The battle lines were drawn as Michael and Satan walked calmly to their respective sides of the gym. The heavy-hitters stood on the frontlines: Seere, Lucifer, and Satan against the two archangels. Gerry was in the second line. The Dux line. Lucian’s perception of what was going on around them had narrowed considerably. He had his mind fixed on the thirty-foot Emmanuel. Behind him were his lieutenants and Vicky’s people.
They all looked ready to shit their pants.
They might be the big bads in Charlotte, but this was several orders of magnitude outside their wheelhouse. Even Gerry was outclassed. He was standing among titans and he was a very fragile man in comparison.
<It doesn’t matter.> He let the power grip him. <Nothing matters.> It was how he went into every battle. You had to fight like you were already dead or you wouldn’t be willing to do what was necessary.
He wasn’t going to willingly sacrifice himself. He wasn’t suicidal, but he needed to be ready to take risks to win. A flexible mindset helped with that. He reached deep within himself – to the core of his being – and pulled.
His true Infernal form tore through his feeble mortal flesh and replaced it with hard Infernal Iron. His height exploded upward until he was standing slightly higher than Emmanuel.
<Forty feet.> He couldn’t stop the grin from forming on his face. He’d accumulated enough power to tower over the majority of buildings in the city.
He hadn’t had many chances to fully transform since arriving in Charlotte since he had to be in his warded penthouse to even think about it. Those few times he did, he made sure to remember what he’d heard – what felt like a lifetime ago – in the Carver’s chambers: his Infernal form was a blank canvas that he could mold to his will. He’d though it had ben perfection back then, and he’d been wrong.
Instead of smooth metal with blue light shining from the crevices in the armor, he’d made some alterations. Spikes adorned the armor in strategic locations. That would prevent enemies from grabbing a hold of him and using their greater strength as leverage, because Gerry knew no matter what his power level his enemies would likely be stronger.
He’d shifted the metal to form a shield on his left forearm. It was small – not large enough to protect his whole body – but it was enough to deflect the swords the angels were carrying. He had his own broadsword to attack and defend, and a little surprise in his left hand beneath the shield he was saving for a special occasion.
Gerry savored being the biggest guy in the room for about a second before Lucian exploded next to him. What stood next to Gerry – towering fifty feet tall – looked nothing like Lucian. Armor covered the other Dux’s chest, but that was it. The rest of his body was covered in thick scales, and large reptilian wings arched above his back. His arms and hands were still human and gripped twin scimitars, but his legs were thick and tipped with glittering black claws. If that wasn’t different enough, his face had elongated into a snout and smoke was curling up from his nostrils, which made the savage grin – full of rows of jagged teeth – that much more unsettling.
<Glad he’s on my side.> Gerry looked pretty tame next to the other Dux.
In reply to Lucian’s challenge, Emmanuel swelled another twenty feet until he matched the size of the other Dux. Gerry didn’t let his irritation show, and instead refocused on the rest of the group. His eyes found Ava. The Dominion of Charlotte’s eyes were red and puffy, but there was a look in them that made Gerry shiver…and that expression was fixed directly on him.
He focused his attention on those eyes and knew who he’d be fighting when all hell broke loose. Even worse, he soon found himself looking up at those eyes. Ava shifted her stance when she reached her full fifty-foot height so she was ready to attack.
The guardian angels behind her responded to the challenge as well, but each of them only reached a height of twenty feet. That was still half a dozen extra swords to worry about though, and each of those was deadly Divine Steel.
<I need to get me one of those.> Gerry knew the first thing he was going to do.
The growth of the Duxs and Dominions were the equivalent of silverback gorillas puffing out their chests and daring the other to make the first move. The only ones who didn’t seem to be posturing and daring the other to attack were the heavy-hitters.
“Do you have any conditions?” Satan asked, cutting through the tense silence.
“I don’t suppose you will leave the humans out of it?” Michael asked, but his expression wasn’t hopeful.
