PCS to Eden – Escape from New York

“We can’t keep going like this,” Bart heaved.

It wasn’t every day that you saw a Dominion struggle to draw breath, but today was that day for Ava and her small team. The fact that she wholeheartedly agreed with Bart’s assessment didn’t make her feel any better about their situation. Worst of all, their situation proved just how thoroughly the Amazons had planned for this day.

The three angels were being weight down…literally…by binding wards. Normally, these common wards would have less effect than a wet fart on an angel. There primary use was against humans and lesser creatures, but the Amazons had devised an ingenious use of them, and it would pose a problem when the Divine Host sought to retake Manhattan.

What Hippolyta and her people had done was layer binding ward after binding word in an ever increasing trap as it approached their headquarters and center of their power. Binding wards could be tailored to bind specific things: people, emotions, animals, even children. More than a few sorcerers had kept their budding teenage children bound to a home for a week when they were grounded. Ava and her team’s problem was that these wards were set to bind æther. It couldn’t collect the DNA of the universe, but it could cling to it.

At the moment, Ava had two thousand seven hundred and thirty one binding wards pulling at the fabric of her being and trying to pin her to the ground like a wrestler at Monday Night Smackdown. Since binding wards couldn’t be thrown down and powered overnight like that, Ava knew that Amazons had been carefully preparing for centuries. Manhattan was now a fortress.

Thankfully for this mission, Ava knew of an easy solution. “We need to do it.”

“Are you crazy?” Razael hissed as another binding ward snagged onto him and tried to pull him down. “That’s suicide.”

Ava was well aware of that, but there wasn’t much she could do about it. They needed to find an injured archangel that was trapped behind these binding wards, and that didn’t even count the other wards she’d seen. Luckily, binding wards couldn’t gather information. They were ‘dumb’ wards. They only conducted their primary mission. Surveillance wards were smarter than that, and she’d seen a few. These wards measured whatever their creator wanted them to measure: sex, age, color, race, height, weight, species, and that only scratched the surface. It made the latest facial recognition software look like crap, and best yet, the data was easily gathered and reachable for the Amazons. Since they were skilled ætherial craftswomen, Ava bet there was a central mainframe somewhere that was collecting and analyzing all this data. Ava and her increasingly winded companions were drawing too much attention.

“We don’t have a choice.” Or at leave Ava didn’t, so she did what she had to.

The easiest way to avoid a binding ward aimed at æther was to shed the æther. As a creature of æther, she couldn’t completely get rid of it, but she could make it so the binding wards, made to counter angels, wouldn’t detect her.

Aether started to leave Ava and return to Heaven. Even her Hand of God powered down until it resembled nothing more than a natural prosthetic. With that æther went most of her abilities as a Power. She was still stronger and faster than a human, but she was no match for an Amazon.

Once she completed the process she straightened, the tremendous pulling sensation was gone, and surveyed the area. She looked at Bart and Razael, and both of them looked back at her before shaking their head. She didn’t blame them. What she was doing amounted to allowing yourself to be killed. If she was slain by an Amazon, with the wards that were in place, she doubted she’d be able to reconstitute herself in heaven. That meant permanent death. On top of that, things weren’t looking good for the remaining men of NYC. Since Bart and Razael would effectively become human males, shedding their æther added a whole other level of proposed misfortune.

“Fall back to the rendezvous point. I’ll come with Gabriel once I find him. We might have to execute a fighting retreat, so I want you ready to go if we come in hot. Understood?” Both men nodded and, with barely hidden pain, made a one-eighty and headed back the way they’d come.

That left Ava all alone to find Gabriel. Thankfully, God, by way of Michael, had told her where to look. Binding wards might be able to trap æther, but nothing could stop prayers from reaching God’s ears.

 

***

Gabriel slipped in between the columns of books and breathed a small sigh of relief. The New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman building had avoided the destruction the leviathan had wrecked while making its way through Midtown. That was good because it was the establish rendezvous point for Gabriel is things went wrong. Things had gone spectacularly wrong.

This was the flagship branch of the public library and the architecture showed it. It was designed in the Beaux-Arts style and had symbolized the free and open access the knowledge for over a century. Over 530,000 cubic feet of marble had been used to construct the three floor building holding hundreds of thousands of books, art, photography, music and movies. Despite the decline of library systems with the advent of eBooks and commerce, this building had kept going strong. Now, it was virtually empty, the power was cut, and only a handful of dedicated employees were still present to protect the rare book collections that they believed were more valuable than their lives.

With his gifts, Gabriel easily avoided them as he slid between the stacks and found a quiet corner to wait. Michael was going to come he hoped. He’d seen the blow the beast delivered to his brother, and he didn’t envy the bruise that was going to leave in the morning, but he knew the leader of the Divine Host wouldn’t let this stand. He would come down on the Amazons with the full might of the Host. The only question was when, and if Gabriel would be in any shape to assist them.

Secure in the fact that he was in an isolated location a decent distance away from the leviathan and the Amazon’s HQ, the archangel gradually let his needs take over. With the æther shifting away from the Divine his body needed more natural processes to remedy his situation. So, after thirty minutes of semi-vigilant watching, Gabriel fell asleep.

He didn’t feel like he was asleep for more than five minutes when a loud CLANG snapped him back to consciousness. He checked an old clock nearby, not powered by electricity, and saw two hours had passed.

“Everyone up!” A powerful female voice seemed to come from everywhere at once. Gabriel felt that æther probing the building for occupants, and tried his best the shield himself from its reach.

He must have been successful because the search party of Amazon’s didn’t run straight to his location. Instead, they focused on the humans.

“You three…let’s go!”  A second voice ordered, and there was a scream.

Gabriel’s sense of duty demanded that he take action, but his rational mind told him not to be foolish. If he let them know his position now, then more would converge, capture, and maybe even kill him. Death was not something the archangel had feared in a long time, and its sudden presence was sobering. Despite logic, he felt deep shame when he thought about leaving those people to the Amazons. He couldn’t live with himself if he did nothing, so he slowly crept from his hiding place to get a better read of the situation.

His gift of spatial awareness worked to his advantage. He saw the angles and worked them toward his goal. As he crept through the dark library, he always stayed out of the two Amazon’s vision, while gaining the maximum amount of information possible. Both were armed with swords and guns. They had the three humans: two men and a woman, on their knees by the exit from the original room Gabriel had been hiding in. The men were gagged and hogtied like animals while the woman sat nearby crying. The Amazon’s didn’t pay her any attention, but they actively looked at the men with hateful-lust in their eyes. The men looked appropriately terrified.

Gabriel looked at the fear on their faces and knew he couldn’t leave them to be used as breeders and then slaughtered by their amazon children. He threw logic to the wind and worked on a plan. If he was lucky he could save the men and not alert other Amazon’s to his presence. He worked through the possibilities, ran through multiple contingencies, and sent up a last prayer to his father for assistance. Then he waited.

The opportunity to do something presented itself as the Amazons started to leave with their prisoners. They walked them down between two rows of books. The concealment wasn’t as good as a wall, but Gabriel squatted down, and rushed forward to get ahead of them. His gift did its job, and he had a few seconds to spare as he waited where the stacks ended.

<This is reckless.> His mind warred with his heart again, but he quickly stomped on it. <They have swords and guns. No one has ever said it’s a bad idea to bring fists to a gunfight because no one is stupid enough to do that in the first place.> His mind screamed at him not to do something stupid, but he was already committed.

To make himself feel better, he grabbed a thick book from the opposite stack. <Time to see if the pen is mightier than the sword.> It wasn’t the correct analogy, but it was the best he could come up with.

As the lead Amazon exited the walkway between the two stacks, Gabriel sprung at her. He used his natural strength as he torqued his core around. He used that power to bring the book from his right hip at an upward angle to catch the Amazon in the chin.

