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 – Welcome to the Jungle Part 1

The building shielded Michael as he swelled. His armor grew while he was hunched behind the evacuated apartments near Central Park. The ground rumbled beneath him as Beelzebub and Gabriel continued to pummel each other close by.

<Hold on.> Michael focused on the power swelling inside him. Once he joined the fray, Beelzebub’s time would be short lived. Either he’d have to retreat and leave his legions, or die here in a foreign realm.

Beelzebub was a creature born of Hell and the Primordial being that created it. Thus, Michael had no love for the creature. It wasn’t a fallen angel that Michael had once fought beside. It was a creature of pain, terror, torture, and loss. Any reservations or respect that Michael had for his fallen brothers didn’t extend to the Lord of All that Flies.

Michael’s transformation into his combat form topped out at three hundred feet. Even down on one knee and huddled into a ball, you could still see his armor peeking out over the top of the building. Luckily, Beelzebub was too busy dealing with Gabriel to notice. Like any good tactician, Michael surveyed the battlefield before blindly jumping into the fray. His eyes swept the park, which was now deserted, and didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. Still, the single pass didn’t seem right. There was something off-putting that he just couldn’t put his finger on. He almost ignored it because it was on the opposite side of the park from the battling giants, but he went with his gut.

With a single chant and a small expense of power Michael’s vision flashed through the various human and ætherial spectrums. He looked for anything out of the ordinary, anything that would signify some Infernal manipulation. It might even be the rift torn through the Veil that Beelzebub used to arrive here. Admittedly, Michael’s knowledge of his Infernal enemy was limited, but he didn’t recall the Lord’s ability to traverse through realms like he could. Beelzebub was built to be a brawler, which was exactly what he was doing.

<Something doesn’t smell right.> Michael wasn’t thinking about the aromas of destruction surrounding him.

This whole attack simply didn’t fit Beelzebub’s profile. All reports said the Infernal Lord was content with duking it out in Hell for all eternity. All he wanted was chaos and combat. Sure, coming to Earth gave him a new battlefield and enemies to compete with, but he’d never been onboard with Satan’s plan to conquer Heaven. Beelzebub didn’t covet something he’d never seen, or a place he’d never been.

<There!> Michael spotted it, just as Beelzebub lunged and tackled Gabriel. They went sprawling and hacking at each other as they crashed through Belvedere Castle and into Turtle Pond. The water steamed and evaporated from the heat created by the force of their blows.

Michael almost sprang to the rescue, but movement caught his eye. Something else was in the park. It was cloaked, and difficult to see in even the most obscure ætherial frequencies, but it was there. As Gabriel and Beelzebub struggled back to their feet, flinging water across the park, the thing repositioned.

<Sorry, Brother.> Michael remained insubstantial as stayed low and scurried away from the fight. He planned to flank the newcomer and come at him from the side. Best case scenario, he caught the thing by surprise and defeated it quickly. Worst case scenario, well…the worst case scenario was always that he died and didn’t have enough æther left to be reconstituted in Heaven, but that was a part of the job. Either way, he’d be flushing out the mysterious party in this equation.

Michael moved quick and used the city as cover. He had no idea if the stranger could see him in his insubstantial form, so he played it safe. He still slid through a few buildings when the opportunity presented itself to get there quicker. Humans said they felt a sense of peace wash over then when an angel passed through them like this. If that was true, everyone was having a sudden burst of ‘everything’s going to be all right’ right in the middle of this madness.

It didn’t take long to move into position, but both Beelzebub and Gabriel were dripping blood from deep and shallow wounds by the time he was ready. The distortion in the æther hadn’t moved since its first repositioning, so Michael felt safe to attack. He burst through a building and went substantial just as he reached the other side. His sword slashed through the air in a blur toward his target, and…

A brilliant flash of light nearly blinded Michael. He instinctually threw himself to the side, and that saved him. He felt the heat and power of something pass close by, as spots swarmed his vision. He blinked quickly to get his vision back as he went into a combat roll and came up with a conjured shield between him and the enemy. The shield wouldn’t last long, but it would stop another attack long enough for Michael to get back on his feet.

“Practicing our acrobatics, brother.” A new voice cut through the mayhem.

