Zad

Commissioned Interlude 14 – Archangels (Heretical Edge 2)

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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.” 

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

Commissioned Interlude 13 – Summer Roadtrips

Previous Chapter / Next Chapter

The following takes places shortly after Chayyiel and Raphael arrived on Earth back in the very first Summer Epilogue. 

“Boy, it sure feels different to be back on Earth, doesn’t it?” The Seosten man asking that question had rather long, gray-blond hair that fell to the middle of his back. Had he been human, his age could have been estimated at anywhere between late thirties and early fifties. Though he was, naturally, so much older. He also stood six feet, seven inches tall. Despite his sheer height, however, he managed to not appear intimidating at first glance. His figure was not one of muscle and overt strength, but more lanky. Rather than thick biceps or any other sign of an impressive physique, the man was all elbows and knees. He appeared as though he should be clumsy, though a moment of observation would reveal just how coordinated he truly was. Gangly scarecrow in simple, stationary appearance, sinewy panther stalking its prey in actual motion.

He paused that motion then, in mid-step on his way across an unassuming-looking parking lot attached to a rest stop in the middle of nowhere at some point far north-east of Lincoln, Nebraska. This was where he and his companion had agreed to part ways for the time being. It was that companion whom he had been addressing, and looked to now. “But then, probably hits harder for you. I mean, after everything that went down between you and your old captain.” With those words, the man made a point of flicking a little dust off his clothing. He wore loose-fitting jeans and an open Hawaiian shirt over a white tee-shirt, with sandals completing the look. “But hey, just gotta brush that off and move on.” As easily as he had brushed his clothes, apparently.

Chayyiel, of course, almost couldn’t have looked more like the tall man’s opposite in so many ways. She was a quite short, slender girl with short, pixie-style black hair. While he was tall and gangly, she was small and compact. Where his hair was long, hers was very much not. Even their clothes were quite different. His gave the appearance of being open and casual, just an ordinary man on vacation. She, on the other hand, wore military camo pants, boots, and a black turtleneck with what looked like miniaturized SWAT body armor. It looked as though she was about to go trick or treating as some sort of military Special Forces agent. 

Feeling the man’s gaze on her without looking that way, Chayyiel simply replied, “That was a long time ago, Raphael. A lot has changed since those days.” She kept her voice purposefully flat, looking across the lot and to the empty highway beyond. No cars were passing, nor were there anywhere in sight. And given the remoteness of this area, none were likely to be seen any time soon. The lot itself was empty, save for one vehicle, a fancy, gleaming red Porsche, which looked incredibly out of place. It wasn’t even parked in an actual spot, instead sitting right in the middle of the lot directly ahead of them. The top was down and one of the doors was open. 

“Hah, ain’t that the truth.” Raphael gave a low chuckle. “I think you’ve gotten even scarier, for one.” He gave her a wink before adding, “Not as scary as I can be, but you know, still pretty good.” 

“If I knew we were competing,” Chayyiel informed him casually, “I would have brought a Uelphec mask. Maybe that would have pushed me over the line for the judges.” 

Raphael squinted at her briefly before giving a loud laugh. His hand patted her shoulder. “See that? That’s why you and I can get along.” He walked to the car then, bringing a hand down to tenderly rub along the hood with a murmur of appreciation. “And speaking of getting along, these humans do know how to make some gorgeous transportation, don’t they?” 

“That and many other beautiful things, I’m told,” Chayyiel replied simply. She made no secret of the fact that she kept close eyes on Earth despite not physically being on-planet for so long. She had her own contacts who kept her up-to-date on what happened here, and how things were developing. A few of whom were known, but many were entirely unidentified. 

In one motion, Raphael swung himself down into the car and closed his eyes, giving a groan of appreciation at the feel of the leather seat. “Oh yes, that’s the stuff right there. Excellent, just the way I asked for it. Seat’s even heated.” His eyes opened once more to look at her. “Sure you don’t wanna stick with me a bit longer? We could take a joyride and see where the road takes us. You and me together here on this world? Even if our people weren’t already in charge, we’d rule the planet in a day. Less if we made a contest out of it.” 