With a sickening CRACK the amazon’s head snapped back as she was picked up off her feet and launched into a bookshelf. It folded backward into the next stack as blood, shattered wood, and books of all different dimensions filled the air around them. The humans screamed, which only added to the chaos.

Thankfully, the two Amazons weren’t high on the pecking order or Gabriel would have been in deep shit. Instead, the other Amazon fumbled for her gun, but in such tight quarters it was the wrong decision. With everything going on between her and Gabriel, the sword was the better option. Gabriel grabbed the humans and swept them aside as he launched himself toward the remaining Amazon. She was able to get the pistol out of the holster and halfway on target before Gabriel tackled her. She still had her finger on the trigger, and the force of the blow to her gut caused on involuntary squeeze. The round went harmlessly into the ceiling as Gabriel drove his head upward into her chin. There was another sickening CRACK, but it didn’t put the woman down for the count. It did stun her, which allowed Gabriel to get the better position and pummel her head. After a few well-placed blows she went limp.

Both Amazon’s weren’t dead. The æther in their bodies would repair the damage, but their lowly status meant it would be slow going. He had at least a few hours, but he couldn’t kill them. They might be foot soldiers, but they would be tied into the Amazon’s ætherial network, and their deaths would set off alarms. That was the last thing he needed.  Meanwhile, the three humans just stood there frightened and wide-eyed until he cut the men’s bindings.

“Don’t say a word. Get out of here.” He gestured to the door and they scrambled away without even saying thank you.

Gabriel gathered the two bodies and dragged them deeper into the library before returning to his hiding spot. Eventually, someone would come looking for the missing Amazons, and in the off chance someone heard the shot, and came to investigate, he wanted to be able to repeat the ambush.

He just hoped someone from his team showed up soon.

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PCS to Eden – Behind Enemy Lines

Gabriel staggered into the alley. Blood dripped from wounds on his shoulder, torso, neck, and legs. He tried to take deep breaths as he leaned up against a brick wall, but a sharp pain stabbed into his side every time he drew breath. He knew he’d broken some ribs, but that was just the cherry on top of the sundae that was his fight with Beelzebub, then Lucifer, and then the leviathan that had showed up out of nowhere. The last one was the one who’d done in his ribs. After knocking Michael clear across the city with that wrecking ball of a tail, it had got in one good hit while Gabriel tried to flee.

The ground shook beneath his feet as the Archangel thought about the giant creature. It was still looking for him, but Gabriel had shrunk down to his human size to avoid detection and slip into the city. He’d become a needle in an urban haystack. The creature’s frustrated roar was proof of that.

<Keep moving.> Gabriel told himself as he pushed against the wall and grit his teeth.

Divine ichor stained the wall as he moved away and limped deeper into the alley. Gabriel was healing, but slowly. His supply of æther was severely depleted from the battle, and it was replenishing at barely better than a trickle. It was the first time this had ever happened, and it took a moment of thought to figure out why.

The simple answer was ætherial mechanics. The Divine and Infernals had been fighting for control of Eden for millennia, and for the most part, the Divine were successful. Even in the places the Infernals had taken control, the Divine were still able to syphon æther because their blueprint of existence was the same. Most of the Infernals were former Divine angels after all. There were a few non-Divine Infernals, but Gabriel had never had prolonged interaction with their minions, or been injured to this point in captured territory.

What he was dealing with now was something not seen on Eden since the war of conquest. Gabriel felt the shift as Michael abandoned the field of battle, while he was dodging the leviathan and shrinking down to a size he could hide at. The feel of the æther had snapped away from him. What was usually comforting and close by now felt like it was cold and far away. He could only reach and pull in a trickle of it. With his battery essentially drained, and nothing new coming in, that put him in real danger.

The sound of feet slapping against concrete drew Gabriel’s attention to the mouth of the alley he’d just enter. He wasn’t insubstantial, because that took energy to maintain, and he quickly wished he was. A beautiful woman with high cheekbones, a raised chin that failed to hide a major superiority complex, and a spear on her back stared back at him.

Gabriel looked at her, she looked at him, she smiled, pulled a pistol from beneath her jacket, and opened fire. Gabriel was already diving for cover, but she was a quick draw. Bullets streaked towards him as he put a dumpster between him and her.

Even in his injured state, human bullets shouldn’t have been able to harm him, but these were bullets crafted by the Amazons. They were tipped with Divine Steel stolen from dead angels during the war of conquest. Thankfully, all but one missed him due to his quick action. But the one that did hit him ripped a big hole through his already bloodied wing.

Gabriel grimaced in pain as he tried to make himself smaller behind the metal barrier that smelled like week-old Chinese food. The Amazon hunting him didn’t waste ammunition. She stopped firing once Gabriel had taken cover, but he knew she was calling for backup. If they were able to take down an archangel right at the start of their rebellion then that was a loss God couldn’t easily come back from.

<Survive, Escape, Evade, and get rescued.> That was the plan. He knew his brother wouldn’t just leave him.

Gabriel trained his senses on the alley. He unleashed his gift for pattern recognition and spatial awareness bestowed by his father on the situation. He saw the Amazon’s possible avenues of approach laid out before her. Based on the ripples through the æther, the sounds bouncing off the walls, and the scents in the air he was able to pinpoint her location.

He angled himself against the dumpster, took a deep breath, summoned his waning strength, and pushed. The dumpster launched toward the Amazon like it had been fired from a slingshot. Gabriel might be injured, but he was still an archangel of God, and archangels were no slouches.

All he heard was a muffled curse, and the resounding crash of metal striking flesh, but that was enough. Gabriel went insubstantial and slid through the concrete beneath his feet. He fell down until wooziness hit him like a ton of bricks and he became substantial again. His feet hit something solid and it was immediately clear he was in the sewer surrounded by garbage and scurrying rodents.

<I can’t fall any lower without being dead.> Gabriel acknowledged he’d hit rock bottom, accepted it, and started to move. He needed to put as much space between him and his last known location as possible. A small army of angry Amazons would be converging on the area to hunt him down, and the last thing he wanted to do was get caught. He’d be presented to Hippolyta on a silver platter, and that was an experience he was unlikely to survive in his current state.

<They call her the eater of men for a reason.> He shuddered, ignored the squishy substance he stepped in, and kept moving.

 

***

 

The mission was simple: rescue an archangel of God from a horde of angry Amazons. Ava had received Michael’s intent. He wanted this done quickly and quietly. She was to get in, find Gabriel, and get out. The Divine Host wasn’t prepared to fight a prolonged battle with the Amazons yet. Not when they had a leviathan currently sun bathing across most of Central Park.

Of course, this was all way easier said than done. Like every other angel in the area, Ava had felt the ætherial shift on the island of Manhattan. She doubted she’d be able to pull in a handful’s worth of æther if she got into trouble. This mission had to be stealth, and it had to be done with the resources at hand.

This had her, and more than a few others, confused and frustrated. The Divine Host, the ever-victorious army of God, was not used to having logistical issues. Even during the war for Eden, God had been able to secure ætherial supply lines for his forces. It would be ideal if something like that was in the works, but when she asked, Michael shook his head.

<Warding.> It was a simple explanation, but it had profound consequences.

First, it showed the limitations of God when he wasn’t in the same realm as the æther. Despite all of the tweaking over the last millennia, Eden and Heaven were still different creations at their core. God had patched stuff, written new ætherial code here and there to get things more toward how he liked them, but that wasn’t the same as having created the hardware in his own image. Plus, anyone with enough power and skill could do warding.

