Fred hit a ramp that veered off to the right and the helicopter swung around to be seen clearly from the passenger window.
“Hey, the chopper is the other way!” I said more shrilly than intended.
Derek snorted. “Fourteen kilometers of proper highway versus eleven through the Old Quarter and possible crowds? Chill. Fred knows what he’s doing.”
“Keep your eyes on that bird,” Fred added. “We’re going around the city and should catch them on the other side. Derek, we got anything to take it out?”
“Dude, the heavy armaments were in the other two vehicles. This is the shield car, remember? To protect the princess here. We’ve got the comm jammers though.”
“Princess?” I couldn’t decide if I should take offense.
Miguel chuckled from the front seat. “First class ride and the boss told us to be polite. ‘Princess’ fits.” He leaned forward to take a look at the distant helicopter. “Derek, got eyes on that thing and their convoy yet?”
“Drones are inbound. Keep yer shorts on.” Derek gestured furiously yet with tight precision at his tablet. He was controlling it via the camera and finger positions directly. “Wright is right, ha! Two humvees. One in front, one in rear. Rear is sporting the machine gun turret option. And damn that’s a big truck. Construction equipment platform transport, extra wide. Two large shapes covered under black tarps all tied down, a smaller additional one at the back.”
“Those have to be the alcoves, walls and all,” I said and leaned over to take a look at his screen. The two blobs under all the plastic really were huge. “But how the heck did they raise them up intact like that from the synagogue’s rubble in only a couple days?”
Fred muttered a curse. “They may have brought in a specialist. Miggy, if so - priority target. You heard the ROE from the boss, be as messy as you have to be.”
I didn’t like the sound of that.
Our SUV tore along the highway at high speed, with Fred expertly dodging and weaving around the honking cars in our way. He even used the shoulder when things got too tight. The center of the city was in full view out the window, mosque spires sprinkled about between closely built buildings all sharing the same off-white color. Quick snapshots of smaller streets as we went by showed narrower old roads with cobblestones and spiderwebs of electrical cabling criss-crossing above.
At the center of the city was a large separated circle with what looked like an ancient surrounding wall. A castle sat on top of the hill and dominated the city around it.
“What’s the big mound with the wall at the middle there?”
“The Citadel of Aleppo,” Derek answered calmly without looking. “You’re not here to play tourist, princess. Stay focused.”
I went quiet and tried not to hyperventilate. What the hell was I doing here? Machine guns? Helicopters and soldiers? Holy hell. I should have stayed with Danielle, being here was insane. But what good would I have been for her? Her spirit was asleep within her body, floating there and only staying put because of the efforts of Circe and Mr. Lodgeman. I’d screwed up so many things by not understanding my power, filling Danielle’s spirit with that light could very well just shotgun her soul into its next life.
And Raphael was still not taking my calls.
We started to curve back around the other side of the city, and the helicopter was getting closer. It was now just off to the right.
Miguel piped up. “Derek, now would be a good time to confuse the fuck out of their police.”
“Roger that.” A few more swipes and taps and Derek giggled, sounding like some kind of mad scientist who’s creation just came alive. “That should do it! They’ll be chasing reports of shots fired, robberies in progress, and potential riots at all the markets for the next hour. And a dude boinking goats on various rooftops while singing about Old Baghdad. Hey, I think I see the shitty Toyota.”
Swinging through a roundabout, we were suddenly behind not just a beaten up Corolla but the convoy itself.
Miguel cracked his knuckles and stretched his neck. “I’m up. Get past Wright and put me in range.”
Fred quickly glanced over then refocused on the road, thick muscles in his back tensing up. “Derek, can your shields handle the chopper’s cannon?”
The hacker shrugged. “For a few minutes until the portable battery dies, sure. They’ve got a gun not a blaster. But there’s an energy signature coming from the back end of that truck.”
“Get me close enough to that too,” Miguel said.
Coaxing more speed from our vehicle, Fred overtook Nick’s car which was only about sixty yards behind the convoy. As we passed it by I saw that Nick was alone. “Wright’s solo in that thing.”
“The guy’s a mage, right?” asked Fred. “Any good?”
“If you believe his P.R. then yes!” I replied.
The sand-colored humvee in the rear swung its turret around towards us.
“Fuck, we’ve been spotted. Hang on!” Fred shouted, swerving back and forth on the road.
“Shield’s live!” called out Derek in response. A loud electrical hum kicked in from the back end of our SUV, the vibration pulsing through the seat.
Miguel pointed an index finger towards the humvee, bracing the forearm with his other hand. “Closer, dammit!”
The heavy machine gun barked thunder and the road alongside us was instantly chewed up, spitting dust everywhere.
Fred forced the SUV to drop a gear, redlining the engine but causing it to lurch forward.
“Take this motherfucker!” Miguel’s extended finger burst into flame, filling the cabin with the acrid smell of burnt flesh.
I was about to scream in alarm when the humvee in front of us exploded, sending tires, turret, doors, bits of metal, and four fire-consumed bodies flying in all directions. Including right at us.
Pulling in energy, I braced for collision.
Nothing hit. Shrapnel and one guy screaming in flames thudded off some kind of projected field surrounding our vehicle. With my own energy tap now open, I could see it. A shimmering bubble had enveloped the SUV.
“Yeah!” Miguel cheered, and he got busy wrapping his finger in gauze from a white roll he must have had standing by in his lap. The flesh had clearly cooked through. As in black and crispy.
“Jesus Christ,” I gasped. “Doesn’t that fucking hurt?”
“Shit yeah, princess! And then the nerves all die and it’s all good. Don’t worry, Doc will fix me up fine. What these assholes should worry about is I got nine more! Ha!”
Our shield suddenly took an insane amount of fire, rapid and ear-thumping concussions blasting from above.
The helicopter’s gunner had opened up on us.
“It’s holding!” shouted Derek over the incredible noise.
Ricocheting bullets bounced off our shield and made a total mess of everything around. Cars on the other side of the road heading the other direction screeched as they got shredded. One swerved so hard it flipped over to skid away behind us. We bounced harshly as Fred drove over some of the exploded humvee’s wreckage, probably one of the doors. But the cannon overhead was no longer my main worry.
That had shifted to a darkly winged figure appearing out of the top of the truck’s cab.
“Oh shit,” I muttered as its wings spread and it sped towards us. “Swerve left!” I shouted at Fred.
“What?” To his credit he tried, but its speed was too great. And it completely ignored Derek’s mighty forcefield as it phased right past our windshield and clawed an emaciated hand at Miguel’s throat before diving out the side. Oil-black wings swept over Fred and Derek as it went past.
Her wings. It was a woman, and her eyes were covered with the obsidian darkness that was all too familiar.
Miguel convulsed once and went still, his head hanging forward as his body was held in place by the seatbelt.
“What the fuck?” Fred cried out. “Miggy!”
I punched the release on my restraints and found myself leaning into Derek so he could hear me over the concussive sound of the helicopter again opening fire.
“You’ll want to close my door once I’m out.” My voice was strangely calm as I carefully removed the headband devise, placing it on the seat between us.
His eyes went wide but he nodded to me.
Popping the door handle, I let myself fall sideways out of the SUV while reaching for all the light and power I could muster. I’d seen what she had done.
She’d stolen Miguel’s soul.
Bright wings flared outward before I hit the ground and launched me towards the fallen angel streaking higher into the sky.
She spun around to face me while floating in front of an incongruously fluffy white cloud. With fingers more bone than muscle and sharpened into talons she gripped the throat of Miguel’s spirit, dangling the ephemeral image of the man off to the side.
Her expression was blank. Unwashed brown hair floated around sunken cheeks as if draped around the features of a starvation victim. No evil exultation, no regard for the surroundings or to the struggling of the weaker spirit desperate to get away, nor fear or even reaction to the blaze of light streaking towards her. Nothing. She was a shell, and far beyond her I sensed the true malevolence pulling her strings.
Azazel. His dark corruption had consumed her completely, she was no more in control than Derek’s drones were in command of their own fates.
I was afraid that blasting her could accidentally damage Miguel’s soul so I braced to simply slam into her, building as bright a nimbus of light around me as I could.
She may have been under remote control, but she was fast. At the last moment before collision she blipped sideways and shoved her free hand into one of my wings.
If I’d had time to think of a curse before being pulled away, I would have said it.
Nick let loose a string of the worst words he knew in several languages. His beat-up Toyota struggled to keep up with the mayhem being unleashed ahead, in fact he was pretty certain one of its four cylinders was misfiring.
He did, however, have a direct view of a reddish-gold haired girl falling out the side of a black Chevy before taking off into the air like a rocket blasting off from Canaveral, angelic wings and glory blazing brighter than the sun.
“Holy shit! Staying out of trouble my grandmother’s left foot!”
He’d spotted the fallen angel’s attack and subsequent vertical ascent into the stratosphere, but being stuck on the ground he figured there wasn’t much he could do about it. Jordan would have to deal with it herself, unless she lead the thing back down. The Chevy in front of him, however, was taking some serious fire from the helicopter. The chopper had hovered closer so it could pour lead onto its target’s shield.
This was something he could offer assistance with.
With one hand on the wheel, he used his teeth to pull off the other’s glove, holding the palm and its mystical tattoo towards the windscreen. A shouted word later and the glass shattered outward onto the hood, the wind and smoke from the burning humvee he swerved around blowing right in his face. Leaning forward and blinking ash from his eyes, he held the arm high with the palm facing upwards towards the chopper.
Taking a moment to concentrate, the tattoo glowed purple. His fist locked around the mark as he grunted and swung his arm down as if pulling something off a high shelf.
To the helicopter gunner’s surprise his side-mounted machine gun suddenly ripped away from its mount, falling freely towards the ground below even as rounds kept feeding into its firing chamber until the belt itself pulled free.
“Yeeeeha!” Nick crowed before wincing and shaking his hand. “Dammit, still smarts to use that.”
The wide-load truck plowed through a car in the road ahead refusing to slow down. In fact it was accelerating further. The humvee in front swung out to the shoulder so it could let the truck pass, side doors opening to show military-clad men with assault rifles.
“Oh no you don’t,” Nick muttered, reaching over to fumble with the leather satchel resting on the passenger seat. Withdrawing a yellow crystal sphere, he gave it a moment’s consideration. “Considering what you cost to make, I hate to do this but fuck it. I’ll pay her back somehow.”
He tossed the sphere out of the car as if it were a baseball. Instead of arcing towards the ground, the little orb spun itself up and raced towards the front of the truck. Finding the exhaust stack, it smashed through the protective metal flap over the pipe and rammed itself deep into the engine. The sound of shrieking protesting metal spilled over the highway as the truck’s huge engine tore itself apart. With a tremendous shudder the truck started to slow, thick black smoke billowing out the pipe and from under the cab.
“Gotcha!” Nick grinned. “That’s what you get when you mess with a mage who’s prepared!”
At the rear of the truck on the open platform, the smaller tarp slipped free to fly through the air towards the black Chevy. The driver of Jordan’s crew adeptly dodged it, and the tarp hit the ground before Nick drove over the plastic.
What it had kept covered caught Nick’s attention. A circle of painted runes and symbols surrounded a throne-like chair, with a single shirtless man strapped to it. Thick electrical wires ran from three massive batteries into the base of the chair itself, throwing sparks as the system was powered on. The full-bearded man on the electrified throne began chanting and the earth below the highway started to rumble and shake.
“Aw come on! That’s just not fair!”
Smoke and ash filled my lungs.
Whateley Academy had been leveled into rubble and soot. Only the patterns of the destruction gave away what it had once been. Doyle was aflame and the Crystal Hall had shattered into millions of tiny glittering shards. Bodies of students and faculty lay scattered and broken amidst the wreckage, the stench of decomposition mixing with the choking air. My closest friends were among them: Jenna, Evie, Brendan, Tamara, even Penelope was there having bled out from being vivisected by concrete rebar.
The flag in front of the remains of the administration building still flew but the brighter shade of red had been replaced with the raw color of blood as it flapped in a particle-filled wind. Why would someone take the time to swap flags… Oh.
“For fuck’s sake,” I said, crossing my arms while staring at the image of disaster. “Is this the best you’ve got, asshole?”
You could not protect them.
“I mean, one of those kids over there in that pile you so grotesquely conjured up can do hella better than this.”
