Shrinking Illusions Preview
On my way back to my office, after I finished my fourth session with Qbert and Boris, deep in thought about what we discussed, proud of how they were both putting in and the progress we were making, I decided to pick up a late lunch. The temperature was dropping fast, and while I’d readily agreed to meet with them at Rafe’s house to get the exercise and some time out of my office, I wished I had grabbed something to wear while hurrying back. I couldn’t dick around since I had another appointment in ten minutes.
I had to space them out at least twenty minutes apart or they always ran into each other and I never had a chance to clear my head from one to the other… And a distracted psychologist did no one any good.
There was a loud thump to my right, and I jumped, also dropping what I was carrying. I swore under my breath and squatted down to pick it up.
“Typical,” a deep voice snorted. “So disrespectful you curse as way of greeting a messenger of God.”
I slowly looked up and up at the massive angel, shielding my eyes at how bright he was. “Sorry, you startled me. It wasn’t my greeting. Can you turn off your brights? Castillo uses his cloaked form or whatever.”
“Do not lecture me, human. If my brother chooses to blend in with those of you here to protect the Nephilim, that is his decision and not one I would make.”
Wow, narcissistic personality disorder publishing case right here, folks.
The light dimmed, and I lowered my hand to stare into the brightest, angriest blue eyes I’d ever seen. “That describes humans who overvalue themselves and their meaningless deeds as something awe-inspiring. I am an archangel feared and revered alike.”
“Right, you can hear my thoughts,” I grumbled as I gathered the rest of my belongings and hurried to stuff them into my bag. “Well that’s great, good luck with that and your obvious need for both, and hey, it was really nice to meet you.” I stood and tried to step around him but he moved with me.
“I am not finished with you. Did you hear me say you could leave?”
I blinked up at him a few moments. “No, but I also didn’t hear you greet me either or ask for my help, or shit, give me your name, try to be like a person. How would I know you were here for me?”
The archangel glanced around and then moved his hands out to his sides, basically saying you see anyone else over here?
Fine, he had me there, but I hadn’t been looking around since he was just about blinding me. I pointed to my eyes that I hadn’t been able to see much, figuring he heard in my head as well what I was thinking.
“Fair enough,” he conceded. “I am Chamuel, archangel of the Lord, your God, Anastasius Yale.”
“Okay then. What do you need, Chamuel?” I drawled, not liking that his greeting basically forced religious beliefs on anyone. I had been agnostic before finding out about my brother and his situation with his soul, but fine, I believed in a more concise system now even if it wasn’t an organized religion.
I simply didn’t think it appropriate to make that someone’s greeting.
“I need to know how the Nephilim Qbert is doing.”
I blinked at him again, and after a few times trying to get my mouth to work, it finally did. “I cannot discuss a patient’s prognosis or their sessions with anyone.”
“Yes, fine, but I am not anyone.”
“Yes, yes you are,” I snapped, trying to walk around him again. This time he stopped me with his hand on my chest.
“You will do as you are told or—”
“Or what? You going to smite me, you fucking bully,” I taunted, losing my mind for the moment as I goaded a pissed off archangel who could turn me to ash and apparently wanted a reason to.
He narrowed his eyes at me again. “How was his session today? Is he getting better?”
Luckily I immediately knew what he was doing and reacted appropriately. Don’t think about Qbert’s session. Think about being hungry. So hungry. Have another session soon. No! Stay off work. Oh, think of something dirty so he stops listening to my mind. Ummm, shit, I can’t come up with porn when an archangel is putting the squeeze on me. Wait, the last time I had sex. Wow, it’s been long enough I have to think about that one. I miss sex. I really miss sex.
“Well played, human,” he growled when I finally got the last time I’d been intimate with anyone to replay in my head. “So you must be the difficult one I have heard of.”
