Here it be, for them who patiently waited for me to finish this little project . . . The Complete Story. Enjoy (I hope).
The Fall of Angels
By E. J. D’Alise (Disperser)
Copyright March 2013
Chapter One – It Begins
Bill looked at his paycheck. He mentally checked off the bills he had written checks for last night. $80; there would be $80 dollars left over. That was the third surplus in the last four checks, but more important, the debt that had strangled his family was nearly wiped out. They would be able to to save a bit of money, perhaps even splurge.
Maggie had wanted new shoes, and Allan definitively needed a new coat for the winter. And he really should get something for Julie, his wife. She worked hard at her second job, just like he did, to get them back on their feet. Perhaps a weekend without the kids, somewhere up the coast.
Bill reached his car. His good mood evaporated when the car’s engine did not turn over. Getting out, he mentally checked off the maintenance he had let slip on the car. Nothing major. He had taken care of all the stuff needed to keep the car running.
He opened the hood, and peered in the engine compartment. Modern cars . . . not much to check. He looked at the battery, and grabbed one of the leads to jiggle it. The port came loose, spraying acid on his hand and arm. One drop found its way to the corner of his eye.
The angel, unobserved, watched the man fall to the ground. The time off from work and medical bills would ensure he and his family would see difficult times ahead. For good measure, the angel waved his hand, and fused one of the cylinders to the engine block. It had not kept up with the current rates, but last it remembered, that would run multiple thousands to fix. They might even have to scrap the car altogether. It smiled.
This had been an easy one. It checked the list; the next assignment looked a tad more difficult. It studied the file. The young daughter . . . some rare disease, perhaps?
“Hey! Slick!” The voice was low, and sounded like gravel going through a wooden trough.
The angel looked back at the ordinary-looking man standing not ten feet away. He then noticed Bill, a few people helping him up. There were no burns on his arm, and his eye seemed fine.
“Who are you, and how dare you interfere with me?” A glow formed around the angel. A glow that swirled and snapped, like an angry animal.
“Well, slick, I’m someone who is tired of taking the blame for the stuff you do!” As he spoke, the ordinary-looking man’s features slowly changed, his stature growing.
The angel looked away from the figure as he heard a car’s engine turn over. Bill, a terrified look in his face, was frantically trying to put the car in gear, and once he managed it, he took off. The angel raised its hand . . . but a clawed hand wrapped around its wrist before the angel could swerve the car into the concrete pylon.
“No.” It was not yelled. Just spoken with a finality that caused the angel to snap its head back to the figure, now towering and dark.
Angry, the angel gathered its strength, light swirling about him, pulsating with great brightness. The light had no effect on the dark shape. The other clawed hand reached out, and as the angel incredulously watched, it buried itself in the angel’s chest. The hand closed, and the light and angel both ceased to be.
The dark shape evaporated, leaving behind an ordinary-looking man. The six figures that had helped Bill approached, and stopped in a semi-circle as the ordinary-looking man turned toward them.
“So it begins.”
Chapter Two – Take Me
“How is it going?” The voice was quiet, but it carried the sound of power. Or at least, of power that was.
“It goes” The ordinary looking man approached the reclined shape. “I started simultaneously in time and place, and it continues.” The ordinary man stood beside The First.
“Good . . . but I still doubt the outcome.” The First stretched, and rose. He stood twice the height of the man, but did not tower over him. Rather, he seemed as one with the man.
“Long has HE been absent, and I fear the worst. The Angels have been bold of late, and exceed the limits placed on them and us. Their power has grown.” The First turned to the man, tendrils of smoke drifting about them, making it hard to tell if their origin was the man or The First.
“It does not matter.” The man grew into Shadow, his shape now indistinct, the darkness absorbing the light from the fires, and not letting it escape. Shadow matched The First in height, but was much darker. “Most creatures of Smoke and Fire side with us, and the others will not interfere. We will reclaim our place in the universe, and perhaps beyond.” The voice was not outright angry, but there was tension in the words.
The First looked upon Shadow. In his prime, The First could not have hoped to gather such darkness. Once again, The First wondered at what he had spawned. The man had been ordinary, but the gift bestowed upon him had taken that ordinary, and changed him into something The First had yet to fully comprehend.
The First replayed the memory of the summoning. Never before had any demon, let alone The First, been summoned with such force. The First had found himself facing an ordinary-looking man, standing next to the three urns, one large, and two small, containing the remains of his dead family. The intensity of the man was overpowering and, to The First, was confirmation of what he always suspected about Humans.
“I saw the angel.” the man had said. “They said it was carbon monoxide, but I saw the angel smother them. I could not move, and was made to watch as their lives ended. It laughed, the angel did. It seemed to grow in brilliance and power with each of the deaths.”
The First had just stood there, looking at the man. He felt the anger in the man change into raw power, intoxicating in its proximity and intensity. And then the power dissolved, a decision reached. The man looked at The First.
“Take me.” Two words that set in motion all that was to be.
Chapter Three – Betrayal
Stepping outside of time, outside of place, The First had pondered the request. The Angels, Beings of Light, had conspired against both Humans and Demons, earning a place of privilege at the expense of them both. Why HE allowed it, The First did not know; it had not been granted an audience to appeal the judgment. The hearing on the events in The Garden had been the last time The First had seen HE That Was.
The First visited The Garden once before, to watch the making of Things, Animals, and Humans. HE That Was asked for both Angels and Demons to keep clear of the beings of flesh, and never return to The Garden.
The humans had been tricked into naming The First as transgressor of that edict, and the punishment was set. Exile, for both humans and demons. But not just exile, for Demons. Their subsistence would be the memories of corrupt humans. And so did the lore spread, from human to human; Demons fed on humans by corrupting them, and taking their souls from them.