The light will fail you.
“Am I supposed to be surprised and overwhelmed by these fears? Been there, done that, lost the t-shirts!”
You will fail them all.
“Oh shut up. No shit, something like this could happen. Yeah, it’s terrifying that I might screw up and trigger such a catastrophe. And sure, you scare the living hell out of me. But you know what would be worse? Giving up. So in the words and examples of my friends, fuck you!”
If your fears hold no sway, then perhaps the pain of another will.
“Dammit…” The illusionary setting fell away as everything was tossed down a bottomless pit given strength by someone else’s darkness and despair.
Feathers emblazoned with galaxies and glorious nebulae folded across a weeping angel’s shoulders. In her arms lay the body of a young man who couldn’t have been more than fifteen years of age.
“Shemyaza! Azazel! I do what you ask, but they die! My sons, my daughters, all of them… so many…”
She collapsed to her knees in supplication before the two Grigori captains, clutching her lifeless boy.
Shemyaza, wearing his preferred younger face, placed a palm on her head. “You must keep trying. If we are to avoid being cast into Hell, we must build our army.”
The other captain approached with arms crossed and hidden under a large black cloak. “There are worse fates possibly awaiting us than Hell, brother.”
“Oblivion is preferable to endless torment, would you not agree?“ asked the youth. “Though perhaps you have a point.”
The female angel choked back tears, carefully placing the body of her son on cold marble floor. “I can do this no more. I try and try, but while my essence merges with the human women as you have taught, our offspring just don’t… don’t…” Sobs finally consumed her and she cried out, “I cannot!”
Shemyaza frowned as he knelt beside her. Lifting her chin with a single finger, he said curiously, “Do you truly mean this? Knowing what is at stake?”
“I am sorry, my captain.” She couldn’t bring herself to meet his eyes. “I… I love them too much, their loss is more than I can bear.”
With a sigh, Shemyaza straightened. He turned to his brother, disappointment spilling over otherwise immaculate and beatific features. “She’s no good to us like this, brother. Go ahead and ease her pain.” Putting arms behind his back, he walked away. Her struggles and pain were no longer any concern of his.
“Ease my pain?” She looked up to Azazel, a flicker of hope emerging from under heavy sorrow.
“Yes, dear sister. You need never feel pain again.”
Like his brother, Azazel reached for her. But it wasn’t with a hand. Black ichor-laden tentacles spilled from his sleeve, surrounding and consuming her whole within the folds of his dark power.
She wasn’t even allowed to scream.
Complete darkness. No images, no sound, nothing. Not even the sensation of having a form.
Trying to pull more light, I could feel the inner connection but it was like I was cut off from the universe. A light shining into absolute nothingness goes… where?
Right. Don’t panic and don’t be stupid. Think. I could be floating in the sky with the puppet Grigori sticking a hand in my wings or I had flickered away.
Neither option sounded safe.
But still, that meant I was somewhere, even if I couldn’t sense anything while surrounded by the eternal cold of this total void.
I was in her spirit, and it was empty. Hollowed out and left as a tool wielded by a real bastard from afar.
Wait a minute. If she was a Grigori then she should have been stuck in that whole incarnation trap just like the fae. Considering she likely had been eaten by Azazel before Gabriel (or whomever) did the working that had shoved them all into human lives, captain jerk-face probably would have used his puppet to fight. Which means this Grigori should have been on Earth when the binding spell, Bristlebeak’s Spell of Doom, went off.
If she had incarnated there must be a human body. Shit, that would mean her human self could be nearby in either the other humvee or the truck and she must have astral projected from there. My bet was on the truck’s cab, as that’s where her angel self had popped out from. And if she had a physical body there would need to be a tether leading to the spirit.
If there was a tether maybe I could use it to climb out of here.
But how to find it? Was there a spell or something that would reveal such a thing? All I could see was darkness.
Kirov’s lectures about intent and faith being the keys to any magical working came to mind. Stubbornness I had in spades and I was decent at focusing it, but faith?
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Kirohoshi may have been trying to tell me something, but if I dug down deep with everything that had happened since that day of damnable traffic, what had I believed in the most? Did I really believe God had sent me to do all these things? Except I hadn’t done them for God or because I thought He wanted me to do them.
I’d done them because they needed doing, or more honestly because I had chosen them to be important enough to try. Had God or Hashem or whatever known what I would do? Was I also just a tool?
Or had I just been guided to the right place and the right time where my choices could maybe make a difference. Like with Tsáyidiel and my promise that he’d have a shot at redemption to once again be the glorious angel I’d seen in his past. The light had accepted that choice and acted through me to make it happen. Heck, it had embraced it with a symphony of joyous exultation.
And here I floated in a void which was all that was left of another angel’s sense of self. One who’s hopes had been ripped right out and her entire self - her word and name - had been cast aside like so much trash on a desert highway. All because she couldn’t bear to lose any more of those she loved.
It wasn’t right. It made me mad.
To the light still flickering distantly within, I threw out a prayer like a challenge.
Help me and I will do all I can to help her. I swear it.
All sense of separation and distance to that source simply vanished in the resulting brilliance pouring forth to fill not just me but also shove forcefully into the empty space I had been floating in.
A silver ribbon flared brightly in the sudden outflow and I grabbed for it, willing myself to slide along the length to its other end.
The celestial symphony of that light swelled towards a crescendo and I had my own part to sing.
Nick reacted quickly, unbuckling his seatbelt and grabbing at the satchel. The protesting earth under his car burst upward with a shriek of concrete and dirt, tossing the hapless Corolla as if it were but a Matchbox toy.
The magus rolled out through the space where the windshield used to be as the vehicle flipped over, managing to barely escape from being crushed by the upside-down car as it landed with a loud crunch. Tucking into a roll as he impacted the pavement, he was pleasantly surprised that his recovered coat’s protective spells had some power left in them. Regardless, his previous bruises mightily protested the additional round of concussive pain. Gritting his teeth, he ignored them and scrambled to his feet, booking it towards the Chevy SUV and the sound of small arms fire.
The vehicle’s shields were holding. The driver had spun the car around so he could shoot a M16 through an open window at the men from the other humvee. The Syrian soldiers had opened up with their AK-47s but their shots couldn’t reach the Chevy. Whereas the driver’s steady application of three-round bursts was busy leaving a mess of the humvee’s doors and glass. The former occupants huddled on the far side of the desert painted vehicle popping up to take uncontrolled shots. A quick glance inside one of those open doors revealed at least one unmoving figure.
Running to the back of the SUV, Nick used his knees to skid to a stop next to the brake lights.
“Where are you?” he grunted, shoving a hand again into the satchel. “Aha!”
Pulling out a fraying small Crown Royal bag, he dumped its contents onto the highway: a set of runestones no larger than throwing dice. A guy with scraggly red-hair and curious fashion choice for a combat operation threw open a rear door. “Get in!”
Nick refused. “Can’t! And shut up, need to focus!” Quickly going through each stone one by one he kept some and tossed aside others while muttering, “Nope. Nope. Yep. Nope. Yep.” Once he had the stones he wanted, he arranged them in two small circles on the ground before pulling off his other glove.
From the nearby truck the whine of that throne powering itself up could be heard as the guy strapped onto it resumed his loud chanting. The Chevy’s driver redirected his aim in that direction but it was quickly obvious that the setup on the back had its own shielding mechanism. Sparks flashed in mid-air where the bullets failed to penetrate.
The guy in the heavy-metal shirt shouted at him again. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Saving your ass!” Nick shouted back. “They’ve got an energized bloody geomancer!” Placing hands in the center of the two circles formed by the stones, he closed his eyes and started muttering his own chanted casting. The static electrical potential in the air went up tenfold causing the guy leaning out the door to frown. “Shit, if this fries my electronics…”
The ground underneath the SUV groaned and swayed as if in an earthquake but stayed intact. With sweat dripping thickly from his forehead, Nick grinned towards the bearded caster bound to the truck’s devise. “Weren’t expecting a counterspell, were you?”
From the truck the whine of power cycled up again.
“Nuts.” Nick’s grin faded and he yelled at the ginger-haired youth. “I’m going to run out of juice eventually! So if you can think of something to get past his shield and shut him down, now would be the time! Can you blow it up like you did the first hummer?”
“Man, I don’t even know what the fuck is going on. Our heavy took out their car, but he’s out cold for some damn reason. And according to the ethereal lenses on my drone there are three angels in the sky!”
Three? Nick glanced upward, muttering a quick cantrip to give himself far-sight. Sure enough the kid was right. One bright, one dark, and one clad in armor wielding a big ass sword spewing whitish blue flames trailing through the air after every stroke.
Where’d that one come from?
Two angels fought in the open sky, and I wasn’t one of them.
The first was the Grigori who’d snatched Miguel. The second had silver and gold armor over black leather of a style I thought I recognized, but his wings were a whitish-grey and not the blood red I had suspected.
Also my chest hurt. There was a hand-sized spot over my heart where the green dress and my beloved sports bra had, for lack of a better term, been scorched away. The skin was red and clearly inflamed in that area, but at least it was intact. Mrs. Cantrel’s protective vest must have saved my epidermis from a much worse fate, though sadly her gift had melted clear through.
As for the poor bra underneath both, let’s just say it was no longer capable of offering any support.
The clash of steel on steel demanded attention. The armored guy was swooping at the hapless puppet, but she was now holding a rapier of her own. His attack was swiftly parried and he backed off with wings beating mightily as he redirected. It was clear he had positioned himself between me and the remote-controlled Grigori.
He caught sight of me over a shoulder and called out in a gruff voice. “You’ve recovered. Good! Don’t let the corrupted ones touch you for that is how they spread their blight. This one was trying to take your heart.”
That didn’t sound good. “Thanks!” Shuddering at the thought of her hand ripping into my chest, I remembered something important. “Hey! What happened to the soul she grabbed?”
Keeping eyes on his expressionless opponent, his flaming sword pointed towards the horizon. Except he hadn’t aimed at the spot where the scorching afternoon sun would eventually set. Revealed to the sight within my burning eyes was a spiritual path leading off from the sky into the otherworld. And Miguel was slowly walking forward towards a light other than that of the shining sun.
Oh shit! “Keep her busy for another minute! I need to save him!”
“The mortal goes to his reward. Why interfere?”
“He’s part of my team, dammit!”
The armored angel regarded me while the dark Grigori adjusted her position to defend against a possible dual attack. “If he is your comrade, then go. By God’s grace, I shall hold.” Without further delay he launched another mighty flurry of sword-strokes towards the Grigori. She flipped backwards to avoid them, dark wings sweeping a tight arc as she countered with a few rapid thrusts of her rapier.
“Thanks! But don’t kill her, she needs to be saved too!”
His reply was lost to the wind. I had already put on a burst of speed to try and catch the tunnel fading from the afternoon sky.
Bullets bounced off the shield above Nick’s head. The helicopter had swung lower, and while its main cannon was gone that wasn’t preventing the side gunner from opening up with a stream of lead from his personal rifle.
Exhaustion from countering the geomancer’s attempts to flip or impale the SUV with the very ground it rested upon was starting to take its toll on his focus. The SUV’s driver - an obvious exemplar with the way those muscles threatened to shred his shirt - had stepped cautiously out of the car in order to get field of fire at both the helicopter and at the truck driver who had come around firing a pistol.
The truck driver was now on the pavement having taken a few rounds to the chest.
“Any thoughts? Name’s Fred by the way,” said the mound of muscle after peppering the underside of the chopper with a few more rounds.
Nick snorted. “Thoughts? Sure. I should have been a research wizard.”
“Heh. Look, Miguel is unconscious but seems physically unharmed and Derek is babbling about angels. You’re the mage, any ideas? Could you wake Miguel up? I bet he could take out the geowhatchamacallit dude.”
Shaking his head, Nick replied. “I can’t step away from these circles or we’re going to get earth-hammered.”
Derek poked his head out from the backseat. “You’ve got another fifty seconds before he can cast another spell. I’ve been timing the charge-up sequence. It’s taken longer each time; I don’t think those conduits were made for this kind of rapid abuse. They’re probably overheating.”
“Shit, I’m the one overheating,” Nick muttered while wiping another glop of sweat from his face. “Give me fifteen seconds warning, kid!” He ran to the front and threw open the passenger door, quickly placing a palm on Miguel’s forehead. “I thought you said he’s physically unharmed!”