“Thankfully, the world doesn’t need conquering,” Chayyiel replied dryly. She let that hang in the air briefly before adding, “And I think we’re both going different ways right now.” The Seosten girl stepped back then, giving a very short nod. “Enjoy yourself, I’ll find my own ride.” 

Shrugging, Raphael started the car with a key that had been left there by the contact who had delivered it for them. “Suit yourself. Looking forward to hearing all about the business you attend to here.” He revved the engine loudly, a smile spreading across his face. “At least, the parts you actually talk about!” 

With that, he shifted into gear and hit the gas, pulling out of the lot. An instant later, the car was tearing off down the road before it quickly disappeared from sight. Chayyiel could hear the man’s loud, excited whoop over the sound of the roaring engine before both faded off in the distance. 

He was gone then, and she was alone here on Earth. Just the way she had wanted. Yet the girl didn’t move immediately. There was no rush for her at this exact moment. She knew where she was going next, but she had over an hour of leeway and her destination wasn’t far. For the moment, she was going to take advantage of that extra time and let herself breathe. Learning not to totally suffocate herself under the weight of her responsibilities had been one of the most important things she had picked up from Apollo. It was, perhaps, the only reason she had survived as long as she had with everything she had taken on. More than her absurdly potent power to absorb skills and identify weaknesses, it was learning to back away and take a few minutes for herself that truly saved her from that crushing impulse to keep working at all times. 

With that in mind, the girl turned and walked to the nearby vending machines. She stood there, examining them curiously for a moment before drawing a field-engraver from one pocket. In a few quick strokes, she drew a simple rune on the side of the machine. Her fingertip touched it as she spoke a word. As soon as she did that, the spell activated, immediately summoning all abandoned human money (defined as human monetary currency that had been on the ground for at least one day) within thirty miles of this secluded spot. Given how out-of-the-way the place was, she was prepared to extend that radius if need be. But a small pile of money appeared on the ground at her feet. It came out to roughly sixteen dollars, and she put most of that away for later before buying herself a human soda and a bag of chips. 

With that done, Chayyiel took a sip of the soda and considered briefly. Yup, it was even better here on Earth then the ones she had been sent by Apollo. Then she started walking. Not out to the road, but off into the forest. With her soda and chips, the girl strolled casually into the trees, disappearing from the practically-abandoned rest stop, once more leaving the place empty.  

*********

Raphael didn’t slow down any after leaving the site of the rest stop. He was here on Earth to do a few things, and one of the most important (in his mind anyway) was to have fun. He’d worked for far too long not to give himself a break, at least now and then, to just cut loose. After all, what was the point of working so hard to stop Fomorians from destroying the universe if you weren’t going to give yourself a chance to enjoy what was in that universe? Sometimes, you just had to take the time to remind yourself of what was worth putting so much effort into protecting. 

So, with the top down and the human vehicle roaring pleasingly around him, the Seosten man pushed the pedal to the floor and enjoyed the sensation. It wasn’t exactly comparable to using his wings to fly wherever he wanted to go (the wings didn’t provide any lift, they just allowed an unlimited energy source for a simple flight spell), but it was still quite enjoyable in a different way. He could certainly see why so many people on this planet liked this sort of thing. 

Yes, having a couple of the Seosten who had previously been stationed here on Earth give him a course in how to pilot–err, drive these human vehicles before he made the trip was definitely worth it. He would have to send a bonus to those two. And another to the one who had ensured that such a… wonderful example of a human vehicle was provided for him.  

He had been racing down the highway for about thirty minutes, occasionally blowing past another vehicle here or there (particularly the big trucks with heavy trailers hauling supplies in what was a fascinatingly low-tech, non-magical solution to transportation issues) when the sound of a loud alert siren from behind him caught Raphael’s attention. Moving his gaze from the road ahead to the mirror, he watched the black and white human vehicle with the flashing red and blue lights. Ah, he knew what this was. Local authorities attempting to enforce lower speeds out of some idea of what would be safe. And provide monetary relief to their own coffers in the process. Understandable, yet he had neither the time nor inclination to deal with such mundane, unimportant matters. 

