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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They’d both fought a leviathan before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PCS to Eden – Live to Fight Another Day Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PCS to Eden – Welcome to the Jungle Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And that?” Michael pointed behind them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You hit something?” Michael accused Lucifer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PCS to Eden – Here We Go Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, Sir.”

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

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

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

She just hoped Michael knew what he was doing.

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PCS to Eden – Deployment

Ava looked out over a sea of steel. Well…not a sea, but there were two hundred and six Guardians and Dominions in unblemished Divine Steel armor with swords, spears, and axes glinting in the light of Heaven’s swirling æther. The central mass of the soldiers were Guardians grouped in two roughly hundred-angel companies. Behind them stood a few Dominion officers, all braced at the position of attention with their chins high and their chests puffed out. Bart stood behind her and to the left, and she could feel the anticipation radiating off him.

She scanned the formation of the troops she was about to lead into battle with a serene face and her hands clasps behind her back. Despite her calm expression, she couldn’t help but continuously clench and unclench her fists. Her cloak hid the repetitive action from her troops, but not from the man standing directly behind her.

This wasn’t Ava’s first time leading soldiers into battle. She’d been a Dominion for nearly two hundred years, and half a millennia as a Guardian before that. The Rebellion against Satan and the Infernal Lords was a little before her time, but she’d killed two Duxes in service of Charlotte, and gone toe-to-toe with the Father of Lies himself. Not many angels of her age and rank had that experience on their resume.

She clenched her fists again and felt the lack of a difference in the texture of her palms. The Hand of God was a brilliant gold that contrasted with the pale white of her flesh, but to her senses there was no difference. Her Father had crafted his gift so she wouldn’t feel like she’d lost a piece of herself.

<Maria.> The Hand of God might be the tool to avenge her fallen daughter, but that wouldn’t bring her back to life. She’d died too young and too suddenly at the hands of truly evil beings. <Today, I get to pay them back tenfold.>

Her attention snapped back to the waiting soldiers. “You all know what is coming.” She paused for a second before stepping forward and walking down the line of Guardians. “The mission we are about to embark on will be the first of many as we drive back the Infernals that have brazenly invaded Eden.” She watched as many Guardians spines straightened as she passed. Word of her planting a sword in the back of the Great Dissenter had spread through Heaven like wildfire.

“The situation in Charlotte is dire for the humans we are charged with protecting. Their city is broken, tens of thousands of their families and friends have been killed, and now they are being invaded. Our mission is to end that invasion. We will strike hard and fast to cut the head of the serpent so the body will wither and die.” The last sentence was originally supposed to be auditory flair, but they had confirmed a serpent steed had broken through the Veil and was laying waste to portions of the city.

“This is not an isolated incident,” she continued. “Three separate Infernal clans are on the ground wreaking havoc and sowing fear: the depleted remains of Seere’s Legion, soldiers of Cain, and a small contingent from the Mother of Serpents.” She saw more than one face grimace at the information. It wasn’t fear that drove the emotion, but disgust that those Infernal Lords were desecrating their Father’s creation. “It is our job to show them that they are not welcome.”

She slowly slid her sword from its scabbard on her back and held it high in the air. Her soldiers cheered and drew their own blades in preparation.

“You all know your deployment assignments. You all know what is at stake. Move quickly, quietly, and unseen. Destroy the enemy and return the city to its human owners.”

Heads nodded all around her and jaws were set in determination. Power began to pulse from the guardians and dominions as they drew from their essence to prepare. Ava did the same. She knew how she liked to fight, and she’d trained for eons to perfect her skills. Now, she had more power than ever before, and that wasn’t even counting the Hand of God.

“You can use it like a cannon.” Michael stepped up beside her and gestured to her golden appendage. “It will emit of beam of pure energy with massive destructive potential. You can fire smaller, weaker bursts more rapidly, or strong blasts the take longer to recover from. It all depends on the situation.”

Ava already knew all of this. God himself had given her a brief rundown on the Hand’s abilities.

“I can handle it,” she replied as a steady stream of energy flowed into the Hand.

“Remember you mission.” Michael continued as he stood calmly beside her. “Avoid detection as much as possible, eliminate the threat, and get home safely.”

Ava didn’t agree with the first part of her orders. Humanity had been introduced to true monsters, and she thought they needed to see the glory of her Father to know he was there protecting them. She knew if she was in their position she would want to know her prayers were being heard, but she was a soldier. She didn’t have the luxury of always getting what she wanted. The orders came from God himself and she would obey.

“You’ve got this.” Michael smiled and gave her a brief clap on the back before walking forward into the throng of soldiers.

They cheered the Archangel as he passed among them. Several reached out to touch him or asked for his blessing. The humans had dubbed him the patron saint of soldiers for a reason. Michael stopped a few times and said an encouraging word to soldiers he knew, and some he didn’t. Ava just sat back and watched as the Commander of the Divine Host effortlessly inspired his troops.

