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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I’m on TDY from Hell – Only One of Us Is Walking Out of Here

Gerry watched Ava rocket into the air and dart toward Lucifer. He hated the relief that spread through him. As a warrior he was supposed to rise to the occasion, but it was clear that his survival depended on him being half a heartbeat ahead of the Dominion, and he’d barely accomplished that. Getting a breather from the fight was a welcome break.

A short-lived break.

A pressure wave washed over him without effect. He was still insubstantial, so he barely noticed it, but he did notice the gymnasium suffer a crushing blow. It was quickly followed by Satan and Michael leaving the battlefield. Gerry was fine with that. The Divine commander was way out of his league. His eyes swept the field and focused on his next target. He didn’t have wings like the angels, but he was big and strong. He bent his legs in a textbook squat and pushed off with tremendous force into a high arc. He soared through the air like an artillery shell.

He rose up to twice the height of the waring Lords before he reached the apex of his jump and began to plummet back to Earth. He got a good view of the action, and it wasn’t great. Lono was lying in a dismembered heap off to his right. Ava’s attack had greatly weekend him, and her soldiers had finished the job. Jeb was in dire straits. His Infernal form was battling two guardians and their tandem attack was getting through his defenses and wearing him down. Jezebel was missing a hand and had deep lacerations across her naked chest.

He ignored them all as he focused on his target.

Emmanuel and Lucian fought with vicious skill. The Dominion of Charleston swung his curved saber and barely missed spilling Lucian’s guts all over the ground. The Dux’s retreat left him vulnerable to a follow-up punch from a gauntleted fist. Gerry heard something snap in the other Dux from a hundred feet in the air as Lucian’s Infernal form stumbled drunkenly. He was clearly stunned, and Emmanuel moved in for the kill. He would have succeeded if Gerry hadn’t come plummeting out of the night like a falling star.

The Dominion was monitoring the æther around him, so he felt Gerry coming. He literally had eyes in the back of his head. He rotated and gave a powerful slash of his blade. Gerry barely avoided it by bringing his knees up into a tucked position and summersaulting in the air. The blade passed harmlessly several feet below him, and it set him up to land ass first.

He put a burst of power into his version of an Infernal cannonball.

The earth roiled beneath the Dominion’s insubstantial feet as ground exploded around him. The impact was enough to shatter the spell and allow Gerry to interact with the world again. That saved his life, because he was too slow to recover. Emmanuel’s blade passed cleanly through his neck as Gerry straightened out of the giant crater.

“For the love of…” Emmanuel growled before he rolled away. Lucian leapt into the previously occupied space where his claws stabbed harmlessly into the ground.

Now Emmanuel had a choice: attack Gerry and keep him from inflicting damage on the human world, or keep fighting Lucian. The Dominion made the decision immediately. He came at Gerry. The æther shimmered and made him substantial. Gerry brought his own blade up over his head to block the blow, and felt the full brunt of Divine strength plow into him. The Dominion’s downward stroke smacked into Gerry’s own Divine Steel blade, forced it back, and into Gerry’s own armored shoulder.

“AHHHHHHH!” Gerry roared in pain and the powerful angel pressed the attack and forced the blade deeper into Gerry’s body.

“Go back to Hell, spawn of Seere!” Emmanuel spat.

Gerry was all for keeping a few tricks up his sleeve in case of an emergency, but now wasn’t the time to hold back. He brought his other hand up and pointed it right at Emmanuel’s face – except it wasn’t a hand anymore. A thick barrel sat where the hand used to be with the glowing blue energy of Gerry’s æther gathering within it. Emmanuel might have been able to get out of the way but he was throwing all of his weight forward into killing Gerry with his own sword. He’d sacrificed his footing for a killing blow, and Gerry made him pay.

A blast of Infernal æther concentrated into a short beam of energy erupted from Gerry’s hand cannon and struck Emmanuel in the neck and face. The angel’s armor protected him from the brunt of the blast, but it was enough to stun him. Gerry pulled back and delivered a resounding kick to his chest. The kick threw Emmanuel out of the crater they were battling in. Gerry tripped over the far end as he stumbled backward from the strike and ended up landing on his ass. His sword was still partially imbedded in his body and he could feel the æther inside of him leaking out of the wound.

Gerry looked up and saw the Dominion stalking around the crater with his sword held in front of him ready to finish the job. He made it halfway to Gerry before Lucian jumped on his back, and this time he didn’t faze right through the angel. He landed like a predator. Hands and arms wrapped around the angel’s throat in a headlock. Legs wrapped around the angel’s waist like a python while his jagged teeth started to rip into the angel’s armored shoulder.

Emmanuel howled in pain and tried to beat his wings to gain altitude. Lucian adjusted his full body lock and clamped down on one of the wings. Together, the two combatants tumbled to the ground. They landed in a heap but neither let up as they grappled for position.

Both Lucian and Emanuel had lost their swords and were fighting with their hands, feet, and teeth. Emmanuel tried to gouge out the Infernal Dux’s eyes to get him to release the headlock. He couldn’t reach them, but he was able to grab a hold of Lucian’s elongated snout. The angel squeezed with all his might and Gerry heard Lucian’s nose and jaw break from the pressure.  He let out a guttural wail, but he didn’t let go.

Gerry saw his opportunity and took it. He leapt to his feet, braced himself, and yanked his sword from his shoulder. He couldn’t stop from screaming when æther and strength poured out of him before he was able to staunch the flow. His combat form suffered by shrinking a few feet and a wave of exhaustion made him stumble, but he saw an answer to all his problems up ahead.

Emmanuel was striking Lucian repeatedly with his elbows. It was the only way he could inflict any damage on the rear naked chokehold Lucian had him in. Gerry couldn’t see the fear on the angel’s face when he saw Gerry sprinting toward them with his sword at the ready, but he did see his strikes falter. Lucian used the opportunity to tighten his grip, which sealed both their fates.

Gerry jumped the last twenty feet with the sword raised high over his head and the blade pointed down. Lucian didn’t see it coming, but Emmanuel struggled to the very end. With the amount of force generated with Gerry’s strength, the leap, and the masterfully crafted Divine Steel Blade the Dominion’s armor didn’t stand a chance. Gerry would have loved to pierce the angel’s heart, but the blade ended up coming down in the area of his upper stomach. The sword punched through the front of the armor, through Emmanuel, through the back of the armor and into Lucian.

Both combatants roared as pain seized control of them, and Gerry made it even worse by twisting the blade and torqueing it back and forth. It didn’t take long after that. To Emmanuel’s credit, Lucian died first. The Dux of Charleston exhaled his last breath and an explosion of æther erupted outward from him. Gerry drank in as much as he could to heal himself, but without preparation he didn’t get more than a fraction. It was still enough to bring him back to one hundred percent and then some.

Emmanuel’s expiration wasn’t any different. Despite their opposite sides and centuries of hatred for each other, there wasn’t any difference between how the Dominion and Dux of Charleston perished. Another explosion of æther announced Emmanuel’s death, and Gerry tried to drink in any of that æther that he could. It filled him with energy and something else. He couldn’t describe it, but there was something there that hadn’t been present before.

He didn’t give it much thought as he yanked his sword out of the two dead ætherial beings. He had other things to worry about.

 

***

 

In the heartbeat between disengaging Gerry and turning her attention on Lucifer, Ava focused on Uriel. What she saw reaffirmed her faith in her leadership. The archangel who commanded her was fighting two Infernal Lords by herself. This was the stuff legends were made of.

Ava beat her wings fanatically to come to her commander’s aid. Uriel parried a thrust of Seere’s sword, dodged a blast from Lucifer, and whipped around to bring the butt of her spear crashing into Seere’s head. The Great Dissenter bellowed in pain as he crashed into the ground, and it would have been an opportunity for Uriel to strike a devastating blow, but multiple blasts from The Morning Star drove her back. Seere recovered quickly and resumed his attack.

Ava knew what she had to do. The last exchange showed her the best course of action. Even injured, Uriel was a better fighter than Seere. All she needed to do was draw Lucifer’s attention for a moment so Uriel could strike a crippling blow. That would even the odds, and both angels could turn their full attention on the Prince of Lies.

A micro-correction with her wings had her on a new course and barreling toward Lucifer. She didn’t expect to catch a former member of the Seraphim Guard unprepared, but she was willing to take any luck her Father provided.

All of it happened so fast Ava didn’t have time to react. Another energy blast erupted from Lucifer’s helmet and speared through reality toward Seere and Uriel. The beam was almost to the battling giants when it stopped. The brilliant strand of energy hovered in the air for a fraction of a second before Lucifer whipped his head around toward Ava. The beam followed its master’s eye line, snapped toward Ava…and went right through her. She, in turn, continued rocketing forward and flew right through Lucifer’s shoulder and halfway to Seere and Uriel before stopping.

<No.> There was nothing but the glow of energy behind the Infernal Lord’s visor, but she could have sworn he was smiling.

Now she had a choice to make. She could abandon Lucifer to wreak havoc and assist Uriel, or she could transcend back to the physical plain and press her attack. She hung suspended in the air for several seconds staring down at Lucifer who seemed content to wait for her to make her decision.

Death made the decision for her.

She heard the ætherial scream of Emmanuel as he died and felt the explosion of his æther out into the world. She sensed most of his essence escape to Heaven and another’s descend into Hell.

<He went out like a warrior.> She took comfort in that small fact. It was how he would have wanted to die. <It was how Maria would have wanted to die.>

Her fleeting thought for her fellow Dominion and lost daughter cost her the initiative. Lucifer launched another assault on Uriel, which confirmed Ava’s final fears. The spell containing the Infernals had finally failed. She didn’t know if it was the release of æther from Emmanuel’s death, or the cost of battle, but either way there was no way to contain the Infernals now.

“Ava,” Uriel gasped as she fought off another relentless attack by Seere and Lucifer. Everyone was substantial now, and the Infernals were like sharks smelling blood in the water. “Fall back and regroup!” She ducked under Seere’s blade and lashed out with her fist.

The Great Dissenter dodged the punch, grabbed her arm, and tossed her like a sack of potatoes. Uriel twisted in the air, flapped her wings to right herself, and took a full blast from Lucifer in the chest. Her armor buckled, and the smell of burning flesh filled the air as the archangel was blasted backwards. Now that she was substantial, her fall was lethal.

Like many schools, the location where Armageddon began was in a residential area. So far, the damage had been localized to the school’s property, but that all changed when Uriel fell from the sky like a two-hundred-and-fifty-foot meteor. She crashed into a housing development back first and flattened half a dozen houses. Ava felt the souls of those humans being snuffed out by the impact. Uriel didn’t stop there. She skidded across the neighborhood like a car hitting the breaks. A dozen more houses crumbled and nearly fifty more humans died before she came to a stop. Her spear and orb carved up another few dwellings as she instinctually kept hold of her weapon, and anything the orb touched went up in flames.

