Angel-in-training Haven Terra battled the devils of Chicago in Illuminate.
She sparred with the demons of New Orleans in Infatuate.
But nothing can prepare her for the horrors she will face in her final test to earn her wings.
After freeing repentant devil Lucian from the clutches of the underworld, she watched in agony as her love Lance was captured and dragged to the depths of hell. Vowing to rescue him, Haven—with Dante, Lucian, and her fellow angels-in-training—is soon summoned to Paris…for the fight of her life. The City of Light is set to play host to a demon uprising, a revolution unlike any the world has seen, and only Haven can stop it.
Can she free Lance? Can she keep Lucian safe from the devils now hunting him? And can she defeat the underworld’s most lethal creatures and be initiated into full angelhood at last?
The epic, heart-pounding conclusion to the Gilded Wings Trilogy proves the fiercest power of all is the power to believe in yourself. (Read Chapter 1 below!)
PLUS: Initiate includes a bonus Gilded Wings short story!
What happened to Lance after his abduction at the end of Infatuate? The short story “Lance’s Inferno,” gives a chilling look at the underworld…as seen through Lance’s eyes!
I Can’t Believe He Would Risk It
Lance. The sound of his name made me ache, my fury rising only to be just as swiftly snuffed out by the chokehold of failure. My failure. The others were talking now. Hypothesizing, planning, shouting to be heard over that angry howling wind and the relentless rush of rain pelting us with heavy drops. We all wore battle scars from the night’s work, our tattered, soaked clothes adhering to our battered and bruised bodies; scrapes and slashes etched wildly across the canvas of our skin; burns branded upon us from our respective tangles with the denizens of the underworld. But at least we were here. We had made it.
Lance. I paid no attention to them all. I couldn’t bear to listen. I felt Lucian’s eyes on me. Water coursed around me, the downpour a static drowning out everything, everyone. I didn’t even realize I was still kneeling on the pavement of New Orleans’ Royal Street, my knees red and raw, until Lucian, still silent, reached for my hand, pulling me up. It didn’t occur to me to look at him.
Lance. What were they doing to him right now? What were they doing to him, to the boy I loved who was captured to spite me?
“Here, see?” Dante shoved his glowing phone in my face, that mysterious cell phone that matched the ones Lance and I had and had dictated such cryptic riddles to us all. I didn’t look, I gazed through it to the glowing embers just yards away: all that remained after the Prince seized Lance, imprisoning him in a ring of fire and vanishing with him. I could only imagine they had rematerialized in the underworld and that pain and suffering awaited him. A shudder swept over me, chilling me.
“I can’t believe he would risk it,” Lucian muttered in a pained voice, eyes fixed in that same glowing space the Prince had occupied.
I had done this. I had let Lance down. I had let this happen. He was gone because of me. I may never see him again. I kept turning it all over in my mind to let the sharp blade of understanding wedge firmly in my heart, let the sting sharpen. This was a punishment for my complacency. For taking too long to appreciate what I had and for taking too much for granted. It’s so rare to find people who understand you, who are going through what you’re going through, who can let you make mistakes and still love you. You need to hang on to them, tightly. Fiercely. We weren’t like other people, Lance and I. Even before learning we were angels, we just weren’t like other people. We were like each other, though. And we were better together than apart. I would get him back. I would find him. Now. There must be some way.
The anger trickled into my bloodstream, jolting me back to life, replacing the numbing shock with vitriol. A spark lit, and I took off without warning on swift, sure legs. My arm slipped from Lucian’s grip as he tried to hold me back. Instead I darted into the LaLaurie mansion where the party that had beat on through both natural disaster and devil warfare still pulsed, the masked Mardi Gras revelers managing to persevere—relocating to the lower floors of the building now that a shattered skylight had left the top floor ballroom exposed to the elements of the hurricane swirling outside. The crowd as a whole seemed to have digested this violence, accepted it and decided to make the best of it all. They bobbed their heads to the music, sipping their drinks, yelling in each other’s ears to be heard, and smiling in that slow, late-night way of people with few cares and many hours to fill in pleasurable ways. So long as they had electricity and refreshments, there was no need to change their plans.