<Of course.> Michael dispersed the shield and reabsorbed some of the remaining æther as he got to his feet to face the new combatant.

Standing in place of the slight distortion was Lucifer, Father of Lies, The Morning Star; but he was different. He was taller, broader, and closer to Michael and Satan’s weight class than his previous combat form. Michael quickly figured out why.

“Do you feel good about stabbing our little brother in the back all for a little more æther?” Michael stood ready to fight, but casual enough to relay to Lucifer that he was willing to talk.

Lucifer frowned at the question and simply shrugged. “All for the greater good.”

“And that?” Michael pointed behind them.

Lucifer’s energy blast, which stopped Michael’s attack dead in its tracks, had still needed to go somewhere. The building directly behind Michael had a fifty-foot hole in its center. The blast had clearly incinerated important structural components because it was literally starting to implode. Floor by floor, the building folded inward on itself until it completely collapsed. Despite the evacuation, Michael still sensed human lives being snuffed out. Michael felt the rumbling of more buildings collapsing in the wake of the first one. He’d felt the heat and power of that blast. He wouldn’t be surprised if Lucifer’s attack hadn’t gone all the way through the city before burning a hole through the Hudson River and into the planet’s bedrock.

“You dodged. I was just trying to hit you, Michael, so feel free to pile all those lives on your conscience.” Lucifer smiled, and Michael remembered immediately how much a dick he could be.

“Why are you here?” Michael knew he’d feel responsible for all those deaths, but right now he had to keep his mind clear and focused on the dangerous Infernal in front of him.

“I’m just out for a stroll, a little fresh air, and taking my mutt for a walk.” Lucifer gestured to Beelzebub, who had Gabriel pinned and was trying to ram his serrated beak through the Archangel’s helmet and into his head. Despite his best efforts, Gabriel deftly avoided every strike.

“So you made the Amazon’s arrange this? Why?” Michael’s grip tightened on his sword and the æther flexed around him.

“Have you ever tried to make the Amazon’s do anything, Michael?” Lucifer tisked and wagged his finger. “They were more than happy to arrange a battle royale between us and you.”

“You didn’t answer my second question. Why? Why do all of this?” Michael could feel his own rage building.

“Your aren’t this naïve, are you?” Lucifer actually looked at Michael like he felt sorry for him. “Can you serious not see how the rest of the elder races see our pompous asshat of a Father?” Lucifer’s assessment of Michael’s facial expression confirmed it. “Good old Dad might have it all wrapped up in a pretty bow upstairs, but he’s royally fucked up the rest of the realms.” Lucifer laid into God. “To start, he took over this realm, killed it’s Primordial, and subjugated the strong in favor of the weak. He’s had the Amazons living on scraps for the last thousand years, so it isn’t a surprise they’re going to lash out. Then there are us Infernals, driven from Heaven for disagreeing with his will. All he wants you to do is toe the party line, and if not, he burns that bridge with fire and brimstone.”

Michael knew it was more complicated than that, but he let Lucifer monologue. Gabriel seemed to be gaining the upper hand. If he could finish Beelzebub, then it would still be two-on-one, just this time against The Morning Star.

“Dad might think he’s playing the long game, but he’s burned and awful lot of bridges, and now people are pissed. The Veil is coming down, and the Infernals are coming to town. You’re scrambling to find allies of former enemies, but immortality leads to long memories. You aren’t going to find any, Michael. You’re going to find all the Infernal and elder races allied against you for once. So go fly home to Dad and tell him his days are numbered; because we’re coming for him.”  Lucifer spread his wings wide as they burned bright in preparation for another attack…

The ground moaned and lurched. Even at three hundred feet Michael stumbled. Lucifer did the same, and his shot went high and to the right. It steaked through the atmosphere and off into space; taking a lot of space junk and a few active satellites with it. It also disrupted Gabriel’s hold on Beelzebub. The feathery Infernal was able to get his taloned feet under the Archangel and launch him off. Gabriel landed hard against an apartment building on the edge of the park, which shattered on impact. The Archangel was slow to get to his feet, but so was Beelzebub.

“Michael!” Gabriel panted as he limped over to him. Beelzebub mirrored the move with Lucifer. “What was that?”