By the time Uriel came to a stop every home in the neighborhood was either destroyed or burning to the ground, and it was only going to get worse. Seere leapt to seize the advantage of having his opponent on their back. He landed short of Uriel’s prone form, but the impact shook nearby houses right off of their foundations.

More people died, and Uriel was slow to shake off the powerful blast. Her chest was smoldering and black where Lucifer had breached her armor, and golden ichor was dripping from other wounds she’d sustained. Seere moved with a purpose to end the battle. He towered over her, raised his broadsword for the killing stroke, and that’s when Ava hit him. She barreled into him like a missile and hit him center of mass between his wing joint and hip.

Pain tore through her as her body folded under the impact. One of the first things she remembered being taught when she learned to fly was to never fly through something unless you knew how tough it was. Going insubstantial was always a better option.

She had no idea how tough Seere was until she hit him, and she instantly regretted it, but she completed her mission. Seere’s sword went wide and dug into the earth to the side of Uriel’s head and the Infernal Lord stumbled to the side. It gave Uriel enough time to come to her senses. Her long leg lashed out and caught the Infernal in the side of the knee. The crunch of bone echoed through the destroyed suburban neighborhood as his stumble turned into a fall and he involuntarily released his sword.

With their positions reversed Uriel moved in to finish the fight. Light flashed as Lucifer did what he’d always done and prevented Uriel from capitalizing on Seere’s weakness.  The archangel snarled her defiance as she brought her orb up to deflect the blasts and backed away from Seere. There wasn’t anything she could do with Lucifer keeping her at bay, but Ava was free to do as she wished. Lucifer could only target one person at a time and if her targeted Ava, Uriel would spring into action. Both angels’ eyes met in a flash of understanding and they set their plan into motion. Uriel started to circle them. She stayed within range to strike at a moment’s notice, but she kept Lucifer’s attention focused on her. Ava would have the honor of finishing it.

That didn’t solve the problem of the weapon. Ava had lost her sword earlier in the battle, and she wouldn’t be able to pummel the Infernal lord in his combat form, so she rushed to the only weapon in view.

Seere was struggling to get to his feet. Uriel’s kick to the leg must have done more damage than Ava thought, so he was more concerned about finding something to help himself up with than what Ava was doing. Seere’s giant broadsword was nearly twice as tall as she was, but like all weapons of Divine Steel it conformed itself to its wielder’s will. The hundred-foot blade shrunk to fifty feet – still as tall as Ava – but she needed the power to do the job.

She held the weapon like a knight holding a lance and charged. She beat her wings like her life depended on it and she threw everything she had behind the attack. All she needed was a split second. A split second where Seere was more concerned with his pain then what was going on around him. The slight lapse in situational awareness would be the end of the Great Dissenter.

She was almost there when blue light washed over her. It was pure power focused into a beam of energy. It wasn’t Lucifer, or Uriel would have swept in for the kill, but that didn’t matter. Pain overwhelmed Ava as her skin crackled and burned. Her armor held but the pain and kinetic force of the blast were enough to throw her off course.

It was enough for her to miss her mark.

Instead of piercing Seere’s heart with his own sword, the blade went high and to the left. It impacted, cut through his armor, and into his flesh just below his shoulder.

Seere’s guttural scream of agony washed over Ava with the force of righteous retribution. This man had helped drive the dagger into her daughter’s heart. He’d helped kill her youngest child, and exacting her pound of flesh felt glorious.

She put all of her fifty-foot self into driving that blade deeper into the Infernal Lord’s body, and she succeeded for about two seconds before a second blast of blue light – weaker than the first – but still strong enough to knock her off of Seere’s back. The sword remained in his back like a flag planted in him saying, “Ava was here”. She smiled at the sight, picked herself up off the ground, and turned to face her attacker. She wanted to finish the Infernal Lord off, but someone stood between her and that goal, so she’d just have to kill him too.

 

***

 

Gerry slumped to the ground. His arms felt heavy and his vision swam as dizziness washed over him. He’d emptied his well of power into those final two blasts. All that remained was the power he’d siphoned from Emmanuel and Lucian’s deaths. His demesne responded to his need and began to refill the void inside himself.

He was visibly exhausted. The bright blue fire the normally coursed through the crevices in his armor was a subdued glow now. He’d shrunk to twenty feet – barely better than a guardian – as he expended his power to save his Lord. It was worth it though. If his Lord had died, Gerry would have died as well. At least that’s what he’d been told.

It had been almost three millennia since an Infernal Lord had died. It had been during the never ending wars of Hell. Gerry heard the tale from General Icilius who heard it from his commander, who’d heard it from his commander, and so on and so forth back through the oral tradition of the Legion. The legend changed depending on who told the tale, but it never ended well for that Lord’s servants. From what Icilius said, Gerry got the impression that anyone with a direct link would die when their Lord died. In his current state, that fit Gerry to a T. Other servants like Legion members, administrators, and whores in that Lord’s kingdom wouldn’t perish, but they would probably prefer death.

It would be a free-for-all for every other Lord of Hell to conquer that dead Lord’s lands, and that included all of his people. Gerry could imagine the pain and suffering the servants of Prince Seere would have to endure if the beasts of Beelzebub or patchwork soldiers of Cain invaded through the mountain passes or sortied across the Styx. It would be mayhem, death, and destruction for everything Gerry had defended for over two hundred years.

Some losses would have been acceptable if Gerry would live through the event, but since he wouldn’t, allowing Seere to die was not an option. Seere needed to live at all costs.

Gerry had fallen to his knees after the second blast zapped the strength from him, so he hauled himself back to his feet. He was a little unsteady, but he was ready to face his opponent.

Ava picked herself up off the ground. She was hurt. Gerry could see the etches of pain on her face. She was favoring her side, so he guessed at least a few broken bones and maybe a dislocated shoulder. His energy blast had done some damage to her right wing as well. It hung at a weird angle and shuddered every time she tried to straighten it. For once they were on a level playing field…for now.

Ava was shrinking to speed along her recovery. She was still twice the size of Gerry, but this was as good as it was going to get. Gerry summoned what power he had collected and felt it reinforce his weary combat form. It felt like a hit of crack as it spread through him, his senses became clear, his sense of his surroundings expanded, and he felt the comforting grip of his Divine Steel blade beneath his fingers. Ava had no blade, but she didn’t shy away from him. Her eyes were locked with his as he cautiously approached.

They circled each other less than three hundred feet from the body of Prince Seere. He was doing his best to remove the blade from his shoulder, but the angle was wrong. He couldn’t reach it.

“Do you think I’m extraordinary now?” Ava closed the distance between them by tightening the circle.

Gerry didn’t answer. He needed to concentrate. He tracked her body with the æther. He felt her every movement, every twitch of her muscles, and every breath of air she took. They both stopped circling as the tension ratcheted up. She was on the tips of her toes and her whole body was loose and ready to react. Gerry’s was tense and ready to strike. It felt like the whole universe froze for just a heartbeat before he lashed out.

An overhead chop would have cleaved the Dominion in two from the navel down, but she nimbly sidestepped the blow. Gerry expected it and followed up with a horizontal slash that would have spilled her intestines at his Lord’s feet. She backpedaled and Gerry pressed the attack. A downward diagonal cut forced her to take a step back with one foot while he thrust at her other leg. She jumped back to avoid the stab and countered with her good wing.

The blow caught him right on the jaw and his world exploded. He felt unconsciousness creeping up on him as he spun from the force of the stronger Dominion’s hit, but he fought it back. He rotated his core and slashed behind himself to avoid her taking advantage of his momentarily stunned state.

The sword made contact with something hard and pushed against it for a second before cutting through. Ava’s scream indicated he’d struck home, and as he turned to bring her back into his wavering vision a fountain of golden angelic ichor splashed across his face. His haphazard blow had lopped off the Dominion’s arm below the elbow and it was fountaining the angel’s essence.

The angel’s ichor wasn’t the only think leaking from the woman. His situational awareness sensed the æther flooding out of her, and he jumped on it with desperation. He sucked up anything he could like a drowning man gasping for air. It only lasted for a few seconds before she staunched the physical and metaphysical bleeding, but it was enough for Gerry to feel Divine æther enter his body and nestle into a part of his being where he’d stored Emmanuel’s æther after his death. The two æthers melded together and created something totally new. Like before, it was a foreign but comforting sensation, and it gave him hope.

Hope was a dangerous thing to have, and Ava proved that by lashing out. The kick was so fast and powerful he didn’t see it coming. It struck the side of his head, picked him off his feet, and threw him into the burning wreckage of one of the houses. He landed head first, felt the Infernal Iron of his weakened body crumble, and lost all sensation in his extremities. He didn’t need to feel it to know he’d lost his sword.

Aether flooded into his injuries. It repaired the sizeable dent in his skull and straightened his neck from its awkward angle, and returned feeling to parts of his body that had gone numb from the strike. It all happened in a matter of seconds, but when he struggled to his feet Ava had his sword in her hand. The blade grew and ignited with Divine fire.

“You are still extraordinary,” he finally answered the question as he saw death advancing against him.

He’d been in enough battles to know when he was facing a superior foe, and he’d died enough times to know the feeling that was creeping through him. He just hoped he’d bought his Lord enough time.

Heavy footsteps brought his defeatist thoughts to a screeching halt.

Light flashed overhead and Lucifer pushed forward into the fray. Uriel fired back with her orb, but he dodged with such quickness it seemed like he disappeared and reappeared in a second location in the blink of an eye. Before either Ava or Gerry could react, Lucifer was standing in their midst.

 

***

 

Lucifer fired blast after blast and drove Uriel back. The injured archangel was barely keeping up with his relentless assault. Blasts were getting past her guard, bashing in her armor and scorching her flesh. Despite her valiant effort, Uriel was going to lose this fight.

One blast made her stagger and she nearly dropped her spear. Lucifer pressed the offensive and poured a continuous beam into her helmet. He heard her screams as the Divine Steel melted and fused with her flesh. Out of sheer will she kept ahold of her weapon and brought the orb in front of his beam, but it was too late. The damage was already done. Lucifer advanced to finish the job, but she launched herself into the air. He fired again, aiming for her wings, but she spun in the air and his shot went wide. Her instincts saved her. One minute she was two hundred and fifty feet tall, the next she was less than six, and on the third she vanished.

<Retreat was wise, sister. We will meet again.> The war had just begun, and he had no doubt they would cross paths on future battlefields.