“No.” Satan shook his head. “It is their war as much as yours or mine. The moment Father incorporated the realm he doomed them to this eventuality.”
It was a signal that Gerry didn’t see coming. The orb in Uriel’s spear had been glowing brightly since the beginning, and now she used it. It wasn’t a full-scale attack like Gerry was expecting. He put his shield between himself and the spear and channeled all his strength into digging in against the incredible force he was expecting to meet. Instead, Uriel simple raised the spear a foot off the ground and brought it firmly back down onto the ground. Gerry barely heard the impact, but he felt the change.
It wasn’t an attack, but a wave of something passed over and through Gerry. He felt a chill run through him and wasn’t able to suppress an involuntary shiver. It caused him to commit a big no-no in warfare. He took his eye off the enemy to make sure some catastrophic damage hadn’t been done to him.
A quick scan didn’t show any breaches in his armor. His grip on his well of ætherial power was still strong, and a check of his mind showed no obvious signs of intrusion. When he looked back at the heavy-hitters he saw that Lucifer was laughing.
“That’s clever, Sis, but it won’t last long.” Despite his helmet and the odd light shining through the visor, Lucifer’s voice sounded normal.
“Long enough to finish this.” She smiled back.
“They turned us insubstantial to reduce the damage to the humans and their infrastructure.” Seere explained to the people behind him. “The flaw in their strategy is that it is against our will and will only last for so long. In addition, the more power expended during the battle the quicker it will unravel.”
Gerry nodded. His attention was fixed back on Ava.
The tension was back as the forces of Heaven and Hell faced each other across the bloodstained gym. It was like two gunslingers at high noon with their hands poised to go for their guns. Someone just had to make the opening move.
The anticipation ratcheted up and up as the seconds passed by. Gerry wanted to unleash on one of the guardians to get their superior weapons, but it would be suicide to try that, so he waited impatiently.
He didn’t know how much time had passed, but finally Satan moved and changed. Gerry had never seen and Infernal transform into their full-power combat form, or even knew that it could happen so quickly. One second Satan was an old man leaning slightly forward on his cane, and the next The King of Hell was charging straight at Michael.
As Gerry look upon him, there was no question at all that he was the King. Between steps the feeble body of the old man exploded into a three hundred foot creature of power and destruction. Thick Divine Steel armor gleamed, but it had a patchwork of darker Infernal Iron welded onto certain parts. He had the body of a man, with a tattered red cloak streaming behind him, but that similarity ended at his head.
The head of Satan had four faces. The first was a face of the angel he used to be. He was handsome perfection with a charming smile and eyes that made people trust him. That face was currently facing the rear. The face currently facing forward was similar to Lucians. It had an elongated snout with dark red reptilian scales. Golden eyes shown with hate and menace, and its ear-splitting roar would have collapsed a building if he wasn’t currently insubstantial. Rows of deadly teeth populated the mouth, but two fangs were prominent and dripped something bright green onto the floor. The face facing right was a ram’s face with two curled horns. Between those horns was a fiery crown. Lastly, the final face was avian. It had a sharp black beak capable of stabbing and tearing into his enemy, and two cruel red eyes.
When Satan charged Michael changed. He braced himself as he changed from normal, ripped Santa Clause to the three hundred foot Knight of the Almighty. His armor was identical to Satan’s, minus the patchwork repairs the King of Hell had been forced to make in exile. Michael’s armor was freshly polished and reflected the power he held. He also brought a hundred-foot sword into a defense stance as Satan drew closer.
Uriel moved toward Michael’s flank to protect him, and immediately had to deflect a blast of power from Lucifer.
Both the archangel and Lucifer were both towering above Gerry now. They’d engaged their full power as the attack started. There was a difference though. Lucifer was closer to two hundred and eighty feet tall compared to Uriel’s two hundred and fifty feet. They were easily spilling out of the gym now, but since they’d been rendered insubstantial they passed right through the walls.