“I’m sure you’ve heard of a lot of difficult humans,” I drawled, already catching on to his dislike of them. “I’m surprised with your attitude you didn’t side with Lucifer and join in the war, unwilling to…” I trailed off when his eyes went wide and sweat formed on his forehead. “You were on his side.”
“What happened before your family tree was even born is none of your concern,” he hissed at me. “Now tell me how Qbert is doing so I might return to what I should be handling, difficult one.”
“How am I difficult for having ethics?” I pushed, wanting to turn the conversation around to anything other than Qbert. Why did he want to know after all? And why not just ask Qbert?
He rolled his eyes and crossed his arms over his massive chest. What was this guy, like seven feet tall? “You were labeled difficult after the tantrums you threw when your brother was rescued and brought here. There were very few family members that were so confrontational right from the beginning that it was discussed by all and—”
“Fuck you,” I seethed, slapping his hand away and shoving him with all my strength to get by him. The move startled him and it actually worked, but two seconds later, he grabbed my arm and spun me around. “You have no idea what happened or what I went through.”
His eyes bugged out as he stumbled a step back. “No. No, I do not.”
“Yeah, because you weren’t there or dealing with what I did,” I mumbled, studying him and the way he was acting. Then I blinked, and he was closer, taking my head in his hands… Pulling me towards him. “You are so not kissing me.”
“I am not, now be quiet,” he seethed, staring a hole through my head practically. “I cannot hear your thoughts. Why can I not hear your thoughts?”
“What are you talking about? You heard what I was just thinking earlier,” I snapped, trying to shove him away again.
“No, I did not, but I was not paying attention to it. You mumbled the narcissistic insult out loud and then muttered to yourself like a crazy person when you were thinking of things so I would not read your mind about Qbert’s session and that was distracting. I did not pay attention to the fact I was not hearing in your head, but only what you were speaking. I am not around humans often enough to use this ability much.”
“Great, so I’m immune to you. Maybe Castillo protected the professionals here so no one could break confidentiality and read our damn minds like you’re trying to do. Good or bad from either side, though I guess you confirmed we have bad on our side,” I drawled, finally getting free of him.
“Yes, yes that must be it,” he chuckled, smiling brightly. I swallowed loudly when he did, glad he couldn’t hear my thoughts then. He was hot when he smiled, not all pissy and angry face lines and veins, but sexy, huge, and yummy.
Funny how a smile could change someone like that.
“Glad we got that settled, I have to go,” I mumbled and then hurried off.
“Well done, human. I cannot believe one of you solved a riddle, but bravo. I will speak with Castillo right away and get this lifted so I might find the answers I need from you.”
I shook my head as he kept talking, wondering when he would figure out I was now running to the school. What a dick! I hadn’t done much with the angels, not wanting to be around most of them after what my brother and I had been through with his rescue and our arrival, but this one took the cake. Total douche.
Castillo was okay, and the others we saw on a regular basis were starting to lighten up and come around to normal somewhat. Apparently no one sent this guy the memo.
Thinking about how we ended up there made me want to check in on Jarvis. I had two sessions before we were meeting for lunch and he had classes, and I wouldn’t want to disturb him simply because something rotten interrupted my day and I wanted reassurance. I was supposed to be the big brother after all, and that meant behaving like it at times.
When I finally reached my office, I apologized for being late, hurrying to get settled while making a mental note to go talk with Kellan. Chamuel might have been a dick, but what he said resounded with me and I didn’t want any resentment to grow in the back recesses of my mind when this could easily be addressed.
So that was what I did. As soon as my next two sessions were done, I headed to Kellan’s office before lunch. Unfortunately he was leaving to probably go there as well and he was with his mate and a couple of the Macfayden brothers.
“I need a quick moment if you don’t mind, Kellan,” I greeted and nodded to his office.
“No, he needs to start making sure he gets all his meals now that he’s running the schools and training,” Tierney growled. “Going through the baptism took enough out of him and the others who could complete the process. They need to take care of themselves better.”
“Thank you, honey, but I can speak for myself,” Kellan chuckled.