He walked forward, crushing a human who had survived Uriel’s destruction of the neighborhood like a bug beneath his foot. He scanned the area for more threats. Seere was down with a sword protruding from his back. His Dux was engaging and failing to defeat Charlotte’s Dominion, and there were a handful of guardians still skirmishing with other lesser Infernals on the periphery.

“Brother,” Lucifer walked over to Seere, but still kept an eye on the Dominion.

“Brother.” Seere wheezed. “Help get the blade out.” He pointed with his thumb over his shoulder at the sword.

“Stabbed in the back with your own blade,” Lucifer shook his head. “Look at you.”

“What?” Seer had managed to get up onto his hands and knees.

Lucifer placed his armored foot in the center of Seere’s back and shoved him back to the ground.

“We had a deal, Lucifer,” Seere coughed as he pulled his back out of the ground.

“We did,” Lucifer replied, “and it has been honored. We broke the seal and each of us took from that what we agreed upon.” Light began to build behind his visor.

“This is madness!” Seere sneered up at his older brother. “We’re on the eve of something momentous. The border between Hell and Eden is crumbling. Soon our armies will pour into this realm and take it by force. We will rewrite the rule of the æther, consolidate our forces, gather our strength, and then march against Father.”

“I will march against Father,” Lucifer corrected as he grabbed the hilt of the sword and twisted the blade.

Seere screamed as flesh ripped and Divine Steel cut into more vital organs.

“You will be remembered, Brother. As the Great Dissenter you stood up to Father with me and highlighted the disparity between us and them. You showed how he treated his creations better than his own children. I will always be grateful that you stood with me on that day, but that’s what your best at…standing. You’ve never been a great warrior. You are a thinker and an administrator. You were a Throne for a reason. What is coming next is best left to minds like my own.”

“I can work for you,” desperation crept into Seere’s voice.

“No,” Lucifer shook his head sadly. “I don’t need you brains, I need your power. Satan will drag us all down the wrong path if there is not someone there as a counterweight, and to be that counterweight I need to be stronger.”

With a sweeping gesture runes on Lucifer’s armor glowed to life.

“Brother, please,” Seere pleaded.

“I really am sorry, Brother.” Lucifer pushed on the blade until it went all the way through Seere and exploded out his breastplate.

The Great Dissenter’s screams shook the earth and flattened trees and homes like a nuclear shockwave. In one fluid movement Lucifer pulled the blade from Seere’s back. As he raised it above his head it enlarged to over a hundred feet long while the blade itself grew thicker and sharper.

“I will miss you.” With a THUNK Lucifer beheaded Seere and soaked up the former Infernal Lord’s power.

His body swelled even more and he grew larger as more æther than Lucifer had ever held in his life poured into him. The light in his helmet grew brighter, and the Morning Star laughed as he spread his wings and took to the air with a blast that flattened what was left of the several square miles around the high school.

 

***

 

Gerry felt like the rug had been pulled out from under him. On top of that, it also felt like a yellow school bus filled with rambunctious, overweight Sumo wrestlers backed over his head, put the bus in drive, and then drove back over him for good measure. It felt like someone had reached inside his chest and ripped out his heart, and then kicked him in the balls repeatedly.

His whole world came crashing down when Seere’s head was removed from his body. He felt Lucifer’s laughter in his bones as the Infernal Lord leapt into the air and vanished in the opposite direction of Michael and Satan. Gerry didn’t know where he was going, and he didn’t care. It was over, done, kaputz.

Gerry had felt something snap when Seere died and Lucifer consumed his æther. It was like gravity had ceased to exist. Everything Gerry had done, his afterlife purpose in this universe, was to fulfill the will of his Lord. It was an incredibly freeing feeling for a moment, but the weightlessness was crippling. He was a dinghy in the middle of a hurricane, and he could see the sea rising up to swallow him whole.

Seere’s body was already beginning to disintegrate. He was deflating like a balloon while his form flaked away like ash in the wind. It was for the best. Gerry didn’t want anyone to see the once mighty Lord like this. Not that it really mattered. No one was going to see Gerry again.

That was what hurt most about it all. Gerry knew he was going to die. He knew Ava was going to defeat him, but when Lucifer arrived he let hope in. The emotion, one of the most powerful and terrible in this universe, seeped into his mind. He thought, just for a moment, that everything was going to be ok. Images flashed through his mind of him leading a great force to battle against the humans and the Divine. He imagined himself scaling the Pearly Gates and throwing angels from the ramparts of Heaven. He imagined himself in God’s throne room standing at Seere’s right hand as he distributed true justice to the realms.

Now, all of that was gone, and he was left with Ava.  The Dominion looked just as surprised as him, but it wasn’t any consolation.

“Infernals.” She shook her head and moved. Suddenly,she was standing within striking distance.

The link between him and Seere being severed was taking its toll. He was already beginning to wither, and he wasn’t able to follow her movements anymore.

“Just do it.” He sank to his knees and lowered his head to present a target. If he was going to die, he was going to die quickly like his Lord.

He heard her footsteps as she approached but he didn’t dare look. He felt her hand on his head as she jerked it back and made eye contact. Angelic met Infernal and Gerry half-heartedly wished they could have continued to play the cosmic game with each other. She was a worthy opponent.

It was his last thought before she rammed her sword hilt-deep into his chest. His severed heart, shattered ribs, and shredded lungs exploded out of his back like he’d been hit by an artillery shell. He gasped and lurched forward into her arms. His Infernal Iron form began to crack and crumble revealing more and more of the swirling æther within him. It leaked out of him like a waterfall. He instinctively tried to repair himself, but it was like trying to plug Niagara Falls with a wine-bottle cork.

He was dying. This was the end.

The pain was brief but extreme as his mind cut the connection with his body. He was left feeling nothing as the darkness started to creep in on the periphery of his vision. Again, his instincts fought back, but there was no stopping the inevitable.

“What happens next?” he gurgled with the last bit of oxygen he had left.

He’d died as a human, and that sucked, but there was something that came next. He’d died dozens of times in the Legion, but reincarnation was usually on the table, so death didn’t worry him. He’d even shed his human soul and embraced the existence of an ætherial being before becoming a Dux. That transformation had hurt more than most of his deaths.

<But what now?>

What happened when and ætherial being died? Normally, he would return to Hell and the land his Lord ruled, but what happened when there was nowhere to return to. He had no doubts that Seere’s Kingdom was in upheaval, possible civil war, and being invaded on both sides for starters. Gerry had no link to that land anymore, so he had nowhere to go. There was no gooey pit for his body to rise from the ashes of defeat.

“Nothingness.” Ava shrugged as she held him close and twisted the blade in his chest. He didn’t feel the pain anymore, but he felt the loss of æther quicken. “Whatever it is, it is too good for you.”

“That’s fair.” Gerry reluctantly admitted as his æther levels dropped dangerously low. “I’ve never been a great man. In life I thought I was good. I thought I died for a noble cause, but the system put me in Hell, and I just did the best that I could to survive.”

Ava didn’t answer. She didn’t need to. The look on her face was a mix of anger and pity. He couldn’t tell is she felt sorry for him or if she saw him as the most repugnant thing on the planet.

“It doesn’t matter anymore,” Ava whispered as the sword ignited with Divine fire.

The fire consumed what was left of Gerry’s Infernal essence. His vision was already narrowed to a pinpoint, and it quickly faded to black. His last sight was of the angel’s face shrouded by the smoke of his burning corpse. There were worse ways to die, but as far as last sights went, it wasn’t half bad.

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I’m on TDY from Hell – The Beginning of the End

The battle lines were drawn as Michael and Satan walked calmly to their respective sides of the gym. The heavy-hitters stood on the frontlines: Seere, Lucifer, and Satan against the two archangels. Gerry was in the second line. The Dux line. Lucian’s perception of what was going on around them had narrowed considerably. He had his mind fixed on the thirty-foot Emmanuel. Behind him were his lieutenants and Vicky’s people.

They all looked ready to shit their pants.

They might be the big bads in Charlotte, but this was several orders of magnitude outside their wheelhouse. Even Gerry was outclassed. He was standing among titans and he was a very fragile man in comparison.

<It doesn’t matter.> He let the power grip him. <Nothing matters.> It was how he went into every battle. You had to fight like you were already dead or you wouldn’t be willing to do what was necessary.

He wasn’t going to willingly sacrifice himself. He wasn’t suicidal, but he needed to be ready to take risks to win. A flexible mindset helped with that. He reached deep within himself – to the core of his being – and pulled.

His true Infernal form tore through his feeble mortal flesh and replaced it with hard Infernal Iron. His height exploded upward until he was standing slightly higher than Emmanuel.

<Forty feet.> He couldn’t stop the grin from forming on his face. He’d accumulated enough power to tower over the majority of buildings in the city.

He hadn’t had many chances to fully transform since arriving in Charlotte since he had to be in his warded penthouse to even think about it. Those few times he did, he made sure to remember what he’d heard – what felt like a lifetime ago – in the Carver’s chambers: his Infernal form was a blank canvas that he could mold to his will. He’d though it had ben perfection back then, and he’d been wrong.

Instead of smooth metal with blue light shining from the crevices in the armor, he’d made some alterations. Spikes adorned the armor in strategic locations. That would prevent enemies from grabbing a hold of him and using their greater strength as leverage, because Gerry knew no matter what his power level his enemies would likely be stronger.

He’d shifted the metal to form a shield on his left forearm. It was small – not large enough to protect his whole body – but it was enough to deflect the swords the angels were carrying. He had his own broadsword to attack and defend, and a little surprise in his left hand beneath the shield he was saving for a special occasion.

Gerry savored being the biggest guy in the room for about a second before Lucian exploded next to him. What stood next to Gerry – towering fifty feet tall – looked nothing like Lucian. Armor covered the other Dux’s chest, but that was it. The rest of his body was covered in thick scales, and large reptilian wings arched above his back. His arms and hands were still human and gripped twin scimitars, but his legs were thick and tipped with glittering black claws. If that wasn’t different enough, his face had elongated into a snout and smoke was curling up from his nostrils, which made the savage grin – full of rows of jagged teeth – that much more unsettling.

<Glad he’s on my side.> Gerry looked pretty tame next to the other Dux.

In reply to Lucian’s challenge, Emmanuel swelled another twenty feet until he matched the size of the other Dux. Gerry didn’t let his irritation show, and instead refocused on the rest of the group. His eyes found Ava. The Dominion of Charlotte’s eyes were red and puffy, but there was a look in them that made Gerry shiver…and that expression was fixed directly on him.

