Thief: Chapter 19

Thursday, 12 January 2017







Chapter Nineteen






    Raph had been cooped up in Cara’s headquarters for days, if not weeks. He wasn’t sure how long it had been, exactly. While the gang ran around Hell and Earth gathering information and helping the plan along, he was unable to leave the sewers thanks to the wanted posters.
    Isabelle had brought him one one day, a fairly decent portrait of himself printed on it and the word “REWARD” splashed across it in big, bold letters. He’d been impressed at the price on his head, until Allister had informed him that the Hunter, Mammon, was commanding a bounty worth almost ten times as much as his.
    He’d been forced to stay put, overseeing the operation as everyone else worked their contacts, bribed and threatened and out-right stalking high-profile demons in their quest to find a way to rescue Gabe.
    But a group of teenagers from the wrong side of the Styx could only do so much--as time ticked past, Raph was beginning to lose what little hope he’d had. He kept working, though. Abby--he’d promised Abby. He was going to do everything in his power to keep that promise.
    He’d been poring over hand-drawn maps of the dungeons that someone had begged or borrowed or stolen from…a guard? Maybe? Like time, the minutiae were all starting to blur together.
    He hadn’t noticed Cara come in until she slapped something down on the table, shouting a triumphant “Ha!”
    Raph started, and looked up at her in surprise. “What?” he asked, voice flattened by exhaustion. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept.
    “Wow, you look like garbage!” Cara said cheerfully as she plopped down onto her lounge seat, reclining halfway and resting her head in her hand.
    Raph scowled at her. “Of course I do!” He threw his hands up in frustration. “We haven’t gotten anywhere yet, and I’ve been stuck in this sewer for--wait, how long has it been? What day is it?”
    Cara held up a finger to silence him. She looked thoughtful as she counted off the next three seconds, holding up three fingers. She grinned. “Happy New Year.”
    Raph’s stomach sank in despair. “That long?” he whispered in horror, more to himself than Cara. Anything could have happened in that amount of time--Abby could be dead or worse, and he would never know, trapped here, deep in the bowels of Hades.
    Cara frowned, and snapped her fingers in his downturned face. “Hey, relax! Can you at least look at what I brought you before you sink into a deep depression or whatever?” she pushed the object across the table, and it slid to a stop beside Raph’s hand.
    “A brochure?” he asked, raising an eyebrow and looking unimpressed.
    “Open it,” Cara urged. “Check out the back page. You aren’t gonna believe it.”
    Raph did as she asked, flipping the glossy paper open and unfolding it, accordion-style. Pictures of cookie-cutter homes with manicured green lawns greeted him. “Max Realtors” was emblazoned in red letters on the front page of the leaflet. Smaller print read “Proudly serving the greater Portland area for 50 years.” Raph gave Cara a dubious look, and she waved her hand impatiently, motioning for him to hurry up. He looked at the back of the page, at the section entitled “Our Associates.”
Raph’s eyes scanned the page until they landed on a familiar face. “No. Way.” He breathed.
    Cara’s grin widened. “Oh, way. Allister saw her with a client. She was getting ready for an open house.
    Astarte, one of the Original Fallen, General of the armies of Hades, smiled up at him from the brochure, a warm, red-lipped smile lighting up her blue eyes. Her blonde curls were pulled back into a professional, if charmingly fluffy, bun.
    Raph couldn’t quite wrap his head around it. “So Astarte is moonlighting as a realtor in Maine?”
    “Oregon.” Cara corrected, leaning in closer. “And that’s not even the best part! Astarte, or should I say, Astrid Jones, has a human family. Husband, three kids, house with a white picket fence--she’s living the American dream.”
    Raph laughed. “And Lucifer wouldn’t be happy about that,” he said. “A secret life, and half-breed kids…that’s got to be frowned upon.”
    Cara nodded. “It’s just bad for business. I think Astrid will be happy to help us break your angel buddy out of prison. Only one way to find out, though.”
Raph felt cautious hope swell in him, and let it grow. Maybe this was the thing they’d been looking for. “Let’s go pay a visit to Mrs. Jones.”