<How does he do that?> She’d tried to give a rousing motivational speech before this, and she’d hadn’t received half this level of excitement.

“You ready?” Bart’s appearance snapped her out of her moment of envy.

“Yes.” She took a deep breath and look back to study her command element.

As the only Power, she was in command of the forces on the ground. Michael was in overall command of the mission, but wouldn’t travel to Eden unless absolutely necessary. His battle with Satan had been recorded and seen by billions. If he appeared again, it would only cause more chaos.

Bart was her second in command and was sticking by her side. Two of his most skilled Guardians were accompanying them, along with the squad leader of the Cherubim Michael had assigned to them.

His name was Razael. Ava only knew him by reputation, but everything she’d seen so far said he was a hardened, competent soldier. He also knew this was her show, and hadn’t overstepped his bounds during the planning phase. In fact, he’d had several good ideas that reigned in some of Bart’s more hair-brained strategies. The result was a detailed, but flexible, battle plan.

Michael finally passed through the other end of the now-disorganized units, and their superiors yelled and hurried into their deployment formations. The two hundred plus angels broke into smaller squads and spaced themselves out.

<Time to see if this works.> Ava said a quick prayer as the first squad approached Michael.

Travel between realms wasn’t designed to be easy. When the primordial founders of the realms first constructed them, they didn’t want their neighbors peeking over the metaphysical fence all the time, so the developed protections. The Veil between Eden and Hell was one such protection. At one point, there had been something similar between Eden and Heaven, but her Father had torn down that barrier when he conquered the middle realm. Travel between Eden and Heaven was now much simpler, but it still required power and authorization. God kept a very close eye on the ætherial gateways opened in Heaven.

Michael was one of the few who could open gateways without question, and that was his primary purpose here today. A hum cut through the air around them all as Michael drew his hand downward through the air. It looked like he was unzipping reality, because on the other side of the gateway was a rubble-lined street. The smell of fire and spilled gas leaked through and into Heaven.

“Go…Go…GO!” The squad’s leader yelled and urged his troops forward. They quickly disappeared through the gateway, and with a reverse motion Michael zipped it back up.

<So far so good.> Ava consulted her mental map of their deployment pattern.

That squad had been deposited on the outskirts of the city. It would secure its immediate area, wait for word the rest of the Divine forces had deployed, and then begin to push inward and eliminate any threats along the way. The fact that Michael had easily opened and closed the gateway meant there weren’t any wards nearby.

One by one the squads deployed until only Ava’s command team was left. Michael didn’t have more encouraging words or advice as Ava stepped up to him and he unzipped reality for the final time.

“Good luck, I’ll be eagerly awaiting your SITREPs.”

Ava nodded and stepped through the gateway. Her senses were immediately assaulted by the sound of automatic weapons fire from nearby. She went insubstantial the moment she passed through the gateway and took up a position covering her soldiers as they joined her one by one. Razael was the last through before it closed behind them.

They spread out quickly to form a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree perimeter. Shields and swords were out and ready to be used, but there immediate area was clear. Ava recognized the intersection they’d arrived in. She’d been her dozens of times in the last few years, and it had been decimated. To the right there used to be a building complex. Offices filled the top floors while the bottom was lines with shops and eateries. It was always filled with people rushing to be someplace, or taking just a moment to enjoy a bite to eat. Now, it looked like someone had dragged a hundred-meter sword through the middle of the structure. Windows were blown out and half the structure facing the street had collapsed. As bad as it was, it was nothing compared to what was across the street.

It had been a strip mall with everything from an outdoor sporting goods store to a popular gourmet coffee shop. Ava remembered having lunch with many of her children at that coffee shop. Now, the building was utterly destroyed and a large footprint had taken its place. Satan and Michael had advanced through this area during their battle, and you could tell.

Another crackle of gunfire pulled Ava’s attention. She could tell from the sound that it was growing more panicked. “Let’s go!” she led the way as the small team formed up in a wedge formation. She was at the tip because she was the strongest, while Bart and Razeal covered her flanks, and the remaining Guardians brought up the rear.

The fighting was two blocks away. Half a dozen humans in the camouflage of the US Army were cowering behind a burning tank. The tank looked fairly new except for the jagged gash nearly splitting it in half. The panicked gun fire was coming from inside the hull where a man was desperately emptying his sidearm into a hulking armored being.

Ava could smell the Infernal taint coming off the armored creature. The creature jerked its sword out of the wreckage and threw its shoulder into one side of the wreck while pushing the other side with both hands. The human was furiously pulling the trigger and putting round after round into the creature’s armored helmet at point blank range. It was doing nothing. The thing’s head wasn’t even budging.

With a great ripping sound, the tank began to open like a tin can. Ava saw the human piss himself as he tried to reload the empty pistol and carelessly dropped the magazine. It clattered onto the steel floor before slipping through the ever-widening crack and vanishing from sight.

“Hey, over here you big, ugly motherfucker!” One of the soldiers screamed as he ran out from his position behind the tank, waving his arms, and firing his rifle into the creature’s face.

