Chapter 30 - Terminus
For more than thirty years, Deniz Akbas had given fishing tours of the Bosphorus with his small boat. With his pleasant demeanor (and perhaps due to a few missing teeth lending him a certain charm) tourists had found him trustworthy as well as deeming his white-tire clad vessel seaworthy for a day’s cruise. From his pilot’s position in the wooden front compartment, travelers to Istanbul had relaxed in the glass-walled and ivory-benched area in the back where they enjoyed whatever food and drink they’d brought aboard inside their many baskets - all while marveling at the magnificent views of the Turkish seaside and the wide bridge connecting Asia to Europe, a construction officially known as the 15 July Martyrs Bridge and unofficially as the First Bridge.
In all that time he had never been paid so much to do so little.
A bright orange jacket draped unzipped around a midsection which had once been more slender (but still wasn’t bad for someone heading into their sixties) all while the midday sun warmed the air to a rather comfortable eleven degrees Celsius. Of course for the American tourists he’d report that as fifty-one degrees Fahrenheit, what with their being ignorant of the superior metric system.
Though his current passenger who happened to also be from that distant land had spoken fluent Turkish, so Deniz didn’t want to assume the man had the same lack of education.
Checking the GPS on his phone, Deniz compared the coordinates to those scribbled almost unreadable on the scrap of paper he’d been handed. With a satisfied nod, he throttled back the engine which then coughed and spluttered even though valves and hoses had just been replaced. He’d have to have a word with Emre tonight about that. Not that he’d accuse the man of bad work, but perhaps the parts weren’t quite as new as he’d led Deniz to believe.
Stepping out of the front cabin, he smiled at the clear blue sky above and watched as seagulls and other birds darted over the waters.
It was a truly beautiful day.
Walking along the side of the boat he greeted his scruffily bearded passenger with a hearty, “Selam!”
The young American, who really should have brought a jacket as the temperature would likely drop sharply in the later afternoon, quickly closed a rather large leather-bound book that lay across his lap. Despite the brilliance of the scenery the man appeared pensive, and restless fingers kept tapping the thick binding. “Captain.”
“We are at the location you asked for,” said Deniz. “Say, are you really a doctor? The lady who arranged your charter said you were.”
Fingers stopped and a palm pressed against the book. “I was.”
“Ah. Know anything about back pain? Every morning when I rise mine spasms. The wife says I’m overreacting and just old, but what does she know eh?”
“Are we really at the correct spot?”
“Yessir.” The Captain waved his phone. “GPS matches the numbers you gave.”
The man stared for a moment. Checking his watch, he shifted the heavy book into one hand before standing up. “Okay, sure. Take off your jacket, let me look.”
Quickly removing the warmth-bringing orange covering, Deniz placed it on the gleaming bench. “What about the shirt?” he asked, gesturing at the faded light-blue pressed fabric worn underneath.
“It’s fine. Now turn around. Lower back or upper?”
The Captain shuffled feet to look out over the sea. “Usually it’s the-” He was about to say upper but a sharp pain, worse than any kidney-stone he’d ever had, slammed across his lower back instead.
As legs collapsed, he heard the man choke out a quiet sob. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” A knife clattered to the deck.
Confused, Deniz looked down as stains of red began to swell around his knees. Except it wasn’t growing as a solid pool. Parting along the edges, the blood formed words and symbols in a language the captain had never seen.
The strange markings caught fire and burst upwards, spreading to the air surrounding them both to spiral about with greater and greater speed in a rapidly growing inferno. Reaching a hand into that whirlwind, his passenger cried out as with a fist he ripped the heart of those burning symbols free.
In those last moments the boat’s captain somehow understood the man’s shouted foreign words:
“Father! Come and see what your prison has made of me!”
Chapter 31 - Infinities
Faaiza leaned over the angel pinned to the couch in the midst of manifestation, her two hands gripping a spear now glowing with a brilliant light of its own. The face of Mahmoud Irfan shifted around eyes that strangely had no need to change, while the rest of the features settled onto those I had barely glimpsed within a dream. His fingers, no longer weak with age, locked around the shaft below the tip which had been driven through to cushions quickly gaining a third color.
Sariel gazed up at his daughter and in a rasped voice filled with tremendous pain that had nothing to do with his pooling blood, he asked, “Why?”
With a snarl, Faaiza told him. “Because you forever fight for our imprisonment, never for freedom! Because you are not my father! He is dead and your wearing of his skin is an abomination that sickens my soul! And because my name is not Gili - I am Faaiza!” She tried to twist the spear but his hand prevented it.
Looking past the struggling daughter, Sariel cried out to Isaiah. “Quickly, restore the Seal! For the Nephelim at least, you must!”
Hearing this, Faaiza went into a frenzy, desperately trying to pull the spear free. “No! We shall be free!” The bleeding angel however refused to budge. As I moved closer to try and pull her away, she shrieked and let go of the holy weapon - only to spin about and launch herself instead at Isaiah.
Her fingers had also turned into long and deadly-edged claws.
I would have grabbed at them anyway to throw her aside, but there was no need. The air shimmered as a circle of shining gold materialized and slammed into Faaiza’s face, sending her staggering into the cushions against the side wall.
A fourth angel with feathers of twilight had appeared, wearing the gold-lined crimson armor of Heaven. Braided curly hair matching the color of her chest-plate danced across a shoulder as Mirael lowered her shield.
Faaiza, however, was already getting back on feet which then blended into each other as trouser fabric ripped and the woman raised higher than her previous height would have allowed. Before the warrior angel now towered a lamia, with woman’s torso set atop a wide serpent’s tail coiling on the carpet below. Slitted eyes going scarlet, Faaiza hissed past long fangs and prepared another attack.
With a laugh, a burning gladius appeared in Mirael’s other hand. “You’re tougher than you looked.” Without waiting for reply, Mirael struck out again, this time the shield backhanding her opponent through drywall that in turn burst dust and wood across the colorful Persian carpets decorating the next room. “I got this one, Amariel. You deal with what’s on the way.”
On the way? It was then that Isong shouted through the device wedged in my ear.
“Jordan! Portals outside, many! Incoming!”
Turning to Isaiah, I asked, “Can you do it?”
His business jacket had become a black hooded robe and with a dark hand he removed his glasses. “I do not know how.”
Gunfire echoed outside, and the front door blew inward as if a tempest had simply lifted it off its hinges and slammed it aside. Seeing who was standing past the porch I exhaled sharply. “Figure it out. I’m going to be busy.”
From the stained couch, Sariel spoke again despite his wound. “I will help. And Amariel - use this.” In one fluid motion he ripped the bloody spear free from his chest and tossed it across the room. Not as a javelin aimed to kill but off to the side so I could easily pluck it from the air.
The glowing wood hummed within my grip. And between our lights the fallen angel’s blood upon the tip burned away, leaving the sharp iron clean and pure once more.
Moving past my friend, I said, “Get Isong in here to shield you. And Tanya to deal with anything else.”
High heels turned into sneakers as the dress became shorts and sports-bra, all while the refashioned black and gold bracers flared with crimson fire. Calling out to the looming figure waiting beyond the entrance, I shouted, “Tight quarters in here, Sir Knight! Shall we keep this to the street?”
Gwydion, Knight Champion of the Fae, spoke from behind a closed and intricately forged silver helmet. “As milady wishes.” Trusting that I would follow, the powerful plate-wearing knight stepped away from the gap where the garden’s gate once stood.
And gauntleted fingers carried the unsheathed light-swallowing longsword of Chaos along with him.
Captain Isong sat in the driver’s seat of the mid-sized sedan that she’d rented that morning. In the passenger seat a bored Tanya had propped blue sneakers atop the dash while playing some mind-numbingly repetitive game on her phone. They had parked down the block from the house where Isaiah and Jordan had entered after being spotted and apparently invited in by the guards.
With a snort, Tanya lowered the phone. “We should’ve had the entire team for this. Or at least Miggy.”
Privately Isong agreed, but in response she said, “Sergent Ramirez and Mr. al-Shadid are on another assignment. Doc is still recovering from the party. And the Major wouldn’t tell me where the hacker is.”
“I bet Derek is having more fun though.” Tanya yawned. “Has it been a minute yet? They should have found the target by now.”
Down the street a black Mercedes van pulled up against the curb.
Followed by another.
They both straightened in their seats and Tanya’s sneakers dropped to the floormat, as no one proceeded to exit either vehicle.
“What do you think?” asked Tanya.
“Could be trouble.”
The call to prayer rang out across the city, causing the younger woman to flinch and mutter, “Still not used to that.”
Isong grinned and was about to offer commentary when both women, sensitive as they were to magic energies, felt a ripple of power wash past. Like blinking clear of a mirage the captain knew something had changed.
“What the heck was that?” Two shimmering blue daggers had appeared in Tanya’s hands.
The captain however was already out of the car and staring towards the house. Ovals of reddish orange electric flame were surrounding the building- one directly before the front door. The others dotted the street, the garden, and even the air above the structure.
Triggering the earbud’s transmit, Isong shouted through the comlink. “Jordan! Portals outside, many!” As shapes flowed through the rings of fire she added, “Incoming!”