***

    The apple-shaped timer on Astarte’s granite counter let out a buzzy chirp, and she bustled over to the oven, pulling on red polka-dot oven mitts that matched her apron as she did. Heat and the heady scent of gingersnaps wafted out of the oven as she pulled the door open wide, expertly grabbing a cookie sheet in each hand. She placed them on the cooling racks she had set up that morning.
“Something smells great,” a deep voice said from behind her, and Astarte turned to smile at her husband, Ben.
    “I think I’ve finally perfected my recipe.”
    “I’ll be the judge of that.” Ben said, using a nearby spatula to flip a hot cookie off of the pan and into his hand. He took a bite and closed his eyes, moaning in exaggerated pleasure.
    “Hey!” Astarte cried, smacking his hand lightly as he reached for another one. “Save some for the guests--I’ve already had to chase the boys away from the buffet table twice, and the party doesn’t start for another hour.”
    Ben winced, unable to hide a grin. “They must’ve snuck over while I was feeding and changing Sophie. Don’t worry, I’ll keep them out of your hair until seven-thirty.” He said, leaning forward to press a soft kiss onto Astarte’s forehead, brushing a stray curl behind her ear. He came away with a handful of cookies, sneakily grabbed mid-kiss. “Love you!” he called, booking it out of the kitchen before Astarte could do much more than gasp in mock indignation.
    She rolled her eyes, smiling to herself. “Love you too,” she said, loud enough that he could hear her as he brought the cookies over to share with their children.
There was a sudden knock at the kitchen door, and Astarte cursed, looking down at her flour-smudged apron and bare feet. She could only imagine what her hair must look like--she’d been cooking and cleaning all day, and hadn’t even had time to shower yet. The knocking sounded again, more insistent this time.
    “Is that the door?” Ben called, sounding surprised.
    “I’ll get it!” she sighed in exasperation and defeat, striding over to the door and muttering darkly to herself about having friends and neighbours who apparently couldn’t tell time. She pulled open the door, plastering her best customer-service smile onto her lips, the one that almost looked genuine.
“Hiiii, we’re still not quite ready, but--“ The words died in her mouth.
    A group of young demons stood clustered on her doorstep, and Astarte found herself at a loss. “I--what--“ she gathered her wits quickly, and drew herself up in fury. “Leave. Now!” she spat in the demon tongue, her eyes flashing crimson.
    A young man with wild dark curls stepped forward, into the light spilling from the warm kitchen. “Are you sure?” He raised dark eyes, staring flatly into hers with ferocity and desperation burning in equal measure. “I can think of a few people who would kill to know about this, General Astarte.”
    “You dare to threaten me, a General of Lucifer’s armies?
    The boy shook his head. “Not you, my lady. But the human you harbour, and the half-breed children? They’re fair game.”
    Astarte snarled. “Try, and I’ll tear you to shreds and scatter the pieces from here to the Styx.”
The teenagers behind the boy shifted nervously, and one of them, a hellhound, reached out to touch his arm. “Raph, maybe we should--“
    “No.” Raph said, and Astarte felt a spark of recognition.
    “Raphiel…Satan’s Thief.” She laughed sharply, a little relieved. “Your head would fetch a higher price than mine, boy. If you wish to keep it, leave. This is my last warning.”
    “And mine.” Raph said, squaring his shoulders. “We need your help. There is an angel trapped in the dungeons, Sataniel’s prisoner. I have to free him. You’re going to help.”
    Astarte levelled a look of disgust and wonder at the boy’s audacity. “I won’t. Get off my lawn, I have guests arriving in…” she glanced down at her watch and swore again. “less than an hour, and they’re expecting a charming, or at the very least, clean, hostess.” She made to slam the door, but Raph caught it, holding it open with white-knuckled fingers.
    “You’re going to help,” he repeated, his voice low and dangerous. “Or Lucifer will find out about this. All of it. I’ve already made the arrangements. If I don’t return unharmed to Hades, proof of your secret human life is to be delivered to Lucifer within the hour. So you are going to help us.”
    Astarte glared at him, fury colouring her cheeks, mind racing. This Thief, no, this…child, dared to threaten her?! She itched to grab the knife from the counter and--she closed her eyes, breathed in slowly. No, she had to remain calm. It was stupid, but--if only she’d been more careful--cursing her own short-sightedness, Astarte did what she had to do.
    Forcing that smile back onto her face and willing herself not to appear threatening, she opened the door wide and stepped out, slipping past Raph. “It seems like we have a lot to discuss.”
    She walked through the cluster of adolescents, each of them stepping away from her in trepidation. She could practically taste their fear. She dusted the scattering of snow off of the bench Ben had built, the handsome dark-stained wood gleaming dully in the moonlight. She sat, looking for all the world like a queen speaking to her gathered subjects, despite her messy hair and bare feet.
Raph stared at her with rapt attention, every fibre of his being trained on her.
    “You,” Astarte said, indicating him with a wave of her hand. “you said something about rescuing an angel? Explain.” Raph opened his mouth to speak, and Astarte interrupted him. “But be quick about it. My party starts in forty minutes, and I expect you all to be long gone by then.”
    Raph hesitated for a moment, unsure of who was in control here, then nodded.
    Astarte allowed herself a small, victorious smirk. If she played her cards right, she knew that she would manage, as she always did, to have the upper hand. She settled in to listen to Raph’s demands, confident that by the time this was all over he would be dead, and she and hers would be just fine. Threatening a General?! The boy had no idea what he was getting himself into.