To that end, he didn’t slow down. Instead, the man reached out to touch the dashboard with one hand. Summoning just a small fraction of the power provided by his (still unsummoned) wings, he carefully sent that power into the vehicle. Part of it went to surround the wheels in a protective shield, while the rest was sent to boost the engine. 

The effect was immediate. The human vehicle went from doing about two hundred and forty kilometers (a hundred and fifty miles) per hour, to abruptly doing more than twice that. In a fraction of a second, he was suddenly moving down that highway at speeds far beyond anything the human authority vehicle could even dream of reaching. The flashing red lights disappeared from the mirror as the car rocketed onward while Raphael gave a loud shout of exhilaration. This, this was why he’d come to this world. He had needed a break, and the humans were providing that, however unknowingly. 

At those speeds, it didn’t take long for him to reach a more populated area. The almost empty road led to a much busier one with six different traffic lanes going each way, and he was soon weaving the blindingly fast car around other vehicles. A laugh escaped the man as he twisted the wheel just in time to avoid clipping the rear bumper of a truck, missing by fractional centimeters. The near-miss did nothing to discourage him, of course. If anything, it made Raphael feel even more alive and excited. This was so much better than driving along an empty road. And so it continued like that, as he poured a little more of his own power into the vehicle to both reinforce the materials and boost its speed further. With that, he reached almost four hundred miles per hour. At those speeds, he had to use a bit of his own Seosten boost to ensure his reflexes could keep up with the rapid changes in obstacles, weaving in and out of traffic, around various other human vehicles and even onto the spaces on either side of the road. Through it all, the man laughed joyously. This was so much fun. 

He hoped Chayyiel was enjoying herself even half as much as he was. The kid deserved that. 

*******

For fifteen minutes, Chayyiel continued to walk through the forest while enjoying the soda and chips. Once both were gone, she took a moment to incinerate the empty packaging with a spell. At that point, she appeared to be in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees on all sides. Turning in a circle, she took a moment to observe the area around her, comparing it against the directions she had received from one of her contacts here on this planet. Freshly oriented, the Seosten girl continued to walk for another five minutes before reaching a small clearing surrounded by short pine trees, with a line of blue-white wildflowers growing next to a log. Yes, this was the right place, according to that contact. And she trusted him implicitly. 

To that end, she stooped to pluck a small stone off the ground before pursing her lips to give a low, melodic whistle. As she did so, there was a quiet rustle in the nearby bushes before a humanoid figure with dark red skin and an interesting pattern of tattoo-like lines over his body emerged into view. His voice was a whisper. “Ylegni, you weren’t supposed t–” He cut himself off upon realizing that the signal did not come from the man he expected after all. But, before he could react, Chayyiel gave the small stone a quick toss, ricocheting it off a nearby tree before it struck the man in the side of the neck. He immediately collapsed as the rock struck the exact point needed to in order to leave him temporarily paralyzed. He could still breathe, but only in short, shallow gasps. 

Stepping over to stand over the man, Chayyiel took a knee while he stared at her in open-mouthed confusion, sucking in as much air as he could. Her voice was quiet. “I’ll have more to say to you in a few minutes, but you can stay here for now.” She produced a small metal disc roughly the size of a coin and placed it on his chest before activating the spell attached to it. Immediately, a series of golden wires emerged and wrapped around the man to ensure he wouldn’t be able to move even once the temporary paralyzation wore off.  

That done, she reached into his pocket and plucked out a large red key. The man stammered curses at her, but she ignored them and stood to walk over to a nearby boulder. There, she found the little hole where she’d been told it would be and stuck the key inside. After turning it, a literal mundane-looking human door appeared in the middle of that small clearing. Chayyiel plucked out the key, walked to the door, and turned the knob. It opened, before she stepped through, disappearing from the clearing. A moment later, the door itself vanished as well, leaving the red-skinned man trussed up on the ground, helpless to warn his companions about what–or who– was coming their way. 

