Selaphiel

Commissioned Interlude 15 – Gehenna (Heretical Edge 2)

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Several Hundred Years Ago

Striding briskly through the pristine corridor with a crystalline floor and ceiling offset against viewscreen windows depicting an incredibly chaotic deep space battle against yet another Fomorian incursion, the Dyeus (Archangel) known as Selaphiel very deliberately paid no attention to the fighting. Nor did the tall, blonde Seosten allow herself to spare a thought toward the rapid orders being given through the ship intercoms. She was not here for the battle they were fighting, though she wished them well and believed they would succeed. Given the opportunity, she would even aid them in that. But her focus was purely on her own mission, and the consequences for failing would be far more immediate than this single battle. She had no choice but to continue onward, studiously keeping her mind off of the destruction and desperate chaos happening all around her. To allow that sort of distraction could be disastrous on many levels, no matter her personal wishes. 

On the other hand, there was one thing she could do that would not jeopardize her mission by exposing her presence, at least directly. As she emerged from the corridor into a four-way junction area, the woman turned toward the nearest panel and put a hand against it briefly to assure herself she was in the right place. Then she produced a field-engraver, quickly scrawling a spell against that spot in a few brief strokes before pressing her hand against it once more. A thought and a mere handful of seconds sent a rush of energy from her nigh-limitless reserves from the star she was connected to. Such a rush of energy would have overloaded many systems, if not for the protective spell she had laid out first. With that in place, the energy was safely distributed throughout the besieged ship, returning its shields and weapons to full capacity just when they had been on the brink of failure. With any luck, and a decent commander at the helm, the restored power would be enough of a boon to turn the battle around. 

Just because she could not spare the time or attention to put herself in the battle directly, nor expose her presence and potentially allow her actual quarry to escape, did not mean that she wanted her people to lose this battle. She hoped that those few moments she could spare from her true pursuit would be enough for the Seosten defenders to repel the invasion. Or, failing a straight-forward victory, at least allow them to keep the battle going long enough for her to complete the mission so she could turn her full attention to aiding them. When this quarry was finally detained, there would be nothing stopping her from stepping in more directly. 

Turning away from the panel, Selaphiel took a moment to glance at a small handheld computer that she drew from its spot on her belt. She considered the information on it to determine where her quarry had moved in that time,  before pivoting to the left and striding to the elevator there. Sixteen floors below. The target had moved that far, probably searching for a safe escape route from this facility. Not because they knew of Selaphiel’s presence, but because they, like the Dyeus woman herself, had doubts about the ship’s capacity to repel the Fomorian invaders. 

The darkly amusing impulse to inform the target that if they would simply surrender, she could ensure their victory briefly passed through the woman’s mind, while she informed the lift of where she needed to go. Immediately, it began to descend. All the while, battlefield commands continued to be issued through the intercom as the ship’s captain recovered from the surprise of their suddenly restored energy and leapt to take advantage of it. 

In any case, at least she could be assured that the ongoing battle would mean there would be no one around to get in the way or cause complications when she had to detain her target. Some Seosten took exception to the way Gehenna conducted business, specifically the fact that they were independent from the Empire. They often especially did not like Selaphiel herself for being one of the very few Dyeusai, and yet devoting herself to Gehenna rather than continuing to focus her power and skill solely toward the Seosten themselves, and their war.

Many of her own people saw her as a traitor who should be brought back to the Empire and charged for various offenses by the Seraphs. They did not understand the bigger picture of what would happen should Gehenna fail in their efforts. The Fomorians were, of course, terrible, but Gehenna’s mission remained far more important despite those monsters. Should they fail, there would be no more universal war between Seosten and Fomorian forces. Because, put quite simply, there would be no more universe at all. 

The lift stopped at the proper floor, allowing Selaphiel to step off into what turned out to be one of the ship’s water collection and treatment facilities. The room itself was enormous, stretching a full thousand feet from one end to the other. Massive tanks that were ten feet high and forty feet wide, each holding a hundred thousand gallons of water, lined the room in rows extending all the way through. Each tank was connected to a pipe that would pump the water to the treatment structure elsewhere in the facility, where it would be made potable for the ship’s inhabitants. Assuming the ship itself still existed in any meaningful form when the battle was over. Which, when it came to the Fomorians, was never a safe assumption to make. 

With that on her mind, as well as the fact that the sooner she got done with this, the sooner she could aid in that battle, Selaphiel stopped and listened intently. Getting nothing, she touched a spell symbol already drawn on the collar of her Seosten bodysuit, activating it to magnify her hearing. With that, she was able to pick up the water bubbling in the tubes and tanks, the orders being given through an intercom far away… and a scuffle of some kind, followed by rather emphatic and creative cursing, coming from far in the distance, in a room beyond this one. 

That was rather odd, of course. Because no one else should have been down here with her quarry. Everyone should have been focused on the Fomorian attack. The fact that there was anyone here to be scuffling with the target, let alone cursing at them, gave Selaphiel pause. But not for long, before she started moving that way at a brisk pace. Not quite running, but close. A thought came to mind to summon her wings, but she decided against it. The target could still choose to abandon everything else and disappear, and after all the time she had spent tracking him down in the first place, she did not want to go through all that again. By the time he knew the level of threat that was about to fall on top of him, she wanted to already have him blocked off from any retreat. 

As part of that, she produced several spell tablets. They were shaped like large metal coins, about two inches across. The discs had been pre-prepared with most of the transport blocking spells she needed, aside from the specific details about where she was. While striding toward the sounds, Selaphiel filled in the last of the details and charged the discs. By that point, she had reached the source of the scuffling and cursing, both of which had gotten louder with each step she took. It had led her to a maintenance hall attached to the main water storage bay she had just been walking through. The place was a relatively narrow corridor of about six feet across and very long, stretching out of sight. It was lined with a multitude of pipes with various fluids running through them, which ran the entire length of the corridor starting at about eight feet up and going all the way up to twenty feet high, each pipe being a foot across. 

Barely in view, she could see two figures struggling with one another. The first was her target, a nine-foot-tall, spindly form with four legs (two on the left side and two on the right, bent outward to avoid colliding with one another), skin that looked like slightly melted plastic, a face in the middle of his narrow torso, and eight long arms spread along the sides of that torso. That included two sticking out the top of it, where a Seosten or similar being would have their head. The face in the middle of the torso included a mouth, which was wide open as the man screamed in rage, trying to grapple the other figure. 

As for that other figure, she was immediately recognizable as a Seosten. Her skin was paler than most, along with dark hair that had been cut short and styled up in a set of very sharp-looking spikes, the ends of which had been colored dark blue. She wore the uniform of a junior officer on the ship, with an armband noting her assignment to the archival records. Which meant that her only real job on the ship would have been to keep a record of every place they went, scan local flora and fauna, compare it to what was known already, and so on. She didn’t have a combat role as she was, in simple terms, a desk jockey. Given her low rank, it was probably her first real assignment outside of the academy, extended on-ship training, and possibly an apprenticeship. She was barely more than a child. 

And yet, despite that youth, somehow she was here fighting one of the most dangerous beings in the universe. Selaphiel was still uncertain as to how the woman had even gotten to this position, let alone how she was apparently holding her own. 

Well, the answer to the latter seemed to be sheer force of will. The spindly-man with the face in his torso possessed a toxin, delivered through the claws at the ends of any of the six fingers on any of his eight hands. The toxin caused intense pain, as well as sapping the subject’s energy. It was clear that this young Seosten had been hit more than once, and yet she still continued to struggle. Which had angered her opponent beyond all measure. He screamed, bellowing in rage in his own language for her to get out of his way. Obviously, he had expected to hit the woman once and leave her a quivering mess on the floor. Her continued insistence on fighting him was raising his frustration and annoyance to truly remarkable levels. 