I pushed through them all with more force than was necessary, knocking a glass from a hand here and there, causing a high-heeled guest or two to lean against the imposing banister and to stumble as I charged up the staircase to that familiar fleur-de-lis tapestry: the portal. Lucian had used this regularly since our arrival in New Orleans months earlier, a bridge from the dark side he longed to escape. Lance and I had found our way back from the underworld through this very passage not too long ago, during our night of horrors shadowing the Krewe, the devil enclave here. That night, we had ventured too far while studying their ways in an effort to learn how to defeat them. We had landed in the underworld and had been lucky to make it out alive. Tonight, though, we had come so close to passing the second of our three tests toward angelhood, so close to those wings we worked so hard to earn. Our small, strong cadre of angels-in-training—my childhood best friend Dante, his new love Max, sweet Drew, southern belle Emma and the unlikeliest of paramours, resident goth River and all-American jock Tom—had managed to make it through the evening’s battle against those deadly creatures. It had been only in those final seconds that we had lost one of our own.
Reaching the mansion’s second floor, I swept the tapestry aside, nearly shearing it from its anchors, prepared to hurl myself into that abyss, down, down to unknown terrors and to Lance. But I stopped short. There was nowhere to leap. I patted at the wall, my hands not recognizing the smooth, hard surface that greeted them. Solid. It shouldn’t have been a surprise: as I had been told so many times before, at midnight on this Metamorphosi Day, the demons were to return below with their new recruits and seal their various entry points behind them. But my wounded heart didn’t want to accept it. It couldn’t. I had to try.
“Haven!” Lucian called from the foyer, a defeated strain fraying his usually silky tone. The image of Lance being taken flared again in my mind, setting my blood on fire, desperation rising. I needed him now.
Once more my body sped off before my mind could fully reason with it, knocking past the same masked figures I had jostled on the way up. I blew past Lucian and Dante, clipping their shoulders and whipping past the whole group as I threw myself back out into the storm. Running against the deluge toward my only other hope, the only other portals we knew: the tombs of Saint Louis Number 1, the cemetery where Lance and I had spied the devils’ dark rituals and even stolen away into a smooth marble crypt leading to the underworld below. Behind me, many footsteps, a small herd of them, splashed through ankle-deep water, dodging the airborne debris torn from the Mardi Gras floats now many streets away. The group pushed onward following me, shouting for me to stop, but I just tuned them out.
I sped up as I neared the gates, gathering momentum and launching myself up and over the wrought-iron barrier with the easy effort usually reserved for leaping over a puddle on a street corner. Something had happened tonight. The power available to me in every muscle and every cell had been cranked up to a new level, every movement felt like a match striking dry kindling.
I raced back to that crypt Lance had helped build, remembering how I had watched from afar as his firm shoulders and the rippled muscles of his back had hoisted slabs of marble like they were cardboard. As I ran, the saturated dirt and gravel swallowing my feet with each step, the memories piled up like snapshots scattered on the desktop of my mind: Lance chasing me into the mansion that night a while back when the devils’ toxins had taken hold of me; his strong arms sweeping up my lifeless body after the levitation ritual had purged the poison from my soul; our walk in the garden when we set everything right again; that kiss as the parade had begun so many hours ago, when we had allowed ourselves a moment—one single moment—to revel in the thrill of being at the center of such excitement and life. And then finally, our first kiss, back at the Lexington Hotel, its opening night shrouded in so much mystery, and us fumbling so blissfully in the dark, tumbling into this new love.
Cutting through to the back of the cemetery, I veered off, taking sharp turns into dark alleys toward those other familiar tombs. I stopped to ram my shoulder against any of the openings from which I had once seen devils creeping out into the night. But nothing would budge. Finally I reached it, what was left of Lance’s crypt. The police had torn it up days earlier acting on an anonymous tip—called in by our group, of course—reporting that the spot had factored in a recent crime spree in the city. They had found nothing, least of all an entry to the underworld, but the structure had been chiseled into pieces, which now lay in this muddy pit. The rain began to let up, no longer cascading in sheets. I waded through the muck, my combat boots sinking until I was in up to my shins. Ribbons of yellow crime scene tape shredded by the wind and stuck in the ground reflected up like eels in the deep sea. I scooped up a handful of mud and another and another; it poured through my fingers, dripping down my arms. There was nothing left here, though, nowhere else to look. This portal, too, was closed to us. The full weight of this loss settled onto my body, squeezing the air from my lungs. I couldn’t breathe, move, think.