The whole island of Manhattan seemed to groan in protest as it shifted. All of the combatants present with wings flared them out to maintain their balance as an earthquake struck city.

“You hit something?” Michael accused Lucifer.

The look on the Infernal Lord’s face said he had no idea what Michael was talking about.

“No.” A voice amplified by the æther announced as light swirled and condensed into an image Michael didn’t recognize.

“Great Queen.” Gabriel picked up the diplomatic slack, but his voice didn’t hold any of its usual flair. “You lied.”

“I did no such thing.” The Amazon Queen feigned shock, but no one bought it, there was too much excitement on her face. “I said you could duel for our allegiance, and as far as I can tell that has ended in a draw, so we own allegiance to no one.”

“How about I burn down your house around you and we’ll see who you want to ally with?” Lucifer chimed in as his wings grew bright again.

“I don’t think so.” Despite the threat, Hippolyta was still smiling. “You’re going to have your hands full in a second.” With that said, her floating visage vanished as another rumble shook the city.

Steel groaned as buildings unused to earthquakes failed to ride out the turbulent energy. Many fell like dominos into one another. Michael couldn’t even hear the screams of the dying as an exodus of souls headed to Heaven, Hell, and back into the reincarnation cycle.

<This is a massacre.>Charlotte had been bad, but this was one of the world’s most prominent cities being torn to pieces.

If there was any question before, there wasn’t now. This was Armageddon, the end of days.

<And it looks like someone else if throwing their hat in the ring.>Michael followed the widening eyes of Lucifer and Beelzebub to look behind him.

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PCS to Eden – Obedience

Gerry felt the pressure building. It started as an itch just below the skin that he couldn’t quite scratch. From there it evolved into a metaphysical-stretching sensation that seemed to envelope his entire body. The thrones lack of a governor was starting to show, and he was pregnant with power.

He did everything he could to release it. He fortified the lake house several times over. He dished out power to the other Infernals who’d come with Gaius from Seere’s fallen kingdom. He’d even given Gaius a fresh dose of strength, and ensured their strength would replenish after it was used. Gerry purposefully didn’t make their power levels close to what they had been when Seere controlled an entire kingdom in Hell, but it was more than enough to deal with some pesky humans.

Still, it wasn’t enough. He even upgraded Grimm. The Hellhound now had his own semi-combat form. He’d swell with power from the size of a large dog to the size of a large horse when Gerry uttered the correct spell. He was pretty sure the humans, and even some Divine, would shit their pants when they saw an eight-foot-tall Grimm sprinting toward them with his soul-sucking maw dripping spittle and large enough to snap off a man’s head in one bite. He was so imposing that Gerry was considering making him a playmate.

“Lord,” one of the legionnaires stepped hesitantly into the throne room and rendered a deep bow.

Behind the legionnaire stood a frightened-looking man whose eyes kept darting around the throne room. His tongue darted out and licked his lips, and he kept fidgeting with the bottom of his blazer. Combined with the sharp angles of the man’s thin face, it made him look like a snake. He wore heavy black eyeliner and a bunch of rings adorned his fingers. The silver skulls on his pointer fingers clashed with the business casual attire, but Gerry didn’t judge the man’s appearance.

“On the ground, meat.” The legionnaire grabbed the man by the collar and pushed him to the ground until he was prostratated with his forehead pressing against the cold tiles.

“I h…h…humbly serve you dark lord. I only w…w…wish to be of service.” The man’s teeth chattered like the temperature had suddenly dropped fifty degrees.

The legionnaire looked up at Gerry and rolled his eyes. The human was clearly a Satanist, devil worshipper, or any of the other sects that worshipped the darkness. Gerry gave a heavy sigh and waved his hand for the legionnaire to let the man stand.

<This is what we’ve been reduced to.> The networks Gerry and his lieutenants had in place before Satan and Michael played Godzilla with Charlotte were in-depth and thorough. Now, those networks were in tatters, and they were forced to rely on intel from human posers, or humans with little magical skill. If Gerry had to guess, the guy in front of him had an inkling of magical skill and he thought because of that he was worthy to be in Gerry’s presence.

“Speak,” Gerry commanded lazily, as Grimm growled softly from his bed near the foot of the throne. The amount of pillows and toys in the large bed cut down on Grimm’s intimidation factor while he was laying down.