He focused his attention on those eyes and knew who he’d be fighting when all hell broke loose. Even worse, he soon found himself looking up at those eyes. Ava shifted her stance when she reached her full fifty-foot height so she was ready to attack.

The guardian angels behind her responded to the challenge as well, but each of them only reached a height of twenty feet. That was still half a dozen extra swords to worry about though, and each of those was deadly Divine Steel.

<I need to get me one of those.> Gerry knew the first thing he was going to do.

The growth of the Duxs and Dominions were the equivalent of silverback gorillas puffing out their chests and daring the other to make the first move. The only ones who didn’t seem to be posturing and daring the other to attack were the heavy-hitters.

“Do you have any conditions?” Satan asked, cutting through the tense silence.

“I don’t suppose you will leave the humans out of it?” Michael asked, but his expression wasn’t hopeful.

“No.” Satan shook his head. “It is their war as much as yours or mine. The moment Father incorporated the realm he doomed them to this eventuality.”

“Very well.”

It was a signal that Gerry didn’t see coming. The orb in Uriel’s spear had been glowing brightly since the beginning, and now she used it. It wasn’t a full-scale attack like Gerry was expecting. He put his shield between himself and the spear and channeled all his strength into digging in against the incredible force he was expecting to meet. Instead, Uriel simple raised the spear a foot off the ground and brought it firmly back down onto the ground. Gerry barely heard the impact, but he felt the change.

It wasn’t an attack, but a wave of something passed over and through Gerry. He felt a chill run through him and wasn’t able to suppress an involuntary shiver. It caused him to commit a big no-no in warfare. He took his eye off the enemy to make sure some catastrophic damage hadn’t been done to him.

A quick scan didn’t show any breaches in his armor. His grip on his well of ætherial power was still strong, and a check of his mind showed no obvious signs of intrusion. When he looked back at the heavy-hitters he saw that Lucifer was laughing.

“That’s clever, Sis, but it won’t last long.” Despite his helmet and the odd light shining through the visor, Lucifer’s voice sounded normal.

“Long enough to finish this.” She smiled back.

“They turned us insubstantial to reduce the damage to the humans and their infrastructure.” Seere explained to the people behind him. “The flaw in their strategy is that it is against our will and will only last for so long. In addition, the more power expended during the battle the quicker it will unravel.”

Gerry nodded. His attention was fixed back on Ava.

The tension was back as the forces of Heaven and Hell faced each other across the bloodstained gym. It was like two gunslingers at high noon with their hands poised to go for their guns. Someone just had to make the opening move.

The anticipation ratcheted up and up as the seconds passed by. Gerry wanted to unleash on one of the guardians to get their superior weapons, but it would be suicide to try that, so he waited impatiently.

He didn’t know how much time had passed, but finally Satan moved and changed. Gerry had never seen and Infernal transform into their full-power combat form, or even knew that it could happen so quickly. One second Satan was an old man leaning slightly forward on his cane, and the next The King of Hell was charging straight at Michael.

As Gerry look upon him, there was no question at all that he was the King. Between steps the feeble body of the old man exploded into a three hundred foot creature of power and destruction. Thick Divine Steel armor gleamed, but it had a patchwork of darker Infernal Iron welded onto certain parts. He had the body of a man, with a tattered red cloak streaming behind him, but that similarity ended at his head.

The head of Satan had four faces. The first was a face of the angel he used to be. He was handsome perfection with a charming smile and eyes that made people trust him. That face was currently facing the rear. The face currently facing forward was similar to Lucians. It had an elongated snout with dark red reptilian scales. Golden eyes shown with hate and menace, and its ear-splitting roar would have collapsed a building if he wasn’t currently insubstantial. Rows of deadly teeth populated the mouth, but two fangs were prominent and dripped something bright green onto the floor. The face facing right was a ram’s face with two curled horns. Between those horns was a fiery crown. Lastly, the final face was avian. It had a sharp black beak capable of stabbing and tearing into his enemy, and two cruel red eyes.

When Satan charged Michael changed. He braced himself as he changed from normal, ripped Santa Clause to the three hundred foot Knight of the Almighty. His armor was identical to Satan’s, minus the patchwork repairs the King of Hell had been forced to make in exile. Michael’s armor was freshly polished and reflected the power he held. He also brought a hundred-foot sword into a defense stance as Satan drew closer.

Uriel moved toward Michael’s flank to protect him, and immediately had to deflect a blast of power from Lucifer.

Both the archangel and Lucifer were both towering above Gerry now. They’d engaged their full power as the attack started. There was a difference though. Lucifer was closer to two hundred and eighty feet tall compared to Uriel’s two hundred and fifty feet. They were easily spilling out of the gym now, but since they’d been rendered insubstantial they passed right through the walls.

The blocking move brought Uriel’s orb between the blast and her. Light met light, and Lucifer’s beam ricocheted off to the side. The force staggered Uriel, but she was able to get her footing before Seere reached her.

Gerry’s lord wielding his own giant broadsword as he towered just as tall as Uriel. She parried the attack, but Seere pushed the advantage and drove her back into the football field behind the gym. Sword and spear flourished and flashed as the two giants battled.

What Gerry decided to refer to as Satan’s dragon-face was streaming fire onto Michael, who had summoned a shield to protect himself from the scorching heat. The defensive tactic saved him from burns, but it left him open for the tackle. At the last moment, Satan’s faces rotated and the ram-face smashed into Michael. The archangel went toppling onto his ass and Satan jumped on him with his raven-face facing forward and ready to poke at the weaknesses in the commander’s armor.

Gerry didn’t see much more than the two titans exchanging blows and rolling around on the ground, but he also had other things to worry about. His side had the numbers and that was clear as the Divine’s champions were occupied with Seere and Satan. Lucifer was left open to unleash ranged attacks with his devastating energy blasts that streamed through the opening in his helmet.

Emmanuel moved to counter The Morning Star but Lucian jumped toward him unleashing his own blast of fire. The Dominion of Charleston powered through the attack and crashed into the Dux. They both went flying as the two combatants beat their wings to gain elevation.

That left Gerry, his lieutenants, Ava, and her soldiers. The Soulless and Vicky had done the smartest thing possible under the circumstances.

They’d run for their lives.

A hand gesture from their commander was all the guardians needed. They took to the air and shot toward Lucifer. It was a suicide run, and they all knew it, but they needed to take the Infernal Lord’s attention of Uriel. He’d already scored a hit against the archangel and it left a thick scorch mark on her armor.

The maneuver worked…to a degree. The eight guardians succeeded in drawing Lucifer’s attention, but only six of them were able to avoid the blast from his helmet. The two other were obliterated by the powerful stream of energy. The remaining six fell back, regrouped and split into two teams. One continued to harass Lucifer while the other headed toward Gerry and his lieutenants. Gerry waved for his own lieutenants to join the battle.

They had already transformed. Jezebel was a quasi-feline nightmare of claws and teeth. She had no wings, but she could jump considerable distances. She leapt into the action, and was able to grab on of a guardian’s feet. The two flew off to fight to the death.

Jeb looked more zombie than man. A green mist swirled around him and lashed out to attack anyone he chose. He couldn’t fly, but he could levitate, and he moved forward to engage another guardian.

Lastly, Lono lumbered forward. He was the largest of Gerry’s lieutenants standing almost twenty-five feet tall. He was stark naked, and itt showed off his corpulent frame in all its glory. His skin was a deep, burned red-color that sagged and rolled with his tremendous girth. He looked like an evil Buddha waddling into battle. He had sharp teeth better to eat his victims with, but he relied on his sheer strength in battle.

Gerry saw him engage a guardian. The angel sliced off a chunk of fat hanging from the gluttony-powered Infernal’s arm, but it didn’t slow Lono down. He grabbed the angel’s sword arm, brought him close, and repeatedly punched the Divine soldier in his helmeted-head.

Gerry saw the soldier drop his sword, and saw the opportunity. Ava mirrored his motion, and they both raced toward the fight. She made a key mistake as they both joined the fray. She incorrectly assumed that he was there to assist Lono.

He was there for the sword.

She swung her own sword at Gerry’s chest, assuming he would bring his blade up to protect his lieutenant. Instead, he slid like a baseball player behind Lono to where the angel’s sword lay on the ground. He seized it mid-slid as Lono roared in pain. The gluttonous Infernal had done his best to lessen the blow of the much larger Dominion, but her blade had sliced through his arm holding her soldier, and deep into his chest.

He staggered backwards from the force of the attack and that let the guardian get back in the fight. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a sword to attack with. Gerry channeled his æther into the sword. It blazed with blue fire, and he brought it in a powerful upward stroke as he leapt back to his feet. The sword bit into the Divine Steel armor of the guardian just above the hip. The armor held briefly, before folding under Gerry’s strength and the Infernal fire coating the sword. The sword bisected the guardian from hip to mid-chest, spilling his Divine æther across Gerry’s chest, and throwing the two halves of his ruined body into the air.

Lono waddled away clutching the stump of his arm while Ava landed in front of Gerry. Her eyes were filled with righteous fury as she towered ten feet over him. No words were exchanged. He’d helped kill her daughter and he’d just defeated one of her soldiers. She wanted him dead, and he was determined to avoid that at all costs.

 

***

 

<Stupid, so stupid.> Ava wasn’t cursing anybody but herself. She’d underestimated Gerry twice, and both times people had paid for her stupidity with their lives. <My sweet Maria.> She fought back tears as she repositioned to face the Infernal Dux. Instead, she focused on her anger.

She’d sat right across from the man and hadn’t seen what he truly was. His human guise was flawless and he’d spoken nothing but the truth, but everything had still been a lie.

<I’ve been complacent.> She came to the conclusion as she circled Gerry. <I let my prior victory go to my head, and he cut me down at the knees.>

Now Frederick was dead. His bisected body spilled Divine ichor all over the ground. His essence had returned to Heaven to be recrafted into a new body, but that didn’t stop the trauma of death. The Guardian would remember it for decades to come.

<That’s not the worst thing.> As crude as the thought was, it was the truth.

Frederick’s death had given the Dux possession of a blade made of Divine Steel. There weren’t too many differences between Divine Steel and Infernal Iron in the construction process. It was the empowerment phase that made the crucial difference. Infernal Iron was imbued with power by an Infernal Lord. It made the weapon far more dangerous than anything mortals could contrive, but it was still only blessed with power by a second-rate ætherial creature. Divine Steel was anointed by her almighty Father, a primordial being. The power of his blessing was far superior to one of his own creations.

Now, Gerry had a blade far more powerful than anything he’d ever wielded before, something powerful enough to threaten Ava.

“For the record I find you extraordinary.” Gerry was a full ten feet shorter, so he had to look up at her.