Kicking open the passenger door, Tanya followed and pointed at the many shapes emerging from the ovals. “Holy shit. Are those friends or foe?”
The men in suits stationed out front then opened fire on a wide silver figure with flowing cape who stepped out before the front portal, their pistols barking loudly.
Bullets bounced off rune-covered plate. Drawing a sword which caused the hairs not only on the women’s necks to stand up in terror, they watched the knight gesture with his off-hand.
The gate and front door both blew inward, and the local security found themselves launched fifteen feet into the air - air quickly filling with beings out of the portals and also straight out of legend: humanoid bodies with faces of birds, pigs, even elephants, each with multiple arms and wings painted full of bright colors. And all shrieking ancient war-cries.
Isong jogged to the back of the car and popped the trunk. Retrieving the duffel bag that they had picked up after crossing the border from yet another of her boss’s contacts, she dropped it on the pavement and bent down upon a knee to unzip the sack. Eyes scanning around even as hands dipped past the zipper, she noted Jordan - wings already burning bright - following the armored knight out to the street where the two squared off, black sword versus a spear burning within a nimbus of light similar but not quite the same as Jordan’s own.
The beast-faced flying things were joined by more on the ground, preparing an assault on the house. At the knight’s direction they had ignored the two facing off in the street and moved past.
“Not friendly,” declared Isong. Pulling out an M249 LMG, the captain took aim at the swarm of asuras already smashing against windows now glowing bright green with magicked protection, causing the attackers to snarl with fury and pound the rising runic shields with swords, axes, and fists.
Rapid controlled bursts of gun-fire filled the air from her weapon, followed by agonized shrieks from the attacking Vedic demons who turned towards the source of their pain.
More gunfire from weapons other than her own immediately followed, and Isong instinctively ducked behind the car next to Tanya who was peering cautiously around a fender.
“We’ve got company from those vans!” shouted the blue haired mercenary. “They’re attacking whatever the heck those things are!”
Men in tactical gear had hopped out and taken aim at the inhuman flying attackers, firing rapidly as their squad began moving up the street.
One of them even carried an RPG launcher. As he planted knee and launched a rocket into the face of a multi-headed gorgon, over the resulting explosion he shouted in defiance at what had invaded his city. “Allahu Ackbar!”
As the burning gorgon crashed through a palm tree, others in the air screamed and swarmed the squad which responded with additional rounds and shouts of their own, each bullet shredding through medieval armor and hide. Three more vans raced around the corner, spilling out yet more human defenders and their modern munitions.
But not all the attackers went after them. Some formed up before the house, extending rods and staves to raise sapphire power with which to directly engage the building’s protections, causing sparking conflicting magic to roar across the walls.
Through the earpiece Isong heard Isaiah, his voice strained but steady. “Get here. First floor.”
Pausing her own targeting, she sent back a short reply: “Wilco.” A shield dome of ocean blue flickered around both women as the captain lowered the gun and nodded to her companion. “We’re needed inside.”
Summoning five gleaming halberds to spiral outside the dome, Tanya grinned with fierce resolve. “Let’s do this.”
Two warriors charged the house, their souls still full with the smoldering echoes from having once touched the glory of the divine.
Those remaining sparks now flamed themselves anew.
The floor shook from the battle raging in the next room. Isaiah’s former assistant was laughing, her angelic warrior spirit enjoying being fully free and manifest after millennia of bondage. “C’mon, girl! Is that all you got?”
Another shrieked hiss and the house rattled again, causing the crystal chandelier dangling above the sitting room to sway wildly. The spilled water pitcher rolled wetly back and forth with each structure-straining concussion.
But this was not his concern.
First he did as Jordan suggested and radioed the pair outside. Being human, the house wards would grant them entry. Then to the wounded angel on the couch did he speak, even while searching within for the answer to the proffered question. “What do I do?”
Gasping for air, Sariel inhaled shallowly. “The Seal withers. Buttress it. It is yours, lend it strength.”
“I thought only I could break it.”
“As did I. Yet it still remains yours.”
The glove was already off. Stretching forth arm and those black fingers, he remembered what had been seen on the rooftop in Boston. A working with seven holy names amongst which his own was numbered. But with Gabriel’s assistance his hand had been the one to set it all into place, as they stood together upon a cliff that moments later would be washed away by tumultuous and roaring sea.
A cliff whose stones and dirt had buried the body of his only son.
And so he understood.
Pattern of his pattern, blood of his blood.
A death upon which all was sealed.
And by another’s sacrifice had his son found escape.
Reaching out with hand and will, he found the edge of that seal even as it unraveled across the world. With a heart hardened by guilt and necessity, he sent the remnants of that ancient working his power. While he too had chafed against the chains which had bound them, the alternative of Heaven’s wrath at its absence he knew would be far worse.
As somewhere on this blue marble of earth, ocean, and sky, his daughter’s spirit still lived.
The last time I fought the fae’s Champion I’d gambled and gotten lucky. Though in so doing the evil of that beyond-obsidian blade had seriously messed up a wing - a fact causing great trepidation every time its edge swung anywhere near. Fortunately I’d learned a few new tricks since then.
Even still, I was surprised at how even our fight was turning out to be.
My problem, of course, was that longsword. Not only did it chew chunks out of the street every time the tip brushed or even got near the pavement, but its chaos nature played havoc with my ability to monitor future possibilities and select out the ones where I kicked the most ass.
And by havoc I meant shutting it down completely. The blade’s future was simply unreadable and therefore any usage of foresight was null and void. All I kept seeing was the same eye-churning static that had lay across the waves found on the Edge back in Hell.
Talk about frustrating.
Gwydion’s problem was with my armaments: Camael’s bracers could deflect the sword without damage. And while the black-hole sucking power of his weapon swallowed blasts of light and blood-red fire in equal measure, it wasn’t able to launch attacks at range in return. Similarly, which had been a pleasant surprise, the holy Spear could also parry that blade’s edge without being swallowed by it.
More fun still was that with each contact against the fae-forged armor, the iron point eroded the enchantments infused into his moon-blessed metal. Spellwork that did handy things like make the armor lighter, grant the wearer greater speed and strength, all those sorts of useful things had begun to fade with each scored contact.
So we danced and spun, sparks and anti-sparks flashing as light clashed again and again with darkness while we lay waste to any walls, gates, and cars we stepped past or flew too near. Through all the damage, our priorities in the fight remained straight-forward: he had to keep the spear’s iron from scraping the armor or finding a weak spot to plunge on through, and I had to make sure my skin never connected directly with that sword.
Bashing the crap out of each other with fists, feet, or the spear’s shaft was therefore acceptable when necessary. Bruises rose across my arms and legs, only to disappear in the next surge of light used to keep the knight occupied while feet or wings regained balance. And as for him, well, that armor gained dent after dent and groove after long groove. Runes flared wildly and then out with each scraped touch, and the protective metal gained sections where the underlying gambeson began to poke through. While he too could heal - several times needing to mend broken ribs - his own energy reserve was limited, whereas mine ultimately was not.
The long-term advantage therefore was with me - as long as he couldn’t score a hit with that blade whose mere presence was taking everything I had to not turn wing and flee.
After I’d escaped much-too-narrowly from a particularly close call, my opponent paused to recover his stance and offered commentary.
“You have greatly improved, milady.”
High praise. “I’ve had serious reason to practice. It’s a funny thing though, isn’t it? The last time we met you were trying to prevent me from getting inside the pyramid and to the queen. Whereas this time I’m the one fighting to keep you out.”
“Conflicts tend to such repetitions and reversals. Attack and defense. Always is it thus.”
“Yeah. But I don’t quite understand this round.” I gestured towards the fighting surrounding us which had moved mostly inside the house or down the wreckage of the street where those I presumed to be Jordanian Security had split the swarmed attack. “So what’s the deal, Sir Knight? I thought the god-council moot had decided not to do something stupid like mess with me.”
The fae-lord required a few more inhalations of breath to gather his reply, while standing with heaving chest over the wreckage of a broken fancy streetlight one of us had sliced in half. I think that one was his, though the two beyond it were mine.
“There were those of us already pledged to another’s course of action. And you are not the day’s target.”
As figured they’d really come after Isaiah and Sariel, yet I still had questions. “But who would you follow that you’d dare risk so much? You wouldn’t trust just anyone, and certainly not any of those sad idiots in the stadium. You’re smarter than that.” As I said it a light bulb went off in my head. Okay, not literally, though who knows. Maybe the eyes flashed brighter in that moment - hard to tell under the city’s bright sun. “Good grief, did Alal contact you?”
The otherworldly knight remained still but somehow I was sure.
“She did, didn’t she. The one who gave you that cursed weapon. What did she promise you?”
Shifting the grip on his weapon, he answered. “A chance to save my people. To free the fae from this earthly bondage and escort them safely home. To bring them to Arcadia, which by Siabh’s sacrifice has again been made whole. I will not fail them.”
He raised the sword in salute, mailed fingers gripping the undecorated hilt of evil.
That’s what it was, right?
