Charlotte was her city, her home, her Dominion. She’d been assigned this duty station hundreds of years ago when mankind first started to expand into the Americas from Europe. Before that she’d been just another member of the Divine Host. She’d been just another soldier cog in the wheel of their Father’s great plan.
In 1760 she’d advanced from a Guardian to a Dominion. She’d been promoted to an officer rank for the good work she’d done in Richmond, Virginia. The Power charged with the governance of English America had seen something in her then, and she’d proven him right. For over two hundred and fifty years she’d looked over her Dominion and ensured it prospered. She’d influenced mankind’s battles, healed the sick, tripped up the wicked, and slain the truly evil. That was her job, and her singular purpose for existence. She needed to make sure Charlotte and its souls flourished.
She was coasting above the Bank of America Corporate Center. The top of the building looked like it was filled with pikes ready to impale some unlucky creature falling from above. In the twenty-five years of its existence that had never happened, but she knew humans were susceptible to bouts of stupidity, so she cruised around it a couple times a day just to be certain no one had met that unfortunate fate.
“Lucas, how many times have I told you to just call me Ava? I don’t call you Guardian Lucas, so please just relax.”
“Yes, Domini…Ava.” The other angel was apologetic.
Like all angels of his type, Lucas was chiseled muscle with broad shoulders, a rugged jaw, and hard features. He – like Ava – was a warrior.
<If I had twenty Lucas’ I could rid my city of the Soulless and the other pieces of shit defiling its streets.>
Despite what humans who attended mass every Sunday might think, swearing was not something sinful. Only taking her father’s name in vain fell into that category. Besides that, anyone could say all the “shits”, “fucks”, and “assholes” they wanted. The Divine really didn’t care.
Twenty Lucas’ would go a long way, or twenty angels at all would be appreciated. Currently, Ava only had eight other angels under her command. Nine angels total, a single squad, was responsible for protecting a dominion of over a million souls.
<I just had to go kill that Infernal duke.> She knew it had been the right move, but no good deed went unpunished in the Divine Host.
She’d shown just how competent and skilled she was by dismantling the Infernal network in Charlotte, and an Archangel had decided her reward was to cut her command in half. He’d said, in all his Divine splendor, that she had everything under control, and troops were needed elsewhere.
“What’s happened, Lucas?”
As one of her independent team leaders, Lucas only came to her for serious issues.
“The Remnant has left his territory.”
<Shit!> That definitely fell into a “come get me now” category.
“Please tell me you have a location on him?” The last thing she wanted to do was spend all night flying around looking for that drunken frat boy.
“He’s at the Our Lady of Souls sanctum.” Her subordinate replied.
“Huh…” that caught her off-guard. “Well this shouldn’t take long then.”
There was a blaze of white light as Ava zeroed in on the Divine sanctum and rocketed toward the destination. She entered through the roof, passing harmlessly through the domed ceiling, and landed heavily on the alter.
She unfurled her wings to their full length, nearly touching either side of the sanctum, and bathed the room in her Divine power. From the sheath on her back, resting beneath her shoulder blades, she unsheathed her sword. The moment her hand touched the pommel it ignited with golden flames that licked at the fabric of reality.
The pews held several gatherings of people. She felt various powers emanating from all of them. The women to her left had natural magic flowing through their veins and filling their ætheric auras. A group of men in the rear all had the mischievous qualities of enchanters, except for one. He was brimming with physical magic. His whole body seemed to vibrate with quiet intensity as his power strained against him.
<It’s been a long time since I last saw a martial magician down this far south.> She made a mental note to find out about this man.
But neither him, the enchanters, the circle of witches, nor the other magic wielders were her concern. Her concern was the man standing near the front looking smug with roguish charm.
“Bacchus, what are you doing here?” She held her sword at her side, but was ready to spring into action if need be.
“Please, lovely Ava, Bacchus makes me feel old. I go by Brock now.” He smiled at her.
“Fine, Brock You know you aren’t supposed to leave your territory.”
“Alas, I do, sweet Dominion of our fair city.” His smile never slackened. “But I wanted to come and see what my friendly neighbors had to say tonight, and to meet our newest arrival.” He pointed back toward the martial magician.
She caught the large man studying her when she turned back to regard him, but he made no attempt to hide it. Martial magicians weren’t known for their subtlety, and this wasn’t an exception.
“Mr…?” She gave the man the opportunity to introduce himself.
“Fuller, Gerald Fuller. But all my friends call me Gerry.” He smiled, and his teeth were nearly as perfect as Bacchus’.
“Very well, Mr. Fuller. Welcome to Charlotte. I hope you enjoy yourself during your stay, and please keep the bloodshed to a minimum.” She noticed the enchanted sheepskin coat he was wearing. “I do not wish any innocents to be caught in the crossfire of your contracts.”
“I’ll do my best, Ava.” The man gave a short bow, which she returned.
“Go home, Brock.” There was a flash of light, an expenditure of power, and the next second her good-natured pest of a Remnant was transported back to his territory. “Good evening, everyone.” She arched her wings high and with one powerful flap she was up and passing through the domed ceiling on her way back into the skies overlooking her dominion.
