Zadkiel

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.” 

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Summer Epilogue 1C (Heretical Edge)

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“Would you like to take the Tartarus orb to the ship’s secure vault, Seraph?”

The polite question came from one of Metatron’s subordinates, as he and his main honor guard stepped off of the tube connecting the assault shuttle to the command ship that had brought him to this hell hole. The officer was in his early two hundreds and eager to prove himself worthy of such an illustrious position as serving aboard the command vessel for one of the Seraphim.

“No, Decanus,” Metatron replied in a simple, measured tone as he addressed the man by rank. He didn’t want to snap at his own people, particularly just for trying to be useful. Being annoyed at this entire situation was no excuse for snapping at loyal subordinates. “I’ll take the orb to my quarters. I’d rather keep it close, just in case the devil twins added a surprise or two that we haven’t noticed.” He swore that he could feel the orb in the bag at his side, even if that was impossible given that the bag itself was a separate expanded storage space. The orb was technically in another (incredibly small) dimension at the moment. Still, it felt as though the thing was weighing him down.

Giving a few more orders about preparing the ship to leave Rysthael orbit within the next two hours, Metatron made his rounds through the ship. He would have preferred to go straight to his quarters, but it was important for the crew to see him. He took the time to speak to several, greeting them by name, asking how their various mates and families were, and offering advice when it was asked for. That went for Seosten crew members and non-Seosten alike. On board his ship, Metatron didn’t care what species they were, so long as they did the job they were given. Loyalty was what mattered in the end.

It took about one hour for the man to do his rounds. The ship would be jumping within the next hour after that, and he wanted to be on the bridge for it. But first, he needed to clean up and change into fresh clothes. It might have been ridiculous, but he never stood on the bridge before a jump in a dirty, used uniform. It felt like bad luck, a hold-over from his time so long ago serving as a navigator on an explorer ship under Zadkiel. That had been before Zadkiel went through the process that had made him, along with six others including Michael and Raphael, into… what they were now. His own first captain, the man who had been his mentor and friend, had become one of the most powerful beings in the universe.

Not that Zadkiel was around anymore. Not since they had first discovered Tartarus. Not since… well, he wasn’t around. That was enough thinking about that.

And why was he thinking about his old captain? That had been… many millennia ago. He hadn’t consciously thought about the man for a long time, though he supposed his general annoyance with many of the Olympus people probably stemmed from the loss of Zadkiel. After what had happened that made them possible…

Shaking that off, the man walked with two of his aides all the way to his quarters on the ship. Dismissing them at the door, he stepped into the room by himself and let it whoosh closed behind him.

It was either a testament to his distraction, or to… something else, that he made it almost halfway across the large main living room before noticing that while he may have entered the room without his aides, he wasn’t actually alone after all. A figure in a dark coat with the hood up stood with their back to him, facing the screen that showed an image of the planet below.

Instantly, Metatron activated several alarm spells on his person, along with a couple focused on protection, and one that would open a communication line to the bridge and the security office. A pistol materialized in his hand as he faced the intruder. “If this is some idea of a prank—”

“Your spells won’t work in here.” The voice was not threatening, but more matter of fact, as though it were simply pointing out a simple truth. It was also a familiar voice.

“Did you wonder why you were thinking about me?” With those words, the figure turned around to face him. And Metatron saw the man he had thought he would never see again. A man with long black hair, eyes a mix of brown with blue flecks, and a face that was lined more by hard work than by age. He looked exactly as he had the last time Metatron had seen him, thousands of years earlier.

“Zadkiel.” The name left his lips and a hushed whisper.

“Hi there, Navigator.” Zadkiel greeted him with a faint smile. “It’s been a while.”

Metatron stared, more than half convinced he was simply dreaming this. Or maybe it was a trick set up by those damned twins. Or maybe—

Zadkiel interrupted. “It is not a trick. I am here.”

That is impossible,” Metatron declared. “You were lost. You were the first to go into Tartarus, and you never came back. They lost you in there. You cannot be here on this ship, and certainly not in my room, because you never came out of there. You were lost. You are dead.”

With a faint smile, Zadkiel replied. “You’re right, I did get lost in there.” He stopped talking for a moment, eyes adopting a faraway look as though remembering before he shook himself. “I got lost in there for a long time. But not forever. And not nearly as long as we did.”

Blinking, Metatron found himself echoing, “We?”

