The covers were soft and warm. The need to linger and not open my eyes kept me burrowing deeper. Somehow, I knew things wouldn’t be the same once I opened my eyes. I don’t know how I knew; I just did. But I couldn’t shut out the world forever.
Slowly, I lifted my eyelids and squinted against the glare. It was too bright and my eyes couldn’t focus, so I closed them again and tried to use my other senses to get a feel for where I was. I moved my legs. They were stiff, like I hadn’t used them in a while. The sheets were soft and felt good against my skin. I couldn’t hear anything.
Was I deaf?
Panicking, I opened my eyes again, slowly this time, giving them time to adjust. The first thing I noticed was the emerald-green bedcover. It looked expensive. My arms were weak and heavy, but I managed to run my hands over it. It felt like nothing I’d ever touched before. I turned my head to study my surroundings.
Where was I?
The bed was huge, topped with a lacy canopy embroidered with colorful butterflies. The room appeared endless. There was something weird about it, but I couldn’t put my finger on what. One wall had floor-to-ceiling mirrors; another had windows covered with green velvet draperies that matched my duvet. It was unnaturally quiet, though light poured into the room through the windows. The sheer curtains covering them fluttered gently as though blown by a breeze.
I pushed aside the covers and swung my feet to the floor. Dizziness washed over me and my stomach rebelled at the sudden movement. I imagined throwing up on the white carpet and cringed.
I waited until the nausea passed before standing. My toes curled on the soft carpet, but my knees gave way. I landed back on the bed and took a moment to catch my breath, panic surging through me again. Why was I so weak?
I sat up slowly and looked around again. Then I realized why the room appeared funny. There were no doors. What kind of a room didn’t have doors? A tower? Was I a prisoner?
I grimaced. Now wasn’t the time to have negative thoughts. I caught my reflection in the mirrored wall and frowned.
The image staring back at me was familiar. Moss-green eyes. Long and curly hair of different shades of red, like the skyline at sunset, tumbled down my back to my waist, but it wasn’t long enough for me to wrap around the bedpost and escape out a window.
Now, why did I think of that? Who was I? Why couldn’t I remember my name?
Slowly, I got up. I was more prepared for my weak, unsteady legs this time around. Taking one step at a time, I moved toward the window. My pajamas…no, my nightgown was white and delicate, and frothed around my ankles. It didn’t look or feel like something I’d wear normally. I didn’t know how I knew that.
My reflection on the mirrored wall drew my attention again. I was tall, maybe five-nine or ten, and skinny. Change that to too skinny. I could see my collarbones. The girl in the mirror didn’t look or feel like me.
I giggled at my thoughts. Of course it was me, whoever “me” was.
I made it to the nearest window and sank with relief into the cushions covering the wide window seat. Breathing heavily, I lowered my head until the dizziness passed. Such a short distance, yet I felt like I’d climbed a hill. I glanced out the window, down, left, then right, and finally up.
I was somewhere near the top of a large and very weird castle-like building. It was carved on the face of a cliff, as though part of it was embedded in the mountain. The bricks were earthy colors and blended with the landscape.
Nothing about the castle, the courtyard below—with statues, flowerbeds, a pond with water birds, and a gazebo—or the surrounding valley floor was familiar. The valley itself looked like something from a painting, with rolling hills of colorful flowers, shrubberies, and trees. Farmlands, except there were no roads or landmarks separating the grassy areas from the shrubberies and the trees. And there were no other buildings.
To my left, sunlight bounced off a beautiful waterfall, and to my right were jagged edges of a mountain range. The scent of the sea was in air.
As though someone turned on my ability to hear, I heard voices and the clang of metal. I angled my head to listen, but there were too many people talking at once and I couldn’t see where the sounds came from. They grew louder and louder. I slapped my hands over my ears, but that didn’t stop the sounds. Then I realized why. The voices were inside my head. As soon as the thought crossed my mind, the voices disappeared.
Okay, I was crazy and this was probably a nuthouse. Once again, I fought dizziness as I walked to the dresser by my bed and sat on a stool. I reached down to pull out a drawer and then realized there were no knobs.
Weird, but considering the room didn’t have a door, not surprising. It was definitely a prison. A picture frame caught my attention. It sat next to lotions and creams and showed a different picture every few seconds.
