In the vein of bestselling paranormal authors like Lara Adrian and Laurel K. Hamilton, New York Times bestselling author L.A. Banks offers an action-packed series about a rapidly approaching battle between Dark and Light threatens to destroy all of mankind. Celeste Jackson never had much hope for the future—and certainly never imagined that she would be living in an abandoned warehouse in Philadelphia with her magnificent protector Azrael, the angel of death, and a fierce battalion of warrior angels. But although her powers have bestowed the angels with the freedom to return to the Light or stay within the mortal realm, they need her more than ever. Celeste is one of the few remaining half-human, half-angel Remnant, with a unique ability to locate others of her kind. The search leads Azrael and his celestial brothers to Egypt to recover a powerful relic that can raise an army of bloodthirsty fallen if it falls into the wrong hands. It is a relic the dark angel Asmodeus will do anything to possess—and his quest puts Celeste in mortal danger. Soon Azrael faces an impossible decision: Can he surrender the woman who has become his salvation…or will he save her and allow all of humanity to perish?
Release date: June 20, 2015
Publisher: Pocket Books
Print pages: 352
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Conquer the Dark
L. A. Banks
Body glistening with a thin sheen of sweat from his exertion, Azrael opened his eyes and offered her a lazy smile. “Good morning.”
“Back atcha,” she replied, loving the easy rumble of his voice.
“How long have you been awake?”
“Ohhh, just about long enough to thoroughly enjoy the floor show,” she murmured as he came to the side of the bed and sat near her.
“I didn’t mean to wake you up.” He leaned down and brushed her mouth with a light kiss, then pulled back to look at her.
“You didn’t, and I wouldn’t have minded if you had.” She reached up and traced the line of his square jaw with the cup of her hand. Warmth from his body radiated out in a palpable blanket as he leaned in for another, deeper kiss.
No matter what he’d eaten, his kiss always tasted sweet like ambrosia. That lacquer always coated and masked everything else he’d consumed, even the insides of her mouth. By now she’d learned to judge his mood by the concentration of that wondrous flavor. This morning it was mild and delicate, telling her that he was thoroughly contented and relaxed. When he pulled back again, this time he found stray wisps of her hair to push behind her ear.
“Would you like some breakfast?”
She raised an eyebrow as her smile broadened. “I was just about to ask you that.”
Her comment made him laugh. “Celeste … you are my ruination, you know that, right?”
They both laughed as he pounced on her, but the play came to an abrupt halt the moment Bath Kol’s angry voice shattered the calm. It was impossible to hear exactly what he was yelling about, but it was definitely a mood killer.
“I need to go check on my brother,” Azrael said with a resigned sigh.
“Yeah, it was time to get up anyway,” she replied, trying to shake off the disappointment.
Azrael slowly peeled his body away from hers, gave her a wistful glance, then got up. “Could be nothing, then again …”
“Could be everything,” she said with a shrug, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. She yanked her hair up into a messy ponytail, found a scrunchie on the night-stand, and stood.
Azrael looked so forlorn as he crossed the room and hesitated by the door that it made her swallow a smile.
“I’ll be right back, okay?”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m gonna wash my face and brush my teeth, then rustle us up some grub. What do you want to eat?”
“It’s not in the kitchen,” he said, then let out a breath of frustration as another bellicose outburst drew his attention toward the door.
Celeste just shook her head and chuckled quietly as he exited, then searched in earnest for her pajama pants and slippers, as well as a sweater. In bed, she’d been nice and cozy. But the huge warehouse was drafty as all get-out in November. This place wasn’t like the one Bath Kol had retrofitted in New York. There, before the dark side had ambushed them around the corner from his South Bronx club, Bath Kol and his Sentinels had been able to stay in that massive warehouse long enough to rig it with heat and electricity and collect all sorts of furniture and creature comforts from eras gone by.
However, now that their collective date with destiny was so close, and they now had the added complication of humans within the angel roost to protect, they had to stay on the move. Heat was provided by whichever angel body was in the room, pure energy wafting off him. Once he left, the bitter cold set in.
