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ARCHANGEL


D. William Landsborough



Copyright 2019 D. William Landsborough


Smashwords Edition



This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the author's permission.

Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.




This book is available in paperback.



If you enjoy Archangel, a review on your favorite retailer’s site would be greatly appreciated!



Dedication


To everyone who has a story that needs to be told.



Table of Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Acknowledgements

Thank You to the Reader

About the Author

Connect with Me

Nightshade Sneak Peek



CHAPTER ONE

He could feel the heat as his body plummeted; molecules of oxygen, nitrogen and carbon ignited around him as he approached the blanket of ebony clouds. His ethereal form began to change as tissue and flesh crawled across bones that had not been there moments before.

A heart that only just started beating was slowly enclosed by a hardened cage, while layers of muscle and skin sealed the precious organ in a sculpted chest. Skeletal fingers writhed in the agony of the transformation as nerves formed and were immediately exposed to the searing pain of the passing atmosphere. Cloudy eyes appeared underneath a curtain of eyelids, striking blue orbs that gained more and more clarity as time inched along.

The descent seemed to go on forever.

A mouth that had just formed lips grimaced through the torment, the roar of the wind muting any sound it could have made. The tan skin, despite the heat and debris that littered the air, seemed to glow. It rejected the burns that should have marred it. Instead, black markings began to appear on the delicate flesh, growing and twisting, forming ornate patterns and symbols.

The figure forced its eyes open, only for an instant. Just in time to bear witness as it crashed into the wall of darkness. Thunder roared as tongues of lightning kissed the newly formed body. The storm should have killed it, should have overloaded its nervous system, but it refused to give in. The rushing wind sounded like screams echoing in the darkness, begging it to join them in their anguish. A storm of ice and rain raged within the clouds, each drop like a bug biting its glowing skin but leaving no mark.

And then suddenly it was over. The naked body broke through the black clouds and could see once again. With each second, the being drew closer and closer to the ground. Its eyes watered as it strained to keep them open. With only a single breath left, it allowed itself the luxury of blinking.

The figure crashed into a forest of dead and withering trees, punching into the dirt like a bullet tearing into flesh. Earth and stones erupted into a plume of dust, forced outwards in a sphere that flattened the trees into a ring of barren wood. Amid the dust cloud, a shadow of a figure emerged. Tall, muscular, with cropped dark hair and tan skin, Uriel stepped out of the crater, rolling his stiff shoulders.

It was strange being on Earth once again. The experience was not a common one for an angel, but even less so for an archangel. He rubbed the stinging dust out of his eyes. Dirt was not something found in Heaven, and now he stood in a world that was covered with it. He felt a snug, metallic ring around his neck, perfectly smooth save for the finest of engravings. It was his halo, the symbol that he was a warrior of Heaven. It was a symbol he bore with pride.

But it was one that would have to be hidden if he wanted to survive and walk freely in this new Earth. Neither the archangel nor any of Heaven’s denizens had any idea how the planet had been changed in the years after they lost the war. The black clouds of Hell obscured their vision from Heaven, a curtain that grew thicker with each victory the infernal hordes claimed. Merely breaking through the barrier had taken its toll on the angel. Uriel had only just arrived, and he could barely steady himself.

The archangel glanced down at his physical body, no longer naked but fully clothed. His garments always manifested just as his body did, a transformation that still—even after thousands of millennia—was not fully understood by him. He found himself in sorry shape however, and already longed for the days when his physical form would boast shining plates of armor. Now he wore dark, near-tattered pants and a duster that almost went to his knees. It was light enough to fight in but would still protect his body from the elements. His boots were on the heavy side, at least for human footwear, as was the black leather vest that he wore over his chest.

Some armor is better than none, he thought. But Heaven must be truly waning for this to be the best we have.

At his hips were two knives with four sister blades on his belt at his back. On his left, Uriel’s blade hung in its sheathe, completing the only physical weapons he brought with him. Even with his familiarity with the blades and the knowledge that they had tasted the flesh of countless demons, Uriel thought himself underequipped, as naked as when he had been falling. Humans had become voracious in their advancement of weaponry since he had last visited the planet. Compared to some of the technology and guns that they had created, Uriel’s weapons seemed like relics.

He laughed at the mere thought of the weapons, that his Father would allow the humans to craft something that could kill even angels. Though it would take more than one shot to fell him, Uriel had no desire to join the nothingness that awaited his kind when they died, not when he finally had his chance to fight back against the creatures that ruled this new Earth.

He had his magic, too. He could heal and destroy, do things that humans could hardly fathom. But much of his power was drawn directly from Heaven, a connection that was, at best, flickering. The black clouds of Hell did not just shroud his vision, but anything holy. Uriel was oppressed under their smothering weight, his powers a fraction of what they should be. All of Heaven knew that the clouds enveloping the world were just one of the ways Lucifer secured his hold on the planet. Uriel still had some powerful abilities at his disposal, but he knew that he would be relying on his physical weapons more than his divine ones.

He could feel the tattoos that covered his body pulsing, trying to establish that link to his home, but to no avail. He realized then that those, too, would need to be covered. While his vestments already shrouded most of his body, his face was completely exposed. The archangel stooped down, grabbed the burnt dirt at his feet and wiped it on his face, creating a haphazard mask. He spat as some of it got in his mouth and wiped it away when it stung his eyes. It was a poor attempt at hiding the lines and patterns that crisscrossed his face, but it would have to do.