“D…Dark Lord I come bearing news.”

“Speak plainly human, and don’t waste my time.” Gerry let his impatience slip into his tone.

“Yes, Lord.” The man gulped, but continued on. “I’m sensitive to the powers of good and evil in this world, and my gift has told me the powers of good have greatly decreased in the city within the last hour.”

Gerry just raised an eyebrow at the statement. He’d need his own people to confirm whether or not this was legit. This could always be a ploy to lure the remaining Infernals into an ambush, but if it was legit, it was too good to pass up.

“We are well aware of the situation in the city,” Gerry wasn’t going to lose face in front of a Marilyn Manson wannabee. “What do you think you deserve by coming here to tell me something I already know?”

“Well…” the man nervously started to lick his lips.

“Do you want money, sex, power, women, or men?” Gerry stared at the man’s reactions closely. He didn’t need to read minds to see what the man was thinking. “Power… you think you deserve power.” Gerry laughed, and Grimm looked up at him happily, with his tongue lolling out the side of his mouth in shared joy.

The man frowned, but quickly wiped the emotion away. “Lord…”

“Sure…while the hell not.” Gerry had too much power anyway.

Gerry reached out and seized the man on an ætherial level. In the real world, the man surged to his feet. His spine arched to the point of snapping, and he threw back his head and screamed with a mixture of pain and pleasure. From the man’s reaction, you would have thought Gerry was pumping æther into the guy.

Gerry wasn’t. He let a trickle seep into the man, and even that was too much. A human body without significant magical talent couldn’t control the æther. Sooner rather than later, the power would corrupt the man like cancer and he was literally explode from the strain. Gerry hadn’t given the man a gift, he’d turned him into a walking bomb, but the man didn’t know that.

“Thank you, Dark Lord, thank you.” The man scrambled backwards bowing his head repeatedly in the process until he was out of the room.

“Check if he’s right,” Gerry commanded the legionnaire. “If the Divine abandoned the city to deal with New York then it’s an opportunity we can’t pass up.”

“Yes, Lord.” The legionnaire bowed and left, which let Gerry turn his attention back to the seventy-inch 4K UHDTV mounted on the wall.

Choppers were circling Central Park where two powerhouses were going at it. Gerry recognized Beelzebub from when he fought his creations. The feathers, wings, and talons were hard to forget.  The angel he was fighting wasn’t Michael, but was clearly an archangel judging by his armor. The angel’s sword sang nearly faster than the eye could follow as he danced with the Infernal Lord. They flattened everything in their path, just like Satan and Michael.

“Watch out for the…” Beelzebub was too slow and caught a gauntleted fist in the chin. The force sent out a shockwave that knocked a few choppers right out of the air, while the other struggled to stay airborne. The stream switched back to the news anchors in studio who were frantically trying to figure out what was going on.

<Hell on Earth is what’s going on.> Gerry couldn’t help but smile as he leaned back on his throne. <And right now things are looking up.>

Once he found Prometheus he’d have two of the old gods on his side, and with the Divine potentially having redeployed their forces, he could retake and secure the city before they returned. When they returned, they’d have to deal with a strong, dug in opposition. Or at least that was the plan for now.

Things had a tendency to change at a moment’s notice.

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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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PCS to Eden – It Looks Like Someone had the Same Idea

A lone angel hovered insubstantially above the swirling clouds. He gently flapped his wings to stay airborne as the morning light penetrated his gleaming Divine Steel armor. Normally, to be more diplomatic, he wouldn’t be armed for war, but the current circumstances had prompted Michael to issue a general order to anyone leaving the gates of Heaven. They were to be armed and ready at all times. The Veil was thinning and breaking. Behemoth and his clan were holding the majority of Infernal forces back, but a trickle were still getting through, and that trickle was going to become a steady stream sooner rather than later. The Divine Host needed to be prepared at all times to repel the invaders.

Gabriel, Archangel and Messenger of God, shook his head at what was happening. He hadn’t been forced to sleep with his sword within arm’s reach since the Rebellion and subsequent campaigns to push Satan and his allies off Eden. As his Father’s messenger, Gabriel was a diplomat before a warrior, and he never wanted the people he was meeting with to be instantly combative. In his opinion, nothing productive happened when the point of a sword was poised against someone’s jugular. Words and actions bound people together much better than fear and violence. Unfortunately, the people he was meeting with were combative by nature, and the Divine’s past actions toward them were not endearing.

