“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.