******

Over the next forty-five minutes, Raphael pushed that car as hard as he could. It was held together only thanks to his own power shielding it from the stresses he was subjecting the vehicle to. He managed to get it up to five hundred miles per hour, and might have gone even further than that, but he was rapidly approaching his first destination. So, the man gradually and reluctantly slowed down while watching out the passenger side as he neared a small town. Eventually, he spotted the building he’d previously seen a hologram of, and parked right in front. Just like when he’d picked the car up at the rest stop, he didn’t bother using a spot. He was really only vaguely aware of the concept anyway, and finding a space between two lines sounded boring. Raphael didn’t really do boring, especially while he was eighty-five percent on vacation. 

So, he left the vehicle right where it was and stepped out before glancing up to read the sign next to the door of the building. Sure enough, it was the veterinary clinic he had been looking for. At least, that’s what the place claimed to be. In reality, they did a fair bit more than that. 

Whistling an old song from his homeworld, the lanky man strolled to the door and opened it before stepping through. There were several people in there, with an assortment of animals waiting to be seen. A few barked, meowed, or chirped at him when he appeared, and their owners, along with the receptionist (who was clearly not human, with her dark pink scales and four separate eyes spread equa-distant across her face), looked up. As usual when seeing him for the first (or even second or third) time, they stared a bit longer than was necessary. As tall and gangly as he was, mixed with his long hair and general Seosten attractiveness, he was accustomed to gazes lingering. 

Raphael, in turn, offered a faint smile. “Well, hello there,” he greeted the entire room casually. “I know this might be a bit of an inconvenience, but I’m afraid I’m going to need all of you to leave with your little friends.” He raised a hand to point toward the receptionist. “You can stay.” 

The group, naturally, didn’t move at first. There were a couple more scattered barks from half-hearted animals who seemed just as confused as their owners. Raphael wasn’t surprised, but he also didn’t really care to take more time out of his day explaining anything to these people. So, he simply raised his voice. “Sorry, are you all having trouble finding the door? It’s right there.” With those words, he pointed toward the entrance. As he did so, one of his golden-white wings made of pure energy flared out, sending a blast that utterly annihilated both glass and metal doors as well as two feet of wall on either side and a bit of the ceiling. 

That got everyone’s attention nicely. Every animal was going nuts while the people themselves screamed. Raphael, meanwhile, simply gazed at them while keeping his hand raised to point at the hole he’d made. After that brief moment of shock, everyone ran for the exit, taking their animals with them. Well, save for one man, who abandoned his own medium-sized canine cowering under the seat as he fled for his own life. 

For a moment, Raphael frowned after that last guy. But before he could decide what to do about it, the sound of the receptionist rising to her feet caught his attention. He heard the clear sound of a standard-issue Seosten laser rifle charging up for a shot, and his second wing flared to life, crossing over to cover his left side in plenty of time to intercept the blast.  

“Oh no, no, no, not–no!” The clearly not-human receptionist, who was backing away from the desk with her weapon raised, kept babbling. Her tail was swinging wildly behind her. “Not one of you, not one of you, why are you here now?! It was almost done! We were almost ready!” 

“I think you just answered your own question there, Chief,” Raphael informed her. His wing intercepted another flurry of desperate shots, before transforming into a pair of long, golden-energy whips. They lashed out, cutting through the woman just before she would have been out of sight through the corridor leading to where the vets operated. Without even time to scream, she was disintegrated. 

Raphael first started that way, only to adjust his course. He walked across the waiting room lobby to where the animal had been left. It was still cowering under the chair, and he crouched to get a look at the thing. He was aware enough that the general species was referred to as dogs, but had no idea what its actual breed was, with its brown and white fur, stubby legs, and wrinkled face. As the animal whimpered, Raphael slowly put his hand out, holding it there until the dog sniffed. It then sniffed again, its whimper turning to one of confusion and uncertainty rather than fear. The Seosten man waited until it had calmed down a bit before carefully picking the dog up. It whined a bit more, but soon calmed down. 

“Hello there…” Trailing off, Raphael held the animal away from him, checking the undercarriage. “… boy. Your owner sure didn’t care about you, did he?” Shaking his head in disgust, the man pivoted and began to walk back toward the hallway leading to the vet operating rooms once more. “Let’s go deal with these bad people, shall we?” 