That being said, warding to keep God’s fingers out of the ætherial pie in Manhattan had to be extremely powerful. Ava guessed the Amazons had been channeling æther into a complex series of wards stationed through the island for the last century. A little here and a little there to avoid drawing any attention, but after a long time that amount added up. It also showed that the Amazons had been planning this revolt for a long time. They were just waiting for the right moment.

Ava knew the Host’s first mission when they fought to retake the island was to locate and destroy those wards. When she’d briefed her team about their extraction mission, she added a secondary objective of locating those wards to hasten the coming battle. She wasn’t going to go out of her way to find them, but they’d be scouring the landscape to find Gabriel, and if they came across warding then they were going to take advantage of their luck.

<Speaking of my team.> Ava looked out at the two people she was bringing with her.

Bart and Razael sharpened their blades and tried not to look nervous. As a dominion and cherubim, they were both two powerful creatures of æther, but they’d also just spend some quality time on the other side of the river. They knew they were heading back into a war zone, and no one, angel or human, liked to throw themselves back in harm’s way like that.

Ava had wanted more guardians to accompany them. Even as few as a squad would have been preferable, but that suggestion got shot down. There were more than a hundred Amazons roaming the island, and with God’s influence gone, they might already be reproducing to increase their numbers. Their numbers were already what made them a threat, and it was going to be like playing whack-a-mole to reinforce their population control after this was over.

All of that was in the future. Ava needed to focus on the present. She needed to get in, get Gabriel, and get out. Losing was not an option.

“You ready?” Ava asked her two partners.

They simply nodded, and the three angels went insubstantial. They weren’t on the banks of the river so the enemy could see them and estimate their avenue of approach. They were a block away and behind cover. They also weren’t taking a straight-line approach to the city. They knew the defenders would be setting up more warding, obstacles, and patrolling for signs of a counterattack. Because, rightly so, they knew the Divine weren’t going to give up millions of innocent souls.

Ava and her team planned to take a circuitous route. The Amazon’s headquarters was relatively centrally located around Central Park, but Ava had ingressed and egressed with her troops in Lower Manhattan, so she was not going to follow the same path. The enemy could be expecting that, or they could not. They could try to play mind games with each other and tactically react to that, but when you started making double and triple contradictions you just ended up with a mess. So, instead of approaching from the East River side of the Island, Ava and company were approaching from the Hudson River side right around the Lincoln Tunnel area. It didn’t put them right at the doorstep of the leviathan and Amazon HQ, but it put them close enough to get a sense of things before progressing.

Ingress was difficult because they wanted to leave as little of an ætherial footprint as possible. Ava knew they Amazons were going to be watching, and being insubstantial only went so far. Flying was out, so they opted for the opposite approach. Like the American Navy’s SEALs, Ava and her small team descended below the surface of the murky Hudson River, and using their wings, propelled themselves forward. They stuck to the deep water, to avoid any detection, and only surfaced when they reached land.

To anyone watching their emergence, it would be eerie. Water didn’t drip off the angels when they were insubstantial. They just seemed to rise from the depths in full armor, alert, and ready for battle. They didn’t find anyone waiting for them. All they saw was a small pier, complete with trees and benches, and behind it a city burned.

Ava motioned for the team to spread out across the pier and proceed toward the row of tall buildings across Twelfth Avenue. She didn’t talk out loud or use the unique frequency angels used to communicate. She relied on hand and arm signals to get her team moving. Anything more had the potential to alert the enemy to their presence. When they were so far behind enemy lines, with no backup, something so simple could be deadly. Ava hadn’t fought Amazons before, and she would like to keep it that way until she wasn’t outnumbered.

The three angels proceeded to the end of the pier and halted before the open street. There were a number of abandoned cars, but no people in sight. Ava scanned in every direction to ensure no one was watching before waving Bart to move. Two would pull security in either direction while one crossed. Bart started off at a good sprint, made it halfway across, and then fell. Since angels didn’t just trip and fall, Ava knew something was wrong.

<Go!> She motioned for Razael to move, and she followed right behind him.

She quickly made it to the point where Bart had gone down, and figured out why. As she passed over a manhole symbols flashed, electricity tickled her skin, and she tasted ozone. It didn’t hurt, but she could immediately tell something was different.

<Warding!> She helped Razael gather up Bart and finished crossing the street to take cover in an alley. <Damn.> She caught sight of herself in a window and saw her reflection clearly shining back at her.

The Amazons were moving quickly to consolidate their hold on their territory. Step one was warding against one of the angels’ greatest strengths: the ability to turn insubstantial. Ava and her team were now vulnerable to the most common form of surveillance: a simple eyeball, or in this case, a much more powerful Amazonian one.

“We need to get off the street and find something to help blend in.” Ava didn’t like it, but walking around in gleaming, silver armor was just asking for trouble. With hundreds of Amazons and only three of them, they needed to blend in. She had to prioritize security versus speed and stealth. The mission objective dictated speed and stealth took priority. She made note of the ward’s location for the coming assault on the island.

She led the group forward for a few blocks and looked for a place to change and something to change into.

“Move!” A voice yelled, followed by a loud SNAP, as Ava approached another intersection.

She held up a raised fist that instructed the group to halt. Bart and Razael immediately moved to find cover while she crept forward. She peered around the edge of the brick building and grimaced at what she saw. A line of shackled men was walking down the middle of the road with two Amazons herding them like sheep. The men had been stripped of their clothes and many showed signs of recent beatings. It didn’t take a big leap for Ava to figure out what was going on.

The Amazons were a female species, but they still needed men to reproduce. That man then needed to be killed by his new daughter when she reached maturity at a much more rapid pace than normal humans.

<This takeover must me a smorgasbord for them.> Ava watched the line of men pass. She wanted to help, but she had a mission to complete. She would be passing this intel on to Michael though. Even if the men did the dirty today, it would still be a while before the Amazonian young matured and killed them. The Divine Host had a little time. <But how many will we be facing?>

Ava didn’t want to think about how many more male prisoners were being taken all over the island. It had been evacuated during the battle with Beelzebub and then the leviathan, but there was no doubt in Ava’s mind that tens thousands of people didn’t make it out. They were huddling in their apartments, praying for someone to come save them, and all they were getting were angry women coming to enslave, procreate, and eventually kill them.

Things were not looking up at the moment for those poor men.

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PCS to Eden – Live to Fight Another Day – Part 2

Michael did not feel particularly safe as the ground rumbled beneath him. From his height, he could see the beast approaching, and all the destruction that advance left in its wake. For the moment, the fighting between him, Lucifer, Gabriel, and Beelzebub had ceased. They were all watching the newest combatant calmly approach.

The leviathan’s tail casually swung back and forth as it walked. Michael watched as the spiked ball at the end, which was as thick as a tractor trailer was long, smashed through the side of Trump Tower a few blocks from the edge of the park. The monolith of steel and glass shuddered at the impact and rained down deathly shards on the thankfully-empty streets. The building didn’t crumble like others along the beast’s path, but it was in a precarious position as the leviathan’s footsteps continued to shake the earth as it advanced into the park.

“This is an interesting turn of events.” Lucifer observed with a slight smile on his face. After all, it was the fallen angel’s blast that had shook the bedrock of the city and awoken the long-slumbering giant.

For a fleeting second, Michael wondered if that had been the Infernal’s plan all along, but that second came and went as the leviathan stepped into the open space by The Pond on the south side of the park. Its intelligent eyes swept the open area, and when they rested the four Divine and Infernals, it roared.

The sonic power of the roar made Michael wince and cover his ears. The water of the pond picked up like a tsunami and crashed over its northern shore into the Hallett Nature Sanctuary. In an expression, animalistic to its core, the leviathan rose up on its two, thicker hind legs. For the first time in a millennia, Michael found himself craning his neck upward at a creature that stood over five hundred feet tall. It snapped its giant claws, and barred its fangs in their direction, a clear challenge from an alpha predator. Its second roar swatted helicopter ambulances from the sky miles away before it dropped back down onto four legs.

