash is a USA Today Bestselling Author and RITA Award Finalist applauded by Booklist for her "tart wit, superbly crafted characters, and sexy, magic-steeped plots."

» Friday, August 19, 2016

Angels and Demons TNEFA Chapter 2, Excerpt 1


The Night Everything Fell Apart 


From Chapter Two...

Michael turned his phone sideways. The video enlarged to fill the screen, but it was barely an improvement. He couldn’t quite make out exactly how the three human males were connected to the two human females. Frustrated, he backtracked and started another video. This one showed only two males, not a female in sight.
Interesting. How many different ways could there possibly be for humans to copulate?
The phone slipped from his grip and went flying into blue sky. It exploded overhead. A shower of sparks rained down. Each tiny light disappeared into the cloud under his feet.
Michael regarded his brother sourly. “F-f-f...fuck it!”
It was difficult, almost painful, to form human profanity on his tongue. He wasn’t even sure he’d be able to get it out until he heard the syllable explode from his lips. It gave him an odd feeling—energized and strangely satisfied. He sat up and grinned.
Raphael regarded him with undisguised horror. “What did you say?”
“Want me to say it again?”
“In the name of all that’s holy, no!”
Gabriel, who was inspecting his fingernails while seated atop a nearby puff of mist, fluttered his silver wings and snorted.
Raphael cast a baleful eye upon him. “Don’t you start, too.”
“Who, moi?” Gabe looked up, all wide-eyed and innocent. “Why, I wouldn’t dream of it! There’s certainly no reason for me to get involved just because you can’t control Michael.”
“It’s got nothing to do with control,” Raphael said.
Gabriel stood. “Come now, brother.” Grasping his walking stick in his left hand, he smoothed the lapel of his linen suit with his right. “Angels aren’t supposed to lie. Archangels, least of all.”
The darkest thundercloud could not have rivaled Raphael’s expression for pure fury. His robes whipped around his legs as if buffeted by gale-force winds. His hand landed on the hilt of his sword. “Are you accusing me of falsehood?”
“If the sandal fits,” Gabe said, cheekily ignoring the oncoming storm. Fingers spread, he frowned down at his left hand. Sighing, he propped his walking stick up against a tuft of cloud and snapped his fingers. An emery board appeared. With the virtuosity of an artist, he applied it to the offending fingernail.
Raphael glowered. “Insolent brat.”
“Insufferable bore,” Gabe replied.
Michael sat back on his cloud, content to watch his siblings quarrel. Raphael would win, of course. Eventually. Until then, Gabriel could drag out a squabble from here to eternity.
His brothers could not be more different. Raphael, eldest, was the golden boy, with shoulder-length blond hair and a blindingly handsome face. He was, in Michael’s private opinion, the pompous back end of a donkey. If he’d ever seen Raphael wearing anything but sun-bright robes, gold-wrought sandals, and a gilded, belted scabbard—Sword of Righteous Vengeance sheathed threateningly inside—Michael could not remember it.
Gabriel, the middle brother, was pale. Skin white as parchment, eyes silver-grey. He invariably dressed in a white linen suit, white-on-white striped shirt, skinny silver tie, and white shoes and socks. His hair was clipped short and was—surprise!—pure as driven snow. He carried a white, silver-handled walking stick. A pair of diamond stud earrings, set in platinum, gleamed in his lobes.
The argument went on. And on. And on. Bored, Michael snapped his fingers. A new smart phone appeared in his hand. He bent his head over the screen and occupied himself scrolling through website after website. He just couldn’t get enough of this human porn thing. The Earth’s Internet was full of it! And cats. For some reason, always cats.
He was so absorbed in his...erm...research of the human realm that he didn’t notice the altercation had ended until a shadow fell over him. He looked up to find Raphael staring him down.
“May I help you?” Michael inquired.
“What,” his brother intoned, “is that infernal human device?”
Michael quickly shoved the phone into the back pocket of his jeans. “It’s called a smart phone. Almost all humans have one. They carry them everywhere.”
“Whatever for?”
“To connect with each other. Send messages and trade pictures and videos and...shit.”
Raphael did his baleful eye thing again.
Michael shrugged.
“Hmph.” Raphael waved a hand. “Humans would be far better served by casting off their...what did you call them?”
“Smart phones.”
“Humans would be far better served casting off their smart phones and speaking directly to Heaven.”
“I’m sure that would be ideal,” Michael hedged, “but I can tell you it’s not likely to happen this millennium. The next millennium looks doubtful, too. From what I’ve seen, humans aren’t all that interested in celestial matters. Sin consumes them. It’s really very interesting—”
“I sent you to Earth to fight sin,” Raphael said tightly. “Not to wallow in it.”