Alal had said she considered the concept of good and evil to be beneath her and not worth considering. But what exactly was evil?
The spear in my hand - glowing as it did with holy purpose - would in the eyes of those with pure faith be thought of as good. Gwydion’s sword felt evil, for it swallowed light like an unrestrained child binging cosmic birthday cake.
Other than the danger its essence represented, did it really qualify?
The ancient knight took my silence as invitation to continue, charging across the distance to again lunge with a blow aimed to pierce my unarmored chest.
But thoughts first raced ahead and even as metal-clad feet pounded closer one step after the other across damaged pavement, certain realizations were becoming clear.
Good, by those of faith, was defined as being God. God was good. Anything not God was evil. The lack of God was evil.
And that sword was full of energies pulled from beyond God’s reach, yanked from outside Creation and by Alal’s will given the shape of a weapon through which to disrupt the pattern of everything that was. Even now the threads of the world screamed while trying to expel it, lacking only the required power - or light - to do so.
The light that was in all things. The light that was God’s intent and love holding up all Creation.
Except I had seen that here in the physical, in this strange blend of matter and spirit, small pinpricks of Chaos continuously bled within.
A mixing built directly into the pattern’s structure. A pattern that also was God’s - the Most High’s, the Source’s - intent.
While the power within the Spear opposed entirely the Chaos, it having blocked blow after blow of that purest weapon of oblivion without nary a mark. The spark of the holy name contained within tip and rod rejected such energies. A Name plural and not singular.
Something within took hold of that realization and what my hands did next was insane.
With Spear held tight in one fist, the full complement of iridescent wings manifested behind to pull fiercely from that burning ever-present Source. Not to shine outward, but instead to blaze solely inside, safely shining brighter than any astronomer had ever observed.
Because then the other hand closed around the incoming blade of darkness and, much to the shock of both myself and the Fae’s greatest Champion, guided the metal-which-was-not-metal straight past skin to slide deeply into my heart.
Everything crossed with Nothing.
Infinite Light burning against Infinite Possibility.
As agonizing ecstasy or ecstatic agony overwhelmed, and with the gripped Spear clutched close as the ultimate anchor, in the language of the Most High I shouted between those infinities one word and one word only:
My true Name.
The resulting singular explosion ripped through levels of perceptions I’d never realized existed, and all sense of self scattered further than the Four Winds had ever blown. For that moment I - or what I considered as “I” - shredded entire, leaving behind only the core of something much deeper, much larger, and beyond any layers my usual self could even directly perceive let alone comprehend.
As a consciousness recovered towards that which was without instead of within, the brightest of angels hovered on six blazing wings. Below her knelt a knight whose helmet-less forehead had pressed against the center of the twenty-foot-wide crater now carved into the rubbled remains of the asphalt. Windows and portals alike had exploded from all the energy which had nevertheless breached containment, leaving unconscious (if not outright dead) devilish asuras strewn about like tornado debris across a ravaged trailer park. Those few agents of national security still miraculously awake had fallen to their knees in horrified wonder as they beheld the being filling air and sky with endless streams of holy fire.
Held aloft within her radiant hand was a spear of Light and Shadow. Like caduceus serpents, the twin opposing energies coiled tightly one around the other to form the haft, merging at the end into a glowing-yet-not-glowing point sharper than any scalpel had ever dared be.
With nose bleeding profusely from the concussive blast, the grey-haired fae pleaded in his ancient language to she who floated above, his voice choking both with blood and the abandonment of all pride.
“I beg of you, Archon Amariel! Let my people go!”
She knew what I needed to do.
Bodies of multi-limbed demons continued to pile against the glowing blue barrier that formed a perfect defense around the remains of the sitting room. Between Tanya’s manifested knives, swords, and axes as well as Mirael’s gladius which continuously spat orange-red fire, all who had attacked towards the concentrating hooded Archangel had met their end.
The amount of blood and viscera smeared outside Captain Isong’s shielding was both impressive and disgusting, even to her.
“Almost complete,” breathed the fallen angel still slowly leaking scarlet across cushions which would never again be usable.
Azrael, standing now with hands wide and dark wings reaching planes beyond the world, watched as the curtain of the reinvigorated Seal began to coalesce at the center of the room. Though the part of his mind which was still Isaiah had been disturbed by the realization that each demise of the attacking demons had in their own way lent further energy for the binding. Each distinction of life versus death, each crossing of that boundary, had fueled the solidity of his effort and acted as hammers on the anvil of his angelic Purpose.
Searching for a new target, Mirael glanced out the front door to take in the scene from outside. As the daylight suddenly burned brighter than the sun should ever be, she screamed to Isong. “BRACE FOR IMPACT!” She then promptly cocooned herself within a ball of her own dark feathers as she dove for what meager safety the corner of the room could provide.
The window behind the fallen angel, miraculously intact through the non-stop attacks, finally burst inward as a pressure wave of light and heat slammed through the home that groaned mightily against its foundation.
If not for the quick warning, Isong wasn’t sure she’d have been able to hold against such a tremendous blast, but everyone inside the shield, now flickering thin yet intact, was untouched.
The Great Seal paused its narrowing as Azrael, puzzled by a strange and sudden chill flooding every nerve, looked towards that empty window and the burning angel who floated through its frame, all clad within a robe of white fire.
More specifically he stared aghast at the brilliant yet disconcerting weapon held within her hand, an item of terrible yet glorious duality which then reached through Isong’s shielding as if it didn’t exist to touch the final weaving of his Seal.
In a blinding flare of shining darkness, at the center a name in plural was joined by one in singular, and the purpose of the working shifted as the world was bound anew.
Like flipping a switch, all other angels in the room found their wings vanishing as they too were once again locked within limitation.
Sariel coughed wetly as the wound through his midsection could no longer be withstood so readily as a mortal man, and pink froth began to dot his lips. The angel in the air above him turned and, after folding fiery wings upon her back, went to a knee before the couch. Stretching a glowing palm towards the man who was running out of blood, she paused as her frowning concern flowed into sorrow.
“Your spirit does not wish healing. Of itself or this body.”
The Grigori, face drawing paler with each struggled breath, managed a weak smile. “This body’s end is overdue. But her spirit is safe awhile longer.”
“Yet your Name, if you ask it, I could-”
“My hopes cross not unto faith nor forgiveness. Though perhaps,” he wheezed, “this will be their first step...”
With a final exhale, a quiet rattle sounded inside his chest as the reforged Seal claimed what had been within. The angel bowed her head as she reached out instead to close eyes which would see no more.
Isaiah, finding himself again in business jacket and tie, blinked in confusion at the only manifested angel still in the room. The afterimage of the altered Seal however was still fresh in his mind’s eye. “What have you done?”
Standing again, Amariel gave answer. “Only what was just. All but the Bene-Elohim and their blood are free. And were this not so, would the working of your will have accepted mine?”
As if this wasn’t shock enough, a shaken voice from the hall demanded his attention.
To his surprise everyone, mortal and otherwise, turned heads. Instead of Mirael in shining armor, Tracy stood amidst the debris in the same silken dressing gown she’d worn as she’d died. Except there was no blood upon the front of the soft blue fabric, and in the midday sun streaming through the glassless window she cast a solid shadow upon the floor.
She was alive.
With a shout Isaiah was across the room, grabbing her arms as she wobbled and nearly fell. “Tracy!”
“Sorry, Boss. Kinda woozy.”
“You’re okay! It’s all okay!”
“Someone should check on Faaiza. I hit her pretty hard at the end.”
Tanya stood slowly from where she’d fallen across a cushion, fighting the exhaustion from having manifested the many blades now scattered about the room as if it was an unkempt armory of blue steel. “I’m on it.” Carefully stepping around bodies straight from Hindu myth and on through the gaping hole in the wall, she quickly called back, “She’s out but breathing! Probably gonna need a medic though.”
The angel of light shimmered, and Jordan, again in shorts and t-shirt, walked sneakers upon the carpet. As the wings had faded away so too had the Spear and its unnerving presence. To Isaiah she asked, “Who broke the Seal? Faiza could know, but do you?”
With his legal assistant leaning against him, all Isaiah could do was nod.
Jordan asked again. “Who?”
Fighting for voice, Isaiah said, “My…Azrael’s son. And he is no longer on Earth.”
“Does he have the Book?”
“Shit.” She paused as golden eyes flashed. “I’ll get Tsáyidiel to track him. Wherever he goes, we’ll find him. Got a starting point?”
“Istanbul, at the Bosphorus.”
“Okay. And did any others escape?”
“Could be worse I guess.”
From within Isaiah’s jacket the sounds of a Spanish guitar began to play. Tracy tapped him to indicate that she was alright to stand, so he let go and pulled from a pocket Jordan’s ringing phone.
Instead of taking it from him, Jordan said, “That’s Penelope’s ringtone. Tell her I’ll be right there; I just need to do something first. And I’ll try to call you later - you’d better answer!” In a burst of speed the girl ran out the door, loose reddish-gold hair flowing behind.
Moving out into the blood-spattered entry hall, he watched as she ran into the daylight - and over to the battered fae knight still on silver-clad knees in the middle of the devastated street. An offered hand lifted the warrior up and they both became translucent then disappeared.