Thief: Chapter 18

Sunday, 3 July 2016






Chapter Eighteen




    Aiden and Gabriel Sr. had checked every place they could think of that Abby might be. The school, the hospital, the library--the search was eerily similar to the one they had gone through on that stormy night not so long ago.
    She hadn’t been anywhere, and Aiden couldn’t rely on a connection the way Gabe had. He was her Guardian now, yes, but it was in name only. And I couldn’t even do that right, he thought bitterly. He had failed to protect her, but he would find her. He had to.
    Gabriel walked towards the park bench where Aiden was seated, two steaming paper cups of coffee in his gloved hands. “Here,” he said, sitting down next to Aiden and offering him a cup. “you looked like you could use this.”
    Aiden took it with a grateful nod. “Thanks.”
    Gabriel hummed in acknowledgment, taking a long sip of his drink. He swallowed, and sighed, steam curling from his lips in the December air. “So,” he said, giving Aiden a sidelong glance. “she isn’t in the city. I think we can cross D.C. off our list.”
    “Only a few hundred million miles to go, then.” A wave of helpless despair washed over him, and panic rose to the surface. “Oh, and that’s if the demons didn’t just drag her down to Hades, or some other far-flung corner of Creation!” Aiden said, his tone growing increasingly agitated as he went on. “And I don’t even know where to begin, or what to do if I do somehow miraculously find her, because God only knows what’s happened to her by now! She could be trapped, or driven insane by her powers, or possessed or even--“
    “Dead?” Gabriel interjected.
    “Yes!” Aiden cried, looking at Gabriel with wide, crazed eyes. His voice dropped to barely above a whisper. “And the worst part is, I’m not even sure that’s the worst that could happen.”
    Gabriel gave him a hard look. “Are you done?”
    Aiden closed his eyes and sagged forward, his elbows resting bonelessly on his knees. He nodded, feeling utterly defeated.
    “Okay. Good.” Gabriel said, his tone curt. “Now, stop feeling sorry for yourself and do your job, General. That’s an order. Nothing matters right now except getting that girl back to safety. We do that, and everything might just work out alright. Maybe I get my son back.” He inhaled sharply, put his hand on Aiden’s slumped shoulder. “And maybe we come out on top of this whole mess. But for now, we need to focus. So, can you think of anywhere else she might have gone?”
    Aiden’s reply was cut off by the telltale flutter of wings and a soft thump of feet hitting frozen ground. He and Gabriel turned to see a woman with dark-blonde hair pulled tightly back from her hawkish features. She wore a black pants suit and a cream wool pea coat, and Aiden vaguely recognized her as one of the Warriors Farrah had summoned. “General, Archangel. I have urgent news.” Her tone was grim.
    Aiden sat up, his heart racing wildly in his chest. Something was wrong. “What is it?” he asked, unable to keep the thread of anxiety out of his voice.
    The Warrior fixed honey-coloured eyes on his. “It’s your daughter, General. She is missing. She, and the Archangels Izrafel and Michael. All three have vanished without a trace--your wife is looking for them, but she asked me to relay the message. She felt that this would be more secure than mortal communication devices, given the sensitive nature of your current mission.”
    Aiden could only stare at her in stunned silence, so it was Gabriel who thanked the woman and sent her on her way.
    She nodded and turned to leave, a pair of spotted kestrel wings unfolding on her back. She stopped and turned towards them. “Ah, and one more thing. Malakh and Rivkah have also left your son’s bedside, Archangel. No one knows where they are at the moment, but that isn’t so strange for them. Your wife wanted you to know that, and that there has been no change in your son’s condition. The Lord be with you both.” She finished, the formality of the words catching Aiden a little off guard.
    “And also with you,” he murmured in response as she flew away, quickly becoming no more than a speck in the mid-morning sky. “Fern…” he whispered, totally unsure of what to do, what to say, what to feel.
    She was gone, and so was Abby, and he had totally failed to protect them both. Two Archangels were missing too, which was bizarre on its own, and then Rivkah and Malakh…A ghost of a thought slipped past him, and Aiden furrowed his brow. “Rivkah left Gabe,” he said out loud, and Gabriel nodded hollowly.
    “Yes--“
    “No, shhh, be quiet!” Aiden hushed him, waved him down. “She left Gabe after Abby disappeared.”
    “So?”
    “So, why would she do that? She wanted to protect Gabe, and she would do that unless something more important happened. Abby left. And then Rivkah left.”
    Realization dawned on Gabriel’s face as the pieces fell into place. “Rivkah left because she knows where Abby is. Protecting Abby is the more important task.”
    Aiden nodded earnestly. “So if we find Rivkah,”
    “We find Abby.” Gabriel finished.
    They both clutched their rapidly cooling coffees, lost in thought for a few long moments.
    They turned to each other at the same time as the answer hit them both like twin bolts of lightning. “The cabin!!”
    Finally, Aiden thought, at least something’s going right.

