“We’re almost there,” Ava panted as she continued to half-carry the injured archangel toward freedom. They were only a block away now, and she could see the river through the final line of buildings. “We’ve made it.”
She felt complete satisfaction that things had worked out the way they were supposed to. She’d completed her mission while thinking outside the box. She’d done things other angels would have walked away from because it put them in danger, but she was willing to take the chance to save an archangel.
When it came down to it, Heaven couldn’t lose the Voice of God any less than they could one of their most formidable generals and leaders. Gabriel was irreplaceable, and Ava had brought him to safety.
She was flying high on their victory that she nearly missed Gabriel’s whispered words. “No we didn’t.”
“Wha…”Ava frowned at him, but when she turned her eyes back forward she saw their path was barred.
She didn’t recognize the woman, but she radiated power. She assumed it must be Hippolyta, the Amazon Queen, by the way Gabriel was looking at her. Ava only gave the woman a short glance before her gaze settled on the man standing next to her.
<Impossible.> Her brain was slow to connect the dots. The face, body, expression, and even the power she felt emanating from him wasn’t supposed to exist.
The man looked just as confused as she did as he looked at them. His eye passed over Gabriel, and settled on her. The recognition in them confirmed Ava’s worst fears.
“YOU!” She screamed in anguish and anger as Maria’s killer stood alive in front of her.
Rage blotted out all conscious thought as she grabbed at her Divine power and pulled. She didn’t care if every Amazon in existence came bearing down on them because of it, but she needed power to end the man who killed her daughter once and for all.
She screamed at Gerald Fuller. There was no meaning behind the words other than a way to release the pain at seeing him. She felt her power slowly return to her and she funneled all of it into her greatest weapon. The Hand of God began to glow as she directed every scrap of energy she could into it.
“Ava…” Gabriel’s tone held a warning, but she didn’t listen.
There was only one thing on her mind, and only one thing that could quench the inferno of emotion burning within her. Gerald Fuller, fake martial magician, and Infernal agent needed to die…again.
“Geez, what did you do to her? Not call her in the morning?” Death elbowed Gerry in the ribs as waves of energy continued to pour off Ava. She was the exact last person he expected to see when he woke up in the morning.
The man who was leaning on her for support Gerry didn’t recognize, but by the look in his eyes, he recognized Death, and his expression was properly terrified.
“What should we do?” Gerry whispered. He could tell Ava was clearly building toward something, and his gut told him it wouldn’t be good for his health.
Death closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Can you taste it?” she seemed to be talking more to herself than him. “There is nothing better in the world than pure, unadulterated rage. It’s like a fine wine. You bottle it before letting it sit and fester. The longer it goes, the better it tastes. I’d put this bouquet at less than six months, but there is a trace of sorrow to it that gives it a floral scent. Can you taste it, Young Gerry.”
The only thing Gerry could taste was the bile rising in his throat. Every instinct he had was telling him to get the hell out of there, but his fear of Death outweighed his fear of Ava. <She said she’d protect me.> He tried to bolster his courage, but the glow from Ava’s had was making that more difficult by the second.
The seconds passed and no one moved. Ava continued to seethe and her hand grew brighter and brighter. Soon it was like trying to look at the sun, and Gerry had to look away. A whining noise started to build in the air. It reminded Gerry of the times right after a volley of musket-fire knocked out his hearing. Gradually, sound would return, but accompanied by the same whine. The man with Ava was trying to say something to her, but Gerry couldn’t hear it over the noise. That was confusing. When he wanted to, his power allowed him to use his senses far more efficiently than humans.
“It’s the æther.” Death said as she read his mind. “It’s being pushed and pulled inward. She’s bending the will of the cosmos far more than she should. She must really hate you, Gerry Dear. What did you do to her?”
“I helped kill her daughter.” He answered tonelessly. The whining evolved into a ringing that was growing painful.
“Wow. I didn’t see that one coming.” Death actually laughed, and that was the straw the broke the camel’s back.
Ava let out an unintelligible scream and a ray of light blasted from her hand.
<Death was right,> was Gerry’s last thought as he saw reality ripple around the blast. Whatever this was, it was a serious upgrade from the last time he faced off with Ava. <And last time she killed me.> Gerry closed his eyes, put his trust in Death, and waited for the inevitable.
“DIE YOU BASTARD!” Ava screamed as she fired, but something was different this time. Everything around the beam seemed to bow outward as reality stretched. She would have paid more attention to it, but her eyes were fixed on Gerald Fuller, and every iota of her being was praying for a horrible death consumed in Divine energy.
Before the beam made it to Gerald the woman he was with stepped in front of him and opened her mouth. Ava assumed it was to scream, and she wondered why this woman was sacrificing herself for such a piece of shit, but then her beam shuddered.
<What?!> It was like something had locked onto the pure energy.
Then Ava saw the woman’s mouth. Something dark was stirring within and she could feel the insatiable hunger radiating from it. Her attack, which had been aimed carefully, gave another jerk, and changed course for the woman’s mouth. When the beam finally struck her, Ava expected some cataclysmic explosion. Instead, the beam simply disappeared into her mouth. The energy from the Hand of God, one of the most formidable weapons in existence, was swallowed whole by this mysterious person.
As reality flexed back to normal, and the ringing from the Divine energy subsided, Ava didn’t know what to do but stand there and look confused. <How?>
To add insult to injury, the woman belched loud enough to knock loose debris free of nearby buildings. Now, Ava wanted to hurt her too.
“Do not move. Do not breathe. Do not speak. And for the love of our Father do not antagonize her.” Gabriel commanded as he slid in front of her. The gesture made his frail body seem even weaker, and it went against her mission, but when she tried to push him away he held her back.