It was impossible to describe angels in their natural form. They just were. But when they descended to Earth they were very much physical, very much mortal. It made them vulnerable, but most compensated with martial and magical prowess. Though even that had not been able to save them from being overrun. The legions of Hell were too powerful. Heaven stood no chance in the war. Now, these long years later, this planet belonged to them.

There was no sun to guide his way or give him direction, just a reddish-grey light that permeated the world. It did not matter. Directions would be useless in a world where he knew nothing of its landscape. But Uriel could reach out all around him, using his angelic senses to detect nearby evil.

The archangel quickly discovered that, like his other abilities, his senses were dulled by the thick, black clouds hanging above. Any presence around him felt more like a fleeting shadow than a life. He could not focus on a single target, but something was nagging at his senses. Far off in the distance he felt a great, radiating evil, stronger than the rest. Uriel figured that, if he wanted to learn about this new world, that dense evil would be as good a place as any to start.

The angel’s feet crushed ancient leaves and desiccated branches as he walked through the skeleton of the forest, small cloudbursts of dirt and dust rising with each step. A brief thought crossed the angel’s mind, and he wondered whether all the branches were indeed pieces of trees, not the bones of beasts, men or even his slain brothers and sisters. He forced the thought from his mind and focused on that which he knew for certain.

The forest was barren, but the shadows cast by the trees were unnaturally dark and encroaching. It presented both a blessing and a curse—the darkness allowed him to move without prying eyes observing his movement, but also prevented him from seeing anything that moved around him.

It was a far cry from what the planet was before the war. The world had once been lush and beautiful. Uriel would spend days gazing upon the beauty of his Father’s creations, marveling in the vast oceans and sprawling countryside. Nothing was like that in Heaven. The denizens of Heaven were not physical beings and needed no such wonders. They only adopted a physical body when they descended to the more material realms.

As the skeletal trees began to thin and their dark shroud faded, Uriel realized he was reaching the edge of his cover. The closer he came to the threshold, the more the darkness that limited his vision weakened and his full sight returned to him. When he finally cleared the forest of skeletons, the angel emerged into a small town.

Or rather, what used to be a town. A handful of the buildings still stood, but most appeared to have been burned to the ground or smashed to pieces. A dirt road ran through the town, but both its entrance and exit seemed to have been reclaimed by the forest. Combined with its unnatural darkness, Uriel wondered how dead the forest really was—or if it too were some ravenous, dark organism. Any human taking refuge in the town would never be able to intentionally find their way out of the dark woodland, their starved and lost bodies inevitably becoming nutrients for the brush. The archangel was thankful that he had some sort of destination, that he could feel the evil in the distance.

He could not sense anything in the town, however, nor in the surrounding forest. He did not know how reliable his perception was yet, but he imagined that such ruins would not be home to anything more than rats. The archangel, as silent as the empty buildings he approached, walked into the town along its single dirt road.

Had there been more? the angel thought. Has the darkness consumed all but these few buildings?

It was possible, as Uriel could see only a half-dozen houses or their remnants, some sort of shop, and a broken building at the end of the road. No community could survive with so little, not with the hordes of Hell festering across the planet.

The archangel walked up to the first house he came to and peered inside. The occupants had left in a hurry. Uriel could still see dinnerware on the table, stained with the shadow of an old, rotted meal that had long since been abandoned. A pair of wineglasses sat upon the table, one toppled over at the foot of the other. The floor beside the table was stained and covered in mold growing from the contents of a bottle of wine that had rolled off and shattered years ago.

Through another window he saw toys scattered on the floor next to a couch and pictures of young children with their parents adorning the wall, all of them covered in a thick layer of dust. No violence had tainted this house, but Uriel could not help but wonder whether the occupants had made it far.

The next house painted a very different scene. The windows were covered with planks of wood, nailed from the inside. The door had been torn away from its frame, creating a jagged, splintered entrance. The angel stepped inside the building and was immediately shaken with sorrow.

Pictures and tables had been smashed and overturned in every room. A cabinet, toppled over, lay atop a crushed human skeleton, bony arms protruding from each side. Its skull, however, was nowhere to be found. In the kitchen Uriel discovered a skeletal arm, desiccated fingers still loosely grasping a meat cleaver. The archangel grimaced as he found the matching arm on the other side of the room, while the rib cage and a leg were perched atop the kitchen counter. The remaining leg, like the other body’s head, was absent.

The archangel ascended the stairs to the second floor. He knew he was not going to find anyone up there but felt an urge to look nonetheless. The first bedroom did not show many signs of a struggle, save for the closet door lying in splinters, torn from its hinges.

The next room could not have been more different. Uriel guessed that it had once been painted a light blue, but much of the walls were covered in old, dried blood, giving them a cracked, reddish-brown coat. Claw marks were the only other decorations on the wall, but something else drew the angel’s eye. On the small bed in the far corner of the room sat a pile of bones.

Treading carefully over the dried patches of blood and rotted flesh, Uriel approached the grisly mound and looked at the yellowed remains. He saw a combination of all sizes and body parts. A handful of skulls were mixed with femurs, ribs and hip bones. The angel nearly winced at the sight of the smallest of bones, limbs that could not have belonged to children more than a few years old. It was all he needed to see before he turned and left the macabre scene.