The images showed a couple and a little girl with red hair. Was it a younger me? The woman had black, curly hair and laughing eyes. The man’s hair color was similar to mine. They must be my parents. Others showed an older, not-so-emaciated me standing by the same man and a pretty older girl with pitch black hair.
I reached for the frame and brushed against a purple crystal the size of a lime. Images like those on the frame shot from the crystal.
“Princess Lilith. You are awake,” a high-pitched voice called from behind me.
Startled, I dropped the crystal. Was the voice in my head?
“You shouldn’t be trying to walk,” the voice added with concern.
Okay, that didn’t come from my head. Relieved, I slowly turned. A tall, big-boned woman stood in the doorway that hadn’t been there a few seconds ago. Thick and glossy black hair hung to her waist. Brown eyes twinkled under her bangs. She was more handsome than beautiful, and her makeup was subtle, making it hard to guess her age. I had never seen her before.
I frowned. So my name was Lilith. It didn’t ring a bell. Princess of what?
“How are you feeling?” the woman asked, hurrying to my side. She wore a simple white dress inspired by ancient Egyptian fashion. Or was it Roman? It came to her ankles. The jewels on the belt around her hips caught the light from the window and threw splashes of colors around the room.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Lady Nemea, your personal maid and assistant.” She bowed. “Your father will be pleased to hear you are awake. I must inform him at once.”
“Don’t,” I said. “I mean, no yet. I, uh, I need to change first.” I stood, but dizziness washed over me and I gripped the edge of the dresser.
“Oh, dear,” she said, and rushed to my side. “You shouldn’t be moving around anyway, not after months of being unconscious. I will select an appropriate gown for you after I bathe you.” She helped me back to the bed.
Months of being unconscious? Bathe me? I was sure I could shower and dress myself. “No, that’s okay.”
“Of course, I’ll choose something for you after a nice, long bath.” She waved her hand and part of the wall slid open to reveal another room. “You must also be hungry.”
I was, but what she’d done was more intriguing. Doors didn’t just appear out of nowhere. I couldn’t explain how I knew that.
“The whole island will be happy to know that you are awake. We thought the Archangels damaged your mind.”
Fear and hatred zipped through me at the same time. “Archangels?”
“Our enemies.” The twinkle in her eyes disappeared. “How much of the past do you remember?
“I don’t know.” My throat felt dry and scratchy. “Could I have something to drink, please?”
“Of course.” She shimmered and disappeared.
Where did she go? I was still glancing around trying to figure things out when she reappeared out of thin air with a tall glass of an orange liquid and smiled. “Food is on its way. Here you go.”
“How did you do that?”
“Do what, Princess?”
“Disappear and reappear.”
She smiled. “I teleported. Don’t you remember about teleporting?”
I shook my head, accepted the drink, and sipped cautiously. It was sweet and cold. I guzzled half of it. I knew what the word teleport meant—moving from one location to another in a matter of seconds. I just didn’t remember ever having used it.
“Don’t worry about your memories. They’ll come back. You weren’t the only one affected by the Archangels and their dirty tricks. It’s just taken you longer to recover because Raphael targeted you during the battle. The people who fought in the Great Battle either ended up in Tartarus or slipped into a coma, their memories wiped clean when they woke up.”
Tartarus? Great Battle? None of these words made sense. The name Raphael, however, filled me with rage.
“Who am I?” I asked hesitantly.
She blinked, her eyes glowing strangely. “You are Princess Lilith, youngest daughter of Lord Valafar, our exalted ruler. May the Principalities guide him wisely.” She pressed a fist to her chest.
I had no idea who or what the Principalities were, and my father’s name didn’t ring a bell.
“We must choose something for you to wear before your father gets here.” Lady Nemea hurried across the room to the closet and lights turned on inside. From my position, I could see a row of clothes, but they didn’t interest me. I was more interested in learning my identity.
She’d mentioned people, yet I hadn’t seen a single building out there. Maybe our people lived far from the castle or underground. What a thought. Only animals lived underground. My eyes went back to the pictures.
My baby pictures looked familiar, but the more recent ones did not. They were only a few of them. I wore black pants, a matching shirt, and a trench coat, and in my hand was a dagger with a wavy blade. The photographs appeared to have been taken at the same place. Something about the dagger made me angry. The more I tried to remember why, the hazier my memories grew. My head began to hurt.