The impact shook the foundation of the island. Buildings for blocks, which had stood for over a hundred years, collapsed like they were sandcastles a child had kicked over during a temper tantrum. Michael even stumbled, and reached out to Gabriel for balance. The other archangel, still looking ragged from his fight with Beelzebub looked like he wanted to be anywhere other than here.

“So, what do we do now?” Lucifer asked nonchalantly, like he was asking where they wanted to go to brunch. It was a dramatic shift in attitude, but Michael understood why.

They’d both fought a leviathan before.

The leviathans were Cronus’ most deadly creations. They were built like tanks. They were designed to take a pounding and give a pounding in return. The natural armor they were born with would protect them as well as Divine Steel would, and they had many offensive attributes, some that you wouldn’t see until they unleashed them. Michael had experienced that all firsthand during the War for Eden, but with one difference. The leviathan he’d faced had been only half the size of this one. This one had survived the war, and been growing ever since. If left undisturbed, and with sufficient food, Michael had no doubt the massive creature would have rolled out of the river one day and flattened the better part of Manhattan by just rolling out of its watery bed. It was a threat that needed to be eliminated, Michael was just unsure if it was possible under the current circumstances.

His eyes drifted from the massive beast to Lucifer and Beelzebub. He could tell the two Infernals were thinking the same thing. The four of them together could probably take their colossal opponent, but not all of them would make it out alive. Once one of them went down on one side, it was just as likely that the other would turn on the remaining Infernal or Divine and take them down without the leviathan’s help. It would be hard enough winning this fight as a coherent fighting force, but when you were worried about half the people stabbing you in the back, there was no way to win.

<Maybe if we had more archangels.> Michael considered, but doubted God would pull them from their duties around the cosmos. New York wasn’t their only battlefield.

While Michael considered, the leviathan’s mind was already made up. It stepped over The Pond with a single stride and advanced toward them. Half a dozen more and it would have crossed the park to their position. They needed to think fast, and if anything, The Prince of Lies was quick on his feet.

A brilliant light flashed out from Lucifer towards the advancing beast. The same blast that had cut through buildings and into the bedrock of the planet, like a hot knife through butter, smashed into the leviathan’s shoulder. The beast roared, not in pain but annoyance, as the blast ricocheted off at an angle. The Upper East Side took the brunt of the blast as it melted steel and burned through the wealthy area. A quick look at the leviathan’s shoulder showed a smoking section of its armored flesh. If Michael had to guess, it looked a little pink, but other than that there was no discernable damage.

That was about all the time he had to think before the beast was on them. The Divine and Infernals scattered. Gabriel dove to the side to avoid a swipe by claws, and landed hard with an oomph that Michael heard. Lucifer took to the air quicker, smaller blasts of energy raked the leviathan’s side. The beast shrugged off the blasts as it focused on Beelzebub. The Lord of All that flies screeched and spun away. Feathers, that hit with the kinetic force of missiles, fired from the Infernal’s body and struck the leviathan across the face. The beast grunted, but followed up with a surprisingly quick slash of his front claw in Beelzebub’s direction. The sting of feathers might have temporarily blocked the leviathan’s line of sight, but the Infernal clearly wasn’t expecting something so big to move so fast.

Beelzebub’s screech of rage turned to one of pain as the claw dug into one of his wings and pulled. It was either be pulled toward the deadly, massive creature, or make a sacrifice. Beelzebub made the smart choice. The leviathan pulled one way, Beelzebub pulled the other, and the wing tore down the middle. Blood the consistency and smell of tar poured from the wound like a river, but Beelzebub continued to back pedal out of range. He’d learned his lesson.

As the leviathan attacked, Michael saw an opportunity. He’d dived out of the way like everyone else, but he came out of the evasive maneuver with his shield up and sword at the ready. The opening was there when the beast was occupied with tearing off Beelzebub’s wing, so Michael attacked. He sprang forward using his powerful legs, and a flap of his wings, to gain momentum. He committed to the attack, brought his sword high, and then caught sight of something unusual on the back of the leviathan’s head.

The beast’s neck had a thicker collection of scales to protect a naturally weaker part of the body, they flared out slightly due to this, and that design caught the eye and caused Michael initially to miss something else. At the base of the creature’s skull, right before the flared area of the neck, were a set of three round spots that didn’t match the rest of the body. As Michael sprang to drive his sword into the beast, the three round spots snapped open and zeroed in on him.

<It literally has eyes in the back of its head.> Michael thought a split second before the beast pivoted.

It pivoted away from Michael’s attack and toward the retreating Lucifer, which surprised Michael for a second, before he felt the whoosh of air that accompanied something large being swung. As the leviathan pivoted, its rear eyes continued to track Michael. A moment before it happened, he saw them squint, and imagined a smile on the beast’s face.

In his defense, Michael was able to get his shield into position before the spiked ball at the end of the leviathan’s tail smashed into him with the force of a small nuke. The shockwave of the impact flattened anything in the area that wasn’t already burning or broken, but the archangel wasn’t paying much attention to that. The spikes on the tail smash through his shield, into and through his breastplate. For the first time in millennia, Michael felt his blood being spilled as the air was knocked from his lungs, and consciousness tried to slip from his grasp. He must have blacked out for a second, because the next thing he felt wet from his shoulders down. The coolness felt good, but it stung as it entered his wound.

Michael blinked and tried to restore his vision, but everything was swimming. His body felt heavy as he tried to life his limbs, like his brain wasn’t quite getting the message to his appendages. Aether rushed in to heal him, but even then it took a little time. As his vision began to clear, he wished it didn’t. It showed a scene of chaos and destruction. A chunk of the Upper East Side from Central Park to the East River had been carved out. Michael reached his hand under him to hoist himself up, but his hand hit dry land. He looked over his shoulder and realized from the shoulders up he was lying on Roosevelt Island, while the rest of his body lay partially submerged in the river. The leviathan had turned him into a Divine missile, fired him through the Upper East Side, and only the water and shore of Roosevelt Island had stopped his forward progress.

<Save Gabriel.> The voice in his head was not his own.

<Father.> Michael looked around, hoping against hope that God would enter the fray.

His father was not present, but he repeated his order. <Save Gabriel. The city is lost. Reconsolidate in the boroughs and live to fight another day.> There was an echo of defeat in God’s voice, so Michael dared not question his orders.

Michael’s eyes swept across Manhattan and saw the truth in his father’s words. Midtown and the Upper East Side were almost completely destroyed. Lower Manhattan was in chaos with the East Village slowly being consumed by fires. Parts of the island were untouched, but human avarice would lead to looting, rape, and murder for weeks to come. A hefty chunk of the police, firefighters, and paramedics would be dead, and in a city of over eight million people the remaining ten thousand first responders wouldn’t be able to make a dent.

<But the Amazons will.> Rage gripped Michael’s heart for a second before he calmed himself.

The Amazons would be left unscathed, because unlike the Divine and Infernals, the leviathan was essentially their cousin. It would recognize its common heritage with the Amazons and leave them be. With their Divine warden’s exiled from the city, the Amazons would assert control with money, influence, or through force. They would breed, and in the process murder many human males on the island.

It took a few seconds, but Michael realized what his father had in mind. This had evolved into a quarantine, which explained why Michael had been given orders to have Ava and her forces evacuate VIPs that God wanted kept safe.

<But if this is a quarantine that means…> Michael grimaced at what the near future held. The Divine Host would need to come in force and then retake the island. God would not allow the cancer the Amazons represented, or the danger of the leviathan, remain for long.