Ava was speechless before she felt fresh rage burn in her heart. “You killed my daughter, you vile creature.” She advanced cautiously and moved through a few forms.

Gerry danced backwards and deflected the attack with skill. “I didn’t kill your daughter. Lucifer and Seere killed her. If you’re looking for revenge then I’d look over there.”

Ava wasn’t stupid enough to take her eye off her target, and she didn’t need to. She could feel the battle behind her. Archangels were battling Infernal Lords. It was hard to miss, and it put her in an uncomfortable position. She’d selected her most powerful form to fight this battle for good reason. You didn’t stand toe-to-toe with the Prince of Darkness at anything less than full strength, but she wasn’t fighting one of her older brothers. She was fighting a weaker Dux; weaker but faster.

Gerry slid away from another attack, maneuvered to the side, before pressing his own. It forced her to bat her wings and spin in the air with a flourish. He came in low and would have done some damage if her blade wasn’t already waiting for him. He moved away at the last second, avoiding a cut that would have bitten deeply into his shoulder.

Ava contemplated decreasing her strength and increasing her speed. Gerry was a competent swordsman, but he was still only an Infernal with a few hundred years of experience under his belt, a millennia tops. Ava had been a soldier since before mankind existed. His speed was the only thing that was saving him.

A hideous scream broke her concentration and made her decision for her. Uriel took the full brunt of a blast from Lucifer to the front of her armor. The Divine Steel held for a fraction of a second before blackening and splintering under his energy. She screamed as the blast burned into her flesh, but tried to use her own momentum to avoid the full force of it. Seere pressed her at the same moment. She was mid-rotation when his giant broadsword slashed upward across her hamstring. It caused her to stagger, and she would have died from his follow-up stab if her orb didn’t pulse and throw the Great Dissenter backwards. She intercepted Lucifer’s next blast with the Orb, but it was clear the archangel was hurt.

Michael was still engaging Satan, so it was up to Ava to help. She disengaged from Gerry with a few powerful beats of her wings and rocketed toward the Morning Star.

 

***

 

“Is this what you wanted, Brother? Are you happy?”

Michael replied by swinging the shield right into Satan’s human-face. It busted the King of Hell’s nose pretty good, but the face moved with the blow. The dragon-face roared its reply, and since Michael’s shield was out of position he received a full bath of flame across his shoulder and side. He felt his flesh singe from the heat, but his armor held. He brought the shield back around with the intent of taking off Satan’s head, but the Infernal Lord ducked under the attack and backed away to avoid any follow on attacks from Michael’s sword.

Behind them battle raged. Both could hear Seere, Lucifer, and Uriel duking it out. That made Satan smile. Michael took a step in that direction, but Satan countered it and cut off the archangel commander’s chance of helping his ally. Satan had the upper hand here. He didn’t have to worry about Uriel attacking him from behind. His brothers were more than able to keep her busy.

“So?” Satan reached toward the middle of his back.

A section of his Divine Steel armor broke off. It was a sword. He brought it around to his front, twisted it, and pulled it apart into dual blades. That had always been Satan’s greatest strength in battle. His whirling faces and whirling blades gave him a versatility that not even Michael could compete with.

“No.” Michael replied firmly. “I don’t wish to fight you, Brother, but you continue to make the same mistake time and time again. You are literally insane.”

“Is it insane to question? Is it insane to think for myself? If yes, then I am most definitely insane, but it also makes you a fool, Michael.” The human-face was back with the nose already mended. “You’re nothing more than daddy’s little errand boy. You have been since our creation and you will be forever unless you stand up for yourself.”

Satan took a few practice swings with the dual blades and they sang through the air. The song was death, and more than one angel had felt it. He’d even killed other archangels with the blades.

“You mistake loyalty to my father and family as foolishness. You have nothing but loyalty for yourself. You would slaughter Lucifer and Seere in a heartbeat if it would take you one step closer to our Father’s throne, so don’t talk to me about sanity.” Michael shot back.

Satan didn’t reject the statement. He just shrugged. “Our brothers know that. They even expect it.”

“And that will always be your greatest weakness, Brother.” Michael brought his sword and shield into a ready stance.

“Weakness doesn’t survive in Hell, Michael.” Satan charged, his dragon-face unleashing a torrent of flame to block the archangel’s line of sight.

Uriel screamed off to their side and Satan feinted one way and went the other. Michael was ready though, he’d fought his brother’s deception before. Their swords met in a vicious collision. The shockwave spread outward from the point of impact.

“No.” Michael was distracted by the physical reaction of the attack. All he was able to do was get his shield up before more flames tried to roast him alive.

He was forced to split his concentration between his attacking brother and the shockwave from the swords as it slammed into the gymnasium with the force of a Category 5 hurricane. Brick and mortar were ripped from the structure. Part of a wall crumbled from the force, but it didn’t completely flatten the building. It hardly mattered. What did matter was that the spell that had turned the Infernal King of Hell insubstantial had failed.

Satan was loose on the world in all his terrible glory.

“Will you look at that?” Satan’s human-face smiled at Michael.

“Satan, no…!” Michael started, but the Infernal Lord had already unfurled his black wings and launched himself into the air.

Radar all over the area would be pinging what looked like a flying aircraft carrier moving at speeds far exceeding anything commercially available. Michael didn’t have the luxury of hesitation. His own white wings sprang open and he launched himself after his brother.

There was no hiding it now. Heaven and Hell had come to Earth.

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I’m on TDY from Hell – The Lineup

The deathblow was quick and clean. The dagger of Divine Steel easily sliced through Maria’s chest and into the stone alter below it. It cut her heart in two, and ended her life. She did not suffer. It had to be quick. The healing powers of angels were well documented throughout history, and that was the last thing the Infernals wanted to deal with.

Her chest deflated as her last breath escaped her. Her eyes were still wide with fear, but they were now glazed with death, and slowly the smell of fresh shit drifted outward. Death was not pretty.

Gerry had seen a million deaths over a dozen lifetimes, but he had never seen a mother loose her child. Lucifer’s comment had fileted Ava raw. It was written all over her face.

“No.” Her denial came out as a whisper as her sword clattered to the floor and she fell to her knees. “My baby.” Tear started to stream down her beautiful face, and he had to look away.

It wasn’t hard to find something else to occupy his attention. The power conduits his lieutenants had warded into the floor around the alter were glowing a brilliant gold now. It was nothing like the angel’s radiance, but it was strong enough to state that something was happening. They grew brighter and brighter as he felt the ætherial shift from Maria’s death.

The intensity reached its apex and the power of the Nephilim multiplied by the sacrificial ceremony unleashed itself. Outwardly, nothing happened to the world. The squad of angels still stood around their leader looking slightly confused about what was happening. Gerry and his lieutenants stood around their leader with only slightly more insight into what was happening, and Lucifer and Seere stood next to the alter glowing with power.

Then everything shifted. The æther wobbled like it had been struck a mighty blow. It strained against something, flexed, and then strained again. Gerry felt like he was sitting in the middle of an unnatural disaster. It was like someone had just opened a window in the middle of a hurricane. The æther battered back and forth, and only those sensitive enough to see it even knew something was happening.

There was a deepness to the event that Gerry had trouble identifying. It was like he was back in the Carver’s dungeon with Prince Seere completing the ritual to transform him into a Dux. He felt like he was at the opening of a precipice. Underneath him an ætherial nuclear bomb had just exploded and he was only experiencing a fraction of the shockwave. He didn’t possess the skill to look any further, and he didn’t want to.

He just needed to concentrate on what was right in front of his eyes. Both Lucifer and Seere’s eye were alight with something foreign to Hell: complete and utter joy. An incomprehensible amount of æther was swirling around and into them. The angels saw that just as clearly as Gerry, and they back away in fear. Except for one.

“Now! Before it is too late.” He leapt toward them, passing where Ava was nearly catatonic on her knees.

The halo around the angelic soldier blazed with Divine power. There was a flash of steel as he brought his sword up for a killing blow. His target was Lucifer, The Morning Star.

The world was blotted out by an intense light. Gerry grimaced as he shut his eyes tight and threw his hands over them. It didn’t do much to help. The odd gold-white light seemed to penetrate and fill everything. Slowly, the world returned as his eyes healed. He blinked rapidly to clear the gold-white stars dancing across his vision, and when he did the angel was nowhere to be seen. The wall behind him had been freshly decorated. It was not painted in the soldier’s blood and guts. There was a black scorch mark on the wall. Angel wings were fully splayed out in what would have made a fantastic charcoal painting, and it was made even better since it signified they had one less opponent to face.

Lucifer and Seere hadn’t even moved. They both stood transfixed on the spot soaking in the power of the ceremony while the ætherial fabric of the universe continued to roil beneath them.

 

***

 

Ava was numb. The world had fallen away under her feet. She’d thought she could get there in time before her heart broke again. She’d felt the death of her son. She’d felt him die. She didn’t know how, and she didn’t know who was to blame, but she was going to bring Divine justice down on them.

She’d marshalled her forces as she fought through the pain and led them to the location of Gabriel’s demise. What she found was not what she’d expected. She couldn’t see anything as she hovered over the school complex. The lights were on around the gym, but she couldn’t sense anything going on within.

It hadn’t been a leap to suspect wards were at play.

“We go in hard and fast.” She told her soldiers as they unsheathed their swords and started to glow as they summoned more of their Divine essence.

She would take care of the roof. She summoned her own power. Her glow overshadowed all of her soldiers combined. With a grunt she grabbed the æther in the roof and pulled. There was a concussive blast as matter sought to fill the void she’d just created, but they now had a point to assault whatever was happening.

That began the worst moment of Ava’s life: two children gone in one night, two Lords of Hell invading Eden, and the unleashing of an ancient power she hadn’t seen since her Father’s victory that secured them Eden in the first place.

It didn’t help that it was the Father of Lies and The Great Dissenter that she was facing. There was no chance of negotiations. She simply couldn’t trust the two former angels.

Ava didn’t think things could get any worse until she turned her attention to the lesser players. Victoria – the Soulless Maria had been hunting – was there. She was looking half in awe and half terrified at what she was seeing. Most of the others filled with Infernal-tainted æther she didn’t recognize, but she committed them to memory. As a Dominion she was supposed to impartially govern her territory, but she had special plans to send those creatures back to Hell.

There was one face that she did recognize and she had to fight back the crushing guilt when she saw him staring up at The Great Dissenter with admiration and fealty.

<The martial magician.> As if on cue, the man turned and locked eyes with her.

It was clear now he was Infernal, and judging by his greater size and proximity to the Infernal Lords, he was likely someone important. Despite that, his look wasn’t hateful. He wasn’t sneering at her like a conquering army at their prey. If anything there was a hint of pity in his eyes as they met hers.