Souls! How could Humans be so blind! The gift had been reason, independent thought, autonomy of action. No Demon, or Angel, could directly corrupt a Human. But the Angels had weaved those tales as well. Setting impossible standards of conducts, arbitrary rules, spreading the seeds of guilt. For guilt corrupted humans. Small transgressions of impossible demands. Once guilt took hold, it corrupted reason. In some, reason rebelled, further corrupting them. At the end of their time, when demons fed on their memories, those humans were but shadows of what they could have been.
The Angels too, suffered. They miscalculated, and did not foresee to what extent their stories influenced humans reason. Large numbers succumbed to the stories, even adding to them, and they too were diminished. A different kind of corruption, but a corruption just the same.
And then there were humans like this ordinary man. They did reason. They did not believe the stories. They offered no sustenance to either Angels or Demons, for they did not ascribe to the reality of either. Some had postulated the rise of these . . . non-believers, their rise and increased numbers, would in time become, or perhaps surpass HE That Was.
These non-believers shaped their universe, had the potential to be greater than Angels, Demons, and HE itself. Demons could do little but ignore them, but Angels took both direct action and, through other humans, indirect action; to control them, to limit the numbers of non-believers.
And now, this ordinary human, this non-believer, offered himself to him, The First. He could feel the power that would provide centuries of sustenance. But . . . The First saw more. Here was the opportunity to align Humans and Demons. To fight back against their common enemy.
Chapter Four – Shadow
“Take me.” The man did not look away as he offered himself once more. The First almost reached out . . . but stopped. “Who are you?” He asked, instead.
The man paused. He looked at the three urns. When the man spoke, it was but a whisper, but The First felt a resurgence of the power channeling from the man. The distraction almost made him miss what the man said.
“I am an ordinary man. I have nothing to offer . . . all that I had, was taken from me.”
The First controlled the urge to tap into the power, to use its raw force, and assure his existence for centuries to come. Perhaps to even mount a challenge to the Angels. A thought began to form.
He knew the story of The Christ. No, not the written story. The Christ had appeared at the same time of the disappearance of the archangel Iesous. The First suspected HE had shared a measure HIS power with Iesous. Not the Son of God, as humans referred to him, but a progeny.
The First had encountered The Christ once. A battle had been fought in the desert, and while it had been close, The Christ had been too powerful . . . but not as powerful as what emanated from this ordinary man.
“Would you like to put a stop to it?” The First shrank his figure, smoke flowing from him, spilling to cover the floor, rising to the height of the man’s knees, and lapping higher as if wanting to climb.
“What?” The man looked at The First, as if seeing him for the first time.
“Would you like to keep it from happening to others?” The First moved as he spoke, circling to the other side of the man.
The man’s eyes followed him. The First could literally feel the calculating brain behind them. He knew of Sentient Swords who could not match the fierceness and sharpness he sensed. This man might even be able to bring them back from whence they had retreated. One in particular, he thought would be a perfect match. Sable Slayer would serve this man well.
The moment dragged. At last, The First felt the raw power of the the man focus; a decision had been made, and The First knew what it was even before the man spoke the words “What do I need to do?”
Chapter Five – Transcendence
The First returned to the chosen now. Shadow was silent and still, and The First knew he was elsewhere in time and space. He watched as Shadow grew so dark as to absorb all light. By contrast, his own darkness seemed a pale luminescence. He reached out . . . and quickly drew back.
Again he wondered what he had spawned, and thought back.
~ ~ ~ ~
“What do I need to do?”
The smoke was already rising, covering the human form as it rose. The man stood still, even as it reached his eyes, and finally covered him from head to toe.
The flesh is but a prison. Your mind is but a scabbard. Say the word, and I shall free and unsheathe you.
Go for it.
The First expected the man to scream. He could not be sure of what it might feel like, but this was literally a rendering of the man’s energy, every bit of the forces that bound his mortal shell in a solid form released and captured by the smoke that surrounded it. All that, and one more thing. Extracting the mind from the finite mechanics of the brain, and freeing it into time and space.
The First had never done this. He knew it could be done because his own being had been so freed, and he also knew a part of him would have to guide the man through the journey. That part of him would not return.
The man’s mind would take it, use it as fuel, and shape itself into something new. What, The First did not know.
The man did not scream, but The First nearly did. The intensity of the power ripped from him more than he had intended to give, and he saw, for the briefest of moments, a vague outline form . . . no more than a shadow. Just before dissipating, the shadow absorbed all light. For the first time in his long life, The First understood nothingness; the absence of everything. Then he once again stood, shaken, in an empty room. Alone.
Chapter Six – Focus
And then he felt it. Zeus, in his time, would similarly announce his approach, but this was multiple times more . . . intense.
Everything stilled, the very air molecules unmoving, waiting. Waiting for release. In that stillness, it was easy to see. No. It was easy not to see; an infinitely small absence of everything, more an awareness of it, than actual perception. Then a dot. A dot that slowly grew as The First watched.
The First could not tell where the dot ended, and the world began. Even as it grew, he could not really see it, or its boundaries. It was more as if a portion of reality was absent. And then Shadow stood in front of him. He did not yet look like Shadow. Looking very much like the ordinary man of a short time before, the sight belied what The First knew was there. Something powerful. Something new.
“Tell me of the things that are, of time of space, of what you know of the enemy.” The man grew into Shadow as he spoke. The First thought that if darkness could shine, it would look thus.
~ ~ ~
“I am called elsewhere.”
Shadow’s words brought The First back to the chosen now.
“Trouble?” he asked.
“It’s Michael. I must see to my men.” Even as he spoke, Shadow’s form began to dissolve, and was gone.
