Call Of The Light (Part 5)
Call Of The Light (Part 5)
Book Three of Heaven's Light
Chapter 19 - Counsel
The person on the other end of the phone didn’t even give me the chance to say hello first.
“Aradia. We need to talk.”
“Uh, hello? Who is this?”
The cordless handset suddenly shrieked loudly in my ear. “Gah!”
“Sorry. All phone lines at the Academy are being monitored by the military. We’re now secure.”
“How did you—oh.” Girl voice, check. Tone weirdly older than pitch, check. Able to do hacker stuffs, checkmate. It had to be Erica. But she was obviously sticking to using codenames. “Hi Fields.”
“Just me and my cat.” At his mention Khan jumped up on the desk to demand attention. He started a deep purr as I scratched his fluffy noggin.
“Good. Diego and I spoke with Bishop.”
“Already? Wait, what time is it?”
“Twenty-Two-Oh-Nine local to you.”
“Is it still the same day?” I leaned over to read the display on the phone’s charging station. “Phew, it is.”
“Your need to ask raises a number of questions.”
“I just got back from off world. Again. Like right before you called.”
“He said your call was important. What’d you learn from the nightclub guy?”
“He? Someone knew I was going to call?”
“Michael knew. But it’s okay.”
“Who is Michael and how the hell did he know?”
“He’s the Archangel Michael. As to how he knew I refer to my previous statement.”
“He made sure I got back in time for your call.”
“You know, I think your life may be even stranger than mine. And that’s saying a lot.”
I sighed. “Can’t argue that. But since you’re calling, you and your dad must have learned something.”
“A few things. Leading the list is that I believe Bishop is involved with the bombs.”
“Really? Kami just thought he might steer us in the right direction. Is he the jerk making them?”
“Not by himself. He was awfully unsurprised that such a thing could exist. And instead of pontificating potential avenues on how one could be assembled he immediately had a confident answer. Worse still, I believe there could be more at least as strong.”
“That’s not good.”
“No it isn’t. I only mentioned to him the one used at Whateley. The DPA kept the nature of the other one in Los Angeles under wraps yet Bishop referred to them in the plural.”
“The device at the school was crazy strong, sounded a lot worse than L.A’s. Could they really make more than one that powerful?”
“I’ve run an analysis. A dedicated large coven working for twenty years sacrificing hundreds of people per year might be able to pull enough moxy together to deal with Whateley’s shields like what happened. Provided they solved the storage problem. My father always thinks only of the power of a single practitioner, not a collective.”
I frowned. Erica had only been at Whateley studying magic for a single year before spending four more as a slave to the fae. “Uh, hate to ask, but how can you be so sure? That sounds like a fairly sophisticated calculation.”
Whatever encryption she’d put on the phone connection continued its low level hum across an awkward silence.
“Fields? You still there?”
“Yes.” She sounded suddenly tired. So very tired. “I owe you an apology.”
“Lying to you.”
Khan nudged the hand that had stopped petting him. “Lying? What about?”
“I was ordered by the Queen to appear, in her words, ‘pathetic’. To play on your sympathies.”
“Oh. I guessed that could have been the case at the time.”
“And you freed me anyway? That’s just…” She fell silent.
“Look, your pain wasn’t an act. Nor was your surprise when you realized who I was.”
“You’re right. It wasn’t. The bitch didn’t warn me.” The hatred in Erica’s voice towards the Queen was palpable; the acidity would have destroyed my phone if manifested.
“So what then was the actual lie?”
“Subjectively I wasn’t there for only four years. My pocketwatch measured it at closer to thirty.”
“Oh my god.” Wait, she had been fifteen when taken so this would make her…holy shit. She would be the same age as I really was. “Thirty years as a slave? Erica, I’m so sorry!”
“Not all of them were entirely unpleasant. I learned a great deal.”
“I uh…wow.” My butt fell into the desk chair which made a protesting squeak.
“So believe me when I say that Bishop not only knew more than he admitted but I bet there are also more of those things out there. Maybe that could even pack a larger punch than we’ve seen.”
“Putting the pieces together from the conversation along with odd bits of his email and bank history, I have an idea of who else might have one - or is about to.”
“Why do I get the feeling I really don’t want to hear this?”
“Life doesn’t give a shit about what you want. You especially of all people need to hear it.”
I rubbed at my temples where a headache was already brewing. “You’re right and I’m sorry. Tell me.”
“He offered bottled fae energy to help my energy issues. Not help to lead me to a supplier or negotiate some, he was in effect claiming to have a ready supply if needed.”
“So he’s close to the fae.”
“Exactly. Now ask yourself: what does the Queen want more than anything?”
As much as I don’t like using curse words that often I was certainly doing it a lot lately. “Fuck! She wants to blow the Third Seal to smithereens and release the flood of manna across the world. Enough to break free any and all incarnate fae from their human bondage. She had hoped Danielle would open it for her but we got away.”
“How much energy would it take to break the seal? How large a psychic nuke would it take?”
I thought about it. The image of Danielle already tapping the flow of the small leak to help rebuild the Whateley wards was still crystal clear. “Shit.” See? There went another one! “The seal is already cracking. Maybe because the first two are gone. It’s still intact though. Without having the key it would still take an insanely strong hammer to break it. Like crazy strong.”
“What if instead of the death energy of thousands stored up you had millions? What then?”
The thought was mind boggling. “How would you even do that? No ritual could be that large and not be noticed.”
“Not if done by humans. But I’ve been thinking about it. What if spirits are able to do things on that scale and yet be behind the scenes? Think of all the traumatic deaths in the twentieth century. How much deathly pain could have been gathered at Auschwitz? Or during the starvations in China under Mao? The reign of the Khmer Rouge? Stalin’s purges? The sheer quantities would make an Aztec priest piss themselves with envy.”
“What are you saying?”
“Not me. Bishop. According to him to gather that much energy would require a god. Or an angel. And if I’m right and he’s involved then I’d bet on the latter, and not just because he hinted that way.”
“He’s a Nephelim. I took a guess after looking at his rather unique pattern and hit the jackpot with his reaction. His spirit leaks; he’s effectively a vampire feeding on his club-goers’ energies in order to stay coherent. I also wouldn’t put it past him to feed the old fashioned way if need be, fangs and all. But with a messed up pattern like that there’s absolutely no way he can channel that level of power himself without dissolving. He doesn’t have the stability for it.”
“How do you know so much about Nephelim to recognize them?”
“My father’s hidden books had a lot to say about demons, faeries, liches, and also fallen angels and their giant progeny.”
“Given the whole Apocalypse scenario, Bishop could be working with the Fourth Horseman to make these things. It would fit the narrative.”
“It can’t be him. It’s not Death.”
“How would you know?”
“The Angel of Death would rather chew off his own tongue than abuse souls like that.” As soon as I said that I knew it to be true. Isaiah would never do such a thing, and my past self Aradia knew her uncle Azrael would visit swift merciless justice upon the perpetrators of any such perversions of his sacred duties.
“You sound awfully confident of that.”
“I see. If not him then it’s possibly a similarly attuned Grigori who also can plug into the moments of people’s death across wide areas. According to my father you’ve somehow redeemed some of those. Find out what they know.”
“But this doesn’t make sense. The Grigori want to prevent the seals from opening. Why would they give the Queen the means to do it?”
“Maybe we have it backwards. Maybe the Queen was working with Bishop and the Grigori bargained with her to get the one used on the school. She can’t move against Danielle or you directly or else be forsworn. But nothing prevents her from a separate deal with a third party to provide them with a bomb as long as the deal itself does not stipulate how it’s to be used. She’s under no geas to actively protect you or Danielle. We’re still lacking far too much intel here and suppositions will only take us so far.”
“I’ll keep working Bishop’s cyber footprint and see where the trails lead. One of his bouncers is clearly Irish and if there’s a pattern there it could be even more evidence of him being in bed with the fae. We need to discover whether the Queen already has the bombs or is still negotiating to get them somehow. If it’s the latter we might be able to crash the exchange party. If the former we need to know where they are and fast.”
“I’ll ask my Grigori friends about which of their chorus could make them. But Fields?”
“Can I talk to Danielle about your…problem? She may be able to help.”
More static but I didn’t ask if she was still there. Eventually Erica replied. “Fine. But only if freely given. I owe you a debt, Aradia. I refuse to add more to the ledger. Especially not to one of the god-damned fae.”
“Understood. If I find out something how do I reach you?”
“Send an email to any fake address. I’ll see it.”
“Wow. You’re really that good as a hacker?”
“Magic and microchips are in the end both means of manipulating energy. As an angel you should understand that already.”
“I’m starting to.”
“Learn faster. Unless you want to take a time-out detour and go study in another realm where failure on any exam meant torture or death. Like I did.”
“Uh, no thanks. So is the Internet an open book to you?”
“Just about. Except for things that have been deliberately wiped. I can think of a few pertinent examples.”
“Like your records at the DPA. They were initially marked Classified but now have been expunged completely. And not by me.”
“Tread carefully. The military has caught a whiff of the danger everyone is facing. They might help or really fuck things up.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Good. Keep your secrets close. We’ll talk soon.”
She hung up before I could say goodbye.
I wanted to go see Danielle but the military was enforcing a curfew on the students so we were all stuck in our cottages until morning. With the warning about all the phones being monitored I didn’t want to call her either so just texted a message saying I was back and that we should meet for breakfast to talk. She responded immediately with agreement and said she was going to invite Zap along too. She then added a note that she would borrow Tamara’s ‘special salt’ to make the eggs taste better.
My niece was smart.
That left trying to talk to either August or Ester about who among the Grigori could be a channel for the power released at death, particularly those from highly charged and unpleasant demises. August would have been the obvious choice to ask but seeing as how she already warned about Michael’s arrival I didn’t want to push her luck. I wondered how much trouble she got into with Sandalphon for sharing even that much.
Which meant asking Ester although I had no idea how much she remembered of her time as Kokabiel. There was her girl-self and her angel-self and they weren’t exactly integrated all that well, something which we all were struggling with I guess. Natalie’s therapy dance-card was certainly full with crazy incarnates.
Sitting on my bed I realized I could cheat. My name—I mean, Amariel’s name—had been etched within Kokabiel’s essence same as with Tsáyidiel. Through that connection I had been able to talk to him mind-to-mind when I needed to.
I could probably do the same with her.
“Kokabiel! Can you hear me?“ It was like shouting across an ocean of stars but the brightest speck in that sky twinkled and gave a reply.
“Yes milady, I hear you.”
“I need to ask some questions. About the Grigori.”
The star dimmed for a moment. “I doubt I would be of much help.”
“Try, okay? Who among your number would be capable of harnessing the necromantic energies released when someone dies?”
“Necromantic energies? Do you believe it was one of our number who unleashed the pain and sorrows that washed over the school?”
“It is a distinct possibility.”
“I can think of a few who might have such capacity, but only from before our fall from grace. What they are capable of now I really could not speak to.”
Considering Kokabiel spent the past few millennia as a mindless slave of Azazel she was probably way out of touch with just about everything. “Shoot.”
She hesitated. “Milady.“
“There is another you could talk to. One who reached out to me after the conclave wishing to understand more.“
“More? That’s awfully nebulous.” Okay, so that was a horrible pun to use with an angel who’s name literally meant ‘Star of God’. Hush.
“My apologies, milady. Allow me to explain. He wished to know how I have been restored to grace. He wishes to understand the wonder of your name.“
Wait a minute. There were still some fundamental questions I’d yet to find answers for. With everything going on some kept slipping my mind. Chief of those was how the heck did anyone know to attack Isaiah? Queen Fionnabhair only knew about Danielle. But someone else knew to go after my best friend too.
“Exactly how much did you tell this guy?” That came out more accusatory than I’d intended, dangit. Poor Kokabiel’s star cowered and shrank within my mental sky.
“He’s examined your name only! Was it wrong to speak with him?“
Taking a deep breath I forced myself to remain calm. “You didn’t tell him about Danielle or Isaiah?”
“Who is Isaiah? And no, we did not discuss the fae.“
I relaxed. Only slightly but still. No one here knew that Isaiah was Azrael. That was a secret held between Isaiah, me, his own attorney (who didn’t believe it), Diego, Erica, and Kami Kurohoshi himself. Plus that was only found out after the attack on him had already failed.
Granted with Isaiah having visited ne at Whateley a couple times that didn’t rule out a person on campus making the connection somehow that he was angelic. Otherwise it would take someone who had access to my DPA files to know he was even a friend - files which Erica just reported had been scrubbed.
Right. I still didn’t have a freaking clue. Yay me?
“Okay. You said I could talk to this guy. Who is it anyway?”
“My brother Armaros. He would be very pleased to meet you.“
“He was the dude in the top hat on the stage?”
“That may be a long-shot, but sure. Though I feel like I’d be going in blind.” Of course that was pretty much how everything was going on lately. Me stumbling around inside a freezing whirlwind and wondering with dismay why my tea was so cold.
“Armaros refused to fight on either side of the war between Gabriel’s forces and those of Azazel and Shemyaza.“
“Interesting. Not sure that helps, but alright. So how do we do this?”