Thief: Chapter 17

Friday, 17 June 2016
    







Chapter Seventeen





    Winter’s calm had settled over the cabin like a blanket. The previous night’s storm had passed, and a thick layer of snow weighed down the sloped roof. The pathway Horace had led Abby down was covered over without even an indent to show where it had been. After a sleepless night in the little cabin, Abby stood on the snow-covered porch watching the sun rise above the pine forest that surrounded her.
    She still wasn’t sure where she was, exactly. It was colder than it had any right to be--D.C. never dipped too far below freezing, and this much snow was nearly unfathomable. “Looks like we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Abby murmured, reaching a gloved finger out to catch a lazily drifting snowflake.
    “Far from it, actually.” A voice came from her right.
    Abby started, wide green eyes meeting Horace’s dark gaze. She felt the power within her surge instinctively, reacting to her quickened pulse. Abby wrestled it back down, suppressing a shudder at the feeling of it pulsing through her veins.
    “I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said. He held an armful of neatly split logs to his chest, an axe gripped loosely in his free hand.
    “Please,” Judah heaved past his brother, both arms cradling a haphazard stack of logs. “that ponytail scares all the girls. Cuz, y’know---yikes.” He stomped up the stairs, dropping the logs on the porch with a dull clatter. He rubbed his hands together and stomped the snow from his boots. “Ugh, it’s so cold!”
    “Complaining won’t make you warmer.” His brother chided mildly as he came up the stairs, setting his own logs down more carefully and propping the axe up against the wall.
    “Well it won’t make me colder, so--“
    “Um,” Abby interrupted.
    Two sets of dark eyes, so similar to Raph’s, locked with hers.
    “Uh, so, what are we…why did you bring me…here?” she asked, indicating the frozen landscape. “And where is here, exactly?”
    Horace and Judah exchanged a glance, then looked back to her. “Somewhere safe.” Horace said. “No one will find you here--and I mean that in the least threatening way possible. You can use your powers here, learn to control them, and no one, demon or angel, will be able to sense it.”
    Abby looked at him quizzically “And why is that?” she asked carefully.
    “Because,” a soft, familiar voice called from behind her, “it is my home.”
    Abby whirled around, and saw Rivkah walking towards them, on top of the snow drift where the path had been. The old woman was draped in a fur-lined dark blue cloak, long silver hair streaming regally behind her. Her booted feet, Abby noticed, left only the faintest impression in the snow. Abby suspected that if she tried walking there she’d end up wading calf-deep through the stuff. She let Rivkah come to her.
    Rivkah ascended the steps lightly, walking across the snow-covered porch towards Abby and pulling her into her arms. “I’m so glad you’re alright, dear.” she said, hugging Abby tight.
Abby stiffened at her touch, and the kindness in her tone. She thought of Gabe, lying in his hospital bed, thought of Raph carving into his flesh. Thought of how, if it wasn’t for her, none of this would have happened. She fought back the lump in her throat, the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, and the power that roiled and raged to be unleashed.
    “Are you sure?” she asked, voice cracking.