“Yeah, yeah, yeah!” the woman in question snarled, her voice coming through gritted teeth making it perfectly clear just how much pain she was in. “Told you before, irrumator, you’re not getting away with that shit! So potes meos suaviari clunes!” She called the man a bastard in the old Seosten language and effectively informed him that he could kiss her rear. Then, as though to punctuate the words, the woman caught two of the man’s wrists as he tried to stab her again. Instead of allowing that, she twisted hard, snapping the bones in order to force them backward so the toxin-filled claws would shove their way into the man’s own torso. “How do you like it, huh?! Futue te ipsum!” She told the man to go fuck himself. 

The man’s enraged bellow got louder, as he grabbed onto the woman with four of his remaining, uninjured hands. He stabbed every claw on those hands into her arms, clearly pumping as much of his pain toxin as he could into the woman to slow her down. Then he went to grab her head with the two remaining hands, clearly intent on snapping her neck. 

Selaphiel certainly wasn’t going to allow that to happen, even if she had briefly stopped to see what was happening. And yet, even as she started to take a step that way, raising a hand, the other Seosten literally spat into the man’s face. Which, taken by itself, wouldn’t have amounted to much. And yet, the moment the saliva touched him, he immediately released her and collapsed to the ground with a scream, writhing in agony. 

It took Selaphiel only a second to realize what had happened. At some point, the other Seosten must have prepared a pain-sharing spell. Transferred through bodily fluids, the spell forced those touched by it to feel the exact pain that the owners of those fluids had felt at the time the spell was cast. The woman had intentionally drawn her opponent into using the full force of his pain power on her, then sent it right back at him through that simple act of spitting on him. She could take the pain. He, on the other hand, had collapsed to the floor, still writhing. 

Not that the woman was entirely unaffected, of course. The very moment she was released, the Seosten figure fell back against the wall, cursing violently while struggling to grab something nearby. It was a side arm that had clearly been knocked there at the start of the fight. Her fingers weren’t cooperating very well, continuously failing to keep hold of the thing so she could point it at the man. It was a race to see if she could recover enough to get the gun pointed correctly, or if he would be able to pick himself up. 

Or, it would have been a race for that, if Selpahiel hadn’t been there. As it was, she crossed the distance between them. The man saw her coming, rolling over and raising his torso enough to get his eyes on her. Instantly, he spoke the single word that would take him out of this place. 

Of course, it did nothing. Selaphiel had already activated the transport-blocking spells she had prepared. Clearly realizing that, the man’s eyes widened, before he reached for the bomb stone in his pocket. If he couldn’t escape, he was going to make damn sure she couldn’t take him in. The bomb stones were his specialty. If he set this one off, it would destroy several levels of this ship, possibly crippling it just in time for the Fomorians to tear it (and everyone inside) apart. 

He reached for it, but the pain was still coursing through him too much to get his hand to it quickly. And before he could manage it properly, the tall blonde woman extended a pair of malachite green energy-wings from her back, letting a tiny sliver of that energy shoot through the distance that separated them. It was a thin beam, just enough to sever the man’s hand before he could grasp the stone. 

He tried with another hand, his scream only rising in volume. But Selaphiel was there by then. One of her wings lashed out, expertly cutting into the man’s pocket to destroy the stone without doing more than singing his skin a bit. At the same time, her foot collided with his face as she used enough of her wing-assisted boost to send his torso back to the floor. He slumped there, groaning and twitching long enough for Selaphiel to produce a small, metal cube about four inches across. She set the cube on his chest, pressing her thumb against an indentation in the top while flatly announcing, “Vorkos Mien of Penye Major. Under the authority of the Gehenna prison system, you are to be detained. You are designated prisoner Twen-Seur. Your appearance in front of the tribunal for official sentencing is scheduled for three days hence. Until that time, you will be put into suspended animation.” 

Vorkos made a motion as though to heave himself up, clearly desperate to escape, but it was too late. The cube activated, surrounding the figure in a net of red energy lines. The ‘net’ constricted, drawing a new scream of rage and disbelief as the net retracted back into the box, shrinking the man down in the process and drawing him into it. Soon, the only thing that remained was the cube itself, rattling around a bit on the floor before settling in place. 

That done, Selaphiel turned to check the other Seosten. After everything the young officer had been through, she expected to find her barely conscious. Instead, her gaze found the woman, though still slumped against the floor, holding that pistol her way. Her eyes were clearly bleary, though she held the firearm steady enough to take the shot. “I… Identify… yourself… fuck.” It was clearly all she could do to hold the weapon and make that demand. Whether or not she could even have pulled the trigger (let alone actually hit her target properly) was questionable, yet she forced out the words anyway. 

In answer, Selaphiel knelt next to the woman. That brought her glowing emerald wings close enough for the slumped figure to focus on them. Her eyes moved that way, then back to the woman’s face, before she let the pistol fall. It was obvious that the last of the energy she’d been using to keep herself even that upright was finally spent. “Oh,” she managed, eyes fluttering as her consciousness began to flee. “It’s… you.” 

With that, she fell on her side, the woman’s body entirely collapsed limply against the floor. She had nothing left to give, no more energy to even keep her eyes open, let alone speak. She would be out for quite a while, as that toxin worked its way through her system. Even with medical and magical aid. 

And yet, nothing further needed to be said for Selaphiel to make her decision. She had already seen more than enough, and while she had many questions, one thing was perfectly clear. “You, my young friend,” she murmured while picking up and stowing the prisoner cube, eyes on the unknown Seosten, “are coming with me.” 

*********

“You’re sure Trierarch Neusrael signed off on this whole thing?” the young Seosten, who had introduced herself as Larees, asked while giving Selaphiel a long stare several hours later. The two of them were standing on a rising lift, which itself was part of a tower on a planet that would have taken weeks to get to via ship from where the battle had been happening. The benefit of having dozens of transportation specialists under her command who were ready at any moment to send her anywhere she needed to go, and a nearly unlimited energy source she could use to refuel them if need be. 

“What he signed off on is technically immaterial,” Selaphiel informed the woman next to her while the lift continued to carry them through the tower toward the top floor. “Gehenna enjoys broad authority when it comes to offering recruitment. Now, that is not to say that you are not allowed to turn it down. Even if we were allowed, shall we say, a mandatory draft, we would not employ such a measure. We find that forcing people to work for us creates a sort of… negative relationship. It is much better to simply offer incentives and draw talent our way.

“That said, yes, your captain is aware of what is happening and that I have brought you here. At the risk of deflating your confidence and morale, I do not believe he actually remembered who you were at first.” Which was saying something, given the Seosten natural perfect memory. But then, even someone with perfect memory had to actively listen and commit a name into their mind in order to recall it later. “It ahh, took the man a few minutes to look up your record. And even then, I believe he was confused as to why I would single you out.” 

Muttering something under her breath about not being surprised and how she had only taken the captain his breakfast for six months, Larees turned to her. “So what about that piece of shit prick there?” She nodded toward the prisoner cube that the other woman held in one hand. “What’s his name? I mean his real name, not the shitty pseudonym he signed on under. And what’s the deal with him?” 