She ignored it. Even if he did feel bad that didn’t change anything. He’d help kill her daughter. They’d all have to pay.

“Now! Before it is too late!”

Her head whipped around as Lucas took the initiative. Her inaction had led to his seizing the initiative. She encouraged that in her subordinates. <If you see and opportunity than take it,> was what she always said.

The problem was that Lucas misjudged the swirling æther around the Infernal Lords as a weakness. It was the exact opposite. She opened her mouth to yell at her comrade in arms, but it was already too late. The Morningstar’s hand was already raised and pointing at the charging angel. All Ava could do was squeeze her eyes shut and turn her head.

It didn’t help much as the Father of Lies energy blast scorched Lucas from this plane of existence. She felt the heat of the beam blast past her. If not for her armor of Divine Steel her pale skin would be fire-engine red. She hoped there was enough of his æther left to reconstitute him in heaven, but she doubted it.

She’d felt Lucas shredded by the insane power of the former Seraphim. The reminder of Lucifer’s power was a wakeup call to the turbulent emotions churning inside her. She was powerful, the most powerful angel in the area, but she wasn’t a match for the Lords of Hell. The traitor Gerry, and his band of goons she and her soldiers could deal with, but she needed backup if she wanted Charlotte to come out of this fight as anything more than a smoking crater.

The scorching of her retinas began to heal quickly once the blast ended. She didn’t bother to look behind her where Lucas’ scorched remains were on full display. Instead, she bent her head, prayed, and made a call she wished she would never have to in her life.

She was finished by the time the two Infernal Lords lowered their arms. The ætherial aura around them was beginning to fade as they did what they wanted with their new power, but it was replaced by confident grins.

“It is done.” The Great Dissenter breathed in deeply and exhaled.

Reality swirled as he exhaled, and Ava shuddered.

“Now, what to do with you?” The Father of Lies turned his attention on Ava and her squad.

Backup arrived just on time. A comet of bright light shot across the sky and landed next to Ava, fracturing the floor, and jostling the group of angels.

“You called.”  Emmanuel, the Dominion of Charleston, lifted the visor of his helmet.

The other Dominion stood thirty feet tall – towering above everyone in the room. He was clad from head to foot in gleaming Divine Steel, and his curved cavalry saber seemed to vibrate with its blade honed to a molecular level.

“Splendid!” A man next to Gerry clapped his hands with a prideful smile on his face. “I have been waiting decades to place my blade in your heart, Emmanuel.”

Recognition flashed in the other Dominion’s eyes. “Today only one of us will walk away from here, Lucian.”

The Great Dissenter snorted and shared a look with the Father of Lies. “Today, none of you will walk away from here.”

Ava matched his smile with one of her own. “I wouldn’t be so sure of that.”

She had dismantled matter with her arrival, and Emmanuel had shattered the floor with a flamboyant landing. Both were meant to demonstrate the breadth of their power to their enemies. The next arrival didn’t need to do any such thing.

She simply appeared between Ava and Emmanuel and eclipsed their meager abilities. Ava had trouble comprehending her sheer power, and she thanked her Father that they were on the same side.

The Great Dissenter squinted with displeasure, and The Father of Lies gave an exaggerated huff.

“Hello, Uriel. Long time no see.”

The archangel in charge of the protection of the United States of America looked at the scene with precision. She was a mountain of strength in this churning shitstorm, but even she looked cautious.

“Lucifer, Seere.”

“What, no titles sister?” Lucifer puffed out his chest and swept the archangel a bow. “Uriel Keeper of the Flaming Orb, welcome to our little get together.”

Uriel’s face was passive as she continued to survey the scene. “You are trespassing in our Father’s garden.”

“It isn’t his.” Seere spat. “He took it from its true creator, and turned it into his little soul factory.”

“It is his, brother,” Uriel said forcefully. “Your failed rebellion already showed your inadequacy against his might.”

“That was then, this is now.” Lucifer shrugged. “Are you really prepared to do this?” He spread his arms in invitation. “Many of your precious humans will perish.”

“We have means to mitigate that.” In response to her statement armor started to crawl up the archangel’s dark flesh.

It wasn’t as blocky as the Dominions’ armor. There was more fluidity to it, but one look at the æther showed it was stronger. Lastly, a spear appeared in her hand with a golden orb fixed below the blade. Both Lords of Hell gave the orb a concerned look but nothing more. Ava could tell they were still confident in their chances.

“Very well.” There was a flash of light and Seere stood before them with bloodstained wings, scorched eye socket, and great broadsword. He wasn’t as tall at Emmanuel, but he’d shed his human form for the time being. His armor fell somewhere between the Dominions’ and Uriel, and it swirled with Infernal energy.

“As you wish.” Lucifer grinned and another flash of gold-white light blinded everyone.

Ava gasped as the Father of Lies rose out of the transformation. Unlike the polished silver of the Divine Steel, Lucifer’s had inlaid gold and angelic writing carved into the seams. It went to reason that the carvings would have compromised the integrity of the armor, but a look at the æther contradicted that. If anything the runes inscribed on the fallen angel made his armor stronger and more powerful than Uriel’s.

Unlike the rest of the combatants, his helmet was on and his golden wings were splayed out behind him. With all the large angels gathered together it was getting a bit crowded in the gym. The wings pulsed with æther, but what really caught everyone’s attention was the single slit in his helmet. There was nothing but glowing gold-white light behind it.

Uriel repositioned her spear with the blade toward the two Lords of Hell. Ava thought she imagined it, but she swore she could see indecision pass across her superior’s face.

<Impossible.> Uriel was known for being the most pragmatic of the archangels. She would never waver from doing what was right.

You could have cut the tension in the room with a spoon, but it was a soft clicking sound that finally did it. It didn’t come from either side. It came from the men’s locker room. It was comical to watch all eyes swivel to the door between their two sides, but the levity of the situation ended there.

An old man with a stooped back and a cane gingerly opened the door and stepped out in between the two opposing forces. Ava thought it was some senile old man with a death wish. She almost ordered one of her soldier to spirit the man to safety, but then he raised his head and looked at them.

His eyes told them everything.

Uriel hissed and got into a crouched fighting position with her spear pointed at the new threat. Ava almost did the same, but kept her eyes on Lucifer and Seere. They were no longer the greatest threat, but they still thought they could defeat the forces of good arrayed against them.

“Satan.” Uriel hissed as her spear shook slightly in her trembling hands.

“Sister.” He disregarded her completely and looked at Lucifer and Seere.

To their credit, the two Lords didn’t look too abashed under the King of Hell’s gaze.

“A round of applause for you two.” He lifted the hand holding his cane and clapped three brisk claps. “I’ve been searching for that seal for a long time, but no matter.” He replaced the cane on the ground and took a deep breath. “You’ve weakened the veil enough for me to break through. It is crumbling even as we speak.”

True fear crossed Uriel’s face, and that was when Ava knew avenging her murdered daughter was the least of her problems.

“Soon our armies will meet on the real field of battle, so I leave the decision up to you, Sister.” Satan regarded Uriel. “Die now or die later.”

Uriel hissed again, but didn’t answer. Her orb was glowing so brightly it looked like it was about to explode, but it didn’t, and it was a good thing, because right when things seemed the most hopeless the door to the women’s locker room opened.

“Sorry I’m late.” A man stepped out and regarded everyone.

He had flowing white hair, a great bushy beard, and kind blue eyes. He was the spitting image of Santa Clause if Santa was jacked beyond belief and looked like he could snap your spine with his pinky finger. His face was considerably less jolly as he surveyed the room, and those kind eyes hardened into ice.

“Come on!” Lucifer wings shivered with irritation as the new man stepped up next to Satan.

They were within a few feet of each other, but neither looked uncomfortable with the other’s presence.

“Michael.” Satan gave the new arrival a respectful bow.

“Brother.” Michael returned the bow. “Father sent me.”

Satan’s eyes narrowed at the comment, and he turned to face the commanding archangel of their Father’s Divine Host.

They were quite a contrast. Satan looked old and feeble while Michael shone with health and virility. Of course the outward human appearances meant nothing. This was the Commander of the Host versus the Captain of the Seraphim Guard: the two most powerful of their Father’s creations facing off against each other. The only thing more powerful or destructive would be their Father himself facing one of the other Primordial Beings of creation.

“Father wishes for you to return to your realm, to leave Eden be, and to avoid any further bloodshed.” Michael delivered the demands with the confidence of commanding the most powerful army in existence.

“Those are the demands of a tyrant, Brother.” Satan answered calmly. “He wants no one to challenge his rule or to be free to make their own choices. Don’t you remember how this all started,” Satan pointed at Seere and Lucifer. “A simple case with a simple premise. Why can’t we, his angels, make our own decisions?” He looked back at Michael. “When he got a displeasing ruling he cut out the judge’s eye and stripped him of his authority. If you ask me, that sounds pretty tyrannical to me.”

“Don’t try to twist the issue, Brother.” Michael countered. “You’ve always craved power. You’ve never been content with being Father’s right hand. You needed to be God. That is what this is all about. You’re quest for power,” he gestured at Lucifer and Seere, “and you took many of our brothers and sisters with you into the Pit when you failed.”

The two ætherial beings stared at one another for several tense seconds.

“I see that we will not come to an agreement.” Michael looked genuinely sad.

“I agree.” To everyone’s surprise Satan shared the sentiment.

“May the best man win, Brother.” The two men shook hands and walked to join their respective sides.

<The King of Hell, The Father of Lies, The Great Dissenter, two Infernal Duxs, four Infernal lieutenants, and half a dozen Soulless against our Father’s Champion Michael, Uriel, me, Emmanuel, and my eight remaining guardians.> Ava couldn’t tell if those were good or bad odds. All she knew was that she feared for her life, for the people of Charlotte, and for every human soul in existence.

She couldn’t characterize it any other way. The Apocalypse was here, and it was about to kick off with a bang.

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I’m on TDY from Hell – The Power of Prayer

The warded limousine pulled up right in front of the gym’s entrance. It straddled the concrete walkway, but was mostly on the grass. The teacher supervising the parking lot was clearly pissed at the flagrant breech of traffic regulations, and the look on his face said he was going to let the driver know about it.

“Are you drunk?!” He yelled as he banged on the window. “You can’t park on the grass. You’re blocking the door. It’s a fire hazard!”

“My apologies.” Anton got out from behind the wheel and smiled.