His old captain met his gaze, chuckling a little before waving a hand. “Don’t worry about that yet. The point is, I am here.” He turned casually to look back at the planet then, quietly noting, “It’s weird being up here looking down on the world after all this time.”

“I don’t… what?” Metatron was completely lost, still holding the gun on his mentor almost absently. He couldn’t follow this at all. Slowly, he looked toward the planet as well. “Are you saying you were down there?” His eyes widened and he took a step that way. “You’ve been on this world? How? Why? What have you been doing? How did you get out of Tartarus?”

“We—” Zadkiel started before stopping, his head cocked to the side. “Wait. Me. Just let me talk. Let me tell him, just me. I can handle it. It will be better that way.”

That settled it. Whatever was going on, Metatron was going to make sure it was handled properly and securely. With that in mind, he thumbed the pistol over to its highest stun setting and let his finger tighten on the trigger. This was no ordinary sidearm. It was one that had been modified to be his personal weapon, packing a punch that would put down almost anyone. Especially from this range and straight on.

Then he stopped. Or rather, his finger stopped. He chose to stun the man in front of him, but his finger wouldn’t follow through. No matter how hard he tried, his hand was frozen.

A sigh escaped Zadkiel. “We truly wish you hadn’t done that. It was a bad idea. You shouldn’t have tried it. Why didn’t you just listen?” The man’s voice cracked with his own words, his body twitching a little as though he was barely holding himself together. Actual ripples ran through the man’s body, as though there were things crawling just beneath the skin.

Now, Metatron found that he couldn’t move his own body at all. He stood there, completely frozen while the man in front of him twitched and spasmed a bit before seeming to get himself under control.

“Yes,” Zadkiel muttered while taking a deep breath. “We knew this would be hard. But we tried it anyway. We’ll do what we need to do.” He focused on Metatron then, his expression seemingly a mix between pity and anger. “You should have just listened quietly. You had to go and force our hand. That was… a bad idea.”

Finding himself able to talk even as the rest of him remained frozen, Metatron demanded, “What did you do to me? Why can’t I move? Who are you and why did you take that form?”

“We told you,” the intruder snapped, “we are him. He is us. Me. Part of me. Part of us. We are him and he is a part of us.” His head twitched, eyes seeming to roll all the way around in his skull before focusing the right way forward once more.

“Are… are you… possessed?” Metatron asked. His eyes would have widened if he could move any part of himself beyond his mouth.

The intruder laughed. “That is a very difficult question to answer. Are we possessed? Or are we possessing? Which side of it are we on?” He laughed again, the sound trilling up into a high, almost shrill note before abruptly cutting off, his tone instantly sobering, his tone measured and firm. “We were lost. We were both lost in there. We were lost in that place, that horrible, horrible place. We were lost and then we found each other.”

“Who did you find, Zadkiel?” Metatron managed. “Who could you possibly have found in there? You were the only one that went in there. There was no one else. Just the Olympians, and they all came out.”

He was met by a smile, the other man’s words almost sickly sweet. “Not one of yours. Not one of ours. He was lost in there for so much longer. Lost and broken, in fact. That part of me, that part of us, was snapped off of the other. He went in there himself, whole and complete. But that place broke him. It snapped him in half. Half staying in while the other half left. Physically the same, but not. That part of me, the part of him, left. He left himself behind. He left me behind. He left me in there. Left part of himself in there. Until I found him. Until we found each other.”

Throughout that entire spiel, the man’s emotions seemed to jump through a dozen different levels at random. He shouted, whispered, laughed, and cried, sometimes all in the same sentence.

Metatron was so lost in that moment he felt like screaming. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Zadkiel seemed to take a breath, getting himself under control. “ A demonstration, perhaps. Maybe you are a visual learner.” He pointed to the screen and spoke a single word, transforming it into a blank white slate.

“Zadkiel is a circle.” Sure enough, a blue circle appeared on the screen. “His mind is a dot.” A matching blue dot appeared in the middle of the circle.

“He was sent into Tartarus to explore it, to prove that it could be used and tamed to empower the Seosten people. But he was lost in that place. He wandered for a long time by himself. By myself.” On the screen, the circle bounced around randomly.

“The Other… he was in there long before.” Another circle appeared, this one red, with a red dot in the middle of it to illustrate his mind. “That place does things to you. It gives you powers, gifts. And it does… more. For the Other, it split him in half. Two identical bodies, with slightly different copies of his mind going into each.”

On the screen, the red circle split in half, with a red dot as the brain remaining with each half.