“That’s you and your father,” Lady Nemea said from behind me.
I tried to associate his face with the name “father,” but it didn’t feel right. Maybe I called him Dad. No, that didn’t seem right, either. Daddy? Papa? Da? Baba? Papi? Pops? I couldn’t explain how I knew so many ways to say father.
I pointed at the curly-haired woman. “Is that my mother?”
“Yes. Look at those later,” Lady Nemea ordered, and waved a hand over the crystal. The images disappeared.
I learned something about myself. I hated being ordered around. I imitated her gesture and the pictures reappeared. I continued to study my mother. “Where is she?”
Lady Nemea sighed. “She died when you were a child, Princess. Then our enemies kidnapped you and kept you for years. Your father never gave up hope of finding you. So many times, he followed false leads, but he didn’t stop searching.”
Our enemies the Archangels? My father must really love me. Maybe if I saw him, I’d remember him. “Where’s my father?”
“He’s off the island on business, but I’ve already sent for him.”
We lived on an island, which explained the sea air. I looked around, trying to organize my thoughts. “I, uh, heard voices, but when I looked out the window, I didn’t see anyone. Where are the other people? Are we magical?”
Lady Nemea chuckled. “You heard telepathic voices of our people. They are here on the island. And magical hardly describes us. We are Nephilim, part angel and part human, so we have angelic abilities.”
I knew about humans and angels, but neither filled me with rage like Archangels. “We are part angel, yet the Archangels are our enemies?”
“Are they the ones who kidnapped me?”
“No, the Guardians did.”
Another name that didn’t ring a bell but made me angry. I couldn’t explain it. Maybe I was one of those girls who were pissed off all the time. “You said our enemies kidnapped me, so I just assumed—”
“We have many enemies, Princess.”
Lucky us. “And we live on an island?”
“In the human world,” she explained. “We have sector leaders all over the world, but this island is our home. For now. When the time is right, we will take our place as rulers of this world like our forefathers did thousands of years ago, just like the Principalities decreed. It is our destiny to guide humans again.”
“Who are the Principalities?”
“The original angels who married humans and gave birth to the first Nephilim, our ancestors. Don’t worry,” she added with a smile, “you’ll learn our history as soon as you are strong enough to start attending school.”
School. Now, that was a place I knew, though no particular school came to mind. “How long have I been sick?”
“About seven months.” She paused as though calculating. “Six months, three weeks to be exact, though I wouldn’t say you were sick. Your psi energy was drained during the Great Battle. Without psi energy, we lose our ability to function. We couldn’t replenish yours, but not from luck of trying. Your father brought every Prime in our nation to help, but they couldn’t. Your mind wouldn’t let them, and we lost quite a few of them in the process.” She patted my arm and stood. “Let’s get you bathed. I can check on the kitchen staff while you’re in the tub. I told them something light, but they probably panicked and are planning a feast.”
I’d shifted to selective listening as soon as she mentioned my mind and losing Primes, whatever that meant. My stomach growled again and my face heated with embarrassment when she looked at me. “You said my mind wouldn’t let them?”
Lady Nemea smiled. “You have a powerful mind, my dear.” She patted my hand and smiled. “We are happy you are okay. We’ll have a big celebration to welcome you back to the land of the living. Maybe tonight or tomorrow, depending on what your father says.”
I didn’t know who or what I was, so why the heck would I want to celebrate? “I’d like to have a bath now.”
“Of course, Princess.” She waved again and a second door slid open.
She did something and my body lifted off the bed and hovered above it. My stomach roiled. “No! I’ll walk.”
She seemed shocked by my reaction. “My dear, it is an honor to take care of you. I’ve been doing this for months, so please…”
My face, I was sure, matched my hair. The thought of someone bathing me… “I need to exercise my legs.”
She lowered me back onto the bed. “I made sure your muscles were massaged every day so they wouldn’t atrophy. Just like I bathed you, changed your clothes, and brushed your hair.”
Yeah, list them all and make me feel even worse.
“Oh. Okay. Thanks.” I followed her, though she kept glancing back.