“His name is Vorkos Mien,” Selaphiel replied as the lift came to a stop, the forcefield fading to admit them into a wide, circular room with a series of one-foot-wide pillars lining almost the entire open space, at seemingly random intervals with just enough room to move between them. “As for his deal… why don’t you tell me what happened to lead to your altercation with him?” As she spoke, the woman stepped off the lift and began to weave her way between the narrow pillars, heading for one in particular on the other side of the circular room. 

Trailing after while glancing around curiously, Larees hesitantly answered. “I ahh, he came onboard as a lifter a few weeks ago. I mean, simple muscle that could carry supplies around and work with my boss with the whole collecting samples thing. That was my job. I mean, not collecting samples, but scanning and logging them. That guy–he came on under the name Bundon.” 

“Farmer,” Selaphiel noted, stopping by the pillar in question without making any other motion toward it. She simply turned, watching the younger Seosten curiously. 

“Yeah, real creative, huh?” Larees made a face before shrugging. “Didn’t matter though. It’s not like our people really care that much about anyone’s criminal past as long as it doesn’t affect their ability to do their job on the front lines. Figured he was on the run from someone, but as long as he was willing to do grunt work on a military vessel, they didn’t ask too many questions.

“Anyway, for a few weeks, every time we stopped at a place to pick up samples, I swore he was coming on the ship carrying more than got scanned in. Most of the people who do this job, they don’t give a fuck about being down there, you know? They just wait for the lifters to send up the itemized report and work from there. Once it’s all loaded in, they go down with a scanner and log everything, then compare that to the written report. Most of ‘em don’t walk down and watch the stuff when the lifters carry it in. And they sure as hell don’t get off the ship and go down there themselves to see the samples in the wild. Too much fucking work, I guess–err, pardon the language, I guess? I’m not used to being around… you know… you. Or anyone. Mostly work by myself.” 

“No apologies necessary,” Selaphiel assured her. “I prefer people who speak their minds.” 

From the brief look that flashed across her face, Larees had heard that before and had her doubts about how true it was. Still, she simply continued. “Sure, well, the point is, most of my peers don’t go down there and look for themselves until everything’s put away. I went down there, I saw what this guy and the other lifters were bringing in. And the stuff he had with him when they came on didn’t match the reports they were sending up. Only by a little bit at first, not enough to stand out. Then he got more brazen about it. Especially after my…” She gritted her teeth, clearly restraining the urge to say some choice adjectives. “… boss told me to leave it alone when I brought up the discrepancies the first time. He said it was no big deal if the lifters kept a little extra for themselves as long as they did their actual jobs. Thought they were probably selling the flora samples on the black market. You know, underground medicine.” 

“You disagreed with his assessment,” Selaphiel guessed, already having some idea of where this was going based on what she knew of the prisoner in question. 

Muttering a long string of quiet words about what the man in question could do with that ‘assessment,’  which included several anatomically impossible suggestions, Larees finally exhaled before giving a very short, tight nod. “You could say that. I knew he was keeping some stuff, but I didn’t know why. I tried looking through what was missing, but it was hard, since the only thing I had to compare the official list to was what I could see by watching them walk past. I didn’t want to walk down there and open it up because then he’d know someone was on to him.”

“A wise choice,” Selaphiel murmured while thinking about how the man in question likely would have reacted. At the very least, it would have made him even harder to track down. He was notoriously jumpy, always ready to take off and disappear for months with no sign at the slightest hint that someone was getting close to him. It was why she had gone to such lengths to conceal her presence until it was too late for him to retreat. The woman had been burned more than once by attempting to apprehend Vorkos Mien too directly. He was a slippery one.

Now, thankfully, he was in custody. And it was at least partially thanks to this young Seosten, barely out of the Academy. Which made her someone Selaphiel very much wanted to get to know, despite the clearly inadequate evaluations from both her Trierarch and direct superior. They were fools to not recognize that, and their loss would be her gain. Still, she was curious as to what had happened next, so the woman simply watched in silence, clearly waiting. 

Larees continued after a moment. “Anyway, eventually I got an idea about how to really see what he was keeping. I found the crates they use and put a spell on the inside that monitors contents.  It generates a list of everything that gets put inside over a certain amount of time.” 

“Not a commonly known spell, outside of people who focus on shipments and such,” Selaphiel noted. “Even then, it’s fairly rare. Most rely on the technology to scan contents at the end-point.” 

“Yeah, well, I knew it existed,” Larees replied with a snort. “Didn’t know how to use it, but I heard about it from some of the slaves in the warehouses. So I found one that would teach it to me.” 

The blunt words made Selaphiel raise an eyebrow at the younger woman. Her voice was mild as she pointed out, “I find that most of our people don’t directly refer to such… workers as slaves.”  

With a dismissive snort, Larees replied, “Yeah well, they’re still trying to delude themselves about how far we’ve gone in this fucking war. They think we’re the bright shining heroes bringing peace and stability to the universe. Maybe we do some of that, but we’re not heroes. Not by any stretch of the imagination. We’re just the lesser evil. A hell of a lot lesser, considering the opposition, but still. None of our hands are clean in this war, and they haven’t been for a hundred fucking generations. Someday, there’ll be a reckoning for all that.”

When Selaphiel gave no response to that, the other woman seemed to decide she had said too much, and shifted her focus back to the main story. “Whatever, the point is, I got them to teach me that spell. Then I put it on the crates. I didn’t know which one that bastard would use, so I had to put it on all of them and compare later to find the one that didn’t match. I did that for awhile, kept track of the stuff he wasn’t turning in, and tried to figure out what it was all for.” 

“And you eventually worked it out?” Selaphiel asked, her flat tone betraying no emotion about it, despite inwardly already being impressed by the young Seosten’s actions. 

“Took a lot of studying everything our archives had about the stuff he was keeping back, but yeah.” Larees made a face at the thought. Though whether she was grimacing more at the knowledge of what the man had been doing, or at the memory of being stuck in a library doing research for so long was unclear. Probably at least a bit of both. 

“How bad was what he was putting together?” Selaphiel quietly asked. Knowing the man as she did, it obviously wasn’t anything good. 

After a momentary pause, the other woman answered. “That stuff he was putting together would have liquefied the bones inside anyone within a five mile radius of wherever he released it. And you know what? Something tells me he wasn’t planning on setting it off in the middle of a Fomorian army.” She muttered a string of curses under her breath, tightening her fists before adding, “When I figured out what he was doing, I tried to tell the stupid assholes in charge, but they were prepping for the battle and didn’t want to hear it. So I had to take care of it myself. That’s what you saw when you showed up. And now you know what happened.”

“Indeed I do,” Selaphiel agreed, reaching out to tap a few discreetly-placed buttons on the side of the pillar. A moment later, a slot opened up that was just large enough for the cube to hold. Rather than putting it in, however, she looked to the younger Seosten and held the thing out. “Why don’t you do the honors?” 

Larees took the cube, but didn’t move to put it in the slot either. Instead, she stared at it for a moment, clearly considering. “He’s really into that chemical warfare, isn’t he?” Larees was looking directly at Selaphiel by then, her eyes narrowed. “That’s why you brought him in. He’s done some really bad shit with that stuff. This whole thing wasn’t the first time.” 

Giving a very slight nod once more, the archangel quietly replied, “Warfare is the wrong way to put it. Because there was no ‘war’ about it. Vorkos Mien has murdered over a hundred thousand beings in the universe in horrific ways. He specializes in poison gases, created from obscure and rare ingredients In order to both make the effect as traumatic as possible, and to restrict the ability to prepare for or protect against it. He has no real creed or ideology aside from doing as much damage as possible. His main enjoyment seems to be observing the aftermath. He gets true… delight out of watching those left behind grieve for the fallen, and their desperate attempts to save those who have been afflicted. Most of his attacks leave a good number of victims alive… for a few days, drawing out their suffering for as long as possible while medical professionals desperately attempt to save them. But because he uses such obscure ingredients, most often there’s no time to find the exact cure before the victims suffer a horrible, agonizing death. Many times, they are… put out of their misery.” 