Left holding the device still strumming a Bulerias, Isaiah was flabbergasted. “She left her passport and phone behind.”
Breathing heavily from her own exertions of maintaining the shielding, Captain Isong still managed a chuckle.
“She does that.”
Chapter 32 - Crossroads
It wasn’t the visceral horror of marching across a battlefield slaughtering all before him that woke him up. Nor the cruelty his massive metal-skinned son was delivering upon those who in desperation had already surrendered.
No, it was the feeling of soft feathers pushing against the mattress, trapped as they were between sheet and skin.
The first two words from Cassius were, “Oh shit!”
The next ones from his mouth were far more concerning. They weren’t spoken in his usual tones but with raw exuberant malevolence.
Rabbi Kirov tapped lightly at the doorway of the hospital room where his friend lay with eyes closed.
“I’m awake,” Father Anthony grumbled. “It’s just too darned bright in here.”
Moving to the window where the midday sun had just begun to shine directly, the rabbi closed the blinds. “Better?”
Daring to open one eye first, Anthony replied. “Much. Did you bring lunch?”
“Falafel. And salad.” Pulling up a chair, Kirov settled slowly onto its creased leather. Upon the room’s mobile tray he unpacked the paper sack he’d been carrying.
“Entirely too healthy. At this point I should be eating nothing but cake.”
“Your nurse would not approve.”
Anthony shrugged, eyes twinkling with mischief. “She enjoys being grumpy. Would it not be saintly to assist her joy?”
The rabbi offered a disapproving glance over thick glasses and pushed the tray within the other man’s reach. On his own lap he popped open a matching container, steam rising from within.
With a chuckle Anthony added, “And sometimes so do you, old friend.”
“I do not.”
“You do. Just as you’re happily cranky that your student went off on another adventure without you.”
That earned another glare. “I simply cannot believe you did not ask me to check the safe earlier. Perhaps the Book would not now be missing if I had!”
“I prefer having you remaining capable of lecturing me about it.” Ignoring the fork, Anthony picked up a deep-fried ball and bit into it.
“But I wouldn’t have opened it.”
“Yes, you would.”
“No I wouldn’t!”
“My friend, you and books are inseparable. With that tome in your hands your mind would wander, and without even thinking those fingers of yours would have flipped the cover aside. Admit it.”
“I will not.”
“What’s the phrase? ‘Truth floats like oil over water.’“
Anthony laughed, and his friend couldn’t help but join him.
After they’d eaten more of the meal, Kirov cleared his throat. “Yesterday you made a promise, one I intend to hold you to. Even if we have spent all morning dancing around the topic as if performing a gopak.”
“I suppose we have been at that.”
“As you can imagine it’s been an interesting summer and autumn.”
Putting down the fork, the rabbi leaned forward. “Is the Church involved?”
“Hmm? No, not with me on this. It’s…oh.” The old priest went quiet as the Muslim call to prayer rang out over all of Jerusalem, though that was not what had given him pause. He was staring at the vein-lined hand holding another falafel.
It had started to glow.
“Anthony! Your hand!”
A younger yet also much older set of fingers carefully put down the piece of their shared meal. “I am sorry, Immanuel. I thought we’d have a little more time.” The glow expanded until all of Father Anthony emitted a soft white light.
Where it spread the priest’s hospital gown and features shifted.
An angel clad in silver and gold with white-grey wings smiled at the rabbi instead with gentle compassion. “As one story sheds its final leaves, another takes root. She will have need of me. Goodbye, old friend. Our time together has been a treasure.”
But Kalka’il had already gone, and the blanket settled over now-empty space.
Voice trembling, Immanuel closed water-filled eyes and offered a prayer.
“Shema Yisrael, Adonai eloheinu, Adonai ehad.”
Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.
While it was an hour earlier than he usually got up for his morning routine, Tian Li didn’t mind. His English Lit. exam was due to start sharply at eight a.m. and he wanted to get in his proper run, shower, and breakfast while still having time for another review of his notes before being stuck chewing on the back of a pencil while trying to decipher any deeper meanings hidden within Shakespeare’s prose.
With the clouds having cleared, the night had turned especially chilly, steam billowed from each exhale as he jogged around the quiet campus. Approaching Dickenson Cottage he was startled as a blur of grey and white fur streaked past his feet, nearly tripping him.
The rather large feline didn’t stop, instead it quickly outpaced him as it raced down the footpath. The cat looked familiar and it took a moment for memory to register that he’d seen it in the foyer of Hawthorne before. With tail seriously floofed and held high it receded rapidly into the distance - something must really have disturbed the poor thing.
He wondered if he should chase after it. Maybe it had escaped and needed help? Deciding that might be the best course of action he switched gears and put on a burst of speed, trying to keep the kitty in view.
If he hadn’t he might never have made it to his exam. Or any exams ever again.
Two steps behind him Dickenson exploded, brick and glass bursting outward to cover the path and surrounding lawn with smashed debris.
All his martial training had reacted without thought, and Tian came up from the instant forward roll with hands in a guard position, even while his brain tried to catch up on what the heck had just happened.
Surveying the terrible rip in the wall, he then watched as an honest-to-gods dragon stuck a deep-purple muzzle through the gap and emitted an ear-piercing roar. Wings and limbs then smashed the rest of the way free, all having been much too large for the room from which it emerged. A torn poster of some metal band had caught against his leg and slowly slid off, blown there by the force of the dragon’s bellowing.
For a moment they stood there, dragon and student, as if each unsure what to do next.
Feeling energy surge into the beast and recognizing the kind of magic as matching his own whenever he used it to start small flames, Tian turned off the path to run at top speed across the lawn.
He was pretty certain the dragon was about to do a lot more than simply light a candle.
A dark-haired young man paused outside a small gelato shop, one which was nestled within a long strip of busy stores selling everything from jewelry and fashion to pasta and wine. Already his hands were full of bags with their testaments to the day’s shopping. Around him the bustling foot traffic of Rome did their thing, locals passing by tourists whose necks would later be sore from all the craning and looking about.
While pondering which flavors his two partners would prefer (he himself wanted mint-chip), a breeze which wasn’t a breeze raced through him - and nearby in the crowd a man started shouting.
“Your ears! What in god’s name just happened to your ears?”
Looking over, he watched as a startled woman touched fingers to her suddenly pointy cartilage even as she slowly became thinner and taller, as if stretched on some medieval torture device. Her short blonde hair then proceeded to stream past the shoulders and drop below the narrowing waist.
As her pants began to slip past hips no longer anywhere near as wide, she too began to shriek as she fought to keep her trousers in place.
Through the golden hieroglyph dangling from his own ear, he heard his own female business partner curse.
“Fuck! We’ve got several grid violations! Zap - get your ass back here. Multiple nodes are getting tapped and hard, by all kinds of…oh shit! Wake the snouted idiot, time for him to earn his bloody keep!”
Turning back towards Vatican Square and its mana node through which he could return to Egypt, his contemplation of dropping the bags to run faster through the crowd was also cut short.
“And if you don’t have lunch in hand when you get here,” threatened Erica, “I’m gonna eat your damn kidneys!”
He wasn’t entirely sure that she was joking.
“August! Gir…boy, what are you doing up at this hour?”
“Uhm, hi Dad. It’s hard to explain, I-”
“Does it have to do with that bearded giant staring through the second story window?”
“Well, yeah, he’s an angel. His name is Sandalphon and he-”
“His feet are crushing my garden.”
“He’s real apologetic about that. But Dad, he wants me to go with him.”
“Go with…to where exactly?”
“Off Earth, maybe Heaven.”
“You’ve got wings.”
“I know. Mom has tried telling you-”
“Proportions are all wrong. You won’t get sufficient lift with those things. With how you’ve grown, you’re too heavy.”
“Dad! They just work anyway, okay?”
“Hmph. Will you be back?”
“What? Oh. I don’t know. But I have to go.”
“Right this instant?”
“This is rather sudden notice.”
“I know, and I’m sorry. He didn’t want me to say anything in case things worked out different. But I kinda made it so they would. I sent someone where they were needed and not exactly where they wanted to go.”
“I take it you’ve made up your mind.”
“Then you best go wake your mother and say your goodbyes. And Son…”
“Don’t let the dog slip out the door when you go. It’s freezing out there. Best take my overcoat, your old jacket won’t fit over all those feathers.”
“Thanks, Dad. I love you too.”
Jenna stifled a giggle as she cracked opened the door out of Brendan’s room, peering into the hallway to make sure nobody was there.
Not that there would be, considering it was only four-thirty in the morning. Even the few late-night end-of-semester parties for those who had completed their exams had quieted a few hours ago - due to the patience of cottage staff and still-studying students having worn thin.
As for Brendan, his roommate had already packed and escaped home for the holidays. Which left the room open for Jenna and her boyfriend to spend the night studying - or to be more honest - watching cheesy movies and exploring the fine art of smooching, not to mention the harder art of refusing the demands of teenage hormones running amok.
There certainly had been a few close calls on that front.
From the bed, Brendan whispered loudly, “Go! Before anyone wakes up!”