The bathroom was huge, with a circular sunken bathtub made of black marble and surrounded by four ivory pillars with detailed finishes at the base and top. The ceiling above the tub was dome-shaped and decorated with paintings of butterflies. There were mirrors, a lounge chair, several stools, and a counter packed with more lotions, creams, and perfumes.
I watched from the doorway as Lady Nemea turned on the water, and then poured scented salt into the tub. Fluffy towels floated to her lap, one spreading on the floor. A robe glided from a cupboard and draped itself on the back of a lounge chair. All she had to do was wave a finger to accomplish anything.
Did I have the same powers? Standing for too long made me woozy, so I moved closer to the lounge with the robe and sat. I pointed at the towels and they shot up from her lap and hit the ceiling. I laughed as they tumbled down. She froze them before they landed in the frothing water, and then brought them back to her lap.
“Careful, Princess,” she warned. “You are a powerful Psi. A Prime Psi. So always try to be careful when you use your powers indoors.”
That was the second time she’d used that term. “Sigh as in…S-I-G-H?”
She chuckled. “No, sweetie. P-s-i. It’s the ability to control things with the mind. You also have other abilities that make you very special,” she added mysteriously. “But until you get your strength back, we don’t want you exerting yourself. I’m here to see to your every need.”
The idea of doing nothing while someone took care of my needs just seemed unnatural. “About this Great Battle you mentioned…”
Something flashed in her eyes, something I couldn’t read—wariness, or maybe annoyance. “The Great Battle was fought between us and the Archangels.” She smiled, and whatever I thought I’d seen in her eyes was gone. “We won, but like I said, the Archangels wiped out our memories in retaliation. We’re reeducating every knight and soldier, young and old.” She got up and turned off the faucets. The bubbles were almost to the edge. “I’ll help remove your night—”
“Oh, no. Thank you, Lady Nemea, but that won’t be necessary. I’ll do it myself.”
She chuckled and bowed. “As you wish, my dear. And you don’t need to thank me. It is an honor to serve you and your family. I’ll see what’s keeping the kitchen staff.”
As soon as the door sealed behind her, I tested my powers again. I pointed at the same wall and then moved my finger. The door flew open. Grimacing, I carefully closed it and then tried again and again until I could do it without banging it.
Smiling, I stripped and stepped into the tub, leaned back, and closed my eyes. The water was a bit hot, but after a few seconds my body adjusted to the temperature. Processing the things Lady Nemea had told me made me drowsy. It was hard to believe I’d been unconscious for nearly seven months.
“So, it’s true—our sleeping beauty finally decided to rejoin the living.”
I turned to see a stunning woman enter the bathroom. I recognized her from the pictures on the crystal, but the images didn’t do her justice.
Her porcelain skin was flawless and contrasted attractively with her long, glossy black hair. Her black clothes—skinny pants, shirt, and knee-high boots—were thankfully modern. I was beginning to worry I’d woken up in some medieval alternative world. A dagger with a red jewel dangled from her waist. The dagger made me uneasy. It was so ancient-looking.
“Did you get a kiss from a prince?” she teased, walking to the edge of the tub.
“No.” But then I remembered I was Princess Lilith and my father was the king. “Uh, are there any around here?”
She laughed. “No, thank goodness. It’s hard enough dealing with power-hungry dukes, lords, and their mates. How are you feeling, little sis?”
“Like I’ve been asleep forever. You are…?” I asked.
Something flashed in her eyes. I couldn’t tell whether it was sadness or worry. “Solange, your older sister. Your memories are gone, too. Go figure. We’ll fix that. As soon as you get your strength back, you’re going to school.” She sat on the lounge and crossed her booted legs, then rocked the top one. “No more lounging in bed and being waited on by a bevy of minions. You have to train like everyone else.” She studied me and then shuddered. “Hmm, maybe it’s too soon for school. You look like a zombie. I’ll see what Father says.”
Train to do what? More battles? I studied her. I didn’t see any resemblance to me. “You look like our mother.”
She stared at me like I’d lost my mind. “What?”
“I saw pictures of our parents. Mom had black hair, like yours, and my hair is like our, uh, father’s.”
She grimaced. “Yeah, you can hardly miss that. The answer is no. We had different mothers.” She jumped up, her hand going to the hilt of her dagger. I winced as though I expected her to pull it out. “So? Are you getting out of that water or what?”