Celeste boxed her arms as she headed to the makeshift bathroom. Sure, it had been well cleaned and used the old plumbing system from when the factory warehouse had been opened years ago, but one had to conserve the water that was provided by a series of huge, leveraged drums, which also needed to be regularly replaced.
Plus, the abandoned building had no formal electricity either. It wasn’t as if she could just walk into a room and flip on a light or blow-dry her hair after a shower. If alone, she and the other humans in the building had to get as much done as one could during the daylight hours and use the ambient light coming in through the endless banks of windows.
But that didn’t stop them from having illumination or cooking altogether, as long as one of the brothers with a little celestial juice was in the room. It was still inconvenient as hell, but not as inconvenient as being discovered by nervous humans or being ambushed by demon forces.
Therefore, she could live with the preferred option of survival, even if that meant taking over dilapidated industrial structures that were far enough away from dense human populations to avoid heavy collateral damage if a firefight broke out. And ever since the battle on the Delaware, the brothers had decided that they liked having a water source at their back door.
Every day one of them would go to the river and anoint it with a prayer, and instantly it became a blue-white death trap of holy water should demon forces try an incursion by sea. Their airspace was fiercely guarded by brothers taking shifts on the roof. No doubt they loved the old factories and warehouses that dotted the East Coast waterways because those structures gave them room to stretch their wings like giant birds of prey, and with a little angelic cloaking they could keep themselves occupied with all manner of sports while on the expansive roofs.
By land, they had the perimeter lit up with hallowedground prayer barriers. The unused floors beneath the couple upper floors they took over at the tops of the buildings for bedrooms and the common areas were well fortified, too. Massive elevators were perfect for their fleet of Harleys and crotch-rocket motorcycles. Table-tennis boards, foosball stands, and basketball hoops took up a large section of the common area, and they loved the Wii—literally playing all their games acrobatically on the fly. Wii video games and the realistic interactive games on the Xbox 360 blew their minds and brought them endless delight as they fought demons, bet on who was a better sharpshooter, better guitar player, talked trash, drank beer, and played cards.
That common room stayed lit night and day, as did the multiple refrigerators it contained, which nobody seemed to forget to lend their juice to—not because it kept the food edible for their human charges, but more likely because it kept the beers cold. But after twenty-six thousand years of battle on earth as Sentinels and Guardians, who could begrudge the guys a little fun?
However, the one thing they could not do was kill a human just because he or she discovered the whereabouts of their battalion’s roost. If humans showed up, such as cops or building inspectors, the brothers had to deal with that intrusion fairly, humanely, even if the hassles that those people caused were enormous.
If a demon wanted in or wanted them out, the easiest thing to do would be to mind-stun some poor human law enforcement officer to investigate squatters and have them legally ousted. The angels’ cloaking themselves to minimize that possibility was one thing, but changing a person’s mind or simply expunging it for their own convenience violated the edict of allowing humans free will.
Yeah, they were going to have to move again soon. She could feel it in her bones. That was probably what had Bath Kol raising hell in the common area first thing in the morning. She could hear him and Isda at the center of a heated debate. It sounded as if the other brothers were taking neutral positions and simply watching.
Celeste splashed cold water on her face, wishing for a moment that Azrael were there to heat it up, then banished the thought. They all had more important things to do than to worry about water temps and creature comforts.
Quickly finishing her morning routine, she spit out her toothpaste and swished a gulp of clean water around in her mouth, spit again, then dashed down the football-field-length hall toward the common area.
The closer Celeste got to it, the louder the debate raged. As she entered the large, open area, Melissa was sitting across the room at the double-long picnic-style table with her head in her hands and her profusion of dark-blond curls hiding her almond-hued face. Tension riddled the Remnant sister’s tight posture. Arguing and dissension jacked with Melissa’s nervous system. Badly. Celeste frowned. Everybody knew that. Like all of them, Melissa had been through a lot, shuttled from her native Aborigine mother’s outback hideaway to her Danish father’s people in Demark. In between, the dark side had claimed much of Melissa’s innocence and peace; the same way Magdalena’s life had been no day at the beach, running from Ecuador to Colombia and subsequently falling into the wrong hands before Gavreel found her. But the way each woman processed stress was different. Melissa would allow it to implode within her and come off analytical and as though it didn’t bother her, whereas Magdalena would blow a fuse. If the brothers didn’t stop this crap, they were gonna make Celeste want to start smoking again.
