The second novel in the three-part Angel Fable arc.
Caius is gone, captured by the Blue Binds and taken to the secretive citadel of Casglade. Jane and her friends will stop at nothing to rescue him from that prison where no one has ever escaped and where only rumors can tell them about what lies behind the stone walls of that fortress.
Love and persistence won’t let Jane shy away from the unknown, and so they travel to the Blakishain Forest wherein lies the citadel. The companions find themselves confronted with dark secrets of suspicion, paranoia, and a terrible curse on all the inmates that brings Jane to doubt their journey. Hope, however, lingers on and as they fall deeper into the mysteries that pervade the prison they learn of their true enemy and the reason for their coming to the fortress.
Unfortunately, getting inside was the easy part. Escaping will test the strength of their bonds as they confront the source of the evil that surrounds the citadel.
It fell like teardrops from the dark sky and landed heavily on the hood of my cloak. I raised my head and let the cool water sprinkle over my face. The touch was both gentle and harsh, like my memories of him.
"You'll catch your death of cold doing that," my grandfather scolded me.
"And Caius wouldn't want you to do that," Bee added as she wrapped my cloak closer about my person.
I smiled at my grandparents. They'd been so gentle with me since the end of the festival. Since Caius was taken from me.
"How much farther do we have to go?" I asked my grandfather.
Sage turned his head to the right at the road ahead of us. We all sat in the back of a rambling cart with Bee at my side and my grandfather opposite where we sat with Alex the lumina beside him. Ahead of us was the driver with his wet, plodding donager pulling us down the muddy road.
The donkey-like creature's long mane clung to either side of its neck like snakes looking for refuge against the ceaseless rain.
"I believe we'll be there before nightfall," Sage guessed.
I glanced up at the sky again. The clouds were as dark as night and not a glimmer of sun was to be seen. "So what time is it now?"
"A little past two, if my reckoning is on," he told me.
I sighed and shifted atop the wooden bench. Another couple of hours, and then-well, and then I wasn't sure what would happen.
"Have you thought of a plan to get him out of there?" Bee asked my grandfather, speaking aloud the words I dared not utter.
He cupped his chin in his hands and furrowed his bushy eyebrows. "I'm afraid I haven't. No one has ever escaped from Casglade Citadel, after all, and I for one have never tried to enter it." A sly smile slipped onto his lips. "Though the invitation has been presented to me several times by some over-exuberant Blue Binds."
My shoulders slumped and I hung my head. "So we really don't know what we're up against. . ."
"Gad will guide our actions," Alex spoke up.
Sage glanced at him and gave a harrumph. "I wish Gad would provide a map ahead of time instead of claiming all the credit."
"Dear," Bee warned him with a wag of her finger.
Sage crossed his arms over his chest and slumped in his seat. "I can hardly be expected to be tolerant so quickly. It has been only a week, after all."
Only a week? I wondered to myself. I reached into my soft cloak, a gift from our friends Abel and Clara, and brushed my fingers against the leather glove tied to my waist. It was Caius' leather glove, the one Parnax, the Blue Bind leader, had tossed at me.
I looked on either side of the road. Tall woods rose up and covered us with their thick canopy. The rain dropped onto their needle branches and bent them low until they dripped onto the root-covered ground. Countless roots climbed over one another, and their thickness bore the weight of the thick trunks of those ancient plants.
A cold breeze wafted through us and chilled my cold body. I took a deep, shuddering breath. The air was thick with some ancient magic I couldn't place, almost like a perfume so thick you could see it and so old you dared not make it angry.
I turned to my grandfather. "Can forests be alive?"
A small smile appeared on his lips. "You're referring to the air, aren't you?" I nodded. He tilted his head back and inspected the thick limbs above us. "This is a rather ancient forest. I don't recall ever seeing so much as a stump as evidence that mortals had taken its wood. Stories have been told about this hoary place, stories far older than maybe even the flying cities, about shadows and creatures of darkness. They're said to be the ones who give life to the air and who hide the sun for all time."
I blinked at him. "You mean it's never sunny here?"
He closed his eyes and shook his head. "Never. The clouds are in perpetual residence."
"Can't you make them go away?" I asked him.
He opened his eyes and smiled. "The Blakishain Forest has a magic far older and more powerful than any sage, even a cardinali such as I, possess."