“We should start a group meeting for the baptized,” I muttered, not having realized more than Rafe had completed the process. Everyone kept too much close to their chests especially those in charge, it wasn’t healthy for a supposedly tight-knit community… Not if they didn’t ever want a mutiny on their hands. “And inform others it’s been done, because I didn’t know.”
“Why would you need to?” Kellan asked, raising an eyebrow. “What I do is now somehow your concern, Anastasius?”
It was my turn to be a dick, chuckling at him. “Awww, it’s kinda cute that you think it’s not, Kellan. You’re basically the co-president around here with Rafe, and if you want to keep order, and be leaders, then be leaders, which means everyone’s going to pick apart all that you do. And we’re not talking about your hair or nails, but the whole soldiers in the war for God thing that we all have a stake in. Kinda think that’s something we all need to know about. I mean, you’d flip shits if Jarvis got baptized and didn’t tell you.”
“Point made,” he sighed, scrubbing his hands over his face. “Sorry, lots going on, and you’re right, everyone thinks they get a vote in everything.”
“A vote? No, but a say in the general conditions and funneling of information, yes. There has been a distinct lack of it lately which is disconcerting and is going to upset the balance.”
“He makes a valid point,” Tierney agreed as his two other brothers nodded.
“Yeah, okay, so what did you need? You want to join us for lunch or at least walk with us?” Kellan asked as they started in that direction. I shrugged and followed along, figuring it wasn’t really a public discussion topic but that was better than waiting for answers until who knew when.
“So I had an unsettling conversation with Chamuel today. Not only is he a dick, he made clear that I have been labeled difficult and implied that this is equally common knowledge but pretty much the directive when dealing with me. And I just want to know if he got this from the angels, you guys, or in his own twisted, human-hating head.”
“You started shit when you arrived,” Kellan hedged, glancing at Tierney who simply shrugged as we all headed down the main stairs. “But that was years ago, and I don’t think anyone’s still hanging onto that. I mean, the shit was valid mostly. We didn’t know you and were going to err on the side of protecting everyone here, not necessarily doing what was right for you and Jarvis. I’m sorry, but we had a lot going on and it was tough calls day and night.”
“I get that. We’ve moved on and have assimilated here, done all we can to help and become members of the community. I simply needed to know if there’s this lingering resentment hanging around that needs to be addressed or if it’s one angel running his mouth.”
“None to my knowledge. I don’t have any. I know Rafe doesn’t,” Kellan answered, shrugging as we reached the cafeteria. “Chamuel’s kind of a dick, like you said. I know all the angel info is like he’s so sweet, he protects the innocent, but I heard the translation of his name is wrong and it’s not he who sees or seeks God but heat of God.”
“What does that mean?” I asked, wondering, now that I felt better that people weren’t throwing darts at pictures of me behind my back.
“Don’t really know,” Tierney chuckled, grabbing a tray. “But I heard Castillo say that Chamuel tossed Adam and Eve out of the Garden when they screwed up. And bringing down the heat means judgement or like wrath, so I tend to lean towards that being Chamuel’s job for God, like he either brings the pain on humans when they screw up or he’s judge after they die maybe.”
I shivered, thinking about the archangel who was so anti-human deciding who ended up in Heaven or Hell… I wouldn’t think too many made it to Heaven on his watch.
I decided excusing myself on that note was best. As long as no one was mad at me, I felt it wise not to risk getting dragged into any unnecessary drama or to inadvertently start any as was so easy at places like this. Well, not that there was any other place like this, but boarding schools, high stress communities, groups under the microscope… That sort of thing.
Which was why I was glad to be clear of the group and what Chamuel had said already off my mind, trying to forget I’d ever even met the archangel as I headed to where my brother was sitting with my tray. It was a good plan in my mind. It was Jarvis time after all.
“Hey, you get held up?” he asked me with a mouth full of food, not even bothering to glance up from his textbook. “You’re like never late to lunch.”