The remaining two houses looked much like the first, but with more signs of panic. All of the buildings had been coated in a thick layer of dust, and the angel knew that no one had lived in any of them for years. Every now and then the wind would rush through the dilapidated structures, creating the sound of a distant scream. Some noises were easily excused, the wooden panels of the houses straining as the air rushed through their seams. Others sounded too visceral, too panicked, for the archangel to find a logical explanation.

A small store sat across from the ruins of two houses. Uriel felt no need to examine the destroyed homes. Instead, he entered through the front door of the shop. A small bell announced him as he walked through. The inside of the building was also undisturbed, the aisles of shelves still stocked with cans of food. Anything not in cans had been eaten by vermin and scavengers years ago, their only memories manifested as black stains on shelves and stands. The store confirmed the archangel’s suspicion that this town had not been looted. Whatever had come through here had the sole intention of spilling blood. Some supplies were missing, but the widespread looting that Uriel had witnessed during the first months of the war, before the planet was smothered in darkness, was not evident.

A ladder in the back room led to the roof of the store. After taking it two rungs at a time, Uriel opened a hatch to the outside. It was a concrete surface with a low wall enclosing the edge. Two vents protruded from the shop below, and something black nestled behind them drew Uriel’s eye. He walked over and recognized the stock of a gun.

The archangel’s heart skipped at the prospect of one of the weapons. His enthusiasm faded as quickly as it appeared, however, when the weapon came farther into view. It was the stock of a gun, the trigger and loading mechanism as well. But the other half of the gun was a metre away. The weapon, some sort of rifle, had been snapped in half by an inhuman force. Bullet casings littered the ground around it, both large and small. At one time, there had been a second, smaller gun, but it was impossible to know how long ago it had been taken.

Sitting against the vent, hidden from the angel previously, was the body of a human, a man from the looks of the clothing that remained. Pieces of fabric and remnants of flesh still loosely clung to the bones, but he had been dead for a while. His rib cage had been smashed in, now only a hollow chasm in his chest. Demons, always finding ways of torturing humans, were fond of ripping out the hearts of their victims and consuming them in front of their prey. Claw marks on the low surrounding wall painted the picture enough for Uriel. He could almost see the terrible creatures climbing onto the roof, closing in on the panicked survivor.

One building was left for the angel to examine, so he simply stepped onto the small lip that enclosed the roof and dropped to the ground below. After landing on his feet, Uriel made his way to the final building. Its ruinous state made it difficult to recognize from a distance, but soon Uriel realized the structure for what it used to be.

The wood was charred and barely standing. The tall roof had collapsed in on itself, crushing the wooden pews inside. Shattered pieces of stained glass covered the ground, most of it burnt and blackened. Uriel walked through what was left of the scorched church, stepping over and ducking under the fallen beams. Many of the ashes had been blown away, but piles of debris and burnt bones remained in the corners and crevices of the broken holy site.

Only the far wall had been left standing, but the archangel’s heart sank when he saw it. At the base of the wall were thousands of human bones from dozens of bodies, piling upwards towards the centre of the wall. At its apex was an unholy mockery—human bones tied together in the shape of an inverted cross. The bones appeared to have been smeared with blood at one point, but much of the dark substance, browned with age, had been worn away by time and the elements. All around the gruesome icon were derogatory slurs written in the same dried, chipped blood that the cross was coated in.

“Disgusting,” the angel whispered with malice. He could not leave such a tragedy standing.

Both angels and demons knew that an inverted cross did not carry any true meaning. It was a symbol that struck fear in all humans, regardless of their faith or their saints. It was a symbol of evil, one that was adopted, not created, by Hell. Nonetheless, it was an affront to Uriel’s mission. It was an insult to the light he would bring to the world.

Being careful not to step on the fragile bones, Uriel moved as close as he could and gently removed the tragic icon from the wall. It was a slow process, but the angel did not want any of the bones to break. Though it might have been futile, Uriel knew that the dead needed to be respected, even if they had been in such a state for years. He lowered the makeshift crucifix to the ground and drew one of his daggers. The old ropes, weathered and aged, came away easily and the bones tumbled away from each other. Some of the ancient skeletal pieces crumbled when they hit the ground, but most stayed intact. Uriel moved the unbound bones back into the pile with the others and dropped to his knees on the charred wood in front of the mound.

The archangel pressed his hands together in front of his chest and began his whispered prayers. He spoke in Angelic, the tongue of angels, most of which was not even translatable to a human language. In the times before the apocalypse, such a prayer would carry all the way to Heaven and safely ferry the souls of the dead with them. The words of angels had a power of their own but were not nearly powerful enough to break through the black clouds that smothered the planet. It meant no souls had been taken to Heaven since they had lost the war.

The angel’s eyes flashed open midprayer. How could he be so foolish? On this new Earth, under the black clouds, a prayer would be sensed by any of Hell’s creatures that were nearby. Its power was weak, but it would not go unnoticed. As if in response, he heard a piercing howl in the distance.

Hellhounds.

Alone the creature posed no threat to an angel. Even a pack would be hard-pressed to take down a lone warrior of Heaven. It was not the pack that he was worried about, however. It was the attention the beasts would draw. If a pack of hellhounds were to find him, other creatures would soon join in the hunt.

“Watch over us,” the angel finished in a human tongue. He rose to his feet and sprinted back into the forest, towards the great evil he felt. The infernal wolves were fast. He would just have to be faster.