“What?” Fred fired off another burst at the Syrian forces still behind the other humvee. They were shouting at each other in Arabic, but over the sound of the low-flying helicopter it wasn’t clearly heard.
“This guy’s heart stopped!” Nick shouted, then frowned as he sensed other things deeply wrong. “Uh, also not good.”
“Fuck! Move!” Pulling Nick out of the way with ease, Fred yelled at Derek. “Defibrillator, now! And one of my kits!”
Derek scrambled and yanked two small cases out from under the seat, tossing them over Manual’s unconscious form at Fred. Fred passed one off to Nick. “Get that open and push the big red button so it’ll charge!”
Nick flipped the case open, revealing two corded paddles. He mashed the indicated button and he felt it powering up the capacitors. Fred had already opened the smaller case and pulled out a tube ending in a medical needle. Kneeling on the asphalt, he plunged the needle into the crook of his elbow.
“What the hell?” Nick exclaimed. “You’re doing drugs at a time like this?”
“Not drugs,” Fred said with a clenched jaw. He pulled another tube and needle from the case and shoved that one into Miguel’s arm. “My blood’s a healing agent. I’m the damn medic!” As Nick watched, Fred’s case vibrated and pulled blood from Fred’s arm to pump it into Miguel’s.
“I’m not sure how much good that’ll do! Because…”
“Just shut up and hit his chest with those paddles!” Fred leaned out of the way as best he could, his bulked up torso making it difficult.
“Derek, time check!” Nick barked as he reached across to pull up Miguel’s shirt.
Placing the paddles on Miguel’s chest, he looked at Fred. “I’m sorry, but this just isn’t going to work.”
“Why not?” Fred said as he picked up the rifle with his main hand, ready to fire if just to keep the humvee guys locked down.
“Because his soul is gone.”
Fred went pale, and not just because his blood was draining into Miguel. “Say what?”
“Jordan is up there and I’m pretty sure she’s fighting the one who stole it.”
“Fifteen seconds!” Derek called out.
“Fuck it, hit him anyway! Do it!” Fred screamed.
With a shrug, Nick triggered the device. He wasn’t sure he had enough mojo left for another counterspell anyway.
Miguel walked in a trance towards the light at the end of the tunnel.
And I was failing to get him to snap out of it.
“Miguel! Wake up!” I shook his shoulders, but the glazed expression didn’t change. My attempts to just pick him up failed too, it was like he was locked onto an immovable railing heading inexorably into that light.
Problem was, it was both like and unlike my own tower of light. It represented more of a boundary between what lived… and what didn’t.
Frustrated I stared at it while trying to figure out what to do. My vision expanded and I could see where the light actually came from.
Tremendously large dark wings stretched out and encompassed the entirety of that boundary. Miguel was heading towards a small pin-prick shining through those black feathers, a single star within an otherwise empty sky.
At the center of those wings hovered a hooded figure, massive scythe held in dark hands. I’d seen that weapon in Aradia’s past and somehow I knew that the scythe itself was holding Miguel stuck to the path his feet were inexorably taking him along.
I shouted at that figure. “Azrael! Let this one go, we need him!”
The angel didn’t respond. The hood hung low in front and all I could see was the bottom of a beardless chin and lips locked into a grim unmoving line.
“Please!” Desperate, I tried pulling on Miguel again. “C’mon, break out of it! Let me get you out of here!”
A flash of electricity arced between us and Miguel convulsed. Did I do that?
His eyes blinked to gape at the sight of the massively winged angel hovering before him. “Madre de dios!”
Before I could respond, a voice boomed from all around us.
“Am I dead?” He looked at me, and then past to the star calling him into Azrael’s embrace. “So beautiful…”
“Miguel! Listen to me!” I cried. “Your friends need you! And if you want to go back I can take you! But you have to decide quickly!”
He frowned. “Friends?”
“Fred! Derek! They’re down there fighting…”
Recognition flowed across his face. “You. You’re the princess.”
Again the voice, but louder. “CHOOSE. NOW.”
“No time to explain!” I said, feeling his chance slipping away. “Do you want to go back? Please, Miguel…”
Once more he looked wistfully towards the star. “So pretty. But I can’t… I can’t abandon my friends.”
Miguel broke free from the pull that eventually catches everyone, and before he could change his mind I grabbed him around the waist and flew out of there as fast as my wings could carry us.
Nick lost his grip on the paddles as a tremendous flash of electricity burst into Miguel. The defibrillator must have seriously malfunctioned and overloaded. It even scorched his already burn-sensitive hands. “Ow!”
But with the resulting spasm from the shock, Miguel’s eyes snapped open and his chest sucked in air.
“Miguel!” Fred sobbed in relief.
“Shit!” Nick turned and raced towards the empty circles on the ground.
“Dude!” Fred shouted at Miguel. “We need you to fuck up that bastard on the truck! Now!”
Slamming pain-filled palms onto hot asphalt, Nick tried to focus but his head was spinning. Thoughts scrambled trying to remember the required incantation.
He could feel the geomancer’s spell reaching once again into the structure of the earth below, and compared to the energy Nick could still summon it felt like a roaring inferno versus Nick’s tiny matchstick.
“Hey asshole,” Miguel was shouting.
“To you I give the double bird salute!”
The entire rear end of the truck exploded.
As soon as we emerged from the tunnel back into the sky over Aleppo, I not only could see the tether from Miguel’s body to his soul, I could feel it tugging hard.
I let him go and his soul snapped directly back towards his body. I felt more than heard a bell chime, and I knew it had gotten there.
Which was good because right now I had other fish to fry, specifically the dark asshole controlling the Grigori.
Spinning about I caught sight of both her and the armored angel with flaming sword, a blade with flames seeming less enthusiastic than they had been earlier. His armor was also sporting spots blemished by nasty looking black scorch-marks.
As far as I could tell she was unharmed, though she had seemingly lost her rapier.
Remembering what I had shouted at Tsáyidiel, I gathered the energy and unleashed it with a word towards the dark Grigori.
Unlike with Tsáyidiel, who at the end had tried to accept the light, she darted silently out of its way before launching across the sky. With claws extended those black on black eyes mindlessly tracked her target. Me.
This time instead of trying a body-slam, I shifted my focus and a different set of symbols flashed through my thoughts. With another shouted command, a sphere of brilliant light surrounded me.
She screamed when she hit.
As those claws slowly penetrated the sphere I grabbed her wrists, shoving as much light as I could through her with a singular intention.
To burn away Azazel’s connection.
She thrashed in my grip, and her cries of pain were merged with another’s. Azazel was screaming too.
“Take that, you bastard!”
Her wings beat against the light that held her fast, and I felt more than saw shreds of corruption starting to peel off and float away like ash escaping a burning log. But I sensed a problem for under that darkness her structure had been so weakened it was in danger of collapse. Trying to remember Raphael’s guidance with Tamara’s soul, I searched for places that would be safe to cleanse.
Except she was so hollowed out I couldn’t find any safe spot from which to start. Within Tsáyidiel had still been the faded remains of his name, while dim and clogged with crud it was there. It had given the center and focal point for the entire pattern.
Hers seemed to have been totally washed away.
You see, it is futile. This one is completely mine.
The evil laughter pissed me off. “Oh really? Shut up and fuck off!” Finding the ichor-laden tether attached to her back like a baited hook stuck in a fish, I shouted another word to cut it free and she collapsed forwards into my arms. The laughter instantly disappeared and the menacing presence was gone.
She was free. And a sword tip aflame with white holy fire chose that moment to burst upward out of her chest.
“No!” I cried in horror. “Why?”
With a quick tug, the armored angel withdrew his blade. “She fell a long time ago, let her suffering end.”
Staring at his helmed face in absolute shock, I felt an urge to blast him too. “Don’t you see? I could have saved her!”
“The fallen cannot be saved. It is our sad burden to contain our brothers and sisters in Hell. Or if need be end them.” He sighed deeply. “My host reaches his limit and I have carried out my duty. Be wary, young sibling, for another fallen Grigori lies below, albeit not corrupted by the taint of the Abyss like this one was. Yet still dangerous.” He raised his sword in a salute and before I could think of how to respond or even ask his name he flickered and was gone.
Leaving me holding a dying angel.
Plunging awareness back into what was left of her spirit, I tried to find something I could support her with. A memory, a spark, anything from which the rest of the pattern could use as an anchor.
All that there was to find was that final scream-less moment when her own captain had betrayed her, even after she had sacrificed so much at his command. Was that really all that was left?
Off in the deepest corner was an emptiness walled off from the rest. It was tiny, but it was solid.
I touched that spot with the light and it acted like a perfect mirror, no light allowed to penetrate. It all just reflected off.
From that buried recess came a thought.
Let me die.
“Please! I can help you!”
I am not worthy. I deserve only death.
“That’s not true! Just let me in, I can’t help you unless you let me!” I cried, trying to pour all the love I could muster towards her voice.
But the mirror fell silent and the edges of her spirit continued to fray away into nothingness.
There was this weak tug from outside, practically no more than a light breeze. Holding my breath, I felt for it again. A dental-floss sized link from her towards the ground below, now precariously weak but it was there. Her incarnated body still lived, struggling to keep going because that’s what life does even if the spirit wishes otherwise.
Like Danielle’s body had done.
As they’d explained to me before, a body can only hold on so long. If I couldn’t reach through that barricaded spot and convince her she had a reason to continue to exist, there wasn’t much I could do. But it was sealed off and no longer listening. I was shut out.
Siabh’s smile as she faded away at the temple flashed through my mind.
Sometimes you only need to find the right words.
I didn’t have them. But I knew someone who might.
Hurrying towards what had to be the angel’s body, I only hoped it could stabilize her spirit so it would live long enough for me to somehow keep another promise.
Miguel, with fingers healing rapidly due to the infusion of Fred’s blood, made quick work of the other humvee and also the helicopter. Their flaming wreckage was swiftly added to the rest scattered around the highway.
Derek popped out of the SUV and offered the tired magus a hand up. Taking it, Nick wobbled on his feet and peered past the hot sun at the truck. The entire throne setup, the batteries, and the geomancer were no more. If he had to make an educated guess, Nick speculated that Miguel was a reality warper, able to reach into a realm of massively compressed fire and teleport it wherever he wished in a way that ignored shields or matter existing within this dimension.
To do it, however, he had to shove a part of himself through to connect directly to that fire.
Fred’s blood was incredibly potent and by the time Nick staggered over he could see Miguel’s fingers had already healed.
Remembering the angelic fight above, Nick looked upward to be blinded by a burst of immense light far brighter than the afternoon sun. “Shit!” The rest of the team also flinched, turning eyes away from the glow.
It was Derek who commented. “That ain’t good. No matter how much fake chatter my program is causing to confuse the authorities and keep them busy elsewhere chasing false reports, they’re going to come investigate that. Think she’s okay?”
Nick tried to blink away the spots from his eyes. “I think she IS the brightness.”
Miguel nodded. “Homes, you speak truth. She carried me out of death.”
Ignoring the implications of that, Nick said, “We need to grab whatever has been hidden in that synagogue all these years and get out of here.”
The burly medic looked over at the truck whose back end was still aflame. “Hey, the detonation must have blown off the tarp. You can see the stone walls of that alcove of yours.”
The quiet buzz of a small drone whirred past. Derek was back on his tablet guiding it over to the truck. “There’s a dude standing next to it, he seems to be chanting.”
Nick groaned. “Oh for fuck’s sake, let me see.”
The deviser handed over the tablet, and Nick paled.
“You recognize him?” Fred asked.
After a nervous swallow Nick nodded.
“It’s Callas Soren.”
Miguel had been quite busy after his soul was restored. After speeding through the thickening smoke his handiwork was obvious as the back end of the transport truck had shattered like someone had cracked off the end of a diving board and stomped the pieces into dust. Everything past the rear axle was just gone. Charred bodies mixed with the remnants of the chopper and the other humvee, the sight and smell reminiscent of the terrible illusion I’d just escaped.
Except this was real.
Cradling the spirit of the dying angel with one arm, I ripped the door off the cab and peered inside. The driver had apparently bailed and given everything else likely gotten killed, but the passenger seat was occupied.