Reluctantly she opened the door further only to watch a furry streak race past her shoe.
“Khan? How did you-” She stopped as perceptions and thoughts kicked adrenalin into overdrive:
Khan was loose.
He was running at full speed.
His fur was glowing.
If she knew one thing from previous experience, that meant trouble. Serious deadly trouble.
Over a shoulder at Brenden she shouted, “Call Security! Sound the alarm!”
“Do it! Now!” Racing after the shimmering kitty whose claws scrambled to turn at the end of the corridor, she let obsidian slide over her skin making her much darker than the hoodie she’d put on to brace against the outside cold.
Not entirely surprised to see the stone once again be of smooth onyx instead of the usual grey, she hoped it would be enough protection from whatever was about to hit the school.
With fire licking at his running shoes and setting the frozen grass behind aflame, Tian ran faster than he’d ever done before. Yet somehow the dragon kept up, sending fiery bolt after fiery bolt all the same blue that heated barbecues.
He sincerely hoped that wasn’t indicative of his eventual fate.
Fortunately his sense of magic provided warning before every blast, allowing quick dives to the side to roll out of the way of each incoming attack.
The academy’s lawn however had had no such luck.
In an attempt to spare the school from as much damage as possible, he’d made a sharp right turn to head towards the arena where he’d had his own combat final the day before. There the sensei had set up a tense challenge that he’d barely passed but it had been nowhere near as ridiculous as this.
Beyond the arena sat the thick forest, and if nothing else he was hoping he could lose the dragon amidst the thick evergreen trees and circle back for help. Campus Security should have been loading up for bear (or dragon) by now.
The beast was certainly loud enough to wake even the soundest of sleepers.
As he ran towards the trees a wind picked up, blowing stronger and stronger still until he found himself leaning into it while sneakers slipped backwards across the grass.
Okay, this wasn’t natural. And also not good.
Luckily he wasn’t the intended target. The gust targeted past him to smother the dragon’s breath before it could gain coherence, and the creature’s wide glistening purple wings acted as unintended sails to pull the creature back and away.
Blinking past all the snow pelting by in that wind, he saw a man flying towards him held aloft by what had to have been some kind of air elemental. A literal tornado hopped over his head while a smaller vortex reached out from the main tube to carry its camo-fatigues and matching beanie wearing cargo.
Shrieking in annoyance the dragon reared up, and with renewed focus sent a fresh volley of heat towards the tornado’s passenger.
Expecting the tornado to intercept, Tian was shocked when it instead shoved the guy directly into the path of the fire.
To Tian’s great surprise, the blast split into two streams which wrapped past, leaving the man and spiraling winds untouched.
“Yo, dragon!” the guy yelled as he extend a hand which lit up with yellow fire of its own. “You can’t hit us with that! It ain’t allowed!”
This didn’t please the scaled beast, which then tried to repeat the maneuver with even more force than before. All to no effect, as the stream of intense flames simply refused to connect.
Shaking his head, the guy pulled a metallic orb out of a pocket and, after winding up like a Major League pitcher, let it fly.
Tian wondered if it was a grenade. The dragon may have too as it scrambled backwards, claws digging huge divots through the dirt.
It wasn’t however an explosive. Instead the thing crackled with electricity and where it landed now stood yet another mighty dragon. A black one, much larger but shimmering as a huge projected image taller than most houses.
The roar it emitted was still absolutely deafening, and Tian threw hands over ears as the sound drove him to his knees.
As it also did to the purplish dragon before it.
Tian, having grown up in a family of martial artists who had long ago sworn service to their mighty dragon ancestors, had been forced by his father to study the ancient draconic speech. His own throat was incapable of reproducing the harsh tongue, but the vocabulary had been ingrained.
The massive black-scaled projection called out in that language now, the techno-magical device reproducing the sound in full fidelity.
“Kurohoshi Haruko! Know thyself!”
Whimpering, the more-solid and purple (with hints of jade green) beast of legend winced, shaking an immense head of fangs and scales in obvious confusion.
“Daughter! The time has come! Awaken to all that you are destined to be!”
Immense eyes the same shade as the dragon calling out to them blinked. And blinked again.
The perfectly reproduced roar of joyful pride from an exultant father knocked Tian onto his butt. After the ringing in his ears had faded, he then heard a cheer from the guy above with the flaming fingers.
“Heck yeah! You seein’ this shit, Derek? Freakin’ Hallmark Moment!”
By the time Jenna caught up, the tiger who was Khan had already knocked down the door of one of the cottage rooms, his roar and snarls echoing down the hallway and waking up the residents. She had to shout at those who’d poked out their heads to clear the way as she barreled past, finally skidding to a halt outside the mighty cat’s arrived destination.
What she saw inside caused her senses to reel.
On the floor lay Cassius, one hand gripping a knife stolen from the kitchens while the opposite arm bled across the blue cottage carpet. Sitting atop him with fangs bared and throat growling was a white-striped tiger, paws and their tremendous claws scrambling to pin the boy down.
Except he wasn’t just a boy.
Superimposed upon him was the image of someone else. Someone with wings of a black which swallowed all detail as where its feathers lay there was simply no reflected light. And the face…the face was both beautiful and horrible.
A perfection which would have made Michelangelo weep lay twisted by the terrible hatred spilling forth across otherwise immaculate features.
Power radiated both from angel and cat, each struggling against the other and for the first time Jenna saw glimpses of what Jordan had once described: the language of Creation.
Except between those on the floor burst scripts from two entirely different hands.
As the face shifted back and forth, so too did the voices shouting from the shared mouth - one snarled and filled with venom and the other desperate yet determined.
“The Seal is broken! Release me or else this beast will be the death of us!”
“Never! Up yours!”
“I will slay everyone if-”
“Fuck off!” The hand flipped the blade and with a snap of the wrist the edge gouged across the forearm holding it, and the disturbing voice shrieked in outrage at the presence of additional pain.
But the skin healed immediately, as it had been doing for the damage taken by the claws holding it down.
With a wordless shout the angel tried to rise, wings pushing against the floor to start lifting the seven-hundred pound tiger. With another roar Khan lashed out across its chest and again the image flickered back to the boy, now with deep gashes across cotton pajamas bleeding free.
Instead of flinching from the pain it gave him focus. “Jenna!” shouted Cassius. “My desk, center drawer! The box! Hurry!”
Riding the surge of adrenalin, she didn’t hesitate. Leaping over the tiger’s back, she slammed the drawer open, immediately spotting a small jewelry case. She popped its hinges open and withdrew the contents.
A single silver coin. One whose inscribed sigils were painstakingly covered in tiny Latin and Hebrew script.
“What do I do with it?” Against her fingers the coin pulsed in response to the energies in the room which were making a mess of her senses.
“My forehead! Shove it on and hold it there!” Cassius’ eyes snapped shut, hoping to keep the other from seeing that which she held.
But the dark angel rallied and first one eye and then its pair opened as she knelt above his head.
“You fool! What have you-”
His sentence was lost as fingers of stone pressed the coin against Cassius’ skin. The fallen spirit within him thrashed mightily, almost knocking Khan off. With an arm of blackened stone Jenna pinned his throat and refused to let him rise even as smoke from burnt flesh spilled past her rock-protected thumb.
The golden cross around her neck dangled free, glowing now with a fierce shine all its own.
While boy, angel, and tiger struggled against a floor whose carpet became more shredded by each passing second, Jenna found herself chanting.
“Exorcizámos te, ómnis immúnde spíritus, ómnis satánic potéstas, ómnis infernális adversárii, ómnis légio, ómnis congregátio et sécta diabólica, in nómine et virtúte Dómini nóstri Jésu Chrísti.”
The fallen howled, as irises of a sickly green she had never before seen recoiled in primal fear from her words.
“Eradicáre et effugáre a Dei Ecclésia, ab animábus ad imáginem Dei cónditis ac pretióso divíni Ágni sánguine redémptis!”
Under her hand the red-hot coin burst into flame. Whispering now in English she heard herself add, “Begone Shemyaza, begone Shemhazai, begone Azza and Ouza, unto the realm of fallen shadows. By all your names and by the grace of God, begone.”
With a final howl of protest, the eyes cleared again into Cassius’ blues. Muscles relaxed and he blinked into the face of worried stone hovering above. “Tell Dad,” he said as if from an echo already far away, “He did everything right.”
The coin sizzled one last time and in a flash of brilliance vanished entire.
It took her a moment to realize the boy’s chest - skin whole under shredded pajamas - was no longer moving. He’d stopped breathing.
Khan, having returned to the size of a housecat, moved aside as Jenna desperately began CPR. She and Brendan, who had made it to the doorway only in time to witness the end, traded off. When paramedics arrived and took over, Khan jumped into Jenna’s arms to nuzzle her stone-covered cheek while she cried.
Despite the drizzle’s chill, Adam tended the leafless wisteria that had over the years conquered his English garden’s trellis. At times with knees sunk into damp soil, he contently had spent the overcast morning trimming away branches which had lost their fight against the recent frost.