The others gathered around me, heads hung as though at a funeral, stealing quick pitying glances at me. Except for Lucian. Stepping into my line of vision, he fixed his deep, remorseful gray eyes on me. He took me gently by the wrist but I reflexively shook him off with a sharp swipe. He stepped back without a word. Beside me Dante draped his arms around my shoulders. The rain lessened to a light spitting drizzle, the storm quieting at last. “Listen,” Dante whispered, in a firm tone he rarely used with me. “Enough now. We will get to him, but not like this.”
With that he led us back to the house. The others fanned around us in a horseshoe as we walked, forming a silent, protective barrier between me and the world.
We returned home to our Royal Street sanctuary, the LaLaurie mansion next door now plunged into darkness, to find our windows blown out, our floors soaked, and our belongings scattered and studded with glass shards. And then the reminder of another loss: Connor’s empty room. Our guide through this second stage in our quest for wings, he had led us through physical trials and prepared us for the psychological battle against these vicious demons. But, after taking us as far as he could, he had been forced to leave just before battle to let us fight on our own. Without Lance here, I felt Connor’s absence even more, registering it like another stake to the heart, another lump in my throat. I could have used his comfort now. I needed someone, some kind of authority figure, to tell me it would be OK. Because it didn’t feel that way.
We filed into the living room, trying the lights but finding all power out. We didn’t need much light to see that the once-bold décor—the riot of Mardi Gras-themed gold, purple and emerald shades and sleek-lined furniture—had dulled and worn in these short, violent hours. The mammoth mask, the room’s focal point encompassing one wall, had been knocked from its perch and lay face down, bent in sharp angles on the wet carpet, as though discarded by a giant at the end of a raucous party. We had arrived here back in January knowing that Metamorphosi Day would come, but not knowing what lay on the other side of it for us. Like our surroundings, we had been knocked around, beat up and nearly destroyed.
Without a word, the group set to work righting the furniture, dusting off the bits of glass, trying to bring some order to the space and to our lives. The air outside settled into such a perfect stillness, I forgot for a moment that the windows were gaping, jagged holes. Lucian took a seat beside me on the damp velvet couch, staring at me like he wanted to say something but just fidgeting instead. I could read the anguish in his face, in his dead eyes and furrowed brow, his spirit as dim as I had ever seen. I wondered how much of that had to do with his transformation. At midnight, after an extremely close call, he had escaped the underworld. He was no longer one of them, a demon, but he wasn’t one of us either. He was mortal. Dante kneeled before me on the damp carpet, saying something, holding out his phone as he had earlier. I forced myself to listen, though my thoughts were far away.
“See, I’ll read it,” he said. “‘If you live past midnight, don’t despair at those you’ve lost. Look to an old foe for answers. You will find him. As you proceed, a word of warning: you must complete the loop. Allons-y.’ So I got that before…everything happened. Did you get anything?”
I didn’t even know if I still had my phone. I had wedged it into my combat boot for safekeeping earlier in the night and had gotten so used to the feel of it there, making such a snug place for itself against the firm leather, that I had forgotten about it. I freed it from the side of my boot now, pulling it out of my dirty, torn sock. The phone was caked with mud, much like my arms and legs, and its screen was cracked. Still, it came to life with the push of a button. I read the waiting text silently, Lucian looking over my shoulder, and then flashed the screen at Dante. He read quietly and nodded. My message was identical to his except where Dante had the word “foe,” I had the word “flame.” I wasn’t the only one who noticed this.
“I know. I’m here,” Lucian said in a soft voice, his eyes darting and apologetic. “I’m here for everything I can do to help you. Even if it kills me.” His heavy tone told me that it was a serious offer. And it was true, unfortunately; his freedom from the underworld made him an even greater target and his newfound mortality meant he could be easily destroyed.