“I take you to him. Ester sleeps; the path through dreams lies open and he is agreed. Are you ready?“
Now? Yikes! “Hang on, give a girl the chance to lie down first!” Not that I knew if I’d leave a body behind or go poof completely but I’d rather not risk coming back to serious muscle cramps. Pulling free my hair from the scunchy, I stretched out on the bed. Khan immediately curled up next to me protectively, placing a paw against my arm. Daww.
“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be, Kokabiel. Let’s do this.”
Her star pulsed brightly, demanding more and more of my attention. It felt both warm and cold, a comforting yet at the same time distant presence granting safe guidance through vast oceans covering the universe.
Awareness of my room, the bed, and of Khan slipped away to be replaced by somewhere else entirely.
I was staring out the window of a high-rise building.
Above the rectangular structures dark clouds painted over the sky. Most of the light came from many offices still illuminated by those burning the midnight oil. Down below bright reds and whites silently crawled to and fro like mice with LEDs stuck to their heads and butts frantically searching a maze for enigmatic food pellets.
As my eyes adjusted a reflection across the glass came into focus. A man in a simple suit with solid blue tie sat a few feet away by a conference table lined with those fancier fake-leather chairs reserved for executives.
“Hello Amariel. Welcome.”
As I turned around I noted that unlike his business attire I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Also no shoes or socks again, my toes were wiggling free. Apparently my dream-self really didn’t like wearing shoes.
“Hey there,” I said, totally pretending I wasn’t anxious due to suddenly realizing the risk I’d just taken. What if this guy was in cahoots with those behind the attacks? Could I have just set myself up for an ambush? Hell of a thing to think of only after hopping into the middle of someone else’s dream.
Given all the names I’d accumulated maybe I should add ‘Ms. Impetuous’ to the list, or even ‘She who is Foolishly Stupid’.
Yup, those fit.
“You Armaros?” I asked dubiously. The Armaros on stage in the other dream had a whole half-shaven emo hair-do under his top hat, whereas this guy’s style was short and conservative.
“Mostly.” He smiled. While his eyes were wary they also crinkled with humor. “My secret identity is that of a simple and boring stockbroker. Hence this dream Kokabiel caught me in.” He gestured at the conference room and its corporate-mandated motivational posters pinned at regular intervals across the walls. I recognized the type, all genuflecting about perseverance and the absolute dedication to the company’s bottom line.
“No tuxedo and top hat tonight? Or punk hairstyle?” I leaned back against the window. “Should I be disappointed?”
He laughed. “The previous venue required something more grandiose, don’t you think?”
“With an audience wearing mostly pajamas? Not so sure about that.”
“Excellent point.” He acknowledged with a grin. “Kokabiel indicated that you have questions?”
“Uh, yeah. Many actually.”
“I have plenty of my own, but as I am the host perhaps you should go first. Mind you, like many of us I’m still sorting through all the old knowledge and memories, so my ability to be of assistance may be limited. This whole business of suddenly remembering events from before one’s current lifetime has been quite an experience.”
I could totally agree with that. “Just as soon as you think you’ve got a handle on things, other stuff comes out of left field to smack you upside the head.”
“Exactly. And while I’d prefer it to only happen while, say, taking a shower - getting slammed while giving a portfolio presentation to clients is entirely awkward.”
It was my turn to grin. “I bet.”
“So what is it that a power such as yourself could possibly need from one like me?”
For a moment I thought was trying to flatter me - maybe even flirt - but no. He was completely serious. Especially as he then added more ominously, “Or perhaps you are here to judge me.”
“You saved Kokabiel and restored her name into the Light. You’ve empowered Tamiel and they are becoming something more than they ever were before. I was the one who called together a gathering of Fallen angels who are now split between those who would flee from you in terror and those who would cling desperately to any miracles you might offer. So why are you really here?”
That really caught me off guard. With how things kept happening did even I know the real answer? “I thought I was here to try and find a way to keep maybe thousands if not millions from death or madness. But things keep happening around me whether I will them or no. What would you like for me to be here for?”
He looked away. “I find myself caught between despair and hope. Especially as certain painful memories keep replaying within dreams much less pleasant than this one.” He exhaled and ran a hand over his face. “For now let’s settle on you keeping these millions safe. Care to explain?”
“Someone is making devices of great power by trapping the energy released by tragic deaths. I need to stop them and keep those bombs out of the wrong hands.”
“I don’t know how I could be of any help for that.”
“They’re likely made by a fallen angel - one whose former purpose would empower them to create such things. I’m trying to find out who they could be. You’re connected to all the Grigori, right? You were able to summon them to that gathering.”
He shook his head. “I am not unique in that. We are all connected to one another.”
A new voice startled us from the other end of the conference table. “Whether we want to be or not. Isn’t that so Armaros?”
We both jumped at the sight of a dark figure standing where only a chair had just been.
“Shemyaza!” Armaros growled. “How did you get here?”
The cloaked man pointed at me smugly. “I followed her. She burns so brightly in our sights, does she not? Like a meteor streaking across the sky to smash into this world and lay all to waste.”
Armaros glared at the newcomer with undisguised repulsion. “Or a beacon sent by Him to guide us home.”
“Don’t be naive!” Shemyaza shrieked as his eyes bugged out and shoulders trembled. He tried to calm shaking hands by placing them flat on the table. “They will never let her in! Not as she is now.”
“Let me in?” I interjected. “Where?”
While still staring at the other Grigori, Armaros answered. “Heaven. Past the silver gates to the upper levels.”
Shemyaza sneered. “Where the angels enslaved by the Throne reside. Up in their spires of silver and gold while around their necks lie glittering chains of bondage!”
Armaros clenched fists and took a step forward. “We were never slaves!”
“Weren’t we? Bound to His will and created to like it! What practical difference could there possibly be?” A wild hand tossed the hood back, revealing a face both beautiful and terrible to behold. Features carved from the finest marble as if by a Renaissance Master were warped by a spinning madness behind those maniacal eyes. Twisted muscles forced the cheeks into a lopsided grimace.
“We served a greater purpose!” Armaros countered. “We were unified and one with Him in its unfolding, and you - our beloved captain - led us with a dedication to rival even that of Michael!”
“Words. Just words.” Shemyaza pounded the table, a crack splitting down its middle. “Scribbled on a page and ripped out. Tossed away like so much trash. We were abandoned!”
Armaros shook his head. “No. We became too much like the humans! Limiting ourselves to their level instead of observing from above poisoned us all!”
“And you think she can cure that poison?” Shemyaza again pointed at me, hand still unsteady. “Look at her! Look at what she is! She will pull us all into a new war! I tried to keep us safe, to build enough strength to withstand Michael’s purge and reach a settlement like the First must have done. He was allowed to take his people and go! But she, she will lead your heart straight onto the burning tip of his blade and plunge it past the flames to the hilt!”
I stepped between them, fearing they’d come to blows. “Wait! Just wait a minute! What do you mean a new war?”
Shemyaza’s head tilted back as he laughed. “Tell her, Armaros. Tell her where her existence leads to.”
Armaros flinched and avoided my questioning gaze. “You’re an Archon,” he said quietly.
“You’ll have to explain, brother,” Shemyaza prompted gleefully.
Armaros ran a finger along the fracture forking like lightning across the table. “You are not bound to the Throne.”
“And?” Shemyaza prodded again. “Don’t forget the rest of it.”
Finally looking up, Armaros searched my eyes as he said, “When you come into your full power you could challenge Elohim for the Throne itself.”
I blinked. “What are you saying?”
Shemyaza lost the laugh. “He is saying that should you bind enough angels to your light - fill their hollow hearts with your newfound glory - you could overthrow the tyrant in Heaven and take the Throne. Like Samael attempted. And Lucifer later refused to do.”
My knees went weak. “That’s insane.”
“Is it,” Armaros murmured.
“You are destined for a crown, Amariel,” Shemyaza announced. “Is that not Conquest’s prophesied symbol as he rides across the fields of Armageddon? A crown with which to bind our wills to yours and rule over us all!”
“That’s the last thing I want!”
“Then allow me to show my brothers you are too weak to fulfill such a destiny!” With blinding speed Shemyaza thrust towards my stomach, a cruel black dagger suddenly clenched in his fist.
Armaros reacted faster than I, tackling me to one side and sending us both crashing into a window frame. Fortunately the glass held. Spinning around Armaros prepared against a second lunge from his former commander, the walking stick I’d seen before now held defensively in his hands.
Except there was no follow-through strike.
Shemyaza stood frozen holding his blade where it almost sliced my stomach, arm still extended. That arm began to shake. “No!” He snarled. “Not now damn you!” With his other hand he tried to move the arm. Shoulder and back muscles flexed mightily but the arm wouldn’t budge from its position in the air.
The tendons opened slowly and the dagger tumbled out of the hand to fall to the floor with a loud thud. Blood dripped down from under the sleeve, splattering both blade and carpet. The flow quickly became a stream.
I didn’t think. Pulling myself away from the wall I moved past Armaros. “You’re bleeding!”
As I reached for his sleeve Shemyaza flinched with absolute panic, thrashing against that immovable arm. “Don’t touch me! Don’t you ever touch me!” With a mindless shriek of terror he fled the dream, leaving dagger and blood behind. As he vanished for a brief flickering moment I caught sight of a different room altogether.
“Are you alright?” Armaros was looking at my shirt, checking for a wound.
“I’m fine. But I need to go. Like right now.”
He hesitated then nodded. “I will try to find out who of the Grigori could do as you described. But I really don’t remember enough to help directly.”
“Thanks.” I started to focus on shifting myself back to my bedroom.
“Amariel!” He shouted before I also could disappear. “Know this! There are many who would gladly follow your light out of the darkness no matter where it would lead us!”
If he meant that as a comforting last thought it had the exact opposite effect. But as my eyes opened to a concerned kitty staring down at my face I knew I had more immediate things to worry about.
It was my turn to make a phone call and I had better hurry.
Chapter 20 - Trust
I was pacing pensively across my floor with the phone clenched in my hand when it finally chimed. “Well?” was all I said after thumbing it on.
“Mrs. Tolliver is taking him to Doyle to get patched up now.” Brendan, no longer as sleepy as he had been when I’d woken him up ten minutes ago, was all seriousness and concern.
“How bad is it?” I asked.
“I didn’t get to see. His sheets are a bloody mess though.”
“How did you know? Could you have stopped him?”
“I saw things when I fell between the worlds. A dream I just had put that piece together.”
“Jesus,” he breathed. “Cassius never seemed the type. You know, to try and off himself like that.”
I winced. “Sometimes the signs are hard to spot. But I don’t think Cassius was trying to commit suicide.”
“What? Then what the fuck was he doing slicing his arm open like that? Some kind of messed up after effect of that psychic bomb? Everyone else seems okay!”
“It’s complicated. I’m not sure I should say.”
“You don’t trust me.”
“It’s not that! I just don’t want to give away his secrets. They’re his, not mine.”
“Oh.” He thought about it then said, “That makes sense, I get it. Can I do anything else to help?”
“You’re a good guy, Brendan. Curfew lifts at six; I’ll try to visit Cassius then. With classes still canceled can you get the squad together by eight?”
“Yeah. Zap, Danielle, Haruko, Tamara, and Jenna.”
He paused. “Sure.” He didn’t mention that Haruko wasn’t on the team. But the military likely listening in on all the phones didn’t know that. “Where you want to meet?”
“Hmm. Good question.”
“Meet at the gym. We can go over squad tactics and focus on the next sim Gunny plans to throw at us. Something normal like that could be good for everyone, you know, with everything that’s happened.”
“Sounds like a plan. See you then.”
“Laters.” He hung up.
Brendan was sharp. The squad tactical planning rooms were heavily snoop-proofed to keep other teams from spying and gaining an advantage. Given the persistence and ingenuity of the other squads the security there was extremely tight so we should be able to talk freely once I’d shoved my persistent army escort out of the room.
Which is good. Because I agreed with Erica - we couldn’t trust the military to not do something stupid. Of course that didn’t mean I wouldn’t be an idiot all on my own as my recent actions demonstrated.
With a couple hours to go before I could walk over to the hospital and knowing I wasn’t going to be able to sleep, I lay on the bed staring at the ceiling. Oh, and cuddled my kitty who took instant advantage of the opportunity. He fell right into a deep purring slumber, the lucky guy.
As the cross-beams over the attic didn’t trigger any new revelations, when the clock finally slipped past six I threw on a sweater and walked out to greet the new fatigues-wearing protection detail. The temptation to outrun them on the walk to the hospital was difficult to resist.
Natalie was waiting in the lounge just past the hospital’s entrance.
“Good morning, Jordan.” The slump to her shoulders and circles around the eyes told the story of a long night - and a long day before that.
“Mornin’ doc.” I gave her a tired smile of my own. “I’d introduce you to the goon squad here but they haven’t told me their names.” I gestured towards the troops who were busy checking for potential threats.
“I presume you’re here to visit Cassius?” She raised an eyebrow over the transparent-framed glasses.
“If he’ll see me. You probably have questions for me first though.” I said, resigned to the delay. Being constantly interrogated was getting old but she probably needed to know what little I could tell her.
