Ava grunted as she kept the gateway between Charlotte and Lower Manhattan open. She could feel her power draining fast from her Hand as her two companies of guardians quickly marched through the eighteen-wheeler sized hole in space-time she’d created. Once the last man was through, Ava stepped through the gateway and released the hold she had on it. There was a loud SNAP as reality sought to correct itself, and when she looked back behind her all she saw was traffic. The traffic was backed up as far as she could see.
Ava heard a few people screaming, but that was normal when two hundred armored angels suddenly appeared. The gateway had also done some damage. The abandoned cars spanning several lanes of traffic had been neatly cleaved in two by the energy from the gateway. If they had been occupied the humans would have been split and cauterized into two well-preserved halves, but the owners of those cars were long gone. The human’s primal instincts were kicking in, and they were running away from danger.
The gateway had landed well back from where the bridge met the water, but the bridge itself didn’t end there. It extended almost to city hall before off ramps let cars disembark, and there were multiple layers of overpasses to deal with. Tactically it was a nightmare. Ava couldn’t just order a defensive line on one street to help stop the Infernals, she was going to have to layer her defense, which meant spreading her already thin forces even farther apart.
“On me,” she yelled and flapped her wings to gain altitude. Her soldier followed her and the air filled with angels. She didn’t bother to use the energy to go insubstantial. There wasn’t any point anymore. Archangels were doing battle close by, so a flock of normal sized angels wasn’t too out of the ordinary.
All of that was about to change. Elevation gave Ava some perspective of the battlefield so she could make her decisions. “I want a defensive line on FDR Drive from the Manhattan Bridge down to the Staten Island Ferry.” Ava hung in the air and gave orders. “Give me one hundred meter spacing along the Drive. The bridges are going to be natural choke points, so I want layered defenses there. Use the abandoned vehicles to create natural barriers. Anything we can do to bottleneck and slow the enemy down is going to be advantageous. We need multiple fall back positions leading all the way back to Park Row, and we need to be prepared for spillage onto side streets like South, Pearl, Gold and Madison if enemy elements get past our initial defensive positions. We need to get this place warded and warded yesterday.”
The guardians in command of squad-sized elements nodded and went about executing those orders. The formation of flying angels broke apart and individuals started to land along the prescribed lines. Their bodies swelled and grew until they’d transformed into their combat forms. An intimidating line of twenty-foot, armored soldiers grew out of the abandoned cars, which they began to push around like Hot Wheels.
Within minutes a makeshift wall of metal stood between the East River and FDR Drive. It wouldn’t stop anything, but it would slow the enemy down. With that task complete, the guardians went to work on their defensive circles. One by one, the guardians stuck the tip of their flaming swords into the cement and slowly drew a circle of fire around themselves. The soldiers’ eyes were clamped shut in concentrations as they chanted and drew wards in the air around themselves. Those wards solidified in the air around them, becoming just as substantial as the cars they’d built the wall with, and as more time passed more wards began to surround them.
Angels were some of the finest soldiers in existence, and a key part of their defensive doctrine was creating a circle of power they could draw from in the middle of a fight. The circle could either be fixed or movable, with each method trading strengths and weaknesses. Ava and her guardians had been unable to use their defensive circle techniques in either of the battle around Charlotte because they required time to establish. As a mainly reactive force, the Divine Host didn’t get to utilize one of their most potent techniques as often as its soldiers wished.
Ava watched her troops establish their circles as she grew into her own combat form. She stopped her growth as thirty feet, because anymore was just going to single her out as a target. She knew her true from was nearly tripple that. The power that came with being a Power was much more than she was used to as a Dominion, and she needed to use it responsibly.
The Hand was still recharging, but she knew something she could do to help. The guardians assigned to the Brooklyn Bridge didn’t have nearly as much to room to work with as the ones along FDR Drive. They were position two abreast from where the bridge met land all the way back to Pearl Street. It was a solid defensive tactic. When the two guardians exhausted their power or were in fear of being overwhelmed they would step back and two fresh soldiers would take their place. That meant there would always be fresh soldiers fighting against the Infernal’s bottlenecked force, and if the enemy abandoned pushing against the strong defense here, Ava could pull soldiers from the back of the formation as a rapid response force to reinforce other weaker areas.
Ava landed between the first line of guardians working on their defensive circles and the ten-foot-high wall of cars that had been piled up to block the bridge’s path into Manhattan. She extended the Hand out in front of her and said a few select words. The air shimmered in front of her and began to undulate like the water of the East River below them. With a grunt of exertion she pressed and the shimmering barrier expanded to five feet thick and to the height of the car-wall.
The Hand puttered out as she ran out of æther, but she was satisfied with her work. The two guardians first in line to meet the enemy grinned at each other when they saw the barrier. It was something beyond their skill and power, but it would allow them to deal the Infernals crippling blow after crippling blow if they continued to assault this position. Ava just wished she could have put the barrier along her entire defensive line.