Bee leaned forward and set her hand on one of Alex's knees. "Perhaps Mr. Angel can tell us how old the forest is."
Alex shook his head. "I never watched the trees grow. My business was always with the humans and those like them."
"So did you perform miracles like when you brought me back to life?" I wondered.
"You are the first mortal I ever resurrected," he revealed. "As for my other duties, miracles were one of them. However-" He turned his face away from us. "I would rather not discuss the finer details."
"It would hardly matter, anyway," Sage mused as he looked around us. "Our foes are creatures of this world, and unfortunately we're heading into their territory."
"So what is this citadel like?" I inquired.
Sage furrowed his brow. "If my memory serves me and the stories were true, the citadel is a massive stone fortress built when a shifter clan sought to conquer the forest. They lost, as evidenced by their no longer being in this area, or even in existence, and the fortress was acquired by the library system a thousand years ago. They've only ever used it as a prison, but what they do with the prisoners inside those stone walls no one knows. Even the guards are likely to live out their days there, or are sent to the far reaches of the world with a bar of flameral in their pocket and a threat over their heads to never speak of what they saw."
"So why can't we just blast through the walls and get him out like that?" I wondered.
"A dispel spell has no doubt been cast around the citadel along with any myriad of magic to keep out unwanted individuals," he mused as he swept his eyes over the trees. "And then there's the Blakishain. If I were to bet my medallion, I'd say foreign magic isn't appreciated by the native folk of the shadows."
I leaned against the side of the cart and wrapped my arms around myself. "So we can't use mortal magic." I glanced at Alex. "Could you get us in with your deity powers?"
"That's daiad," Sage corrected me.
"Could that get us in there and out?" I persisted.
Alex shook his head. "I cannot interfere too greatly in the lives of mortals."
"And yet you're here," Sage mused.
"As I said before, I owe you a debt for saving the festival," Alex reminded him.
Sage tilted his head to one side and studied his face. "And?"
Alex arched an eyebrow. "And what?"
"I don't think a lumina of Gad would be tagging along to a remote prison just to return a favor," Sage commented as he met the impassive gaze of the angel. "You're sure you aren't here for another reason? Perhaps one associated with your original mission?"
Alex pursed his lips and turned his face away. I frowned and leaned toward him. "You still don't think that's done, do you? Because you couldn't find what those guys had to do with that Atroxilla god?"
Alex sighed and returned his gaze to my companions and me. "There may be something to your friend being taken and the god."
"Because of the timing?" Sage guessed.
Alex nodded. "Yes, and Gad told me to remain with you. He would only send me where my mission wills it."
Sage chuckled. "Quite a deus ex machina, this Gad. How does He believe our friend being taken away and His foes at the festival are connected?"
Our angel shook his head. "He doesn't tell me so much in words, only that it must be true, and so I will help you however I can."
"Because it's part of your mission," I added, and he nodded. "So do you ever get a day off?"
He blinked at me. "A day off? What would it be off of?"
I snorted. "I meant a vacation. Like some time to be away from all this angel-um, lumina business."
Alex shook his head. "No. We lumina are bound to Gad's bidding, and remain in His service until we return to him. Nothing else matters."
I winced. "That doesn't sound like much of a life."
"I imagine living means very little to an immortal," Sage mused as he looked ahead of us. "But it seems we are nearing our destination."
I followed his gaze and saw that the road dipped down into a large hollow that covered some two hundred acres of ground. A band of open ground surrounded a large patch of trees, and though those plants were lower than the trees that surrounded us they still towered over the ancient wood through which we passed like giants among mice.
The road led down to an arch made of stone, but our driver pulled up at the peak and turned his head to us. "This is as far as I go. Any farther and I'll be joining those poor creatures in there."
We climbed out and Sage pulled out a gelder which he handed to the grizzled man. "A thousand thanks for the ride."
The man gleefully took the coin and bowed his head. "And to you for your generosity, sir!"
I walked to the edge and squinted at the clump of trees. "I don't see a fortress."
"It's there, all right," our driver assured us as he turned the cart around. "And Gad protect you should you go inside there! Ha!" The donager gave a sort of whinny and whine before it clumped off into the darkness.
We were on our own now before the unknown, and a slight shiver ran down my spine. At the slight quiver Caius' leather glove brushed up against my hip. I steeled myself and turned to face whatever dangers lay ahead.
Like hell I was going to let the Blue Binds keep my husband.