The blocking move brought Uriel’s orb between the blast and her. Light met light, and Lucifer’s beam ricocheted off to the side. The force staggered Uriel, but she was able to get her footing before Seere reached her.
Gerry’s lord wielding his own giant broadsword as he towered just as tall as Uriel. She parried the attack, but Seere pushed the advantage and drove her back into the football field behind the gym. Sword and spear flourished and flashed as the two giants battled.
What Gerry decided to refer to as Satan’s dragon-face was streaming fire onto Michael, who had summoned a shield to protect himself from the scorching heat. The defensive tactic saved him from burns, but it left him open for the tackle. At the last moment, Satan’s faces rotated and the ram-face smashed into Michael. The archangel went toppling onto his ass and Satan jumped on him with his raven-face facing forward and ready to poke at the weaknesses in the commander’s armor.
Gerry didn’t see much more than the two titans exchanging blows and rolling around on the ground, but he also had other things to worry about. His side had the numbers and that was clear as the Divine’s champions were occupied with Seere and Satan. Lucifer was left open to unleash ranged attacks with his devastating energy blasts that streamed through the opening in his helmet.
Emmanuel moved to counter The Morning Star but Lucian jumped toward him unleashing his own blast of fire. The Dominion of Charleston powered through the attack and crashed into the Dux. They both went flying as the two combatants beat their wings to gain elevation.
That left Gerry, his lieutenants, Ava, and her soldiers. The Soulless and Vicky had done the smartest thing possible under the circumstances.
They’d run for their lives.
A hand gesture from their commander was all the guardians needed. They took to the air and shot toward Lucifer. It was a suicide run, and they all knew it, but they needed to take the Infernal Lord’s attention of Uriel. He’d already scored a hit against the archangel and it left a thick scorch mark on her armor.
The maneuver worked…to a degree. The eight guardians succeeded in drawing Lucifer’s attention, but only six of them were able to avoid the blast from his helmet. The two other were obliterated by the powerful stream of energy. The remaining six fell back, regrouped and split into two teams. One continued to harass Lucifer while the other headed toward Gerry and his lieutenants. Gerry waved for his own lieutenants to join the battle.
They had already transformed. Jezebel was a quasi-feline nightmare of claws and teeth. She had no wings, but she could jump considerable distances. She leapt into the action, and was able to grab on of a guardian’s feet. The two flew off to fight to the death.
Jeb looked more zombie than man. A green mist swirled around him and lashed out to attack anyone he chose. He couldn’t fly, but he could levitate, and he moved forward to engage another guardian.
Lastly, Lono lumbered forward. He was the largest of Gerry’s lieutenants standing almost twenty-five feet tall. He was stark naked, and itt showed off his corpulent frame in all its glory. His skin was a deep, burned red-color that sagged and rolled with his tremendous girth. He looked like an evil Buddha waddling into battle. He had sharp teeth better to eat his victims with, but he relied on his sheer strength in battle.
Gerry saw him engage a guardian. The angel sliced off a chunk of fat hanging from the gluttony-powered Infernal’s arm, but it didn’t slow Lono down. He grabbed the angel’s sword arm, brought him close, and repeatedly punched the Divine soldier in his helmeted-head.
Gerry saw the soldier drop his sword, and saw the opportunity. Ava mirrored his motion, and they both raced toward the fight. She made a key mistake as they both joined the fray. She incorrectly assumed that he was there to assist Lono.
He was there for the sword.
She swung her own sword at Gerry’s chest, assuming he would bring his blade up to protect his lieutenant. Instead, he slid like a baseball player behind Lono to where the angel’s sword lay on the ground. He seized it mid-slid as Lono roared in pain. The gluttonous Infernal had done his best to lessen the blow of the much larger Dominion, but her blade had sliced through his arm holding her soldier, and deep into his chest.