CHAPTER TWO

It had been hours since the archangel left the derelict town, but howls and snarls still bit at his heels. He had ventured once more into the smothering darkness of the forest and had taken off in the direction of the great evil he was sensing. The closer he came to the source, the more convinced Uriel became that this was not some single great entity. To be drawing him from this far away, the feeling was more like the dark resonance of tens of thousands of evil creatures.

Despite being able to sense the dense evil in the distance, the archangel struggled to detect individual entities around him. He heard the hellhounds chasing him through the forest, but he could not sense them. No matter how much he focused, no matter how much he extended his senses, it was as if he were blind.

Uriel’s weakness under the black clouds worried him. He stopped in his tracks, listening for the encroaching pack. He thought he heard snapping branches and rustling fur in the darkness around him, but he could not be sure. The archangel readied himself for a fight, but none came. Whether the hounds were biding their time or if Uriel was just being paranoid, the angel did not wait to find out.

Without giving it another thought, Uriel sprinted off again. This time he pumped his legs even faster than before, leaping over thick, withered roots and bounding over creek beds that had long ago run dry. Dead branches scratched at his exposed face and grabbed at his long jacket, like skeletal fingers trying to hinder the angel’s progress.

Uriel’s physical body did not fatigue as quickly as any earthly being. Even infernal creatures could not match the endurance of an angel, save for maybe the most powerful of demons. Another hour passed before Uriel came to the edge of the dark arbors once more. The darkness faded as the reddish glow of the world filled his vision. Though it was nothing like the light of the sun, this low dim barely limited the angel’s sight.

The ground was flat as far as the eye could see. The dying frames of trees became sparse and the dry, cracked ground peeked through the thinning blanket of twigs and debris. How the trees survived at all, even in their naked state, was a wonder to the angel. Much of the landscape appeared to be uniform in this new Earth. The land was dry and shattered, and the flora all appeared to be clinging to life. Few examples of natural wildlife were left. Anytime Uriel thought he saw a bird or small animal, he was disgusted when he noticed extra eyes, fierce fangs or any other multitude of hellish features. Even the lowly squirrel was replaced by some form of devilish rodent, its feet boasting wicked claws and spines lining its back. Nothing of this planet even resembled its former self.

Snarls came from behind him, but the hellhounds never revealed themselves from within the darkness. The beasts preferred to herd their prey and ambush it as a pack. Uriel stood confidently, defying them. It bought the archangel some time to think about his next step, but only a moment.

The angel realized that he had also been relying on the darkness of the dead forest, and he was completely exposed without it. Any wandering demon, infernal creature or flying monster would spot him in a heartbeat. The archangel rushed under a nearby copse of trees. The branches were bare, but so entangled in one another that they provided a sufficient canopy from above, and the trunks were able to adequately hide his muscled form.

Normally, the archangel would take this small rest to list off a short prayer, a small message back up to Heaven. But considering the effects of his last effort, Uriel opted against it. Instead, he closed his eyes and focused as hard as he could, trying to pinpoint the location of the evil presences around him. Hundreds of years ago, the angel would be able to at least discern the general location of an entity, though the exact number and size of the beasts would be unknown to him. With his connection to Heaven limited, the once-easy feat was now hampered.

Still, the concentration of evil, though a long way off, was vibrant in his mind. Never before had Uriel encountered so many dark beings in one place. The archangel concentrated again, trying to gauge the distance between himself and the cluster of evil. His mission was to renew the fight on Earth, to rally whatever humans or angels might still be alive. It was impossible for him and the rest of Heaven’s angels to formulate a cohesive plan on the other side of those black clouds, but if Uriel could find some allies, perhaps they could break through the ebony ceiling. If any angel could do it, it was Uriel. Now that he was under the weight of the black clouds, though, such a feat seemed impossible. Still, if they could open a passage to Heaven, then they might get a second chance at redeeming themselves.

He was suddenly interrupted by another pang in his mind, one that he had not felt for many years. The feeling was not a warning, not an indicator of something evil. It was a feeling of something good, something…innocent.

A child.

Uriel recognized the warmth of innocence. But he found it hard to believe that a human child could survive amid all this carnage. Even if it was protected by others, raising a child in this world would be costly. Suddenly, Uriel was less concerned about the evil in the distance and more concerned with this single spark of innocence.

He would have to find the child quickly; though most hellish creatures did not have the same perception that angels did, few places existed where a child or group could effectively hide in the desolate fields and dying forests that Uriel had seen.

The child’s presence was in the same direction as the great evil that Uriel felt, which could have masked the soul’s pure nature. Uriel glanced around, making sure no eyes were on him, and began dashing from cover to cover. The pace was agonizingly slow.

His movements became hastier when he entered another graveyard of trees. He could feel the emanations of innocence without effort now, its source just beyond the ghastly wooden corpses. Through the trees he could see the outline of what appeared to be a small cottage, two stories tall but in dire need of repair. Pieces of siding hung off the walls and the roof sagged along the side closest to Uriel. It looked as if it could collapse at any moment, yet it was more of a haven than Uriel had seen since leaving the abandoned town.

Still, the sight gave Uriel pause. How could a group of humans and a child survive out here? Surely demons would have checked the solitary building. And once the demons caught the scent of a child, they would be relentless in their pursuit of it. It did not matter to the archangel though, not now. If humans were in the house, they would undoubtedly be happy to see an angel. If Uriel was wrong…

He couldn’t be. The archangel refused to believe anything else.