“After you leave,” I said.
She chuckled. “Come on. I’ll help you choose something to wear. Dad’s already summoned sectional leaders to announce your… How had he said it?” She wiggled her fingers as she walked away. “Miraculous recovery.” She paused by the doorway and added, “Come on. I don’t have all day.”
“I can dress myself.”
“You were a prisoner until several months ago, Lilith. I’m sure they weren’t dressing you in the latest couture. Hurry up.”
I stepped out of the tub, grabbed a towel, and went to turn on the shower. After a quick rinse, I slipped on a robe and followed her. She was kind of bossy but probably right. Someone who’d been a prisoner her whole life wouldn’t know how to dress up for court.
The walk-in closet was U-shaped, with a semicircular couch at the curved end and display cases packed with expensive-looking bracelets, necklaces, and even a few tiaras. The wall was mirrored, which really sucked because the last thing I wanted to see was my wraith-like reflection. Feeling a little lightheaded, I sat on the couch before I could fall flat on my face.
One side of the closet had gowns, some long, others short, but all in pastel colors. Those looked modern. The opposite side had skirts in various colors, pants, tops, coats, and sweaters. The cloaks, all black with different-colored linings, weren’t exactly this century. The inner curved wall had shelves of shoes, boots, and sandals. High heels, medium and low, as well as flats. Whatever world this was, it was a blend of new and old, which was intriguing and scary.
“Boring…boring…boring…” Solange kept saying, flipping through the dresses and making faces. “Whoever shopped for you had no idea what flatters someone with your coloring.”
I winced at my reflection. I had no color to speak of and my hair was a wet, stringy blend of red strands. Not liking what I saw, I looked at the dresses and pointed at a sleeveless white silk dress. “That’s pretty.”
Solange shuddered. “No way. First, no sleeveless gowns for you. You are too skinny to pull them off. Do you know they had to pump fluids into you like they do humans? Totally gross.” She swept a hand across the gown. Plum color inked into the fabric, until every white thread was suffused with it. The white lace became black.
“What do you think?” Solange asked.
“That’s amazing,” I said. “Is that your power, changing colors?”
“No, silly. I can manipulate solids, among other things.” She kept walking and running her white-tipped nail across the fabrics. Cool pastels became rich and warm—burnt orange, red, magenta, navy-blue, fuchsia, rose… She laughed. “Much better.”
“Did you fight in the Great Battle against the Archangels, too?” I asked.
She stopped smiling. “Yeah, the evil fiends. I remember…” She stopped and frowned. “Nothing. Like you and every knight and soldier on the island, my memories were wiped clean by those sons of bitches. I’m rediscovering my powers, just like you will. At least I don’t have to go to Mount Hermon Academy. School and I never mixed. I’d rather run it.” She shrugged, chose three outfits—one each in navy blue, burnt orange, and emerald green—thrust them in my arms, then sat beside me, crossed her legs, and cocked her brow. “Try them.”
“Don’t tell me you’re modest. I’m your sister.”
My face grew hot. I didn’t have any underwear. “What’s that got to do with modesty?”
“What have you done?” Lady Nemea demanded from the doorway, and I looked up. She carried a tray covered in plates covered with dome-shaped silver lids. “All her beautiful clothes. You have no right to—”
“Right? Get out!” Solange ordered.
“You don’t dictate anything to me about my sister.”
Lady Nemea’s eyes flashed. “Your father—”
One second Solange was beside me, the next she was in front of the older woman. “Remember, I don’t need his permission to send anyone below, Lady Nemea. And by the time he realizes what I’ve done, you will have spent a few hours with energy-starved criminals.”
Lady Nemea grew pale, but her cheeks had the telltale redness of anger. She looked ready to strangle Solange. Then she disappeared.
“That was a bit harsh,” I said.
Solange shrugged. “You have to let them know who’s in charge. I don’t just mean the workers in the castle. I’m talking about all of them—minions, lower, middle, and upper level Hermonites, even the regional lords. Our father is the king. He refuses to use the title, but everyone considers him our king. As his children, we sit at the top of the hierarchy. You tell them what to do, not the other way round.” She paused, angled her head as though listening, and smiled. “Father just arrived. Get dressed. I’ll bring my stylists to fix your hair and makeup so you look less like a starving Nosferatu.”