He staggered backwards from the force of the attack and that let the guardian get back in the fight. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a sword to attack with. Gerry channeled his æther into the sword. It blazed with blue fire, and he brought it in a powerful upward stroke as he leapt back to his feet. The sword bit into the Divine Steel armor of the guardian just above the hip. The armor held briefly, before folding under Gerry’s strength and the Infernal fire coating the sword. The sword bisected the guardian from hip to mid-chest, spilling his Divine æther across Gerry’s chest, and throwing the two halves of his ruined body into the air.
Lono waddled away clutching the stump of his arm while Ava landed in front of Gerry. Her eyes were filled with righteous fury as she towered ten feet over him. No words were exchanged. He’d helped kill her daughter and he’d just defeated one of her soldiers. She wanted him dead, and he was determined to avoid that at all costs.
<Stupid, so stupid.> Ava wasn’t cursing anybody but herself. She’d underestimated Gerry twice, and both times people had paid for her stupidity with their lives. <My sweet Maria.> She fought back tears as she repositioned to face the Infernal Dux. Instead, she focused on her anger.
She’d sat right across from the man and hadn’t seen what he truly was. His human guise was flawless and he’d spoken nothing but the truth, but everything had still been a lie.
<I’ve been complacent.> She came to the conclusion as she circled Gerry. <I let my prior victory go to my head, and he cut me down at the knees.>
Now Frederick was dead. His bisected body spilled Divine ichor all over the ground. His essence had returned to Heaven to be recrafted into a new body, but that didn’t stop the trauma of death. The Guardian would remember it for decades to come.
<That’s not the worst thing.> As crude as the thought was, it was the truth.
Frederick’s death had given the Dux possession of a blade made of Divine Steel. There weren’t too many differences between Divine Steel and Infernal Iron in the construction process. It was the empowerment phase that made the crucial difference. Infernal Iron was imbued with power by an Infernal Lord. It made the weapon far more dangerous than anything mortals could contrive, but it was still only blessed with power by a second-rate ætherial creature. Divine Steel was anointed by her almighty Father, a primordial being. The power of his blessing was far superior to one of his own creations.
Now, Gerry had a blade far more powerful than anything he’d ever wielded before, something powerful enough to threaten Ava.
“For the record I find you extraordinary.” Gerry was a full ten feet shorter, so he had to look up at her.
Ava was speechless before she felt fresh rage burn in her heart. “You killed my daughter, you vile creature.” She advanced cautiously and moved through a few forms.
Gerry danced backwards and deflected the attack with skill. “I didn’t kill your daughter. Lucifer and Seere killed her. If you’re looking for revenge then I’d look over there.”
Ava wasn’t stupid enough to take her eye off her target, and she didn’t need to. She could feel the battle behind her. Archangels were battling Infernal Lords. It was hard to miss, and it put her in an uncomfortable position. She’d selected her most powerful form to fight this battle for good reason. You didn’t stand toe-to-toe with the Prince of Darkness at anything less than full strength, but she wasn’t fighting one of her older brothers. She was fighting a weaker Dux; weaker but faster.
Gerry slid away from another attack, maneuvered to the side, before pressing his own. It forced her to bat her wings and spin in the air with a flourish. He came in low and would have done some damage if her blade wasn’t already waiting for him. He moved away at the last second, avoiding a cut that would have bitten deeply into his shoulder.
Ava contemplated decreasing her strength and increasing her speed. Gerry was a competent swordsman, but he was still only an Infernal with a few hundred years of experience under his belt, a millennia tops. Ava had been a soldier since before mankind existed. His speed was the only thing that was saving him.