A girl no more than fifteen and wedged inside a white straitjacket at least a couple sizes too small was curled up unconscious in the seat. My heart damn near broke at the sight, but I couldn’t waste time. As carefully as I could I tried to place her angelic spirit back into its physical carrier.
It slipped easily inside but the girl didn’t wake up. Not that I expected her to.
Gathering her physical self into my arms, I pulled her out of the cab. Honestly she didn’t feel any heavier than her spirit had been. Her face was as gaunt as her angel-self, just younger, and where long brown hair should have been was only a shaved scalp.
Good lord, what had this girl been through?
Fred’s SUV was parked at an angle some distance behind the truck but it sat empty. Where the heck was my team?
Fighting off panic, a surge of magical energy came from the bed of the truck. The first tarp had a large hole in it, but the second had blown clear off and landed in the empty desert beside the highway. Cars were stacked up on the road and people had gotten out to busily take pictures of everything with phones and actual cameras.
Shit. I must be quite a sight. Just what I didn’t need.
I wondered if they could see the flaring of magical power like I did as a barrier snapped into place around that second chunk of rock the truck had been hauling around. Another warding, maybe not as large but still effective, popped up on the ground nearby.
Flying above both, I finally got a good view of what the hell was going on.
Within the smaller magic bubble stood Nick, clearly concentrating as he projected the barrier from those marks on his hands. Standing next to him was Fred and there were what looked like intravenous lines running from each of their arms into a small little box Fred was holding. Nick gestured and yet another flow of energy curved around the original barrier as if to contain it in place too.
Which was, of course, the barrier where a certain dark-skinned and well-tailored guy just happened to be standing right next to the excavated ruins we’d been chasing after. He was also holding a very ornate and ancient book.
Ah hell. He’d already raided the alcove.
“SOREN!” I shouted, landing between him and everyone else. Off to the side within Nick’s bubble I spotted both Miguel and Derek. Miguel was on one knee and held a large assault rifle aimed at Soren while Derek sat nearby fiddling with his tablet.
“Jordan! Get out of the way!” Nick yelled, but I ignored him.
Callas Soren calmly observed as I had drifted down to step onto the bed of the truck just outside his barrier. His expression was rather disconcerting. He beamed with transcendent exultation.
“Aradia!” he said with a broad smile. “If you only knew how overjoyed I am to see you.” And then the bastard took a knee and bowed his head with, dare I say it, reverence.
“What the hell, Soren!” I yelled. “Are you behind all of this? Are you working with Azazel?” If so that barrier of his was about to get blasted with everything I could muster.
He rose slowly, holding the book carefully with both hands. “No. I came to prevent him from getting this.” He held up the book.
The cover was inscribed with symbols matching those in August’s spellbook, and just like the ones on the scroll they danced in multi-dimensional motion as if physical laws were merely suggestions to the hand that drew them. Kurohoshi’s speculation appeared to be dead on. I blurted out, “Holy crap, is that what I think it is?”
Soren laid a hand almost fondly atop that spellbinding cover. “Archangel Raziel’s gift to mankind, preserved and kept safe.”
I heard Nick’s sharp intake of breath behind me. He probably had suspected what was kept locked in that alcove, but confirmation was still a shock.
“How did you get here?” I demanded to know. “Did you portal in?”
“Jordan!” Nick shouted again. “We can’t let him take that book! He’ll be unstoppable!”
Nick was right. But within the straitjacketed girl still held so tightly in my arms a spirit continued to decay. A strong intuition kicked my gut. She wasn’t going to last long, she had maybe hours before there would be nothing left of her to save.
“Nick, can you heal an angel’s spirit? Restore hope where there is none?” I asked while keeping eyes firmly locked on Soren.
“Answer the question.”
“I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”
“Then shut up.”
He went silent.
I stared at Soren meaningfully, but he shook his head sadly as he took in the condition of the girl in my arms. “There is nothing I can do, even with this tome. It pains me to admit it but Kokabiel is too far gone. Her sand is quickly running out.”
Kokabiel. At least now I had a name. “I don’t buy that!” I growled. “I need to get her to Whateley. I had thought of trying to step across into spirit and back into my room there, but I don’t think I can carry her across. At least not physically. And if I were to pull her spirit out again, I think it would shred into a billion pieces in the process.”
He agreed. “The great barrier is still intact and she is manifest as human. While you’ve opened passage for yourself, that path would be denied her.”
“Can you portal us?”
Nick, guessing my intention, protested faster than Soren could respond. “You can’t be serious! That book is so dangerous it’s not even funny!”
Pulsing with energy, I threw a glare at the mage. “As dangerous as the scroll you sent through the damn mail so casually? An angel is dying, Nicolas!”
He didn’t flinch. Without batting an eye, he said harshly, “Sometimes that is their job.”
Soren interjected. “If I may say something, given where this conversation seems to be going…”
“What?” I asked, Soren’s question interrupting the urge to kick Nick right then and there.
“If it would ease your conscience, consider this: I was the one who originally secured the book under the ground, long before the synagogue was built. Solomon himself asked this of me after reaching the conclusion that mankind was not yet ready for the knowledge this holy book contains. I have kept it safely ensconced therein ever since.”
“Bullshit,” said Nick. “There’s no way you’re that old.”
Soren smiled. “Solomon was a brilliant man. Using the knowledge gained from Raziel’s gift he was able to manipulate the barrier that lies between this world and others, allowing a man’s freely made choice to open a conduit. You have used his previous efforts continuously, Nicolas, every time you worked with demonic forces. Also consider, how else do you think I so easily and quickly undid the wards protecting it if I was not their creator?” He said the last with amusement.
“Because,” Nick started to say but stopped. “Fuck.”
“What will you do with it?” I demanded of Soren.
The ancient magus considered before giving a somber answer. “If I use it, it will be in the service of one thing only. To see your purpose fulfilled.”
“What the heck do you mean by that? What’s my purpose?”
He gave the girl in my arms a quick glance. “You are already on the path, but only you can decide to bring it to fruition.”
“My purpose is to save her?”
“That is up to you. I will gladly open a portal to outside the Whateley wards if you leave the book in my hands. Someday, when you are ready, we shall hopefully read it together.”
“I don’t want that kind of power.”
“Wants and needs rarely align.”
Now that was a statement I could agree with. Yet I still was confused by something. “If you could have opened a portal to grab it at any time, why didn’t you just take it back at the synagogue right after they pulled it up?”
He smiled. “Only the purest light can cleanse the corruption of the primal chaos. Kokabiel would likely have infected me.”
Oh. That was a good point.
Nick turned to the others. “You guys willing to let this happen? Weren’t you sent to collect that thing?”
Miguel, keeping the sights of his weapon on the target, replied. “Our orders were to follow her lead. And that’s a dimensional barrier he put up, so my fire can’t get through it. Besides, if she says he can take it, you really going to argue with an angel straight from Heaven? What’s wrong with you?”
The comment about Heaven caused Derek and Fred to look at him funny, but both stayed quiet.
I’d had enough. “Nicolas, back off or I swear I’ll shred that barrier of yours. My skills still suck, but I’m damn good at hammering things.”
After a moment’s pause Nick said, “You actually mean that.” The warding around Soren’s barrier withdrew. “I think it’s a horrible mistake, but go. Save her if you can.”
“If I can’t, I have to know I did everything possible. I just… have to. Alright Soren, the book for my portal to Whateley.”
“I will take only you and the child, if that is acceptable.”
Fred, sitting on the dusty ground and looking rather pale, spoke up. “We can make our own way out of here. We’ll even see Nick out safely unless he wants to bugger off.”
“Gotcha. Soren, you’ve got a deal.” I looked over at Kurohoshi’s team. “Guys, it was great meeting you. And thanks.”
Fred nodded tiredly whereas Derek grinned and said, “Take it easy, princess!”, giving a thumb’s up without looking away from the drone’s streaming view on the little screen. Miguel smiled, lowering his gun to make the sign of the cross over his chest before kissing the back of the hand. “Go with God! Should you ever need me in the future, I am yours to call upon.”
“Thank you, Miguel. Given how things have been going, I just might.”
Somehow that seemed to make the guy even happier.
Nick just stared, his expression now unreadable. I gave him a simple nod. “Nick.”
“Jordan. At some point we should talk.”
“You’ve got my number and know where I’ll be.”
I turned back to Soren, making sure the girl was secure in my grip. “Do it.”
Without a word his barrier fell away. I had to admit his control of the energies involved was perfect, his magical working was incredibly elegant and efficient. Then again, if he’d read that book in the past what else would one expect?
With a simple wave of a hand the air nearby shimmered to reveal the gargoyles of Whateley’s main gates. A morning sun shone brightly upon them.
I walked forward and together we stepped across the world.
A cool breeze rustled through the feathers of the wings.
The source for how my life had been tossed completely upside down and driven sideways stood at my side in a dress shirt and swirling black and gold Jerry Garcia tie. The shift from a desert combat zone to the peaceful New Hampshire forest surrounding a campus full of children was like a dream, the dawning sun surreal in its sudden and temperate demeanor. I still had so many questions for this man who started it all, but time was running out for yet another child. A child only the unlocked potential that had slept within my spirit all those years could help.
I hoped she could forgive the delay, but I had immediate concerns needing answers.
“The other angel who fought Kokabiel. Who was that?”
“The angel Kalka’il, one of the Powers.”
“Before he left he said there was another Grigori on the ground. Did he mean you?”
A small smile. “No, not me.”
“But you know who he meant.”
Soren breathed in slowly and let it out. “Yes I do.”
I met his twin dark eyes with ones of fire. “Who?”
“I have found it best to let them tell others when they are ready.”
“That sounds like the voice of experience.”
“I have walked this world for a long time and in so doing have made my share of mistakes.”
“Am I one of them? You’ve uncorked this unbelievable power within me, one terrifying in its scale and beauty. From each beat of these wings is born a hurricane. Where is this going, and where does it end?”
The smile faded, replaced by an expression rarely seen. Somewhere, somehow, in ages long past a belief crossed the line to fanatical devotion. He radiated that faith, total conviction shining pure within those brown eyes. But it wasn’t directed towards a god above.
It was placed solely in me.
He spoke as if reciting a benediction. “No matter what comes, never doubt that you are meant to be. For you are the answer to Creation’s prayer. There are burdens you are not yet ready to shoulder, but they shall wait. Study, learn, and rejoice for your time will come.” He looked past my shoulder. “Soldiers. I should go.”
“Soldiers?” I turned and spotted a Whateley Security jeep barreling down the road.
When I looked back, Soren was gone.
Lt. Forsythe drove the jeep. Instead of taking to the air to go to him, I stayed where I was. I had concerns about the campus wards and how they may react to the straitjacketed girl in my arms. Or to me.
“Jordan!” He shouted out the window as the jeep skidded to a halt nearby. “It’s a red flag day, you need to power down!”
He flinched as I glared at him. Power down? I had someone who needed help, dammit!
The other member of security in the jeep was already on the radio, calling in to Doyle and relaying to expect a patient. Oh. They understood.
I closed my eyes, pushing down the flash of irritation. When I opened them Forsythe had gotten out of the jeep and was offering to take Kokabiel and get her into the backseat.
“She’s physically unharmed,” I told him. “It’s her spirit that’s dying.”
He carefully loaded her in. “What can we do?”
“Tell them to find Evie Whitscomb. We need her. Also, this girl’s spirit is fallen. If the rabbi has warded against angels, he’ll have to take them down so she can come in.”
That news caught him off guard. “Is she dangerous? Could she infect others?”
I shook my head. “No. But I need to go with her if she’s to have a chance, and if I let go of these wings I’m likely to collapse from exhaustion.”
He pulled out a thin square package from the rear of the jeep. “Get in. I’ve got a tarp.” He must have had a ton of questions, but give the guy a lot of credit as he was professional and knew when such curiosity needed to be put aside.
Somehow I managed to wedge myself, wings and all, behind the rear seats of the four-door Wrangler. He pulled the plastic sheet over as best he could and told me to stay down until he said otherwise.
Tarps. Useful for covering huge stones concealing mystical artifacts and also ridiculously bright angels. They should use that in their advertising.
He must have grabbed the radio from his partner because I heard him yelling over it about not caring if the rabbi was at breakfast with the damn Queen of England herself, he needed to open the wards at the entrance immediately!
Poor Kirov. I’d disturbed yet another one of his mornings. Had it only been yesterday that I’d gone in to yell at him?