When the Fourth Seal binding the world unravelled, he stiffened as tension flared across his back, ancient scars deep under the thick woolen shirt throbbing from pain long ignored.
For the briefest of moments, silhouettes of dark feathers flickered across tight shoulders and then were gone.
“Got nothin’ to do with me, all that nonsense, now does it.”
Humming to himself a half-remembered song from his childhood, he snipped off another dead twig so its comrades could better bloom come spring.
Chapter 33 - Requests
The battered knight with swollen nose marveled at the lush forest, spinning in place to gaze through the dense and verdant foliage all around us.
“I know not this realm.”
I knelt down, pressing palm into the soft dirt. The touch was comforting, a reconnection in a way to a part of myself. “It’s new. I made it.”
Gwydion startled and his attention returned to me. “You made this?”
“Yeah.” I straightened and brushed the dirt from my hands. “For the beloved fae who followed me out of Arcadia. Welcome to Gealltas.”
He bowed, a thin scar visible now across a cheek. Either he’d stopped hiding it with his glamour or the realm refused for anything to be hidden from my sight. “Thank you, Queen Amariel.”
“Oh for the love of…just call me Amariel. Or Jordan. Whatever.”
The old fae frowned. “That would hardly be proper, Your Majesty.”
“My realm, my rules.”
Was it wrong to be amused while watching eons of propriety crash inside another’s head like a pile-up on the 101? If so count me in with the horribles.
Not that I had time to poke the stolid knight further. At the edge of the trees stood a gryphon, raven’s head and wings blending into a panther’s body and claws.
He also wasn’t alone.
Under my breath, I muttered, “Are you serious?” After bracing myself, I walked towards my Hunter and yet another white-feathered and white-robed Bene-Elohim who just so happened to have wandered by. As we got closer, I called out, “Tsáyidiel! Who is our guest?”
The gryphon’s head dropped over its front paws. “My Queen, may I present the Archangel Metatron, Voice of Elohim, Steward of the Upper Heavens.”
I tilted my head, something about the salt-and-pepper beard and tanned skin was familiar. And then it became clear. “Enoch!”
The angel’s expression hardened. “That name is no longer appropriate.”
“Oh, sorry. I was just remembering. It’s a weird thing having memories from two different sources for the same thing.”
Ivory wings fluffed over his shoulders then settled again. “Amariel, daughter of Helel, he who was, is, and always will be our First, the Council summons you for testimony. You will come with us.”
Both the knight and gryphon tensed. Not only was the guy pulling the “royal we” shtick, he had totally ignored all the titles rightfully mine.
And I hadn’t even granted permission.
I crossed arms over the lavender tunic I happened to be wearing. I swear, my wardrobe had undergone more changes lately than a Broadway Musical. “Well hate to say it, but now is not a good time.” A garland of deep blue and violet flowers keeping my long hair pulled back fluttered petals and ivy in a sudden yet gentle breeze; I hadn’t even noticed it upon my head until then. Dangit, telling someone to stop treating you as a queen when you’re already wearing a leafy crown seems ludicrous, doesn’t it?
“You defy the Council?” Enoch, the Metatron, whatever you wanted to call him, began to grow taller - as if the indignity of my response had fed him a serious bowl of Wheaties.
“Whoa, hold on there chief,” I said, neck craning to keep him in view. “There’s a lot going on. Let me explain-”
Looking down from a height exceeding the tallest trees around, he cut me off. “Archangel Gabriel is missing. Seals of the Earth lie broken. And you, Amariel-who-was-Aradia, lie at the heart of it all. Or do you deny this?”
“Nope. Not hardly. And you’re missing recent events: a Nephelim holding the Sefer Raziel just slipped past Seal number four.”
“The Book of Secrets?” He scowled. “Impossible. That is safely buried on Earth, as per the Council’s command to the Regent of Light, Prince Camael.”
It was hard not to laugh. “Wow, you really are behind on things. Hasn’t anyone told you?”
“Told us what?”
“Camael used the Book to get back his mojo so he could bust loose Azazel and kick that jerk to Hell.”
That shocked the guy even more. “If Camael has done this, it is against the will of the Council. He would face Judgment for such an act!”
“Yeah well, good luck with that. He later took a trip to Hell of his own. Long story there. He was telling me how to escape.”
“You spin untruths.”
Tsáyidiel growled and I had to mentally shout at him to not do anything stupid. For that matter Gwydion had also clenched a fist and taken a step forward, which I found rather endearing.
Not that my own expression was any better than theirs. “No lies, Archangel. Check with Raphael, check with Sandalphon. Heck, check with Michael. They all know this to be true. I fell beyond Elohim’s Gate and returned, in the same way Lucifer once did. A question I would ask if I were you is why no one has kept you in the loop.”
“But,” said Metatron, eyes widening beyond just the increase of scale, “if what you say is true, if the sacred Book of Secrets is in the hands of a Nephelim…oh no.” For a guy whose skin was fairly tan, the cheeks proceeded to pale awfully white.
“I was about to dispatch God’s Hunter to track him down.” I didn’t want to say who exactly the Nephelim was born of, the angel looked startled enough as is - and if I could, I’d protect my friend’s secrets. “And once found I’ll retrieve the Book.”
“Yes, retrieval,” Metatron said slowly as he tried to pull himself together. “Go then, Amariel. We task you in the name of the Throne to return with the Sefer Raziel safe once more. We shall inform the Council and deliberate further.”
I wanted to snark that he didn’t have any authority over me, but heck - what he wanted was precisely the action I was already planning. And being rude wouldn’t get this guy to go away any faster. See? Diplomacy at its finest. “Right, gotcha. On it. Anything else?”
“The Book, daughter of Helel - bring it to us.” For a moment it sounded more like pleading, but he followed on with a shouted, “In Elohim’s Name do not fail!”
The booming declaration sent flocks of birds (and fae with a wide variety of wings) scattering from the treetops, and in their wake the vexed Archangel unfurled his own feathers and departed.
After the forest quieted down, I turned to the gryphon.
“Tsáyidiel, you can surmise what I’m about to ask of you.”
The raven head bowed once more. “Name the target of your blessed hunt, oh holy Queen, and it shall be done.”
“From the shores of Istanbul did he depart the Earth carrying that which does not belong to him. Seek therefore Matityah, son of Azrael. When found, alert me immediately - but do not engage.”
“I understand, my Queen. By your command do I depart.”
I nodded permission. “Go then, beloved Hunter. And may thy wings be ever lifted by the Light.”
With an answering roar, he too took flight beyond the realm.
Gwydion and I watched him go. Without taking eyes off the magnificent Kerubim as he faded into the distance, I asked the knight, “Can you tell me anything about your attack? Who else is in that cabal of Alal’s?”
“No, Your Majesty. I am burdened by oath to remain silent.”
“Of course you are.” With a sigh I rubbed my tired face. “So what shall I do with you now?”
“You have defeated and disarmed me. I am your prisoner.”
I bristled. Or maybe that was just the crown on my head. “I will suffer no prisons in my realm, Sir Knight. You wished to free the fae upon the Earth that they may be taken to Arcadia. Can you organize such activities from here? This realm abuts Gabriel’s - and thus also sits on the border between Earth and Dream.”
“Your Majesty? What are you saying?”
I couldn’t help it. Reaching out, I ran a finger tenderly along the thin scar wending its way across the ancient yet nobly handsome cheek. “I am saying, Sir Gwydion, that your dearest wish has been granted. I altered the Seal. Your people are bound no more.”
Tears welled at the wrinkled corners of the old warrior’s eyes. With a strangled cry he fell to metal-covered knees which clattered against the forest stones at my feet, and with gauntleted fingers gently took my hand to kiss its back.
He held on, unable to let go. Wordless yet full of words.
My other hand softly again touched his slender yet chiseled face. “I require one thing, Sir Knight, and request another.”
“The fae on Earth, give them the choice. Abduct them not, but instead explain all unto them. Who they were. Who they may be. And where they may go should they so desire. This I require for having granted the boon which your heart of hearts so humbly asked of me.”
“I swear it shall be so.
“Good. Then hear my request, for my hunter has been dispatched and I too must away. Whilst we are engaged elsewhere I ask of you this: would you defend this realm in my name?”
He placed another kiss upon the hand held in his. “Nothing would honor me more, Your Majesty. But alas, I no longer have a weapon with which to carry out such a duty.”
This would not do.
Letting damp cheek and cold gauntlet slide from my fingers, I took a step back and with a gesture reached unto the depths of my realm.
The rocks, twigs, and leaves between us began to vibrate, then tremble, and finally burst aside in a crack of thunder as a glowing golden hilt and following long and shining silver blade rose into the air between us. Intricate Celtic knot-work lay inscribed upon the simple crosspiece guarding the leather-wrapped grip, but through the groove of the sword’s gleaming fuller flowed the delicate golden script so beloved by she who had once been my tenderly caring foster-mother.
Upon one side in the language Siabh had once sung so true was written: Love unto the Defended.
And upon the other was given the paired reply: Love unto the Destroyed.
His eyes widened as he beheld what floated between us, and there upon his grace-filled features was seen a touch of youthful marvel not held across those features for ages uncounted.