After the long moment of silence that followed that explanation, Larees let out a long, unsteady breath. “Right, so I guess I’ve just got one question. Why the fuck are you putting this piece of shit in prison instead of putting a bullet in his head right now?” She waved the cube emphatically. “Or, you know, throwing this fucking thing into the nearest star.” 

“If only it was that simple,” Selaphiel lamented. 

“Oh believe me,” Larees retorted, “it’s pretty fucking simple. I’m pretty sure if you give me a shuttle and about six hours, I can get rid of this guy right now. Or, if you prefer, just let him out of this thing and I’ll finish it in thirty seconds. No need to pretend it’s complicated.” 

With a small, humorless smile, Selaphiel replied, “You see, Vorkos has a family, who love him very much despite everything he’s done. They are well aware of what sort of monster he is, but they will not consent to his execution. Imprisonment for life, yes. They agree with removing him from society. Yet their culture is decidedly against any sort of death penalty, no matter the crime.”

Larees stared at her as though she had grown several heads. “And why the fuck do we give a shit what they think? Last time I checked, family of fucking sociopathic mass murderers don’t usually get to choose what the appropriate way of dealing with the piece of shit in question is.” 

Selaphiel shook her head. “In normal situations, no. But in this case, there are extenuating circumstances. You see, there is a solar system known as Plaegoc, with four inhabited planets. Three of those planets are essentially owned and operated by a criminal cartel. Oh, ostensibly they are under Seosten control, of course. But you and I both know that our people lack the forces to completely hold every planet that is far from both Elohim and the frontlines of the war. It’s a relatively unimportant system, as far as the Seraphs are concerned. So long as they continue to contribute their taxes and troops to the effort, no one really pays attention. So, the Sarath Cartel controls those three worlds, and grind their people under an iron fist. They would control and enslave the fourth, but it is protected by a private army, owned by…” 

“Let me guess,” Larees muttered, “Vorkos Mien’s family.” 

“Indeed,” Selaphiel confirmed. “They are a mercenary group of sorts, powerful enough to keep the Sarath Cartel off the world. Which allows the billions of inhabitants on that planet to remain free. But, if we were to execute their black sheep of a son rather than fulfill their request to simply imprison him, they would turn that army toward conducting war against Gehenna. Which would both be a distraction for us, and would leave that world unprotected, allowing the Sarath to complete their takeover of the Plaegoc system. And, given how long the world has held out against them, the cartel would make a firm example of them. The entire planet would be enslaved, while many, many would die. Far more than Vorkos killed by himself. By executing him in the name of justice, we would be ensuring that far more victims died, while billions would be enslaved.” 

With a heavy sigh and a string of curses, Larees gave her a look. “You’re a fucking Dyeusai. You can blow apart a fucking capital ship with those wings. You’re really telling me you couldn’t fly down there and tell all of them to back the fuck off?” 

“Much as I would enjoy that,” Selaphiel replied with a small chuckle, “I cannot be everywhere at once. The moment I took my eyes off of them, they would make their own moves. They would find some pretense. Or they would simply act more subtly. Either way, my moment of satisfaction would be followed by intense suffering on the parts of anyone they could hurt.” 

Turning away from her, Larees looked down at the cube in her hand. “So this fuck gets away with everything, huh? Just cuz he’s got a special family, he gets to live out his life in a special prison cell, getting waited on hand and foot while everyone he fucking killed out there stays dead, and their families can go fuck themselves.” 

A hand fell on her shoulder, as Selaphiel quietly replied, “Unfortunately, my hands are tied. His people have an awareness of one another’s lives. If he dies, his family will know. So long as he is alive, they will be satisfied. Now, put his cube in the slot and use the controls there to schedule his trial so that he may be released from stasis and assigned to a cell. We use the galactic standard year and day of that year system. You need to schedule the trial for three days from now. Make sure you set it correctly, because we unfortunately do not have the time to manually check every prisoner after they are secured. There is far too much work to do.” 

With that, she turned and began to walk away. “Meet me in the lift when you’re done.” 

Larees watched her go, pausing briefly before turning back to stare at the stasis cube. A cube that would keep Vorkos completely locked down, alive but completely frozen. In that position, he might as well have been dead. Until they let him out and put him in a real cell once his trial arrived in three days. 

Three days. 

She put the cube in the slot, sliding it shut. The prompt came up for the length of his stasis imprisonment before trial. For a moment, Larees stared at it. Her hand rose to type in a date three days in the future. Then she paused again, her finger hovering over the year input. A squint crossed her face, and she muttered a curse before sliding it up, and up, and up. Finally, she stopped when it would move no further. The man’s trial date was set for three days… and nine thousand, nine hundred, and ninety nine years in the future. 

Turning away from the pillar as it sank back into the floor, where its occupant would spend the next ten thousand years safely locked away from everyone, frozen in stasis (and very much alive, as far as his family would be concerned), Larees strode back to the lift. 

Selaphiel was there as promised, waiting for her. When Larees stepped on, the old archangel said nothing. She simply pressed the button and the lift began to descend. The two rode in silence all the way to the ground floor, which continued as Larees was led through a maze of corridors to reach the exit from the obsidian tower. There, they walked for several minutes through a forest of violet trees to reach a wide, circular clearing made of light pink grass. 

Once they had arrived, Selaphiel brushed blonde bangs away from her forehead, revealing the tattoo of two emerald serpentine eyes. At a touch and thought, the eyes began to grow, turning three-dimensional before emerging from the woman’s head along with a reptilian snout. Soon, a full-sized, massive wingless dragon, fifty-feet in height, had pulled itself free from the archangel and crouched there in the clearing, staring intently at the two of them. 

“Larees,” Selaphiel casually announced, “I’d like you to meet my… friend, Eleutheria.” 

“Freedom,” Lares translated, squinting up at the summoned figure. “she’s… very impressive.” 

“I’m glad to hear you say that,” Selaphiel replied with a small smile. “Now come.” With that, she summoned her own energy wings and, with a thought, sent them over to her dragon. Eleutheria extended the wings out fully to either side with a roar of delight before lowering herself once more, allowing Selaphiel to climb up before she offered a hand to Larees. 

“We have much to talk about,” the archangel informed the much-younger Seosten once both were settled onto the dragon’s back.  

“Beginning with, how do you feel about tattoos?” 

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Commissioned Interlude 14 – Archangels (Heretical Edge 2)

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Zadkiel 

“Are you angry, sir?” The question came from a tall, thin figure wearing a dark hood and ruby-red metal mask that left his eyes exposed. Three other figures dressed similarly stood somewhat behind him. All of their attention was focused on the man who stood a short distance ahead of them, his back to the entire group. Although some might have objected to calling the being a man. He was half-Seosten, half-Fomorian, a creature born not of some romantic union, but two separate beings who had been forcibly merged together in the bowels of Tartarus. Standing almost eight feet in height, the creature’s normally Seosten-handsome features were broken by the influence of his Fomorian-self. His skin was gray and pallid, eyes almost twice the size they should have been. The wings that had emerged from his back were partially solid, bat-like structures where the bones in such a creature would have been, while the flat parts that would ordinarily have caught the wind to propel lift were filled by solid energy. 