“Something came up and I needed to talk to Kellan, but it’s all handled now. Test coming up?”
“Yeah, I’ve been studying my ass off, but I just want to review some last-minute stuff before I go take it.”
“Oh, it’s like now?”
He bobbed his head. “Right after lunch. Apparently I have an affinity with languages so I’m going to take another after I’m done with Russian. Might really come in handy when I’m a supercharged Nephilim fighting demons, traveling all over the world.” My almost nineteen, dreamer of a brother shot me a dopey grin which I returned as best as I could. I understood why the younger souls were clutching onto the news of them being Nephilim, I did.
It meant they might be able to ever leave the damn estate someday which had all but been a pipe dream from the moment we arrived. But in reality, it still probably was. Squashing people’s hope never turned out well so I kept my mouth shut. If it helped Jarvis focus and keep himself occupied in a productive way, like learning new languages and getting an accredited college degree with the help of the teachers at the schools, then it worked for me.
I focused on my salad as he kept studying, feeling as if someone was studying me. Glancing around a few times, I saw no one.
Then a couple of minutes later, I froze with my fork halfway to my mouth as Ariel, the archangel, happened to stroll by our table in the cafeteria, glancing at me funny. Seconds after, it was Gabriel.
“This cannot be good,” I sighed, feeling a migraine forming.
“What? What’s not good?”
“Apparently angels are stalking me,” I drawled, gesturing to where Ariel was standing with Gabriel talking with another one of them I didn’t know. “Met one of the original seven today.”
“That’s so cool. I’ve not met all eight of them.”
I rolled my eyes. “You’re not missing much. Guy was a dick.”
“Angels can’t be dicks, and you can’t say that about them,” Jarvis hissed, glancing around. I bit my tongue, not liking how he had gone from thinking for himself to more cultish since finding out his birthright. There was no cult there but he was trying to fall in line like a good soldier or whatever and that made it seem like he was in a cult instead of questioning things he would have before.
Or maybe he was just growing up and not being such a brat always. The somewhat cynical part of me thought it couldn’t be that simple.
“I call it like I see them. The guy was an asshole to me.” I waved my fork in the direction of the three archangels frowning at me, obviously listening in. “And they’re eavesdropping, which isn’t okay, all because they want me to break confidentiality.”
Jarvis snorted. “Good luck with that. You wouldn’t tell about one of your patients even if tortured. They’d have to be able to read your mind to—oh, right.”
“Chamuel couldn’t. Guess Castillo put a lock on the brains of the psychologists or something.”
“Smart of him.” He winced and then met my eyes. “Umm, more incoming.”
I glanced over my shoulder to see Michael and Raguel—who was barely ever around—watching me as well. “Unbelievable. What the hell is going on?” The only one missing was Raphael, and after what I’d learned in my session with Qbert, I had a feeling that angel would make himself scarce for a while. “I don’t even know all their names.”
“Jophiel. If you met Chamuel, then that one you don’t know is Jophiel,” Jarvis filled me in, not even trying to hide his smirk. “Soooo smart, doesn’t even know the names of the original seven archangels.”
“There are about twenty different answers to that question depending on who or what source is answering it,” I drawled. “People within the same churches can’t always agree to the answer.”
“What is this about?” Castillo bellowed as he hurried towards Gabriel and Ariel, following the path they did, which would take him right past us. “I was busy.”
“Oh good, now they’re all here,” I drawled, glancing at my lunch and wondering if it was really worth eating or if I should make tracks. Not like they couldn’t find me if they wanted to, and then I would just be hungry later.
Better to eat. I took a big bite, sighing.
“Yes, we know what you were busy doing,” Ariel chuckled, waving her hand at him. “Or them should I say? How are our brothers-in-law?”
“Well satisfied.” Castillo was beaming as he reached us but then froze in his tracks, slowly turning and looking at me as his expression melted into horror. I felt a cold chill run down my spine. “No, I did not.”