Michael slowly pulled himself from the river and looked for his brother. Gabriel was nowhere to be seen, which meant he was hiding. He’d probably gone insubstantial, and was evading the leviathan, or Amazons, or both.

<Ava,> Michael called out through the æther. <I have another mission for you.>

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PCS to Eden – Live to Fight Another Day Part 1

If there was any bright side to the apocalyptic catastrophe that had befallen New York, it was that the Infernal’s attack had stalled. The Brooklyn Bridge was destroyed behind her, and Beelzebub’s Infernal Generals didn’t seem keen on advancing closer to the beast that had just crawled out of the river. But that didn’t mean there wasn’t any fighting.

Ava tucked her wings in and dropped a few feet. The axe sang as it passed over her head, but it was quickly drowned out by the screams of the Infernal as she cleanly chopped off its legs just below the hip. Even though the creature’s wings were still operable, it still dropped to its death out of shock and blood loss.

She flared her wings to stop her own descent, pivoted with a powerful flap that sent a gust of air to knock her next attacker off course, and used her core muscles to snap the edge of her other wing around. She’d been steadily funneling power into her wings since before the battle began, so the white feathers were stronger than steel and hit like a sledgehammer. The Infernal trying to sneak up behind her took the blow right to the temple and dropped to the ground, but was dead long before he hit it.

“Bart, report!” she had a moment to breathe.

“We’re finishing the cleanup now.” Bart replied, his voice traveling through the æther so it seemed he was standing right next to her. It was an effective, uncrackable form of communication in battle; an angel radio that was hardwired into their very existence by God.

“I need you to shift north east when you’re finished. Leave a small force to cover our flank, but bring everyone else. Stage at Seward Park off East Broadway, I can’t tell yet if they’ll counter across the Manhattan or Williamsburg Bridge, but that’ll put the majority of troops in the best position to respond. We’ll set up phase lines when you arrive.” She cut the ætherial line and rotated to get a clear view of the battlefield.

The beast was still advancing toward Central Park, which had gone suspiciously quiet over the last few minutes, but the three-hundred-foot tall creature more than made up for it. It’s hundred plus foot tail snaked out behind it as it advanced and whipped back and forth. The same tail that had taken down the Brooklyn Bridge smacked into apartments, skyscrapers, and anything else that stood in its way. Large chunks of buildings went flying as more crumbled in its wake. Thankfully, Midtown had largely been evacuated after the fight in Central Park started, but she still sensed humans dying by the dozens in the beast’s advance.

“Ava!” The call came in over angel radio. The urgency in the tone was something she’d rarely heard from her commanding officer. “Our priority now is evacuation,” Michael ordered.

The sudden change of mission started Ava. “Sir, we’ve got them pushed back. We could…”

“We can’t do anything with a leviathan here,” the stress was palpable in the statement. “You need to get the Mayor out now. Get his aides if you can, but the Mayor has priority. He’s important.”

The last word held subtext that Michael wasn’t willing to relay, but Ava got the gist. Humanity talked about God’s Plan and the concept of predestination at length. As an angel, one would think Ava had more insight into the matter, but that wasn’t true. She didn’t know any better than Joe Schmo down at the local deli if God had planned everything out already, and was just watching it play out. Archangel’s like Michael seemed to be a little more in the loop, but Ava was sure the big guy kept a lot of things to himself; especially after the Rebellion.

Whatever the truth was, Ava had sat next to, and been comforted, by her Father. She didn’t believe everything was already prechosen. She believed people had free will to act as they pleased, and those actions led to the karmic cycle that deposited a soul in Heaven, Hell, or reincarnated it back onto Earth. However, she knew her Father well enough to know he didn’t leave things completely up to chance. He had ringers in the mix; wise old souls that had spent lifetimes gathering knowledge, experience, and a better sense of their fellow man. Although the souls couldn’t actively tap into their past life experiences, something one could call wisdom tended to leak through into their current form of existence. God liked to make sure those people were looked over so they could move Eden toward the paradise he believed it could be one day. Apparently, one of those people was the mayor of New York City.

Ava didn’t know much about politics aside from the basics. She’d seen systems rise and fall for centuries, so one didn’t hold any more meaning to her than another, but she’d heard good things about the current mayor. He was a staunch moderate; a pillar of strength that modern Americans could relate to across both parties, especially in a climate of where political extremes caught all the headlines. If Ava had to wager a guess, she believed her father had big plans for the man. With a little luck, and Divine influence, maybe those plans were presidential.

At the moment, all those big plans were ‘what ifs’ if she didn’t get him out of the city and away from whatever had Michael so nervous. “Roger that,” she didn’t argue. “Bart, finish staging the troops and then hand over command to another Dominion. I need you to rally on me with a squad of your best.”

“Roger that.” She noticed Bart didn’t contradict her as much as she’d done to Michael. That begged some self-reflection at a different time.

It took a few heartbeats for her to cross the space between where she’d been viewing the battlefield to City Hall, which was a stone’s throw from the now-defunct Brooklyn Bridge. Bart met her there a few seconds later with eight guardians who looked like they’d seen better days. Their armor was scratched, dented, chipped, and covered in blood.

<We’re going to make the mayor crap himself.> Ava shook her head before summoning a little of her power to clean up the guardians, Bart, and herself. Their armor was still scratched, dented, and chipped, but they didn’t look like they’d just come from a slaughter.

“We’re extracting the mayor and anyone else if necessary, but the mayor is priority.” She relayed Michael’s instructions, and heads nodded all around her. “We need to go in soft.” Everyone understood that.

The small group began to shrink down to normal human-size and went insubstantial to avoid drawing attention from the enemy. None had penetrated all the way to City Hall, but complacency tended to get people killed, and Ava had seen enough death today.

New York’s City Hall was palatial and had been around since 1812. It was a long time for a human building, but not a lot for an angel. It sat across the street from the headquarters of the NYPD, so it was one of the first buildings to be locked down and secured once the attack began. Over a hundred officers stood guard around the building and helped direct people toward safety. They all carried rifles or shotguns with pistols on their hips. The NYPD had broken out the heavy artillery for today, but Ava knew it wouldn’t nearly be enough.

The squad of angels descended past snipers on the rooftop calling out enemy positions. They didn’t really differentiate between Ava’s guardians and the invading Infernal, and she couldn’t blame them for that. All they saw were giant mythological creatures attacking their city. To them, everything was a threat until it wasn’t. The squad passed effortlessly down through the roof, through empty council chambers, and to the main floor. More police in tactical gear were trying to get people to safety, but others were standing guard.

“There is an emergency operations center in the basement,” Bart informed. “It was installed after nine-eleven so they could manage all the city’s resources and communicate with federal authorities if another terrorist attack, or other emergency, happened again.”

“I’d call this an emergency.” Ava walked forward, past the two burly officers guarding a door that lead downstairs. The whole squad passed between the guards unseen.

A staircase led down to another set of guarded doors, that lead to a hallway with a third set of guards and some legitimate security doors. These ones looked like they required biometric access, and the guards probably didn’t have it, but Ava didn’t need it. She passed right through the steel vault-like barrier, and came face to face with a different type of guard. A single guardian angel stood alertly on the inside of the door. That confirmed Ava’s theory about the mayor’s importance. A person didn’t get assigned a personal guardian unless her Father had big plans for them.

The guardian stood by the shoulder of the man at the center of the organized chaos in the room. Banks of computer screens lined the walls and were manned by the men and women of the NYPD’s cyber division. Their fingers flew over the keyboards as they dispatched the leader’s orders to thirty-thousand officers deployed across the city.

“We can’t put anything in the monster’s path, Mr. Mayor.” A big man in a suit, with a NYPD, and American flag pin, wasn’t going to budge on whatever the mayor wanted. Judging by the frequency senior cops came up to him, Ava was guessing he was the Police Commissioner.