With a quick glance around and to the sky, Uriel dashed for the house. With every step he took, something else bit at his senses. Something about this house was wrong, something that the archangel couldn’t see. It felt solid enough as he flattened himself against its side, taking what little cover he could. The walls seemed to hum with some sort of power, but Uriel could not tell if it was malign or not.

The archangel ignored the warning bells in his mind. A child was inside! He could take care of whatever dangers might present themselves.

Uriel glanced at one of the windows but found it boarded up from the inside. The same was said for its twin farther down the wall, but a quick scan revealed the windows on the second floor to be free of any barricades. The archangel considered climbing up and through one of the windows, but the state of the wall in front of him made him doubt he could do so quietly. Silently, he continued around the house, looking for other ways inside.

He spotted a door around the back of the cottage and crept over to it, hiding as much of his lean, muscled frame as he could. The dirt and sharp, brown grass around the doorway showed signs of travel, most of it going down towards a dried ditch or creek that disappeared in the flat landscape.

With another quick glance around, the angel slowly turned the doorknob, alarmed to find it unlocked but relieved to maintain some measure of stealth. The angel slipped through the door, closing it quietly behind him. As he stepped into the house, Uriel realized that it was not only a physical threshold he was crossing but some other kind as well, something not of this world.

The archangel drew one of his daggers, its blade pointed down as he crept through what seemed to be the kitchen of the decrepit house. The building was in dire need of repair and, from what Uriel understood about humans, was barely hospitable. Decrepit wallpaper hung loosely on the walls, and it appeared that the walls had been vandalized before or during the war.

A quick inspection revealed disturbances in the dust and dirt that clung to the floor and other surfaces in the room. The marks on the floor—mud tracked in from the outside—showed two sets of footprints. The smaller footprints clearly belonged to a child, but they were mixed among larger boots as well. Was someone protecting the child? Or was something keeping it for a more sinister reason?

Uriel remained tense. He could not sense another human within the house. Even with some sin, almost every human had an innocence within their soul that the angel should be able to sense, especially within such close proximity. If a human was in the house, or any other creature for that matter, it was intentionally hiding its presence from angels.

Uriel used the fingertips of his free hand to open a large pantry, making sure no unwanted guests were within. All he found were mostly bare shelves, stocked with just a handful of cans. Some of them were already opened and empty. The archangel had turned to leave the kitchen when he heard a creak from above him. Uriel sprang into action, drawing a second dagger and rushing through the rooms on the first floor of the house until he found the stairs. Leaping up two and three at a time, the angel quickly ascended to the top floor.

He slowed again, peeking into each room as he passed. The sound he heard came from the room farthest down the hallway. As he crept closer, he felt something new, something that the archangel vaguely recognized. It seemed like a contained evil, a feeling that might emanate from a lowly demon, but something was smothering it. And it was next to the child. He could clearly sense that now. Whatever it was, every bit of Uriel’s instinct considered it a threat to both him and the child.

Finally, the archangel reached the last door in the hallway. His hand reached out, only to find that this door was locked. He cringed at the noise the doorknob made, ruining whatever element of surprise he may have had. It did not matter now. He had to act. Uriel positioned himself in front of the door, tightened his grip on his blades and kicked the wooden barrier. The rotted frame easily gave way under his foot and the door swung open. He heard a sharp twang from the room, just enough warning for him to jerk out of the doorway in time to see an arrow fly past him, embedding itself in the wall behind where he had been standing. The arrow just grazed him, cutting through the sleeve of his loose jacket without touching his skin.

The angel scolded himself for his haste. He was one of Heaven’s most skilled warriors but had barely avoided the simplest of ambushes. No doubt his adversary had another arrow aimed at the door, which made it difficult for Uriel to storm in. And whatever it was, it was still right next to the child, making any assault dangerous. It also stopped him from flooding the room with divine fire.

“Please, I mean you no harm,” Uriel said loud enough for whoever was in the room to hear. “I merely want to ensure the child’s safety.”

“The kid’s fine. Now leave us alone!” came the reply, a female voice.

The assurance was not satisfactory for the angel. Some panic was in that voice, and panic could make her dangerous.

“Please, just allow me a moment. I promise my intentions are only good,” the angel insisted.

“Get the fuck out of here, or the next arrow goes in your throat.”

Uriel could tell that he was not going to make any progress here. He could do nothing for fear of harming the child, but he was the Fire of God. And with that fire came light, a divine, heavenly source of brilliance. The angel was still wary of using any magic, but he needed to make sure the child was all right. Any consequences could be dealt with later.

Back against the wall, he sheathed one of his blades and moved his hand into the doorway, palm facing into the room. With a thought, white light erupted from the angel’s hand, filling the room with a blinding flash. Uriel waited a brief second, long enough for the predictable arrow to fly through the door, before he entered the room and moved around its edge. The archangel recognized various human furniture: a bookshelf, a bed, a dresser. From the faded paint and colors throughout the room, he reasoned that it had belonged to a young girl. It was by no means a large room, but Uriel still wanted to distance himself from the child and the female presence. Before whoever the woman was could recover, the angel toppled the bookshelf onto its side to use as cover.

“Damn angels!” cried the female voice.

Uriel’s interest was piqued. Clearly this was not the first time she had met a warrior of Heaven.