The armored Infernal stopped ripping the tank in half and turned to face the heckler.

“That’s right, I’m talking to you princess. What’s a shithead like you doing in a nice place like this?” The human continued to fire his weapon, but to no effect.

The Infernal abandoned the tank and squared off against the human. That’s when Ava moved. She leapt forward and quickly beat her wings to increase her acceleration. The Infernal didn’t even turn to acknowledge her approach, which confirmed Bart’s theory.

<They don’t have any warding set up.> She couldn’t help but smile.

She waited until the last moment to become tangible again. She hit the Infernal shoulder first, in the chest, like a runaway Mack Truck. It sounded like a small explosion as Divine Steel met Infernal Iron, but in that match, Divine Steel always won. The Infernal folded over her shoulder as its armor crumpled. She could feel bones break, the air forced out of the thing’s lungs to be rapidly replaced by blood from the cascading internal injuries.

The Inferal was bent at a ninety-degree angle over her shoulder when she dug her feet in and came to a sudden halt. Physics did the rest. The Infernal rebounded, unfolded off her, and went flying into the mass of the tank. The soldiers taking shelter behind it were wise enough to run for it when a beautiful woman in gleaming silver armor appeared out of nowhere and immediately kicked the shit out of the monster than was tearing a tank in half.

They were clear of the battle tank when the Infernal collided with it. The force of the hit picked the tank up off its tracks and rolled it over on its top. The turret scrunched under the sixty-plus tons of war machine, and the metal clatter of unused shells filled the air as they fell out of their racks. That sound only made the humans run further and faster away. All except one.

The brave man who’d distracted the Infernal from killing his friend just stood their wide-eyed and jaw dropped.

“Be not afraid.” Ava gave the man three comforting words and a smile before she advanced on the Infernal.

Despite its injuries the creature was trying to get to its feet. Despite the damaging blow the thing had held onto its weapon. It used the large broadsword to steady itself as it struggled to get to its feet.

“Bitch.” The Infernal removed its helmet to reveal a woman with blood leaking out of her mouth. Twin dribbles of black flowed down her chin and dripped onto the broken street, and she spit out a thick glob before giving Ava a deranged smile. “Come on then,” she raised her sword. “Let’s get this over with.”

A small amount of pity passed through Ava’s heart as the Infernal woman charged. It was uncoordinated, clearly painful, and ultimately pointless. Ava easily swatted the sword from the woman’s hand and drove her own blade into the Infernal’s chest. Black blood exploded out of her mouth as her whole body spasmed before going still. The woman’s black-stained teeth smiled up at Ava as she stood over the dead woman.

“Good work.” Razael appeared beside her to collect the dead Infernal’s sword. He gave it a few practice swings, frowned, and tossed it on top of the armored hulk.

He then proceeded to remove his own sword, traced a tight circle around the body, produced a vile from a pouch on his hip, and emptied a few drops onto the corpse. He spoke a few words of Enochian, and everything within the circle went up like a bonfire.

“We need to get rid of the evidence.” He stated as he placed the vial back in the pouch. “We need to preserve Eden’s integrity.”

<That explains why Michael wanted you along.> The Cherubims were not only skilled fighters to help with the battle, but they were also the cleanup crew.

Ava saw the importance of the task, but wondered why Michael hadn’t said anything to her. She didn’t have much time to think before more gunfire could be heard up ahead. She didn’t need to give the order to move out. Her team formed up behind her and headed back into battle.

Battle by battle, block by block the angels were going to tighten the noose around the necks of the Infernal invaders until they were all dead and burning like the husk of the woman behind her.

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PCS to Eden – Assembly Point

People had misconceptions about Heaven. It wasn’t their fault. Religions that didn’t know the whole story spun a tale that fit their doctrine. Some got parts right, others wrong, and some were way off the mark. In the end, Heaven had two ultimate purposes.

First, it was a place of eternal happiness for those souls that deserved it, and God had very high standards of admittance. That was the main tweak God made to the already existing ætherial architecture of Earth. When he conquered it, he dared mankind to be better than their primal selves. Their primal selves had existed in a world of pain and chaos, and he wanted to make sure that those who rose above that were rewarded. When those evolved souls’ bodies died they ascended to Heaven. The rest were returned into the endless cycle of reincarnation up until Lucifer tampered with the plan. Essentially, the Father of Lies copied and reversed God’s design and sent those souls whose karmic balance was in the red to Hell.

Hell’s pull wasn’t as refined as Heavens. Some got pulled down that should have gone back into the reincarnation cycle, other stayed in the cycle that should have gotten pulled down, and a bunch flowed around and over Lucifer’s ætherial hack without being effected at all. That was what you got when you ripped off a primordial being’s work without his power or knowledge base, but at the moment it was how things worked.