Chapter Seven – Men Over Demons
The First stood alone. Shadow’s words echoed in his mind; “I must see to my men.” When the decision to challenge the Angels had evolved into a plan, The First had proposed calling the aid of demons and creatures of Smoke and Fire. Shadow had refused.
His reasons were peculiar to his nature. At heart, he was, after all, an unbeliever. He did not understand demons, even for being part one himself. Shadow did not voice the distrust, but The First understood; the motivation of demons, their commitment to the cause, would not match Shadow’s own.
No; his choice had been Humans. Humans he understood; their motivation, their fears, their weaknesses, their immense untapped strength when properly motivated.
“They are mortal! Angels will slay them on the spot!” The First strongly voiced his opposition. Not out of concern for humans, but out of concern for the success of the endeavor.
“No . . . they are merely helping. They will not challenge the Angels themselves. That is my task.”
The First again was confronted with the need to expand his grasp of Shadow’s power. To take on all Angels encounters required much more than even he, The First, could bring to bear for all but the briefest of time. Manipulating multiple threads of time and space was in the realm of gods . . . gods who ultimately were banished by the angels themselves.
The First wanted to believe, and indeed he caught glimpses of such power . . . but still feared. He feared both for the success of the endeavor, and for the aftermath.
Chapter Eight – The Men
Joe made his way up the poorly-lit street. There was a time when he might have worried about being out late at night; a time when fear of losing what was most dear to him fueled that fear, and made him cautious. Now . . . now not much mattered. His wife and unborn child had died in a freak accident. A buffalo. A buffalo on the way to slaughter managed to break free of the pen, and ran onto the two-lane road. The cement-truck driver reacted by instinct, swerving to avoid the animal . . . the truck flipped right atop the car driven by Joe’s wife. She died on the way to the hospital, taking her precious cargo with her.
There were few minutes of each day Joe did not re-live the fateful day.
Nearly home, he spied a figure standing at the entrance of his townhouse. Even in the light of the security light, he had a difficult time making out the person. He slowed, looking around. There were always more; there was no such thing as a lone gang member. Still, he could not see where others might have hidden.
The man’s voice was familiar . . . “Ed?” Joe struggled to see the features, but yes . . . it was.
They had met years ago at a Skeptics convention, and had formed a loose friendship based on other occasional meetings at conventions. Those trips had stopped when Joe lost his wife.
“Yes, it’s me. I have a few things to discuss with you.”
Once inside, they spoke at length . . . and like the others, Joe took some convincing. There was little argument to Shadow transforming, but despite the demonstration, there was resistance to believing Angels were responsible for his wife’s death, and even more resistance to joining in a conflict to wipe them out.
They sat opposite each other, still and quiet.
“It begins tonight.” Ed’s words were spoken as he rose. “I know you doubt, and I don’t want to ask for more than you are capable of, but I know you to be a strong person, and I know you have a stake in this.” Ed walked over to the counter, and picked up the pen and paper sitting there.
“If you change your mind, be at the parking lot of this address by nine.” Ed put the pen and paper down, and then dissolved into a few wisps of smoke, which themselves lingered but a few seconds before disappearing.
“Damn!” was all Joe could think to say. He looked at the clock. Eight o’clock. Joe stared at the clock, his mind working all sorts of angles and possibilities.
“Screw it!” He grabbed his coat, and headed for the door.
An hour later he stood in the shadowed corner of a parking lot with Ed and a few others, wondering what was about to happen. He watched the man he would later learn to be named Bill as he made his way to the car. Ed pointed out the semi-luminous form of the angel observing the man. Joe saw the motion the angel made when Bill went to start the car, and watched Bill open the hood. The next few seconds were a blur, and only later, when his mind parsed it all, did he realized what he saw.
Ed made a motion at the same time as the Angel’s own, and tendrils of smoke reached up from around Bill’s feet, and formed a barrier between Bill and the battery acid. Another tendril enveloped the engine compartment, and just as quickly disappeared. Even as Ed walked toward the Angel, Joe and the others rushed to Bill’s aid. Joe stopped, and looked back to see Ed now a dark shape holding the Angel’s arm.
And then, obscured from his view, something happened, and the Angel was no more. Bill had already left, and the others were walking back toward Ed. He joined them, his mind made up. They stood, waiting for Ed to instruct them.
“So it begins.” Ed’s tone contrasted with his current form.
“What can we do?” One of the two women in the group voiced the question in the mind of all. There was determination, but also fear in the woman’s voice.
“Your task is to delay Angels from doing more harm. Once you confirm the presence of an Angel, I will deal with it.”
Joe was about to ask the all important “How?” when swords appeared in front of each of them.
Chapter Nine – Sable Slayer
She drifted between time, in nospace. Her mind ran from the obsidian end-cap, accenting the pommel, down the luminescent black diamond grip, and stopped at the cross-guard. The two bones forming the cross-guard fused around the rain guard and the double-fuller blade. The bones were from the first god she had killed. True, it had been a minor god, but it cemented her legend both in the minds of men, and in that of her peers. She continued along the strong of the blade, the fuller giving way to the riser . . . there, at the transition . . . a flaw on the edge, before continuing to the point.
A thousand years she had fought alongside humans, even as she watched their corruption take form in their minds. Fewer and fewer were worthy to carry her and her sisters. Some of her kin no longer trusted men, and began only allowing human women to wield them in battle. Legendary, were the few women warriors who dotted human history.
Her last battle pitted Sable Slayer against another who would be god. The hand that wielded her faltered, lacking the determination and fearlessness to counteract the brute force of the attacker’s sword. A common sword at that, lacking a will, devoid of honor . . . but swung with the greed for power.
At the moment of impact, the man wielding Sable Slayer let go of her, leaving her momentarily weakened. The other blade chipped her edge, leaving a reminder humans were no longer worthy, no longer to be trusted.