Within three steps, two more beings of the same species as the receptionist popped out with weapons of their own. They were instantly disintegrated by a single blast from one wing, which also took out a solid portion of the wall there, revealing an empty restroom. 

Now Raphael could hear people shouting, weapons being drawn and charged up, and various magical spells being chanted. Tucking the dog under one arm, he continued that way with a smile. “That’s right, boy. 

“Let’s have some fun.” 

********

Ten minutes after stepping through the magic doorway, Chayyiel emerged once more into the clearing. She was using a spell to clean blood and slime off her gloved hands, while the red-skinned man she had paralized and then tied up stared at her with wide eyes. “Wha-what the three hells did you do?!” he demanded, angrily squirming in a futile attempt to get free.

Chayyiel, in turn, simply walked over to crouch next to the man. Her voice was quiet. “My friend told me that you weren’t aware of what was actually going on in there. That’s why I spared you.” 

“What was going on?!” the trussed-up man echoed in disbelief. “What do you mean? They were making medicine for sick people, for sick Alters who can’t go to a hospital and risk seeing Heretics!” The outrage was evident in his voice. 

Rather than argue with him, Chayyiel simply turned to look over her shoulder at the door. As she did, a figure came through, followed by another, then a third, fourth, all the way to ten. All of them were emaciated, weak-looking people, an assortment of species including three humans while the rest were different. They wore ragged clothing and had dark circles under their eyes. 

“Wha–who the hell are they?!” the bound man demanded. 

“Prisoners,” Chayyiel informed him. “The people you worked for did create some medicine. But their primary purpose was to experiment on humans and Alters alike, attempting to create drugs that could be used to simulate the human bonding power to give any being the power of any other.” She paused before pointedly adding, “They were unsuccessful, and the more they failed, the worse they put their subjects through. These were the ones who weren’t either dead, or too far gone to move. I’m calling in some people to take care of those. And you..” She gauged his reaction briefly. “You truly didn’t know.” 

As the man stammered that of course he didn’t, she rose and spoke a single word that made his magical bonds vanish. “Stay here with these people. When the people show up to take care of things, tell them everything you do know. Help them go through things down there.” 

With that, she took a moment to assure the terrified former prisoners that everything would be okay, that everyone who had been torturing them in the name of their experiments was dead, and that people would be there soon to take them somewhere safe. Then she turned and started to walk away.    

“Wa-wait!” the red-skinned man called. “Where are you going now?!” 

Pausing briefly, she replied, “I’m on vacation. 

“I’m going to Disney World.” 

*******

It took roughly five minutes for Raphael to finish clearing out the lab hidden under the vet clinic. As the receptionist had protested, their little group truly had been close to their goal. That goal had been to construct what amounted to artificial Fomorian bodies (based on the records from the Fomorian invasion and a few samples they had dug up) with all of their immunities and abilities, and stick their own minds inside of them as a total physical upgrade. 

But now those people, their lab, their records, and all of the samples had been wiped from the face of the universe. After Raphael left the building with the dog still under his arm, he turned back and let his wings expand to either side of his body at full normal extension. With a blinding blast of energy, the building itself was erased, every trace of it wiped away to leave nothing but a deep hole in the ground where the lab itself had been before all of that was destroyed a minute earlier. 

Well, there was one thing left from the clinic. From his pocket, Raphael plucked out a book of different dog breeds that he had grabbed on his way. Flipping through the little book with one hand, he found the right entry before looking at the animal under his arm. “Says here you’re an English Bulldog. That right?” As he asked that, the now-familiar sound of sirens filled the air as human authority vehicles approached. Raphael, however, ignored them aside from glancing that way. He stepped down into his car, setting the dog on the passenger seat. Only then did he notice the metal tag on the collar. Lifting it up, he read, “Conroy? No, I don’t think so.” His head shook while he started the car and peeled away from the remains of the clinic. “I lost an old friend a long time ago. Been thinking about him a bit lately. 

“Think I’ll call you Zad.” 