“Enemy spotted, one thousand meters and closing!” Bart’s voice rang out from where he’d positioned himself on the top of a tall building just to the right of the bridge.
The wind shifted and the smell of rot, sulfur, and madness washed over Ava and the rest of the guardians. Unlike the soldiers of Seere they’d faced earlier, Beelzebub’s minions were twisted forms of humanity that had been driven over the edge long ago. They didn’t care about anything except the most animal of needs, and they were driven by half-crazed generals that knew defeat meant eons being pulled apart and reassembled by their Lord. That meant they were ruthless and without mercy.
Ava knew this was going to turn into a bloodbath as the bridge began to rumble beneath her feet as thousands of stampeding hooves, talons, paws, and feet charged towards her position. As much as she knew she shouldn’t be right here on the front lines she couldn’t help herself. She wanted to strike the first blow against the invading Infernals.
<For Maria,> she told herself as the flames of her sword licked against the asphalt making it bubble. She didn’t have a defensive circle established, but she didn’t need one.
Heavy footsteps drew her attention back to the wall of cars just before it exploded outward. Something powerful had hit them from the other side and just kept on going until it hit the barrier she’d established. The barrier didn’t stop anything dead in its tracks, but it wasn’t designed to do that. A full barrier took a lot of energy and tended to wear out quickly as it was pounded away on. If something powerful enough came along they could simply shatter it and leave something or someone completely defenseless. Ava didn’t want that, so she pulled on her knowledge, experience, and greater power to do one better.
The ten foot high by five foot thick barrier was a time-distortion field. Anything caught in the field slowed down to one-tenth of its normal speed, so that creature that had just charged through the car-wall had gone from a sprinting beast to a something crawling at somewhat slower than a walk. Ava gave the beast one quick once over to see where to deal the most damage. It had an armored hide, but it was natural armor, not Infernal Iron. Its legs looked thin and week, but it had a lot of them, like a centipede, to keep it up and moving.
Ava took one step forward and pivoted, torqueing her core in a swing that had more in common with a baseball swing than a sword fight. The creature was till moving at a crawl when Ava’s sword made contact. The hide held for half a heartbeat before it began to scorch and weaken under the flame. Then the blade pierced the flesh. Ava’s blade was not constrained by the same warped reality that she’d created in the field, so her sword finished passing through and killing the creature just as the blood splatter began to explode out of its side, and the force of her attack picked the thing up off its feet.
It wasn’t until it cleared the distortion field at the edge of the bridge that it practically exploded with gore out into the East River and down onto FDR Drive, but by then the next set of enemies had already entered the field and died as Ava reversed her swing and slashed back through the area. Infernals died by the half dozen with each swing of her sword. It was like shooting fish in a tea cup with a shotgun.
She only took a few swipes with her blade before she stepped back from the distortion field. Steam was hissing away as her blade’s fire burned off the gore from her vanquished enemies. The two guardians first in line looked eager to get in on the action and they began to chop, stab, and slice into the field as more enemies poured into it.
“On your right!” someone yelled before something hard smacked into Ava’s helmet.
She caught herself on the bridge and heard the scuttling of something sharp against her helmet. Her hand darted up, but grasped nothing but air. The scuttling continued as she tried to catch whatever was on her helmet, until finally there was a screeching noise followed by a loud bellow. Whatever was attacking her had tried to scratch through her Divine Steel helmet, and likely injured itself. Ava took advantage of the things pain, but this time she didn’t try to reach for it and grab it. Instead, she smacked herself hard in the side of the head. The clang of metal on metal rang in her ears for a second, but there was also a satisfying squish. She pulled her hand back and it came away with dripping, black, tar-like blood.
She didn’t get any time to celebrate.
“FDR Drive to your left!” Bart relayed coordinates where her guardians needed assistance.
Ava looked over the side of the bridge and saw the enemy streaming down away from her barrier. They’d quickly adapted to her tactics and were taking the route of least resistance right into her waiting guardians, but it was easily fifty-to-one odds, and Ava needed to plug the gaps.
Without hesitation, Ava went insubstantial and sunk down through the bridge, only to shift back into reality as she hit FDR Dive below. She saw the flaw as she looked up. For every Infernal advancing on top of the bridge there was one crawling along the metalwork below it. There were easily a hundred enemies already dropping off and landing to engage her guardians.
“Hold the line!” she yelled and cut down two Infernals that got to close to her flaming blade.
She was going to have to rethink the disposition of her soldiers, and was about to call out new orders when the ground rumbled beneath her feet. The whole island seemed to sway as the earthquake hit, but Ava knew Manhattan didn’t have earthquakes. She looked over her shoulder back in the direction of Central Park, but couldn’t see much over the buildings between her and where the Archangels were fighting the Infernal Lord.
The ground rumbled again, and Ava hoped Michael and Gabriel were winning, but she didn’t have time to wonder. More Infernals were pressing forward. She had her own work cut out for her here.