Gabriel took a deep breath and exhaled. It was cold in the upper atmosphere, but his breath didn’t fog the air like a human’s would.  He took a moment to calm his thoughts, set his mind on the task before him, and then began his descent.

Heavy fog rolled through the early morning air as he flew lower and lower. The sunlight would burn away the fog eventually, but the island prison he was visiting was swaddled in it. It had been several hundred years since his last visit, and he marveled at how things had changed.

After his Father’s defeat of Cronus, certain factions of the other Primordial’s creations were simply too dangerous to have around humans. A massive relocation effort was undertaken to send these dangerous ancient races to the less populated fringes of the world. At the time of Cronus’ defeat, human population was centered on the Asian, African, and European continents. Life existed elsewhere, but those were the cultures his Father sought to influence and evolve. As a result, the Western Hemisphere of Eden became a common relocation spot.

The particularly stubborn species Gabriel was descending to meet had been uprooted from one island and deposited on another. Cronus had created them to be cunning warriors, and they were the last thing God wanted around humans. Unfortunately, millennia hadn’t dulled their minds. When the expansion to the New World of many European nations occurred, the island meant to be a prison had been a perfect location for a colony. The species had blended with the immigrants; first the Dutch, then the English, and finally the fledging Americans. Despite his Father’s wishes, the species had been allowed to flourish in their prison with one exception: they weren’t allowed to leave the confines of their island. As technology shrunk the world, that limitation mattered less and less.

Mountains of steel and glass rose up out of the fog to catch the morning sunlight. Gabriel flew around two, and through one, as he continued his descent toward his destination. The lower he got the clearer the island of Manhattan became. Nearly ten million people were waking up on a weekday morning and going about their business without any knowledge of the danger their planet was facing.

<That’s the way it should be.> Gabriel reminded himself, even if the truth was beginning to leak out. Michael and Satan’s battle had seen to that.

Gabriel reached the ground and looked for somewhere to become substantial. It used to be as simple as finding an unoccupied telephone booth to slip into, but with all of the cameras and technology keeping a watchful eye on the city, finding a discrete location was more and more difficult. Luckily, Gabriel was well equipped to handle things like this. His Father bestowed his children with gifts. Michael had strength equaled by only a few in existence. Thrones could travel nearly instantaneously from one point to another to fulfill their duties as Divine distributors of justice.  Gabriel’s gifts allowed him to be good at diplomacy. His perception was altered in ways others weren’t. He could see the pattern in things, he could see angles others couldn’t, and he could read creatures better than anyone.

His eyes were automatically drawn to the three cameras in the area where he landed. His vision highlighted the zones the cameras covered, to include what the crack in one of the camera’s lenses was obscuring. He flapped over to a deadspot and shifted fully into reality. He wove a spell around himself as he emerged to ensure he didn’t frighten some poor lady to death on her way to the neighborhood bodega.

Instead of an armed angel with snow-white wings, and gleaming silver armor with runes glowing with golden light, everyone saw a well-dressed man in a black suit that fit in anywhere on Wall Street. Gabriel’s stylish, jet-black hair framed a handsome face, on top of a tall, athletically-thin physique. Several heads turned to follow him as he emerged from the cameras’ blindspots and walked the last few blocks to his destination.

Over the centuries, Gabriel had met ambassadors dispatched by the Royal Family to discuss terms. Nothing budged from the original terms his Father imposed upon imprisonment, and the ambassadors usually left angry. That was one reason why Gabriel was anxious going into this meeting. They’d never given these people anything that they wanted, why should they help the Divine now when the Divine had little leverage.

The location where the meeting was taking place showed just how informed the other party was about the Divine’s current predicament. They’d met at several locations throughout the city, but never at the seat of their power.

The building on Central Park South looked like an upscale apartment complex with individual units that could sell for well into eight figures, but Gabriel knew better. The building was one massive residence where the elite of the exiled species lived, and the top few floors were the private residence of the Royal Family. It didn’t take Gabriel’s special gifts to read between the lines. They were flaunting their power, wealth, and influence. All three of which the Divine needed to enlist to help drive back the Infernals.