“We can’t abandon those people.” The mayor gazed at the biggest screen in the room, which seemed to be distant drone footage of the leviathan’s advance. “We can’t get a better picture?” It was clear the mayor was trying to keep the frustration out of his voice.

“The creature is throwing off electromagnetic interference.” The police commissioner shrugged when the mayor raised an eyebrow at him. “I’m not the scientist; I’m just telling you what they told me.”

“And the angels in the park?” The mayor asked, shifting to another picture of Michael, Gabriel, Beelzebub, and Lucifer in Central Park. The latest addition was new to Ava, and explained some of the stress in Michael’s voice.

<Two archangels, two Infernal Lords, and an ancient leviathan… They could take down half the eastern seaboard if this gets ugly.> Ava cringed, but focused back on her mission.

“Sir,” another suited man, handsome, but nowhere near as broad as the commissioner spoke up. “I can’t stress enough that you shouldn’t be calling those giants in the park angels. The official terminology is Unidentified Giant, or UG. Calling them angels is going to offend the religious and atheist vote. One because they don’t believe in them, and the other because they won’t believe they could be doing these horrible things.”

<Political advisor,> Ava couldn’t stop a grin from forming. <Well…time to prove him wrong.>

She phased back into reality along with the rest of her squad, which had spread out across the room. It took about two heartbeats for the mayor and his advisors to realize they weren’t alone, and then the screaming started.

The commissioner whipped out an old six shooter with surprising agility for someone with so much white in his hair, but his booming voice still held the authority of a man who’d faced down rioters in the seventies and eighties. “Drop the fucking gu…sword!” he corrected himself quickly as he leveled his pistol at Ava. He correctly assumed, but her position in the center of the squad, that she was the leader.

“Nobody move.” She communicated to her squad on the ætherial bandwidth the humans couldn’t hear. She let the humans scream themselves hoarse.

They understood the amount of unknowns in the situation and didn’t want to escalate. Ava just wanted them to cool down a notch so they didn’t accidentally open fire and hit the mayor with a ricochet. After about thirty seconds of yelling things started to settle down, and confusion took over. That was Ava’s cue. She slowly reached up to her helmet and removed it. Putting a recognizable face in front of the humans would help deescalate the situation.

A few male eyes widened when they saw her beautiful, yet very human, face behind the armor. At their core, the men and women in this room were wired to protect others. They weren’t going to open fire on a woman, even if she was wearing armor, had wings, and was carrying a sword.

“Mayor Poole.” Ava smiled and nodded to the man. “My name is Ava. I am an angel of God, and I am here to keep you safe.”

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PCS to Eden – Welcome to the Jungle Part 2

<Too many.> Ava grunted as she spun, and sliced clean through a hell creature leaping through the air. It had a contorted human body with limbs three times too long. Its entire head came to a point like a giant beak, with three beady, black eyes on either side of the protrusion. Its hands were long, delicate claws, and the thing had been looking to wrap them around Ava’s throat. It wouldn’t have worked even if the thing succeeded, and now its bisected remains fell into the burning fire encircling her.

Ava had started the defense of the city as part of the quick reaction force. Her job was to fly from besieged guardian to besieged guardian and help thin the enemies ranks, but as more enemies started to pour through, she found herself more firmly rooted to the defense of their main artery: the bridge. Her time distortion field had failed ten minutes ago when a powerful creature blasted through it. She’d summarily killed the heavily-armored avian man, but it was too late to get another one into place. Everything had descended into madness.

The guardians were islands in this sea of madness as their defensive circles helped protect them as they cut down scores of the enemy. <Where are they all coming from?> Ava wanted to hit them at the source, but she didn’t have a second to think.

Twin helixes of Divine fire spun around her to form a barrier of flame that the enemy had to penetrate to fight her. She watched as one creature stuck its clawed hand forward and lost it as the fire swept through. It reared back, clutching its charred stump, while the flesh from the elbow down plopped onto the bridge. At this point, she couldn’t see where the bodies ended and the bridge began. There was way more than a legion of enemy troops on the field of battle.

A snake-man-bird slithered its way through the fiery barrier and flung itself at Ava’s turned back. She felt the heavy impact of the creature and immediately pivoted. The force of her turn, coupled with the creature’s inability to get a claw into the groove of her armor, sent it flying. It hit another hell creature as it dodged the swirling fire, and both went careening backwards into the passing flames. The shrieks were drowned out by the roar of the enemy forces pushing forward.

“Back to back!” she ordered.

The order was relayed from guardian to guardian until their whole perimeter began to change. Fighting back to back was an old tradition. Two guardians would team up, link their defensive circles, and cover each other. It was designed for just these times when they were numerically overwhelmed, but the tactic had its downsides. First and foremost, it opened up the perimeter more. Holes started to appear as guardians moved into their new positions. Most of Beelzebub’s creatures continued to focus on the twenty-to-thirty foot guardians, but a few began to sneak through and into the panicking city.

“Bart!” Ava only had to yell his name.

Brilliant lances of light slashed through the air at Infernals trying to sneak through the perimeter. The display of power was a little too close to what Lucifer could do for Ava’s taste, but The Father of Lies wasn’t the only angel that her Father had created that could gather the power of light, intensify it, and use it to defeat their enemies.

The humans were even getting involved. Ava sensed them on rooftops nearby. Police officers dressed in black tactical gear were taking up positions well away from the battling guardians and Infernals. Just about every sniper in lower Manhattan was starting to take pot shots at the Infernals. They learned quickly to aim for the unarmored portions of the smaller creatures. After a few minutes, the crack of bullets was soon accompanied by the screams of the injured beasts. It was music to Ava’s ears.

Still, it wasn’t going to be enough. Quantity was a quality all its own, and the Infernals had the numbers. She was about to redeploy some of the other Divine units under her command when the ground shook dangerously beneath her feat. She kept her balance by throwing her wings out to either side, but the Infernals weren’t as lucky, and she took full advantage of that. A pulse of power went out from her, and her swirling, defensive fire exploded outward. The weaker beasts were incinerated outright, while the stronger were seriously burned. Its true purpose was to push back the tide of Infernals enough for her to bring her Hand of God to bear.

She used the power to do two things. First she blasted a path through the Infernals still storming the bridge. Hundreds were turned to ash as the focus æther burned through them. Second, she threw up a second time distortion barrier between her and the regrouping creatures. It was weaker than the first, and wouldn’t last as long, but it would allow her to reposition and help her besieged soldiers.

A second rumble went through the ground, and this time she had to grab the metal support of the bridge to steady herself. <What in the name of…?>

“Incoming from the river!” Bart warned from his higher vantage point.

Ava was already using the side of the bridge for support, so she took her eyes off the regrouping Infernals and peered into the murky waters of the East River. Normally, the water flowed out from the river, into the Upper Bay, down to the Lower Bay, and finally out into the Atlantic. That had all changed. The water had reversed direction and was moving up the East River toward Roosevelt Island and the Central Park area.

It was tough to make out with all the smoke and ash from the charred Infernals she’d just barbequed, but she caught sight of a dark shape beneath the surface.

“What is…? She never got to finish.

A scaled tail, twice as thick, and twice as long as Ava lashed out of the water and made contact with the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge that had stood for over a century didn’t even resist. The tale cut through it like it was made of tissue paper. Brick, mortar, and Infernals plunged into the water as the tail slid back beneath the surface like it had never even been there.

“Pass the word to all units to the north east of us. They’ve got something heading their way.” Ava knew the message was redundant. The commanders of the other units were going to see the new arrival for themselves in a second. The question was…what was it, and was it hostile?