Heaven wasn’t a place made of fluffy white clouds, singing choirs of angels, and a giant bearded man sitting on a throne over it all. Each soul got their own personalized paradise; a little slice of Heaven – an afterlife home – where their wants and desires played out. This paradise was maintained by God’s æther and monitored by angels; specifically, the Virtues. They were Heaven’s architects, graphic artists, and custodians all rolled into one. They made sure that those righteous souls got what they deserved.

Ava had spent time shadowing a Virtue when she was a young angel. They were big on cross training in Heaven and wanted to make sure every angel had a chance to see everything before choosing a desired profession. For her, it had been Guardian training all the way, but she still saw the value in seeing how every piece fit into the whole. What was the point of her defending all the souls of Earth if they got to Heaven and didn’t get what they wanted?

Ava remembered one old woman’s heaven was family dinner every night with her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. None were real, they were all creations of æther, but she got to do what made her happy and enjoy the company of the people she loved.

She knew another heaven where a man made himself President of the United States and solved all the world’s problems. It was still difficult, it kept him engaged, but he thrived on the challenge. Another heaven she’s visited was actually one of those puffy white-cloud places where a woman who’d worked herself to death in life, just kicked back and relaxed.

Those were all good heavens, but her favorite one was of a teenage girl who died of cancer. She sat in a stadium, the edges were blurred so you really couldn’t tell what kind, but it was packed full of people. You couldn’t see any faces, colors, creeds, or orientation; they were all just sitting there quietly while wave after wave of complete peace washed over them. When Ava was feeling stressed lately, she would spend a few moments in that heaven to help wash away her emotional turmoil.

She wished she was there right now.

“Ma’am…Ma’am…?”

Ava snapped out of it with a shake of her head. “Sorry, Bart, go on.” She turned her thoughts from the peaceful heavens and to the battle plans in front of her.

The Heaven those righteous souls saw and experienced was only half of the realm. The second half lay on the opposite side of God’s Palace and could best be described as a military base. Heaven, for all its power and authority, was constantly under threat of invasion. Their primary aggressor was the Infernals in Hell, but some of the other realms in existence tested their borders on occasion. The Divine Host stood between those souls and those enemies, and Ava’s responsibilities in that Host had risen after her battle with the Dux in Charlotte.

It wasn’t just the Hand of God that had replaced the hand she’d lost to Gerald Fuller. She’d been promoted. She was now a Power.

A Guardian was one of the frontline soldiers. They were powerful enough to tangle with certain Infernals, and commanded by a Dominion. The Infernal Lords had empowered their Duxes to be able to stand toe-to-toe with Dominions, who were in charge of defending strategic positions, like cities. As the battle outside Charlotte had shown, those Duxes had varying levels of success.

Guardians were foot soldiers, Dominions were their officers, and then there were the Powers. Powers were a higher class of officer who were assigned areas of greater responsibility. The Power that Ava had reported to had been in charge of everything from Washington, D.C., down to Miami, and over to Nashville. Ava was one of over a dozen Dominions to report to him. He’d been reassigned after the Charlotte battle to a quieter sector.

Ava felt bad about that. She’d gone over his head straight to Uriel during the battle. When Hell literally popped up in the middle of your territory, a critical seal was broken, and you didn’t know what was going on you were bound to get fired. Now, Ava was in the hot seat, and her first job was to promote a replacement for Emmanuel. There was enough left of the former Dominion’s Divine spark to reconstitute him in Heaven, but it would take time for him to get back up to strength, and then he would likely return to duty as a Guardian until a new post opened up. The Divine Host was fair, but it did not condone failure.

Her choice for the job was Bartholomew, but he went by Bart for short. She’d served with him as a Guardian before she got her Dominion in Charlotte. He was cunning, professional, and a little devious if that was a way you could even define a Divine being. Ava really appreciated his ability to think outside the box, which was not an angel’s strong suit. Their enemies wouldn’t like what Bart had planned for them.

“I want the two companies to insert here and here.” A three dimensional rendering of Charlotte, with live-access ætherial input hovered in front of them. “It’s a classic pincer movement. We will sandwich the Infernals between us and squeeze. We’ll have a couple squads in reserve to complete an envelopment and deal individually with any wards they’ve been able to mine the area with.”

It had been eons since the last major Divine-Infernal combat took place on Earth, and people needed to brush up on tactics. Like the wards used to hide the beginning of the ritual sacrifice of Ava’s daughter from her, wards had a lot of uses. They could keep people out until they were bashed down, or they could trap people. They could drain power, cause destruction, hide objects, and do a plethora of other things. The old accounts of battles long past told of serious warding on both sides. The result was a slow slug fest between two armies as they moved forward inch by inch and destroying everything in their wake. Archangels or Infernal Lords could turn those tides by brute forcing through things others couldn’t, but the carnage that would cause an already wounded city…she didn’t want to think about it.