She looked thoughtful. “Perhaps it can wait. Come with me.”
That was a surprise.
Up the elevator and down the all-too-familiar hall we arrived outside yet another bleach-cleaned room. Before she opened the door she hesitated. “He’s refused to talk to anyone about it. I’m hoping you’ll have more success.”
“Even if he does, I probably won’t be able to tell you about it if he doesn’t want me to.”
She gave a small worried smile. “That’s alright. The important thing right now is for him to talk to someone. Anyone.”
I nodded and she allowed one of the guys holding a M16 to check out the room first before I went in.
Cassius wasn’t in the bed. He sat instead at the small window nook, doing his best to ignore us while staring out at the lawn and forest beyond. They’d put him in those skimpy hospital gown things and an I.V. drip hung from a nearby stand with the line of fluids going to the opposite wrist from the one heavily bandaged. But that bare forearm had its own set of scars across the skin.
“Hey Cassius.” I tried to sound casual.
“Jordan,” he said without turning, blond hair hiding his face. “You just can’t leave things alone, can you. You here to try and save me too?” Bitterness lay over a deep exhaustion.
I leaned against the wall, pressing the bottom of a sneaker against the drywall. “Actually I’m here to say thanks.”
That was rewarded with a direct - albeit outright suspicious - gaze. “Really?”
“Yeah. You stopped Shemyaza from gutting me with that dagger. Thank you.”
“Stopped myself, you mean. Since as you have undoubtedly figured out, whether I wish to be or not, I am him.”
“I’m not sure I’d agree with that.”
“Oh come on. That damned bomb wiped out all the wards and limiting protections I’d so carefully arranged. They’re gone. You should be able to see his cursed spirit inside me as clear as day. And before you ask, no he didn’t tell the other Grigori that Danielle was here.”
As usual Cassius was one step ahead of me. I hadn’t yet even put together that he could have been the source of the leak about Danielle’s whereabouts. Except he wouldn’t have known about Isaiah and my instincts still screamed the two hits had to have been coordinated.
He continued. “Telling anyone would have made me a direct target as well. Shemyaza is crazy but not suicidal.”
“You think they all want you dead too?”
“The Grigori? Given what I - what he - did? They have plenty of reasons to want me destroyed.” He stared back out the window. “You’re one of the lucky ones.”
“Please,” he snorted. “You’re this new bright and shiny Seraph, overflowing with all the blind idealism inherent in a newborn. Your spirit-self isn’t an old and insane narcissistic asshole.” He shuddered. “I’ve seen it. My memories are full of what that fucker did in his mad attempt to keep things together. You have no idea!”
“I saw enough from when he turned Kokabiel over to Azazel.”
“Kokabiel,” he flinched, eyes tightly shut as if trying to squeeze away a vision they had no control over. “What he did to her. And to so many more.” He huddled into himself, arms crossing over his chest and knees.
“It wasn’t you,” I said quietly. I wanted so badly to walk over there and pull him close, to try and offer comfort to such obvious pain. but I couldn’t touch him. I was beginning to understand why. “He’s afraid of me, isn’t he? That’s why he lashed out in that dreamspace.”
“Afraid?” Cassius coughed a laugh. “Try absolutely terrified. You are the path back to everything he’s ever wanted and to everything he fears. Even now he wants to smash out this window and run away from you. It’s difficult, so very fucking difficult, to keep him under control.”
“Is that what the razor-blade was for?”
He grinned, teeth glinting with feral determination. “This body is mine. My slab of meat. He cannot abide physical pain. The wards I built to suppress him were always unreliable. But pain? It’s my best weapon against him.”
I startled and words slipped from my tongue. “Oh Cassius, pain was always his weapon. At what cost do you use it now?”
“What choice do I have?” he yelled, eyes flashing with a growing mad rage not entirely his own. “We are not alike, you and I! I have not been blessed from above and given a righteous path upon which to tread! The Most High made His opinion on my soul crystal clear ages ago. We were sent away and left to rot. And when our spirits inevitably withered and fell prey to the corruptions of the lower levels, only then did the Host arrive. Not to save us but only to destroy, their desired excuse having finally manifested in full. And now the time has come for them to finish the job. So spare me your lectures, Amariel. You know nothing of the purpose of pain. Bring your eyes down from your lofty idealistic perches to the real world and its dirty truths. Only those apply here.”
“And what truths are those?”
“Survival. Pain teaches the limits of the physical.”
“Is that all you strive for? Nothing more?”
“What else is there?”
“I would say love.”
“True love is teaching a child how to survive. Not forcing them far away and forgetting they exist while you remain in the highest of clouds to contemplate an infinite that has no bearing upon those crawling in the mud.”
“Those sounds like his words.”
“They are the lessons of his existence. Learning them drove him mad because they were not compatible with his prior exalted life.”
“And what have you learned from your own life, Cassius?”
He gave a half-hearted and bitter laugh. “No more or less than most on this rock. Life giveth and taketh away. I was given breath and my mother’s was taken. She died as I was born.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“Spare me the pity. Unlike many others here I still have my father and he’s done the best he could in her stead. While he may not be all that clever, I’d call him wise. He taught that you cannot help another if your own footing is unsteady. He was not always there but he did what had to be done.”
“You love him.”
“Of course I do! I’m no monster. But I refuse to be a naive idealist.” He shook his head ruefully. “Which is why I’ve worked so hard to keep hidden who I was and the real measure of the knowledge and power that came with it. That would attract unwanted attention and dangers far beyond what even now I’m ready to deal with. Something you should have done from the start.” He paused, uncertainty flooding across his face into panic. “Wait, have you told anyone?”
“Told them what?”
“Who I am.” Fingers formed a tight fist.
“No,” I said carefully. “And I won’t. This is your secret, Cassius.”
He breathed in deeply and the hand slowly unfolded. “Thank you.”
“Your path is fully your own,” I found myself saying. “But it need not be a solitary one.”
“How can it not? Do you think Kokabiel would forgive? There is no redemption for such evil. How could there be?”
“When you can forgive yourself then shall you see.”
“Don’t be absurd. The spirit that lurks within my chest is twisted and warped beyond measure. Don’t mistake an angel’s spirit for a human’s! We are made to a purpose, and when that purpose shatters that’s it. Only wreckage remains, a pitiful reminder of what once was.” He snorted. “Besides the Host will wipe us Grigori out long before that will ever happen.”
“Then help me. Help me stop those who would force such a future. Help buy the time and perhaps we can find a way to heal the wounds of long ago. To repair the damage and restore you all!”
He shook his head. “Impossible. Your head is still stuck in the clouds.”
“That’s Shemyaza’s belief. And maybe I am a fool. But I ask you - I ask Cassius - is that what you think? Can you look me in the eyes and say with full certainty that you agree with the ancient despair that drove what was once an angel of beauty and grace into madness? As much as I may be naive, do you truly think that his despair does not blind him as well?”
The young man swallowed. “I don’t know.”
“You fought him, Cassius. You hurt yourself to prevent his attack. You’ve already made a choice along a path different from his. Choose to believe in it! We will help you. As best we can, we will. All of Whateley will. That’s why this school is here - to give instruction, guidance, and support. So its students can then choose destinies according to their will and not ones imposed upon them. Don’t trust in me if you must because of what I am. I’ll understand. But perhaps it’s time to put your faith in the very humans we angels tried to help.”
“Do you trust your dad?”
He stared at the floor. “He doesn’t know everything. But yeah. I guess I do. He’s a good man.”
“Then try to extend that to others. Be cautious, but remember those same lessons of survival you were talking about. There’s a reason humans hunt in packs. They’re stronger together.”
He said nothing. Eventually, and in a quieter voice, he said, “Maybe.”
“Just think about it.”
We both fell quiet, unsure of what else to say. Into the silence my stomach growled. “Huh. I should get some breakfast. You hungry?”
He rolled his eyes. ”I suppose I could eat.”
Stepping away from the wall I moved towards the door. “I’ll get them to send something in. They think you tried to kill yourself, you know.”
He scowled at the bandages on his arm. “If I’d wanted to die I would have succeeded. I just cut deeper than I’d intended.”
“I believe you. If there’s anything I can do to help, you let me know okay?”
“Actually there is one thing.”
I looked back at him, raising an eyebrow. “Yeah?”
Angry eyes met mine. “Whoever dropped that bomb tried to wipe out the school with me in it. I take that personally. Kick their ass - whoever they may be.”
“Have to find them first.”
“Then find Zakiel.”
“He’s the only angel of the Grigori who could have harnessed the psychic trauma of tragic deaths on such a scale.”
I blinked. “Any idea where he is?”
“No. He didn’t attend Armaros’ conclave. But he’s the one you want. Count on it.”
“Zakiel. Got it. Thanks. I owe you another one.”
“I’ll remember that.”
“You do so.” With a nod I stepped outside. I moved past the waiting squad to head for the elevator without a word or even a friendly nod.
Because inside I was furious. It wasn’t right for a child to have such a fate thrust upon them. Cassius should have lived his life without the overwhelming guilt of events and actions that he himself had no part of. Reincarnation was supposed to give a blank slate to try again. This wasn’t fair. Not to him, not to Danielle, nor August or Ester. Or for that matter Zap.
But life wasn’t fair, was it. Which was entirely Cassius’ point.
So I channeled that anger elsewhere. Because I had a name. And with that I had a shot to trace down the bastards who attacked both the school and my best friend. The ones who tried to kill all of those I held so dear.
They were going to pay.
After a brief uncomfortable conversation with Natalie wherein I had to keep my mouth shut about what actually was behind Cassius’ self-harm all while hinting heavily that no, he wasn’t really suicidal, I hit up the cafeteria and pretended I wasn’t surrounded by a team of heavily armed soldiers. Given the looks from the other students a lot weren’t sure if I was being protected or being treated like a prisoner.
Honestly it felt more like the latter. At least the food was good. Whateley’s usual chefs were back in business so the fare had returned to our spoiled-rotten standards. It was definitely the kind of morning that required a stack of pancakes with those perfect crispy outer edges smothered in real butter and maple syrup plus a large side of bacon. And by large, I mean huge.
After washing it all down with an extra mug of tea we trooped (ha, get it?) over to the gym whereupon me and the corporal had the expected argument.
“You guys are staying out here,” I declared when we were standing outside the simulation squad-room.
“Miss, we have orders,” the corporal protested. He must’ve been fresh out of high school, peach fuzz still on his cheeks instead of proper stubble, yet he was looking at me like I was his clueless kid sister in desperate need of protection from schoolyard bullies.
“This is a secure facility,” I growled. “We are indoors and not exposed. Just like you guys don’t get to hang out in my bedroom, you aren’t lurking in here.”
Before he could respond the door opened. To my surprise Circe stood there, with Brendan and all the others already gathered around the battle-map table. Circe looked the guy up and down and spoke in a voice far kinder than mine, yet filled with even more steel. “Take up your positions outside the room, corporal. Aradia, come inside. Now.”
I went in and he and the rest stayed out.
“You’re late,” grumbled Brendan from the chair at the head of the table.
“By what, two minutes? The military parade slowed me down.” I took the empty seat between Haruko and Jenna and crossed my arms.
Circe remained standing, entering a code on the security panel just inside the door. A loud hum permeated the air and the little hairs on my neck decided to stand up. “There,” she said. “The room is secure.”
I looked at the ancient (yet still young-looking and beautiful) sorceress. “Do I dare ask why you’re here? Or have you decided to join our squad?”
She raised a discerning eyebrow. “Mrs. Carson would have come herself but is otherwise detained. Although I’m certain that you all would have shared your schemes and plans with us adults in short order.”
I coughed. “Of course.”
“Good.” Circe took a seat at the opposite end of the table from Brendan. “So what did you all have in mind to discuss?”
Zap spoke up before I could even start. “We need to go to Egypt.”
To my surprise Danielle agreed. “He’s right.”
“Uh,” I said as we all stared at them. “Care to explain?”
Danielle waved an inclusive finger at Zap. “The two of us talked last night. The seal on Gaia’s manna flow is cracking. Maybe in response to what you’ve already done, Aradia, or maybe because of what I did. But there are already two cracks and bound to be more. All the energy that’s been locked away for millennia is going to come flooding out eventually. It could take years, but we know F…the fae queen wants to rip it open sooner. It’s what she was trying to force me do in Arcadia.” She deliberately didn’t use Fionnabhair’s name to prevent the queen from being pulled by its use. Which made me realize I better be cautious about that too. “She’ll do anything to unleash it all because she believes the flood of power will release all the incarnate fae from being human. And allow the fae stuck in dream realms to again walk on Earth.”
“What does that have to do with Egypt?” asked Brendan.
Zap typed on a flat embedded keyboard, causing an amazingly sharp holographic image of a pyramid to rise from desert sands now covering the table. “The pyramids. They were built for a purpose far more important than being exalted tombs.” He paused while staring at the historical structure.
Circe prodded him. “What purpose was that, Zap?”
He snapped out of whatever ancient memories were clamoring for attention. “Together they’re a machine made of magic: a grand device set up to control the outflow when the seal finally collapses.”