******

A week later, Chayyiel had suited action to words. She had hitchhiked her way from Nebraska to Florida. Well, not exactly hitchhiked in the strictest sense, as most of the rides she had taken had no idea she was there. Between a combination of hiding in the back of trucks or simply using a ‘forget me’ spell while seated directly beside the driver or in the backseat, she had made the long journey in relative comfort. 

Not that she enjoyed taking advantage of people that way, but having the appearance that she did made certain things complicated, particularly here on Earth. It was better to avoid having well-meaning humans attempt to help the ‘lost little girl,’ whom they would undoubtedly believe was running away from home, or some such thing. Not to mention those who would have their own much less altruistic intentions toward what they saw as a helpless girl. Those people she would happily erase from existence, but it would still be yet another complication. 

So, she avoided all of that by keeping herself hidden and hitching rides from unknowing strangers. And she did, at least, pay for her rides in a manner of speaking. Before leaving each ride for a new one, Chayyiel made sure to do something that would help them. For a few, that meant using a combination of magic and acquired mechanical skill to fix things in their car. For another, it had meant trading a couple coins of stored magical energy to the Alter who ran the nearby convenience store in exchange for a pile of groceries to leave in the passenger seat. Or even helping to find a child’s lost toy and returning it for them. And so on that went, as she did what little things she could to pay for the rides, even if the people involved didn’t know anything about it. She knew, and that was important. 

For those intervening days while traveling, Chayyiel had simply enjoyed watching the scenery. She had been away from Earth for so long, yet kept up with what was happening and how the world was developing. She saw it in holograms, in ordinary pictures and videos, even simply in stories from those who spent time on the planet. But now she was here, and for those days, she appreciated silently watching the countryside of this small, out-of-the-way world pass her by.  It reminded her of old times. 

And now, as the ancient-yet-youthful Seosten girl had said, she was here in the middle of Disney World. One of their famous turkey legs was held lightly in one hand while she gazed around at all the sights that surrounded her. Yes, this place certainly lived up to the hype. Of course, she wasn’t merely here for entertainment. As in most things she did, there was a more important purpose to her presence at the park. But that could wait. For the time being, she simply began to make her way to one of the rides. Yes, this would all be considered incredibly mundane and ordinary next to Seosten technology, to say nothing of actual magic. Yet there was a charming… innocence to this place that she enjoyed. It was an opportunity to, at least temporarily, shut out all of those pressing responsibilities that threatened to consume her every waking moment and enjoy something simple. For a few hours, she was able to relax and simply go with the flow. She went on rides, played games, watched people enjoy their own vacations, and ate as many of the delightful human treats as possible. Ice cream, pretzels, cotton candy, funnel cakes, french fries, she tried all of it. And that turkey leg. 

Eventually, the time for fun and games was over. The sun was beginning to set, which meant the true reason she had come here would be starting soon. With a small sigh of regret that things had to turn serious once more, Chayyiel made her way through the park to a small, innocuous-looking area with a blank wall near one of the gift shops. Without bothering to check if anyone was looking, she approached the wall and tapped six particular bricks in a specific pattern. Immediately, a doorway appeared in the wall, and she stepped through to enter a rocky tunnel sloping downward. Torches glowing with magical flames lined both walls. 

“Back to work,” she murmured quietly to herself before starting her descent, as the doorway sealed itself behind her once more. In the distance, the sound of a large group of people chanting magical words filled the unnaturally cool air. 

Good, she was just in time.  

******

Raphael was having the time of his life. Well, okay, not really. After all, he’d had a very long life filled with a lot of fun. But it was, at least, a very pleasant personal holiday, even if bits of work were mixed in. Such was the life of most Seosten, let alone those as powerful and important as one of the six remaining Dyeusai (what the humans called archangels) in the universe. Even when taking a well-deserved break, there were still important things to be done. 

