I took a page from his book and popped into Alexandro’s garden without waiting for him to respond to my telepathic knock, Raphael in tow.
He looked up from his laptop. Blue eyes weary, he sighed.
He didn’t acknowledge Raphael and I was in no mood to play at niceties.
“You couldn’t have warned me? What did you and Dawn expect, sending me off like that? Did you guys want the earth to be wiped? Did your triplet doing it once before make you more sanguine about it happening again?”
“Dawn doesn’t know. She doesn’t have this problem, with all of Inari’s kitsune that she can call upon.”
“Nice to know that I can put her back on my New Year gift giving list. So what gives with you? Why didn’t you say anything?”
He flicked a look at Raphael.
I half-turned. “No repeating anything that goes on in this conversation.”
Raphael exhaled. “I told you. I’m not here to function as a spy. Now, if you can deal with your cohort, we can be about our business.”
Alexandro’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t think I like him.”
“The feeling’s mutual, I assure you. You’re the reason the numbers are in such disarray and why this is necessary.”
“Break it up, boys. No time for that right now.”
I stared at my friend and tapped my foot. “Well? Raphael mentioned Watchers. What do you know of them? I thought your angels did your grunt work for you.”
His broad shoulders moved in what could be a shrug or apology. “There’s not nearly enough of them to go around. Used to be that you couldn’t walk over a patch of grass without one of the angelkin standing over it, whispering. Now? They’re spread extremely thin. The demons are gaining power as we hurtle toward the end of days and I need them on the ground, in battle, not sitting around transcribing deeds.”
I pinched the point between my brows. “We computerized that ages ago. You know that.”
This time, the movement was a definite shrug. “Actually, I don’t. We don’t talk shop, you and I. I did wonder on occasion how you managed to keep up with your exploding population, but it was always a passing query.”
I threw up my hands. “It never occurred to you to ask? What, did you just hide your head in the sand and hoped it would all sort itself out?”
“Amarantha. There are many things I will put up from you because you are one of my oldest remaining friends. However, do not mistake my tolerance for weakness. There were sufficient Watchers. Perhaps not enough, but sufficient. Then the computer age happened and I thought that the problem was solved. It’s only been very recently that someone has started killing my Watchers.”
“Before, it was slightly below replacement rate, well within the bounds of normal Fate and death. In the last five years, however, a pattern has emerged. Someone is deliberately and systematically targeting them. They go through each city in sweeps, killing off some with every turn, leaving just enough so as not to cause an immediate uproar. Earlier this year, they’ve abandoned all semblance of covert activity and have begun a genocide.”
“What’s your solution?”
He slashed me a sardonic smile. “What makes you think I have one, Amarantha? After all, haven’t I been drifting this for these few millennia without one?”
“Ever so heartless. No wonder your title is known as a synonym for ‘cold bitch’.”
Raphael stiffened at my side.
I only sighed. “Alex. How much of the brew did you drink?”
“Not much. Just half.”
With about fifty cups to the barrel I’d gifted him a thousand years ago and one cup sufficient to lay low even Ares, he was well beyond drunk.
I walked up to him and cupped his jaw. “That’s going to hurt, Alex.”
He turned his face into my hand and kissed my palm. “When does it not, Amarantha? Knowing what I did, that I sent you on that task, I couldn’t remain sober and keep what remains of my sanity. I’ve failed them, Amarantha, and I’ve failed you. How is a man supposed to live with that knowledge?”
Pain twisted in my heart.
I leaned in and kissed his forehead. “Fall, Alex. It’s past time.”
Tormented blue eyes raised to meet mine.
“You’ve put it off far too long and you’re losing perspective.” And sanity. I held those last words in my mouth and swallowed them.
“They’re in hiding. They know what’s hunting them is likely one of us and they’ve covered their tracks well. I could set angels upon their path, but that could lead others to them. The journals of those slain have been uploaded to the Cloud. I have Mikhail upon the trail of the killers.”
“Has he reported back yet?”
“He is following a lead.”
“Let him know your plans and Fall, Alex. I will take care of it.”
I cut him off. “You won’t do them any good in your current state.”
If I didn’t get him to Fall now, while he was under the effects of the brew, it simply wouldn’t happen. The last thing I needed right now was a semi-sane, self-hating deity of his stature. If he went on a rampage….
Every so often, we needed to Fall to regain enough humanity to continue as gods. We would be reborn to an earthly mother and grow much as human children would, except much, much slower. The slow growth allowed for the gradual regaining of our godly memories without rising insanity.
“Always trying to take care of others, Amarantha. When will you allow yourself to Fall?”
“When I’m done with this ridiculous task you and Dawn set me, Alex. Now, will you go, or will I have to drug and push you?”
“I have informed Mikhail that he is seconded to you. He will apprise you of all he knows.”
“You will be safe, Alex?”
His mouth quirked. “I am not quite so far gone that I would deliberately choose a poor birth-mother. I still have some conscience left, believe it or not.”
I slanted my mouth over his in a brief kiss, erasing his cynical smile. “Don’t make me worry.”
The smile he gifted me then was one reminiscent of the godling who’d braided phoenix feathers into my hair thousands of years ago. “You always worry, my dove.”
He brushed his lips over mine. “I will be safe and I will let you know when it is time for me to return. In the meantime, speak to the Reverend John Miller in Arlington, Massachusetts. You know which one.”
Alexandro took a step back and lifted his goblet from the table. He raised it in a salute, then drank it down. His eyes closed. The cup fell from his hand. His entire body shimmered to light and fragmented into shards of rainbow.
A single feather floated down through the air. Crystalline, it looked as if it were made of sapphire filaments with a shaft of diamond.
I caught it in my hand and stared at it for a moment before tucking it into my pocket.
Raphael studied me for a heartbeat. “To Arlington?”