She disappeared and I exhaled. Note to self—never get on the wrong side of Big Sister. She had a complex. What were Hermonites? Nosferatu? My head was going to explode from the information they kept throwing at me.
Back in my bedroom, I was surprised to see the tray Lady Nemea had carried on a round table in the middle of the room. Whatever was hidden under the silver lids smelled nice. My stomach growled again.
First things first—underwear.
I stood in the middle of the room, pointed at various parts of the room and waved like a conductor leading a band. Band. Conductor. More things I just knew about. Windows slammed shut, curtains closed, and the doors to the closet, the bathroom, and the one leading out of the room all slid open. No drawers.
Before I could close everything, a man dressed in black appeared outside my bedroom. The red hair gave him away. He was huge with broad shoulders. The black tunic and pants made him look intimidating. Our gazes met. He had dark, cold eyes, unlike my moss-green ones, and his expression gave nothing away. I shivered and waited for a flood of memories.
Nothing. Not even a flash.
“Father?” It came out as a question.
His eyes narrowed. Not a hint of a smile on his face. Once again, I shivered.
“Good afternoon, daughter. Will you join me for lunch?”
I looked at the covered food and then at my robe, my hand clutching the opening. “Uh, okay. Give me a moment to change.”
“Of course.” He flicked a finger and the door closed.
I released a breath, my heart pounding and feelings I couldn’t explain making my stomach flutter. I couldn’t tell whether I was nervous or scared. My father didn’t appear to be doting or act remotely like my idea of a father.
Walking to the bathroom, I waved a hand, and a dozen drawers and cupboards I hadn’t seen popped out of the walls. Bath and hair products. Seriously, I needed a map to find my way around this place.
Closing my eyes in frustration, I took a deep breath. Something interesting started happening. A sparkly white glow appeared around objects in the room. It was as though I could see with my eyes closed. See-through walls and doors. Eyes still closed, I walked through the door and went through my bedroom to my closet. Finally, the drawers with my underwear.
Grinning, I opened my eyes and got dressed. I chose a ruffled gold-and-black skirt that went all the way to my ankles, with a simple black top. The outfit was a perfect fit and comfortable. Blowing out air, I hurried back to my bedroom.
My stomach churned with nervousness and apprehension. So, I was about to have lunch with the ruler of my people. He also happened to be my father, someone who loved me even though I hadn’t seen anything resembling love in his eyes earlier. I moved my finger the way he’d done and the door slid open with a bang.
Lord Valafar turned and scowled. Seeing me, he nodded and then went back to the conversation he’d been having with two men. The men were nearly as tall as he was and dressed in black, including long trench coats. One of the guys had dark brown skin, and something about him made me smile, though I couldn’t explain why…until he turned and his catlike eyes narrowed on me. My smile disappeared.
He pressed his fist to his chest and bowed. “It is nice to have you back with us, Princess Lilith.”
His companion, who had shaggy brown hair and a thin moustache, bowed too and said, “Nice to have you back, Princess.”
Once again, I wasn’t sure whether to bow too, so I just nodded. “Thank you.”
“Get it done,” Lord Valafar said dismissively, and the two men’s bodies turned into black smoke before disappearing. The way they teleported was different from the way Solange and Lady Nemea did.
“How do they do that?” I didn’t realize I had spoken until Lord Valafar spoke.
“Teleport? I’ll explain while we eat.”
His voice was cool and impersonal. I wondered what kind of relationship he and I had. Swallowing, I watched him warily as he slowly moved closer to where I stood. It was weird the way he slowed down as though afraid I’d bolt. Sure, he was intimidating, but I wasn’t that scared of him. He stopped and studied me as though waiting for something, his gaze probing.
“It is truly nice to have you back, daughter. You had us worried.”
Strange. He didn’t make an attempt to hug me or anything like that. Lady Nemea’s words zipped through my head. He loved me and never gave up searching for me after I was stolen by our enemies.
“I’m okay now, right?” I asked.
“Yes, you are. Come on. You must be famished.” He turned around abruptly and led the way into the room. “We have much to talk about.”
I followed. Once again, I wondered about our relationship. He seemed, I don’t know, uncomfortable around me, which didn’t make sense...