“I have to know my audience,” Michael protested. “Humans are very emotional. They’ll fight about anything. Power, money, parking spaces—you name it! And if they’re not fighting, they’re fu—”
“Stop! I’m thinking you’ve come to know your audience far too well.” Raphael looked Michael up and down. “And what in Heaven’s name are you wearing? Where are your celestial robes?”
Gone. Michael found denim pants to be surprisingly comfortable. He’d shrunk his righteous sword down to a deadly six-inch switchblade, now hidden in his sleeve. He was equally pleased with his Doc Martens and the frogged military jacket he’d picked up in a vintage shop in SoHo.
“You don’t have a problem with Gabe’s Earth garb,” he said. “What’s wrong with mine?”
“You’re wearing black!” Raphael exclaimed. “What kind of self-respecting angel wears black? And hides his wings?”
“One that’s undercover,” Michael said testily.
Gabriel tittered behind his hand. Raphael shot him a glare. Gabe sniffed and turned his head.
“Undercover is one thing,” Raphael said, “but dignity must be preserved.”
“I don’t see why.”
Raphael gave a flap of his golden wings. Robes fluttering behind him, he glided a circle around his brother. Touching down once more, he crossed his arms. “Disgusting garments. Get rid of them.”
Like hell I will, Michael thought, and then flushed. Human obscenity concerning copulation and defecation were one thing. Invoking the underworld was perhaps going a bit too far.
“Forget my clothes,” he said. “Don’t you want to hear my field report?”
Raphael heaved a sigh. “Of course.” He waved a hand, swirling cloud mist into the form of a throne. His celestial buttocks settled upon it. “Proceed.”
Michael rose and bowed.
Raphael inclined his head in reply. “Have you located Cherub Fortunato?”
“Regrettably, no. And believe me, I’ve looked all over.”
“Odd.” Raphael’s shining brow creased. “I wonder where he might have gone. He’s definitely not up here.”
“He’s probably just floating around Earth, oblivious. You have to admit, the little guy isn’t exactly the most intelligent of angels.”
“Heaven knows that’s true! When the Almighty was giving out brains, Fortunato thought He said ‘pains,’ and made himself scarce.”
Michael chuckled. “He’s as lucky as his name, though. And very soft-hearted. He’ll be fine.”
Raphael contemplated a moment longer, then shook his head. “I suppose you’re right. Fortunato has always been a curious sort. He probably just got distracted. I expect he’ll turn up eventually.” He leaned back and steepled his fingers. “Very well. Continue. What sin did you find rampant in the human realm?”
“The usual trouble in the Middle East—that’s a given. In other areas...let’s see. Your typical wars here and there, along with the expected number of refugees fleeing each conflict zone. Species extinction continues unabated. Greed and gluttony is on an upswing. Racism, sexism, and xenophobia holding steady. Murders and thefts are, surprisingly, slightly down. As for illicit sexual congress—”
Raphael held up a hand. “Please. No details.”
Michael shrugged. “In that case, I guess that’s about—oh wait! There was one other thing.”
“It’s not really about sin, per se. It concerns the Nephilim.”
Raphael snorted. “If those abominable left-handed demons are involved, you can be sure it’s a sin. What evil are they up to now?”
“The Druid clan, descendants of the Watcher Samyaza, has a new adept. A male. He emerged from his Ordeal two days ago.”
“What do I care about that? Nephil dormants become adept with regrettable regularity.”
“Not like this, they don’t.”
“What do you mean?”
“This particular Nephil went rogue,” Michael said. “Defied his alpha, abandoned his clan, and entered his Ordeal alone. No guide, no mentor, not one scrap of assistance. And yet he survived.”
Raphael waved a dismissive hand. “So he’s insane now. Nothing need be done about it. He won’t last long enough to become a problem.”
“Well, that’s just it. He’s not insane. At least, not fully. He emerged from his Ordeal with his mind mostly intact. His demon powers are rapidly escalating. He can’t quite control them yet, but—” Michael shook his head. “It’s amazing, really. Arthur Camulus is—”
Raphael’s chin jerked up. “What did you say?”
“I said, the new adept is sane. Mostly.”
“No, not that part. The other. His name. What is his name?”
Michael regarded his brother quizzically. “I told you. It’s Arthur Camulus, Nephil of the Druid clan. Descendant of Samyaza, leader of the fallen Watcher angels.”
Raphael jumped to his feet and paced, golden robes swirling about his ankles like a small tornado. What the—? Michael had never seen his brother so agitated. He shot a questioning look at Gabriel. Gabe raised a hand, palm up, and made a face.
“It cannot be,” Raphael muttered. “Cannot be, I tell you! Arthur Camulus is dead. He died as a boy of twelve. Seven years ago.”
“You are...misinformed,” Michael said carefully. “I assure you, Arthur is very much alive.”
Raphael whipped around to face him. “Even if he were alive, he’s not yet of age. He’d be only nineteen. A full year short of attempting his Ordeal with any hope of survival.”