“Hang in there, Jordan,” Colin said once finished with his ranting. “They’re getting it done.”
Soon enough he had us turning around and heading back onto campus. No wards got in the way.
When we pulled up in front of Doyle, nursing staff rapidly unloaded the girl. The Lieutenant reminded me to stay put, he must have his own sixth sense because I was seconds away from saying screw it to the red flag restrictions and going in with her anyway. Instead he drove around to a loading dock behind the hospital, backing in the jeep.
“Keep that tarp over you and get in the freight elevator. Visitors are on the first floor, they’re putting the girl on two.”
What followed were the most awkward ten steps I’ve ever had to take. Have you tried to keep two huge blazing wings under wraps while walking under a tarp happily preventing you from seeing anything? I’m surprised I didn’t trip. Or accidentally burst through another wall.
Hey, me and walls have a history of difficulties. Totally their fault too.
Someone else was in the loading elevator holding it open. The doors shut and a woman said, “You’re clear. Here, let’s get that off you.”
I recognized her. She was the doctor who got me to a warded room after one of those wall-impacting events I just mentioned. And yep, she had those sunglasses on again.
“Did they find Evie?” I asked, fumbling to refold the damn plastic sheeting.
“Here, let me.” She took the mess from my hands and adeptly turned it back into a neat and compact square. Now that’s real magic. Placing it under an arm she said, “Yes. She was still in her room. Another student convinced her to come out, seems she’s been in there since yesterday afternoon.” She looked me over. “You look like you could use another shirt.”
Ugh. She was right. The hole through the various fabrics on the center of my chest was threatening to expose a lot more than I had realized. “Dammit.”
She grinned. “We’re going to need to put in an extra supply of spare clothes just for you. I’m Rita, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you, Rita. You know, again.”
The doors opened to the second floor and she led me towards the room where they’d brought Kokabiel. Being Whateley, I only got a few second glances from the staff or even the patients as I went by in all my blazing ridiculousness.
Evie, though, caught sight of the glow from down the corridor where the regular elevators were. “Jordan! Oh wow, you have wings!” The purple-haired girl practically tackled me with her hug, ignoring the blinding light-show which was my skin.
So I flared with relief at seeing her, okay?
“What’s going on?” she asked after I managed to wrestle her inside the room. Rita closed the door behind us. To my surprise, Rabbi Kirov was already in there.
“Jordan! You were due to land in Aleppo only two hours ago!”
“Uh, I did. I took a shortcut home.”
He blinked behind those thick glasses, looking like a confused wide-eyed owl.
“I’ll tell you about it later. Can you do something to ward this room? I might have to get, well, even brighter.”
He refocused immediately. “What are you intending?” From the grime on his hands, he had obviously helped the nurses peel the straight-jacket off the bald child lying on the bed. I really hoped that wasn’t going to prove to be a mistake.
“Kokabiel - that’s the name of this girl’s spirit - is falling apart and I need Evie’s assistance to reach her. If she doesn’t accept my help, there’s nothing I can do.” I almost added that she’d be lost forever, but if I’d said that aloud I’d have started to cry.
“Are you sure this is safe for Evie?”
“If it looks otherwise, I’ll get her out immediately. But honestly, I’m not sure what else to try and Kokabiel doesn’t have much time.”
He pondered, then nodded. “Your room would have been a better choice, but I will do what I can.” Shit, I should have thought of that. I also wondered if he was only willing to let me try this out of an overblown faith that God was my backup.
That was a disturbing concept all on its own.
He got busy walking the room and praying in Hebrew, leaving me to try and explain better to Evie.
She had gone pale after seeing Kokabiel, her joy at my return having fled. “You want me to save her?” Shoulders anxiously bunched up.
I took hold of her hand, squeezing gently. “I need you to use your magic, sweetie. Your orbs of love, she needs those right now. Maybe talk to her if you can. She’s been through some horrible things and isn’t listening to me.”
“But you think she will if I try?” Eyes full of fear yet also of trust gazed at me.
“Yes I do. Because if anyone could understand and show her how to still be brave, it’s you. With your talent, you can reach her far better than I or even Louis ever could. She needs the love - and forgiveness - of someone just like you.”
I tried to put the instinct that had been shouting behind my mind into words. “Because after all she’s gone through, her spirit desperately needs someone to love. Someone special like you.”
“Oh.” She thought about it, looking at the unconscious girl. “Okay.”
Kirov finished his prayers. “That’s the best I can do without needing a few hours and either chalk or paint.”
“Thank you, rabbi. You’d best step outside too.”
He looked like he was going to argue, but his wisdom won. “I’ll be right in the corridor should you need. Though given what you are about to do…” He stepped closer to put hands on Evie’s shoulders. “Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu al ha't'vila.”
What he’d said was, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us concerning immersion.”
Immersion - yeah, weirdly appropriate.
He paused as if trying to think of a prayer to offer me, but I just smiled at him. “I’m alright.” He seemed disappointed at that, but left the room.
“You ready?” I asked Evie, leading us closer to the bed. I nudged a chair over with a foot.
“I hope so,” she replied.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be there too. You’ll be fine. Though you may want to sit down.”
She nodded and sank onto the chair, keeping a fierce grip on my hand. Reaching out with its non-squished opposite, I stroked Kokabiel’s forehead and let the perception of spirit take over, willing that connection to flow into Evie as well.
We hovered in Kokabiel’s raw emptiness, my arms wrapped around Evie’s projection to hold her tightly and keep her safely enclosed in a powerful bubble of light. Pouring out love for her was the easiest thing in the world.
I just hoped that was universal.
“Where are we?” Evie asked, pressing backwards into me. “It’s…” She was stuck for words.
“Hollow,” I finished saying for her. “A darkness corrupted her pattern so thoroughly that there is almost nothing left. Nothing except… that.” I pointed out the tiny mirrored sphere lurking within the corner of the tremendous void. It still reflected all and therefore absorbed nothing.
She trembled and shivered. “It feels like when I get lost.”
“I know, sweetie. And she is more lost than you ever were. She was betrayed by those she trusted the most, after sacrificing to them what she came to hold most dear. Worse still, she feels she was abandoned by God.”
“By God? Was she?”
How could I answer that? “We’re here now. And if the source of my light is God, then I think it has sent us. Both of us.”
“You think only I can help,” Evie said slowly. “I am needed.” She straightened, her spirit mustering resolve. “Jenna says you can boost people’s magic. You should do that to mine.”
“You sure, hon? It might be hard to handle.”
“I don’t think I can project through her denials otherwise, they’re too strong. Can’t you feel them?”
“If this gets to be too much, tell me, okay?”
“I will. And Jordan?”
“If anything bad happens… just know I love you, okay?”
I choked up. “I love you too.”
Reaching to that ever-present source of power, I sent one last prayer.
This is the best I could think of to save Kokabiel, the best I could do to fulfill my promise. So please, please help us!
That done, I began pouring energy into Evie. Not all at once, just a little more and then a little more, not wanting to overwhelm her soul. She soon was glowing with her own brightness until she floated there in that darkness like a white dwarf next to a larger companion star.
She worked towards summoning her orbs of light, and in this place it became clear how she was doing it. She was calling forth her own happy memories full of laughter and joy, weaving them all into a compressed bundle of emotions and packing them higher and higher. But they weren’t as pure as one might expect. These were memories of love even in the midst of sorrows, moments of kindness shining through the tapestry of past pains. Flashes of all the times love had cut through the deepest of despairs and revealed a world that could hold much more than eternal darkness. There weren’t many of them, but the number of those memories had grown in more recent times.
She carefully scooped them out one by one and the orb between her hands grew in size and power. Finally she topped it off with the shining image of two spoons and a single empty container of Haagen-Daaz.
Tears of shimmering diamonds fell away below us and they weren’t all hers.
That brilliant spark lay in her hands, and she nudged it towards the blank dark sphere reflecting away all the light I tried to give.
Evie’s offering, however, slipped right through.
For a moment nothing happened and we held our breath, if we even needed to breathe in this place. The void remained deathly silent, except for the cracking and crinkling sounds from its existence continuing to flake off and fall unto oblivion.
Then we heard it. A soft and quiet sobbing.
Evie reacted before I did, pushing out of my arms and rushing closer to that mirror. Except the surface now held a single image: an angel with wings reflecting the immeasurable stars of the cosmos held a boy dead in her arms, tears flowing freely onto the lifeless face of her own child. Evie cried out, “She needs me!”
She didn’t and as I grabbed for her, Evie followed her orb past the mirror. Its surface pulsed and wavered as she too slipped inside.
The surface shattered before I even had the chance to panic.
Shards burst outward, forming a night sky glittering with reflected glory across the empty and waiting hollowness of this space. At the center of the explosion floated Kokabiel. Except instead of a lost child in her arms, she now held Evie. An Evie who had become a living orb offering her unconditional light and love deep into Kokabiel’s heart.
I reached for them through the newly formed stellar field cascading around us, but I no longer had hands. My source was burning with a sudden and overwhelming need without thought or reason.
Illuminated by Evie’s love was the last dim and fading ember cast off from a sun who’s light had fallen to the suffering and sorrows of a tragic past. For that was the very meaning of her name. Kokabiel was ‘God’s Star’.
And that dying star cried out to be lit anew.
Already lost to the shining impulse slamming through me from above and beyond, the resulting stellar supernova carried us all away.
Tile floor was cold as it pressed against my cheek.
What the… oh. Oh!
Lifting my head, the world went dizzy and the hospital room spun about.
It wasn’t the only thing spinning.
Filling the air and darting through the walls was a massive swarm of Evie’s happy bubbles. They were freely dancing, shaking, and generally pinging all over the place.
But around the bed they formed a layer protecting the sunken-cheeked girl who was holding Evie in her arms.
Our eyes met as I slowly stood up, the reborn star in hers burning clear. Her irises were pure bright circles within a perfect sky blue.
“Kokabiel,” I said, awed by the beauty of that stellar flame.
She replied in a whisper which echoed across the room.
“The stars, they have a message for you. The light must speak with Sandalphon. It is so written!”
“What? Kokabiel!” But it was too late, the bright centers of her gaze faded to black leaving behind a terrified little girl. One who instinctively hugged Evie even tighter.
“It’s alright, you’re safe,” I said to Kokabiel’s incarnate self, trying to smile as gently as I could. My wings were gone and I wasn’t currently a lamppost, which was good as that would have scared the girl even more.
Her lip quivered, and she whimpered. “Where’s mamma? Where’s pappa? The car…”
She wasn’t speaking English.
Evie stirred, raising her head. Sensing the girl’s distraught state, two of her glowing orbs swam closer and slowly sank into the girl’s hands.
“You’re okay now,” Evie said, though it was clear the girl couldn’t understand her.
Under the skin the soft luminescence traveled up the arms, spreading calm… and Evie’s love. The girl passed out, but not into unconsciousness.
She simply slept.
“Did I over do it?” Evie asked.
“I don’t think so, hon. You gave her the first peace she’s felt in far too long.”
“Oh. I think I’m tired too.”
I leaned down to kiss her forehead. “Then you should sleep too. I’ll take care of things, you just rest.”
“Okay.” Her eyes fluttered, wanting to close.
“You’re amazing, you know that? You saved her.”
She smiled but before she too slipped into slumber she whispered, “No. We saved her.” Entwined in each other’s holds, the two girls fell away into the land of dreams.
Within Evie’s protective empathic layer, I was certain those dreams would be of peace, joy, and most of all… hope. Shining bubbles or no, the sight of those two lying there was enough all on its own to warm the coldest of hearts.
But I had other things I needed to do besides standing in awe of what I had just witnessed.
Kokabiel had spoken of Sandalphon. I’d done research while waiting for my flights. In the lore Sandalphon was the archangel tasked with writing names in the Book of Life. You know, the same book August had forged a connection with.
The book that could save Danielle.
I left to find the rabbi. If I was right, I could use August’s ties to reach the archangel.
Apparently we were destined to have a chat.
I found the rabbi sitting on the floor in the hallway sporting a beatific smile and singing Hebrew prayers to himself.
“Kirov! Hey, Kirov!” I shouted at him to no effect. Crap.
Kneeling down in front of him to try and get his attention, I heard a rip.
The poor green dress I still hadn’t changed out of had given up, the last of its stitching around the battle damage on my chest had let go.