When Maggie looked up, her intense, dark eyes said it all—help. The Remnant sister’s exterior beauty and gorgeous face appeared serene and calm on the surface, but Maggie’s eyes always conveyed her inner chaos. Even Queen Mother Aziza, a sensitive who had been with Bath Kol for years, seemed to have no effect on quelling the dispute. She sat ramrod straight, her back facing the table, her regal head held high and topped with purple-fabric-swathed dreadlocks. The middle-aged woman drew long, steadying breaths for calm, and her delicate, dark-walnut-hued back expanded and contracted slowly as though trying to filter the negative energy zinging around the common room. Then Aziza turned slowly, giving Celeste a meaningful glance as the male voices escalated.
Gavreel stood near the table close to his mate, Maggie, tension riddling his athletic, six-foot-two frame while blue-white energy caused his long, dark hair to slightly lift off his broad shoulders. Wearing a steely barrio-grit, the more angrily he glared at Bath Kol and Isda, the more distraught his Remnant became. But Paschar, who usually had the disposition of a yogi, with tranquil East Indian features and a melodic voice, constantly sent his gaze between his mate, Melissa, and the arguing angels, seeming ready to jump into the fray at any moment.
Nodding at Aziza, Celeste fully entered the wide-open space just in time to see Azrael jump between Bath Kol and Isda, who’d lunged at each other, wings spread for battle.
“Okay, guys. What’s going on?” Celeste looked from Bath Kol to Isda with a frown. “All this first thing in the morning? Really?”
“There appears to be a dispute about whether we simply move this encampment and hunker down in the country, or travel abroad to locate an item that we may need in an upcoming battle.” Azrael released a long, weary sigh. “No one wants to have to uproot our temporary homestead or to travel to potential international danger zones, but Bath Kol had a vision that very well may warrant the sudden change.”
“I’m not going to Egypt! Dat’s final, mon! Not like dis!” Isda shouted, spittle flying as his dreadlocks crackled with blue-white fury energy. “Have you been watching the news? You see how de whole Middle East just collapsed like a row of dominoes, mon? Egypt was just in a mad state of unrest, and if you haven’t checked, it’s not exac’ly tourist-friendly right now!”
The more upset Isda became, the thicker his Caribbean accent grew as he argued his point. “So I suggest you get a cup of coffee and sober up! Face it, BK, your visions have been fucked up for centuries, so now because you’ve supposedly been clear for a few months, you draggin’ us on a suicide expedition with Remnants in tow? You must have bumped your damned head last night!”
“Me? Me! I’ve bumped my head?” Bath Kol shouted back, his face red and veins standing up in his neck. Pressing his stone-cut chest against Azrael’s outstretched hand, Bath Kol looked more like an irate Hells Angels biker about to kick off a bar brawl than an angel warrior of Light.
“There’s nothing wrong with my visions these days, and I know what I saw in my meditations this morning, son!” Bath Kol looked at Azrael for moral support, then back to Isda, dragging his fingers though his spiked blond hair in frustration. “Just stay in your fucking lane! I have province over prophecy—you have province over nourishment—waaay different. So, if I want something to eat, I’ll ask you what’s on the house menu, but—”
“Tell me dat shit when you don’t have a fifth of Jack Daniel’s in your system, aw’ight!”
“Yo!” Azrael shouted, pushing both would-be combatants back. “Don’t either one of you forget that I have province over angel deaths.” He looked at Bath Kol and Isda hard as they sized each other up. “The language,” Azrael said, pointing at the kitchen table where the women had gathered. “Not to mention, you all know better. Going at each other like that and lowering the vibrational frequency in here with cursing and anger is a sure way to get this joint overrun. So I suggest everybody just calm down!”
