PCS to Eden – Escape from New York

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He just hoped someone from his team showed up soon.

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PCS to Eden – Behind Enemy Lines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You ready?” Ava asked her two partners.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PCS to Eden – 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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