As the woman made her way toward them, with Gerry in tow like a show dog, Gabriel bowed at the waist. A silent jab in the ribs made Ava do that same.
“Hello, Auntie. Please forgive the misunderstanding. What brings you to Eden?”
Gerry watched as the man Ava had been supporting stepped in front of her and bowed. He caught the word ‘auntie’, but his head was still ringing from the exchange of power. It might not have done anything to him, but he was seeing the equivalent of ætherial spots in his vision as the æther realigned itself. Whatever weapon Ava had used could do substantial damage to this realm if used wrong.
What was even more wrong was Death simply swallowing the attack like she was chugging from a keg. He had so many questions he wanted answered, but he knew better than to ask. The smile on Death’s face showed she was enjoying herself, so he’d just have to find out later.
“Is that you, Gabriel?” She practically skipped to within a few feet of the man. “Look at you, you’re all grown up. What’s it been ten, twenty thousand years?”
“Closer to a hundred, Auntie.” The man called Gabriel replied respectfully.
<Oh shit.> Gerry put two and two together. <Auntie…with Ava…been around for at least a hundred thousand year…this is the Archangel Gabriel.> Now Gerry felt like he should be doing some bowing.
“And you,” Death’s neck elongated to the length of an anaconda as she peered around Gabriel at Ava. “You’re a ballsy young one aren’t you? I like that, but is your courage a product of youthful naivety, or do you really have the stones.”
Ava’s face was red with anger, but she kept her mouth shut.
“Come on! Speak for yourself. I can feel you want to. You want to scream it from the rooftops. You want to howl at the moon. Tell me child. What do you want?”
“I want that fucker’s head!” Ava’s composure broke and she pointed at Gerry.
“Ha Ha,” Death clapped and looked pleased with herself. “Finally some honesty.”
Death turned around to regard Gerry, and Gerry’s eyes watched as Ava tried to make a move against her, but Gabriel held her back. His grimace showed just how hard that was for him, which meant he was weak.
“I’m inclined to give you the opportunity.” Death decided a few seconds later.
“What?” Ava looked surprised.
“What!?” Gerry was sure he was more surprised.
“Of course, we need to level the playing field.” Death whipped back around and was smiling again. “I can feel you gathering your forsaken æther. That was smart to avoid detection with Gabriel as weak as he is. You might have even made it if I hadn’t been looking for something to play with.” Ava’s triumphant expression dropped as Death continued to speak. “With your power level poor Gerry is no match for you, and I abhor an unfair fight. We need to even the odds.” Death’s face was particularly terrifying as she turned her attention to Gabriel. “What do you say, Gabe? The old ways were always the best. I think a little ritual sacrifice is in order.”
Gerry saw Gabriel gulp. <Who are we going to sacrifice?>
“Should we get on with it?” Death rubbed her hands together with anticipation.
“Auntie, please.” Gabriel didn’t sound like a mighty archangel as he begged.
“Stiff upper chin, Gabriel.” Death chided. “Show some backbone in front of the younglings.”
“I…”Gabriel didn’t have a chance to respond. Before anyone could react, Death was in front of him and had punched her hand through his chest.
The crunch of bone and sucking sound of blood and slippery muscle was something Gerry would never forget.
“No!” Ava screamed out, but Death flickered her wrist and Ava went careening sideways. A sonic boom announced she’d broken the speed of sound before she impacted the nearest building. The whole structure shuddered and looked on the brink of collapse, but froze with another hand gesture from Death.
Her attention wasn’t even on the attack or the building. It was completely focused on Gabriel. The archangel’s face was deathly pale and he was struggling to draw breath. Death was chanting something under her breath. The words sounded deep and bottomless, like they weren’t being spoken by a simple woman at a Manhattan intersection.
“A…a…auntie,” Gabriel gasped.
“Shhhhh,” the sound was surprisingly motherly as Death used her free hand to comb his hair to the side. “It’s almost over.”
Gerry felt whenever “it” was over. There was a monumental shift. Serious vertigo hit him and sent him tumbling onto his ass. When he looked up, or at least what he thought was up, Death was standing over him cupping something between her hands.
“Come here, Gerry dearest,” she cooed and something unseen grabbed Gerry and hoisted him into the air. “You have a part to play in this game, and I’m going to give you the power to be more than a pawn.”
Then, slowly, like she was making a point, Death took the shifting mass of energy in her hand and punched it into Gerry’s chest.
Gerry screamed out, but he had no voice. Everything in him was burning. A raging inferno was devouring him from the inside out. Death had put a cancer in him, and the disease wasn’t waiting around. It ate through him with ruthless efficiency.
Death dropped Gerry to the ground, and watched him writhe in pain. His eyes were rolled into the back of his head and he was foaming at the mouth. She was mildly impressed that he hadn’t passed out or died yet, which was a good sign. The longer he was conscious the shorter the process.
She stood back and looked within him at the gift she’d bestowed. <Mmmm not quite right.> Like a hacker manipulating computer code, Death delved into Gerry’s programming and started to make changes. Changes that would make the game that much more enjoyable.
She felt the building’s foundations begin to shift as the lesser angel regained her senses. She was still weak. She’d given her all when she tried to kill Gerry, but she’d neglected herself in the process. She had only a slim bit of power when Death gently swatter her away. It was enough to shatter her body, and delay her return enough so Death could focus on the task at hand.
<Nearly there…Last chance.> She smiled and looked around. <Nothing…fine.> She did the equivalent of his the save button and Gerry went still.
There was utter silence before a thunderclap shook the city. “About time.” Death threw her hands in the air. “For the love of You. You’d think I’d have to burn down your little sandbox before you came out to play, Brother.”
Death turned around and smiled at God.