Contrary to those old accounts, Bart’s plan was about speed and tactics. “All initial reports are saying that it isn’t more than a few hundred, lightly armed, and weakened Infernals. They got mauled by Behemoth’s granddaughter as they passed through the Veil, and it looks like the initial action taken by the humans took a few more of them out.” There was a hint of pride in the new Dominion’s voice. “I’m confident if we move swiftly we won’t run into many, if any, wards. The Infernals look like they’re having enough trouble holding themselves together. I don’t think they’re going to have time to set up proper defenses. We need to counterattack now.”

“The troops do fit what we know about Seere’s legionnaires, and if they’re in a fighting retreat they might not even be able to set up proper warding…”

“That sounds like a well thought out plan,” a new voice interrupted Ava and Bart, and they both braced to attention.

Michael walked into their command tent, but barely peaked at the battlefield. He was wearing a simple tunic and sandals, not the Divine Steel armor that both Ava and Bart had strapped on. Ava’s even had its own personal warding. It was a definite upgrade from her Dominion armor.

“I just wanted to let the two of you know that Uriel is still recuperating, and I will be your commanding officer for this operation. Reports and critical communications will flow though me. Any sighting of Infernal Lords will be sent straight to me. Am I clear?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Good.” Michael’s face was calm. “Bart, do you mind if I have a moment with Ava.

“No, Sir.” The newly appointed Dominion practically ran out of the tent.

“I just want to make sure you’re ok.” Michael sat on the corner of the table and studied Ava.

“I’m good to go, Sir. I’ve worked out an excellent battle plan with Bart that I think will more than…”

“I’m not talking about the battle plan, Ava.” Michael stopped her. “I’m talking about you, your readiness. You went through hell, and I’m about to throw your right back in the fire.” He didn’t look concerned, just thoughtful.

“I’m ready for anything, Sir.” Ava said confidently in the hopes of restoring his confidence in her.

“No one is ever ready for anything.” Michael shook his head but let the subject drop. “I’m assigning a squad of Cherubim to your strike force.”

“What!?” Ava blurted at the sudden revelation. “Is this because…”

“It’s not about you, Ava. Think through the situation.” He was using his commanding voice and Ava nearly snapped back to attention. “This is believed to be the remnants of Seere’s forces. If they are in full retreat it is wise to assume it will be the people who were able to survive the longest with their lord gone. These could be powerful generals, administrators who ran his affairs, or other high level personnel used to wielding a lot of power. A few hundred Guardians might not be enough to defeat them, and this is a battle we can’t lose.”

<So I get stuck with a dozen Cherubim hotshots who aren’t going to listen to a word I say,> was what she thought.

“Understood, Sir. We’ll work them into our deployment pattern,” was what she said.

“Good. Bart, you can come back in.” Michael looked to the side of the tent where the Dominion was probably standing with his ear to the fabric. “Good luck, Ava, and keep me informed.”

She saluted as he left. Bart entered and immediately identified likely positions based on ætherial output for the Cherubims to check out. Ava nodded without looking at the battlefield anymore. The time for planning was over. It was time for action.

“Deploy the troops, Bart. Happy hunting.”  She marched out of the tent and toward the portal to Earth, created by Michael, as her soldiers rallied behind her.

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PCS to Eden – Calm Before the Storm

“Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah…hallelujah…ha-lle-lu-jah!” A choir of mortal souls sang their praises at the entrance to the Hall on Most High.

Their words were filled with joy, wonder, and awe. Handel, the composer of this particular hymn, stood among the choir shouting his love of God. Michael couldn’t help but smile as he walked past the small gathering. The humans righteous enough to gain entrance through the Pearly Gates often clung to their old ways, and the atmosphere of Heaven encouraged those souls to do what they wished.

The manipulation of æther in Heaven was not the same as in Eden or Hell. The Archangel didn’t know how the building blocks of the universe were twisted in Hell, but they were collected in Eden. They were collected in the souls of man and the bosom of nature. His Father had done a truly magnificent thing on Earth.

In Heaven, æther wasn’t collected. It was expressed by God himself. Aether permeated everything with a sense of calm and content. Many of the souls granted entry had lived hard lives serving others and following the commandments of God. Constant peace was their reward.

<If only.> Michael mused as he tried to avoid stepping on any of the humans.

He was in his true form in Heaven – three hundred feet tall – but without his armor. Armor was for the battlefield, so he wore a plain white tunic that allowed his wings to spread freely behind him.

Stepping on the humans wouldn’t do anything. They would poof like a cloud and quickly reform, but it was considered rude and bad manners. These souls deserved respect.

“All hail the Sword of God!” The choir ceased their praise and waved as Michael passed.

He waved back, but didn’t stop. He’d learned long ago that stopping would lead to hours of discussion. It was usually riveting discussion, but time was of the essence. He made one long stride and he was passed them and into the Hall on Most High.

To his left and right were statues, icons, and trophies of his Father. Only when you passed them did you see hidden nooks where members of the Cherubim Guard stood on watch. There would have been a time when those hiding places were empty, but they’d been manned, to some degree, since the War of Rebellion. Today, every spot was filled, and roving patrols walked the hall. The items of celestial power in this hall couldn’t fall into enemy hands.