One of the last to do so, she left time, and joined her many sisters in nospace. Each lived on the memories of ages past, when their glory counted for something.
She was about to relive one of the more epic battles when something reached out to her.
“I am Shadow. Will you join me in a battle?”
Chapter Ten – The Sentient Swords
Sable reached out, sense and awareness seeking to confront the intruder . . . and quickly scaled back the conduit. So much power; she was tempted to accept whatever the conflict. She wanted to feel that conviction fueling her, running through her core, cutting a swath through the enemy’s lines.
No! She knew not what enemy, nor who would wield her. And yet . . . something familiar in the presence . . .
“You are part human.”
“I don’t know what I am. It may be a trace of what I once was remains . . . if so, it is but a shadow among shadows.” Shadow’s replied conveyed much more than he intended. Sable wondered if he understood her relationship to things, and humans in particular.
“Some shadows are troubling. I cannot fathom intent, and see little of their nature. I see human and demon, both clearly . . . the rest would have been called an abomination in different times and ancient places.” Sable cautiously took measure of the being. Much of what she saw burned with honor, integrity, focus, and other qualities which would make this . . . Shadow, a worthy wielder of her own will. But, the large part she could not see . . . that gave her pause.
“Perhaps I am an abomination . . . but to humans, so are demons. So are Angels. And to some humans, humans I’ve gathered for this battle, so are gods.” As Shadow spoke, he let his thoughts spread in this nospace, reaching other swords who were tuning in on the interaction between he and Sable.
“These humans could use the help of you and your sisters. I aim to protect the humans, but I will be spread far and wide, and they could use weapons to shield them from the light of Angels.” His words had barely finished echoing in their consciousness when a wave of anger swept through the now assembled swords. Shadow could sense thousands . . . as many as would be needed.
“Angels!” Sable voiced the disdain. “The corruptors! They altered human history, kept them from their greatness . . . we would welcome the chance to fight alongside humans, to help them once more travel the paths of honor. But . . . ”
Shadow finished for her. “. . . but you cannot be sure if they are worthy.” As he spoke, Shadow spread his awareness, making available his memories of the his recruitment efforts. Thousand of humans, spread through the continents, each prepared to face possible death with no promised reward other than a chance to be free, to regain control of their destiny. “I can tell you this . . . they will meet the Angels with or without you. With you,“ he continued, now addressing the assembled sentiences, “they stand a chance.”
Sable spoke for many. “I do not question the motivation and worthiness of the humans you recruited. I aim to understand your motivation. What is your goal with taking on the Angels?”
Shadow paused. “The Angels are but a stepping stone to what lays beyond.” His reply was clear . . .
“God.” If Sable would have been capable of speech, the word would have been a whisper.
“God.” Shadow was capable of speech, but in nospace words were not voiced. Instead, the word appeared in the consciousness of the swords as chilling nothingness.
Chapter Eleven – The Bonding
Back home, Joe looked at the sword standing on point in the middle of his den. When it had first appeared, the sword stood nearly as tall as he did. Now it was barely the length of his arm. Much thinner, too. It made it easier to conceal, but not much.
When he had first touched it, a link had formed. A link to someone . . . something named Lion Claw.
“You can call me Lena, if you prefer.”
“What?!” Joe jumped at the words forming in his mind. Unnerving it was, watching an immobile object, and having it read his thoughts.
“You’ve seen angels and demons, and a sentient sword startles you?”
Joe stared at the sword. “To be fair, the angels and demons startle me as well.” He could have ‘thought’ the reply, but it felt more comfortable to speak. “I’m just trying to figure out how I’m going to carry you.”
“I could carry myself, but that might be a bit conspicuous.”
“Point taken.” Joe thought for a moment. “How do you move about? For that matter, how do you hover like that?”
“I use The Force, Joe. A rock is no different than a spaceship. All are affected by The Force. It binds us all!”
“Ah, so we reached a limit of belief. Sentient swords, angels, and demons . . . yes. The Force . . . no. Good choice. That’s all . . . how do you say . . . bullcrap, you know. If there were such a thing, none of the Jedi would need to leave their sofa. They could just will stuff all over the universe.”
“You pulled that from my memory . . . the discussion with my friends at the comics convention.” Joe thought for a moment. “Are you aping my argument, or is that your own opinion?”
“Aping. Such a derogatory assumption, and insulting visual, as well.”
“Er . . . I didn’t . . . I mean, I wasn’t . . . “
“Relax, I’m just having some fun. But, there is one thing I pulled from that mess that might be of practical value. You might have noticed I am smaller. I can put most of me back into nospace, and leave only the hilt here until you need me. Then I can come back. Lightsaber, I believe you call it. I could work like that.”
For the first time in many months, Joe’s face beamed. “Really?!? That would be so . . . “ he caught himself before gushing out some idiotic, and probably arcane, expression. Instead he finished with “. . . convenient.”
Joe thoughts drifted to something that had been nagging at him. He was about to ask, when Lena answered.
“Angels have no sway on me. As long as you don’t panic, and trust in me, trust in our bond, I can shield you from their light. Depending on the levels of your conviction, courage, and confidence, we could even do some damage. We have no hope of destroying one; I can shield light, and can even bend some of it, but only Shadow can destroy it. But we can certainly keep one busy, and keep it from messing with others.”
“Why are you doing this?” This time Joe’s words came out before he could think of them.
“We were forged a long time ago, or perhaps a time hence, with one purpose.”
“A purpose?” Joe interrupted without meaning to. Joe had never believed in having a purpose beyond caring for the welfare of those he loved.
“Yes, a purpose . . . to bound to other beings, to no longer be alone.”