Whatever it was, it had just changed the paradigm of Ava’s fight. With the bridge severed, and something big moving through the river, the Infernal forces avenue of approach had been severed. They wouldn’t be able to use the Brooklyn Bridge to cross into Manhattan unless they could fly, and despite being the minions of the Lord of All that Flies, not all of their wings worked.

“Bart, mop up the rest of the Infernals here,” she ordered. “I’m repositioning to the Manhattan Bridge. The enemy is going to try and get around us now.” She had forces in place there, but they were thinner than the center of her line. “Once the enemy is dealt with, shift your troops to the north east.” She was worried about the enemy taking the bridge and then rolling up the Lower East Side as they moved to link up with Infernal Legions pushing toward the city from New Jersey. If they got in the rear of the Divine units holding those lines, the defense of the entire island could collapse.

Ava jumped into the air, gave a few beats of her powerful wings, and was airborne. She scanned the sky and saw airborne units of the Divine Host and Beelzebub’s legion duking it out down in Brooklyn and even over in Jersey City. But that wasn’t what caught her eye. What immediately drew her attention was rising out of the water beside the United Nations Headquarters.

The sight stabbed cold fear into her gut. It was like a monster rising from the depths of an old, dark story. One by one, giant, clawed, reptilian feet emerged from the river and planted themselves at the rear of the eighteen acre complex where 193 nations conducted international diplomacy. The giant creature didn’t know or care what the building represented to humanity as all three hundred feet of it rose from the river and pushed ashore.

Its four, thick legs connected to a bulky torso that looked out of time in the urban landscape. It was reptilian and covered in black-gray scales that seemed to drink in the sunlight that was being blotted out by the growing fires and destruction of the city. Sticking out from the scales were boney-white spikes across its back and down its legs. The last thing to emerge from the river was its hundred foot tail, which was also spiked, and ended in a spike-covered ball thirty feet across.

Ava hadn’t been around to see the dinosaurs created by the Primordial who crafted Eden, but this giant looked like it was cut from the same cloth. Ava hovered in the air to the south of it as it shook off the river water. Droplets were thrown from its giant hide with enough force that they broke glass on the UN HQ. The creature gave its giant head an extra shake. The scales were thicker and more numerous around the neck, which caused it to flare out slightly.

She made sure to maintain a safe distance as she circled the newcomer, but it ignored her. It seemed pulled in the direction of Central Park, and after shaking away the water, continued on a least-time path to its destination; which took it directly through Midtown. The UN building survived the creatures lumbering advance, but the Visitor’s Center didn’t. One of its giant, clawed feet crashed down right through the roof. It continued forward as it pulled the foot back up, so it exited the building at an angle and caused even more destruction. That didn’t slow it down. As it moved steadily forward, Ava wasn’t sure anything would slow it down. At three hundred feet tall, down on four legs, and four-to-five hundred feet long, including its tail, it was the biggest creature Ava had ever seen. Even Michael would be dwarfed if the thing went up on its hind legs.

Ava was rarely at a loss for how to proceed, but this was a new one for her. All she could do was let Michael know what was coming, and hope he could take the thing. If he couldn’t, New York was going to become a boneyard of humanity, and there was nothing she could do to stop it.

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PCS to Eden – D is for Defense

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.

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PCS to Eden – Here We Go Again

“Congratulations. We have retaken the city.” Ava couldn’t stop from smiling as her gathered troops cheered at the good news.

They were assembled at the fifty yard line of Bank of America Stadium, which looked like it had been carpet bombed. The stands at each end zone were a twisted wreck of concrete, plastic, and metal. A deep gouge had been cut lengthwise down the center of the field and drew a straight line to more destruction. Michael had pushed Satan through the stadium during their titanic struggle, or maybe it was Satan that pushed Michael. Either way, a location that would have normally been used by local, state, and federal authorities for humanitarian aid purposes was not available.

It was a perfect assembly area for Ava’s troops after fighting throughout the city. The fighting had been tough in some parts and easy in others. The enemy troops; whether they were skeletal soldiers, Seere’s last legionnaires, or the serpent steed itself, had different levels of skill and power. Ava took care of the heavy hitter, but that meant her soldiers didn’t always have her support. They’d lost a handful of guardians in the fight, and that loss weighed on her. The physical wounds from the battle against the Infernals at the school had healed, but she could still see the deaths of her Guardians in her dreams; specifically Lucas.

She could still feel the shift of æther as he leapt past her to get to Lucifer. She’d hesitated when confronted with two Infernal Lords, but he hadn’t. Lucas had tried to get to them before they could complete the ritual that was leading to the end of life as humans knew it in Eden. He was a hero for his actions, but that didn’t stop Lucifer from scorching him to ash. She’d never see Lucas again. He’d been wiped from the universe, but most of the Guardians she’d lost in the battle for Charlotte would live again. Only two wouldn’t.

She’d examined that scene along with ætherial forensic specialists to see what had happened. It was easy to find the two points of detonation based on the splatter of Divine ichor, but physical bodies could be reconstituted in Heaven. She wanted to know what happened to their ætherial essence.

“Something ate them,” was the conclusion the specialist came to as they traced the fading path of those Guardians’ æther. There was the metaphysical equivalent of claw marks in the fabric of reality as the angels’ essence fought to escape and eventually failed.

The specialist wondered what could do something like this on not only a physical but a moral level, but Ava already knew the answer to that. A Divine Throne under the control of an Infernal was more than capable of such cruelty. The real question was who was controlling it, and that was something Michael would want to know.

Seere’s throne was unique among objects stolen from Heaven during the Rebellion. The instrument couldn’t be controlled by just anybody. God had specifically tailored it to Seere back when he was a Throne disbursing justice across the realms. It didn’t work for anyone else.

<Is Seere really dead?> She’d asked herself as she surveyed the scene.

Everything pointed to the Infernal being dead and gone. Ava had wounded him, but Lucifer had finished the job. There hadn’t been any sign of the Father of Lies since the battle, but the latest intelligence reports suspected he was consolidating his newfound power in Hell. Maybe the power that was taken from Seere allowed him to manipulate the throne, and eviscerating two guardians certainly was his style.

There were too many unanswered questions and not enough time to figure them out. The forensic specialists had the evidence and were carting it back to Heaven for further tests. Ava would check up on it later. Right now, she needed to focus on her soldiers and the good work they’d done in ridding the city of Infernal influence.

Today was supposed to be a celebration. She was going to present awards to those who’d distinguished themselves in combat. She was going to recognize the bravery of everyone and the fantastic things they’d accomplished. She’d even made sure some libations had made their way to the worthy guardians. After fighting hard they deserved a moment of peace.

That moment was shattered before Ava was even able to give out the second award. A tearing noise echoed through the stadium as a truck-sized cube expanded in the space behind Ava’s makeshift podium. Out of the portal stepped Michael in full armor.

“Ava and Razael, on me. Bartholomew, prepare your troops for deployment, but leave one squad to defend the city.” Michael called out orders without pausing.

<A squad!> Ava didn’t let her shock or frustration show. It had taken over two hundred good soldiers to sweep the city. Now, he was ordering her to leave it in the hands of ten.

She hurried to catch up with Michael’s longer stride. He stopped a good distance away, and made a quick few motions with his hands. Ava recognized the symbol of the power thrown into it. It was a ward against eavesdropping.

“The situation is as follows,” Michael’s tone was grave. “Early today, Gabriel was dispatched to the Amazon Queen in Manhattan to broker an alliance, and if that wasn’t possible, at least a non-aggression pact. The Amazon’s power and influence in this realm if going to be vital to stemming the tide of Infernal advances that are starting to pop up all over the globe.”

Ava didn’t know much about the Amazon’s aside from their skill in hand-to-hand combat and their powers with æther, but she could see their importance in holding Eden.