Danielle added, “They were built to protect everyone from the initial surge. Otherwise who knows how many people will die. Like wizards who burst trying to tap directly to a ley line, except in this case the ley lines will tap everyone. All around the world.”
Circe frowned. “How do you know this? The pyramids have been investigated by the magical experts of each new generation, all looking to crack their secrets and yet finding nothing.”
“Because I - Heru - and Set made a deal to get it built. And over several lifetimes we implemented Imhotep’s grand plan.”
“Imhotep?” Jenna said puzzled. “Wasn’t he in one of those mummy movies?”
Zap groaned and rolled his eyes. “They stole the name. The rest is bullcrap. Imhotep was a genius, able to create incredibly complex patterns out of magical energies. And that’s part of the problem.” Frowning, his eyebrows furrowed.
“Problem?” It was my turn to prompt him to say more.
“Yeah. I’ve remembered enough to know what it’s supposed to do but not enough to know which pyramid has the controls, let alone how to operate the damn thing.”
“One problem at a time then,” Circe said. “What are the ‘controls’? Tell us more.”
“It’s like building a car, right?” Zap said. “Each pyramid - of those which are really part of the whole and not just clueless copies by later pharaohs - has a part. Like one has the engine, another the frame, then wheels and transmission. And one has the steering wheel and pedals to make the rest function along with the ignition key. Whichever pyramid has the controls is also the one with the stabilized connection directly to where Danelle’s - sorry, Siabh’s - Seal was forged to bind the energy in the first place.”
I had a question. “If you visit each pyramid in turn, could you figure that out?”
He gave me an embarrassed look. “I don’t know.”
“Why not?” Brendan demanded. “If you look at a car it’s pretty damn obvious where you’re supposed to sit to drive.”
Zap glared at him. “Because like Circe said no one’s figured anything out. Imhotep designed things to perfectly hide the design and keep it secret, though I think Set knows how to access it. Maybe if I saw all of them I could trace the magic and figure something out, but it might take me years! I’m still just a human and can barely remember even this much! Plus I’m not a super genius like Imhotep was.”
I put a hand over his fist where he was pressing it against the tabletop. “It’s okay, we’ll figure it out.”
He shook his head. “There may not be time. Set admitted he was working with the queen. He’s got to be hoping that if she cracks it open then he can take control of the machine.”
“Set wants to prevent the flood?” Circe asked dubiously.
“If humanity is wiped out there won’t be anyone left to worship him. And think of the power he’ll gain from being able to control where and how much all the extra magic energy can flow. Think about it!”
I did. “Holy shit. Every magic user in the world would profusely kiss his ass.”
“Yeah,” Zap agreed. “And he’d love every minute of it.”
Haruko cleared her throat to get everyone’s attention. “You stated that the pyramids were built over several lifetimes. By Imhotep. I assume you mean he had several incarnations then?”
“Yeah.” Zap nodded.
“So where is he now?”
“I have no idea. A soul about to be born is like a drop of water merging into an ocean. Anubis would have taken a real unfriendly stance towards us meddling with the process. It took me and Set working together for years each time to find him. And populations were a lot smaller back then.”
“Yes.” Haruko nodded. “The haystack is much larger. But do you need the same needle?”
Jenna caught Haruko’s gist. “Can we find someone else who’s that smart? Maybe even someone here at Whateley could do it.”
Circe spoke up. “A working of that magnitude would challenge not just me but almost any practitioner. And if Imhotep built it as a gigantic puzzle at the same time we could spend years studying it and still not have a proper answer.”
Jenna snorted. “If we can’t find someone then let’s just track Set down and beat the info out of him.”
“It’s not that easy,” protested Zap. “He’s a god!”
“Hmm,” I contemplated. “I could ask Tsáyidiel to find him. Maybe that’d lead us to the right pyramid!”
Zap’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t underestimate Set. He’s a power to be respected.”
I patted his hand. “No worries. I’ll tell Tsáyidiel just to follow him from a safe distance. And to avoid any confrontations. That work?”
He grunted. “Fine.”
“In the meantime,” Circe said, “we should plan on getting Zap to Egypt. Seeing things directly might greatly assist in the return of his memories.”
“Uhm,” Tamara interjected. “That may not be totally necessary.”
“How so?” Circe asked her.
“My mom is here. She’s got her scrying sphere - I saw it in her things. It’s like the one I had that Fields abused except a lot more powerful. My mom can see anywhere in the world with it. They’re tricky to use and take a lot of practice but she could teach Zap.”
Zap slumped in his chair. “That might help trigger memories but it still wouldn’t solve Imhotep’s puzzles. And how long would it take to learn to use it?”
Fields. Shit, that reminded me. “Fields thinks the queen may be about to get or already has one of those manna bombs. Except a lot more powerful. To use one to blow that seal apart. We may not have a lot of time.”
Tamara startled. “You’ve been talking to her?”
I groaned. “Sorry everyone, I need to get you all caught up.” While they listened I told them about my visit to Kurohoshi, running into Diego while there, and about Field’s report regarding Bishop, the manna bombs, and her suspicions about the queen. It took more than a few minutes.
“And that’s why,” I said trying to finish up, “I need to find Zakiel - to see if the queen already has a bomb or if we can somehow stop her from getting one. Well, stop her and stop the Grigori too if they are the ones behind the attack on the school. Speaking of - did those assassins whose butts you kicked so awesomely ever say anything useful?” I looked at Circe, as she’d be the only who would know.
Her expression hardened with raw annoyance. “No. Those two have apparently disappeared from military custody. They never arrived at the facility they were being transported to for questioning.”
“What?” Danielle blurted. “You’ve got to be shitting me! They escaped?”
“We do not yet know the details,” Circe said firmly. “It is possible the military is lying to us about this. Although with how angry the Major reacted when informed it is unlikely he’s in on it if that’s the case.”
Out of the corner of my eye I caught Haruko’s reaction. Instead of being pissed off, she had, just for a quick moment, quite an evil and satisfied little smile. When I turned to look directly she returned instantly to having a blank expression.
Sonuvabitch. I’d bet good money I knew exactly who had taken them. And if I was right they would have much preferred to remain in the hands of the military.
“Well crud,” I said loudly. “Alright, so as I see it we need to do the following: first I get Tsáyidiel to try and keep tabs on Set asap, second I need to see Ester and whether Kokabiel can help me find Zakiel and shut down the bomb-making or at least start tracing where more of them might be. And third Zap needs to talk to Tamara’s mom and get to learning how to use the scrying orb thing. If anyone thinks of any other possibilities we can pursue let us know. We need to chase whatever leads we can even if some don’t pan out. There’s still no guarantee our suppositions about things are even right.”
Most everyone nodded but Tamara looked uneasy.
“Tamara? Did we miss something?” I asked her.
She searched my eyes. “Do you trust Fields?”
Erk. “I know she hurt you - and me. But for her a lot of time has passed. I think she’s grown up. And she seems really sorry for what she did.”
“But do you trust her?”
Everyone stayed quiet to let me consider. Did I? She had come clean with me and apologized. The pain she had suffered was all too real and the lessons she had learned were harsh beyond words. Was that enough?
I tried to answer. “You know, I’ve barely spoken to her since Arcadia. But I will say this: she hates the queen with a passion. And if we fail to stop a flood of manna from swamping the world, it’ll likely kill her too. So I think for this, yeah, I trust her. She’s trying. She’s not the same child she was here at school.”
Tamara stared at the pyramids slowly spinning about in the air. “Then you need to get her here. Back to the school.”
Circe was not too happy about that idea. “She was expelled for breaking the most important of rules. Even if we wanted to bring her back, it would be the wrong example to the other students to do so.”
Pointing at the pyramids Tamara said, “We need to solve a crazy magical puzzle crafted by a super genius thousands of years ago. We also need to figure out how to use the magical device he created to save the world. It took me six months of study with my mom’s help to figure out how to use the scrying orbs properly. Do you know how long it took Fields?” She paused, waiting for someone to prompt the answer.
Jenna obliged. “I’ll bite. How long?”
“One hour. She mastered it better than I ever could manage in just one hour. If we need a super magic genius of our own then we need Fields.”
That shocked the sorceress. “But her testing didn’t show such a high level of aptitude.”
I snorted. “Then she faked her results,” I said, thinking of Cassius and how much he was able to keep hidden. “She’s a crazy good hacker. I bet she can build the same complexities out of magic. Any tests that would have revealed too much she likely rigged. When using that scrying sphere she bridged magic and technology as easy as writing a ‘hello world’ program.”
That got me a weird look but they understood the point.
“I will have to discuss this with Mrs. Carson.” Circe didn’t look too convinced.
“Fields won’t want to be a student again,” I pointed out. “So don’t worry about that part. I think she’s far past being anyone’s student after her time in Arcadia. But we do need her here. Or at least near enough for her to work with Zap and Tamara’s mother.” Turning back to Tamara I asked, “Will your mom even be willing to let Fields use her sphere?”
Tamara nodded. “I’ll convince her. And if I can’t, I’ll have her come talk to you.”
“So what do the rest of us do?” Jenna asked, clearly wanting to be more of an active participant.
I smiled at her. “What you do best. Be awesome and when we start being stupid kick us in the butts. Also be ready to punch out any more would-be assassins!”
She grinned. “Got it.”
Zap leaned back in his chair. “At some point we will have to go to Egypt. Or at least Danielle, Jordan, and myself will. And possibly Fields. Are we going to try to work with the military for this? Or will they just be in the way?”
I glanced at Haruko. “I think something can be worked out. Similar to how I got to Syria if need be.” To Circe I added, “I bet the government is going to want plausible deniability for this mess too.”
She agreed. “That does seem likely. And with us not knowing exactly the players behind events, who knows how compromised the Egyptian military itself would be.”
I stood up. “Then I’m off to get a message to Fields. Circe, when you’ve talked with Carson about Fields let me know. I can get a message to her.”
“Very well. You go on ahead and I’ll come find you later.” Circe looked around the table. “As for everyone else here, I have further questions I’d like to ask.”
That caused a collective groan from everyone. With a cheery grin clearly indicating ‘glad it’s you and not me!’ I slipped out of the room.
Although I had a sneaking suspicion Circe wanted to talk to them all about me behind my back. About what though, I wasn’t sure.
Screw it. I had too many other things to worry about. Like coordinating all the investigations so we can figure out how to save the world. You know, nothing serious or anything.
Just another day in my screwed up life.
With military escort in tow, I reached out to Tsáyidiel as we crossed the campus on the way to Hawthorne. I had to force myself to not speak aloud which still felt weird.
Forty years of having to flap one’s gums to talk to people isn’t let go of overnight.
“Tsáyidiel!“ In an instant I had a vision of where he was: perched high on a tree-top overlooking the greenery of Gabriel’s forest, scanning the boundaries for any ripples of encroaching energies.
That one word conveyed his infinite patience and contentment to guard the realm for eternity and yet at the same time a rising excitement that I might command him to perform yet another task. He was eager to fulfill whatever purpose I had need of, willing to pledge his entire existence to the accomplishment thereof.
It was unsettling in its sheer purity and entirely inhuman mindset.
“Is the realm safe?” I asked.
“Yes, milady. There have been only a handful of scans from beyond the boundaries. Michael’s presence lingers still and there are very few who would dare cross this border while it remains.”
“Good. I have a mission for you.”
“I await the glory of your command.”
“The Kemetic deity Set is possibly conspiring with the queen of the fae. He may lead her to a location here on Earth, and we need to know where. Can you safely and discretely find and track his movements?”
“I am unfamiliar with this deity. There is always risk of discovery when tracking a being who’s abilities are not well known. Prediction and understanding of strengths and limitations are keys to a successful hunt.”
“Are you saying it’s too dangerous?”
“Nay, milady. But I should warn that there are realms I may find difficult to traverse without accompanying a standard-bearer.”
“A what? You need a flag?”
“Some places do not agree with angelic energies and resist our presence. An open channel to above offers stability, thus scouting teams include a standard-bearer to give anchor and provide supportive power.”
“So who are the standard-bearers?” I wondered if they had their own chorus name. The various books on angels I’d read kept listing all these things like Principalities, Virtues, that kind of thing. But what those actually meant always seemed really vague or even made up.
“Most were of the House of Light in the service of the First.”
“You mean Lucifer.”
“If discovered by my quarry should I fight or flee?”
There was no hint of ego in the question. The only thing that mattered was my desire. “If discovered withdraw and report. Consider this a reconnaissance mission only: follow and observe.”
“I hear and obey.” With that he was off, his dark wings catching hold of the wind and driving beyond the small dream pocket’s boundaries.
Which was probably a good thing as the current corporal on my detachment was trying to get my attention.
“Miss? Hey, miss?” He was waving a hand in front of my face.
I snapped out of it and stopped walking. “What?”
“You alright?” The kid stared, obviously wondering if I was nuts. Heh, if he only knew.
“Just deep in thought.”
“We were given new orders, miss.”
I groaned. “What now?”
“We’ve been ordered to pack up and return to base.”
“Yes’m. The DPA has jurisdiction with the FBI assisting the ongoing investigation. The CDC is also leaving.”
“So no more need for a personal security detail?”
“That’s up to the DPA, miss. I was only asked to verify and request that you keep your phone on your person as they will wish to confer at some point today. Also for you to not leave the campus.”
