A lone angel hovered insubstantially above the swirling clouds. He gently flapped his wings to stay airborne as the morning light penetrated his gleaming Divine Steel armor. Normally, to be more diplomatic, he wouldn’t be armed for war, but the current circumstances had prompted Michael to issue a general order to anyone leaving the gates of Heaven. They were to be armed and ready at all times. The Veil was thinning and breaking. Behemoth and his clan were holding the majority of Infernal forces back, but a trickle were still getting through, and that trickle was going to become a steady stream sooner rather than later. The Divine Host needed to be prepared at all times to repel the invaders.
Gabriel, Archangel and Messenger of God, shook his head at what was happening. He hadn’t been forced to sleep with his sword within arm’s reach since the Rebellion and subsequent campaigns to push Satan and his allies off Eden. As his Father’s messenger, Gabriel was a diplomat before a warrior, and he never wanted the people he was meeting with to be instantly combative. In his opinion, nothing productive happened when the point of a sword was poised against someone’s jugular. Words and actions bound people together much better than fear and violence. Unfortunately, the people he was meeting with were combative by nature, and the Divine’s past actions toward them were not endearing.
Gabriel took a deep breath and exhaled. It was cold in the upper atmosphere, but his breath didn’t fog the air like a human’s would. He took a moment to calm his thoughts, set his mind on the task before him, and then began his descent.
Heavy fog rolled through the early morning air as he flew lower and lower. The sunlight would burn away the fog eventually, but the island prison he was visiting was swaddled in it. It had been several hundred years since his last visit, and he marveled at how things had changed.
After his Father’s defeat of Cronus, certain factions of the other Primordial’s creations were simply too dangerous to have around humans. A massive relocation effort was undertaken to send these dangerous ancient races to the less populated fringes of the world. At the time of Cronus’ defeat, human population was centered on the Asian, African, and European continents. Life existed elsewhere, but those were the cultures his Father sought to influence and evolve. As a result, the Western Hemisphere of Eden became a common relocation spot.
The particularly stubborn species Gabriel was descending to meet had been uprooted from one island and deposited on another. Cronus had created them to be cunning warriors, and they were the last thing God wanted around humans. Unfortunately, millennia hadn’t dulled their minds. When the expansion to the New World of many European nations occurred, the island meant to be a prison had been a perfect location for a colony. The species had blended with the immigrants; first the Dutch, then the English, and finally the fledging Americans. Despite his Father’s wishes, the species had been allowed to flourish in their prison with one exception: they weren’t allowed to leave the confines of their island. As technology shrunk the world, that limitation mattered less and less.
Mountains of steel and glass rose up out of the fog to catch the morning sunlight. Gabriel flew around two, and through one, as he continued his descent toward his destination. The lower he got the clearer the island of Manhattan became. Nearly ten million people were waking up on a weekday morning and going about their business without any knowledge of the danger their planet was facing.
<That’s the way it should be.> Gabriel reminded himself, even if the truth was beginning to leak out. Michael and Satan’s battle had seen to that.
Gabriel reached the ground and looked for somewhere to become substantial. It used to be as simple as finding an unoccupied telephone booth to slip into, but with all of the cameras and technology keeping a watchful eye on the city, finding a discrete location was more and more difficult. Luckily, Gabriel was well equipped to handle things like this. His Father bestowed his children with gifts. Michael had strength equaled by only a few in existence. Thrones could travel nearly instantaneously from one point to another to fulfill their duties as Divine distributors of justice. Gabriel’s gifts allowed him to be good at diplomacy. His perception was altered in ways others weren’t. He could see the pattern in things, he could see angles others couldn’t, and he could read creatures better than anyone.
His eyes were automatically drawn to the three cameras in the area where he landed. His vision highlighted the zones the cameras covered, to include what the crack in one of the camera’s lenses was obscuring. He flapped over to a deadspot and shifted fully into reality. He wove a spell around himself as he emerged to ensure he didn’t frighten some poor lady to death on her way to the neighborhood bodega.
Instead of an armed angel with snow-white wings, and gleaming silver armor with runes glowing with golden light, everyone saw a well-dressed man in a black suit that fit in anywhere on Wall Street. Gabriel’s stylish, jet-black hair framed a handsome face, on top of a tall, athletically-thin physique. Several heads turned to follow him as he emerged from the cameras’ blindspots and walked the last few blocks to his destination.