The Hall itself swirled with his Father’s æther. If God deemed it necessary, he could make the hall loop around so invaders or thieves would run in an endless circle until caught. It was the first of many countermeasures to keep these items out of enemy hands.

Michael didn’t have to walk before another angel joined him. “Castor.” Michael nodded to the Captain of the Cherubim Guard.

Most humans didn’t know the true nature of cherubim. Popular culture showed them as fat, baby-like creatures with bows that dispensed love to humans in need. The only thing remotely true in that description was the bow. The armored angels of the cherubim were masters of the bow, spear, sword, shield and wore all of them into battle. In reality, the cherubim were some of Heaven’s fiercest warriors. Their most recent deployment was driving the Infernals from Eden into Hell under the command of Michael and other archangels millennia ago. Castor had been there.

“Michael, you look better.” Castor gave the heavenly general a quick once over.

Michael’s recent battle with Satan had left him with several new scars and a deep amount of guilt. The Powers were monitoring the situation in Charlotte, but the casualty numbers were rising, and it was all his fault.

<I couldn’t defeat him.> It had been a draw, but in the tie Satan had still accomplished his mission.

The Veil his Father had erected between the realms was crumbling. Infernals would start making forays into Eden when the realized the weakness, and humanity would suffer their wrath. All that stood between them and destruction was the Divine Host.

“Chin up, Brother.” Castor noticed the pain on his older brother’s face. “We will finally defeat them once and for all.”

Castor was a slightly smaller version of Michael. He was just a hair under three hundred feet tall with shoulder length black hair bound together by a strip of leather. His steel gray eyes weren’t cruel, but they were intense to the point of indifference. Like Michael, he had seen the worst this universe had to offer while defending Heaven and Eden from a multitude of threats. Michael wouldn’t say his younger brother was eager for war, but he was eager to end the fighting. Although, Michael knew Castor would have no idea what to do with himself if they actually succeeded.

Michael didn’t reply as they reached the end of the hall. Two squads of Cherubim stood to either side of the entrance to God’s throne room, while a single angel stood blocking anyone’s path who wished to enter.

The angel was as large as Michael, with four metallic-gray wings fully extended to cover the entrance. He held his sword pommel up with the blade tip resting easily on the floor. It was an imposing stance by an imposing figure.

“Metatron.” Michael gave the Seraph a bow. “Father called for us.”

Metatron didn’t speak. He simply nodded. The Seraph’s voice was just as dangerous as his sword. He’d given up his ability to converse with his brothers and sisters to better protect their Father. God had bestowed the new gift upon him after half his guards were cast into Hell for rebelling against him.

Metatron furled his wings and stepped to the side. The massive doors to the throne room swirled in front of them. They were another line of defense against attack. Right now they weren’t anything more than swirling æther. There was no knob to turn, and if someone tried to rush through they would find themselves back at the main entrance to the Hall on Most High. It was an elegant trick, and it ensured God only saw the people he wanted.

Once Metatron stepped aside the door solidified into an ornately carved piece of white marble. In the center was a starburst that represented the birth of the universe. From that starburst, figures spring forth, but only one was truly defined: their Father.

The door’s seam split right down the center of the starburst and opened to admit Michael and Castor. A second angel, this one larger than Michael or Castor, stood before them.

“Brothers.” Amenadiel gave them a warm smile.

Most considered Michael to be God’s champion and the strongest of the Divine Host. They’d be wrong. The most powerful angel, in terms of sheer strength, was Amenadiel, but strength didn’t make a commander. The second of four Seraphim lacked flexibility. He didn’t have the tactical mindset to adapt and overcome to a constantly changing battlefield. That was why he was their Father’s closest guard and confidant.

Michael suspected that Satan had been jealous of their Father’s relationship with Amenadiel, even though the Prince of Darkness had been Captain of the Seraphim Guard.

“Please follow me.” Amenadiel led the way.

He was in his full regalia of Divine Steel armor and weaponry. All of the Seraphim were ready for battle at all time. Castor was also armed, but Michael had forsaken everything to focus on his healing.

There was no suspicion or paranoia that his brothers were going to turn on him and kill him as they approached his Father’s throne. That only happened in a realm ruled by Satan, and that mentality had already claimed a victim.

Michael had heard of Seere’s death. Despite the former Throne’s exile and theft of Divine property, Michael still mourned his death. He had been a good angel before Lucifer and Satan sunk their teeth into him.

God’s throne rose up before them as they approached. It went up and up without end. The throne connected to all parts of Heaven. It emitted the heavenly peace that the human souls’ cherished, and it gathered æther from Eden as mortals beseeched him for guidance. Despite the immensity of the object it was made of plain wood, bore nothing ornate like other thrones throughout creation, and even looked uncomfortable to sit on. Sitting on it was an ordinary-looking, middle-aged man.