“Angry?” the one who, as a potential point of contention against his missing self went by the title of Godfather (alternately Maestro and even his original Seosten name of Zadkiel), echoed with a small smile. A very slight giggle escaped him, which echoed weirdly through the underground cavern the group were standing in. “Why would we be angry?” 

That prompted the four masked figures to look at one another briefly, wondering if their report had been heard correctly. None of them knew who each other was. That was the reason for the masks, enchanted as they were to prevent any powers from seeing through them. It allowed their master to ensure that only he was aware of all those he had turned. They would leave this place separately, and for the most part would forget what had happened during their time here. It would sit at the back of their thoughts, a subconscious knowledge of who they belonged to, though they would be mostly unable to directly recall it until he called for them again. Another safety measure against their connection to him being uncovered. Not even Seosten possession would reveal his influence. 

His. Their. Which was it? The terms seemed interchangeable. The hybrid sometimes spoke as a singular, sometimes as plural. None who interacted with him (or them) knew the reasoning behind it. Perhaps even they themselves (or he himself) didn’t. He… they… simply were

Finally, the figure who had spoken first tentatively replied, “They know of your existence. And the Olympian has disappeared after the death of her Committee host. She knows you were responsible for her beloved’s presence on Aiken’te’vel, and clearly blames you for her death. Now she has returned to Earth safely. She and those who take her side will be watching for you. It is… not good news.” 

There was a moment of silence before the tall hybrid slowly turned to face them. He reached out, his long arms extending to put his hands against the mask of the man who had spoken. The minion froze, going completely still while Godfather very tenderly brushed too-long, too-thin fingers over the metal that covered his face. “We are not angry,” came the slow, deliberate response. “After all, to be angry would imply that their knowledge will make any difference. Forewarning of a storm does not prevent it from accomplishing its destruction. They may flee, they may prepare, they may do anything they wish in advance of our arrival. But when the time comes, none of it will save them.” 

As he spoke, Godfather’s fingers slipped under the mask. He pulled it down, looking into the face of the man beneath. The three figures behind stirred a bit, but remained silent. They could not see their companion’s face, not from that angle. Nor did they wish to. Seeing his face would have been against their master’s orders, and to go against their master was to face immediate death. 

But their master could see. He could look into all of their faces, could look through their souls. He knew them, he owned them. They were his tools, tools he would use to further his own goals. And if they failed him, if they faltered, he would cast them aside, their bodies and souls erased before they even touched the ground. 

“No,” Godfather quietly repeated, “we are not angry. Let them try to prepare. Watching the ants as they scurry in such panic may lead to something…” There was a pause before they gave another eerie giggle. “… interesting.” 

That said, he released the face of the man he had been holding and turned to face the nearby blank cavern wall. “Go now. Return to your lives. The time will come when I require you again.”

The hybrid figure stood there then, waiting for the group to obediently disperse. Only once they were gone did he reach out to touch the seemingly blank wall. Under his hand, part of the wall faded and vanished, allowing him to step through into what appeared to be the interior corridor of a ship, buried deep within this cavern far underground.

“Soon,” he murmured, reaching out to run a hand over one of the nearby consoles fondly. “Soon, you will be completed. They are already on their way. Before long, they will bring us the one we need to finish your construction, the one whose genius will finish what we began.

“And that will be the… Spark of the flames that will burn it all.” 

******

Remiel 

Stand! Rise!” The bellowed call, erupting from a figure who seemed entirely too small and slight to produce such a powerful sound, filled the air of the battlefield where a motley assortment of several thousand figures of various species had slumped in preparation of their impending defeat. The land, once a lush valley, had been scorched, burned to dirt and pockmarked by various craters from incredible impacts and explosions. Three thousand, four hundred, and eighty seven beings lay in various states of exhaustion behind a makeshift dirt wall that had been built up to shield them from the army of steadily approaching biological horrors. It was an army that was repeatedly repelled, yet came onward inevitably. 

The army here had once measured several times larger than their current numbers. They had been fighting for their lives for days now, with barely any rest. And still, the army of Fomorians showed no real signs of abating. Their enemy was a tidal wave of death and destruction, one that could not be resisted. This world, a small out-of-the-way place near the edge of Seosten territory, had already mostly fallen to the monsters. The Seosten simply did not have the resources to defend it right now. Perhaps they would be back to wipe the Fomorians away before they could establish a firm foothold. But either way, it would be too late for the inhabitants of the place itself. 

Most of the actual Seosten had already abandoned this place, leaving on their ships to reinforce other positions. And they had taken the strongest among the planet’s defensive military with them. It hadn’t been the Seosten’s first choice, but they were needed to ensure the Fomorians could not overwhelm a different, more strategically important position. All of which left the planet’s only defenders as ill-trained, ill-equipped, doomed figures who could do little more than stave off the inevitable while allowing as many of their people to flee on ships as possible. 

Most of the Seosten were gone. Save, of course for one. The one who was already standing at the head of their embattled position. The small woman who barely topped five feet in height. Her coal-black skin was offset by brilliant blue eyes that seemed to glow with power far exceeding her very slight stature. Her dark hair was worn quite short.

“Stand?” one of the planet’s original inhabitants (tall, green-skinned humanoid figures with yellow faces and black lines across his arms) echoed, his voice full of disbelief. “Rise with what? Your people already abandoned us. They went off to defend something more important. We’re all gonna die anyway. Why do you think we should get up again? Why shouldn’t we just end it? Who cares if it’s now or when they get here?” His hand thrust toward the sound of the approaching Fomorians. His words were met with an assortment of exhausted agreement that spread through the mostly-broken people. They had lost all hope of escape from this place, and nearly all hope that they would be able to help others flee. Their faith was broken, their morale shattered. 

“What,” the Seosten woman returned, “is my name?” She stood in front of them, waiting a moment while they stared her way before raising her voice to a bellow once more. “What is my name?!” 

Finally, the group called back, “Remiel!” 

She, in turn, gave a firm nod. “I am Remiel. And by my name I will tell you this. The Fomorians come. I am going to meet their charge. I will take their approach and I will blunt it against myself, so that your people, your people may escape. Yet I am but one person. I will do as I must. I will stand in the path of these creatures to protect your people as I would stand to protect any in this universe against the scourge that approaches. These creatures are a flood. They are a rushing river. I will stand in the water’s path. I will hold back all I am able. But when they pass me, what will they meet? Will they see a wall of soldiers? Will they see brave forces, standing in their path to ensure your children and families have another second to flee, another moment to reach their ships, another minute to rise into the stars? Or will they see cowards, lying in the dirt awaiting their deaths?” 

With that, she turned and began to climb the dirt hill. 

A slight pause followed her words. The assembled exhausted soldiers looked to one another. Finally one rose, then another, and more. A little under three quarters of the almost thirty-five hundred motley soldiers tiredly took up their weapons once more and forced themselves to climb that dirt hill. Their bones ached, their eyes burned from lingering poison gas. They longed to lay down and sleep for days. Yet they followed the Seosten woman at her words. 

When they reached the top of the hill, the troops found themselves facing that woman. Her back was to the approaching Fomorians, still over ninety seconds away before the nearest would reach them. 

“And so here you are,” Remiel noted, her voice a soft rumble, like distant thunder rolling through their ranks. She raised a hand, speaking a single word. As she did so, a flash of brilliant blue light filled the air behind the assembled group. They spun back, to find that those who had chosen to stay behind, who had not risen to join them, had vanished. 