Isda walked away a bit, flexing the muscles in his majestic dark-chocolate chest, biceps, and shoulders, finally retracting his wings. Bath Kol kicked a stray kitchen chair out of his way and walked off a few paces, then turned and folded his arms over his barrel chest.
After a moment, Azrael rubbed his palms down his face. “That’s better,” Azrael muttered. “Arguing amongst ourselves is getting us nowhere. And if we need a tiebreaker, Paschar also has province over visions—”
“But not prophecy!” Bath Kol shouted, slapping his chest. “There’s a difference!”
“You done?” Azrael waited until Bath Kol backed off, then sent his angry gaze around the room for a moment, challenging anyone to speak. Twenty-one angels looked at Azrael. The two combatants, Bath Kol and Isda, glared at each other across the room in a standoff. Gavreel and Paschar stood beside their Remnant mates with furrowed brows, clearly concerned. The remaining members of the Special Forces battalion that had chosen to stay on earth took up spectators’ positions around the room.
Aziza, the only human sensitive in the group, glanced at Celeste again. Somehow Aziza’s eyes beckoned Celeste to intervene again, but she wasn’t sure what the psychic healer wanted her to say. Under normal circumstances, Aziza herself was able to calm her mate, Bath Kol. He trusted her as a human seer, and the one who’d labored over him and his men for years with healing ministrations to draw out toxins from their beleaguered systems. Her voice was normally like a balm to his shattered nervous system as she helped him balance his stressed-out chakras and restabilize his etheric body so that he could function in this density without so much emotional pain. But today, he clearly wasn’t seeking her counsel, so Aziza apparently wanted Celeste to intervene through Azrael.
“Ask the locator then,” Isda finally said, lifting his chin and jerking it toward Celeste. “Months back, she knew where to tell Paschar to find Mel and told Gavreel right about Maggie—that she wasn’t in Colombia any longer but was on that flight coming into Miami. Celeste is more neutral than Paschar, who’s just gonna side with BK to keep the peace.”
“That is true about Celeste’s locating skill,” Aziza said in a calm tone as she studied Bath Kol for a moment and then looked at Celeste. Seeing the indignant tension in her lover’s body language, Aziza stood and went to him. “Not because your visions are flawed, BK, or because Paschar will side with you just for the sake of harmony. But because in these last critical weeks, it’s best that all clues get impartially corroborated.”
Bath Kol lifted his chin but didn’t push his lover away and instead slung a thick arm over Aziza’s shoulders. “Fine. Ask her.”
All eyes went to Celeste, and she glanced around the room, finally seeking silent counsel in Azrael’s troubled gaze. “Ask me what?”
“Let Az ask her,” Isda yelled across the room, cutting Bath Kol off. “You know better!” Isda added, pointing at Bath Kol. “You ask a question in a certain way and you’ll get exactly the answer you want. You ask it neutral, and you got a betta chance at da truth. I don’t know about anybody else in here, but I, for one, want da truth.”
Isda folded his arms, and Azrael, before proceeding, waited until Bath Kol held up both hands in front of his chest. Eyeing both Bath Kol and Isda with a warning glare not to further interrupt, Azrael walked forward and took up both of Celeste’s hands.
“We need to know if you can get any impressions about a very important piece of antiquity … something metal with sacred writings on it.”
Celeste stared up into Azrael’s eyes, then closed hers. Warmth from his hands and his aura spilled over her hands and traveled up her arms to envelop her entire body. Soon she could hear only her own breaths, then her own heartbeat, as everything around her faded away into the background. The center of her forehead began to tingle and soon felt even warmer than her burning hands, as did the top of her head. Slow-moving visual impressions flooded the dark space inside her lids until she could feel her lashes beginning to flutter. Quick, shallow breaths replaced her long, slow breathing. Then she saw it—a huge book … or … big metal pages.
Celeste opened her eyes with a gasp. “Like tablets?”