“Approximately twenty minutes ago, Gabriel and the Infernal Lord Beelzebub engaged each other just outside Central Park.”

“Oh Father.” Ava’s draw dropped. She hadn’t been to Manhattan since the 19th century, but even then that area was crowded.

“Exactly,” Michael nodded. “To make matters worse, the attack was timed with the weakening of the Veil in the area. “Nearly a full legion of Beelzebub’s monsters have made it through the Veil and are advancing into the city. The Dominion of the city is marshalling his forces to respond, but against those numbers millions will die in the collateral damage. We are marshalling all forces on the Eastern Seaboard to rendezvous in the city. Our mission is simple, defeat the Infernals and protect the city. I will assist Gabriel and counter any additional Infernal Lords that try and take advantage of the situation. Ava, you and Razael will take your two companies and secure lower Manhattan starting at the Brooklyn Bridge and back to City Hall. I want defensive wards in place in case you need to execute a fighting retreat.”

Ava worked on processing the information but knew she’d need visuals once they got on the ground. She doubted the city looked anything like she remembered. They were still working on that bridge when she’d last flown over the smoke-filled island.

“We’re hoping to have three battalions of friendly forces on the ground by the time you reach your objective. The main enemy advance looks like is going to come over the Queensborough Bridge, but battalion-sized elements are being dispatched to secure all avenue of approach onto the island. You will have three other Divine Companies in the Lower Manhattan area of operations: two at the Williamsburg Bridge and one covering the Holland Tunnel. Ava, you will have operational command of the five units. Understood?”

“Yes, Sir,” she answered immediately. It didn’t even cross her mind that the number of soldiers she was in charge of had more than doubled.

“You will hold until relieved, but if you cannot hold, then destroy the bridges and tunnels and fall back north to a form a final defensive line at Houston Street.” Ava didn’t like the sound of Michael’s last order. It was always good to prepare for all contingencies, but the was an air of certainty in the way he talked about it that made her feel like they were going to be facing way more than an Infernal Legion.

“Your rear should be secure. Several companies will be holding the right flank of the main defensive line from FDR Drive all the way to Bryant Park. Everything south of 42nd Street to your location should be peaceful. All you should have to deal with are frightened humans.”

<All of the frightened humans in Chelsea, Korea Town, Greenwich Village, the East Village, and  Lower Manhattan,> she named some of the big neighborhoods she knew of offhand. The humans might turn out to be just as big of a problem as the invading Infernal. She knew from experience that scared humans could cause a lot of trouble.

“Are your mission parameters clear?” Michael asked with a tone that said he didn’t expect to repeat himself. There were stress lines on the Archangel’s face, which was never a good indicator.

“Yes, Sir.”

“Good.” Michael waved his hand, the ward dissolved, and the remaining power from it flowed back into the Archangel. With another complex gesture, he created another portal from Charlotte to Manhattan. “The Hand will make your gateway. I can’t spare the strength. Happy hunting.” There was no apology on his face as he stepped through the bend in the fabric of reality and it winked shut behind him.

Ava had never created a gateway before, but the Hand seemed to have a mind of its own. All it required was Ava’s willpower to direct it. It took nearly ten minutes to collect the required power, but Ava successfully created the gateway to their assigned location. It was as wide and tall as an eighteen wheeler, and allowed her two hundred angels to march through ten abreast. Bart went first with the vanguard, and she brought up the rear with Razael. She glanced over her shoulder at the nine guardians being left behind under the command of one of Razael’s cherubim. They all looked upset at being left behind. Ava understood that, but she had a sinking feeling in her gut when the gateway snapped closed behind her.

The personal wielding the power of that throne was still out there, and she didn’t know if that small force could hold the city. The last thing she wanted to do after coming out of another fight between Infernal Lords and Archangels was to fight to retake Charlotte.

She just hoped Michael knew what he was doing.

 

***

 

Michael stepped through the rift he’d created in the fabric of reality. Essentially, he’d folded space together so only a single step separated the stadium in Charlotte from the chaos in Manhattan.  There wasn’t a universal name for this ability. Different angels called it different things: teleporting, traveling, portaling, ripping, rifting, or bending, but not all angels could do it.

God did not create all his children equally. Aether needed to be appropriately rationed out to angels based on their tasks. Guardians did not need to be traveling all over the place when they were essentially garrison troops for a city. For the same reasons, Dominions didn’t need the ability. Select Powers had the talent, but it was based on seniority and how volatile their area of operations was. Thrones were the most common angels with teleporting ability, but it didn’t involve ripping gateways open. Their talents were limited to themselves, and with time and training, might grow to encompass a few others they were in contact with. All Archangels and Seraphim had the ability so they could move large bodies of troops from one place to another, but what most of the troops walking through those gateways didn’t understand was the power it required to make them in the first place.

Like all of the realms created by God and his siblings, they were comprised of æther and metaphysically alive. The æther didn’t appreciate being ripped and folded to make these gateways, so it took considerable strength to open one and keep it open. The bigger it was the more difficult to hold it, and Michael pitied the fool who got caught straddling the divide if it suddenly snapped closed.

Making gateways in the same realm were less difficult than opening one between realms. To cut through the barriers protecting each realm required a massive amount of power, which was why Eden, Heaven, and Hell had been relatively isolated from themselves aside from key moments in history. The current invasion, like the one that Michael helped lead against Cronus, took advantage of a time when the veil between realms was thin or weakened. He could now say with certainty it sucked to be on the receiving end.

Michael stepped through his gateway and immediately smelled smoke and tasted ash. The city was already burning, and it was only going to get worse. When traveling through a gateway like this he couldn’t do it while unsubstantial, so humans screamed in absolute terror as a winged, armored man stepped through a hole from a different part of their world.

An old man fleeing the destruction grabbed his chest, stumbled, and toppled over. Michael reacted on instinct and caught him. This was the end for the man’s soul on Earth. Michael saw that by looking into the man. He’d lived a good life. It wasn’t good enough to gain entrance to Heaven, so his soul would be recycled and reincarnated back into someone new. It was better than being dragged down to Hell, but the look on the man’s face made it look like he thought the last thing he was going to see was the face of the devil.

“It’s ok.” Michael took a moment to comfort the man. His armored helmet retracted to show the dying man he wasn’t talking to a monster. “Everything is going to be alright.” He let a little of his Divine essence show and tears trickled down the man’s cheeks.

Michael gently placed his hand on the man’s chest, wiped away his pain, and let him die in peace. Then, he gently lowered the man onto his back and folded his arms across his chest. <He is not the first and will not be the last. He will be one of many.>

Heaven and Hell would see a boost in their numbers after today, but Michael couldn’t think about that right now. He needed to focus on the mission: killing Beelzebub. If they could take down another Infernal Lord the squabbling that would follow in Hell would allow the Divine Host more time to organize its defense of Eden.

In the midst of the chaos Michael became insubstantial and slipped out of sight. If anything, that made the humans freak out even more, but he put them behind him as he rose into the air and launched himself toward Central Park. It wasn’t hard to miss his target. Beelzebub was a winged monstrosity whose screech was shattering glass while his claws pulverized concrete. He and Gabriel were caught in a deadly dance, and both had dealt critical blows to each other. Michael saw more than on deep gouge in his brother’s armor.

Michael ducked behind a nearby building and began his transformation. He was vulnerable to Beelzebub’s full power while he transitioned into his combat form, so he wanted to wait until he’d gained his full strength before revealing himself.

It kept him hunched behind the building as he exploded upward to his full three-hundred-foot height. His transformation made all the humans around him scatter in fear. Their screams made those present during his gateway arrival look like obedient children.

Thankfully, the area was pretty well evacuated as Michael took his first steps toward engaging Beelzebub. A two-on-one fight between the Infernal and Archangels wasn’t going to last long.

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