A hideous scream broke her concentration and made her decision for her. Uriel took the full brunt of a blast from Lucifer to the front of her armor. The Divine Steel held for a fraction of a second before blackening and splintering under his energy. She screamed as the blast burned into her flesh, but tried to use her own momentum to avoid the full force of it. Seere pressed her at the same moment. She was mid-rotation when his giant broadsword slashed upward across her hamstring. It caused her to stagger, and she would have died from his follow-up stab if her orb didn’t pulse and throw the Great Dissenter backwards. She intercepted Lucifer’s next blast with the Orb, but it was clear the archangel was hurt.
Michael was still engaging Satan, so it was up to Ava to help. She disengaged from Gerry with a few powerful beats of her wings and rocketed toward the Morning Star.
“Is this what you wanted, Brother? Are you happy?”
Michael replied by swinging the shield right into Satan’s human-face. It busted the King of Hell’s nose pretty good, but the face moved with the blow. The dragon-face roared its reply, and since Michael’s shield was out of position he received a full bath of flame across his shoulder and side. He felt his flesh singe from the heat, but his armor held. He brought the shield back around with the intent of taking off Satan’s head, but the Infernal Lord ducked under the attack and backed away to avoid any follow on attacks from Michael’s sword.
Behind them battle raged. Both could hear Seere, Lucifer, and Uriel duking it out. That made Satan smile. Michael took a step in that direction, but Satan countered it and cut off the archangel commander’s chance of helping his ally. Satan had the upper hand here. He didn’t have to worry about Uriel attacking him from behind. His brothers were more than able to keep her busy.
“So?” Satan reached toward the middle of his back.
A section of his Divine Steel armor broke off. It was a sword. He brought it around to his front, twisted it, and pulled it apart into dual blades. That had always been Satan’s greatest strength in battle. His whirling faces and whirling blades gave him a versatility that not even Michael could compete with.
“No.” Michael replied firmly. “I don’t wish to fight you, Brother, but you continue to make the same mistake time and time again. You are literally insane.”
“Is it insane to question? Is it insane to think for myself? If yes, then I am most definitely insane, but it also makes you a fool, Michael.” The human-face was back with the nose already mended. “You’re nothing more than daddy’s little errand boy. You have been since our creation and you will be forever unless you stand up for yourself.”
Satan took a few practice swings with the dual blades and they sang through the air. The song was death, and more than one angel had felt it. He’d even killed other archangels with the blades.
“You mistake loyalty to my father and family as foolishness. You have nothing but loyalty for yourself. You would slaughter Lucifer and Seere in a heartbeat if it would take you one step closer to our Father’s throne, so don’t talk to me about sanity.” Michael shot back.
Satan didn’t reject the statement. He just shrugged. “Our brothers know that. They even expect it.”
“And that will always be your greatest weakness, Brother.” Michael brought his sword and shield into a ready stance.
“Weakness doesn’t survive in Hell, Michael.” Satan charged, his dragon-face unleashing a torrent of flame to block the archangel’s line of sight.
Uriel screamed off to their side and Satan feinted one way and went the other. Michael was ready though, he’d fought his brother’s deception before. Their swords met in a vicious collision. The shockwave spread outward from the point of impact.
“No.” Michael was distracted by the physical reaction of the attack. All he was able to do was get his shield up before more flames tried to roast him alive.
He was forced to split his concentration between his attacking brother and the shockwave from the swords as it slammed into the gymnasium with the force of a Category 5 hurricane. Brick and mortar were ripped from the structure. Part of a wall crumbled from the force, but it didn’t completely flatten the building. It hardly mattered. What did matter was that the spell that had turned the Infernal King of Hell insubstantial had failed.
Satan was loose on the world in all his terrible glory.
“Will you look at that?” Satan’s human-face smiled at Michael.
“Satan, no…!” Michael started, but the Infernal Lord had already unfurled his black wings and launched himself into the air.
Radar all over the area would be pinging what looked like a flying aircraft carrier moving at speeds far exceeding anything commercially available. Michael didn’t have the luxury of hesitation. His own white wings sprang open and he launched himself after his brother.
There was no hiding it now. Heaven and Hell had come to Earth.