Over the centuries, Gabriel had met ambassadors dispatched by the Royal Family to discuss terms. Nothing budged from the original terms his Father imposed upon imprisonment, and the ambassadors usually left angry. That was one reason why Gabriel was anxious going into this meeting. They’d never given these people anything that they wanted, why should they help the Divine now when the Divine had little leverage.
The location where the meeting was taking place showed just how informed the other party was about the Divine’s current predicament. They’d met at several locations throughout the city, but never at the seat of their power.
The building on Central Park South looked like an upscale apartment complex with individual units that could sell for well into eight figures, but Gabriel knew better. The building was one massive residence where the elite of the exiled species lived, and the top few floors were the private residence of the Royal Family. It didn’t take Gabriel’s special gifts to read between the lines. They were flaunting their power, wealth, and influence. All three of which the Divine needed to enlist to help drive back the Infernals.
He walked up to the covered portico where a tall woman in a doorman’s outfit kept a close eye on the passing humans. The three-piece suit didn’t do much to hide her feminine qualities or the slight bulge of a concealed handgun in a shoulder holster. Her high-cheekbones and bright blue eyes probably had talent scouts trying to recruit her every day, but Gabriel knew she studiously ignored them or mildly threatened them until they left. Despite her looks, she had a military bearing and precision in her appearance, and his practiced eye easily identified a soldier.
He stopped in front of her and produced an invitation. It had about as many security features as the new American one hundred dollar bill. The woman whipped out a tablet, scanned codes, double-checked photos, and scrutinized Gabriel himself. She was a little taller than him in his current form, and she made sure he knew it as her eyes drilled down into him.
“First elevator on the right, pigeon.” She sneered as she slipped the invitation in her pocket and turned her attention back to the street.
Gabriel put on his diplomatic smile and didn’t take the bait. Pigeon was this species’ slang for angels. It dehumanized the Divine in their eyes and made angels seem small and weak. Very few species could make that kind of statement and actually back up their claim. That was one of the reasons they had been banished from the civilized world millennia ago. They were hard to control.
The first elevator on the right was flanked by two women in black suits, black shirts, and black ties. Their hair was close-cropped, and they didn’t bother to hide the compact machine guns slung across their chests. They boarded the elevator with Gabriel and rode up with him to the top floor.
He could tell they weren’t in a talking mood, so he rode in silence until the gentle BING announced their arrival. The twin elevator doors spread apart into a small foyer. A half-dozen more women armed to the teeth were waiting for him. Firearms were slung or strapped to them, but older weapons were also present. Swords and spears that had spilled Divine æther glistened in the artificial light.
<Ignore them.> He told himself. He could tell they were still trying to intimidate. The “this is my house” attitude was thick on each of these women, and him doing anything but being compliant was only going to make his impossible task more difficult.
They patted him down and wanded him for weapons. It went crazy when it cut through his illusion and recognized his armor. The women just smiled as they relieved him of his sword. He knew he would get it back, but he felt a little more naked without it.
With a nod from their commander, they made a square around him with the original two guards from the elevator. The wall in front of them slid apart to reveal it was made of heavily reinforced-steel. They were also coated with protective enchantments. Gabriel would have to be in his combat form to get through.
“Presenting the Archangel Gabriel, Messenger of the False God, My Queen.” A woman heralded his arrival to a room packed with woman. Then the large woman turned to Gabriel. “Behold, Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, Eater of Men.”
Gabriel diplomatically bowed at the stunningly-beautiful woman on a throne at the far end of the room. She was the definition of ancient and regal all rolled into one. A crown made of the largest diamond ever discovered adorned her head and threw rainbow –colored light across the room. To either side of her were six smaller thrones. On each sat another beautiful woman. Everything about the six princesses was a little different, but each had the same hard, calculating eyes of their mother. These were not women to be taken lightly.
The Amazons themselves were an impressive race. They were one of the last creations of Cronus before his downfall, and were touted as an upgrade to humanity. They were physically twenty-to-fifty times stronger and faster than humans, each of them possessed genius-level intellects, but they retained the ability to mate with them. Personally, Gabriel thought it was a final fuck you from Cronus to his Father when the primordial figured out his sibling was going to conquer his realm.
An Amazon reproduced by having sex with a human male just like a human female. The gestation for an Amazon was less than three months, and within six months the newly born Amazon advanced to puberty. Once reaching puberty, the young amazon needed to kill and eat their father to evolve into a fully-mature Amazon. An Amazon reached their optimal physical state within one year and enjoyed immortality from then on, so every woman in the room, including Hippolyta, looked to be in their early twenties. The Queen could easily be mistaken for her daughters’ sister.
