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    "I'll wea...ask and wing coverings bu...eed to be recognized, even from afar. It's the masses who need to be anonymous. D...ook like the masses to you?"

    "Absolutely not, Your Grace." Madeline sounds breathless with terror. She and her men whisk off the black feathers and gauzy material with shaking hands. "We'll be right back wit...ore appropriate outfit." They scramble out, trailing feathers.

    "My apologies, Your Grace." The assistant bows.

    "I suppose intelligence is too much to ask of them."

    They launch int...iscussion about wine and liquor. By the sound of things, they must have cleared every bar in the Bay Area to provid...onstant flow to the angels tonight. It hits me once again how we are at war but they are not. To them, we humans are just incidental.

    Despite our attack on their last aerie, they're more concerned about drinks and costumes than they are about defense against the humans. Of course, the fact that virtually all the angels were just injured and will fully recover, if they haven't already, probably just bolsters their outrageous confidence.

    I discreetly rub my fingers against the fabric on my hip where my bear sword would have been. The fabric feels flimsy and vulnerable.

    Before long, Madeline sweeps back into Uriel's suite with an entire crew, complete with rolling racks of costumes circa the 1920s crammed full of sparkling feathers. They get to work on Uriel.

    He ends up i...hite suit with wings of sparkling gold an...atching mask that's more o...rown tha...ace cover. It extends above his forehead, giving him the illusion of additional height, and curls around his eyes without actually hiding his features.

    When he looks at himself in the full-length mirror, he orders Andi and me to stand behind him. Our makeup has been refreshed and we now wear shimmery gauze wings, more fairy than angel. We are the perfect accessories to his costume.

    I understand now why he wanted petite brunettes. Our small bodies make him look large. His wings look giant, his height seems endless. We are the dark silk background to his gold and diamond regalia.

    WE ARRIVE just as the party is getting started. Winged men and glamorous women mingle on the multi-tiered terrace and on the golf course below. Torches and fire pits blaze against the golden glow of the sky before sunset, lighting up the grounds.

    Colorful lanterns are strung up and blowing in the wind like tethered balloons. Tall bistro tables are scattered around the party with gold-and-silver corkscrew ribbons and shiny confetti, accenting the whole scene wit...estive atmosphere.

    The surf pounds the cliffs at the edge of the golf course while waves splash gently on the beach on the other side. The rhythm of the water blends elegantly with the music of the string quartet.

    I glance at the ocean and wonder how the escape plans are going on Alcatraz. Is the Resistance on its way there? Will Captain Jake get off his recliner and do the right thing? The...weep my gaze over the glittery, glamorous crowd and wonder how I'm supposed to find my sister here.

    Uriel shines, clearly in his element as he greets his people. At first, Andi an...alk exactly two paces behind him, but afte...hile, the crowd gets tighter and we only have room to stan...ingle pace behind him. It get...ittle tougher when he walks down to the golf course. Nothing like heels on grass to mak...irl feel clumsy.

    Bits of conversation spill over as we walk by. The two word...ear repeatedly are "apocalypse" and "Messenger." "Apocalypse" is said loudly with relish while "Messenger" is said quietly with an undertone of wariness.

    The women are dressed as whimsically and colorfully as we are. Delicate wings, hair curled and scalloped, demi-masks sparkling and colorful on their faces. Some are draped in long silk while others are in tasseled flapper dresses.

    The angels have slicked hair and are dressed in old-fashioned tuxes or suits. They wear half masks and wing disguises that change the colors and patterns of their wings. Some, like us, have makeup or tattoo designs around their eyes instead of masks. Others wear zoot suits with looping chains and hats.

    The women hang all over the angels, laughing and flirting. Their eyes, though, are far from relaxed. Many of them look grimly determined to get themselves an angel, while more tha...ew look outright scared. They're obviously taking their instructions to get an angel protector seriously.

    At this party, Uriel's matching pair of girls are not the only ones who are screaming-on-the-inside terrified.

    There ar...ot of women, but there are way more angels at this party than there were at the last one at the old aerie. And unlike before, this party is crammed full of hard-muscled, hard-eyed warriors.

    It turns out that most of the women are in wings that are more fairy than angel. Even the feathered wings are little cherub wings rather than the true angelic kind. No way could anyone mistake these women for angels.

    If an angel gave way to temptation tonight, there would be guilt in the morning. And the knowledge that he couldn't convince the others that it was jus...istake.

    And Uriel would be his only chance for salvation.

    I gues...lready knew that Uriel i...anipulative bastard...uspect he'd been building up to this over weeks of parties, slowly introducing the Daughters of Men to the angels, the unlimited drinks, the costumes. And now, the masks and wing disguises that allow for anonymity so the angels can do whatever tempts them without feeling like someone is watching. It would have been outright weird if Uriel had suggested suc...hing as soon as they arrived on earth.