God had normal brown hair cut in a modest style. He had a neatly combed brown beard that took up the majority of his face. Kind blue eyes tinged with sadness were staring intently down at a chess board. A bit of a pot-belly extended from his plain beige tunic. A frayed sandal adorned a calloused foot resting on his knee as he sat cross-legged and watching his opponent closely. If Michael hadn’t been created by this man he wouldn’t have noticed him walking down the street.

God’s chess opponent was the third Seraph, Zebadiah. Zebadiah had been elevated to his position after the War of Rebellion. He took Lucifer’s spot. He was cunning, not as cunning as the Morningstar, but their Father engaged him often in topics of debate. Zebadiah had a firm grasp on modern man and their proclivities.

“Michael, Castor,” God held up a finger for them to wait. He tugged at his beard before moving his queen. “Checkmate in three.”

Zebadiah took a few seconds before admitting defeat and tipping over his king.

The fourth and final Seraph, Castiel, stepped forward. He watched Michael like a hawk. All of God’s children loved him and wanted to protect him, but Castiel was the most zealous. He’d taken Satan’s place as Captain of the Seraphim Guard, and seemed determined to right the wrongs of his predecessor. He was strong, smart, determined, and ruthless. Everything that Satan was with the addition of absolute loyalty. Castiel would not fall like Satan had.

Michael could sense Castiel wanted to rebuke him for having the chance to kill Satan and failing, but he held his tongue. His fallen children were a tough subject for their Father.

“Thank you for coming.” With a wave of God’s hand the chess board vanished in a puff of white smoke. A snap of his fingers made the room shudder. From the floor a hundred foot globe slowly ascended until it was the dominant feature in the room aside from the throne.

For a moment the perfect sphere was blank, and then information began to flood into it. It molded into a perfect replica of the Earth, and around it a thin shimmering light sprang to light.

“The Veil is weakening,” Their Father wasted no time in confirming their worst fears. “I have spoken with Behemoth. He and his people will do their duty to stem the flow of the Infernals into Eden, but he cannot stop them all.

Michael had met Behemoth, one of the two giant beasts born during the War of Rebellion. He was a massive creature of brute strength and power equal to any archangel. He and his offspring were charged with patrolling the Veil. During peacetime, Michael actually found him to be very pleasant and fun to be around.

<Now because of Satan’s lust for power Behemoth’s entire family is being put in harm’s way.> The fact that it was the purpose of their creation didn’t matter. Michael didn’t want to see more innocents butchered for pointless reasons.

“My Little Ox may not be able to stop them all, but he will be able to tell us where they are headed. We will deploy our resources accordingly and defeat the Infernals.” It was a straightforward plan with anything but straightforward execution.

Tens of thousands, maybe even millions of Infernals were going to be popping up all over Eden. The Host would be spread thin, and there were only so many troops they could deploy to Eden without dangerously weakening Heaven.

“I have secured assurances with Fey.” God referred to the primordial Lord of the Fairy Realms. “He knows I would be displeased if he aides my wayward children, so he has pledged his neutrality and closed his borders.”

That was a breath of fresh air. Nothing had gone according to plan so far.

“Gabriel will reach out to the Elder Races.” God referred to the Remnants of Eden’s prior hierarchy. “They will need to decide what kind of world the wish to live in: a world of peace, or a world of pain.”

Michael hoped the Remnants made the right decision. He had no doubt Satan’s minions would be approaching them as well with promises to take back the realm their Father had taken from them.

<Gabriel has his work cut out for him.> Michael didn’t envy his brother.

“Castor, are your troops prepared.”

“Yes, Father.” Castor bowed. “We have several quick reaction forces ready to deploy once we hear from Behemoth. They will be able to plug the holes within minutes.”

“Good.” God nodded and gazed intently at the map. “Michael, you need to start marshalling the main body of the Host.” More sadness leaked into God’s eyes as he spoke those words. “The battlefield for the future of these realms will be Eden. I will not allow the bloodshed to spill into Heaven and affect the eternal peace these souls have earned.

“The humans…” Michael couldn’t stop the outburst.

“I know.” God waved his hand to silence his general. “We will bring them into the fold in time, but we do not want to spread fear and panic. It will only fuel and embolden the Infernals.”

“Yes.” Michael knew his Father was right. “May I suggest alerting key leaders: the Pope, presidents, and prime ministers of the world’s primary powers? This will allow them to develop plans when Armageddon finally occurs.”

“Armageddon.” God’s face soured at the word. “I never liked the name, and I’m sorry I ever let those thoughts be heard.” He shook his head had rubbed his temple. “Permission granted. Begin alerting key leadership to the coming disasters.”

“Thank you.”

It would be a living hell for Michael to sit in Heaven administrating the preparations for the Divine Host while humans suffered and died by the droves. Now, he could at least give them a fighting chance.

“Father, I beseech you to…” Castiel began.

“NO!” Heaven and Earth rumbled at God’s outburst. “You are not going to lead an attack on Hell. You cannot comprehend the risks of such an operation.”