Still, that didn’t mean he couldn’t enjoy himself while doing it. And while he wasn’t literally having the time of his life, he was making the best of his time here on Earth. He had visited a literal Bystander rodeo in Texas, had snow skied at the glacier in Hintertux, Austria, taken two sight-seeing tours of London, one the Bystander version and one guided by Alters (they were pretty understandably nervous about his presence, but took him on the tour anyway). He visited the Lourvre in France, had a meal and shared stories with an indiginous tribe of mixed humans and Alters in Brazil, went flying through the Grand Canyon, and went diving in Australia to see the Great Barrier Reef. 

He’d done all those things and more over the course of a few weeks. And through it all, he had his new favorite companion, the incredibly loyal English Bulldog he had named Zad. Whoever Zad’s former cowardly owner had been, Raphael didn’t care. The dog was his now, and would be staying with him wherever he went. He’d taken the time to enchant Zad’s collar with various protective spells (fixing the name on the tag in the process), and stuck a few Seosten technological surprises in it as well. 

Eventually, he stepped out of a cabin in the isolated wilderness of Alaska, calling back over his shoulder, “Yeah, well think about that the next time you decide to try to use the energy from an ancient artifact to give yourself the power of a demigod so you can rule half a planet.” Pausing, he amended, “Or don’t, cuz of the whole, you know, being dead now thing.” 

At his feet, Zad gave a loud bark of agreement before growling back the way they’d come. 

“Good boy,” Raphael praised, leaning down to rub behind the animal’s ears the way he liked. “But don’t worry about her. She’s all gone now. You and me… what do you think of another round of that… Korean barbecue like last week?” 

The answer from Zad was a little growl that turned to a whine as his head tilted. 

“Yeah, you’re right,” Raphael decided, rising to step down off the porch. 

“Burgers it is.” 

************

A few minutes after descending her way into the tunnels under Disney World, Chayyiel stood over an assortment of bodies. Two dozen dead figures in red-gold robes stained thoroughly with their own blood (of a wide variety of colors to go with their various species), which also leaked out in wide puddles across the dirt floor. 

A single, heavily wounded survivor slumped against the nearby wall, holding his stomach in. His eyes were wide as he stared at her. “H-how… dare… dare… you interrupt… the ritual.” 

“Well, usually, I would’ve sent one of my… friends here on this world to handle your kind, but I happened to be in the area,” Chayyiel informed him before making a show of ‘realizing’ something. “Oh, the emphasis there was on ‘interrupt,’ not ‘you,’ huh? You want to know why your ritual was interrupted, not why I specifically did.” She shrugged, moving to crouch next to him. His hand lashed out with a blade that jumped from the sleeve of his robe, but her hand was faster, snatching the weapon out of his grasp without blinking or taking her gaze from his. 

“So, I get it. You and your little cult here had the bright idea to use the Fountain of Youth buried under this place to power your spell. Not a bad idea. I mean, the fountain’s still powerful enough to send out an aura over this entire area that tends to make people feel like kids again. More energy, more optimism, just… more innocent and wide-eyed wonder. So you figure, if it can affect over fifty thousand people a day like that, it must be strong enough to give your summoning spell the oomph it needed to call on your personal chosen god. And yeah, you’re probably right. Unfortunately, your personal chosen god happens to be a monstrous abomination that would’ve killed about… hmm… half the people in this state before the Heretics managed to contain the situation.” 

“Never!” the injured cultist snapped. “The Cackling Fade would never be contained! Her shroud will spread–” 

“I don’t need the spiel,” Chayyiel interrupted with a sigh. “The point is, you’re not doing that. I happen to prefer this world unshrouded. So your Cackling Fade will have to find another summer home. And that ought to be long enough.”

“Long enough for wh–” the cultist started, before Chayyiel’s hand moved to slit his throat with his own blade. 

“Long enough for the energy you already put into the ritual to dissipate so your death won’t finish the spell as the final sacrifice,” she informed his dead body, then rose. Her gaze took in the corpses that littered the ground, before she tossed the knife aside and turned to start out. She would make a call and get someone to come and clean this place up, as well as put some more security in to protect the fountain. 

Leaving the tunnels, she stepped back out into Disney World proper. Hmm. Maybe she could go see that electrical light parade before leaving this place. It was supposed to be pretty good. 

And after all, she was on vacation. 

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