“I’m not sure of Arthur’s age.” Michael’s eyes tracked his brother’s progress to the edge of the cloud and back again. “I only know he was living with the American branch of the Druid clan. In Texas, of all places. I gather he took exception to his clan’s alpha.” He gave a grunt of distaste. “Mab. A nasty piece of work. I can see why he rejected her as his guide—she enslaves every dormant she brings out of the Ordeal. Anyway, some two weeks ago Arthur snuck out of the Texas homestead and ingested a dose of cocaine that should’ve killed him. He got as close to death as possible without actually crossing over.”
Raphael resumed his chase to the end of the cloud. “Arthur survived his near-death-seeking only two weeks ago? It should have been months before his Ordeal came upon him.”
Michael was getting dizzy, watching his brother’s frantic pacing. “In the traditional scheme of things, yes, a Nephil Ordeal usually comes two to three months after the subject’s near-death. But I gather cocaine speeds up the process. If the dormant survives, the crisis arrives almost immediately. Some idiosyncrasy of Nephil physiology, apparently.”
“Disturbing. Very disturbing. When did Arthur emerge?”
“Thirty-two hours ago.”
Raphael passed a hand over his eyes. “Go back to Earth. Immediately. Keep an eye on him. Arthur Camulus, a Nephil adept!” He shook his head. “Blessed God in Heaven.”
“I don’t understand.” Michael looked from Raphael to Gabriel. “Who is Arthur Camulus?”
Gabriel slid off his patch of mist and onto his feet. “Yes. Who is he?”
A pained expression crossed Raphael’s countenance. “It’s not who Arthur is, precisely. It’s who his ancestor was.”
“All right,” Michael said slowly. “I’ll bite. Who was Arthur’s ancestor?”
“Merlin the Sorcerer?” Gabriel said with some surprise. “Camelot and all that?”
“So?” asked Michael.
“So,” Raphael replied tightly, “Merlin the Sorcerer was the most powerful Nephil ever to walk the Earth. If Arthur Camulus is alive, he’s Merlin’s only living direct descendant. He’s heir to Merlin’s memories and magic. Magic, I might add, that Merlin gained by surviving his own Ordeal unguided.” Raphael pinched the bridge of his nose. “And now, if Arthur has done the same...”
“So what if he has?” Michael asked. “It’s not the end of the world or anything. Nephilim have no souls. Their existence is finite. Wait a century or so, and Arthur will be in Oblivion.”
“It’s the damage he could do before he dies that I’m worried about,” Raphael said. “You want to talk about the end of the world? Back when Merlin was alive, he managed to push humanity this close—” He pinched a bare inch of air between his thumb and forefinger. “—to destruction. Utter and complete destruction.”
What? If the world had once been in danger of ending, this was the first Michael was hearing about it. “When was this, exactly?”
“Thirteen hundred years ago.”
“I don’t remember a crisis of that proportion during that time period.”
Gabriel approached, eyeing his eldest brother curiously. “Neither do I.”
Raphael’s eyes slid away. “Yes, well. You two didn’t know about it. I didn’t choose to inform you. I handled it alone.” He cleared his throat. “As thoroughly as I could, anyway.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Michael asked.
“It means I acted to ensure the world’s continued survival, all right?” Raphael dragged a hand through his golden curls. “I thought the issue was over and done with.”
Gabriel’s brows rose. “Hardly. We all know how the Almighty has set up the universe. No solution is unassailable.”
“The Loophole Edict,” Michael said.  
“Yes. Exactly. The Loophole Edict.” Gabriel’s expression turned uncharacteristically serious. “Nothing is certain. Possibilities always exist. No matter how sure a thing seems, or how impossible, there’s always a way to do it. Or undo it, as the case may be.”
“Exactly.” Raphael sank down on his throne. “This young heir of Merlin could easily overreach himself, just as his ancestor did, and undo all my hard work. In fact, given the magnitude of the power Arthur now has within reach, it’s more than likely he’ll misuse his magic. Or worse, lose control of it completely.”
“And if he does—” Gabriel tucked his walking stick under one arm and flicked all ten fingers outward, like a bursting star. “Kablooie.”
Michael regarded Raphael uneasily. He’d never seen his overconfident elder brother so troubled. “If you’re that worried, maybe we should wake the Almighty and seek His guidance.”
“No.” Raphael’s head jerked up. “No, no, and no! I forbid it. Two thousand years ago, before the Almighty went down for a well-deserved nap, He gave me two simple commandments.” He counted them off on his fingers. “One—don’t disturb him. Two—the Apocalypse is not, under any circumstances, supposed to happen until He wakes up.” He shuddered. “If I have to wake Him early, Heaven help me.”
There was a brief moment of silence while Michael and Gabriel absorbed this information.
“Then...what are we going to do?” Gabriel ventured.
“I don’t know yet,” Raphael said. “But I swear to you both by Heaven’s holy gate, I will come up with a plan.”
Somehow, Michael wasn’t reassured.

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