Azrael’s hands squeezed hers gently. “Yes.”
“Some are … green, like how copper turns on the roofs of buildings?”
“Yes,” Azrael murmured, now bending to allow his forehead to touch hers.
Tingling warmth covered the places they touched and she relaxed into the sensation, almost beginning to feel as though she were floating. It made her close her eyes again, and when she did, more impressions flitted through her mind.
“Some are gold,” she said in a soft voice. “But some are crystal … and there’s a clear crystal mummy case with … gold bones?”
She opened her eyes and looked up at Azrael, thoroughly confused. “I don’t get it.”
“The metal library,” Maggie said in a hesitant tone, glancing around the group. “When I was in Ecuador with my grandfather, he said the Shuar tribe’s shaman protected a metal library from outsiders. He only told me because he said I had a special secret destiny … It had the things Celeste spoke of. But white men came with an astronaut—an exploratory team that was pulled together by a famous guy from NASA, and all they found was a very old stone ring. They could never find the actual library or the entrance to it. Defeated, they left, but they came back again to Cueva de los Tayos still looking for the way in, never knowing that the true opening was under the Pastaza River, not aboveground. No one told them, though. It was sacred tribal knowledge.”
“Yeah, the warrior brothers knew about the tablets and the protectors of the vault, but the dark side never got this close before, even with humans jacking around looking for it.” Gavreel shook his head and rubbed his palm over the nape of his neck. “Seems like the closer we get to 2012, the closer the other side gets to their objectives, too.”
Azrael nodded. “Their efforts to find the vault have obviously been renewed since we kicked their asses in Philadelphia. That’s gotta be why they’re on a mission searching for it now—before that last battle, they thought they could take us without needing the tablets, which are bound into one sacred book.”
“Right, and what Maggie is talking about is the human Stan Hall’s expedition,” Gavreel said with a confirming nod toward Azrael. “That opening is at seventy-seven degrees, forty-seven minutes, and thirty-four seconds west, and one degree, fifty-six minutes, and zero seconds south.”
“So if you know the location, mon, then why we all—”
“That joint was cleared out years ago, dude,” Bath Kol said, shaking his head.
“It’s true what BK says about that. They had to move the library out of South America. It was too hot, and non-authorized human exploration was getting too close.” Gavreel looked around the group, gaining nods from all the other angels except Isda.
“So how you know, mon? You don’t have visions like BK and ain’t been over there yet.”
Gavreel frowned and stood a little taller, clearly taking exception to the challenge. “I came into this manifestation with that continent and the representative ethnic groups from it in my DNA pattern, just like the rest of you came in bearing a pattern that ensured you were matched to the familial human tribe of your Remnant to better blend in with it. We also received the resident knowledge of the geographic region our Remnant was from.” Gavreel paused, giving Isda a hard look. “So I can safely say that Maggie’s grandfather was teaching her facts, not legends, brothers. The entrance to the massive underground network that was carved out by some of our brothers during the first war spans the continent and was indeed hidden underwater to keep the tablets from falling into the wrong hands … but, like BK said, that library was moved.”
“Grandfather said even though it was underwater, it did not mean you would get wet,” Melissa added softly. “An earthquake made a natural opening behind the river.”
“That was the dark side, trying to break into the vault the Incas once guarded—until they got wiped out, then so many of the Shuar,” Gavreel said, shaking his head. “But, yeah. The new opening along with more insistent human expeditions made the move inevitable.”
“No one is disputing your knowledge,” Azrael affirmed, glancing at Isda with a frown before returning his gaze to Gavreel and then the others. “We’ve had many protectors of the vault from the ancient Atlanteans, the Kemetians, Sumerian tribes, the Incas, the Mayans, Tibetans, the Aborigines, the Native Americans, and many of the Norse tribes, to name a few. Given that, why are my brothers arguing about the fact that the library has moved?” Azrael looked around the group again. “The facts are simple; the library has circled the globe—and has been hidden everywhere from Atlantis to Iceland.”