“Yes, I am an angel,” Uriel said, trying to prove his intentions. “I am a friend. Please, let me make sure everything is okay.” The suppressed evil Uriel had sensed before seemed to grow stronger, but still something restrained it. Uriel could feel divine energy gathering in his hands, ready to fight for this child’s life if he needed to.

“Friend? You think we have friends?” the voice scoffed. “Angels, demons, humans. You’re all the same.”

“Go away!” came a second female voice, this one much younger. The voice of a child.

“Please, I come in the service of our Father.” Uriel was relieved to hear the child, even if it protested his presence.

“God isn’t our father,” the older voice stated, hesitating before continuing. “He couldn’t give less of a shit about us.”

After a moment’s thought, Uriel tossed the dagger he held onto the floor, away from him, a gesture of surrender. “Please, I simply wish to speak.” The angel began to stand, hoping whoever this was would not shoot another arrow at him. It would not kill him, but the angel had felt the sting of arrows before, and it was not an experience he wished to repeat.

Tentatively, the female voice replied. “Fine. But come any closer and you’re dead.”

Uriel did not know whether the voice spoke the truth, but no more arrows came his way.

The archangel turned and viewed the pair in full for the first time. The child was young, but Uriel was not a good judge of human age. She had long blonde hair that might have been curly if it had not been dirty and matted. Striking blue eyes shone from a pale complexion. She was skinny, but not sickly so. In a world so inhospitable, the child seemed to be surviving. The angel smiled.

Uriel’s eyes then shifted to the other figure. She was taller, with deep, black hair but the same pale complexion. The angel guessed that she was maybe two decades old, but her hardened expression and demeanor belied an experience beyond her years. Her face was sharp, her expression hardened. The way the woman stood, protectively in front of the child, told the angel that she was the reason this girl had survived for so long. But then her eyes met his, and Uriel saw their striking red color. Rage swelled within the angel as he recognized the creature for what it truly was.

“Demon spawn!” he roared as he drew a dagger once more, his own eyes turning an unnatural white.

The creature, a cambion Uriel now knew, hissed at the angel and drew a knife of her own. The knife belonged in a kitchen but looked sharp nonetheless.

“Stop!” the blonde child screamed.

Uriel’s rage subsided when he realized that she clung tightly to the leg of the cambion. “Give me the child,” Uriel commanded, “and I may spare your life.”

“You touch her, you die,” the beast said coldly. The creature was half-demon, half-human, the product of an unholy union. Despite its human appearance, the thing fueled an innate anger within Uriel.

“Bringing the girl back to your wretched father?”

“You don’t know a thing about our father!”

The cambion’s words confused the archangel, and not for the first time. “I’m not like them. I’m not one of those fucking animals.”

A tear trailed from the corner of her eye, and her arm tightened around the young girl. Not the tightening grasp of a predator securing its prey, but a protective hold. She held the knife out defensively, protecting both her and the human child. Uriel could see the weapon trembling in her hand. The cambion truly cared about the girl.

Uriel did not trust the monster, could barely stand to look at it, but he sheathed his blade. If for nothing more than the sake of the child, the archangel held out his empty palms.

“All right, demon, you have your chance.”

The cambion visibly relaxed. Her shoulders dropped, but her knife remained in her hand.

“Tell me why you protect this child, and why she has survived when so many others have died.”

“Well, the second part’s easy,” the woman explained. “As you so politely pointed out, I am not entirely…human. The demon in me, the monster, is vile. But it’s gotten us this far. This darkness is just like any other demon. It’s strong. I may not be as powerful as you, or even like actual demons, but I can survive. We have been for seven years.”

The cambion motioned to the window, and Uriel’s eyes followed, just for a second. He only now realized that a blood sigil was on it. In fact, Uriel remembered that it was not the first one he had seen in the house. They had been on the walls and windows downstairs, but he had mistaken them for vandalism in his haste. He was so set on saving the child that he had not even thought to look for any sort of rune.

“These hide us from the demons and those other things. They completely hide the house. Apparently, it doesn’t work on angels, though.”

“Why hide from them? You are like them. Hell would willingly call itself your home.”

“I’m nothing like them!” the cambion yelled. “You don’t think I’ve tried? You think I haven’t tried to find something—anything—safer than this? They beat me, did awful, terrible things to me. I wanted them to kill me, but that wouldn’t have been as fun for them.” The cambion wrapped her arms around the little girl, who looked as if she was going to cry. “We’ve been through more than any sisters should. All because of who—of what—our father is.”

“What do you mean our?” Uriel asked, looking at the child. The creature had made the claim more than once, but there was no way a demon sired such innocence.

The cambion sat on the bed, guiding the small girl with her. “Sit, angel,” the creature said, motioning to the overturned bookshelf. “Let me tell you exactly what we are. Maybe I can convince you to spare us.”


***


“Years ago, before this all began, before either of us were born, there was a woman. She was perfect, the envy of all who ever laid eyes upon her. She was blessed with beauty—golden curls that danced as she walked, piercing blue eyes that were so gorgeous you could only look at them for a few seconds. Anymore and you would find yourself feeling unworthy of the sight. She was a tiny creature, delicate and soft.

“Despite how she radiated beauty, she refused the approaches of each and every man, waiting for the one she knew must be coming. You see, she was an extremely devout woman. She prayed every night to a God who would soon turn His back on the world, praying that one day she would find the soul that was praying to find hers just as hard. And so great was her beauty that all men, even those she turned away, still loved her, for her kindness and compassion extended to everyone. If anyone were deserving of having their prayers answered, it was her.