“Good idea,” Drew said, watching us from across the room. She urged the others to take out any devices they had and set them in a circle, switched on to provide a little light, like a low electric campfire.
“Can I see that again?” Dante asked, leaning toward my screen. Max appeared at Dante’s side, cradling water bottles in his arms, distributing them, quietly caring for us all as was his way. The other four angels took seats across the room, murmuring to themselves, curling up as though any remaining adrenaline was draining out by the second.
“Maybe someday we’ll find out who the hell is sending these,” I said to Dante, aggravated. I chucked the phone onto the sofa. Just another of the mysteries we had failed to uncover.
“Hopefully it’s not actually someone in hell,” Dante offered, just light enough, as though trying to calm me. He stood now, stretching his limbs after the exertion of battle.
“I don’t think it is, to be honest,” Lucian said. “It’s not their style.”
“They prefer leaving messages in blood and things,” Dante said, flippantly. It was no hyperbole in this case: we’d once been greeted by a rendering of angel wings painted in blood on our front porch.
“They aspire to a certain level of…spectacle,” Lucian agreed.
“What’s the deal?” River, on her feet now, barked at us like someone not used to being kept in the dark. Tom, hands clasped behind his head, looked at her then returned his gaze to the ceiling.
“What are you guys talking about?” Emma asked quietly, confused, mascara running down her face, probably as much from the elements as from the emotional torment of the night. Her boyfriend, Jimmy, had been the first of our fellow angels-in-training to fall to the dark side. We had fought against him tonight and Lance had defeated him.
Dante and I traded glances, silently agreeing to share this last remaining secret we had guarded for so long. He nodded, pushing me to explain, probably since I had been receiving these odd directives longer than he had. “We’ve been getting these messages. For a while now. They used to be written out longhand, but since we got here they started coming electronically. Lance found these phones that had been left for us—” I grabbed mine and tossed it to River to have a look. She caught it in one hand.
“Left by who?” Emma asked. She pulled her long, auburn locks back, twisting them into a bun, as though signaling the need to bring order to the chaos.
“We don’t know,” Dante said. Max appeared at his side bearing a plate of assorted cookies, some broken, salvaged from the kitchen.
“Why are we just hearing about this for the first time now?” River asked, scrolling through the messages. “This is some crazy shit.”
“Tell me about it,” I said under my breath.
“I wanna see,” Tom grabbed River’s hand and pulled her next to him.
“No secrets. OK?” Drew, who had been quiet until now, pleaded sweetly, tucking her wet hair behind her ears. “We can’t have secrets.” She had a point.
“Promise,” I said to her. So we told them how we’d come to rely on the messages, how we had learned the hard way that we needed to trust them, and how they had given us hope by convincing us something was looking out for us. We read a few of the most recent texts, and when we’d answered everyone’s questions, River passed the phone to Tom to have a look while Dante tucked his away again.
“I wish Connor was still here,” Emma sighed, hugging her legs to her chest, curling up in a near-fetal position.
“He’s gone. Suck it up,” River shot back. “So you—” she looked right at Lucian. He still wore his tuxedo, weathered now from the party at the Lexington eight months ago and tonight’s events. He sat leaning forward, elbows on his knees. “You’re the ‘flame’?” He looked at me as my eyes darted away shyly, then he nodded at River. “Scandal! Haven, you’re full of surprises. I kind of love that.”
Drew shook her head and Emma craned her neck, looking at Lucian as though for the first time and then giving me a conspiratorial nod.
“Hang on,” Tom said, squinting at the phone as though he was thinking so hard he might injure himself. “What’s allonse- why?” he asked. He butchered the phrase so well it took me a moment to fully appreciate the change in subject.
“I took Spanish,” Dante shrugged as he settled onto the arm of the chair Max had nestled into. “Hav?”
“Oh. Allons-y,” I repeated. “Let’s go. French.” It got me thinking.
“Why is it in French?” Emma asked.
“Pourquoi?” Drew said, quietly.