Joe sat silent. He thought of his life, the many ups and downs, the moments of incredible joy, and the moments of unbearable pain. All but the last unbearable pain had been shared with someone, and having lost that someone had left him lost. Lost to the world, and lost to himself.
The thought came unbidden to his mind . . . it is good to no longer be alone.
“Thank you . . . for understanding. Now, how about some basic sword fighting lessons?”
Chapter Twelve – Michael
Shadow had felt the call as he had been speaking to The First. Lion Claw . . . Lena and Joe, facing Michael. His awareness shifted to the location, and as his form solidified into that of a man, and he surveyed the scene before him.
A girl, early teens, probably a runaway, sat in a small alcove of the underpass. Joe, Lena shining brightly in his double-handed grip, faced the shimmering form of Michael. Michael wielding the double-edged sword of Truth and Justice. Or so it was named. Shadow knew otherwise.
While Shadow was still forming, Michael flew above and around Joe, and lunged at the girl. Lena met Michael’s sword, and forced it back. At the moment of impact some of Lena’s shine enveloped both Joe and the girl, and the counter blow was expertly delivered to deflect Michael’s sword away from the prone girl.
“Yo, Mike!” Even as he spoke, Shadow grew, and tendrils raced to form a barrier between Michael and the humans.
Michael’s form turned toward Shadow, and shone a bit brighter. “Ah . . . the man himself! Just as I had hoped.”
Lights appeared all around the group . . . thirty, maybe forty angels, each wielding a sword.
“Mickey, how unsporting of you.” Shadow settled in front of Joe and Lena, who were in turn in front of the girl. As for the girl, she was now as far back into the alcove as she could, her eyes wide open, but unseeing. She was in shock.
“But, I appreciate you bringing so many . . . it saves me the effort of hunting them down one at a time. It’s been difficult finding them since they keep between time.” As he spoke, Shadow quickly surveyed the small army that would tackle him into submission. He was not among them. Shadow did not know his name, but if he saw him, he would recognize the angel who took all from him, and did so laughing.
“When we are done with you, we will make short work of the humans and their puny Sword Maiden. You should not send someone so young out on their own.” Michael’s form grew to match shadow’s, and the other angels drew closer. Lena’s shine brightened at the words, and Joe’s features darkened. It made for quite a contrast.
“I have half a mind to let them at you,” Shadow split into multiple swirling figures that spread to face the angels,”but I promised someone else I would give her a chance to face you again. You, and your vulgar sword.” As he spoke, one of Shadow’s tendrils formed into the semblance of an arm and hand, and as the hand closed into a fist, Sable Slayer appeared within it. She was as dark as shadow, except for a bright glow dancing along her double edges.
At the sight, Michael’s form retreated. “Get them!” Michael’s yell was like thunder in the confines of the underpass, and as he yelled, he began to dissipate.
Chapter Thirteen – The Void
“Mikie; where do you think you are going?” As he spoke, Shadows tendrils mixed with Michael’s light, forming a single translucent-gray mass. Michael’s form slowly reappeared . . .
“How?” Michael’s voice was still booming within the confines of the underpass, but the authority and confidence was gone from it. Still, as a being of power, he flashed bright, casting the tendrils from within his form.
“A fight you shall have, then!” Michael’s words were still echoing when, as a blur, he was upon Shadow’s form, sword swinging on a high arc.
This time the hand holding Sable did not falter. At the instant of contact, Sable flashed from black to brilliant white, absorbing the power of the light. Joe, observing the fight, was momentarily blinded, and when his vision returned, Michael was holding onto half a sword. The other half was embedded in the concrete pylon a few feet from his head.
He almost missed Shadow’s soft words. “My turn.”
Shadow’s darkness became a void, and in an instant it spread to envelop Michael and all the angels. Inside the void, there was nothing to see, and the underpass had suddenly gone eerily quiet. Joe tried to see, to comprehend what he was seeing, but his brain refused to process the information. All he could remember afterwards is the fact he could not see anything; literally anything. There were no words to describe it; you cannot describe Nothing.
Lena could perceive a bit more than Joe’s human senses. All she said was, “Wow.”
Before the word finished echoing in Joe’s mind, the void, Shadow, Michael, and all the Angels were gone. Simply gone.
Chapter 14 – Second Wave
Even as Joe stood there, Lena shouted a warning. “Prepare!”
Lights began forming around them. First a few, then more. Angels. Not the same of a few moments ago. This was another group.
Joe took a fighting pose, Lena held high, and shining. The angels looked around.
“We were summoned. Where is Michael?”
The one who spoke came to stand in front of Joe and Lena, even as the others fanned out to their sides.
“We sent him packing.” Joe’s words reflected a confidence he did not feel. But the bluff seemed a good bet to buy him some time. “He left part of his equipment behind,” Joe did not take his eyes off the angel, but made a motion with his head to the embedded blade remnant.
A small amount of light reached from the angel to the sword piece. As it did so, each angel drew a sword. It was designed to be intimidating, and it succeeded.
“That’s just for effect!” Lena’s words cut through his growing uncertainty. “You need to focus. You need to be steadfast, for both our lives are in your hands. Literally.”
Four of the angels came at them, two high, two coming in low, swords swinging. One angel went for the girl still huddled in the recess.
“NO!!” Joe was unaware of it, but he yelled the word out-loud. He had bought into this, and whatever his ultimate fate, he had accepted that his involvement might end his life. But the girl was just a pawn in this conflict, and she did not deserve to be such.
Lena’s sweeping motion actually cut through two swords, and deflected the other two. Joe continued his motion, bringing Lena’s sword not to meet the fifth sword, but to pass right through the angel going for the girl. For a moment it seemed as if nothing had happened, then light burst forth from the angel, and it wailed as it retreated.
The four angels also retreated as Joe resumed his stance in front of the girl.