    The word "premeditated" comes to mind.

    The fact that I'm allowed to overhear enough to start piecing this stuff together makes me worried.

    Very worried.

    Chpater 52

    FROM WHA...an gather from snippets of conversation among the hotel staff, it's not jus...arty, it'...anquet. On the agenda are drinks, scantily clad Daughters of Men, and more drinks. Then dinner with more drinks. Then dancing with Daughters of Men and more drinks.

    Basically, there'...hole lot of drunkenness planned for the evening...uess, if the angels don't break their own rules tonight, Uriel's backup plan must be to make sure they don't remember that they didn't break the rules.

    Uriel glides from one group to the next, clasping hands and making sure everyone is havin...ood time. He offers Andi and me to those without girls on their arms, but they all politely decline without even looking at us.

    I ge...etter notion of Uriel's monumental task. This is not an easy crowd to manipulate. Already...ot of the soldiers are turning down extra drinks and refusing the attentions of the women.

    Some of the crowd welcome him warmly and wit...rief fanning of wings. It seems like the equivalent o...alute-not so much that it takes up too much space, but enough to show respect. They didn't do that at the old aerie. He must have made progress in his campaign. They hadn't called him Your Grace then either.

    I'm glad to see that other groups greet him only with simple nods and polite smiles. They call him Uriel, Archangel, and occasionally Uri rather than Your Grace.

    "Do you really think we're nearing Judgment Day, Uri?" ask...arrior. He hadn't saluted with his wings and doesn't address him with much respect, but there's genuine interest and-hope?-in his face.

    "I absolutely do," says Uriel. His voice has real conviction. "Archangel Gabriel brought us here fo...eason. Bringing two other archangels to Earth along wit...egion of warriors is nothing short of apocalyptic."

    Ain't that the truth.

    I wonder what Raffe would think of this party.

    Before Uriel can go on with the conversation, others intervene, and Uriel goes back to nodding greetings and stretching his mouth with an over-bright smile.

    My feet are already hurting and the party has just begun. My toes feel like they're i...ice that gets tighter by the minute, and my heels feel like electric drills are boring into them.

    I fantasize about stepping into the crowd and losing myself in it. Coul...rift out to the edges and disappear?

    Just as I'm thinking that...oman screams from the beach, followed by an unnatural growl. The piercing sound gets swallowed quickly by the roar of the waves, the conversation, and the music.

    Andi an...xchang...uick glance before going back to our matching poses. We mold our faces into mannequin faces-plastic and aloof. But I'm sure that if someone really looked, they could see the alert fear in our eyes.

    Uriel works his way t...akeshift stage at the edge of the party. As he meanders along, he looks over at someone fo...econd longer than usual...adn't even realized how closely I'd been watching him unti...otic...hange in his attitude. His shoulders and expression freeze on autopilot as his mind switches over to something else.

    The change is so subtle that I'm sure no one else noticed it, except maybe for Andi who has been watching him as closely a...ave.

    Uriel looks at an oversized angel on the edge of the crowd. He has snowy wings peppered with gold feathers an...atching gold mask over his eyes. He looks angelic in every sense except for the sneer on his lips.

    He holds his snowy wings ou...ittle as if insecure that he belongs here. One of his wings has the scissor notch that's now forever etched in my memory.

    Beliel.

    I also recognize two angels beside him from the video Doc showed me. Their wings are shimmery bronze and copper, but I'd bet my next meal that one of them has burnt orange wings beneath that costume. It's Burnt, the Kidnapper of Little Girls.

    I clench my fists automatically and have to force them to relax.

    Beliel and Uriel exchang...ook. Beliel nods ever so slightly at Uriel. The archangel glances away without responding but he smiles brightly at the next person and seems more relaxed.

    I d...weep of the people around Beliel. Of course, Paige is nowhere to be seen in the sea of angels and neither is Raffe. I'm not even sur...elieve what Doc said about Paige being drawn to Beliel, but apparently my heart does.

    Uriel steps into another group of warriors. This one is part of the "Your Grace" crowd. Smiles and wing-fanning all around. As Uriel makes his way through the various masked and disguised angels, one of them catches my eye.

    He'...arrior with the required broad shoulders and Adonis body. This one has white-feathered wing covers flecked with silver that sparkles in the twilight...atching mask swirls and curves with feathers, ornately covering everything but his eyes and mouth. Even his forehead is partially hidden by his tousled dark hair.

    There's something about him that makes me forget about my heels pinching my toes, the too-close crowd, and even the monstrous Politician. Something feels familiar about him, althoug...an't say exactly what. Maybe it's the proud way he holds his head, or the way he cuts through the crowd with utter confidence, as if it's assumed that everyone will get out of his way.

    ...
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