I turned it over and over in my mind, searching through what scraps I could call up, I sensed the answer was in there somewhere, but the wheels were turning so slowly now. All I could register in my mind and body was an overwhelming void. I could only think about Lance. I felt myself shutting down, finally surrendering to the physical strain and emotional devastation of the past several hours, hopelessness creeping over me like a sheet pulled over a cadaver. I wanted to curl up in a corner and sleep. Forever. But I knew that was the wrong thing to feel. I needed to be stronger than that; I needed to be stronger than ever to find him.
The answer was there, lurking in the background of another memory. Yes, that night at the cemetery, the transformation ritual for the devils. No wonder I had buried it: that had been a night with Lance I would’ve rather forgotten. When we had made the mistake of not treasuring each other enough. If I ever saw him again—I caught myself. When. When I saw him next, we would know better than to ever repeat that same mistake.
“Père-Lachaise,” I heard myself say out loud, trancelike. “Père-Lachaise,” I said again, my voice more solid this time. “In Paris. Cemetery.” I turned to Lucian: “What do you know about it?”
“I’ve heard of it, of course, I mean, just from my studies,” he looked at the ceiling, closed his eyes, thinking. “But I’m not sure what—”
“The Krewe, they mentioned it during the ritual that one night. During Jimmy’s transformation,” I said it quietly, not wanting to hurt Emma. “Just in passing, they said something about meeting—”
That triggered something in him. He sprung forward, hand to his mouth, a grave expression clouding his eyes as if pieces were falling into place and regrettably so. “So that’s where it will be,” he said in a whisper, as though the realization was too much to even say out loud. No one spoke, collectively allowing him the time and space to work it out. “That’s it. That will be the start of it. The revolution.” He stared into my eyes. “They must intend for Lance to be their sacrifice.” A lump formed in my throat, a catch interrupting my heartbeat. I couldn’t fully process what he was saying. I suspected the others were facing the same kind of system overload as I surveyed their dropped jaws and dark eyes.
“But…what…” I couldn’t form a complete thought, there were too many questions. Lucian went on in choppy, rattled sentences, addressing the group now.
“They like to begin with an angel sacrifice, since they only revolt every few hundred years. But, it’s a challenge, capturing an angel to sacrifice.”
“They had Sabine. Brody. Jimmy. Why not them?” I could hear the mania in my voice, shooting out the names of our fellow angels-in-training who had been wooed to the dark side. I wanted Lucian to be wrong. I could barely calm the tremor as I spoke.
He shook his head. “No. They all fell prey, they didn’t fight. Or at least, not hard enough. For the sacrifice, they want a real capture. Someone who fought tooth and nail. It’s a celebration,” he said, shaking his head in regret. “They feel that ensnaring someone who’s a true enemy helps unify their cause.”
“What happens at this sacrifice?” I spat it out, disgusted.
“It’s the first time the portals below reopen after the last Metamorphosi Day,” he spoke slowly, eyes traveling around the group. “It’s the beginning of the end. They will gather to launch the revolution, which plays out over a course of weeks, nightmarish weeks, where they try to gain control, bodies, souls, angels. They will try to claim new devils in the most barbaric, violent ways.”
“Spectacle.” Dante said flatly.
“So the sacrifice revs them up. He’ll die for this. For this.” It was hitting me now.
“It’s a frigging pep rally,” Dante said.
“Fuck that.” River said, pointing, as angry as I’d ever seen her. “Fuck. That.”
“River,” Drew shushed her. But I appreciated it. I needed it, to hear that. I needed to feel that everyone cared as much as I did.
“No, she’s right,” Emma said.
“I never liked pep rallies,” River spat.
“Well, I mean, for football they’re OK, you know?” Tom offered. “They can be cool, you know to get everyone rooting for—”
“Don’t even—” River didn’t have to finish. Tom just shrugged and swigged his water bottle. Everyone was talking now, asking questions: What are we supposed to do? How do we stop it?
“So if there aren’t any portals open before then—?” Dante asked.
“Right.” Lucian answered.
“Then that’s it,” I said firmly. “We have to crash this. Are you with me?” I asked the group. They looked at each other and then at me, silent. I needed them all. Refusal was not an option….
Copyright © 2018 by Aimee Agresti