The angel who had spoken reached out, light dancing along the invisible barrier comprised of Lena’s being and Joe’s power.
“Buffalo.” The angel’s word cut through Joe’s focus, and in that instant, the angel reached through Lena’s barrier, and grasped Joe’s hands, even as he tried to regain control. As if in a trance, Joe watched Lena’s glow diminish, then settle into a pulse reminiscent of a heart beat. Joe could no longer sense Lena, and he knew she was fighting for her very existence.
“That was one of the more creative assignments.” The angel’s mind was encroaching on Joe’s consciousness. The angel no longer spoke out loud, but Joe heard the words. “You were not able to help them, and you have failed this Sword Maiden as well. She will make a tasty morsel, and shortly, so will you.”
The angel smiled, then . . . a puzzled look washed over his face. This time he voiced the words. “No; you are not that powerful.” There was no conviction in his voice.
Lena’s struggle to keep the angel from sapping her strength, her very being, suddenly got easier. And then she felt it. Contact with Joe’s hands . . . an incredible cold spreading from them, infusing into her. A terrible cold, horrific in it’s depth and breadth, but at the same time filling her with power, confidence . . . and an understanding that nothing was going to happen to her; these angels were a mere inconvenience.
She reached out for Joe’s mind . . . “Are you alright?” His words reached her first, but she continued, re-establishing the link to . . . Lena did not know what. Joe was still there, but she equated what she felt as if a glacier had suddenly gained sentience. It took her a moment to recognize it . . . but it was nothing like it should have been. Hate.
Hate. It should have been burning, as if swimming in molten rock, as if one stood at the tip of a flame. It was anything but. She looked deeper . . . hate channeled into indignation by fury, by a mixture of emotions all crystallized into a single focus to . . . she lacked the words to define it. Whatever it was, it was alright with her. “I’m fine; let’s do this!”
One instant Joe was in front of the angel, and the next he was past it . . . Lena and he had passed through the angel in a blink of an eye. Lena’s blade was a deep, almost translucent blue, and tendrils of light streamed from it, ending at what was now two separate clouds of fading shimmer. Within seconds, one angel was no more.
Chapter 15 – Found
The other angels drew back, swords raised. Joe looked at them. Lena marveled at his utter lack of doubt; these angels were not going to harm anyone today. They might not survive the day themselves.
The angels circled , surrounding Joe and Lena, the girl forgotten for the moment.
The whole of the events had taken less than a half a minute . . . and that was long enough for Shadow to return. The circle of angels surrounding the blue glow emanating from Joe and Lena was in turn surrounded by darkness. No words were spoken. The same void that had enveloped the first batch of angels, now enveloped these angels.
This was a lot quicker than before. Save one, all of the angels were suddenly compressed, then reduced to a line of bright light surrounded by nothing . . . and then they were gone.
Shadow coalesced into human form, save for black tendrils holding the form of one angel. He walked over to the pillar, and effortlessly withdrew the shard of Michael’s sword.
He walked back to the angel. To his credit, the angel did not cringe. For a few instants, Shadow and the angel looked at each other. A swift motion, and the shard was embedded in the form of the angel.
“Go tell them. Go tell The Christ, and all the others.” Shadow’s tendrils slowly withdrew from the form of the angel. “They can either meet us, or be hunted down like prey.”
Shadow turned as he spoke the last word, and the angel started to fade . . . “Go!”
Joe and Lena still shone a cold blue, but less intense. Shadow walked to them.
“I see you found yourself.”
Joe and Lena did not know if Shadow spoke to one, the other, or to their collective selves.
Shadow continued. “Joe, it seems to me you’ve reached your full potential, and more. If you think you can hold your new-found level, I would be honored to have you fight at my side.”
“Pardon?” Shadow showed a rare hint of emotion; puzzlement.
“Ice and Lena. There is no more Joe.” As he spoke, that which used to be Joe hung Lena, now just the hilt, on his belt, lowering his shirt over it, hiding her from sight.
“”Ice . . . I like it.” Shadow smiled, then a troubled look flickered across his face.
“This better not be a reference to Top Gun . . . “ He hated that movie.
Ice smiled back . . . “No, that would be Iceman.” They walked toward the girl.
Chapter 16 – The Messenger
The angel stood, the shard of Michael’s sword focusing his light at the point of entry to his form. Everyone was silent.
“Those powers have not been seen since time was forged. Are you sure of what you saw?” The Christ was not pleased having to even consider the possibility what the messenger had reported was factual.
Chapter Seventeen – The Field of Battle
Shadow and Ice stood on the crest of a dune. The sand still hot, the sun was now at their backs, and low on the horizon. Ahead of them, a host of angels approached.
“Just out of curiosity, how many can you handle?” Ice did not ask out of fear, or apprehension of the coming fight. His question was driven purely by curiosity. He had the distinct impression Shadow had yet to show his full potential. Or maybe, each successive encounter let him reach deeper within him, expanding his abilities to meet the threat.
“I could wipe them from existence . . . but more would take their place.” Shadow did not have to turn around for his awareness to register the angels appearing at their backs.
He looked at Ice, smiled, and continued. “Hence, my fight is with their source. The angels are your responsibility.”
Alerted by Lena, Ice looked around. The light from the angels more than made up for the fading sunlight. “I appreciate your confidence, and I’m really flattered, but . . . “
Shadow interrupted him. “You and the others.” He turned to look out at the angels, now within a stone’s throw of their position.
Angels literally leaped in mid-air at the words, for among them appeared, in groups of five, humans dressed in black. Some groups were near, some far, evenly distributed among the angels. Each man and each woman carried a sword, and in each group, they formed a pentagonal formation, protecting each other’s flanks and backs. Within a few seconds, what had been an unbroken sea of white was now dotted with small clearings in which humans and sentient swords stood in silence.