“We concluded as much but wanted to confirm before speaking with him,” Michael murmured, suddenly behind me.
“Jarvis, go finish your lunch in one of the study halls,” I hedged, glancing around as they moved in to circle us. “I don’t want whatever’s going on to mess up your test.”
“What did you do wrong?” he asked me, his eyes wide as could be.
I focused solely on him then, a little hurt he could even think this was my fault. “Nothing. I did nothing. They don’t know limits or no. So just go. Everything will be fine.” Gabriel opened his mouth, but I gave my best professional this is not how things go and I will not stand for this behavior look, calming a bit when he nodded and allowed Jarvis to leave. At least this wasn’t going to be a hostile situation.
“Love you. Don’t piss them off,” Jarvis whispered as he gathered his tray, book, and backpack.
I rolled my eyes. “Love you too. Good luck.” I waited until he was long gone and then glanced at each of them before taking a drink of my water. “So which of you is in charge of this squeeze? Chamuel tried to get information on my session with Qbert out of my head, and all I did was think of my last hookup, so if you want to see that, I can replay it or—”
“We are not here for that, Anastasius Yale,” Michael informed me as he sat down next to me, but backwards on the bench so he could easily see me. I didn’t look at him fully, only from the corner of my eye though. “And I sent Chamuel to ask about Qbert for Raphael’s sake, to simply check he was doing well with Boris as I was indisposed. I normally do not send Chamuel here, but I had a feeling it should be him. He was not supposed to read your mind or bother you for specifics. Simply if Qbert was okay.”
I melted a bit, understanding the situation much better, and well, I’d talked with Michael a few times before. “Yes, he’s doing better. Your brother’s a dick though.” I ignored the gasps from a few of the others. “I didn’t think someone who hated humans so much could be an archangel.”
“He does not hate them,” Gabriel argued. I turned to glance at him, raising an eyebrow as I stabbed my salad with my fork. The angel sighed. “He simply does not understand them. He sees the bad. He is our Father’s justice. His sword of fire punishes the wicked and issues final judgment against those who have sinned.”
I swallowed down that bite of salad as if it were sand. “Well nice to know there’s rainbows and pixie dust waiting for us after we die.”
“Gabriel speaks of murderers and rapists, your Ponzi schemers who steal teachers’ retirement funds,” Ariel elaborated, waving her hand and then sighing and gesturing to me. “Not someone who curses and calls angels dicks when they’re rude to them. Chamuel deals with the truly despicable humans that are not allowed into Heaven, thus, end up in Hell that the hounds do not drag off from deals and will probably turn out as demons. He has a slanted view of your kind.”
“I follow what you’re saying to a point,” I replied after a few moments of pondering. “But that’s like a policeman or woman who works in an area rampant with Chinese mob doing all sorts of bad shit and basically becoming a Chinese bigot. Just because there’s bad, doesn’t mean there’s not good, and for Chamuel more than my example cop, he knows there’s good because you all get to see Heaven.”
“True, which is why I said he does not hate humans, nor thinks they are all bad,” Gabriel agreed, bobbing his head. “He simply tries not to interact with them because they will die and one day he might be the one to decide their fate depending on what they have done.”
Then I understood. He stayed out of the world and humanity in general, keeping distance and being aloof because it was easier that way… Or that was what they were trying to have me believe. I tended to think he really was a dick and looked down his nose at humans like he was better than all of us.
The way he acted as if I was the mouse who’d found the cheese when I suggested Castillo used magic to block our brains from everyone was grade A douche, not someone who keeps distance for the right reasons. I don’t become friends with my patients, I keep everything professional with the psychologist who sees Jarvis. That doesn’t mean I have to act like I’m better than them to accomplish it. No, I’m sticking with narcissistic personality disorder publishing case, not that I could publish, but he would be a fascinating…
I cursed when I saw the amount of frowns around me. Right, they heard every word. Which brought me to realize something very important, remembering Raphael had heard something in my mind a while ago.