That, of course, gave rise to a rush of confused, fearful words about what she had done. But Remiel kept her hand in the air, speaking over the crowd. “They are safe! You will see them soon enough. Despite their fears and fatigue now, they served well. They tried their best for as long as they could. I do not fault their exhaustion, mental or physical. I have sent them to join your people as they leave this world. A moment of faltering does not erase the blood, sweat, and lives that all of you have sacrificed in this battle. Yet they were not prepared for what comes next. I had to know which among you were strong enough.” 

“Strong enough to die against those monsters?” one man demanded, barely capable of holding his rifle up to indicate the incoming horde, barely twenty seconds out. 

Remiel, however, gave a very faint smile. “No, I do not need those strong enough to die.” At those words, her own archangel wings emerged from her back. Made of brilliant blue energy, matching the color of her eyes, they stretched out impossibly wide, enveloping the nearly two thousand, five hundred troops in a ring of blazing, nearly blinding power. The troops were forced to look away, lest they be blinded. 

And then the wings were gone. As was the battlefield itself. They were somewhere else, some entirely different world. A world free from Fomorian invasion. 

“You may visit your people soon,” Remiel informed the confused group. “They are already safely fleeing. Once they are settled in a new home, I will ensure you are able to see them. Of that you have my word.” 

“What–what happened?” One of the troops stammered. “Why–how–what? Why… why are we here? Why did you bring us here?”

“Why?” Remiel echoed. “Because I do not need sacrifices. I do not need people to throw themselves uselessly against an enemy they stand no chance against, to protect a world that has already been lost. I need those, as you, that I can build into something more than you are now. As I said, I do not need those who are ‘strong enough to die.’

“I need those strong enough to train.”  

*******

Selaphiel 

A tall woman, fully six feet in height, with long, flowing blonde hair (including heavy bangs that covered her forehead down to her very light green eyes) stood at the very edge of a mile-wide crater that marked what had at one point been the Earth-based outpost of the Gehenna prison organization. Her face, which looked as though it had been chiseled from marble, betrayed no emotion as she surveyed the destruction. Not that there was much to survey in the first place. Nothing had survived the devastation of that magical explosion. 

“Fossor sure did a number on this place, didn’t he?” The man who spoke stood inside the crater. Yet despite the pit itself being almost fifteen feet deep, he was still almost eye-level with the woman as she stood on the edge of the lip. 

“Paul Bunyan,” she remarked simply, “I presume.” 

“That’s right,” he drawled. “And you’re the Seosten. Well, do they still consider you a Seosten these days? You’re the one they call Selaphiel.” An archangel (or Dyeus, as they were technically called) who had joined Gehenna. She was one of the organization’s leaders. 

“I shall always be Seosten,” the regal woman informed him. “Though I have endeavored to become more than I began.” She turned her gaze to him with a slight nod. “And yes, Fossor has dealt this organization quite a blow. Not a mortal one. But quite damaging nonetheless.” 

“The King wants to know what you’re all going to do now,” Paul informed her simply, turning his gaze away from her to look out over the vast barren emptiness. Roughly a quarter of the way into the crater, a much deeper hole stood. The magic explosion had been intentionally formed to force most of its destructive power to follow the path of the building deep into where the underground portions had once been. Nothing was left of the Gehenna structure. 

Selaphiel gave no response at first. Her pale green eyes simply passed over the same hole his own gaze had locked onto, while a very slight frown wrinkled the center of her forehead. Finally, she broke the lingering silence that had formed over those moments. “You mean, he wishes to know if Gehenna will rebuild here, move to somewhere else on the planet, or leave entirely.” 

“That’s about the size of it,” Bunyan confirmed. “With Fossor dead, he won’t be a problem anymore. But he’s not the end of the enemies you all have. And enemies targeting Gehenna, now that Fossor’s proven you’re not invincible, could bring problems to Canada. The King isn’t exactly bursting with joy at that idea.” 

“They are no threat to him,” Selaphiel pointed out flatly. As she spoke, the woman flicked her hand out, summoning a long golden staff, richly decorated with magical runes, with a brilliant gleaming emerald at one end. The jewel itself pulsed with power, sending lines of green light running down the shaft and over each of the runes in a clearly deliberate pattern.

“Nope,” the man agreed. “They aren’t really a threat to him. But he can’t be everywhere at once, and he’d prefer not to put his people in danger. Which is why he wants to make a new deal.” 

His words made the Seosten woman turn her gaze to him, one eyebrow rising. “A new deal?” 

“He says your people can rebuild here,” came the response, “but he gets to have a few of his own people on-site to help keep the place safe, and as outside observers to the situation.” 

“I do not know that the other directors will be eager to accept such a requirement,” Selaphiel carefully informed him. “We do not allow such oversight in other places.”

“Sure,” Paul drawled, “but something tells his majesty that your people really want to keep an outpost here. Fossor’s gone but you’re not pulling up stakes. There’s more to why you want to be on-planet. We’re not sure why, but he thinks whatever it is will be enough to make you agree to those terms. We put people in your new location, help you watch out for any of your new… friends that might take a shot, and we get to help make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.” He indicated the crater stretched out before them. 

After a few moments of silence, the woman finally gave a short nod. “Agreed. Have your king draw up the necessary contracts so I may peruse them. You have my contact information.” 

Without waiting for a response, Selaphiel extended the staff toward the deep hole. It began to glow brighter, even as the woman’s brilliant, nearly blindingly bright wings emerged from her back and spread out to their full extension. The wings were the color of malachite, nearly matching the emerald atop the staff. They pulsed with power of their own even as the woman began to chant a series of indecipherable words from some long-dead language. The power around them grew and grew, forcing Paul to withdraw several steps and turn his head away. 

Finally, an explosion of power erupted from the staff, careening toward the hole in the ground before impacting with enough force that Paul felt himself, despite his height, recoil a bit. When he looked that way, shielding his eyes with one hand, he saw the emerald light fading to reveal a tower standing there. It was just the same as the last one, a tall black obelisk rising toward the sky. 

“That was fast,” Paul remarked with a cough. 

“We have no time to waste,” she informed him. “There are no prisoners within the structure, and will not be until your king agrees. Go and see the contracts drawn up, so that we may put the building to use.” 

With that, she made the staff disappear with a flick of the hand that was holding it. Then the tall Seosten woman touched two fingers to her forehead, brushing her blonde bangs out of the way to reveal a tattoo there of two emerald-colored serpentine eyes. Those eyes began to glow under her touch, before rapidly becoming three-dimensional. The eyes emerged from her forehead, followed by the rest of a reptilian face. It grew exponentially by the second, a truly massive green lizard creature rising out of Selaphiel. 

No, not a lizard. A wingless dragon, fully large enough to swallow the twenty-foot-tall Paul Bunyan whole. It towered a full fifty feet high, scales gleaming with inner power. Not a true dragon, of course, but similar to the phoenix summoned through the tattoo of another Seosten member of Gehenna, the one called Larees. 

The summoned creature extended its tail, allowing Selaphiel to stride up toward its back. As she did so, her own wings faded from her body before reappearing on her companion, forming the actual wings of the dragon. From there, the woman stood atop her partner as those powerful glowing energy wings flapped down hard, sending both the creature and the Seosten herself upward. 

In a moment, they had vanished from sight, disappearing into the clouds. 

******* 

Gabriel 

Through the remains of the secret facility that had once belonged to Kushiel, three figures strode purposefully. Well, one strode more purposefully, with the other two hurrying to keep up.  The one in the lead was a woman who would have been considered Asian if she had been human rather than Seosten. She wore a sleek dark blue bodysuit under a long white leather coat. Her black hair was held in a long, tight braid, and her light brown eyes gleamed with anger.  