I woke up the poor rabbi alright. By giving him a spectacular and sudden view of feminine assets.
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” I muttered, quickly trying to cover up.
Flushing beet red, he tried to stammer out words but failed.
“Dammit!” I said, feeling a giggle trying to rise. Throughout the corridor Evie’s empathic sendings were busy darting to and fro, and one had just zipped into me to erase the embarrassed anger. “Do you realize, rabbi, that I’m two for three for flashing you Kirov brothers? Anton got a fine view when I first woke up with these.” I laughed in spite of myself. “Maybe I should go find Gregory so he doesn’t feel left out!”
Immanuel Kirov joined in with a warm booming laugh, and soon we were both on the ground leaning against the wall while tears of laughter - and for me, relief - fell down our cheeks.
“How is… how is…” he eventually tried to ask, his shortness of breath making it difficult.
“Kokabiel? She made it. Her human self is sleeping, who knows what she remembers. And if I had to guess, I think she spoke Swedish. Evie is sleeping in there too, her heroics tired her out. She was amazing, rabbi. Simply amazing.”
“As are you,” he said, still smiling.
Yeah, that got me to blush too.
“My wards failed against that brilliance,” he said, trying to regain some modicum of seriousness. “I’m afraid this intoxication will have filled most of the hospital.”
“Is that a bad thing?” I grinned.
He slowly got to his feet, offering me a hand up as well. Yeah, I kept one arm across my chest to hold loose fabric over things as best I could.
“Doctors and nurses need to be able to focus,” he said. “We’ll likely need to bring in the next shift rather early.”
“Not until things clear up,” I said, pointing out a few floating giggle-machines.
“Oh dear,” he said.
I had an idea. Hoping he’d notice, I sent my thoughts towards where I knew he’d be, where he always was. Stuck within the tank allowing his radically mutated body to live.
Louis! Can you hear me?
The immaculately dressed Louis Geintz appeared besides us. “Jordan! And rabbi!” He had a silly grin.
“Oh jeeze, you’re effected too?”
Louis nodded. “The empathic wave overpowered my psychic shields. You being here explains the magnitude.” He noted the emanations still floating around. “Astounding.”
“I think we need to clean this up,” I said. “I’m not sure how, I was hoping you could do it. Doctors shouldn’t be laughing and all distracted while treating patients.”
“If I give these someplace to go, I think I can take care of this,” he pondered.
Kirov startled. “Is that safe?”
I understood. Giving Louis a (one-armed) hug, I smiled at the rabbi. “I think Louis deserves a proper day off where he can unwind the same way many people do, don’t you?”
The rabbi didn’t get it at first, but it finally dawned. “Ah, yes. I see. Tvayo zdarovye!”
Kissing Louis on the cheek I said, “Go have fun.”
A strange expression crossed his face. “You could join me.”
“I can’t, I’m sorry.”
His crestfallen reaction pulled at me, I had to explain. “Not because I don’t want to!” I said quickly. “But I think I know how to save Danielle and I better be sober to pull it off. Can I give you a rain check? Please?”
A soft smile returned. “I’ll hold you to it.”
“Good!” I smiled too.
He gazed towards the closest bobbing orbs. “I do believe this will be the most pleasant psychic task I’ve ever had.”
So saying the psychic began scooping up and swallowing all the emanations of light and joy that could be found.
Louis was about to be a very happy drunk.
After explaining to a curious Kirov what Kokabiel had said about Sandalphon, he was instantly on board.
It wasn’t until the early evening that we were able to get everyone needed back together, despite my protests. Kirov and Circe had insisted on me napping the rest of the afternoon and also on not disturbing August’s schedule. She’d been cleared to go back to her cottage the night before and had spent the day trying to catch up in each class.
While I tried to sleep it had proven difficult. Dreams kept filling with burning bodies falling out of helicopters or getting splattered across highways from exploding vehicles. Then things would shift to watching fae warriors get cut down by a madman Cuisinart dervish of blades and slaughter.
Wasn’t too restful. If Evie could bottle those orbs as a sleep aid, she’d make millions.
After a dinner spent snugging a certain tired yet happy and proud purple-haired girl before sending her properly to bed, the crew gathered in my room where a lack of sufficient chairs became immediately obvious. August and I hopped on the bed, Isaiah stood with Kirov and Lodgeman, and Circe took the only chair.
August wasn’t too fond of the whole Sandalphon idea when I finished telling her about it.
“Are you nuts?!”
“Well, maybe?” I said. “But what else can we do?”
“People, look,” she said, clearly uncomfortable. “Somehow I swallowed that scroll and got all connected to the Book of Life, sure. But have you all thought this through? Like how I’m this Grigori who is not totally all happy happy with the Host because they were jerks and told us to piss off when we wanted to go home? Plus the ensuing kicking us all to the curb after?”
“But how else-,” I tried to say before she cut me off.
“Let me finish! Sandalphon is like one of the big guys, he’s totally on the Council! Does poking him in the face with the fact that his holy book has been compromised by a fallen exile sound safe to you?”
“She has a point,” Isaiah said carefully. “We don’t know how he’ll react.”
The rabbi chimed in. “Lore states that Sandalphon incarnates on Earth as a human as well, he walks among us with his feet touching our ground. This is the source of his name. If any on this angelic Council - which I would love to hear more about - would be sympathetic to the plight of the Grigori, it would be him.”
Isaiah frowned and held up a hand to add something further. “Tamiel, sorry, August did not intend to absorb the scroll. She could potentially use that as the excuse to talk to him, asking politely how to remove the connection without damaging the sacred book itself. Would an archangel object to such a reason? This could even be the safest action for August herself instead of it being discovered under circumstances where they might think she was trying to abuse the accident.”
August wasn’t convinced. “Dude, you have no idea how fixated some can be up there. If the Powers or Michael find out about me, I’m screwed.”
“How much do you remember?” I asked. “You know, of Heaven, angels, and uh… all that stuff?”
She shrugged. “Too much. It’s like every time I close my eyes something else from the past is trying to shove itself into my face.”
I sighed. “August, I’m know I’m horribly biased - I’d do anything to save Danielle - but is it really safer to pretend nothing happened and just hide out? Won’t Sandalphon eventually notice you dangling from the book? Either we ask him to help you, or we may need to try and figure out how to cut that connection to keep you safe.”
She paled at the suggestion. “That would be bad.”
“How so?” Lodgeman asked from where he’d been silently leaning against the wall.
A frightened girl answered. “Because the dang thing has entwined itself to my name! You cut that, and you cut me!” She trembled.
I wrapped arms around her and she let me give her a hug. “There will be no cutting of August’s spirit. None. Okay? But how do you know the book’s done this?”
She sniffled, pulling away to grab at a nearby box of kleenex. “I’ve looked. I’d been drawing my name, remember? So I wanted to see it more clearly for myself, even if it’s all faded because of being kicked out. There are these new lines of energy woven through it, and they all flow towards the book! I’m afraid it’s trying to rewrite me!”
We all gawked at her, trying to understand the implications. And I couldn’t help it, the flashlights in the eyeballs kicked on to take a look.
Holy shit. The old and diminished symbol for Tamiel which before had lain quietly was now pulsing and shifting even as I watched. Multi-colored strands kept pushing and pulling, as if trying to shove the writing into a different pattern entirely.
“Uh guys?” I said slowly. “She’s totally right about this. I can see it. The book is messing with her core.”
“That settles it then,” Isaiah said firmly. “Unless anyone here knows how to help her deal with what is happening to her, or know someone else who not only can help but also would be willing to travel quickly in order to do so, our hands are forced. If the book is shifting her spiritual essence, it sounds like this archangel is the best and the safest option. I may have zero understanding of magic and angels, but this is simple logic.”
“I agree,” Circe said. “Both Charlie and myself have limited experience with the angelics, let alone what it means when one’s name undergoes a change. Nor does our good rabbi, I believe.” Kirov nodded to that. “This,” Circe continued, “is beyond the rest of the staff as well. Therefore we should figure out how August and Jordan contact Sandalphon.”
The girl shook her head. “I haven’t agreed to this.”
“Child,” Circe said, shifting to a much gentler tone. “Consider that the book may be acting in self defense. It is possible what it is doing is trying to pull apart your soul entirely as a safety method to remove your influence.”
“Oh my god,” August blurted, staring at the sorceress in shock. She wasn’t the only one who’d gone ashen-faced at the idea.
I was still gazing at the patterns, and I had to both agree and disagree with the assessment. August’s previous name was indeed being pulled at, but other strings seemed to be reinforcing different sections at the same time. They did, however, indicate a way to do what was proposed.
“Guys?” I said, once again biting at my lip. “I think I can answer how to do it.”
They all looked at me.
“I can see where the threads are coming from so I bet I can spirit us up to the book itself. And, uh, I’m a damn good beacon for getting someone’s attention. If Sandalphon can’t see me coming then he’d have to be so blind he’d be unable to read his own damn pages.”
Isaiah crossed his arms. “How and when do we do this?”
“We? What’s this ‘we’, Kemo-sabe,” I said, sticking my tongue out at him. It was completely juvenile, but the resulting expression on his face was totally worth it.
I turned to Kirov with more seriousness. “We should inform Mrs. Carson first, so she doesn’t give everyone here detention instead of just me. And maybe move Danielle from Doyle to here within the circles like we should have done with Kokabiel.”
Kirov looked dubious. “Are you up to doing this now?”
“Every day that goes by risks something my heart can’t bear to lose. I may be a wreck when it’s over and I’m back to being human again, but while powered up I should be fine.” Mentally I added, ‘I hope’ to the statement, but hush.
Circe stood. “I’ll talk to the Headmistress and make sure she understands the pressing need. Charles can see about moving Danielle. Meet here in an hour and a half.”
That was that. In ninety minutes we were going to finally try and save Danielle from being lost to her next life. She deserved to finish this one. And hopefully we could help August in the process. If I said I wasn’t scared at the idea of ringing an archangel’s phone like a random telemarketer, it’d be a total lie.
But for my niece I’d pick up a phone to God Himself and yell at Him if I thought it would do any good.
Mrs. Carson wasn’t so easily convinced. Lodgeman, Circe, and the rabbi were summoned to her office to discuss things further. Something about taking too many reckless risks with too many students. She was apparently rather upset about the events at the hospital and having to haul in the next shift of nurses and doctors early on double overtime. The staff exposed to Evie’s explosion of giddiness were simply too useless to continue work, even after Louis’ clean up efforts.
Oh, and Carson was also not happy about the report of the said psychic being silly drunk off his astral ass and hanging out at the pub while belting out Karaoke songs for hours on end. Patrons apparently had become intoxicated simply by walking in the door, so a lot of them joined in for quite a party.
Honestly, that sounded hilariously awesome.
Charlie had already arranged for Danielle to be moved up to my room before marching to the Headmistress’ office, and the transfer happened with surprising quickness. The staff at Doyle might have been afraid I’d unleash another silly-fest on them if not appeased.
I’ll have to remember that threat for later, even if it would take Evie to deliver on it. Could be useful. Heh.
This left me, August, and Isaiah awkwardly sitting at Danielle’s side while waiting for the word from on high on what to do. And Khan was here too, of course. But he had finished eating and was now staring out the balcony doors.
It was raining again. Naturally.
“You should just do it,” Isaiah said suddenly, breaking a long silence.
I blinked. “What?”
“You heard me. While they’re busy debating and out of the way, go. If Carson or any of the Mystic Arts faculty had any better ideas they would have tried them already. We’re out of options for Danielle, and August may be in danger from any further delay as well. What’s the worst they could do to you?”
“They could expel me.” I thought about that and gave a bitter laugh. “You’re right. If it saves Danielle and they kick me out? Totally worth it. If it doesn’t work and they still kick me out, well, my main reason for being here would be gone anyway.”
August stared at the two of us, not quite understanding the statement, but not questioning it either.
“Exactly,” Isaiah said. “As Danielle’s legal guardian, I give you permission to try.”
“Yeah, but what about her?” I asked, pointing at August. “Don’t we need her parents’ approval too?”
That’s when August piped up with, “Uh, I called my mom an hour ago. Circe made me.”
Isaiah regarded her quietly, but I boggled. “What did you tell her?”
