They roam among us, human, but not not quite. Healers on the one hand and Ravagers on the other, a Yin and Yang bound to each other in an eternal war. When Kat is ordered to assist the Russian government suppress a Ravager-backed uprising in St. Petersburg, she uncovers a secret that will change how the world sees her kind, forever.
THE ARCHANGEL'S CREED
I am an Archangel. Guardian of life and democracy. My power is my sword, my courage is my shield.
I am an Archangel. I give my life that others may live. To serve is my purpose. To protect is my creed.
I am an Archangel. Never will I abandon your side. Sleep soundly, knowing I protect you and guard you, ever vigilant, ever watching.
I am an Archangel, the Monarch of all Angels
Chapter 1: Welcome to St. Petersburg
The entire aircraft jerks violently to the right, throwing me off my feet. I whip my hand up to grab the nearest rail along the side, but then the floor gives way and I collapse against the soldier behind me. It's an honest-to-goodness battle just keeping my breakfast down, let alone stay upright as we plummet downwards towards St. Petersburg.
"Alright, we're about to hit a rough patch! Hold on to something!" the pilot calls out.
My stomach lurches in apprehension. A rough patch? How could it get worse?
It's only been two weeks since being sworn in as a Healer, and I'm already questioning my choice to become an Archangel. I could have gone the Domestic Corps route. The Domestic Corps gets all the easy jobs at home, like healing cancers or mending broken bones. Archangels have to first make it to the ground in one piece, then they have to deal with stuff like missing limbs and oozing bullet wounds. Organs in places where they shouldn’t be…
But there's only a few hundred of us worldwide—Healers, that is—and even fewer of us want to join the Foreign Corps, let alone qualify to be an Archangel. You have to show you can heal even the most grotesque wounds in record time and maintain endurance for weeks at a time. Since I'm one of the best Healers in my age group (not trying to brag, it’s just the truth), it seemed wrong not to volunteer.
"You'll be fine, Kat," says Cody, my senior partner, sensing my discomfort, and he gives me a firm slap on the back. I respond with a weak grin. He always was overly optimistic.
After getting jostled around for another few minutes, we pull out of our downward dive and come to a quick landing. Bullets ping off of the aircraft’s armor straight away, and even before the back hatch has fully opened, one of ours falls to the floor, cradling a wound in her shoulder.
"I’ll handle her! You take the others and go!” Cody orders.
I swallow the lump in my throat, then grab onto the shoulders of the two riflemen at the front of our V-formation and follow them out of the aircraft into Trinity Square. Tracers weave their way over our heads and chip the pavement by our feet, but we press forward, regardless, and rush down the main avenue towards the university building across the quad. Moments later, the aircraft lifts off and disappears, which only encourages the enemy to direct their entire assault on us. As the volume of gunfire surges, I focus all my thoughts on the Greasy Egg Diner back home in Lexington, Kentucky, where my mother and I would go for breakfast every Saturday morning. Hash browns and sourdough toast. Real potatoes. Real breakfast…
There's a sudden drop in my energy reserves, and I almost trip over my own feet. They never tell you beforehand how much of a punch an energy transfer packs. Someone near the rear must have gotten hit, twice from the feel of it. I marshall my thoughts into regulating the flow of life force leaving my body and hardly notice when we cross the university's threshold.
"Get in, get in!" the guard at the entrance shouts, waving us in with an outstretched hand. Cody follows behind us shortly after with the wounded soldier's arm wrapped around his neck. Her uniform is stained red around her shoulder, but she's alive and able to walk. He just looks exhausted.
A surly looking soldier appears from one of the rooms adjoined to the foyer and hurries over to us. His name tape reads Turov, and in the center of his chest is a star flanked by two parallel stripes. "You guys the healers?" he demands.
Cody steps forward and passes the now healed soldier onto one of her teammates. "Major Turov, I'm Captain Blanchard of the United States Foreign Corps, and this is Lieutenant Miles." He nods his head towards the room from which he just came, and urges us to follow him. "Fine, let's go."
"This is the Petrograd district here, where we are," Major Turov says, pointing out the location on a paper map that has tactical symbols drawn all over it. "The senators are being held hostage by the radicals at the courthouse here, in the Admiralty district. It's heavily guarded by Ravagers, and there's no clear path in."
I shudder at the mention of Ravagers. We've never had one in the States before. They usually thrive in other less stable parts of the world. But recently they've been popping up all over Russia—a world power—which means they're getting stronger, bolder. They’re getting ready for war. Normally, we’d deal with rogue Ravagers in a swift, calculated operation, but the ones here have aligned themselves with local radical groups, promising to help them overthrow the legitimate government in exchange for safe haven, and together they've taken over many of Russia's major urban areas in the west. Ravagers, as a whole, don’t necessarily have opinions on Russian politics, they just feed off darkness and chaos wherever it lurks. Because the more chaos there is, the less likely it is anyone will notice them sucking the life out of the population.
So, that’s why we’re here, to draw the line in the sand. Our primary job as Archangels is to heal the wounded, but we're also the only people that have the power to challenge a Ravager. We’ve been ordered to St. Petersburg to assist the Moscow-backed forces regain control of the western oblasts from the radicals and Ravager cells. But the whole mission is beginning to sound more and more impossible by the second.
“Why don’t we just take Trinity Bridge over the river and hug the coast until we reach the courthouse?” Cody points out, his finger tracing the path on the map.
The Major rolls his eyes and shakes his head patronizingly. “Because that’s like trying to open a door by ramming your head into the hinges side of it. The rebels have taken that bridge, as you could probably tell from your flight in, and they've also taken much of the south bank. It would be a bloodbath.”
“So, what’s our route then?”
“We’ll have to make our way west and curve down through the Vasileostrov District, then take the south bridge and hit them from behind. The only problem is that a known Ravager is holding the south bridge, though he is alone.”
Cody nods and rubs a hand across his chin. I don’t know how he keeps such a cool and collected exterior image. I’m struggling just to keep my armpits from sweating at the thought of having to fight a Ravager so soon. I mean, they taught us how to fight Ravagers as part of our training to become an Archangel, but that was all theory. I’ve never actually seen one in real life before.
And from what I’ve heard about them, no sane person would intentionally run towards one.
“Well, it’s your operation, and that’s why you brought us in,” Cody finally says. “Let’s get going.”