“Did you find him?”
She heard the hurried flaps of Lucas approaching five minutes later.
“Yes, he was just sitting in on a local meeting to meet a newcomer. There’s a martial magician back in town.”
Her subordinate frowned and scratched his head. “What’s it been, thirty, forty years?” Lucas wondered out loud.
“1979. Five Soulless were slain at a biker bar. That was a member of the McGee clan though. The Fullers are smaller and more elusive from what I remember.”
“You want me to check into him?” Like a good soldier, Lucas read the intention behind his commander’s words.
“Please, and let me know if there are any Infernal mutterings going around. A martial magician in town about to deal with their spawn is going to kick over some stones that we could exploit.” She brainstormed at the climbed higher.
No human would look and see two of the city’s nine angels soaring through the night sky. They were invisible to mortal souls, cloaked by Divine influence. Humans were free to make their decisions without influence from either side. That was the agreement that was usually adhered to. The last thing people needed in such a turbulent time was to know that Heaven and Hell existed. They had enough to deal with just paying their bills and raising their families in an ever changing world.
“You’re in charge, Lucas. I’ll be back in an hour.” She didn’t explain herself to the Guardian; she just pointed herself south east and rocketed away faster than anything man-made could travel.
For a minute the land blurred by behind her until she abruptly stopped above a city sitting on the coast. She defied the laws of physics, stopping on a dime like that, but the Divine weren’t ruled by the laws of mortals. Only her father’s laws mattered to her.
Even several hundred feet off the ground she could hear the waves lap against the shores of Charleston. She smelled the salt and pollutants in the air, and tasted it on her tongue. With the lights of the city she could see for miles around, but even without them the darkness didn’t encumber her senses. So, she saw the other angel approach quickly to investigate to unexpected arrival.
“Oh,” the large, bulky man who made an NFL linebacker look small grunted as he got close. “It’s just you, Ava.”
“Emmanuel, always nice to see you.” She greeted the dark-skinned Dominion of Charleston.
He wore the night like a cloak, while her pale skin and blonde shoulder-length curls made her stick out like a strobe light in the fall night.
“Are you here to beg for more soldiers?”
Emmanuel had been a Dominion for a century longer than Ava, something he never forgot to remind her of, and he currently had two squads under his command.
<Eighteen angels assigned to cover half a million while I have nine to cover double that. I’ll never understand how the Powers deploy us.>
“Not tonight.” She smiled politely with a twinge of passive aggression.
He might have a century longer than her in grade, but she’d killed an Infernal duke. He couldn’t say the same.
“I’m just looking for a little Dominion cooperation. Just want to pick your brain for any local intelligence.”
Emmanuel crossed his arms in front of his chiseled chest as he hovered in the air. “Ok, I’ll bite. What do you want?”
“Just wanted to know if you’ve heard any rumblings about new Infernal management in my Dominion? I’ve got my people on the lookout for the replacement, but you know how it is. I’ve only got nine bodies to cover a million people and over five-hundred square miles.”
Emmanuel rolled his eyes, but she could see he was seriously thinking about her request.
“I haven’t heard anything definite, but there has been some activity with the Infernal forces here. You know how it is when you’re dealing with a full Infernal contingent instead of the remnants of one.” He gave as good as he got on the passive aggressiveness.
“Possible joint operation?” She kept her face neutral, but that seriously worried her.
One of the Divine Host’s biggest advantagse when fighting the Infernals was that they always fought among themselves. They were greedy, power-hungry, and selfish by nature. They didn’t play well with others.
“Maybe. We’ve never been able to confirm it, but we’ve suspected for decades that the Dux here is a representative of Lucifer.”
Both crossed themselves instinctually at the mention of their fallen older brother. He was the angelic version of Icarus. He’d been the Morningstar, the brightest of their father’s creations. Then he’d been seduced by Satan and his quest for power, and fallen like the rest of the Infernals.
“I still don’t understand why they can’t just call them a Duke instead of Dux.” She shook her head as she contemplated what a combined Infernal assault would mean for their three squads of angels.
“You know the Infernals and their titles.” He shrugged.
She knew the Dux she’d killed had been a servant of Seere, and she also knew that the former Throne and Lucifer had a fairly cordial relationship as far as Infernals went.
<This isn’t good.>
“Should we contact Uriel?”
The Archangel Uriel was the angel in charge of all angels in the modern nation of the United States of America. Ava and Emmanuel had served under her for a quarter of a millennia, and they both had a good idea what the angelic general wanted brought to her attention.
“Not yet.” Ava shook her head, causing her curls to bounce. “If we get more substantive evidence we can take it to her, but we’ve got nothing to go on but rumors.”
“True.” Emmanuel nodded.
They found themselves in an odd moment of agreement, and both angels wanted to end that as soon as possible.
“Thank you for the information, feel free to look me up when you’re up North.”
With a flap of her wings, a flash of light, and a minute later she was back in Charlotte wondering just how to interdict something as potentially apocalyptic as an Infernal joint operation against the Divine.
<I need to get my assets in play.>
Like the Infernals, the Divine had their own methods of getting involved without directly getting their hands dirty.