“One half left that place.” One of the half-circles and dots disappeared. “But the other half stayed. He was there for a long time. Until Zadkiel found him. We should have fought. But we were both alone for so long. We talked. And we touched. It had been so long since we touched anyone. We had to. We had to make it real. Don’t you understand? We had to make it real!”

As Metatron was forced to watch, the half-circle of the ‘other’ and the full circle of Zadkiel bounced off each other, circling and touching.

“And then Tartarus made it real. Tartarus made it real forever. It put us together. It combined us. He was only half. So he was shoved into me. We are one now.”

The red half-circle and the blue full circle combined then. The dots that were their minds, and the half circle where both of their ‘bodies’ were overlapped turned purple.

“Isn’t that funny? Isn’t that just perfect? After everything that happened between our people, we are one now.”

“Between… our people?” Metatron’s blood went cold. “Who are you talking about? What happened in there? Who were you combined with?”

In answer, Zadkiel straightened. And then he grew another foot or so. His skin paled, turning a bit gray while his actual face remained recognizably himself, though with a few alterations. His eyes grew larger and wider.

His wings emerged. But they were more than just energy constructs. They looked demonic, like massive physical bat wings. The structures of them, the parts where the bones would be, were actually solid, while the middle part that was responsible for catching the air in a normal wing was still made of energy. Half biological monstrosity and half energy construct.

Metatron knew what he was looking at, even as every hope he had otherwise broke into shards and collapsed to dust. His fears were correct. The other being that Zadkiel had been combined with in that place… was a Fomorian.

“No,” he managed a bit brokenly, his heart crumbling as he stared at the figure that he had once looked up to so much. “You should have died. You should have died rather than come out of there with one of them attached to you. You should have killed it, or died trying. You never should’ve come out of there like this.”

Zadkiel, or whatever the two combined figures called themselves, gave a soft chuckle, stretching their wings out to their full, impressive extension. “We are far more together than we ever were apart. We are more with each other than you could ever possibly understand. We’ve brought the best of our peoples into one. And we came here to finish that job.”

“You came here… why?” Metatron managed, while the discussed and horror that he felt rose with each second that he had to spend staring at this abomination.

Rather than answer immediately, the monster turned to look at the planet on the screen. “We have been here for a long time. Longer than even you have been here. We’ve done things here. Nudged things where we needed to. We heard about prophecies. Some we wanted. Others we didn’t. Like the one about the woman who works for Morgana the witch queen.”

Metatron’s head shook. “That woman has many protégés. I don’t—”

In mid-sentence, the man stopped. He frowned uncertainly. Morgana the witch queen? The woman had been missing, presumed dead, for centuries. The Seosten didn’t know where she was, and yet he had just been speaking as though he knew her. As if she was… the… Sinclaire woman. How could he possibly have known that? He didn’t know that. And yet the information had simply appeared in his mind, as if he had somehow known the whole time. And if that information was in his mind, what else did he…

“You should pay more attention,” the monster snapped, and it was almost like being reprimanded by his old captain again. “Virginia Dare. We heard of many prophecies surrounding her bloodline. So we sent people to find her as a child. They disappointed us. But then, that was inevitable. We didn’t particularly care if the girl was brought to us or driven away. All that mattered was that she not live a normal life. And that was accomplished quite thoroughly.”

Still confused, Metatron asked, “Why are you meddling in that? Or in anything on this world? What is it you want?”

The sick, twisted abomination smiled at him. “We came here to find him. And we will do so. We will find him and be one.”

Metatron was silent for a moment before letting out a breath. “The other half of the Fomorian who was in Tartarus. The one who left. You think he’s here on this world?”

“We know he is,” was the response. “He’s been here since the beginning. Through all of their history. He has always been here. Playing nice with them. Being the pleasant old man. He even calls himself Grandfather, of all things.”

“Why can’t I move?” Metatron repeated his earlier question, still straining against whatever had frozen him. He had to tell others. He had to make sure this was known. “What did you do to me? And why have you shown yourself now? Your Fomorian isn’t here on the ship.” He tried to ignore the fact that he had said that while looking at what was at least half of a Fomorian. Half of a Fomorian… and his old captain. It was a thought that brought bile to his throat.

“No,” the monstrosity before him replied, his twisted Fomorian-Seosten visage tearing Metatron’s very soul every second that he had to look at it. “He is not. But you are. And you have brought back what we need to reintegrate with him. Just as you were supposed to.”