“But one evening, when she finished praying, something else, something terrible answered. It was that night that the war between Heaven and Hell began. She heard screams and cries of pain from outside her window as death spilled onto the streets. She dared to steal a glance and saw the carnage of angels and demons, humans and monstrosities, all tearing each other to pieces. The roads ran red with the blood of the people she loved, wet like the tears that fell from her eyes as they witnessed the end of the world.

“She ran, terrified, trying to find some place that was safe from the violence. Still, every night she prayed. Every night, God continued to ignore her prayers as the legions of Heaven were obliterated. Not all hope was lost, though. She managed to find some familiar faces. People who remembered her kindness and generosity, people who took her in. For years they survived, their numbers slowly dwindling until there were only a handful of them left. Nowhere was safe. Each night was spent in fear, every day running.

“Late one night, while she slept, a legion of demons descended upon the small group. They slaughtered without mercy, reveling in the orgy of blood and pain. But they did not kill her. How could they? With her beauty, even after the carnage of the apocalypse, they could not bring themselves to waste such a prize. Instead, they used her as an example, to mock the God that had given her these looks. They cut her and burned her. They tore at her flesh and made her scream until her throat was raw. But it still wasn’t enough. The leader of the demons leaned down to her swollen, unrecognizable face and heard her murmuring, praying to God in hopes that, somehow, He would protect her. The demon laughed in her face, then whispered in her ear, ‘I have a message for your almighty God.’ He laughed as he raped her, laughed at her broken body, laughed upwards at God, who created such a beautiful woman that was now nothing more than a demon’s plaything.

“They did not kill the woman. They left her there, broken and crippled. For days she lay in the pool of blood and bodies left in the horde’s wake. But the whole time she felt it, a darkness growing inside her, and she knew that she carried the demon’s seed. So, there she stayed, waiting to die, not capable of moving or even opening her eyes. Then, just as she was about to give in, to let death come for her like it had for everyone she had ever known, she felt something.

“She couldn’t explain it, but it was warm, and it was good. She felt it draw closer and closer, and the thing in her womb stirred at its presence. She managed to whimper a noise, sounding almost like the ‘hello’ she was hoping for. Suddenly, she felt warming hands on her bruised and bloodied flesh. She tried to open her eyes, but they were swollen shut. The grim thought of whether she even had eyes anymore dawned on her. ‘Do not worry,’ said a gentle voice, ‘I am an angel of the Lord.’

“The woman would have smiled, but each breath seemed like a conscious effort. ‘Your suffering is over now,’ the voice continued, ‘I can fix you if you so desire. But know that the demon who defiled you left his seed. It has conceived twins, two half-human, half-demon children inside of your body. If I heal you, the creatures will likely kill you as you give birth. Which, judging from their maturity, is imminent.’

“The voice hesitated before giving an alternative option. ‘However, you have another choice. I can attempt to purify the children, rid them of their demonic essence. They will still be born in a matter of hours, and you will probably die from the strain of birth, but they will be your children, and I promise they will be left in the care of one of my angels.’ The woman felt the embryos roll and kick inside her as the angel tried to comfort her, his warm hands gently brushing her disfigured cheek. ‘We are isolated from Heaven, though. I’m sorry but I simply do not have the power to heal you and purify them. The choice is yours.’

“The woman had already made her decision. She was tired of the agony that she had endured here on Earth. She knew that she could take no more. The woman moved her broken arm so her hand rested on her stomach. The sheer size of it would have shocked her if she was not about to offer up her life. With all the force she could muster, she whispered out a dry ‘Save them’ to the angel.

“The angel lowered her back to the ground, and she could feel as he moved his warm, comforting hands towards her abdomen. A soft trickle of heat began coursing through her veins. Through her sealed eyelids she thought she saw a dim glow. It endured for a few brief seconds and then it was done. She tried speaking again, but it was tough. ‘Did…work?’ she managed to ask. The angel’s voice seemed more hesitant this time. ‘Yes. It seems like it has. Now we wait.’

“They didn’t have to wait long. The birth began within a few hours. She knew that there were many angels now, all listening to the one who had spoken to her. They all surrounded her, comforting her with warm touches and all but numbing her through the pain of the birth. She could feel her body growing weaker as she brought those two children into the world. The first birth happened relatively easily, though she hardly felt anything with the angels’ warming hands.

“The second child, however, was different. As she felt it come out of her, there was a sudden sense of alarm. She heard one of the angels shout ‘Monster!’ as he withdrew his hand from her. The now familiar sound of a sword being drawn rang in her ears. The other angels, just as panicked, seemed to jump away, not necessarily from the woman, but from something else. And, as the warming touch of the angels disappeared, the woman felt a flash of tremendous pain as every cut, bruise and tear ignited in agony. It was only for a brief second, however, and it was the last thing she ever felt.”


***


“And that is how I killed my mother, simply by being born,” finished the cambion.

The story more than intrigued Uriel, both for the slight amount of compassion it stirred inside of him for this creature, and for the angel that had attempted to purify both children. It was obviously successful; Uriel could feel the innocence radiating from the girl sitting next to the half-demon, but it was a feat that was nearly impossible.

Usually when cambions were conceived, the children were birthed in secret, and the gestation period was so short that angels, even if they knew about it, would have little time to react. He had only witnessed a single purification of a cambion embryo before and had heard of only a few others. Each one had been performed by the same angel, an archangel no less—one of his brothers, an angel that was created with the very essence of their Father. Only a few of the archangels were left, Uriel knew.