The teacher wasn’t mollified, because the next second Anton had the man by the throat and was slicing into his jugular with his fangs. The human weakly beat against Anton’s shoulder, but he might as well have been punching a brick wall. The resistance went from feeble to pathetic before the human expired. The smell of shit filled the air and Anton tossed him aside. Blood coated his face and the front of his tuxedo, but he didn’t bother to wipe it off as he walked around to the other side and opened the door.

Jezebel stepped out of the limo first in a dress to die for. She walked right passed the ticket table and toward the locker room where Vicky had set her ambush. Judging by the sounds it wasn’t going well.

Jeb and Lono were next. They moved to block the door; one with his sheer mass, and the other with a murderous expression. As the two Infernal lieutenants moved into position, Anton’s people rushed passed them into the gymnasium. Over a dozen Soulless barred their fangs at hundreds of shrieking teenagers and backed them onto one side of the gym. It was only when they tried to intimidate one of the teachers that things got interesting.

The Soulless that was snarling at him flew backward as he took a vicious punch to the head. He wasn’t dead, but he was clearly stunned. Two more vampires jumped toward the older man. One got caught in midair with a kick and went rocketing across the gym. The other landed on the man, but had his momentum used against him. He rolled off the man as he turned and ended up being thrown into the wall. The bricks cracked under the pressure.

Gerry emerged from the limo just as the man pulled a slick six-shooter from the small of his back and started blasting away. The Soulless – who a moment ago had been terrifying students – were now leaping behind cover. Two didn’t make it in time. The bullets ripped into them and they dissolved into ash. The students screamed again at the ghastly sight, but remained corralled on their side of the gym.

The man burned through his six rounds in no time. The revolver opened and the spent rounds spilled out. Before they’d even hit the floor the man had six fresh rounds loaded and was flipping it closed with a flick of his wrist. The slight slack in firing brought a few Soulless out from behind cover. One took a bullet through the brain for her trouble.

Gerry watched the show with a grin. It seemed there was more than one Nephilim at this shindig. He let it go until three of the Soulless were immobilized and three more were dead. There was an end point where it stopped becoming fun and the teenagers started to get the idea that they could escape.

With hand gestures – that were now second nature to the Dux – he summoned a shield in front of him and advanced toward the man. A bullet smashed into the shield and it cracked from the force of the bullet.

<A normal bullet wouldn’t do that,> Gerry thought calmly as another bullet hit the same location and broke through the energy barrier.

He was already spinning away and repairing the shield. He passed a table during the spin, grabbed it by the edge, and chucked it at the teacher. The man stood his ground and pounded the shield with another bullet before reaching out and swatting the table out of the air. It went careening toward the kids, and that’s when Gerry saw his weakness.

The man’s eyes darted toward the screaming humans and concern flashed through them. Gerry rolled away from another bullet, slid under a table to avoid another and came up in a crouched position between the man and the children.

The man had Gerry dead to rights, but he didn’t fire.

Gerry didn’t give the man time to think. With another gesture he formed another energy sword and advanced on the man. The man dropped the gun and shifted into a fighting stance. He looked confident.

“Get him, Mr. Delgado!” some idiot kid – probably a football player – charged at Gerry trying to catch him by surprise.

Gerry easily sidestepped the human’s tackle and moved his blade so the child impaled himself. “Please, Mr. Delgado, come and get me,” he smiled.

Gerry siphoned the anger rolling off of the Nephilim as he charged. Thirty seconds later and he had to give credit where credit was due. The Nephilim was good. He’d clearly done this before. His strikes were precise. He didn’t overextend or go for any obvious bait. In fact, he was trying to rotate Gerry away from the children so he could get his gun and resume shooting.

It was a sensible plan. The only problem was the half-angel would have to go for the gun eventually. Gerry dropped his sword and shield and engaged the man had-to-hand. He was strong and durable, but so was Gerry. He didn’t draw on any of his Infernal talents yet. The wards weren’t powered up, and revealing who he was would bring the Divine down on them. He couldn’t have that before the sacrifice was complete.

Gerry backpedaled to avoid a combination that ended in a kick. It drove him the farthest away from the gun so far, and that’s when the Nephilim took the bait. He dove for the gun and Gerry moved. The Dux had always found the best way to catch an enemy off-guard was to hide the true extent of what you were capable of. In this case, Gerry hadn’t shown the man how strong or fast he really was.

He drove his knee hard into the side of the half-angel’s face mid-leap. The man careened off course and landed in a heap ten feet from the gun. He was stunned, and trying to shake it off, but Gerry jumped on the opportunity…literally. He landed on top of the Nephilim and started raining down blows onto his face.

His cheekbones gave out first and crumbled inward to give his face a sunken  look. Gerry’s left first shattered the suborbital bones above his eyes before right fist cracked his forehead. The back of the man’s head drove further and further into the hardwood floor with each blow. Only when the man’s arms had fallen to his sides in defeat did Gerry let up. He stood up, towered above the man for a second and then grabbed him by the neck and lifted him off the ground.

That was about the time the locker room door opened and Jezebel dragged their target into the gym.

“Ah, Maria, glad you could join us. Thank you Jezebel.” Gerry felt the overpowering desire for violence and blood slowly fading away with the victory.

“Fuck you,” the smaller Nephilim spat, which only succeeded in getting his blood up again.

“If we have time, but first,” he raised the older Nephilim higher so everyone could see.

“Don’t you fuck…”

Gerry didn’t care what the little girl had to say. He snapped her defender’s neck and tossed his lifeless body to the ground. The wards reacted instantaneously. He felt the power of the half-angel’s death release a burst of pure æther. The wards on the ceiling doors and floor blazed to life as they absorbed the power. The children screamed as the posters and banners covering them burst into flame. They clustered into an even smaller circle like herded animals instinctually trying to protect themselves.

Gerry didn’t pay them any more attention than the dead Nephilim. He watched the wards to gauge their power. <It’s a start.>

Vicky appeared from the locker room looking a little shaken, but she got her shit together by the time Gerry reached the three women.

“She chose to suffer.” She stated, so he drove his foot into Maria’s knee and snapped it. She screeched in pain for what felt like ever until he put her out of her misery.

“Bravo.” A slow clap started near the door as Lucian stepped out of the protection of the limo and directly under the protection of the half-powered wards. Gerry would have preferred he waited another moment, but it was too late now. Even half-powered the wards should be able to cloak them from their enemies.

His lust-powered infernal was on his arm with her fanged teeth and alert eyes. She hissed at Jezebel as they stopped next to Gerry and her Dux looked at the body of their target.

“It is best not to linger.” Lucian nodded toward the center of the gym. The explosion of æther had burned out the weak inner concealment ward and revealed the trio of power conduits.

“Bring the alter.” Gerry ordered, and Lono lumbered forward with a giant stone slab that was placed directly in the center of the triangle.

“Please…We don’t have anything to do with this. Just let us go, and we won’t tell anybody.”

Gerry tasted the lie on the other teacher’s tongue as he tried to negotiate. The Dux was surprised the human didn’t realize it yet. There was no leaving this place alive. They all served a purpose.

“Deal with them.” He gave a dismissive gesture at the hundreds of humans huddling together. “Don’t waste anything.”

Nothing powered wards like blood sacrifice. What followed was a slaughter. The remaining Soulless went through the humans like wood through a wood chipper. Their lives were snuffed out and the æther released into the world. The wards acted like magnets and pulled that power in. With each dead student the power of the wards grew until they’d reached their maximum effectiveness. Anymore and they’d burn out.

Together, Gerry and Lucian sealed the wards with a complex bit of Infernal magic. They could be who they truly were now. They didn’t need to hide.

Both men grew larger. Muscles bulged and skin grew taught as they expanded. Their inferiors backed up at the sight.

“Much better.” Gerry felt the æther swirling through him like a long-lost friend as he towered nearly ten feet above the tallest Soulless.

Lucian was several feet larger, but Gerry didn’t mind that. He’d let the Infernal have his pride for the moment. There was no debating the Lucian was stronger than Gerry. He just hadn’t been on Eden long enough to acquire the necessary reservoirs of power that Lucian had, so he didn’t try. He focused his physical abilities on being able to avoid the larger Dux if it came to a fight.

“Prepare the girl.” Lucian’s voice bellowed through the space.

When he opened his mouth there was a faint glow at the back of his throat that Gerry made a mental note to keep an eye on.

Preparing the Nephilim was easy since she was unconscious. She was laid on her back on top of the stone slab. She was posed in a peaceful position with her hands clasped in front of her. A wreath of red roses was placed on her head while petals made an unbreakable circled around her. The other Infernals went to work on carving wards that paralyzed her in that position. The few remaining humans – who hadn’t been sacrificed or used by the injured Soulless as a snack – were bled dry over those wards. They glowed a ruby red and wouldn’t extinguish until their power wore off.

Once immobilized and adorned with her crown she was stripped of her clothes and a white linen sheet was laid over her naked body. Different incenses were burned by Lucian and Gerry as they walked counterclockwise around the body. Sometime during the circling, the incense must have awakened Maria, because her eyes were open and bulging when she found out she couldn’t escape her fate.

The other Infernals stood at the four corners of the large tab and chanted in the guttural language of the Damned.  It was a bit on the wordy side for Gerry, but it simply asked for this sacrifice of the sixth born of a fair dominion be accepted and the oaths unbroken. Gerry didn’t know about any oaths, but that was what Seere had told them to read so they read it.

They chanted for sixty-six seconds as a sea of blood spread around them.

“It is time.” Lucian motioned for his Infernal to come forward with a sinuously curved dagger wrapped in purple silk. When the silk was removed, it gleamed the brilliant, untarnished silver of Divine Steel.

There were no instructions about who should make the final blow, but the sudden influx of power Lucian was drawing on said he was ready to fight his claim. Gerry couldn’t challenge that might, so he stayed silent while he imagined taking the dagger and driving it into Lucian’s heart by way of his back.

Lucian raised the dagger high above his head. One hand griped the handle while the second laid flat across the pommel. He would need a power thrust to cut into the Nephilim’s heart and complete the ceremony.

“That’s enough.” A new voice cut through the silence that preceeded the death blow.

The man was standing behind Lucian in a flawless white suit, with a flawless smile, on a face that was beyond the definition of flawless.

“We’ll take it from here.” A second voice announced from behind Gerry.

That voice was as familiar to Gerry as the back of his hand. The power of Prince Seere was comforting as it washed over him.

“Yes, My Lord.” Gerry didn’t even think. He stepped aside and let the two Lords of Hell assume the places of honor.

Maria’s eyes were so wide and fearful that he thought they were going to burst out of the young woman’s head. Instead, she gave a shudder and they rolled backwards when she passed out. As far as ways to die, being passed out when two former angels drove a ceremonial blade into your heart wasn’t the worst way to go.