“Which was my point,” Isda said, vindicated. He gave Bath Kol an angry look but then focused his attention on Azrael. “It’s been on the move true. But Kemet—Egypt—was the second place it was transferred after Atlantis went down. So why would it go back to the most obvious location of ancient ruins, huh? Why not the sacred temples of Thailand or some remote Fiji island?”
“What’s on the tablets or in this big book they’ve been consolidated into that’s so important?” Celeste asked, glancing around. “I got impressions, but I don’t understand what this place is that housed it and why everyone is so wigged out.”
“In Dreamtime,” Melissa hedged, sending her comments in Celeste’s direction, “my grandfather showed me a place far away that had thousands and thousands of metal books on massive slanted shelves. Some pieces were so heavy one man could not lift a book alone. Others were maybe forty to fifty pounds each, with tablets inserted within them like pages—single sheets of metal. Also there were all sorts of plants and seeds stored there for a rebirth of the mother, he said.”
Melissa stared off toward the sunlit windows as though seeing the images unfold right before her eyes. “It was like a giant library, and he called it the Hall of Records … and a botanical ark in case the final battle left nothing but scorched earth.”
“And while it was in my old homeland of Ecuador, many men were discredited and died with the secret in their hearts trying to find this repository of knowledge,” Maggie said in a reverent tone. “There was also war in Ecuador … in 1997. I was just fourteen and we prepared to move to Colombia. Two years before that, Peru bombed an Ecuadorian military base. Things were escalating. My grandfather got sick and he said that evil forces were trying to find the library … and me. The next year, in 1998, the only man outside the tribe that knew about how to find it was shot in the street and he died. Even though my grandfather was very ill, we moved to Colombia anyway. I was fifteen. They said it was a robbery—the man who was shot. Grandfather called it an assassination. “
“It was, beloved,” Aziza said, wrapping her arms around herself. Her voice drifted as she closed her eyes and her lids began to flutter. “Men who tried to tell the Western world were discredited. They even took Neil Armstrong there, the famous astronaut, as Maggie said. They found a ring, dated 1500 BC, but it was just a relic left behind during a hasty move.” Aziza squeezed her eyes shut more tightly. “That was in 1976.”
“The Bicentennial!” Celeste shouted, pulling away from Azrael to pace in a circle. Information poured into her mind so quickly that it made her ears ring. “The timing of that first expedition attempt by an international team—led by a well-known explorer of the cosmos, freakin’ Neil Armstrong, for crying out loud—syncs up with a milestone in American history … just like the first vision I had about the event occurring in Philadelphia. I saw a horrible battle, but didn’t know what it meant at the time … and we all soon found out that we’d have to take a stand in Philly or die trying. And I’m still getting very strong impressions that something major is yet to happen here.”
“Correct,” Isda said with a smug glance toward Bath Kol. “Even da lady says it’s still g’wan ’appen in Philly, mon.”
“Okay, okay, I stand corrected,” Bath Kol said, beginning to walk away. “My bad.”
“No,” Celeste said, rounding Bath Kol as everyone in the room strained their attention in her direction. “Whatever is in that library has to come here … or will come here. But that doesn’t mean it can’t originate from somewhere else.”
“In the Bible it’s very clear, ladies and gentlemen. Celeste is right. Says in the last days the only church that had found favor with the Light was the church of Philadelphia, which translates to the congregation or institutions here. It’s in the Book,” Bath Kol said in a slow, calmer tone. “Check it out in Revelation 3:7, if you guys are still into reading the old texts, dude. Philadelphia holds the key of David—he that opens and no man shuts. Need I say more? It’s in the Book. Case closed. There’s gonna be action in Philly. We can bank on that part. But what I’m trying to get you guys on board about is the fact that we have to head it off at the pass, and to do that we have to go back to the old country—Egypt.”
“So, whatever these tablets are—in the form of one huge book—the dark side is going to bring them here, eventually, and that’s not a good thing, right? We need to get the tablets first?” Celeste looked around the room and then back up to Bath Kol.
“Yeah, that’s the problem in a nutshell, baby gi
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