He walked up to the covered portico where a tall woman in a doorman’s outfit kept a close eye on the passing humans. The three-piece suit didn’t do much to hide her feminine qualities or the slight bulge of a concealed handgun in a shoulder holster. Her high-cheekbones and bright blue eyes probably had talent scouts trying to recruit her every day, but Gabriel knew she studiously ignored them or mildly threatened them until they left. Despite her looks, she had a military bearing and precision in her appearance, and his practiced eye easily identified a soldier.

He stopped in front of her and produced an invitation. It had about as many security features as the new American one hundred dollar bill. The woman whipped out a tablet, scanned codes, double-checked photos, and scrutinized Gabriel himself. She was a little taller than him in his current form, and she made sure he knew it as her eyes drilled down into him.

“First elevator on the right, pigeon.” She sneered as she slipped the invitation in her pocket and turned her attention back to the street.

Gabriel put on his diplomatic smile and didn’t take the bait. Pigeon was this species’ slang for angels. It dehumanized the Divine in their eyes and made angels seem small and weak. Very few species could make that kind of statement and actually back up their claim. That was one of the reasons they had been banished from the civilized world millennia ago. They were hard to control.

The first elevator on the right was flanked by two women in black suits, black shirts, and black ties. Their hair was close-cropped, and they didn’t bother to hide the compact machine guns slung across their chests. They boarded the elevator with Gabriel and rode up with him to the top floor.

He could tell they weren’t in a talking mood, so he rode in silence until the gentle BING announced their arrival. The twin elevator doors spread apart into a small foyer. A half-dozen more women armed to the teeth were waiting for him. Firearms were slung or strapped to them, but older weapons were also present. Swords and spears that had spilled Divine æther glistened in the artificial light.

<Ignore them.> He told himself. He could tell they were still trying to intimidate. The “this is my house” attitude was thick on each of these women, and him doing anything but being compliant was only going to make his impossible task more difficult.

They patted him down and wanded him for weapons. It went crazy when it cut through his illusion and recognized his armor. The women just smiled as they relieved him of his sword. He knew he would get it back, but he felt a little more naked without it.

With a nod from their commander, they made a square around him with the original two guards from the elevator. The wall in front of them slid apart to reveal it was made of heavily reinforced-steel. They were also coated with protective enchantments. Gabriel would have to be in his combat form to get through.

“Presenting the Archangel Gabriel, Messenger of the False God, My Queen.” A woman heralded his arrival to a room packed with woman. Then the large woman turned to Gabriel. “Behold, Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, Eater of Men.”

Gabriel diplomatically bowed at the stunningly-beautiful woman on a throne at the far end of the room. She was the definition of ancient and regal all rolled into one. A crown made of the largest diamond ever discovered adorned her head and threw rainbow –colored light across the room. To either side of her were six smaller thrones. On each sat another beautiful woman. Everything about the six princesses was a little different, but each had the same hard, calculating eyes of their mother. These were not women to be taken lightly.

The Amazons themselves were an impressive race. They were one of the last creations of Cronus before his downfall, and were touted as an upgrade to humanity. They were physically twenty-to-fifty times stronger and faster than humans, each of them possessed genius-level intellects, but they retained the ability to mate with them. Personally, Gabriel thought it was a final fuck you from Cronus to his Father when the primordial figured out his sibling was going to conquer his realm.

An Amazon reproduced by having sex with a human male just like a human female. The gestation for an Amazon was less than three months, and within six months the newly born Amazon advanced to puberty. Once reaching puberty, the young amazon needed to kill and eat their father to evolve into a fully-mature Amazon. An Amazon reached their optimal physical state within one year and enjoyed immortality from then on, so every woman in the room, including Hippolyta, looked to be in their early twenties. The Queen could easily be mistaken for her daughters’ sister.