“The Tartarus Orb,” Metatron realized, a sudden chill running through him. “If you want that, you’ll have to go get it out of the ship vault.”

In what appeared at first to be a non sequitur, the figure in front of him mused, “We are many things. Survivors. Abandoned. Torn asunder. Joined. Allied. Left, yet found. We were lost, yet we came upon one another. Though not fully whole, we have reached beyond what we were capable of alone. We are so very many things…

“But we are not stupid.”

With that final declaration, Metatron felt his own hand suddenly jerk, seemingly of its own volition. It hurt, as though the bone in his body was moving and dragging the rest of the arm with it. He reached, against his will, into the bag at his side where the orb was kept and plucked the thing out before offering it forward. All the while, he struggled uselessly. “What… what… do you want with this…?”

One of those horrific wings of mixed flesh and glowing energy reached forward, a clawed  talon-like extension on the end snatching the orb before bringing it back to the monster’s actual hands, where he cradled it. His voice was quiet. “We are the inevitable conclusion of our species’ endless war, a true peace and alliance. Look at us. Look at us. To end this war, we are what is needed. No Fomorians. No Seosten. Only together.

“But we are not yet whole. We are not yet truly two-in-one. One of us is a half of himself.”

Metatron understood. “The Fomorian down on that world. You want to unite with him.”

“He is our remaining part,” the figure confirmed while turning the orb over in his hands. “He is needed, if we are to complete our purpose. We will end the Fomorian-Seosten war, by ending the Fomorian and the Seosten as separate people. All will be brought together as we have been. And peace will be restored. We will end this conflict for all time by truly uniting our peoples. But we cannot do that without our final part. He is needed. We need him to be a part of us, to make us whole.”

Holding the orb up, he continued. “We can only unite with our lost part through Tartarus. We need to be there, with him, to be made whole. This will be the key.”

That took a moment to process before Metatron snapped, “Here. You want to open Tartarus here on this world.”

That horrible visage stared at him for a moment before the figure chuckled. “Open it? No. We will bring it here to this world. We will make this world a part of Tartarus.”

“Our people will stop that from happening,” Metatron informed him. “They will stop everything you’re trying to do. Do you really think they’ll just allow you to do all of this?”

“Perhaps they would try,” the abomination agreed. “But they won’t know anything until it’s too late.”

“You have the orb,” Metatron reminded him. “They’ll come for it.”

That earned him a thoughtful nod. “Yes, they would. But we do not need the whole orb. Only…” One of his wings tucked in, the talon on the end plunging into the orb with a wet squelching sound. There was a pulsing in the wing, as it sucked Tartarus energy from the orb like a straw. Slowly, the golden energy in the wings turned a dark purple-black color, and the abomination sighed in satisfaction. “Ahhh… there. We only required a portion of the orb. That will serve as a seed, which will grow, in time, to what we need it to be.”

He, or they, or whatever it was, tossed the orb back toward Metatron. One of the wings came down to catch it before placing the thing into the frozen man’s outstretched hand. “You may take the orb back to the Seosten to play their games. It will make no difference in the end.”

Metatron opened his mouth, then paused. “And you’re going to try to erase my memory of this entire thing so I don’t warn them.”

The monster stepped forward, standing face to face with him, their eyes meeting. “Erase your memory? No. You will remember all of this. But you still won’t say a word to anyone. Just as you aren’t moving to stop us now.”

“You may be powerful,” Metatron half-snarled. “But even you can’t control my body from across the universe.”

That earned him a merry laugh. “You believe we are controlling you? That is what you think is happening here? Old friend… why are we standing eye to eye?”

It was a question that made the man blink. Eye to eye. They were standing… at even levels. As he processed that, the monster murmured, “Look down.”

Slowly, reluctantly, Metatron did so. His eyes focused on his outstretched hand, and he saw… pallid gray. Fingers that were too many, and too long.

His eyes rose, and he saw that the screen on the wall had changed. It was a mirror. He saw the reflection of the creature standing in front of him, the monstrosity that had been his old captain, that twisted combination of Zadkiel and his Fomorian half.

And he saw himself. He saw his skin turned gray, his height raised to match his intruder’s. He saw his too-large eyes, the bulbous head with his own familiar face superimposed onto it.

“You see?” His own mouth spoke the words, while Metatron himself screamed somewhere in the void of his lost soul.  

“We have already begun our evolution.”

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