“How come you can hear me but Chamuel couldn’t?” I glanced at Castillo. “Didn’t you put some type of protection on us? Raphael heard some stuff a ways back, but I figured that kept happening and maybe that’s why you did it.”
“I did not, which was what I was telling them as I entered earlier,” he hedged, glancing at his siblings. “We’re sure?”
“Yes, there is no doubt about it,” Michael confirmed, nodding as he studied me in a disconcerting way.
“I hate to admit I’m jealous. I simply don’t understand why him,” Ariel mumbled, crossing her arms over her chest and tossing her long hair over her shoulder. “Fine, Castillo because we were all so full of pride and he was not, being promoted and needing the help—but Chamuel? He might be the most prideful of us all and given he almost—”
“But he did not,” Raguel interrupted. “We are happy for our brother and will help him in any way we can.”
“Of course. I didn’t mean to imply I wouldn’t even if I’m feeling other things,” Ariel quickly said, her cheeks heating slightly.
The conversation was freaking me out and frustrating me at the same time so it wasn’t surprising that I got bitchy, simply that I did given my company. “Do I need to be here for this? I mean, you all corner me after your rude brother did, you said you’re here for me about something and yet you’re talking to each other as if I’m not here. What the fuck is going on if this isn’t about Qbert?”
“He is difficult. This is bad,” Gabriel sighed.
“I am not difficult,” I snapped, slamming my fist on the table. “I had to walk through shit to stay with my brother, my only family when he was rescued. Fuck, they weren’t even going to take me, just kidnap Jarvis from my home since we’re not related according to the angel and hound that came for him, but my little brother was smart enough to warn them that I would never stop looking for him. And I wouldn’t have. I would have torn up the world searching for him because we are related.
“I don’t care that the closed-minded opinion was, because he’s adopted, I was nothing to him, he’s my brother. So I fought. Then I had to fight more to prove I wasn’t in on the selling of his soul, or that I should be allowed to stay, because I wasn’t blood, that I could leave later and blow whistles since family that was blood was bailing. I practically raised him after our parents died. It wasn’t our fault that his birth parents sold his soul and then put him up for adoption.
“My mother couldn’t have any more children after me, something happening during labor with complications or whatever. They had more love to give and adopted a baby that needed a home. And when an angel and hound showed up for Jarvis, and he wouldn’t just bail on me, all the fingers that got pointed at me and my parents were unreal. So yeah, I was difficult defending them and myself, fighting to stay with my brother. Turned out pretty well for the people here who benefit from having a Johns Hopkins educated psychologist, huh?”
I stood, done with this conversation, and grabbed my tray, my knuckles popping I was holding it that tightly. I hated having to defend what I’d done and talking about those months when we’d first arrived. They were some of the worst of my life besides when we’d lost our parents. And on top of that we were doing this in the cafeteria for an audience, and in my anger, I hadn’t been all that quiet.
“We’re sorry to have brought that up,” Castillo tried as he reached across the table and attempted to cover my hand with his. I pulled away and he frowned. “You’re not difficult. You’re strong-willed. Gabriel simply meant to Chamuel it’s the same.”
I curled my upper lip. “What does that jerk have to do with this? Fine, you guys don’t want to talk about Qbert, so just spit it out. I’ve had my fill of angels and bullshit today.”
“Anastasius, we can all hear your thoughts, but Chamuel couldn’t,” Ariel outlined for me. I’d put that together, but I wasn’t sure why she was phrasing it that way.
“So? So what?” I seethed, ready to pull out my hair or throw my tray at one of them.
They all glanced at each other as if trying to decide who would explain it to me or spill whatever beans they were holding in. Finally Castillo took pity on me. “I can’t hear Jared or Rhyce’s thoughts.”
I dropped my tray and walked out of the cafeteria, heading to the nearest bathroom, and threw up. It seemed a pretty appropriate response.