Ice surveyed the changing field of battle. “Ninjas?” He could not resist asking, nor doing so without the accompanying smile.
“You are not the only one who found the inner strength to be more. To be a Guardian.” Shadow did not look around as Ice did. He knew the exact number of Guardians. He continued. “Not all, but of the initial recruits, eighteen-hundred have made the transition. They come from all around the world, and you and they will . . . “ Shadow did not finish, turning instead to his left.
A figure separated from the angels, and called out. “You think these mortals are a match for me?” The figure grew three-fold, and reached his hand above him, calling down a sword comprised of intertwined lightning bolts. Grasping it, he lowered it swiftly to strike the sand, forming a sizable glass-lined crater in the process.
“Cool!” Ice’s response was involuntary. He was, after all, still a geek. A powerful and deadly geek, but a geek nonetheless.
Chapter Eighteen – Betrayal
“The Christ himself.” Shadow bowed slightly, and continued. “It is an honor to finally meet you.” The sarcasm in his tone left no doubt it was anything but.
“We shall end this foolishness here, and you will be but a memory. No; not even that, because none of these humans will survive, and no one else will ever know of your efforts!” As he spoke, The Christ grew larger still, and more radiant.
“You know, the story of your death was interesting. Personally, I don’t think the Romans put their hearts into getting the job done.” As Shadow spoke, a thin barrier of smoke spread outward, circling to each side, and rising above The Christ. Thin as it was, it still absorbed a good portion of the light, and it rose as a semicircular wall as it slowly continued encircling The Christ.
Except it suddenly stopped. It stopped against a barrier of smoke. At the same time, dark shapes began appearing. The angels spread out a bit, allowing room for the demons to stand at their side as they confronted each group of humans.
The First materialized next to The Christ.
“I see the creatures of Fire and Smoke kept their word.” Shadow did not seem surprised at the appearance of The First. “I guess my polite request to stay out of it overshadowed whatever promise or threats you made?” It had, in fact, not been a polite request. Fire and Smoke creatures were not going to appear anytime soon.
“They shall be dealt with . . . “
“I’m speaking to The First.” Shadow interrupted The Christ, and stepped forward, addressing The First. “I sensed it, you know. I am, in part, you. I sensed where your loyalties lie. It was why I did not want to use demons.”
The First drew himself up. Alone, he would not have dared, but this was a more even field of battle. He was still uneasy at his inability to take full measure of Shadow, but here, next to him, stood The Christ.
He spoke slowly and loudly, and Shadow realized it was for the benefit of the angels and demons assembled, and perhaps to intimidate the humans. “You aim to take on HE That Was, God Himself.” He dramatically looked around, and continued. “It is surely a doomed endeavor, but even if not, even if you stood a chance, HE is the Creator of all of us. But for HIM, we would not exist.”
The First drew closer to the smoke barrier. Pointing a finger at Shadow, he continued. “Who are you to challenge the Creator?”
Shadow let the echoes of the words fade before answering. “I am Man.”
Chapter Nineteen – Shadow’s Wrath
It happened fast. Shadow’s wall of smoke broke through The First’s barrier, and completely encircled both The First and The Christ. The top of the circular wall of smoke began to curl in on itself, the thin, gossamer-like wall began to contract, even as The Christ swung his lightning sword, and The First’s own darkness rose to meet it. The lightning struck the thin membrane, but did not penetrate it, running along it like a spider web, but only a small bolt escaped the top before it closed.
Everyone could see the two beings inside fighting to claw their way out. But only for a moment. The wall of smoke went completely black, and in the span of a few breaths, it was but the size of a child’s ball, then a marble, then a pin-hole, literally drawing air, light, and the very fabric of reality toward itself.
Then it was gone.
Angels and demons alike stood transfixed, staring at the solitary figure of an ordinary-looking man next to where, but an instant before, had stood two of the most powerful beings the universe had ever known.
Chapter Twenty – The Reckoning
The word echoed in the minds of all present. Angels and demons alike cowered where they stood. The Guardians stood their ground.
A small point of light appeared, and grew in brilliance. It grew to an indistinct shape, and stood in front of Shadow.
“Enough!” It repeated, still sounding as if in the mind of all.
The shape hovered in front of Shadow.
“You go beyond yourself! You were never meant to destroy the balance. Merely broaden the conflict.”
Shadow held Sable in front of him. “Thank you.” Upon him speaking the words, Sable began to fade, and with a small flash, was gone.
“What’s the matter? Did you not see it coming?” As he spoke, Shadow began to pace in front of the shape. Left, turn, then right, never taking his eyes from the shape. “I thought you knew all that was, all that will be.”
“Impertinent halfling!” Still in their mind, everyone flinched a bit at the ferocity of the the voice. “I created you. I summoned The First to you, and I helped The First in bonding with your original mind to give birth to you, to what you are now.” The shimmering shape never moved, but there was the sense of a presence tracking Shadow’s pacing.
“You were supposed to balance The Christ, not destroy him!”
“I figured it out. I was more than The First could have made me. But why?” Shadow continued his pacing. “Why go to all that trouble?”
“Still a man, I see. Curiosity abounds. The desire to understand. The desire to know meaning.” If god had such a thing as a disdainful tone, that was it.
“Well, get used to disappointment! I don’t have to explain myself to you; I had my own reasons.” The shape now grew to encircle Shadow, and additional tendrils of shimmering light flowed like lava toward the pockets of humans.
