Excerpt: Strange Angels

He came to with the taste of blood in his mouth and a certain sense that he was about to be killed.

He lay on the cold asphalt, content with playing dead, until he realized he was hearing the sounds of battle—metal against stone, pained grunts—very close, and thought he might be in actual danger. He opened one eye halfway but couldn’t see anything except filthy ground. He braced himself and opened his eyes all the way.

It took a long moment to understand what he was seeing. Two men with ornate swords were being held off by a man wearing a metal mesh shirt and leather pants wielding a flaming blue sword. The sword didn’t appear to be on fire—it was fire, the blade translucent blue flames he could see through, even as it chopped through the metal swords like they were made of ice. The broken metal shards bounced on the pavement, and when they came to rest, they were melted.

What he was seeing was insane, but that really wasn’t a surprise somehow. Perhaps because the man wielding the flame sword looked like he was carved from bronze, reasonably muscled but hard in some instantly quantifiable way, his shoulder-length hair a metallic copper like finely spun wires. In other words, totally fucking crazy. He was both strange and beautiful, and also…familiar? And looking at him evoked feelings of…protection. And love. Yes. The word—name?—Dar occurred to him, and it seemed right. That man who looked like a living statue was named Dar.

So who was he?

He sat up, his back to a cold brick wall, and looked at his hands. Some kind of dark marks circled both wrists, thick black lines he understood to be tattoos, even if he wasn’t sure what those were. His skin looked to be a lighter bronze than Dar’s but didn’t seem to have the…what? Grace? Hardness? Neither made sense. Oh hell, nothing made sense right now.

The men attacking Dar looked unremarkable, save for the fact they had swords, which struck him as weird. Dar was having no trouble taking them on with his fire sword (how was he holding it? Or, more specifically, how was it not burning him?), but he felt he should do something besides sit here.

He stood up with help from the wall and realized someone had already noticed him—a woman who had been lurking at the mouth of the alley, wearing a dark coat and built like a refrigerator. The Fridge started lumbering toward him, holding a knife that gleamed silver, even in the dark. How was that possible?

A sickly purple-black glow emanated from him, and he looked down to see it was coming from a pendant around his neck. It was just a chunk of crystal or glass, but it seemed to be pulsing with the sickly, ugly light. He grabbed the pendant, and the energy radiating through it gave him courage he hadn’t realized he’d needed until then.

He glared at the approaching woman, only vaguely aware that the tattoos on his wrists were starting to glow. The Fridge finally noticed and paused, looking as puzzled as he felt.

Then Dar threw something, a small spike of blue fire that sizzled right through the woman’s chest and buried itself in the wall barely a foot away. The Fridge wavered on her feet, then collapsed, first to her knees, then onto her face, the knife falling from her hand and bouncing across the asphalt. After a second, the knife dissolved into a puddle of liquid silver.

The last of the sword-wielding men fell, leaving him and Dar all alone in the alley. The crystal around his neck was no longer glowing, nor were the tattoos around his wrists.

“What the fuck is going on?” he asked. “And who the fuck am I?”

Dar stared at him, his eyes a startling, deep crimson, like the irises were made of garnets, and he felt strangely lightheaded. “These had to be trackers sent by Eris, but I think they just lucked on to us…oh, you lost your memory again.”

Trackers? Eris? He was pretty sure he knew what the first word meant but not the latter. He got a sense he should have, though, and scowled. “Again? Do I forget a lot?”

“Only when it’s an arduous transition between dimensions.”

“Huh?” Was Dar making sense, or was this all just completely insane?

Confirming he was insane, Dar pressed the flaming sword to his own leg, and not only did he not burst into flame, but the sword disappeared. “It’ll pass, it always does. Just relax.” Dar walked over to the small flaming spike, which was still sticking out of the wall, and plucked it out like it was made of cold steel, even though it was fire all the way through. He pressed it onto the back of his hand, where it seemed to melt into his skin and become a light blue tattoo, a tiny outline of a knife etched in cobalt.

“How the hell did you do that?”

Dar looked down at his hand, then frowned at him. “I’m not explaining this again.”

“How are you not burned? Where did those tattoos come from? I don’t—”

Dar grabbed his face and yanked him into a kiss.

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