Unlike other creatures of æther created by Cronus, Amazons didn’t require it to survive. They were more like humans that way. They could still manipulate the æther that permeated everything in the universe and were renowned for their ability to channel it into mentally manifesting objects or storing power in specially designed artifacts. Gabriel knew the crown on Hippolyta’s head held enough power to injure an Archangel in its combat form, and the throne she was sitting on directed power into workshops beneath the building that forged and stored it in everything from weapons to luxury items. Each of the princess’ crowns also held considerable power for them to wield, and they were all masters of their craft. That was the strength of the Amazons: a combination of physical prowess, shrewd intellect, and skillful channeling of æther. Many angels and Infernals had died by their hands.

The question Gabriel’s Father had before him, once Eden was subdued, was how to control such a powerful group. The answer was simple and crude: population control. As strong as an individual Amazon was, they were stronger together. War Bands of thirteen Amazons could channel æther into a single woman while continuing to fight. They’d fought through a chunk of the Cherubim Guard during the War for Eden in an attempt to make God bleed. They’d failed, but many others had spilled blood on their campaign. The goal was to ensure that never happened again.

Guardians and the Domain for the city kept a close tally of the number of Amazons in existence. No more than one hundred and sixty eight were allowed to be living at one time. Like any living creature, the Amazons didn’t like being told when and where they could fuck. It was just another grudge standing in between Gabriel’s mission to gain their support and failure.

“Great Queen, it has been too long.” He replied humbly and waited to be called forward.

When your host was millennia old, they tended to have traditions, and were unhappy when they were broken. “Gabriel.” The way the Queen spoke his name didn’t bode well for their meeting. “Did you come to make sure there were less than three hundred and thirty six tits?” Her words lashed into him.

“No, Great Queen, I bring other news.” Gabriel raised his head and kept smiling.

“Is this the news about how your hold on this world is finally crumbling? Or how the great False God has finally bitten off more than he can chew? Or is it how he let everything become undone by allowing a single half-pigeon to get butchered by an Infernal beast?” The queen was smiling savagely.

“I assure you, the news of my Father’s missteps are greatly exaggerated.” Gabriel finally let a little iron slip into his tone.

The gathered women recognized it immediately. “Is that why you come to my home dressed for war?”  Hippolyta waved her hand and a wave of æther wiped away Gabriel’s illusion.

He stood there in his armor and simply shrugged. “I thought I better come prepared. You have a…reputation.”

Silence…and then the Queen chuckled. Her daughters followed suit, until the whole room was laughing. Gabriel kept a diplomatic smile on his face.

“A pigeon with a sense of humor. How rare.” She waved another hand and guards brought out a comfortable-looking chair that was set thirty paces from the throne. Gabriel took it with a grateful nod.

<Progress.> He’d take what he could get.

“I believe we have much we can discuss, and in ways that can benefit both of our people.” Gabriel began, but the Queen held up her hand.

“I believe we have very little to discuss. In fact, there are only two things worth discussing. First, we want off this island, and second, we want to be free to reproduce.” Heads around the room nodded fervently.

“I can take the request to my Father, but I doubt anything will change.” Gabriel did them the honor of at least being honest.

“Well then…” Hippolyta leaned back on the thrown and casually crossed her legs. “I don’t know what you can say or do to impress upon me the desire to help you.”

Gabriel could tell from the set of her shoulders and the minute twinges on her face that the Amazon Queen was enjoying this, and she also never had any intention of helping. The past between their two peoples was too bloody to think they could make it work, and even if they did, both sides would be expecting a knife in the back at any moment. That was no way to fight a war.

“I can respect your decision noble Queen.” Gabriel got to his feet before he could even begin to enjoy the plush chair. “But if I may make a suggestion?” He waited for the Queen to nod before continuing. “If you won’t fight with us then don’t fight against us.” He said the statement with no diplomatic flair. It was just shy of a threat.

Women bristled all around him, but the Queen just grinned. “I will make no move to align with either side, or put my people in danger, until the right moment.”

<The right moment.> There was something in the woman’s eyes that Gabriel’s sixth sense caught a glimpse of.

The Amazons as a people favored strength, skill, and honor above all else. The women scattered around the room might look like college seniors, but they were hardened warriors who’d built a foundation in a prison on the opposite side of the world and turned it into a mecca of power. New York City would not be what it is today without the influence of the Amazons.

“Thank you for accepting our invitation.” Hippolyta rose from her throne and the rest of her daughters followed he example. “As thanks for coming all the way down here I’d like to present you with a token.”