“Why was I not informed of this place while it was still in use?” Her demand came in a sharp, no-nonsense voice while she marched onward, heels clicking sharply against the floor with each step as she glanced briefly through various doorways leading into facility rooms where labs and prison cells were before making a disapproving sound and moving on after each. 

Of the two figures following, one was a Seosten man who appeared to be much older (but in actuality was several full millennia younger), while the other was a Relekun female hurriedly taking notes of everything that happened. It was the Seosten man who spoke up. “Ah, well, Miss Gabriel, the decision was made that there was no need to involve you, or distract you from your own work unless sufficient progress was seen. To avoid corrupting either your work or theirs with–” 

In a sharp voice, Gabriel interrupted. “I would hardly appreciate you defecating into your own hand and giving it to me as an explanation, let alone simply offering the excrement someone else has handed you to pass along. I am not a fool, Seurateis. I know precisely why I was not included.” She stopped, pivoting on one heel to face him. “Because I would never have approved of such a facility. I was told that I would be given charge of all research groups devoted to correcting our peoples’ population problem. And yet, I was kept entirely in the dark when it came to this place. Inform the Seraphs that if such a discrepancy is found again, they will not enjoy the measures I take to ensure it does not happen a third time.” 

“I–uh.” Seurateis faltered. “I am not entirely certain that I can pass along that tone of message. But I will… ensure that they are aware of your disappointment in the situation.”

Gabriel, in turn, made a soft scoffing sound under her breath before looking to the Relekun woman. “Daen,” she spoke the girl’s name a bit more gently, “what is the number one rule of working in such advanced scientific fields?” 

There was the slightest pause before Daen carefully recited, “Your actions have consequences.” 

“Precisely,” Gabriel confirmed, turning back to Seurateis. “The knowledge we gain, the power we unlock, the weapons and spells we create, everything we do can have untold consequences. We know that quite clearly from the fate of Cronus, and the rising of our Fomorian foes. We know that from the state that our own people have been in for hundreds of thousands of years. What we do carries repercussions, often grave ones. It is important that we remain respectful of those consequences, lest we create an even more dire threat than that which we already face.” 

She paused deliberately, allowing those words to sink in before continuing. “Let there be no misunderstanding, we have long-since sunk below the moral high ground. The things our people do in service of victory over the Fomorians do not make us heroes. Yet I do believe they are necessary things. But I will not tolerate such… evil as this, not for our own people and not for others. Every Seosten who worked within this facility is to be put to work going through every file, every scrap of information we have about those who were imprisoned here. Those who did not survive are to be identified, their families notified and compensated fairly. The bodies, if they remain, are to be delivered to their homes so that they may be disposed of in whatever manner their loved ones prefer. Those who survived, Seosten and otherwise, are to be released onto a world of their choosing.” 

“But most are criminals,” the man protested. 

Gabriel’s eyes sharpened, glowing amber wings appearing behind her as she dangerously replied, “They have served their sentence. Release them.” 

With that, she pivoted once more and began to walk away, wings fading from view. “Daen, assist him in the endeavor.” 

The Relekun woman gave a short nod before tentatively asking, “And what of the medical data that was collected?” 

There was a brief moment of silence as Gabriel stopped walking. Then she replied simply, “Moral or not, we will not cast potentially valuable information into the flames. That would simply make the sacrifices of the people held here even more pointless. Gather it, we will see if there is anything useful. And when you have taken all this facility can provide, I want it erased. Destroy every scrap of it.

“While I exist, such evil will not be glorified.”  

*******

Jegudiel

Is that all you have brought to face me?!” 

The bellowed demand came from a tall, shirtless Seosten man, who stood an inch over seven feet in height, his long black hair worn all the way to the middle of his back. His bare, heavily tanned chest, rippling with muscles and gleaming from sweat, was adorned by the tattoo of a sword that rose from navel to just under his throat. In one hand, he held a long, blood-stained axe, while the other gripped a hammer with one flat edge and the other a sharp point. The remnants of pulverised organs and various fluids adorned each. A pair of long, crimson red wings stretched from the man’s back, illuminating the otherwise dark area surrounding him with a deep red glow.  

His name was Jegudiel, and he stood at the center of what had, up until moments earlier, been a battlefield. Now, it was the site of a mass execution. Where once had stood hundreds of Fomorian monstrosities, now there was only ashes. Nothing of their intended invasion force on this moon outpost had survived his onslaught.

“I have been told so much of the ferocity of the Fomorian forces assaulting this place!” Jegudiel shouted into the darkness. “But what do I find when I come to face it? No worthy foe, no battle deserving of my name! Bring forth your creatures, bring forth your own people! Bring me a foe I can sink my teeth into, so that I may tear out their heart and bathe in the blood of one worthy of being torn asunder!” 

There was no response to his cry, the Fomorians who might have remained long-since having retreated from the field rather than uselessly throw themselves against the threat he presented. Finally, with a disgusted sound in the back of his throat, Jegudiel turned to stride back the way he had come. On the way, he paused before turning his head sharply to look out into the darkness, his tone dangerous. “Present yourself.” 

After a very brief hesitation, a smaller, slightly more pale Seosten man stepped into view. “I see your excursion here has been successful.” 

Jegudiel, however, scoffed at that. “Hardly a battle worth my time, Pravuil. But…” He paused before admitting, “I am glad that this place is protected once more. I do not fault those who require assistance, nor do I wish harm to them. Few can stand against the forces the Fomorians bring to bear. The people of this outpost are safe now, and that… that is good.” He sighed. “I only wish to find a true battle, one that will secure my legacy and ensure my name will never be forgotten.” 

Pravuil, in turn, offered him a faint smile. “In that case, perhaps you will be interested in a bit of information that has come our way.” He waited for the man to give him a nod to continue, then explained. Over the next few minutes, he told his leader exactly what whispers had reached him. 

When he was done, Jegudiel had straightened to his full height, gazing down at him intensely. His crimson wings were even brighter than before, glowing powerfully. “Is this true?” he demanded. “Do not give me such false hope, Pravuil.” 

“As far as I have been able to confirm it,” his subordinate confirmed, “it is true. My sources are quite confident.” 

There was no response at first. Jegudiel’s wings slowly folded in against his back. “Well then,” he finally announced in a far quieter, far more introspective voice. “Inform the leadership that I will be taking that vacation they have been insisting upon for so long. 

“Tis time I visit Earth. And see my daughter.” 

*******

Raphael And Chayyiel

“You must want this thing pretty badly, to ask for help.” The drawled words came from Raphael, as the tall, lanky man with long gray-blond hair stretched lazily. He was standing just outside of a small antique shop somewhere in Boston. The subject of his comment, the deceptively young-looking (they were all that, but her even more so) Chayyiel, stood in front of the door, reading the sign posted there about the hours. 

“It’s important,” she murmured absently, before glancing over to him. “And you are the one who sent a message saying you wanted something interesting to do.” 

He grinned in response. “That’s because I know you’re always doing something interesting, busy little feun.” He referred to a small mammal native to their homeworld that was essentially a miniature beaver that could fly like a bat with long wings. They created homes inside massive trees that grew up out of the abundant oceans. “Don’t think I haven’t been paying attention to what I hear about your trip across this world. You’ve been raising a few eyebrows back home. And that’s just from the parts they know about.”  

“I keep myself occupied,” she agreed idly before nodding to him. “If you’re ready for this?” 