I patted the rear jeans pocket where the phone was already wearing a hole in the tight fabric. “Got the phone right here and I’m not going anywhere.”
“Then we’re off.” He motioned to the squad to gather up and fall in.
“Take care guys,” I said awkwardly. “And uh, thanks for your service.”
That at least got a grin, one echoed by quite a few of them. “Our pleasure, miss.”
Oh. Those were more leers than a grins. Joy. One of the squad kept looking back over his shoulder as they hustled off. Dammit, he was the one who was supposed to be guarding our backs.
I wondered if he’d actually seen anything other than my rear end the entire time.
Speaking of, ye ol’ butt-cheek suddenly vibrated and chimed with a ringtone I’d definitely not chosen: Calling all Angels by Train.
“Hello?” I answered, having a suspicious idea of who it might be.
“Hey Fields. Good timing, I was about to try and contact you.”
“Oh? What have you got? The line is secure - for now. And no one is in earshot of you at the moment.”
I looked around quickly. “How the heck do you know that?”
“Whateley security cameras,” she answered with a large dose of smugness.
“Wait, do you already know what we discussed in the gym?” I grumbled.
“No. Those rooms truly are isolated and secure. So give.”
Well that was a small relief. At least there’s one place a private conversation could be had. “Right. Short version is that there’s a way to save everyone if the third Seal is breached, something built by the ancient Egyptians into the pyramids.”
“Intriguing. What’s the catch?”
“We don’t know which pyramid has the controls for the mechanism. Zap, the incarnate of Heru you met in Arcadia, can’t remember it all in enough detail yet. Which is why we want you to get out here.”
She paused. “You want me at Whateley?”
“Tamara’s mom is here. She has her global scrying orb with her. We need you.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“I’m not. What’s built into the pyramids is some fantastically complicated working, this millennia old puzzle embedded across who knows how many of them. You know anyone else able to use that orb who’s smart enough to solve it all over the next few days? The clock is ticking.”
“There’s no way administration would let me back on campus. Let alone Tamara’s mom letting me anywhere near that orb.”
“You don’t need to be on campus itself, just close enough in town. And Tamara is going to try and convince her mom to let you.”
“I don’t…” She fell silent.
“Tamara is choosing to trust me,” I said carefully. “And I’m choosing to trust you. So get your butt out here so we can stop the queen from killing billions of people.”
In an uncharacteristically quiet voice she said, “I’ll get a flight.”
“Good. In other news I have a name for an angel who could be the one making those devices. Zakiel.”
“Yeah. I don’t know if we can find him though, he’s staying hidden.” I frowned. Should I have sent Tsáyidiel to try and find him instead of Set? Dammit. That might have been smarter. I’d have to hold the idea in reserve.
Erica was talking and I refocused to catch up. “On that score I may have something. Diego is currently informing the DPA of a place in El Paso which we suspect is where Bishop set up shop recently. The paper trail leads to there.”
“El Paso? In Texas? Don’t they need a place close to a lot of awful deaths?”
“They do. And across the border’s ditch is Juarez: a festering hole where the cartels have been at war for the past couple years. They’re on track to have three thousand murders this year alone.”
“Diego is going to request to have you there when they raid the place. So be ready to go.”
“If your angel is there making those things who else is going to be able to take him on?”
“Oh.” I guess that made sense. “Is the DPA going to give your dad his old job back?”
“Time will tell. But don’t fuck it up for him.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“You better.” She hung up.
Chapter 21 - El Paso
The entire flight out to El Paso I mentally continued the debate on whether I shouldn’t go at all. What if there was a second attack at the school? Kami had sent me there to help defend it, and here I was rushing off again.
But if we didn’t take the fight to the ones behind the attempts they’d be free to keep trying and eventually they’d succeed. Danielle had reassured me that she would be fine and even Mrs. Carson had heavily hinted that several of the school’s more powerful alumni were also on their way to help bolster the defenses.
Given that she refused to name names, I suspected a lot of that assistance was coming from folks who would make sure the DPA never knew they were even there.
When I arrived at the small airport in El Paso the sun was floating high in a perfectly clear blue sky. After going down the escalators from the flight gates I walked towards the two-story wall of bright windows lining the covered loading zones looking for my pickup. I had been told Diego would meet me here but the DPA agent that was with him was a surprise: Agent Mark Boone, my brother-in-law who I’d almost gotten killed when I foolishly had dragged him to my old house before knowing for sure things were safe.
It was surprisingly good to see him.
“Mark!” Instantly letting go of the handle to my small suitcase-on-wheels I wrapped him in a fierce hug.
“Hey! Go easy!” He grimaced, awkwardly not returning the gesture.
“Oh geeze, I’m sorry.” Feeling like a total heel I let go. He’d broken a number of ribs when being tossed about like a rag-doll by Tsáyidiel. I looked up at him sheepishly. “You okay?”
He managed a pained smile as he put a hand over his side. “Still tender but not too bad.” He looked thinner and the grey at his temples had advanced further. Yep, his standard-issue dark blazer was now a size too big from muscle loss.
“Aren’t you supposed to be sitting at a desk?” I asked. “And hey Diego. Long time no see.”
Diego nodded. “Miss Emrys.”
Mark shook his head. “They let me off the leash. This business of the attack at Whateley has priority.”
“That much is obvious,” I grinned. “They sent a helicopter to pick me up and get me to the airport. They barely gave me time to pack.”
“Just be glad there was a readily available commercial flight,” Mark said. “Otherwise you would’ve been flown out in a C-130 to Fort Bliss.”
“Come,” interrupted Diego. “The tactical team is waiting. We should go.” By his own clothing it was obvious they hadn’t given Diego his job back, at least not yet. The beige slacks and bright blue-green Hawaiian shirt were totally not standard agent issue.
At Diego’s continued urging we went out into the bright sun before climbing into another one of those black SUVs I kept traveling from disaster to disaster in. Diego and I took the back seat. Nothing to see here folks, just two tourists being whisked away by a pair of sunglasses-wearing G-men. Granted we’d have stood out even more if I hadn’t been wearing the headband disguise gadget thing which had again turned my hair and eyes brown.
Once out of the paved parking lot the driver quickly merged onto the 10 freeway, its sign being all too familiar. It’s always a trip remembering that one of the freeways I used to get regularly stuck on every day really did span the entire country. El Paso didn’t look all that different from my usual commute either, except that the only tall buildings around fell rapidly behind us and the layout of the surrounding mountains didn’t exactly match.
“So what’s the plan?” I said, breaking the solemn silence that settled in. “The Director didn’t give any details other than to get my butt out here.”
Both Mark and Diego started to reply but caught themselves.
“Go ahead,” Mark said into the resulting awkward pause of who-goes-first.
Diego cleared his throat. “Intelligence, provided mostly by Erica, has traced ownership of an estate home in the nearby hills to the same corporate entity that owned the warehouse where the device in Los Angeles was stored. In addition, deliveries of the same rare minerals and crystals from spiritually ‘hot’ places around the world like the ones used in the construction of the bomb at the school were sent to this estate.”
“What’s the connection with Bishop?” I asked.
Mark answered. “His nightclub is also owned by an offshoot of the same corporate shells. Put together it was enough to get a warrant.” He turned around from the front seat to look directly at me. “Jus…Jordan. You’re here as an observer, got it? You’re to stay outside until the buildings are secure.”
Diego scowled. “Her participation could be vital. Did she not save the team in Los Angeles from blindly plunging into one of the most potent death spells we’ve ever encountered?”
Mark returned the glare. “That’s why you’re here, Diego. But word from the President himself is that no harm should come to her if we can at all prevent it. Her security is now an alpha-level priority mission for the DPA. If it were up to me she would be on her way to a safe-house in the mid-west even now.”
“Whoa, whoa, say what now?” What the hell? I mean, the military escort on campus was annoying but wasn’t that just in case other assassins tried to attack? Though come to think of it those two were specifically after Danielle and not me.
I’d clearly missed something while distracted with dealing with everything else. Dammit.
Mark looked back at me. “I have not been read into all the details. But I do know that a cardinal from the Holy See met with the President to discuss recent events. Word came down after that.”
Diego shook his head. “What he’s not telling is also important. Your protection is paramount but we are also not to interfere with your holy mission in any way. I believe your participation today is part of that.”
Good grief, he was serious. “Look,” I said, not bothering to hide my annoyance. “Even I have no fricken’ clue as to what my ‘holy mission’ is supposed to be. So what makes you think that?”
The wizard regarded me calmly. “We seek an angel who is creating devices of terrible power. You have already stopped two of the fallen, indeed you redeemed their very spirits and restored them to grace. How could this not be part of your divine quest?”
I didn’t have an answer to that. Diego and Mark exchanged mutual glares and stayed quiet as well. As for the driver, he was doing his best impression of someone ardently focusing only on the traffic.
I’d like to say that it was really cool being part of a joint DPA, FBI, and local law enforcement operation busting into a suspected super-villain’s lair but in truth I didn’t get to see much of that part.
We drove up a hill to the north into an obviously exclusive neighborhood, one with security gates, fences, and lots of cameras failing to blend with the heavily watered foliage. At the end of a long road leading out to one of the mountain’s ‘fingers’ pointing towards Juarez was another such gate. By the time our SUV, itself part of a long parade of official vehicles, reached the gatehouse the perimeter had already been breached by large SWAT vans which deployed their cargo of heavily armed men in tactical gear across a wide driveway sitting in front of the Spanish-styled mansion.
“Stay in the car,” ordered Mark as he, the driver, and Diego all jumped out to join the festivities.
At least they’d left the police radio on. The SUV’s speakers dutifully relayed what was going on with such exciting reports as rooms being cleared, house staff being rounded up, all that kind of thing. I had a really great view of all the marvelous landscaping being trod upon by the various squads searching the estate with their organized dance of boots and guns. They were extremely thorough and thus it was taking awhile.
Out of sheer boredom I took a peek at the house from the spirit-side perspective, wondering if it had wards or anything weird. I certainly hadn’t felt anything as we’d gone past the gates and I was disappointed when the house continued to appear utterly normal.
Yet something didn’t feel quite right either. The so-called house-staff had been marched outside, hands clasped by zip-ties, and parked on their knees under the front yard’s ivy-wrapped patio trellis. For butlers, maids, and pool-boys they were not only rather non-plussed about events but also were all young and in darn good physical condition. They had on these nice white dress shirts and dark slacks with freshly polished black shoes.
Was it just me or did they all look rather alike? Dark hair but lighter colored eyes, similar up-turned noses and either pale skin or light tans. I wondered if they were all related somehow.
They had offered no resistance to any of the officers. From the radio reports the entire staff surrendered as cooperatively as possible.
The radio cracked as a commanding and impatient voice barked, “Well? Report!”
“House is clear, sir.”
“Staff house clear.”
The commander called out again. “Sensing team, any necromantic residue detected?”
“Negative, sir. All detectors are clear.”
“Dammit Diego. Where’s the evidence?”
Diego was remarkably calm over the radio. “It’s here. We just haven’t found it yet. I request that Aradia assist with the search.”
“Fine. Do it.”
One of the DPA agents standing outside whistled to get my attention and gestured to get my butt out of the vehicle.
“Great,” I muttered. “Here’s where the fun begins.”
Trying to appear calm I hopped out and marched past all the people surrounded by dudes with SWAT emblazoned across thick body-armor. The silent and intense gaze of every single one of the so-called ‘staff’ was really eerie, but if you’re all tied up due to some serious police raid the sight of a teen-aged girl suddenly walking past wearing jeans and a Millennium Falcon t-shirt would probably catch your attention, wouldn’t it?
All I was missing to make the scene complete was some chewing gum with which to blow a few bubbles.
A guy with a scar running through his graying stubble was at the front of the house, assault rifle slung across his back. His fingers were twitching in their tactical gloves like they really wanted to be holding a cigarette. He moved aside to let me pass the two rather elegant and dark wooden doors that were swung inward. They each had tall ovals of stained glass, the left one was of a tree covered in small dark ravens under a cloudy sky and the other had a dark blue lake with a silver fish leaping free from the frothy spray.
Like I said, elegant.
Crossing that threshold though had an immediate effect. Not only did the world tilt sideways but the entire tableau of Diego, Mark, and many other officers standing under the huge chandelier also flickered, going mostly transparent like they’d been photoshopped in by someone who’d totally screwed up the opacity of the layers.
After many blinks and a shake of the head things cleared up. Sorta.
“Hey guys?” I asked, slowly examining the opulent entrance lobby with its antique grandfather clock, oaken coat rack, vaulted ceiling, and staircase adorned with expensively curved polished banisters.
Diego stepped closer. “What is it?”
“Did you all check the basement?”
Mark looked at me funny. “It’s a slab foundation. There’s no basement.”
I pointed at his feet. “Tell that to the weird double door hatches you’re standing on.”
“What?” He exchanged an odd glance with Diego before getting on his knees to touch the floor. “It’s marble tile.”
“Uh, not to me it isn’t.”
Frowning, Diego took a small eye-drop bottle out of the deep pockets in his slacks. Applying a quick squirt to each eye he too blinked and peered about. “Describe what you see.”