Gabriel’s warning bells immediately started ringing in his mind, but he didn’t let his anxiety show. The princess farthest to the left gracefully descended the steps. Gabriel knew her name was Diana. She was only sixty years old and was the youngest of Hippolyta’s children. She was the only person in the room born after the American Civil War.

Gabriel spotted the tension coiled in her shoulders from a mile away, but read the determination etched into her symmetrical face. Her hair was the fiery red of a gorgeous sunset, and freckles dotted her sun-kissed skin. She stopped several feet from him and extended a small bundle wrapped in white linen. The moment her took it she backed away. Wrapped in the bundle was a ceremonial knife.

The moment Gabriel touched it he felt the spell activate. It was a binding charm. Nothing terribly powerful, but something unexpected. Its purpose was the more pressing issue.

“It’s a dangerous city, Messenger. We wouldn’t want something bad to happen to you on your walk home.” The way Hippolyta dismissed Gabriel made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Angel’s didn’t evolve with natural predators like humans, so it wasn’t that. Only a shift in the æther could trigger that kind of biological reaction in him.

<Something’s happening.> He knew that much, just not what.

He expected all the Amazons in the room to ambush him when he turned his back to return to the elevator. Nothing happened. They even returned his sword to him. He expected the guards to open fire on him once they started their descent. There was no doubt in his mind the bullets in those rifles were tipped with Divine Steel. Still, nothing happened. He even expected the doorwoman to stab him in the jugular with a ninja star as he walked out the front door, but the only difference he smelled was a sight tang in the air.

“Have a good day, Pigeon.” The woman walked past him inside the building, shut the door, and locked them behind her. He felt the flare of æther as the buildings powerful protective wards activated. He expected to be attached again, but again was met with nothing but a growing funky odor.

At first, he thought it was the hot dog vendor on the corner, but the odor was moving. It was drawing nearer and more pungent. He inhaled deeply and smelled everything: the foot-long quasi-meat in hot water, the condiments, the scent of oak from the park across the street, a passing baby that needed to be changed, and…

<Sulfur.> His head snapped around as a homeless man stopped in his tracks twenty feet away.

“Shit,” the stench on the man’s breath was nauseating even from that distance. “Though I had you.”

Everything fell into place like dominos. The meeting, the looks, the binding spell, the buildings defenses. This was the right time for the Amazon’s to make their decision, but they were going to do it on their own terms, and one of their time-honored traditions was trial by combat. When the dust settled the Amazons would owe their allegiance to one side, <And they tried to stack the deck against me.> The homeless man was holding a similar knife in his gnarled hand.

“Not here.” Gabriel’s eyes shot to the innocent people passing by. There were hundreds, maybe thousands, within his eyesight, and millions within range. It was the middle of the week, during the morning rush. Casualties would be catastrophic. “Please.” Gabriel debased himself to plead with the Infernal.

“You can always just lay down and die.” Beelzebub, Infernal Lord of all that Flies, took another step toward the Archangel.

Gabriel matched his move with a backward step.

“Huh,” the Infernal cocked his head and smiled. Cracked yellow teeth and oozing, bloody gums stared back at Gabriel. “Looks like you don’t care about the innocent as much as you say you do.”

The Infernal’s body started to swell. His skin ripped to show slick, black feathers. His face extended into a beak, and beady-black eyes stared back at Gabriel.

“Father, forgive me.” Gabriel sent a quick prayer along with a call for reinforcements before he allowed æther to fill him.

The illusion he’d reconstituted vanished, his armor glowed brilliantly in the morning sun as he exploded to his full two hundred and seventy five feet. People screamed before four talons squished them without a second thought. Gabriel lowered his helmet’s visor and brought his sword up into a ready position. Fire cascaded around the blade and he roared his defiance at the Infernal’s challenge.

The two ætherial beings met with a crash that destroyed everything around them except for a single building. Behind the powerful protective wards, the Amazons watched and laughed.

Revenge was sweet, and the damage about to be inflicted on the city might just be enough to weaken the wards holding them captive. Whoever won, the Amazons hoped to be free. Owing a small blood debt to one side or the other was worth that to them, but ideally, they wouldn’t owe anyone at all.

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