“Well, she was told about me being in the hospital after seeing you and everything. I had to tell her about some of the angel stuff but that’s okay, she’s Christian. A little weird, but Christian. She told me that she’s always felt I had a destiny, and that even though she misses me terribly she sent me to Whateley so I could discover and follow it. She said that if God was calling me, I should answer the call. I’m not sure she understood everything I told her, she just kept saying she had faith that I would find the right path. Circe even spoke to her and after they hung up she decided there was permission enough to do this.”
Wow. What a crazy phone call to have to make. “Huh. Well…”
“Do it,” Isaiah said firmly.
Danielle was unconscious in the bed, I.V. fluids still trying to give her body enough nourishment to survive. She looked pale and even thinner than anyone - even a fae - should ever be. She was dying. I knew how that looked all too painfully well.
“August, lie down too. I don’t know if you’ll come with me while I try to follow the threads, but brace yourself for if you do. If not, I’ll pull you in if I get to the right place.”
Obviously scared, she nodded and stretched out on top of the thick purple comforter.
“Stand back,” I said to Isaiah. He took a position just outside the circles. Making sure his toes were clear, I let go of the self-imposed restrictions and sighed with immediate relief from no longer holding myself to, let’s be honest, human levels.
Careful not to whack Isaiah in the face when I stretched out the wings, I re-centered for the task at hand. Gazing into August the lines of energy coalescing around her core were easily found. They were bright and effervescent, symbols swaying in that multi-dimensional language of fiery intent. As I reached out to connect to them, her body reacted to the light. Those ancient and arcane sigils started dancing visibly under her skin, flowing like living tattoos. On her arm one held still and allowed a shining finger to touch it, forging a bond between my consciousness and all the rest of the symbols spinning within the young girl.
That was something I was utterly unprepared for.
I screamed at the sudden agony. Not from physical pain, but of total perceptual overload. Within that thread lay a connection to every soul in every living being on not just our Earth but worlds uncountable. A unification of the stories of all living things, written into the tapestry of existence. I fell into that connection, losing pieces of self as I did, for the light which sustained me also shone brightly at the center of each spirit as an indistinguishable spark. Each spark was the same yet different, touching everything across the cosmos and beyond.
There’s no way you can be ready to comprehend such a thing.
“Oh shit! It’s too much! I can’t…” Somewhere far away a fragment of self was babbling and fell to her knees. But it was such a small piece. When compared to the glory of the Light it was but a tiny drop within an ocean larger than the galaxies themselves. There was a distant perception of August crying out as well, but it was quickly lost within the storm of voices swamping over everything: each soul, each spark, calling out in a cacophony of need, wishes, anger, love, and yes, despair.
My entire sense of self would have been washed away but a voice, gentle yet stern, separated from the tidal wave of burning prayer to speak in painful clarity, somehow overpowering all the rest. “Focus on your own heart and center, let it anchor you. Find the piece of the light which is uniquely yours and let it be the firmament from which you perceive all.”
My own heart? Where was that? Within. But what could hold against such a maelstrom? Thoughts of Danielle steadied the awareness. Thoughts came also of Tsáyidiel, Kokabiel, and Tamiel, all angels whose voices and names similarly had cried out in pain within the darkness of their own isolation.
The tapestry was filled with so many cries of need within that same illusion of darkness that I couldn’t take it. It hurt to see, it hurt to hear, it hurt to feel, such a beautiful existence surrounded them yet so many felt forgotten and abandoned because they could see no light to guide them, no light to give them hope.
Somewhere back in a small attic contained within a building full of children equally striving past their own pain for that hope, a hand touched a burning shoulder to offer the only comfort it could. The simple reassurance of not being alone.
Feeling that simple touch given with compassion and love showed a truth. No one was alone. The same spark lay infinitely within all, if only they could see. It sat behind every soul, every spirit, behind every atom, every mountaintop, and every star. It gave everything existence, fueling it all with a pure intent and promise.
A promise they just needed to see and hear, to touch and taste. A promise in whose embrace all their darkness and pain would eternally be washed away. A promise my heart wanted to shout and cry until it reverberated endlessly across the universe.
I was filled with the fire of that need and powerless against it. But I also had a specific need, a need shared by the brave hand touching a shoulder now in flames to trying to keep one of their treasured family from being swept away.
It gave focus and with that focus the light pouring from within and without lensed itself into a singular shouted message.
A hazy silhouette appeared and towered over the tapestry of shouted needs, hopes, dreams, pains, and fears. The outline of a tremendous hand reached down, passing seamlessly through all the threads before incomprehensible fingers plucked me forth.
I’d obviously managed to get someone’s attention.
The world coalesced into something understandable. We all stood in an open field full of wild grasses and flowers swaying in a gentle wind.
And by ‘we’ I meant the three of us: August, me, and somehow Isaiah. There was also a bearded dark-skinned guy wearing khaki shorts, sunglasses, sandals, and a sleeveless t-shirt. He reclined on a beach lounge-chair, a margarita complete with tiny folding umbrella resting next to a lime on a small side table nestled into the grass.
He held a book and while a casual glance showed only a trade paperback, if stared at directly it kept wanting to expand in size. I looked away from it quickly and was glad when he closed its pages.
My head still tilted and spun from the perceptions and understandings which were so immense a mind couldn’t hold on to the details. Not and remain sane.
“Oh wow,” said August as she gazed at the endless waves offered by the many-colored petals and lush green grass. “Where are we?”
“A dream,” I answered. Ignoring the guy in the chair for a moment, I checked on Isaiah first. “You okay?”
He nodded, but yeah, he was rather pale and in clearly in shock. He held up a hand and shook it, muttering, “It’s unharmed.”
Oh heck. It was his hand I had felt. I fervently hoped I hadn’t scorched it too badly and somehow given him third degree burns.
The guy with the sunglasses coughed politely to get our attention, followed by a genial smile once he had it. “There are some days that turning the page brings quite a surprise and today was one of them. Welcome. I believe you were looking for me?”
Isaiah was too awestruck to speak, so I spoke for him. “You’re Sandalphon?”
The guy gave a nod. “I have that honor, yes.”
“We have a…” I shook my head and tried again. “We need your help.”
“I constantly listen to uncountable cries and prayers for aid, but I do believe yours just now was one of the loudest and brightest I have ever witnessed.” He chuckled, holding up a hand to forestall my next attempt at speech. “I apologize. Sudden shifts of perception can be unsettling if one is unused to them. I believe I understand your situation.”
“You do?” August asked.
He gestured towards the book. “I am allowed to cheat and read a little ahead. It’s a privilege of the office.”
“Oh,” I said, a bit puzzled. “So will you help us?”
Really. What is it with the obscure responses from these guys? Raphael had been that way, Soren had done it only a few short hours ago, and now this dude. I wondered if they kept score of how often they could respond enigmatically to lesser beings and the winner every millennia would receive free cosmic cheesecake or something. Or maybe its a union thing.
I decided to take a stab at it, and pointed to August to start with. “I came into the possession of something I didn’t understand and when she looked at it, it decided she was cozy and took up residence. But it’s changing her essence, rewriting her word. If your help for her depends on something then either you will need to examine her or you’re going to do something like ask her what she wants to happen. Probably both.”
“The Book is an entity in its own right. Sometimes it does unexpected things,” Sandalphon said, and with a quick and easy hop he got up. His chair must have been scaled to match his height perfectly because the guy was tall. Like taller than Brendan tall. By at least a factor of two. He had to kneel down on the grass just to look a very nervous August in the eyes. His smile faded as he examined her pattern, and he actually looked sad.
“What’s wrong?” I asked nervously. “You don’t look too happy there.”
He stood up more slowly, pulling on his beard before speaking again. “One name departs and a new one comes. The cycle of life is ever present. The Book is slowly modifying this Grigori’s word into something more, something capable of handling the energy requirements of being a witness to life.”
“A witness to life?” I asked while internally rolling my eyes. Cheesecake. Definitely cheesecake.
Isaiah was nodding his head. He’d figured it out. “A reader of the book. It’s preparing her to be able to read it properly.”
August’s eyes bugged out. “Whoa, really? What will that do to me?”
Sandalphon held the tome before him, placing one hand on top of it. “You will change and no longer be Tamiel of the Grigori. What name may come has yet to reveal itself. The interaction of having a physical incarnate during this process could be interesting.”
“Is it dangerous?” Isaiah inquired. “To herself or others?”
“Potentially, but not necessarily,” the archangel replied. “I would advise, however, that she restrain from any attempts to push her own will upon the pages. Doing such requires a delicate hand, as well as special circumstances. Otherwise she should be fine.”
“That brings us to our other issue,” I said, unable to wait any longer. “My niece. She’s dying. Even though her body is healed and her spirit was restored, her life is fading away.” Taking a deep breath I plunged ahead. “We pray for your help that her name be written in your book for this next year… and many years thereafter.”
Sandalphon regarded me with a compassion much like a certain dragon had done. “Losing a loved one is always hard.”
“She’s not lost yet!” I growled, flaring as I did so. The other angel didn’t react.
“Her life is incomplete,” Isaiah interrupted before I did or said something stupid. He must have gotten over being in awe of Sandalphon’s presence, because his tone was focused and determined. “It is not her time to die.”
“Are you sure of that?” Sandalphon asked, taking him seriously. “For it is clearly written that she passed from life unto death, from the domain of this book into that of another.”
My friend did not flinch, in fact his reply echoed loudly across the meadow.
“She is needed. And that need is now.”
Sandalphon raised an eyebrow. Lifting the book, he flipped through the pages until finding the one he wanted. His eyes went wide as he read, and when done he slowly closed the volume again. “I see.” He soberly regarded the three of us and his shoulders sagged as if suddenly old and tired.
“Will you do it?” I asked, unsure about the guy’s unsettled reaction.
“It will be done. And may the Most High have mercy upon us all.”
Before we could respond we were summarily kicked out of the dream-space.
We all came to back in the attic. Rabbi Kirov and Circe had arrived, and Kirov was sitting in my chair where he’d been studiously pouring over one of my new references. Circe had refreshed her protective circle on the floor outside the main set and was sitting within it as if content to remain there until the end of the world. I’m guessing living through that many ages taught one a lot of patience.
I rushed to Isaiah, wanting to see his hand. “Are you okay?”
He held it up. “I think so?” His skin wasn’t burnt but where it had touched me the flesh had turned black. Not dark tan or anything, instead it was now a pure obsidian that seemed to swallow all light. “Your shirt,” he said, looking at me.
Glancing down, I discovered I’d lost yet another t-shirt. The shoulder fabric had burnt away from where his hand must have rested. Hey, at least this damage hadn’t flashed anyone. Kirov getting a glimpse was one thing, but I don’t think either Isaiah or myself were ready for such a moment between us. Too freaking weird.
Both instructors stood up. Circe checked on August, the girl seeming rather shaken but otherwise alright. Kirov adjusted his glasses and looked to me and Isaiah expectantly.
I spoke. “He said he’d do it.”
“Sandalphon? You talked with the archangel?”
“We did,” said Isaiah somberly.
“Dude?” I asked him quietly. “You sure you’re okay?”
“I… I have a lot to think about.” Yeah, I could understand that all too well. Honestly, the poor guy looked shell-shocked.
Impulsively I hugged him. “Thanks. You kept me from getting lost.”
He hugged me back tightly. “We don’t want that.”
From the bed a weak voice was heard. “Jordan?” All eyes snapped towards the source: Danielle’s eyes were struggling to open.
“Danielle!” I shouted and Isaiah let go so I could rush to her side. “Hon! No, don’t try to sit up, stay there.”
“I feel like shit.” She coughed.
Circe put a hand on Danielle’s forehead. “No fever. You’ve been unconscious for quite a few days and suffered from spirit-loss.” When I looked imploringly at the sorceress she gave me a kind smile. “I believe, however, that you shall recover.”
I couldn’t help it. Tears flowed freely.
Danielle looked at us all, expression blearily puzzled. “I dreamed of the fae… and you were there. There was a fight…”
Taking her hand, I said, “It all happened. But worry about it later, you’re back now. That’s the important thing.”
“Oh. Okay. I’m really tired.” Her eyes were still not opening fully. I looked back to Circe.
“She needs normal sleep,” Circe said. “And given the circles under your own eyes, you could use some yourself.”