“This angel that assisted your mother…did he have a name?”

“Well, I’m sure he did,” the woman answered sarcastically, “but I never learned it, nor did my mother.”

“And how do you know that? How do you know anything about your mother if your birth killed her?” Uriel immediately looked to the child. He should have picked his words more carefully, for her sake. The young girl seemed unphased at the mention of her mother’s death.

“When I was growing inside her, the demonic part of me peered into her soul,” the cambion replied. “I learned her every memory, fault, desire and regret. I knew her as if I was her, and those memories never faded. My sister does not remember, since the demon in her was destroyed and her human brain was too immature.”

Uriel examined the two girls, the cambion maybe better described as a woman now. They very well could have been twins, but they looked separated by over a decade. Little was known about cambions, but Uriel knew that they matured at a much faster rate than humans. He saw that they truly cared for one another. The only fear that emanated from the human girl was caused by his own presence.

He noticed how dirty and hurt both of them were, with bruises and small cuts on their faces and arms. This house, this world, was no place for a child. Uriel sighed, his lips curling into a smile.

“Both of you look like you’ve been through far too much. Perhaps I can offer some aid?” The angel spread his empty hands in front of him. He still did not trust the cambion, but she did not seem to be a threat, and Uriel knew he could at least try to earn their trust. He knew nothing of this infernal world and, as much as he hated to admit it, needed assistance. “Please, let me do what I can to heal you—both of you. As a sign of good faith.”

The cambion’s face shifted as she debated whether to trust the angel. “And then you’ll get the hell out of here?” She looked him dead in his eyes as she said it.

“And then we will talk some more. I promise no harm will come to you or your sister.” The last word was forced out of the angel’s mouth. “I am an angel of the Lord. I would not lie when it comes to this child.”

The woman thought over his words. It was difficult for the archangel to keep his hatred in check. He held no love for this creature or her ilk, but the girl was a human, so he would not harm her.

“Okay,” the cambion finally agreed. “You’re in luck. The sigils on the walls will prevent anyone outside of here from noticing you.”

Uriel felt a small sense of relief hearing that and had the slightest temptation then to just obliterate the cambion where she was. But the more he thought about it, the more the archangel realized that he could use her help. The smiting could wait—there would be no shortage of monstrous creatures to destroy.

The angel slowly rose and advanced towards where the pair was sitting, his palms in front of him and facing up. He was not gifted with healing, far from it, but little cuts and bruises, fractured bones and simple illnesses were all within his abilities to mend. When he was within arms’ reach of them, his hands glowed a soft yellow.

“Please, place your hands in mine,” the angel said, offering his open palms.

The cambion and the child complied, holding each other’s hands and placing their free ones in his own. Uriel watched as the sisters began to glow, starting with their hands, then up their arms. The soft yellow light soon flooded over their entirety. After a few brief seconds, the glow faded. Uriel witnessed as the cuts, bruises and dirt that marred their skin vanished. The two looked refreshed and rejuvenated. The archangel, his innate hatred for the cambion somewhat lessened after her tale, was still curious.

“How did you survive after your birth?” he asked the half-demon. “It is doubtful the angels would have allowed you to live.”

“Thank whichever one of you tried to purify me,” the cambion replied. “Somehow, when he was working his magic, the souls of my sister and I became entangled, as if the demon did not want to let go of either of our souls. The angel realized this and told the others that if one of us dies, the other would, too. Whether or not he was telling the truth, I have no idea. But it saved my ass, so I’ll go with it.”

Uriel had never heard of such a thing before, but he was certain that the angel who attempted the purification was Raphael, one of his brothers, and he trusted his word. “But you were simply infants. How did you survive?” the archangel inquired further.

“The angel that saved us was the leader of the group. He ordered one of the other angels, Hadriel, to look after us. For five years he took care of us. He killed any who came near us and raised us like…like a father, I guess.” There was pain in the cambion’s voice.

Uriel knew Hadriel—or rather, knew of him. He was one of Raphael’s followers, an angel of great power and knowledge. Knowing that Hadriel was present at the purification attempt gave Uriel more hope that Raphael was still alive. But that was seven years ago. A lot of angels lost their lives in that time.

“And where is Hadriel?” Uriel asked, hoping he could get more assistance than this half-demon.

“He died, protecting us. A witch and her familiar found this house. Neither Hadriel’s power or mine hid us from her. She broke in and used her magic to kill him. She tried to do the same to me, but their magic doesn’t have the same effect against a half-demon. My knife worked fine against her, though. I butchered her and her pet and tossed what was left of them in the creek behind the house. I hope something ate the bitch.”

Uriel’s heart sank at Hadriel’s fate, though he was not surprised. The number of angels left on Earth would pale in comparison to the legions that descended during the onset of the war. The archangel noticed the young girl playing with something in her hair.

Uriel realized that both she and the cambion had a feather, the color of fallen snow, tied into their golden and raven locks. It was an angelic custom, to keep a feather of a fallen brother or sister in remembrance. It made Uriel think, just for a moment, that maybe he had jumped to conclusions too quickly.

He certainly could not kill her, not if it also killed the child, but maybe they could help him. If Raphael were still alive, Uriel wanted to find any other angels that he could rally to his rebellion.


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