Unlike other creatures of æther created by Cronus, Amazons didn’t require it to survive. They were more like humans that way. They could still manipulate the æther that permeated everything in the universe and were renowned for their ability to channel it into mentally manifesting objects or storing power in specially designed artifacts. Gabriel knew the crown on Hippolyta’s head held enough power to injure an Archangel in its combat form, and the throne she was sitting on directed power into workshops beneath the building that forged and stored it in everything from weapons to luxury items. Each of the princess’ crowns also held considerable power for them to wield, and they were all masters of their craft. That was the strength of the Amazons: a combination of physical prowess, shrewd intellect, and skillful channeling of æther. Many angels and Infernals had died by their hands.
The question Gabriel’s Father had before him, once Eden was subdued, was how to control such a powerful group. The answer was simple and crude: population control. As strong as an individual Amazon was, they were stronger together. War Bands of thirteen Amazons could channel æther into a single woman while continuing to fight. They’d fought through a chunk of the Cherubim Guard during the War for Eden in an attempt to make God bleed. They’d failed, but many others had spilled blood on their campaign. The goal was to ensure that never happened again.
Guardians and the Domain for the city kept a close tally of the number of Amazons in existence. No more than one hundred and sixty eight were allowed to be living at one time. Like any living creature, the Amazons didn’t like being told when and where they could fuck. It was just another grudge standing in between Gabriel’s mission to gain their support and failure.
“Great Queen, it has been too long.” He replied humbly and waited to be called forward.
When your host was millennia old, they tended to have traditions, and were unhappy when they were broken. “Gabriel.” The way the Queen spoke his name didn’t bode well for their meeting. “Did you come to make sure there were less than three hundred and thirty six tits?” Her words lashed into him.
“No, Great Queen, I bring other news.” Gabriel raised his head and kept smiling.
“Is this the news about how your hold on this world is finally crumbling? Or how the great False God has finally bitten off more than he can chew? Or is it how he let everything become undone by allowing a single half-pigeon to get butchered by an Infernal beast?” The queen was smiling savagely.
“I assure you, the news of my Father’s missteps are greatly exaggerated.” Gabriel finally let a little iron slip into his tone.
The gathered women recognized it immediately. “Is that why you come to my home dressed for war?” Hippolyta waved her hand and a wave of æther wiped away Gabriel’s illusion.
He stood there in his armor and simply shrugged. “I thought I better come prepared. You have a…reputation.”
Silence…and then the Queen chuckled. Her daughters followed suit, until the whole room was laughing. Gabriel kept a diplomatic smile on his face.
“A pigeon with a sense of humor. How rare.” She waved another hand and guards brought out a comfortable-looking chair that was set thirty paces from the throne. Gabriel took it with a grateful nod.
<Progress.> He’d take what he could get.
“I believe we have much we can discuss, and in ways that can benefit both of our people.” Gabriel began, but the Queen held up her hand.
“I believe we have very little to discuss. In fact, there are only two things worth discussing. First, we want off this island, and second, we want to be free to reproduce.” Heads around the room nodded fervently.
“I can take the request to my Father, but I doubt anything will change.” Gabriel did them the honor of at least being honest.
“Well then…” Hippolyta leaned back on the thrown and casually crossed her legs. “I don’t know what you can say or do to impress upon me the desire to help you.”
Gabriel could tell from the set of her shoulders and the minute twinges on her face that the Amazon Queen was enjoying this, and she also never had any intention of helping. The past between their two peoples was too bloody to think they could make it work, and even if they did, both sides would be expecting a knife in the back at any moment. That was no way to fight a war.
“I can respect your decision noble Queen.” Gabriel got to his feet before he could even begin to enjoy the plush chair. “But if I may make a suggestion?” He waited for the Queen to nod before continuing. “If you won’t fight with us then don’t fight against us.” He said the statement with no diplomatic flair. It was just shy of a threat.
Women bristled all around him, but the Queen just grinned. “I will make no move to align with either side, or put my people in danger, until the right moment.”
<The right moment.> There was something in the woman’s eyes that Gabriel’s sixth sense caught a glimpse of.
The Amazons as a people favored strength, skill, and honor above all else. The women scattered around the room might look like college seniors, but they were hardened warriors who’d built a foundation in a prison on the opposite side of the world and turned it into a mecca of power. New York City would not be what it is today without the influence of the Amazons.