He nodded lazily while stretching his arms over his head. “Sure thing, but ahhh, why don’t you take a step to your left? Scooch over.” He made a little flicking motion with his hand until she did so, moving out of the way. Then the man cracked his neck to both sides before glancing over to the nine-month-old English Bulldog currently sniffing a nearby fire hydrant. “Check this out, Zad.” 

The bulldog, in turn, plopped on its haunches and looked that way. He had been well trained to know what was coming when his new owner spoke in that tone of voice. Particularly as it often meant he would end up with treats afterward. 

And with that, satisfied by his audience, Raphael allowed his golden-white energy wings to emerge, flared them out behind him… and then fired a beam from each. The beams tore through the facade of the antique shop, literally erasing it (and the myriad of protective spells and weapons that had been waiting to cause problems) from existence within a bare handful of seconds. When the beams finally stopped, there was little left of the shop other than a smoldering ruin with a metal hatch in the middle of the floor. One more brief, incredibly casual shot from a single wing erased the hatch itself, revealing a ladder leading down. 

“Probably a good thing you had the right place, huh?” Raphael casually remarked. “Would have been pretty embarrassing for you to get that wrong.” Left unsaid, of course, was the fact that he himself would not particularly have cared that much. But he knew she did, and didn’t mind at least making the slightest attempt to follow her preferences in such a matter as far as collateral damage went. It was why he had made certain to contain his beams to only hit the building itself and not blast any further than that.   

“I made sure,” she informed him while already moving toward the hole in the floor. Zad accompanied her, leaning over it to stare down into the dark abyss while sniffing curiously. 

“Sure you don’t want any more help?” Raphael asked, stepping up to look that way as well. “No telling how much trouble you might run into down there. I’d feel sort of bad if I went to all the trouble of blowing away the front door defenses just for you to get in trouble down in the tunnels. Especially if you’re right about what’s in that place. They’ll be protecting it pretty heavily.”

“I can handle it,” she assured him, “but thank you.” Turning that way, Chayyiel listened to the sound of the people below reacting to the intrusion. “You should go, get Zad some lunch. He’s hungry.” 

“He’s always hungry,” Raphael pointed out before stooping to scratch behind the ears of the animal in question. “Maybe we’ll try that… what did you call it, a Morongleen Barby Q?” 

“Mongolian Barbecue,” Chayyiel corrected, even as the sound of multiple weapons being readied directly below them reached their ears. “Two blocks down to the west.” 

With that, she touched something on her shoulder, activating a protective spell before hopping into the broken hatch. As she fell toward the people below, the gunfire and screaming started.  

“Ahh well,” Raphael remarked, straightening and turning away from the sound of fighting going on below, “Let’s go, Zad. 

“I’d like to find out if these ‘Mongolians’ are any good at cooking.” 

*******

Michael And Chayyiel

Two heavily armed humanoid figures wearing golden armor stood outside the entrance into a clearly heavily reinforced bunker in the middle of the woods. The man on the left held an enormous trident weapon with a shotgun attachment, his gaze panning over the trees in front of them while he asked, “So what do they have the old man working on now?” 

His companion, a slightly smaller female figure with a sword at her hip and rifle in her hands, shook her head. “Fuck all if I know. You think they tell me anything more than they tell you? I’m only your senior by like three weeks. All I know is it’s something big and they don’t want any interruptions, so keep your eyes peeled. Hell, if we’re lucky, maybe they’re having him build something that could wipe out those fucking Boschers for good this time.” 

“Actually,” a voice from above and behind them remarked, “at the moment they want him to create something that hides all of you from any of those Boschers. You know, a permanent, perfect cloaking field around all your facilities that can stand up against their powers.” 

The sudden interruption was, to put it mildly, surprising. Both guards spun that way, snapping their weapons up. They found themselves staring at a small, young Seosten girl crouched there on top of the bunker’s roof, eying them curiously. The unconscious figure of the sniper who had been stationed further back on the roof lay next to her, his rifle discarded a bit to the side. 

“What th–shoot her!” the female guard snapped, already starting to open fire on the crouched figure. A rapid series of small purple lasers erupted from her rifle with the speed of a minigun, flooding the air with a hundred shots within only a couple seconds of pulling the trigger. The shots were intentionally spread out to cover an area roughly the size of a human male in order to hit any conceivable weak point on the body, and to cover any immediate attempt to dodge. 

Beside her, the male guard fired several quick rounds from his shotgun-like weapon. The destructive force from the explosive pellets the weapon fired could easily blow apart a car.  

All of that firepower, however, accomplished nothing. They simply hit a glowing forcefield that appeared in front of the girl. No, not a forcefield, a wing made of energy, which stretched out from behind the men and reached up to cover the crouched figure. 

Within seconds, the guards had stopped firing. Their heads slowly turned to find a slim man with gray hair and wire-frame glasses standing behind them. The glowing energy wings came from his back. 

“Afternoon,” Michael greeted them. 

“I’m truly sorry about this.” 

*****

Thirty seconds later, Michael used his wings once more to blow a hole through the bunker door. Then he gestured for his companion. “After you, my dear.”

Chayyiel, in turn, gave a short nod before proceeding inside and down the hall. She was already counting out a handful of previously enchanted marbles into one hand. At the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps, she reared back, triggered the spells upon the marbles, and chucked them. The marbles careened down the hall, bouncing off walls, floor, and ceiling. With each bounce, they emitted a stunning electrical shock. Soon, she heard them reach the incoming troops, who began firing uselessly at the tiny orbs while the sound of their cries filled the air, followed by dull thuds as their unconscious forms collapsed. 

“An elegant solution,” Michael noted. 

“Thanks,” she replied. “One makes do when you don’t have magic wings that can blast through everything in their way.” 

And so it continued. Chayyiel and Michael made their way through the entire bunker, casually dispatching anyone who happened to be in the way. Eventually, she reached the heart of the structure, a workroom filled with various tools, equipment of every shape and size, books full of spells, various types of field-engravers, and more. A single figure stood within that room. He was a tall (almost seven feet), heavyset male figure with dark blue skin, a turtle-like shell on his back, a pair of compound eyes centered on his face with two slits above that were used as a nose, and a mouth below. Four antennae, two small at only two inches and two large at almost six, adorned the top of his bald head. His long arms reached all the way to the ground if it let them droop, and had seven incredibly dextrous looking fingers at the end of each. 

“Are you here to kill me?” the man asked without looking up as the door slid open. His attention was on the oblong box he was carefully inscribing something into. “If so, might I ask that you wait until I finish this? An interruption could create a vortex that would swallow this entire facility and several hundred surrounding square miles.” 

“We’re not here to kill you, Quervus,” Michael informed the man before nodding to Chayyiel. “I was simply helping my young companion here find you. She’s been looking for quite awhile.” 

Chayyiel spoke up. “You did a job for a friend of mine about fifteen hundred years ago. You enchanted a piece of dragon bone and turned it into a sword.” 

There was a brief pause before Quervus nodded. “I remember it. You want another of those, I need another dragon bone.” 

“Not a sword,” she replied, reaching into her pocket to produce a bag, which she unwrapped and reached into, taking out a square chunk of dragon bone about three feet across. “Let’s just say, I acquired this from an old antique shop. I need you to turn it into the chest piece of a suit of armor.” 

Finally, Quervus turned to look at her. His eyes scanned over the bone she was holding. “For one of you, or the man the sword was for?” 

“Neither,” Michael put in. “But I have the measurements for you right here.”

Chayyiel nodded in agreement. “We have someone else in mind. 

“We need you to make it for a woman named Joselyn.” 

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