I shrugged. “Set into the floor are these two large wooden hatch doors that have hinges on this side so they should open upwards. They’re like the front doors and even have carvings matching the designs of the stained glass. I take it you all don’t see them?”
Mark grunted as he stood up. “No.”
“I don’t detect any glamour or other spellwork.” Diego spun around and marched to the front doors. He ran his palm over their inset pictures. “Nothing.”
I crossed my arms. “So either these panels are really there or I’m delusional.”
“If they aren’t being hidden by magical glamour, then what are they?” asked Mark.
Diego looked at the floor then at me, brows furrowing.
I had a thought. “Does it mean anything that I’ve been able to touch Louis Geintz’s astral projection? To me he’s always felt solid.”
“Maybe,” Diego said. “But I do not detect anything unusual in the spirit either. This could be the product of some kind of dimensional phasing.”
“Want to explain?” I asked, dropping to one knee and touching one of the floor panels. Yep, definitely wood and not marble.
Diego rubbed his chin. “Physical space but pushed slightly out of phase with the normal universe. There have been cases of meta-humans with powers that work that way. Look around for any signs of a large spellworking. It’s possible that the very spell itself was also re-phased and thus undetectable on our side.”
I shrugged. “When I peered at the house earlier I didn’t see anything. But I can try.” I let the ol’ eyeballs become flashlights again, an effect that caused a few of the cops to take a step back before they pretended they weren’t taken off guard. They weren’t the only ones surprised though.
“Holy shit,” I said. “You’re right.”
Surrounding the panels on the floor and extending all the way up the walls, around the main doors, and into the cross-beams above was this nest of lines of power, all glowing with this eerily deep purple. There weren’t any symbols but the patterns themselves pulled and twisted at the area surrounding them. Best way to describe it was like being stuck in the moment you awaken from a dream. You know, when the dream doesn’t want to let go and tries to actively pull you back even while eyes are opening to see the hungry tabby staring into your face.
Except in this case both sides felt just as real and the more I focused on those pulsing patterns the more Diego and Mark faded.
“Aradia!” shouted Diego. “You’re slipping across!”
Mark went to grab at my shoulder but his hand swiped right through. Yeah, that wasn’t weird or anything. And yet when I reached out to poke him with a finger it connected with his chest no problem.
Touching him also caused everyone else to come back into focus.
“Huh. Okay guys. I think I can phase in or out here. What’s the plan? Am I going down there or what?”
“No,” Mark said instantly. “That’s too risky. Diego, figure out how to get us across.”
Diego shook his head. “It could take days to isolate the resonances and even then I cannot guarantee success.”
“Can Aradia pull us over?” Mark asked him.
I thought about it then shook my head. “Guys, while my clothes seem to pop with me when I go places, even that isn’t guaranteed. Say I manage to get one of you over there but then let go? If on this side it’s all solid earth down there then I don’t think Mark wants to suddenly find himself embedded in the middle of it.”
“Dammit. She’s right.” Mark scowled. “I’ll go talk to the section chief.” He walked outside, leaving me with Diego and a bunch of bemused cops and agents.
“Whatever we’re looking for is down there, you know that,” I said to Diego.
He nodded. “Yes but Mark is right. You shouldn’t go alone.”
I studied his face. He meant it. Even though he knew that if we came out of this whole expedition empty handed his stature and any possible future with the DPA would take yet another hit.
Fishing through my hair I pulled off the band keeping the naturally unnatural colors hidden and handed it to Diego. “Hold onto this.”
“Shut it, Diego. I made a promise.”
I didn’t bother to watch the reactions of all the law enforcement guys. I just dropped all pretense of being human, spread brilliant wings across the room, and grabbed hold of those two hatches on the floor ready to rip them free if need be.
They weren’t locked.
Anyone without angelic perfect recall would have been stuck wishing for Theseus’ bundle of twine. Under the house was a labyrinth of rooms and passages hallowed out from the mountain itself and going all over the place.
The hatches had revealed stairs that went down at least three or four stories until reaching these long corridors and sporadic open spaces. There was no light either except for what I was blazing out, so that was handy. While I was certainly no expert, the walls must have been carved straight out of the rock. Given the unevenness of their texture it wasn’t done by anything resembling modern tools. More like claws had just sliced out chunk after chunk.
Yeah, that wasn’t a disturbing thought or anything.
While there were many rooms they all had signs of having been abandoned. Old bedding on platforms, rolled up rugs leaning against the walls, and all kinds of other random items were scattered about. Things like chairs held together by rotting wood and ancient tables with various ceramic pottery sitting in dusty stacks. Occasionally more modern-ish furniture would fill a room. For example one had barrels of what could have been gunpowder and racks where long rifles might have stood next to a solid desk complete with high-backed wooden chair.
Oh, and there were also skulls. Like a lot of them though not human. They were of some kind of big cat —probably jaguars—with sharp fangs all piled about or placed in little alcoves in the walls. As to how I guessed they were jaguars, the large wood throne-like chair with arms carved into the form of jaguar heads was a large clue.
There was also a loud hum coming from further in and I did my best to follow its vibrations. Naturally going in that direction had the creepiest vibe: a sickly sensation of death and decay, applying deeper coats on my skin the deeper I went.
It was spine-tinglingly icky. I was so going to need a hot shower after this.
Down yet another corridor came the first flickers of a light that wasn’t mine from a wide opening at the end. I dialed down my own so I could try to sneak to the entrance and get a peek first.
Caution seemed like a good idea. Especially since as I got closer I could hear people talking.
“Coatl, this is especially not a good time for conversation.”
The man’s deep voice bounced about as if projected by an expensive stereo’s sub-woofer. Wow, this guy could have given James Earl Jones some serious competition.
“Apologies for disturbing you, Master,” another voice answered. It didn’t boom like the first but instead slid across the ears as a rasping gasp. “But by your command it is necessary. Human authorities have taken the house above.”
“You were forewarned of this possibility and given instructions yet you still invoke me. Has something unforeseen occurred?”
“They brought one of the above with them, Master. It has crossed the boundaries and approaches.”
“Approaches?” A sharp laugh made the floor rumble. “They are listening even now. Come out, angel! Let us speak.”
Shit. So much for being stealthy.
Pulsing the light to flare as brightly as it wanted I walked around the corner. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw.
The corridor opened up to a cavern at least fifty feet high and twice that across. The flickering illumination came from these huge crystals - all dark blues and violets - rising from the floor towards the tall ceiling in broad sheets. While the humming of the energies still swirled within them, the vibration I’d been following was actually a large diesel generator sitting in the center of a dizzying set of crystal-lined arcane circles, words of power actively glowing and throwing up complicated layers of protection. Several large hard plastic cases were also stacked besides the generator.
Oh, and from the generator ran wires to a transformer obviously powering not just the computer at the desk but also all these medical devices standing next to a hospital bed at the center.
The occupant stuck between the bed’s rails had barely any wisps of white hair left on his liver-spotted head. Tubes snaked down his throat to do his breathing for him while an intravenous drip kept him hydrated and presumably fed with glucose. His eyes were closed and a heart monitor showed a steady fifty beats per minute.
At the desk sat a guy looking no more than seventeen with a shaved head and wearing an University of Texas sweatshirt. He literally hissed at me as I walked closer. He’d been talking to a face taking up most of the computer’s display. Imagine taking an olive, sucking the juice out, and then stretching it a bit further into an elongated ellipse then adding dark eyebrows and a pair of ancient yet pondering eyes and you’d come close.
Okay, so he maybe he didn’t quite look that weird - but it’s what came to mind. Also, I totally called it about the subwoofer. The computer had a serious gamer’s speaker setup.
The guy on the screen spoke. “Welcome, cousin. Although I that relationship may no longer apply given your ascension.”
As I moved across the room I was careful not to cross any of those creepily thrumming circles. Just walking in here was like going deeper into a graveyard. How many people had died in this room?
I coughed, trying to clear phantom phlegm from my throat and failing. “Cousin? How do you figure?”
“You are a daughter of Heaven. And while I can hardly claim such an esteemed provenance as your own, my own progenitor was also once of the Host.”
“Oh. That. I’m guessing you’re Bishop.”
“That name suffices for now, yes.”
“Who’s the guy in the bed?” I pointed, watching the ventilator force the old man’s chest to rise and fall.
“Come now. If you’re here then you should already know the answer.”
What? I took a closer look at the guy’s pattern, peering as best I could past the dizzying energies surrounding him. At his spirit’s center, tarnished and covered in grime, lay the remnants of a name.
The very name I’d been looking for.
“Zakiel! Jesus, is he dying?”
“His body has exceeded its natural limits. It is kept alive thanks to the miracles of modern medicine.”
“He’s the one who’s been making those bombs.”
“Oh yes. Of his own volition, I might add.”
Crap. I felt like the Coyote in that old cartoon when he had finally managed to catch the Road Runner. But only because he’d been shrunk down to only a few inches tall and the full-sized Road Runner had let him grab its ankle out of sheer amusement.
“Well, he needs to face justice for that. As do you.”
Snake-boy hissed air again but Bishop only chuckled. “Justice has not existed for a long time. Indeed I would argue it has always been but an illusion. In either case, I believe we are at an impasse regarding his fate.”
“Firstly, I am not there. Secondly, you are outside the protective wards that Coatl has activated. He can sit behind them for quite some time. Your human allies, despite the many skills of Agent Diego, will be quite unable to phase into this space. It’s an anathema to humans, you see.”
“And if I smash your wards?”
“Amusing thought but not likely. They were forged by Spanish priests hundreds of years ago, incorporating in their devout prayers the divine Name. They believed that an angel of the pit was stalking them through these tunnels and worked their enchantment with all the power of their terrified yet faithful hearts. No Fallen can cross the boundaries keeping our guest safely ensconced, for the Name would burn them quite painfully for their transgressions.”
“I am not Fallen.”
“No, of course not. But as an angel of the host the holy Name is an imperative which equally cannot be countermanded. Thus the only question remaining is thusly put: how long can you afford to sit there waiting for the power of the wards to fail? And given that these crystals have been rather recently charged, I do believe they can last for at least fifteen if not twenty years. By that time the diesel fuel will have run out along with the medical supplies sustaining Zakiel’s current incarnation.”
“Your dude here will also starve to death in that time,” I pointed out.
“Coatl?” Bishop smiled and it was not a nice smile. “He has slept for centuries before when it was necessary. He can do so again.”
I shot a glance at Coatl. His smile was equally unfriendly - and fanged. “Shit. Vampire?”
“He has been my faithful servant for many centuries. Coatl!”
The guy bowed his head towards the screen. “Master.”
“Let the angel waste her time outside the circle. You have your orders.”
Bishop addressed me again. “So that it may hasten your decision to quickly depart, know this: the fae queen has already taken delivery of her prize as promised her by the sorcerer Callas Soren almost a century ago.”
“Yes!” He laughed at my surprise. “He is the mastermind behind recent events and the queen is but one more pawn. Did you not realize this? And with the power we have gathered and stored she even now prepares to destroy the restrictions of magic forced upon this world. Whether she or her older sister accomplishes this task matters little to me. But I have waited a very long time for that Seal to finally fall. Fare thee well, angel. By Conquest’s success shall my own goals also reach fruition.”
Then the bugger signed off and the video-chat window went dark.
“Dammit! Hey Coatl!”
Dead eyes regarded me suspiciously but the fanged guy didn’t say anything.
“How long ago did the queen get her bomb? How big is it? Where did she take it?”
He deliberately turned his back on me by spinning his chair towards the computer. The the twit launched a game of solitaire.
“Talk to me!” I shouted which he utterly ignored. In fact he brought up a music list and blasted Nine Inch Nails through those expensive speakers.
Frustrated, I punched at the energies marking the limits of the circles. A shower of sparks ricocheted off the fist with this wild mix of white and purplish fireworks. Weirdly it wasn’t a hard thud like I’d expected. Instead my hand had sunk at least an inch within the barrier before coming to a halt.
The whole hand, still pushed slightly inside, began to shake. Lines of power swirled around my fingers, words flickering past so quickly it was like someone had crudely attempted to embed subliminal messages into a video. But instead of the usual graffiti these words were names: Michael, Uriel, Raguel.
Those names shoved hard against the arm forcing it back as a thundering imperative, fervently defending a line that was never to be crossed by order of the Will of Heaven as summoned by men of true faith.
I stared at my glowing hand and the residue of the power that had stopped its path.
To an angel with that brilliant script burning within their cores and providing them with all their holy power, that will would be sacrosanct. To go against its command would sever the tie between their own pattern and their source, to cut themselves away from all that gave them meaning and purpose.
They would fall from grace and the holy Name would cease to be a loving sanctuary of strength but instead would transform into a fiery condemnation and shatter their central essence.
Except Armaros had said I was different. He’d said I was not tied to the Throne and therefore not really of the host. Elohim was not my conduit and His name did not lie within. Only the name as gifted and sustained directly by the unknowable and ultimate source of Light burned within: Amariel. Unbound and free to choose a path resonating only according to her own purpose.