“Arise, Champion,” I said to a knight renewed. “And stretch forth thy hand to receive this commission with which to carry out thy charge. Take it, my knight, and go forth to inspect thine new posting.”
Solemnly and without wiping the moisture from his cheeks, he did so - and the leather hilt fit perfect within his palm. With a last bow of his head, he rose, saluted, and proceeded away between the trees with wonder still alight within face and spirit. After removing a gauntlet and placing it within the battered helmet tucked into the crook of his sword-wielding arm, he let bare fingers trail across bark and leaf, and with each step he grew taller and, to my own glowing eyes, younger.
I lingered awhile before returning to what awaited back on Earth. Even with dented and scratched armor, he made the realm forged of my heart ever more beautiful just by his walking through it.
Jenna was found in the lobby of Emerson Cottage sitting beneath the curve of Brendan’s long arm, Khan nestled in her lap. Unceremoniously dumping my poor kitty to the floor, Jenna instantly moved to grapple me in a fierce hug.
“Jordan! Where were you?!” Sorrow-born accusation lay behind the question.
Taking in the somber expressions, I braced to find out how bad it had been. “In the Middle East,” I said, while moving her back towards the couch. “What happened?”
Sitting again with a sniff, Jenna pulled herself together. “You don’t know?”
“I just got here.” Bending down, my kitty hopped into my now-available arms. With paws on one shoulder, I straightened and proceeded to scritch his ears and along his back. The little guy seemed none-the-worse-for-wear at least. “Where’s Cassius?”
They both looked at each other, then back at me.
Brendan’s scowl deepened. “How’d you know to ask about him and not anyone else?”
I sighed, feeling suddenly tired. “Because I’ve got an idea of what’s happened worldwide. And I can feel that Kokabiel and therefore Ester is fine. Plus Mrs. Cantrel caught me on the way out to tell me about Haruko; she’s asleep as a human again and her father is on a flight out. Cantrel wasn’t sure exactly what went on over here though as there’s been no official announcement yet. Everyone is likely still busy helping the more fae and elemental students.”
That didn’t mollify him. “Yeah, but did you know that Cassius was possessed?” The tall teenager stood to loom over me. “And did you do nothing to help him?”
If I hadn’t literally just experienced the Voice of God booming above my head, I might have been more impressed. I ignored him to look past to Jenna. “Can you just tell me what happened?”
With her boyfriend glowering and about to bump into the ceiling, she pointed at Khan. “I was studying with Brendan here all night. But when I went to leave, Khan ran past. He’d gotten out of Hawthorne. I chased after him, only to find him in Cassius’ room. But it was like that night, you know? He became this big tiger just like in your room when the bomb went off. And he was attacking Cassius.”
I frowned, ruffling the fur behind an ear of the nonplussed kitty. “Attacking?”
“Cassius wasn’t Cassius,” Brendan said. “He was fighting with himself.”
Jenna nodded. “He kept gaining and losing these horrible black wings.”
Shit. Pretty much what I’d been afraid of. “And then what?”
“Cassius,” Jenna said, flinching from the memory. “He told me to get this box from his desk. In it was this coin; it had all these weird markings. He yelled at me to shove it into his forehead.”
A feeling clobbered the stomach like it had been hit by a particularly large demon’s tentacle. Isaiah had told me about how the Grigori hunters had used such a coin against him. They’d failed - but only because Isaiah wasn’t Grigori.
Whereas Cassius was.
I sank to the floor, kitty still held tight. “Oh no.” Khan nuzzled my face before dipping his head to tap against mine more gently than usual.
“You see?” Brendan said, his voice cracking. “She knew.”
“But it was me!” Jenna shouted at him as she smacked a fist against the couch. “I said the prayer! I don’t know how I knew it, but I said it! An exorcism, I looked it up! But why didn’t it work?” My friend’s face twisted in confusion. “It should have just banished the demon. Why did his heart stop? Why did he die?!”
Oh Cassius. You brave, brave idiot.
“Brendan’s right,” I said quietly, resting a cheek against Khan’s soft fur. “Cassius swore me to silence, but I knew. I was the only one he would talk to about it, I couldn’t violate that trust.”
They went silent and stared.
Taking a slow breath, I continued. “He was also an incarnate angel. But his spirit was fallen, a Grigori - possibly the worst of the lot. The Seal binding them all to human lives was temporarily busted. It’s what I was dealing with.”
Brendan shook his head. “Cassius could be an ass, but he wasn’t evil.”
“No, he wasn’t. He fought against his own spirit with everything he had. With everything he was.”
“Then why didn’t you redeem him like you did Kokabiel?” The boy glared now with growing anger. “You could have saved him!”
“He wouldn’t let me touch him,” I said as sadness slumped shoulders and heart. “He just wasn’t ready.”
“Wait,” Jenna said, half rising off the couch in dawning dismay. “You said ‘temporary’.”
I nodded, not wanting to say it. But I’d told them before no more secrets and I’d meant it - good or bad. “We fixed the Seal. To rebind only all the angels and the children born of their union with women. But it took a few minutes.”
She slipped off the couch to join me on the carpet. “You mean…?”
Brendan blurted it out. “Wait, if she hadn’t used the coin, he would’ve been okay? But now he’s been sent to Hell??” Realizing what he just said he turned to Jenna in horror. “Holy shit.” Kneeling besides her, he didn’t know if he should hug her or not touch.
Her hands however began to shake. As did her entire body, eyes rolling up and away.
“Brendan!” I shouted, letting go of Khan so he could hop free. “She’s having a seizure!”
“What do I do??”
“Get her on her side and get that table and couch out of the way! Put your jacket under her head and don’t even think about holding her down!”
With one massive hand Brendan simply flipped the table completely out of the room, sending it flying overhead to shatter its glass top all over the foyer. The couch he shoved into the wall, leaving a wide dent across the plaster. That done, he grabbed the lump of cloth still on the couch and wedged it into position under her cheek as he rolled her onto her side.
Her hand lashed out to catch his face, the blow blossoming into a reddened bruise as he hadn’t put his defenses up.
Khan took that as his cue to scramble and go hide. Brendan then pulled out a phone and dialed for help. All I could do was sit and watch helplessly while my friend thrashed horribly against the floor. This wasn’t due to a wound or foreign infection - it was a byproduct of her brain’s structure and its chemistry. And while my highest self might know a way to stop it, I didn’t. Even trying to power up could overwhelm her and make the seizure worse.
Knowing she’d survived them before didn’t make watching it any easier.
The seizure lasted five and a half minutes. Only when it stopped were the school paramedics willing to get her on the gurney they’d rushed in over all the shattered glass. As they prepared to wheel her out into the cold however, she woke up enough to grab my arm. Pulling me close with a strength that should have been exhausted, her words came out more as heavy breath than clear speech.
“It’s just not right,” she whispered, tired eyes fierce with a pain beyond that of her cramped muscles. “Not for either of them!”
She let go and they took her away.
Brendan stepped up behind me. He was holding Khan who looked like a kitten in comparison to the size of Brendan’s hands. “I found the little guy. You want to take him to your room?”
I was about to answer when Tsáyidiel reached out through the link binding us one to the other.
My Queen, I have found the trail of the scion of Azrael. Though you should hurry lest it fade.
Instead of taking my kitty, I brushed fingers through his soft fur and kissed the top of his fuzzy little head. “I’ve got to go. Take Khan to Penelope, and tell her to call Isaiah. He’s got my phone. Have her tell him that my Hunter found his prey - and that I’m going after him.”
The young man who would terrify lines of scrimmage by size alone met my gaze. “Is it whoever broke the Seal and caused all this?” The blemish Jenna had left beside his nose was already fading.
“Good hunting then. And Jordan…”
I let Tsáyidiel know I was inbound and spread wings.
Chapter 34 - Glory
Camael once said that Creation herself would place stones beneath my feet to guide wherever I needed to be. Which while a scary thought was also in a way comforting. And sometimes those stones willing to hold me up were a lot more than just pavement.
Following the steady link forged between Hunter and Light through many layers of dream and spirit, I arrived at a dark and barren plain of hard-packed dirt all brown and cracked from complete lack of moisture. Whatever sand that may have once covered this land had since been blown, or rather sucked, away.
Through the Gate.
It didn’t appear the same as from Gabriel’s memory, but I suppose that shouldn’t have been a surprise. The billions of souls who had fallen into that slipstream rushing between those twin ivory towers would have slowly changed the nature of the area into the conglomerate of whatever they each expected.
One thing they all must have agreed upon was that this place offered no light of its own by which to see. Instead only whatever flickering and dim inner light of spirit the souls themselves still contained would have been all they had.
The core feeling however was the same: the fury, the regret, and the sorrow-filled despair which had fueled Elohim’s desire to lock away those who had betrayed their brothers and sisters and drowned the realms in blood. All was etched into the underlying substance of that gate and the fundament upon which it had been placed. Across each gleaming stone was also inscribed the names of the Host entire, for each contributed to that which was Elohim - including those who had suffered destruction.