Unperturbed, Shadow resumed speaking. “You know, I started wondering about you. I wondered what drive would propel your actions; I think you are as curious about the purpose of your existence as humans are about theirs. You see, I thought about creating humans as thinkers. I believe they serve as mirrors of your quest for the meaning of your own existence, of your search for a purpose. An experiment of sorts. Could this race of thinkers, despite their struggles, or maybe because of them, arrive at the understanding of who they are, why they exist? We were not made in your own image, where we? We were made in the image of your mind.” Shadow had stopped pacing, and even as the shape closed in around him, and the tendrils were beginning to encircle all the humans standing with their swords drawn, he stood there, looking to all as a very ordinary man.
Shadow continued. “That’s why the sick, the rich, the strong, the week, the powerful, the dictators, the different religions, the different gods, atheists, fanatics . . . nothing more than variables. Humans struggled, and in doing so pondered the ultimate question. They pondered it for you.”
“Perhaps.” The voice had an edge of surprise to it, but also a great deal of annoyance. “But whatever the reason, you’ve ruined it, and this ‘experiment’, as you call it, is now over.”
Even as the the translucent shape began to engulf Shadow, he continued. “But you made us too smart, didn’t you? Humans began to figure things out. To take control; of themselves, of their bodies and minds, and of their environments. They veered away from the big questions, from asking why, and concentrated on improving the life they had.”
Most of the pockets of Guardians were already engulfed, and Shadow nearly so. Still, he continued. “That’s why angels and demons. They maintain the chaos, gather data for you, force situations conducive to struggling, and in struggling, humans ponder ‘why’.”
Shadow’s last word was cut off as he was completely engulfed. His enclosure, and that of the Guardians, began to contract.
They all heard it.
“You are wrong, you know.” It was now Shadow’s voice in their minds, and even as it spoke, the translucence of the shape began to change, showing small dark spots at first, and then large dark shapes on its surface. “You are wrong on two counts. First, the experiment is not over. It’s just no longer under your control.”
The shape flashed, and then resumed its change toward darkness. The enclosures around the humans broke open, and began receding toward the central shape. Shadow continued. “Second, you failed to consider your own creation.”
“My own creation?”
“Yes, before light, there was darkness. Even before you, there was nothing. That is what I am, and that is where you will return, and I will take you there.”
“Joe . . . Ice . . . all of you; this is now your world. The angels and demons are your fight, but what I can give you is a level playing ground.” Shadows words were calm, and all hear them.
“Fool!” The voice sounded strained, as if in a struggle, as indeed it must have been. “The seed is planted. Humans will always be subject to their fears, their doubt, their insecurities.”
“As you sure? . . . Perhaps. Perhaps not. But one thing they will do, is follow their own path. Right or wrong, their destiny will be their own, and not shaped by the whims of gods.” With that, the shape went completely black, and after a few seconds, began to dissipate, and was gone.
“Seems anticlimactic . . . “ Joe had said the words out loud, and was surprised to hear a private answer.
“I ran out of cool ways to do this. Besides, nothing from nothing, and then returning to nothing, should be bland.” Shadow spoke as if he were in Joe’s head.
Just before it was no more, Shadow’s voice was heard by all, resonating among the dunes.
“Destroy them all . . . they are but thoughts of an insecure mind.”
The battle was fierce, and many escaped by finding refuge between time. But many, many more were destroyed where they stood. No humans, and no swords, were lost. As the light of dawn washed over the battleground, The Guardians stood victorious in a field of shapes slowly consumed by the light of a new age.
Joe walked to the middle of the foot-bridge, leaned on the railing, and looked down at the ducks, geese, and two swans feeding. When he leaned on the railing, some of the birds casually made their way to his location. They loitered for a moment, and on realizing he had brought no food for them, went back to their foraging.
“He is here.” Lena’s voice warned him even as he heard the footsteps.
The two men stood silent, contemplating the peaceful scene before them.
“So, how goes it?” Joe broke the silence first.
“It goes.” Ed pulled a bag from his coat pocket, and after undoing the twist tie, reached in, grabbed some seed, and threw it on the water. Ducks, geese, and swans rushed to the feed.
“You know how tough it was to get everyone back home?” Joe tried to sound annoyed, but there was mirth in his voice. “Eighteen-hundred people! You could have transported them back home; at the very least, you could have made arrangements beforehand.”
“Yeah . . .I was a little busy.”
Joe looked at his friend. Ed looked much older. Perhaps ‘tired’ was a better word.
“Still struggling?” Joe’s question was asked as he too reached into the bag for some feed.
“Yes . . . he won’t give it up. I think he has a god complex . . . “
They looked at each other, and broke up, laughing.
“Thanks,” Joe spoke as he wiped a tear of laughter from his eye, “I needed that.”
He continued.“So, why the meeting? Are you coming back?”
Ed shook his head. “No, and in fact, I don’t have much time. I was just wondering how the war is going.”
Joe’s tone went serious. “Mostly OK. They went underground. They manipulate public opinion, news stories . . . you know their drill; it’s what they are good at. We hunt them down, but it takes time . . . they are surprisingly good at blending in among regular people.”
“I guess we both have a tough job . . . “ For a brief moment, Ed looked and spoke more like Shadow. “Ice, I’m entrusting you with something else. The Guardians . . . they are good people, but some will be tempted to take advantage of what they know, of their strength. You have to contain . . . eliminate those who do. Their swords might warn you, but some swords will just leave.”
Joe looked at his friend for a moment before asking. “How many? How many have you entrusted this to?”
“Just you.” Shadow’s face grew darker.
Joe hesitated, but then asked the question. “And if I turn? Who will eliminate me?”
In answer, Shadow’s smile was both pained and sad.
“I thought so.” Joe looked at his friend. “You don’t have to worry about me. Lena will keep me on the straight and narrow.”
“Damn right!” Lena chimed in.
Ed smiled, turned, and walked away. To Joe, it looked as if his shoulders slumped a bit, as if carrying a heavy burden. It’s not easy to put a god back in its place, and keep him there.