Paying attention to it gave it strength. I no longer had wings and wasn’t powered up, and the nap I’d had earlier hadn’t done any good. The relief of having Danielle awake again was met internally by a sudden and total exhaustion.
August was standing there openly staring at me.
“What?” For a moment I wondered if somehow more of my clothing had burnt off back there, exposing god knows what.
“Jordan. I can see it!”
I frowned. “See what? The book?”
She shook her head. “No, your name! Your angelic word!”
That got Kirov’s attention. “What is it?” he asked, bubbling with instant curiosity.
“It’s… well,” August said, frowning as she tried to express in words. “To say it here would sound something like…” She paused.
“Like what?” I said in a strained voice. I was almost afraid to find out.
The attic swam, much like the hospital room had done earlier. The spoken name reverberated through me like an elemental rush of fire and ice. Steam from that mix separated and it was blazingly clear. The name, burning there at my center, was the unobstructed tap and conduit to the source. All limits had been burnt away, leaving only the single perfect inscription.
And I knew within Kokabiel and Tsáyidiel the name had been inscribed as well, connecting their hearts to mine and through me to the source as well.
I’d seen it before without understanding what it was.
Kirov recited Hebrew. “Vayo'mer 'Elohim, yehi 'or vayehi 'or.” He paused in a moment of reverence. In a voice quiet with awe, he said, “Amariel means ‘El has spoken’, or alternatively since Hashem’s word is by its very nature inviolate, it can translate to ‘El has Promised’.” He looked at me, his face shining with joy. “It’s a beautiful name.”
The rabbi had quoted Genesis. And Elohim said, let there be light, and there was light. God had promised the light as the beginning of everything, and somehow I was that promise manifested directly as one of His angels.
Shit, is that all?
Knees went weak, preparing to collapse.
Isaiah placed that blackened hand back on my shoulder, once again steadying me. Quietly he whispered the same thing he had said when first seeing me shine within Kirov’s office.
In the end Mrs. Carson handed out detentions like they were on sale and had been shoved onto a ‘these items must go’ cart. I was to scrub Hawthorne from top to bottom every weekend through the rest of the term, and August was assigned to the Mystics Arts building cleaning up the magic labs for a month. We also had to compose essays detailing all the crazy risks we took and why those were bad decisions. Mine was a lot longer than hers, and to be honest I wrote what Carson expected to find, not really what I believed.
That was a trick used to good effect in appeasing biased sociology professors in college, so I’d had a lot of practice.
Kirov himself received a letter of reprimand placed in his file for ‘endangering a student’, namely letting me use Evie to save Ester ‘Kokabiel’ Berglund. Yeah, they did manage to find the girl’s extended family and were still figuring out what to do with her. Given the circumstances, I had a feeling another scholarship was about to mysteriously appear.
As for Kirov and his reprimand, he didn’t pay it much mind and commented that “if it was always easy to do the right thing then it would not carry as much glory in the eyes of Hashem”. I wasn’t about to debate that with him.
After a day spent discovering all the homework I had to make up in every class and visiting a rapidly recuperating Danielle, I got back to Hawthorne to find there was a package waiting for me. One marked with large overnight priority labels and a ton of stamps.
It had no return address, but I opened it anyway figuring it was from Nick or maybe Fred had sent back Gregor’s headband devise I’d left in the backseat of their car. Unwrapping old newspaper (from the nineteen-forties no less!) I found instead a pair of black and gold bracers made of a material which the labs here later had a heck of a time trying to identify. I recognized them though, because I’d seen them - or ones just like them - in the vision of being carried away by the angel who wouldn’t let Aradia save her closest friend and mentor.
Inscriptions in that angelic script lined the armor piece, flowing words of power and defense which were becoming easier and easier to read.
A note placed atop the newspaper in the package read as follows:
I wish to congratulate your quest’s ultimate success in the restoration of the young Danielle Thorne. You have faced and conquered challenges worthy of the Host’s own mightiest warriors. Please take these as a token of my affection, for I believe they can much better serve you than me. They were found within the third alcove buried beneath the Central Synagogue under a spell which rendered them invisible even to the eyes of our fellow worker of arcane arts, Nicolas Wright.
For now, I encourage you to expand slowly into your new power. Remain at the Academy and dedicate yourself to such practice. By the time this arrives, the matter of the Grigori who has on too many occasions denied you the opportunity to study in peace shall be resolved. The details are unimportant, just know that he - and his minions - will be unable to trouble you further. The book you so bravely allowed this old sorcerer to keep in order to save another of the Bene Ha’Elohim shall make this so. I trust you will concur that such a use was worthy of our bargain.
Until such time as our fates cross again, I wish you well in your endeavors. Trust in the light and the promise it brings to all things.
Frankly I thought the bracers looked pretty darn cool on my wrists. I did, however, have to continually contend with a stubborn cat who took an instant liking to sleeping on them no matter where they lay. Yeah okay, sometimes I let the adorable fuzzball win.
Some days you just have to choose which battles are worth fighting.
Deep under the Syrian mountains two figures emerged into a large and empty cavern. One held a long flickering torch, standing tall in a clean light blue dress shirt whose rolled-up sleeves contrasted starkly against the darkness of his skin. The other leaned casually against a stalagmite in nothing more than cut-off jeans and a soft green halter top. She twirled a finger through almost-white hair, lips smacking as she idly chewed some gum.
They didn’t have long to wait before a harsh voice filled the space.
Welcome sorcerer. We see you received our message. The reputation of your resourcefulness is well deserved, we did not expect you to visit so directly as this location is not well known. And welcome to you as well, Alal. It has been a long time, and your presence is an unexpected bonus.
The woman shrugged and blew a pink bubble. It popped, the sound echoing off the walls with a sharp crack. “If you say so.”
The man planted the staff of his torch in a crevice between the stones at his feet and said nothing. The small light cast long shadows behind him, the rock in the walls glittering and reflecting from several veins of precious wandering metals.
Sorcerer. It has come to our attention you have recovered an item which we have need of. It is our desire to bargain with the legendary Callas Soren for its possession.
“The book,” Soren said. “Be clear, Grigori. You wish to possess the blessed archangel’s gift.”
Alal snorted, but didn’t otherwise interrupt.
Yes. Within that tome lies the key to our freedom. Name your price and it is yours.
“Before we get to things such as price, I believe you have a different and long pending discussion which should take priority.” Soren took a step back, gesturing for Alal to go ahead.
Long platinum hair bounced as the woman walked to the wall before them, running fingertips along its surface. The stones reacted to her presence and touch, ancient golden script catching fire and glowing in defense against a perceived threat.
“Oh Azazel,” Alal said wistfully. “You’ve been such a naughty, naughty boy.”
“Do you know why I agreed to help you? Remember? Back when the humans scrambled pitifully in the dirt in their attempts to recover from the catastrophes inflicted upon them by those who had held all the power.”
You hate the Host, as we do.
“The Host? Oh no, one never hates the tools of the enemy. One hates the enemy directly. And I filled you with enough raw chaos to shatter the very seat his holy buttocks continuously caress, if only you’d had the balls to take the fight to his hall!” Smoky eyes flashed, and a finger more purposefully followed the trail of a specific set of burning symbols.
We were building an army. It was discovered before we could deploy.
“And what kind of army was that? Ah yes, one bound entirely to your pathetic will. When we met you claimed you wanted freedom, and when given its means what did you do? Set yourself up to be a tyrant, one perhaps even worse than that father of yours! I suppose I really shouldn’t be so surprised, chip off the old block and all that. But instead of striking directly at the heart you waffled and with my gift tried to hold this pathetic world hostage.”
Alal, the Powers, they were… wait, what are you doing?
She had paused her scan across the wall, finding whatever she’d been looking for before pressing an open palm against the stone. The holy script warped around her hand, refusing to come in contact. “What am I doing? Expressing my disappointment. For that which was once given can also be taken away.”
Her bare arm became awash with flowing darkness. Like a fountain filmed in reverse the maddening energies of chaos spilled out from every nook and cranny of the stone ediface, weaving around the now-burning angelic script to spill towards the waiting limb sucking it all in. The entire wall flared brightly as the angelic script reacted to its opposite energies, but the writing remained entirely intact.
No! Archon! Without the chaos, without its path through the bindings, we will be forever blind! We asked to be free and you are consigning us to an eternal and empty prison! Shemyaza! Brother, hear me!
Alal, lips twisted into a smile made all the more cruel by her otherwise unearthly beauty, laughed. “You think your brother will save you? Foolish Grigori, he has yet to fully awaken in spite of your attempts to influence his dreams. And he is far too busy to need concern himself with you. In fact, I bet he is in class right now being all studious!”
Why? We are so close to victory! The field has never been so ripe for harvest, we can raise billions to conquer Heaven! Just as you hoped for, the Throne can be destroyed! Why do this now when all is within reach? Already the first pillar has fallen!”
The cruel smile dropped away leaving behind a mask of rage and bitter hatred. “Because, Grigori! I have seen a spark returned containing the full potential to inherit my father’s legacy. And what did you do? You bent yourself to its destruction! You tried to kill my sister!”
The reverse flood of swirling madness surged. The Archon of Chaos ignored the continued panicked pleadings of the imprisoned fallen angel until the last few drops of abyssal energies twisted into her waiting grasp. “Save your blubbering, Azazel,” she sneered. “Maybe you’ll have better luck bargaining with the sorcerer, but I sincerely doubt it. Your track record on delivery sucks.”
Turning away, she walked back to where Soren had stood next to the torch. Its light no longer touched her, she had become a figure entirely of shadow. “I leave the rest to you, as agreed,” she said to Soren.
He nodded. “As agreed.”
The shadow gave one last look at the wall. “Goodbye, Grigori. If I were you I’d pray to the tyrant above we never meet again.” Not waiting for a response, that dark figure slid away as if reality itself had been sliced open to let it pass through.
Silence filled the cavern. Soren stared in contemplation at the spot where Alal had just been.
Sorcerer. The book. It can free us. It can reconnect us with our children and save them from the Archon’s pull. A new world can still be built, and you can take your place with us atop it all! We are Legion, and we shall rule!
Hard eyes turned towards the rock still glowing red from the heat of the disturbed angelic script. “You are but a sad pretender to that title when compared with the real thing. And the book was needed for a different purpose.”
Your price. You came here, you must have a price!
Soren continued talking, his words calm and deliberate. “Did you know that a physical human brain can only optimize itself for so many memories at once? Over time, say for thousands upon thousands of years, much is discarded and forgotten. The key points remain, but the details of things - places visited, words spoken - these fade and are lost.”
Is that what you wish? A restoration of your memories?
“What I wish for, Azazel, is far beyond your comprehension. As for memories, sometimes they need only a trigger to resurface. Like how reading an old text can bring to mind even the scent of where one was when first diving into its pages. If one focuses on that scent, entire vistas of thought and memory can be recovered.”
Closing eyes in concentration, Callas Soren’s baritone began to chant. Like a new stalactite hanging from the ceiling, glowing angelic script swirled to coalesce above him. The stones of the cavern responded again, this time not in revulsion but in glory. The script in the air burst into crimson flames much fiercer than the pitiful torch below sending waves of heat cascading through the cave.
Hanging within that blazing scarlet fire was a shining two-handed sword.
Opening his eyes, Soren gazed upon the blade with a warm smile.
Callas! What are you doing? Don’t! If you touch that…
Ignoring the Grigori, Soren reached up and grasped the hilt, welcoming the red flames that roared outward to consume him.
Except the flames didn’t kill. Instead he was transformed.
With a shout of triumph, wings drenched long ago in the red of angelic vitae spread out to fill the cavern.
You! It cannot be!
An angel of blood and fire stepped towards the wall of waiting holy script, raising the fiery implement of divine warfare.
Stop! I am bound by the will of the Throne, if you break these bonds you break your own ties to the Name!
“Should I fall, I fall only into her arms of light.”
But the Host! Once discovered, they will hunt you for this!
The archangel’s sword flashed outward to cut the bindings tying the Grigori to this world, and with that flaming blow sent it screaming in agony towards the Abyss. The rocks and stones shattered from the impact as the heavenly energy bound into the imprisoning script ripped free, sending the earth into paroxysms that rocked the mountains and planes across the cradle of civilization.
To the one burning within crimson flames as it fell into realms of eternal twilight, the Archangel Camael sent a final message:
“Let them come and see.”