Stretching out from both sides of the opening and towering just as high was the wall. The souls and any other hapless spirits caught in the ever-present draft spiraling through the gap likely had thought that the wall guarded against Hell itself, protecting the “Good” side from the “Bad”.
I, of course, knew better.
The path to Hell was like a tube, that which remained of the narrow space Azrael had left behind when his weapon had so spectacularly failed. This passage is what the Gate itself sat astride. The expanse of wall stretching away from it did not lie between two sides of Creation, rather it marked the barrier against what was Creation and what was Not, lining and guarding the great tear sliced horribly open by Azrael’s blade.
And Matityah, in a black robe much like his father’s, stood before the lightless Gate within a small orange halo cast from a single summoned flame which hovered above his head. Thin wisps of that layer of Chaos flowed into him, spiraling out through tiny cracks the barrier could not help but have after suffering ages of the Chaos’ endless scrapings.
He pulled on them, bringing the gathered alien power within himself similar to what the fallen Grigori Azazel had done.
Using this borrowed foreign energy the Son of Azrael withstood the strong tide pulling past the Gate. And with the Book of Secrets open against an arm he studied all that he could see, glimpsing much more than only what his tiny fire could illuminate.
Guarding him were also eight beings forged of that chaos whose shapes kept twisting and changing every time one looked away. Mouths and claws, eyeballs and knives, fire and spit, they warped the very ground upon which they stood. Whatever limbs touched that dirt needed to maintain a constant shuffle lest they disturb the space such that they would fall on through, moving not unlike lizards protecting limbs from sun-hot rocks.
While Tsáyidiel was a master of stealth and had managed to sneak relatively close, I certainly had no such skills. It’s impossible to hide a burning star’s approach, and with the reforged spear again in hand I wasn’t holding back.
When I was a couple hundred yards away - the shine of my arrival revealing the carved ivory faces of those who had died the day the towers containing their visages arose - Matityah snapped the Book shut to turn and watch as I got closer.
At seventy yards his creatures howled warnings more tasted than heard.
And at twenty-five they reared up in angry protest, the disturbance of their presences ripping at the air.
I decided that was close enough and slowed to a halt.
Matityah’s hood was lowered, his wild blonde hair falling alongside an unkempt beard, both billowing in that wind rushing past the Gate. Between blinks a different dark-haired face would superimpose itself, eyes intent and probing in all the ways I’d seen Azrael’s - and Isaiah’s - behave.
He called out calmly despite the gusts. “You must be Amariel. She said you might come.”
“Alal did? Can’t say that I’m entirely surprised.”
“She also stated you had the potential to be our greatest ally. Though she wouldn’t explain why.”
“It’s a sister thing.”
He considered and nodded. “That actually makes sense.”
“This is a strange place to come to right after making an escape from Earth.”
“Well, things are a lot nicer on this side for one. Speaking from personal experience, you understand. And heading from one prison to another might be considered odd.”
“I have no intentions of crossing. But unfortunately as her gifts lie outside of the expertise of this book, I was incorrect in my calculations. I have yet the capacity to do what needs be done here.”
“Rip this one-way Gate asunder.”
That gave me pause. “You want to free Hell?”
“It would make a good first step. If you’ve been there, like you say, what are your thoughts? Is its existence worthy?”
“Honest opinion? Not the way things are, no.”
“Then Alal might indeed be on to something. You could help me.” He gestured at all the light I was blazing forth. “You certainly are not lacking for power. Not in your person nor in the weapon you wield.”
“But if this is just a first step, what would be the true goal? If you don’t mind me asking, that is.”
The more casual expression hardened and a window opened into a deep and smoldering rage. “To burn it all down.”
“What, Creation itself?”
“The Plan behind everything is rotten!” he snapped. “Surely someone who has been to Hell, let alone lived even a single lifetime on Earth, can see this. If not you still wear the blinders they have shoved over your eyes. Tell me, is existence not full of injustice?”
“And terror? And all the evil that men twist the gift of their imaginations to deploy?”
I stayed silent, and while glaring at what towered before us he continued.
“The hatred, the greed, the jealousy,” he said angrily, “it is all born from their fear of dying. And then there are the diseases and random acts of chance which claim the innocent before their lives ever blossom. Over and over again it all repeats, life after life, all ending in death. Compounding sadness on sadness, loss onto loss.” He paused to shake his head as lips gained a snarl. “And for what? To be forgotten on another turn of the Prison’s Wheel? All the love, all the mercy, all the sacrifice and good - gone! As if never having been. Within scant generations none still remember a single detail!”
Remaining quiet, I let him vent but a small fraction of the immense agony churning inside.
His knuckles went white against the leather tome. “Death is the only enemy. That separation inherent in the Plan breeds only rot and misery! Everything ends. Everything dies. All civilizations, all worlds, even the universe shall eventually be but a smear of background heat, slowly going cold and drifting in perpetual darkness.”
He then turned back to me, his voice rising. “Tell me oh angel! Or better still, show me! Show me that this horror,” he said, nodding towards the Gate to Hell, “is worthy! Show me that forcing all non-human spirits to be bound for ages suffering the lack of their true selves is worthy. Show me that the wars and plagues mankind suffers is worthy. Show me that slaughtering one’s own child can ever be in the right!” Energized by the pain in his words, the wind around us howled louder still.
A great sadness fell upon me. “I cannot show what you would refuse to see. Though all is not perfect, on this we do agree.”
“It should be!” he shouted, face alight with raging inner fire. “And there is but one path to achieve it! This Book confirms everything! For its secrets do naught but point the way: We must tear it down. All of it! Even though that means slaughter - for when that poisoned root is finally pulled free, time itself shall unwind and none of this will have existed. The entire tragedy of horror will dissolve and never have been. Only after such a cleansing may the perfect finally be born!”
“I cannot support that. My heart can never support that!”
He snorted in disgust. “Then you are weak rather than strong.”
“That you would believe so is a sorrow. I have no wish to fight you, but the Book in your hand - it is not yours.”
“This?” He raised the Sefer Raziel, and angelic writing flowed across the cover in pale gilded script. “How would you have more right to it than I? Were its secrets not gifted to Man? And I am more human than you, Seraph.”
“I, too, was once of the Nephelim. My mother was of Earth and Cloud, taken by force by an angel.”
“Yet you hover on six wings of fire. How?”
“By the patience of your father, the faith of a warrior washed in blood, and the grace of one who knows only love.”
“That is no answer! Tell me!”
“It is all the answer I have to give.”
He laughed, a harsh and horrible sound. “Then I will simply pull the knowledge from these pages instead!” Throwing open the Book, he prepared to gaze within it once more.
“You shall not! Relinquish the Book, Matityah, son of Azrael, before it drives you into further madness! I will not ask you twice.”
Snapping his fingers, the abominations closed ranks around him. “You may have holy flame at your command, but one against eight is not in your favor.”
“Again you miscalculate. For I am anything but alone.”
Raising the spear, I let the red flames of Camael’s bracers call out to those I had felt follow behind. In response did seven angels, each clad in the purest shining armor of the servitors of the Most High, appear in blinding bursts of sacred flame.
Winged warriors of the Powers, they who had once followed the Prince whose armored gifts I now wore, hovered at my side. To the one who had saved me above the deserts of Aleppo, I gave my command. “Get me to that Book.”
With a wink, Kalka’il shouted a war cry once sounded across this plain by a much larger host long ago. Yet to my ears this day it resonated stronger still.
“Glory to God in the Highest! Glory! Glory! Glory!”
His comrades enthusiastically responded the same, and with swords, shields, and feathers they charged the terrors which should not be. With me funneling all the power I could summon into each and every one of them, they flocked forward as an explosion of color with which to paint the empty canvas of dirt around us with their gleaming rainbows.
Matityah however did not panic at the sight of that which gloriously swarmed forward. He spat growling defiance instead.
“If so intent are you at being a lapdog of Heaven - then fetch!”
As weapons, armor, and holy spirits crashed into entities defying description, Azrael’s son spun about and with a mighty yell he tossed the Sefer Raziel directly into the vortex sweeping past the Gate. A manifestation of Chaos then wrapped around him as a bubble - which immediately split and split again, repeating several times until a multitude of orbs indistinguishable even to my sight fired off in random directions.
Not that I intended to give chase. For my attention was locked on the Book as the time differentials across those boundaries rapidly accelerated it away.
Matityah may not have had the power to shatter the Gate, but there were those on the other side who might if they knew but how. Beings who if released would cause all the havoc on Heaven and Earth for which the cloak-wearing Nephelim could ever have hoped.
In a blaze of speed I lanced forward in pursuit of the tome as the Powers, singing with reverent joy their battle chants of righteousness, opened the way. Darting between them, I cast a sharp directive to my Hunter.
Tsáyidiel! Track Matityah and have Kalka’il bring him to Azrael!
His response was one I should have expected.
My Queen, for all my love for you, I cannot comply. I failed before to follow you into Darkness, I shall never do so again!
There was no point in argument and so wings forged of brilliance soared besides those of hunted night. As we passed the ivory towers into the depths of the shadowed slipstream, I tossed instead a thought towards what lay beyond:
Twitch! Cassius! Hang on, I’m coming!