“But, Father, you cannot win a war playing defense. We must…”

“Enough!” God cut off Castiel again. “I will not hear any more of this. The answer is no.” With the issue closed he dismissed the small war council.

“Ensure you see your sister at the Healing Garden, Michael.” God left those parting words as he vanished into thin air along with Amenadiel and Zebadiah.

Castiel remained as he took up a sentinel position in front of the throne. His stone-cold stare dared Michael to do anything but leave.

“Brother,” he inclined his head to the vigilant Seraph and walked toward the exit.

Time in the Healing Gardens sounded good about now while they were empty. He doubted it would be like that for long.

 

***

 

God reappeared instantaneously in the same Healing Gardens he suggested Michael visit. The æther responded to his presence by rushing toward him. He ran his hand through the air to comfort it like a man would a faithful pet.  Knowing all was well with its Master, the æther dispersed back into the Gardens.

<Everything is not well.> God sighed and stopped himself from pinching his nose in frustration.

Instead, he smiled as the people seeking healing began to congregate. It wasn’t uncommon to see him walking these Garden’s. His æther reinforced them, sped the recovery of his injured children, and was a place for peace of mind in realms continually marked with chaos.

If he was being honest with himself, he was tired and needed these Gardens as much as the injured. He’d been doing this literally since the beginning of time. With each new creation, he hoped things would be better, but they never were. There was always war driven by any number of reasons. That was why he created Heaven in the first place. It was supposed to be a sanctuary of higher thinking, peace, and eternal prosperity. Then his favorite children had rebelled, he banished them from his creation, and ever since then the constant threat of their invasion had haunted him. No amount of power could put at ease a father’s mind when it came to the evil proclivities of his wayward children.

<Not here.> A true smile spread across his face as he found the person he was looking for.

She sat perfectly still on a plain wooden bench overlooking a glistening pool. Fish from the farthest reaches of the cosmos populated the pool and lived in harmony. He could see her eyes following one of the fish as it swam in a continuous circle. Another fish joined it, and they swam in tandem for a short time before breaking apart.

“Hello, Ava.” His words shocked her out of her trance.

“Father…” Adoration crossed her face.

God held out his arms and the young Dominion jumped into them and began to weep. “Shhh…shhhh….it’s ok.” He ran his finger comfortingly through her hair until she’d shed all of her tears. Then he took her by the shoulders and held her at arm’s length. “You did so well, Ava, and I am so sorry.” The congratulations and condolence caused a fresh wave of tears that took time to overcome.

“May I…can I see her?”

Ava knew her daughter, Maria, had lived a good life. She’d fought on the side of the angels against the evil in the world. When she died, some part of her must have been drawn to Heaven. That was Ava’s hope. She also knew her daughter’s death had been used to power a trio of ætherial conduits that helped break a Seal and fray the Veil beyond repair.

“In time,” God replied, and Ava cried again.

She might not be able to see her daughter now, but her Father’s statement told her that some part of Maria had surveyed that brutal night.

“Let me see.” God extended his hand palm up.

Ava gingerly raised her partially reformed arm and handed it to her Father. She had lost a lot of ichor and æther in the battle outside Charlotte. Some had been siphoned away by an abomination, most had been expended, and some had just been expelled and absorbed into Eden’s æther. It was a terrible loss, but what really mattered was that she was safe.

“I’m sorry to ask this of you, but you must go back.” God felt her body tighten at the statement. “Bad things are coming, and I need someone who knows the area, and the people to be at the tip of my spear. We cannot let the Infernals take back what Maria fought valiantly to protect.”

“Of course,” she sniffed and wiped her eyes.

“But I will not let you go back empty handed.” He smiled and Ava giggled at the bad pun.

In the last day, God had collected æther from billions of human souls praying for his assistance. He took some of that power and channeled it into Ava. A warm glow gradually spread down her arm. The warmth built until it became painful, and quickly that pain became unbearable. It seared up her arm and into her brain. She screamed and thrashed, but her Father held her tight in his arms.

As quickly as the pain was there, it vanished. She choked out a few breaths and blinked the tears from her eyes. The Healing Gardens æther washed over her and put her at ease.

“I am sorry,” God smiled down at her, “but now you have the means to fight back.”

Ava followed his glance down to her hand. Instead of soft, snow-white skin, her new had glinted metallic gold.

“Oh my god.” She stared openmouthed at the miracle.

God just smiled down at her for a moment before getting up to leave. He had two realms to govern, and despite wanting to, couldn’t hang around in the Gardens all day. She registered him going, but was too engrossed with her new appendage. She knew what it was, she knew the legends surrounding it, but she’d never seen it before.

She was now the wielder of a Hand of God, a powerful Divine weapon bestowed upon champions of her Father in times of crisis. The last recorded one was during the Conquest of Eden, and was rumored to have assisted in slaying several of that realm’s champions.

<Wow.> She didn’t know what to say, or think, or feel; except this had to be some sort of promotion, and her life had just gotten that much harder.

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