Beyond this barrier lay my only real lead towards stopping the deaths of thousands, if not billions should the queen shatter the seal. I had to get in there, I just had to.
Even if it meant contradicting the written Will of God.
Opening the channel to that Source wider still I offered a prayer of my own. Guide me, I begged. If this is the will of my spirit, then grant me the strength to succeed.
With a massive surge the letters of my name seared across my awareness. A fist now more light than hand hammered its way across the boundary in an explosion of light and power, shockwaves ripping through the patterns woven into the circles. The surrounding stalagmites of crystal screeched from the strain of each blow as I put all I had behind them.
Holding on to that purpose I forced my way across as a burning figure brighter than any magnesium flare.
As the echoes of the terrible sound and light-show faded the circle restored itself still intact and glowing behind me. I hadn’t broken it, but I was firmly ensconced within
Coatl fell off the chair to cower on his knees, head bowed as it touched the cold rocky floor.
“Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli! Lord of the Day! Forgive this humble servant of the night!” He’d yanked his hands back into the long sleeves of the sweatshirt, tightly gripping the ends of fabric in closed and covered fists, the hood also pulled down to completely shroud his head. “Lord Tlaloc must not have recognized your true glory!”
That was different.
“Lord Tlaloc?” I asked warily, still trying to process what I had just managed to do.
“The master.” A shaking sleeve waved back towards the desk where the computer sat. “If he had known your true personage your welcome would have been made proper!”
“My true personage?”
“Only the Star of the Morning could cross this circle so. Only Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli in one of his many aspects could perform such a miracle. Which aspect do I have the honor of addressing, oh Lord?”
Star of the Morning? Holy crud. He meant Lucifer. “You have me mistaken, Coatl. For I am not he.” Like the boobs hadn’t already given that away? I mean, being mistaken for Gabriel at least sorta made sense, but Lucifer?
Then again, given what I’d just done…
The covered head insisted. “You must be. His light is yours.”
Coatl clearly was not up to speed on Aradia’s history. But if the guy was suddenly being agreeable I needed to make use of it quickly while it lasted. “My questions. Answer them.”
“The Queen of Arcadia took delivery of what was promised earlier this day, great Lord. She now possesses a full share of all the collected essences which the master and the associate have endeavored to gather for nearly three-fourths of a century.”
Oh fuck. “Where? Where has it gone?”
“Forgive me, Lord, for I know not.”
“By the ‘associate’ do you mean him?” I gestured towards the dude in the bed still breathing by virtue of the machines and tubings.
Oops. The guy was hiding his face and didn’t see the gesture. “Zakiel. The old guy in the bed. Does he know where she is going?”
“It is possible, Lord. But I am not privy to such if he does.”
“Can you wake him up?”
“Forgive me, no. He has slipped into lands of eternal dream. We contain his spirit here but his mind wanders to realms of its own making.”
I stepped closer to the bed. “If he’s in dreams then I’ll just have to go there and ask him directly. Stay put, Coatl, I may have more questions. Not like you can go anywhere anyway.”
“As you command, Lord.”
The heavily-lined face of the man snug under the blanket looked so peaceful in spite of all the tubes keeping him alive. Crinkled skin adorned the sides of his closed eyes. He looked an awful lot like my grandfather did right before he passed.
I had to remind myself that the spirit behind those saintly features had forged weapons of mass destruction and deserved to answer for it.
Peering further beyond the physical I reached out to the line of sky-blue energy fluttering out of his head that lead off to a different place of awareness.
Taking hold I let it pull me away.
Chapter 22 - Escape
Trees and ground, stones and sky. All in shadow.
Small calloused feet scrambled across brambles lining thick forest floor, flinching hands held out against leaves and branches ripping across skin and thin woolen sleeves. Lungs heaved with exertion, the harsh shout of men and baying of dogs allowing no respite.
His brother was dead. Tzalka’s desperate cries for him to run silenced by the single crack of thunder from a guard’s authority. Past the first trees and without looking back, his brother’s violently ejected soul had screamed across his awareness: all its rage, its pain, and the smallest of hopes.
A hope that Iosef might escape, might survive.
In the box-car tears had smeared dirt and blood across many sunken cheeks. An old babushka discovered the loose boards near the floor, and with Tzalka’s help had pried free a small opening to the earth flashing past as the train sped towards whatever doom awaited the hungry, cramped, and beyond terrified passengers wedged inside the mobile prison.
The train had stopped, perhaps an issue with the mighty engine, they didn’t know nor care. The babushka grabbed Iosef, skinny and half-starved, and shoved him through the gap to fall to the tracks below. She tried to push through Tzalka but he was older and stuck, arm and head free but chained forever by the larger torso behind.
Seeing his younger brother’s hesitation Tzalka had gasped for Iosef to flee. Gasps that became shouts as the patrol came and their whistles of alarm pierced the moonless night.
Now he ran.
Dogs bounded in his wake with all the fierce joy of the hunt. They had his scent, an all too easy task. It had been over a week since his mother had laughingly forced him into the bath. She too had been taken, and the brothers had no knowledge whether she was on the same train or had already met her fate.
With a snarl the closest beast lunged, teeth sinking into an ankle, tumbling them both into broad roots weaving into a thick trunk. Lashing out, his other heel connected between the hound’s eyes, its yelp of stunned surprise slackening the jaws and allowing the limb to rip free that he might scramble forward once again. Foot over bloody foot, there was no recognition of pain only terror.
To his dismay he burst from the edge of the forest into a wide clearing. An industrious family had carved a space into the woods wherein to build a home that now sat clearly abandoned. Perhaps they too had been victims of the invader’s purges. Thick grass and young trees sprouted across the emptiness leading to a building without light or fire and a door swinging from rusty hinges.
Bolting towards the cabin, he threw himself past the entrance and slammed the thankfully solid door into the fangs of another snarling hunter. A cross beam rested against the door’s frame, and with strength born of desperation was wedged and locked into place.
Angry claws scratched at the protective lumber. Shouts came from the forest line, the chasing guards had followed their baying trackers.
Furniture lurked within shadows and the boy crawled under the kitchen table, arms huddled around a chest gasping for air trying desperately to be silent but whimpering all the same.
More barking from beyond the walls and men relayed orders in gruff foreign voices as they surrounded the house having determined that their prey was inside. Several debated on how best to breach the building, for the windows had long ago been boarded shut against harsh winters.
A kick to the front door rattled the frame, followed by another, the wood creaking in protest. Iosef, eyes wide with terror, retreated further into the dark corner.
No further blows landed.
Instead a cry of alarm was followed instantly by gunfire and shrieks of panic. More shots, more screams, and the dogs whimpered and howled.
A horrible silence followed.
Iosef flinched when a single knock rapped at the door.
“You can come out now, boy.” A man’s voice spoke not in German nor even Polish. The words were Hebrew. Iosef, still studying for his bar mitzvah, understood.
Not that he moved.
Another man spoke, voice deep and resonating through the darkness like distant thunder. “You will have to fetch him, Soren. The child is paralyzed with fear.”
The beam across the door holding death at bay trembled and rose off the hooks, rotating in the air on its own, to land gently once again besides the door which now swung open.
Two men filled the doorway. One with skin the same shade as the night beyond but clad in the raiments of a gentleman: dark woolen business coat, slacks, and immaculate blue tie. The other was a much taller yet skinnier man huddled within a leather duster and wiped at his mouth with a red-stained kerchief.
Behind them sat six German Shepherds aligned in a perfect row, gazing at the suited gentleman with abject submission.
The gentleman spoke again, stern yet with compassion. “It is safe. They cannot hurt you.”
“We should not linger,” said the slender giant. “Boy. Outside. Now.” The words slipped through the door and like worms wriggled into Iosef’s ears.
Iosef, with no intention of leaving his spot, found his limbs moving. Crawling out from under the table, his legs carried him to the door, and as the two men stepped aside, out into the clear cold night.
The gentleman’s dark eyes narrowed disapprovingly. “There was no need for that.”
“The gunshots will bring more men once they’ve formed up. And I have had my fill this night. Are you sure this is the boy?”
“He is the one. Look close at the energies already accumulating around him from those who satiated your hunger.”
Long, slender, and terribly cold fingers touched Iosef’s face, turning it this way and that in examination. “Ah yes. Fascinating.”
“If you are satisfied then we have an agreement.”
The hand released Iosef’s cheeks, moving to rest gently against his back and the taller man turned to stand at the boy’s side. Iosef wanted to run, but exhaustion and that strange compulsion kept him rooted to the spot.
“I believe we do, yes.”
The gentleman knelt before the boy, reaching a night-skinned hand of his own to brush dirty hair out of Iosef’s eyes. “He will take good care of you, Iosef. For that too is part of the bargain.”
Staring into those fathomless dark eyes the boy saw - or perhaps only felt - a touch of ancient guilt.
“For such a promising gift?” The other man laughed. “He shall be treated better than I treat myself. Now be so kind and open one of those convenient portals of yours that we may be away from here before discovered.”
Standing smoothly the gentleman gestured off to the side and the air split into a tall shimmer of faerie lights that wavered before the distant trees. “Go on through.”
With a shove from behind the boy stumbled forward into the sparkling gate.
There was nothing but blank white space.
No floor, no ceiling, no walls, only whiteness. At least I had form and clothes: bare toes, tight pale jeans, and a simple purple crop top that came along with the shift of perceiving myself once again as being Jordan.
“This is still a dream,” I muttered, the sound echoing weirdly as if mixed through a broken echo filter.
“Yes, although a more lucid one.”
Pivoting about revealed a thickly bearded man dressed in a white suit resting comfortably on a large and equally white leather chair. Upon recognition I blurted, “You’re Iosef. And you’re the old guy in the bed.”
The man, looking to be in his late forties or perhaps early fifties, smoothed a hand down a vest framed by a bright yellow tie. It was the shape of the nose turning downward at its end and the bushy eyebrows that had given him away. He smiled, lines of amusement folding at the corners of his eyes. “That saves me from needing an introduction and leaves only you.”
“My name is Jordan.” I frowned as thoughts cleared from the fright of his shared memory-dream. “You’re the bomb-maker.”
Those jovial lines faded. “Such was never my intent.”
“Really? Looks like you’ve been at it for quite some time.”
“I could not help but do what my spirit was created to do. As an angel who’s name burns so bright you should understand.”
“Your spirit. You mean Zakiel.”
“Yes. His memories have blended with my own. Only recently has such self-knowledge come to me, much to my surprise. Even now I find it hard to distinguish whether I am human or angel— or both. Thinking about it now, Bishop and the sorcerer must have known but they never revealed it. Instead I was only told that I was a natural necromancer, cursed to be an unwilling conduit for the dead. Perhaps it is due to balancing here between life and death for the past year that Zakiel’s struggles can now be remembered.”
“More likely because two of the seals have broken and the restrictions are weakening.”
That startled him. “Ah. Has the Day of Judgment arrived? Are you then a Seraph sent to judge the fallen bound to the earth? If so, you seem awfully young for such a task. Nevertheless, I am ready.”
“Why does everyone assume I’m here to judge them? I’m only looking for answers.”
He seemed strangely disappointed. “Then you must have questions.”
“Let’s start with the fact that you’re Grigori. Weren’t they all cast out? How can you claim to be fulfilling your purpose when you’re fallen?”
“Does an implement cease being what it is even after being thrown away? Thinking so drove many of my brothers mad in their attempts to reject their own natures out of anger, spite, or pain.”
“And you didn’t.”
“Zakiel will not. For his is a most sacred task, one which he will never willingly abandon.”
“Want to tell me what that is or should I just guess?”
He leaned back in the chair, hands held upwards as if in prayer. “I cleanse souls, freeing them from the agonies of their mortal deaths so that they are not overwhelmed by those final moments of shock and horror, the pain of which could otherwise lead them to afterlives unworthy of their true merit. Did you know that it can take up to twelve months for a soul to be washed clean of the taint of the mortal world? It is the heartfelt prayers and thoughts of those left behind that help sustain a soul through the process. For far too many there are none who properly mourn their passing. Then there are the countless others whose tragedies cling so tightly that their souls are dragged to the realms below before they even know what has happened.” He looked at his hands with great sorrow. “Thus many true diamonds can fall.”
“You save them from this. The souls.”
“As best I can.”
“But why make the bombs?”
Sharp hazel eyes met mine. “When a blade is cleansed in a fire the cruft is burnt away. What if you have no fire? How do you clean something then?”
“Scrub it with a brush and water?”
“How do you then clean the brush? And what do you do with the toxic remnants that linger after?”
Oh. I began to understand. “They aren’t really bombs. It’s like storing nuclear waste.”
He nodded. “Cut off from the Throne, I lack the fire with which to cleanse such residue in the pure light of the Lord. But there are so many souls who are lost and in desperate need of such aid. Without Bishop’s skill to craft the crystals which can safely contain what I naturally pull close, the land itself around me would become corrupted with what my spirit gathers but is unable to burn away. I myself would be driven mad by the lingering residue, in fact I am convinced that many of Zakiel’s former lives were corrupted by it. I am a tool without an off switch; I could not stop that process even when I tried, as the spirit must act according to its design.”