“Thank you for accepting our invitation.” Hippolyta rose from her throne and the rest of her daughters followed he example. “As thanks for coming all the way down here I’d like to present you with a token.”
Gabriel’s warning bells immediately started ringing in his mind, but he didn’t let his anxiety show. The princess farthest to the left gracefully descended the steps. Gabriel knew her name was Diana. She was only sixty years old and was the youngest of Hippolyta’s children. She was the only person in the room born after the American Civil War.
Gabriel spotted the tension coiled in her shoulders from a mile away, but read the determination etched into her symmetrical face. Her hair was the fiery red of a gorgeous sunset, and freckles dotted her sun-kissed skin. She stopped several feet from him and extended a small bundle wrapped in white linen. The moment her took it she backed away. Wrapped in the bundle was a ceremonial knife.
The moment Gabriel touched it he felt the spell activate. It was a binding charm. Nothing terribly powerful, but something unexpected. Its purpose was the more pressing issue.
“It’s a dangerous city, Messenger. We wouldn’t want something bad to happen to you on your walk home.” The way Hippolyta dismissed Gabriel made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Angel’s didn’t evolve with natural predators like humans, so it wasn’t that. Only a shift in the æther could trigger that kind of biological reaction in him.
<Something’s happening.> He knew that much, just not what.
He expected all the Amazons in the room to ambush him when he turned his back to return to the elevator. Nothing happened. They even returned his sword to him. He expected the guards to open fire on him once they started their descent. There was no doubt in his mind the bullets in those rifles were tipped with Divine Steel. Still, nothing happened. He even expected the doorwoman to stab him in the jugular with a ninja star as he walked out the front door, but the only difference he smelled was a sight tang in the air.
“Have a good day, Pigeon.” The woman walked past him inside the building, shut the door, and locked them behind her. He felt the flare of æther as the buildings powerful protective wards activated. He expected to be attached again, but again was met with nothing but a growing funky odor.
At first, he thought it was the hot dog vendor on the corner, but the odor was moving. It was drawing nearer and more pungent. He inhaled deeply and smelled everything: the foot-long quasi-meat in hot water, the condiments, the scent of oak from the park across the street, a passing baby that needed to be changed, and…
<Sulfur.> His head snapped around as a homeless man stopped in his tracks twenty feet away.
“Shit,” the stench on the man’s breath was nauseating even from that distance. “Though I had you.”
Everything fell into place like dominos. The meeting, the looks, the binding spell, the buildings defenses. This was the right time for the Amazon’s to make their decision, but they were going to do it on their own terms, and one of their time-honored traditions was trial by combat. When the dust settled the Amazons would owe their allegiance to one side, <And they tried to stack the deck against me.> The homeless man was holding a similar knife in his gnarled hand.
“Not here.” Gabriel’s eyes shot to the innocent people passing by. There were hundreds, maybe thousands, within his eyesight, and millions within range. It was the middle of the week, during the morning rush. Casualties would be catastrophic. “Please.” Gabriel debased himself to plead with the Infernal.
“You can always just lay down and die.” Beelzebub, Infernal Lord of all that Flies, took another step toward the Archangel.
Gabriel matched his move with a backward step.
“Huh,” the Infernal cocked his head and smiled. Cracked yellow teeth and oozing, bloody gums stared back at Gabriel. “Looks like you don’t care about the innocent as much as you say you do.”
The Infernal’s body started to swell. His skin ripped to show slick, black feathers. His face extended into a beak, and beady-black eyes stared back at Gabriel.
“Father, forgive me.” Gabriel sent a quick prayer along with a call for reinforcements before he allowed æther to fill him.
The illusion he’d reconstituted vanished, his armor glowed brilliantly in the morning sun as he exploded to his full two hundred and seventy five feet. People screamed before four talons squished them without a second thought. Gabriel lowered his helmet’s visor and brought his sword up into a ready position. Fire cascaded around the blade and he roared his defiance at the Infernal’s challenge.
The two ætherial beings met with a crash that destroyed everything around them except for a single building. Behind the powerful protective wards, the Amazons watched and laughed.
Revenge was sweet, and the damage about to be inflicted on the city might just be enough to weaken the wards holding them captive. Whoever won, the Amazons hoped to be free. Owing a small blood debt to one side or the other was worth that to them, but ideally, they wouldn’t owe anyone at all.