In a rare show of teamwork, the two Lords of Hell each placed a hand on the dagger. Seere wrapped his around the hilt while Lucifer placed his hand on the pommel.

“Like we agreed in our contract, Brother.”

“Yes.” Seere rolled his eyes and held the dagger steady.

The two lords repeated the incantation or prayer – Gerry wasn’t sure which it was – that Lucian and Gerry had stated earlier. Slowly, they let the dagger drop toward the Nephilim.

NO!”

The roof to the gym exploded with such force that Gerry, Lucian, Jezebel, Jeb, Lono, Vicky, Anton, and the other Soulless were all thrown like ragdolls across the room.

The roof didn’t just explode, it was gone; its matter wiped from existence by Divine intervention.  Through it descended several miniature suns; the brightest of which not even Gerry could look upon. He did recognize the voice.

Ava had come for her daughter and she was pissed.

“I will smite you if you move one more inch you foul beasts.” The fabric of reality shook from the threat in her words.

It had little effect on the two Infernal Lords. They looked from each other to Ava – who they had no trouble seeing through the brilliant light – and laughed.

“Oh, baby sister.” Lucifer smiled sadly at the Dominion. “No mother should ever have to see the death of her child.” The sad smile transformed into a grin that would make the Cheshire cat run away and stick its head in the sand for the rest of its days. “But for you, I’ll make an exception.”

With one powerful thrust Lucifer and Seere plunged the blade into Maria’s heart, and everything changed.

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I’m on TDY from Hell – Seals

Prince Seere sat on his throne. His back was straight, his eyes were glazed, and he was unmovable. He was fully engrossed in the inner works of his realm. He had to be. Hell was being more difficult than usual today.

<There you go. Easy does it.> He crooned to the land as he fed it newly arrived souls.

There was no telling how long he pumped æther into the land, but it eventually began to calm. That was only one of the many tasks he was working on simultaneously.  The legions at the newly conquered pass had finished erecting a keep. He waited patiently for them to vacate the structure before summoning more power and funneling it into the masonry. Exquisitely carved symbols around the base shone brightly as power filled them. They grew brighter and brighter until they began to wink out of existence. As the disappeared, the energy channeled into them climbed to the top of the keep. Once the last one winked out of existence a shockwave of energy was unleashed. It knocked over a thousand men off their feet, but when the dust cleared a golden flamed burned at the summit. The golden fire reinforced the land around it and sped up its natural defenses.

Seere turned his gaze outward and felt the pressure of Beelzebub’s forces gathering to reconquer the pass. This would make it that much more difficult. That and the extra legion he’d deployed. With the pass secure his borders would be that much more protected in the endless game of war the lords of Hell played with each other.

Satisfied that Beelzebub would have his work cut out for him, he shifted his gaze to his other boarder. Caine’s necrotic scent persistently coated everything in the other lord’s realm, and hid any troop build ups. Seere wasn’t too worried. The weaker lord’s forces were limited, had limited training, and were half mad from the same curse that afflicted their lord. Seere’s own forces were set to redeploy in the next few months, but he had no qualms about the commanders charged with the Styx’s defense.

Seere was about to turn his attention to the interior of his kingdom when he felt something red and hot tear through his mind.

<Danger!> His body and mind responded to the threat.

Power flooded into Seere beyond anything any other creature aside from ætherial beings could comprehend. His body – already twenty-feet tall and armored – began to swell. The silver armor began to glow as power filled it. Seere rose from his throne standing nearly forty feet tall now. Anything more and he’d have trouble engaging in combat within his hall. His guards noticed the change and immediately began to circle around their lord. Their own power was nothing more than a drop in a pond compared to Seere, but every bit counted when it came to these types of fights.

Without warning the doors to his throne room were thrown open and brilliant light flooded the space. His guards screamed in pain as the light seared the eyes from their skulls, and they collapsed around him like dominos. Seere was not impressed. The light did not affect him like it did his soldiers. He sighed and lowered the massive sword he’d been holding in an attack position. He was reasonably sure he was safe, but he didn’t reduce his size and relinquish the power back into his land and throne.

“Brother.” Seere smiled down at the much smaller angel in the room. “All of this unpleasantness could have been avoided with a simple message.”

With a sweep of his hand the groaning bodies of his guards were tossed to the opposite side of the room. Part of it was to clear the battlefield, but he also just didn’t want to seem the writhing on the ground until their eyes grew back.

“We never drop in on each other anymore.” Lucifer shrugged as the light dimmed around him. “How can we truly be happy without a little spontaneity in our lives.” The smile the former seraphim gave Seere was bright enough to incinerate a human’s brain.

There was a reason Lucifer was called the Lightbringer and Morningstar.

“Very true.” Seere kept his guard up, but gestured for his brother to take a seat in a chair that sprung up from the floor.  “I assume your spontaneity has a purpose.”

“Don’t be put off, brother.” Lucifer adjusted the flawless-white tunic he was wearing. “There eyes will grow back.”

“It’s inconvenient.” Seere’s retort was measured.

“And you have my apologies.” Lucifer inclined his head in a small bow.

Seere could sense it was the truth, so he let it slide. “I assume there is a reason you’re here?” Seere took a seat on his own throne but continued to hold onto his power.

Lucifer noticed. “I mean you no harm, brother.” Another truth. “I just wish to talk.”

After a moment to contemplate things, Seere shrunk back down to his normal twenty-foot size. If it came to a fight, he would be able to draw more power quicker than his brother. Lucifer’s lands were on the opposite side of hell from Seere’s kingdom.

“What do you wish to speak of?”

“A recent development that will work in both of our favors.” The smile was back, but no light radiated from it this time. “We have the chance to break a seal.”

Seals were a big deal. When their Father conquered Eden he built a barrier between it and Hell. The barrier – which an Infernal only had to look up to see – was held together by six hundred and sixty-six seals of their Father’s own power. Destroying a seal released that power into the æther and weakened the barrier between the realms.

Their Father was many things, but he wasn’t stupid. Breaking seals wasn’t a question of physical might, or Lucifer and Satan would have bashed them to pieces over the millennia. The seals were very specific and difficult to find much less break. If Lucifer had a line on a seal, then sharing it with Seere was a big show of faith. That or he needed the Prince’s help to break it.

“You have my attention.” It was Seere’s turn to smile, although he was still looking for the double-cross.

“Excellent.” With a flourish and a flicker of light a piece of parchment appeared before the other angel. “I’ve taken the liberty of drafting a binding agreement between the two of us for the duration of this partnership.” With a flick of the wrist the parchment floated on the air over the Seere.

Seere deftly caught it and studied it carefully. Internals were sticklers for details. One of their main streams of soul revenue was making deals. A rookie Infernal made some of the best human lawyers look like amateurs. An Infernal lord like Seere had deal making in his blood.

As such, the negotiations took a while. They went word by word, section by section, arguing the intent of certain clauses and defining them clearly so there could be no other reading of the contract than what was intended.  The basics were all there: no waging war, operating in good faith, and open borders on Eden for the flow of information and resources. The nitty-gritty was in the details of power-sharing and who would supply those resources.

By the time they hammered out all of the details, the eyes of Seere’s guard had regrown and they’d taken up their old positions around the throne room. All that was left was the two lords to sign the pact in blood and it would be binding. The clauses for breaking a contract were always written into it and steep.

In this instance, it required one more revelation before signing.

“What is the seal, Lucifer?” Seere couldn’t help it if he was on the edge of his seat.

The last one had been broken by Satan over three centuries ago, and the power allowed him to take a large chunk out of Belial’s nearby kingdom and hold it. That kind of power would allow Seere to be rid of Caine once and for all. The elimination of a rival lord was an ambitious but reasonable goal in this instance.

“We must perform a ritual sacrifice of the sixth born of a fair Dominion.” Lucifer stated smugly.

“Kill the sixth born of a fair Dominion?” Seere frowned and nearly ripped up the contract. “That could mean anything! You know how our Father twists words to his whim. What does the ‘sixth born’ mean? Sixth born son? Or sixth born daughter? How do we define ‘fair’? It could mean anything, Lucifer!” Disappointment flooded through Seere.

“I understand your hesitation, but I have it all worked out, brother.” He gestured for Seere to be calm. “Since ‘sixth born’ is not explicitly defined if could be either a male or female. The ‘Dominion’ section if fairly straightforward. I’ve got the specific ritual sacrifice, which by the way alters depending on the region the Dominion rules.” Lucifer looked pleased with himself for figuring out that tidbit. “That only leaves the ‘fair’ portion, and as you’ve guessed it was difficult. Does ‘fair’ mean just, and if so what level of justice rates as fair? The good news is that we don’t need to worry about that.” Lucifer was smiling that brilliant smile again.

“In our case, ‘fair’ doesn’t’ have anything to deal with a mental condition. It is physical. ‘Fair’ refers to the fairer sex. We need to kill the sixth born Nephilim of a female Dominion using a ritual sacrifice specific to that geographic location.” Lucifer smacked his hands together in excitement, which was enough to ring the ears of everyone in the room but Seere.

“And the geographic location of a Dominion with a sixth born child is in a city under my control.” Seere pieced it all together.

“Yes.” Lucifer nodded. “And once you sign the contract I’ll tell you where and who we need to sacrifice.”

After rereading the contract once more to assure there were no secret clauses or ambiguous interpretations, Seere signed the document.  Lucifer quickly scribbled hi own signature in ætherial blood and rolled up the contract. An influx of power duplicated the document, and he gave the copy to Seere. Seere double checked the copy and the original to ensure they were the same.

“The Nephilim we are looking for is Maria Delgado, daughter of Ava, Dominion of Charlotte.”

<Gerald.> Seere remembered his newest Dux, and wasn’t pleased to have such a rookie be entrusted with such a great responsibility.

“We need to move fast. Satan is always on the lookout for seals, and he’ll find this one sooner rather than later.”

<So much for replacing Gerald with someone more experienced.>

“I’ll send orders to my Dux immediately,” Seere assured his brother.

“I would also like to send some of my forces to join your dux. My own Dux, an imp or two, and some Soulless, nothing more; just enough to bolster your forces and deal with any problems they run into.” Lucifer placated when he saw the look on Seere’s face.

“Fine.” Seere stated after a moment of thought. “I will tell my Dux to expect them.”

“Excellent.” Lucifer got to his feet. “I’ll send out my own orders. Maybe I’ll see you upstairs.” He pointed up toward Eden and then vanished in a dazzling flash of light that left the guards screaming in pain.

“SILENCE!” The screams turned to whimpers, and Seere’s thoughts turned toward what needed to be done.

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