I bit a lip and thought of what Fields had said. They could have gathered the energies of painful deaths from the worst slaughters of the last eighty years, starting with the genocides in Europe. How many souls had they saved by doing so? The mind reeled. I’d gone after Zakiel with furious anger because he’d forged the device that had almost gotten Danielle killed. But now? A broken angel trying to fulfill the duties they were made for, was that wrong? How many souls would have suffered if he hadn’t? I didn’t have the answer to that. What choice had he ever been given?
Besides, if he had been stuck here unconscious for a year then he wasn’t the one who used the bomb. The real enemy was whoever managed to get one and actually use it. And somehow I didn’t think that was Bishop either.
Peering into his spirit I saw his name: tarnished and obscured, the once burning letters now faded like the last tiny glow of a burnt out candle desperately trying to hold onto a smidgen of heat. It made me ache with a far too familiar pull.
“Could I help you?” I asked, fighting the impulse washing forth from above. “Kokabiel and Tsáyidiel both were restored in the light - my light. What if you could also be restored?”
“You can indeed help me, Jordan-who-is-Amariel, but not in that way.”
“Miracles seem to happen when I power up. Why not one for you? Please, allow me try.”
He smiled sadly. “Perhaps when you have come into your full measure and can burn with the required brightness. But you are not there yet, I can sense that much. Until then I will not risk touching that blessed light only to lose it once more.” He lost the smile. “Zakiel could not survive that.”
“No. And do not ask again.”
It was clear it was going to piss him off if I pushed the idea any further. God knows I wanted to—or probably knew. I yearned to reach out to him and his spirit, to gather them close and restore the beauty of his name. It hurt to not do it, like watching one of your loved ones standing out in the middle of a busy street and being unable to rush out and save them from the oncoming traffic. But if he was right and I wasn’t capable yet I didn’t dare. It had worked on those willing to let go within the light, who knows how awful it would be if tried on someone who might instinctively resist and wasn’t ready. Kokabiel had stopped me at the gathering for that very reason. Or worse, what if my own doubts and judgments about his role in the current threat to everyone got in the way somehow and messed things up.
There were too many ways to screw it up. Reluctantly, though it pained my heart something fierce, I had to agree. “Okay.”
His hands flexed and then relaxed. Clearly I wasn’t the only one struggling between conflicting inner needs.
“I will note one thing,” he finally said. “Helping me was part of a deal that Bishop made with Soren, the one who led him to me the night I was found. Bishop worked his craft to grow all the containing matrices. They managed to store the energy using a technique and skill I never could fathom. What he then did with them all was never my concern. Perhaps I simply did not wish to know. Those crystals kept me sane for all these years, a shunt for that which I was unable to safely carry. As for Bishop, his plans are his own as are his bargains. I was surprised when so many crystals were recently returned here, just as I was surprised with what came next.”
“He had me channel the total into three equal pieces. Then he turned one over to a lady of the fae. He called her queen.”
“Do you know where she was taking it?”
“No. Nor did she take the crystal with her.”
“What do you mean? If she didn’t take it, then where is it?”
He peered at me seriously. “She absorbed the energy. All of it.”
I gaped. “How??"
“Her will is formidable,” he said. “But eventually it will weaken. Whatever she intends to do with that much power will have to be done soon. Within a few days at most. Before her pattern explodes from the internal pressure.”
“Bishop also took one of them, again I know not where.”
“That leaves one left over,” I said, getting a bad feeling.
He nodded. “That third was then split into two: one small portion and one much larger as part of a different bargain.”
“If I had to guess then one of those was used at the attack on Whateley.”
“I know nothing about their use. Only who took them.”
“From my vantage I can only see spirits. The crystals were taken by Sariel, in whatever incarnate form he now wears. In exchange for something Bishop wanted very much. I have known him a long time, and never have I seen him so excited to complete a deal. In truth the queen was rather displeased that her portion had been made smaller as a result and came close to claiming a violation of terms.”
So we had been right. Sariel, a Grigori along with whichever others were working with him, had been behind the attack on Danielle. And the sonuvabitch had a second bomb. But which one of the two? Big or small?
“If the larger one were to detonate how widespread would the effect be?”
“That crystal held a concentration only slightly weaker than the queen’s own. If its containment is breached the effects could reach for perhaps a thousand miles.”
“Oh god,” I whispered, my fear confirmed. “So there are two mega-nukes in play. The queen is one - and Sariel possesses the other.”
“And the whole reason any of this was possible is because Soren brought Bishop to you. Before the Nazis could kill you.”
“What did Soren gain from the queen in doing all this?”
“I was never privy to that knowledge. Nor, I believe, was Bishop.”
“This is seriously not good.” I bit a knuckle but that didn’t help. “You know, I want to hate you for making the damn things. You should have asked what he was doing with it all, Iosef! You should have!”
“Perhaps I was too afraid to do so. Without Bishop’s continued aid my overloading self-destruction was assured.”
“Dammit. This totally sucks, but I guess I understand. I don’t want to, but I do.” I shook my head. “Alright. You said something about me helping you though, right?”
“I would ask you to perform a small task for me though I may be unworthy of your mercy.”
“What do you need me to do?”
He told me and my heart plummeted.
“I can’t do that!”
“Yes you can. It’d be simple: just turn off the generator and let nature do the rest.”
“I’ve been trapped for over a year, able to project and channel energies but nothing more. It’s past due for Zakiel to move on to his next life. If you kill me who would know?”
I shook my head. “Coatl would, for one. And there’s a whole room of FBI, DPA, and local authorities up there. You really think he’d not tell them what I’d done?”
“Coatl still lives?” He raised one of those bushy eyebrows. “I’d have thought to get to me he’d have died defending the wards before they were taken down.”
“They’re still up.”
The other brow rose to equal height. “Then how are you even here?”
“I walked through them.”
He was clearly stunned so I added, “In fact I was going to ask you how to un-phase things so the agencies can get down here. They need to see it all. Better still would be if you could declare what happened to them.”
“I will never awaken from this sleep. Nor would I testify against Bishop. I owe him too much. Help me, Amariel. It is past time.”
“Look, I’ll promise to do what I can to get the life support turned off. But I can’t just pull the plug. Is that enough?”
“A promise given by the Lord’s Promise herself? I would be a fool to not take it.” His eyes crinkled with tired warmth. “As you are inside the wards, all you need to take them down and the reality phase-shift with it is to pull as much energy as you can into the center-most circle and then let it snap back into the crystal that sits there. It should shatter and the tunnels that were carved will resume their place in the natural world.”
“Center-most circle. Okay. If I do that though, will Coatl attack me?”
“If he hasn’t already then he is likely terrified of you.”
“Yeah, I think he is.”
“Then you must decide whether he is to be arrested or can go free. Realize however that Bishop will not allow his trusted servant to remain in the custody of the authorities. Your other option is to kill him.”
Uh, crap. At this point Bishop, with his own device of that crazy magnitude, was himself a nuclear power. How many people would he kill to break Coatl out of prison? Fuckity fuck. I knew it was the DPA’s jobs to deal with this sort of thing, but hell. My brother-in-law was one of those agents who could be killed in such a breakout attempt. Already Danielle’s would-be assassins had somehow been busted free from the military’s direct custody.
If our armed forces can’t defend against these kinds of people, who could?
“I’ll keep that in mind.” I turned to go. “I’d say ‘take care’, but that would be silly.”
“Yes it would. And Amariel,” he said with the sad smile of someone resigned to their fate, “thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet, Zakiel. Save that for when your word is restored even if that’s in your next life. Because I promise you that you will again stand tall and full of grace. In the light of above you shall shine with the glory of all the souls you aid upon their way.” With that I let myself fade from his dream-space.
As I did I heard him whisper one last thing:
I was sitting in the chair lost in long dark thoughts when Diego, Mark, and the rest of the uniformed agents spilled into the cavern. Diego immediately was distracted with examining the huge glowing crystals, but Mark trotted over to me with a pistol held at the ready.
“Jordan! You alright?”
Ignoring the question I pointed at Iosef’s comatose body on the bed. “The generators are keeping him alive. But he doesn’t want to live.”
Mark looked at Iosef’s face without recognition. “Who is he?”
“He’s an angel, Mark. It’s complicated.”
My friend returned his gaze to me. “Something happened, didn’t it.”
“I spoke to him. In his dreams. He’s trapped there.”
“Can you free him?”
“I think you’ll find the doctors will declare that he has no chance of recovery. He’s not going to wake up.”
Behind and around us the squads were busy making sure no one else lurked within the cavern. They didn’t find anyone.
Mark sighed. “If he doesn’t have a living will, does he have any family?”
“I don’t know.”
“We’ll check into it. But Jordan, is he the bomb-maker?”
“Yes…and no. Like I said, it’s complicated.”
Mark wasn’t too happy with that answer. “Diego!” he shouted. “Are these glowy things the evidence you needed?”
“Madre de Dios, yes! The energy that was stored here, even a non-sensitive such as yourself should be able to feel it!”
“This place really does feel awful, wizard,” he agreed. “But that’s not science. The Director will expect an analysis and report on his desk in three hours. And we need to get this man to a hospital until we can sort out what to do with him.”
Another agent looked at the sleeping old man. “Is he a suspect, sir?”
Mark gave me a rueful half-smile. “Yes…and apparently no. Just keep agents on him at all times. And exercise full security measures. No one is to know where he is going, got it?”
Bouncing a knuckle off my front teeth again, I focused on the hard stone floor where lingering flashes of color still swirled. A hand touched my knee. Mark had knelt by the chair and was looking worriedly at me.
“Jordan. Talk to me. What’d you learn?”
I winced. “It’s bad. Really bad. The fae queen and the Grigori both are sitting on devices equivalent to the largest nukes ever made. And if we don’t stop them they could use the cursed things on each other, collateral damage be damned. The Grigori want to stop the third seal from breaking, and the queen wants it to go.”
He paled. “So we weren’t here in time.”
“What’s our next move?”
“Get Danielle somewhere safely hidden. The bastards may try to take another shot at her. And I need to talk to the others back at Whateley because ultimately…” I chewed harder on the finger, drawing the iron taste of blood.
“We need to get to Egypt. Danielle included. We need to be ready to fight with whatever we can muster.”
“And if we don’t?”
I gave him a hard look. “If we don’t then not only will the middle east likely be driven mad by one of those bombs, but also every magic sensitive person in the world could literally explode from the inside out should the full might of Gaia’s stored manna be unleashed all at once. If not everyone, magic capacity or no.”
“I’ll uh…I’ll tell the Director.” He’d gone whiter still. Not that I blamed him.
“Do that. I’ve got some calls to make.”
“Eventually a god and a dragon. First up is another angel, though if he answers I’ll be damned surprised.”
“You’ll get a better signal upstairs. Don’t do it in the vehicle. It’s bugged.”
I blinked. “Thanks.”
He nodded and went to get busy.
As for me, I took a deep breath then got up to walk out of the cavern. Hiding near the ceiling behind a shadow I could feel a pair of eyes watching me but I ignored them. The owner of that stare would need to make their own quiet escape out of this place as best they could. They also better remember one thing:
They owed me one hell of a favor and some day I was going to collect.
There was a click after the second ring as a groggy voice answered. “Hello Jordan.”
“Nick. Or should I call you Barakiel now?”
“You never called back. Asshole.”
“Other decisions were made.”
“Were they the right ones?”
There was a lingering pause. “That remains to be seen.”
“Does it? I’d argue otherwise.”
“Yeah well, if seals keep shattering we Grigori are on a one-way ticket to Hell. And that’s not the worst of it.”
“The souls of all our children, all the remaining Nephelim be they bound to limbo or locked into incarnate lives, will be destroyed. Their patterns utterly obliviated.”
“You don’t know that.”
“If the seals go they would be set free. Michael will never allow that. The Host will come and this time without Gabriel struggling to find some middle path.”
“What if the Grigori can be redeemed in the light? And the Nephelim too? Wouldn’t that change things?”
“Can you promise that?”
“I can promise to try. And if I understand things correctly I am that promise.”
“Wish it were that simple.”
“Maybe it could be.”
“Is that what you called to say?”
“Yes. But not all. Tell Sariel to stay away and leave us the fuck alone. Don’t make things more messed up than you already have.”
“Already have? Enlighten me.”
“Who else but you knew that Danielle was at Whateley? Or that Isaiah was my best friend? Did you know that Sariel’s plan included driving mad an entire school of children along with their teachers? And to burn them alive in the process? Or did he keep that to himself.”
Another long pause. “If I said I hadn’t known would you believe me?”
“I’m far too pissed off right now to take you at your word. But in the end it may not matter whether I believe you or not. What does is how much innocent blood you are willing to spill across those tattooed palms of yours. Sariel has a second device. Much larger than the first. Whatever he intends to do with it will only end up guaranteeing that you and your brothers are thrown into darkness for all eternity.”
“And you do not know that.”
“Perhaps not. But neither do you. So the next time you have to choose ask yourself one thing: are you still capable of believing in the light? Because maybe, just maybe, that’s all you need to return to it.”
“Yeah. If you guys use that damn thing I swear the light will find you and when it does it won’t be to give you a warm and pleasant day.”
With a push of a button the phone was silenced.