    Rivkah gave her an extra squeeze, and let go. She looked at Abby with her ageless gaze. “I’m sure.” She said, smiling gently. “Now,” Rivkah said, turning to look at Horace. “What can you teach her?”
    “Ma’am.” Horace said, giving a stiff, formal little bow with military precision. “We’re working on containment, first of all. Abby’s powers are practically feral, totally uncontrolled. If they remain that way, they could very well rip her apart, both mentally and physically. For now, I believe we need to focus on her using and shutting down her powers.”
    Rivkah gave him a long, appraising look. “I agree.” She finally said, nodding curtly. She turned back to Abby. “Abby, my dear, I know you’ve been through a lot--more than any one person should have to go through, in my opinion--but it’s only going to get harder from here on out. I want to make that clear to you. This will not be easy. Are you absolutely sure you want to continue? Say the word, and I’ll return you to Aiden and all the safety the Wards can provide. Just know that even their collective power would not be enough to stop what struggles inside you, should you lose all control.”
    The power sparked and cracked along Abby’s skin like lightning at Rivkah’s words, and Abby felt the warmth of it run through her. She inhaled deeply, tasting the cold air as it burned in her lungs.           "I’ll stay.” She said, voice soft, but resolute. She had to--there was no other way.
Rivkah’s gaze, older than time itself and just as unfathomable, held hers for another long, silent moment. “Good.” Rivkah said.
    She stepped forward, opening the cabin door and taking a step inside. “Come inside; we have much to discuss. And you, boy,” she said, waving offhandedly at Judah, who’d been absent-mindedly picking up handfuls of snow and melting them with wisps of blue flame that sprung from his palms. “Stack those logs up properly, it won’t do if they get wet.”
    Judah frowned, steam sizzling out of his clenched fists. “Why do I have to listen to you? You’re not--“
    “Jude.” Horace hissed, widening his eyes in exasperation.
    “What?! She’s--“
    “You,” Rivkah interrupted, drawing herself up to her full height and looking at the demon disdainfully, “are still alive because you serve a purpose. Don’t give me a reason to disappoint an old friend.” The thinly veiled threat hung in the frozen air as Rivkah glided serenely inside, beckoning Abby to follow. “Come now, my dear. We have a lot of work to do.”

***

    Abby waded through the snow behind Rivkah’s dainty steps, Horace slogging along behind her. Judah had stayed in the cabin, complaining of the cold and boredom. Abby secretly thought that he was probably just afraid of Rivkah--she couldn’t really blame him for that. Horace had quickly left him behind, seemingly happy to be free of his little brother’s pessimism.
    They reached a clearing in the trees, a wide circle of pines ringing one tall, bare-branched tree, its bark and branches a stark, bone white aside from a gouge of pure black that split it neatly down the middle.
    “This tree doesn’t look very healthy,” Abby said as she circled it, running her fingers lightly along its trunk.
    “It’s dead.” Rivkah replied.
    “Ah,” Abby said, feeling a twinge of regret at Rivkah’s words.
    “I want you to bring it back to life.”
    Abby looked at Rivkah, startled. “You want me to what?”
    “Revive the tree. Your power is unique; this should be a simple task for you.”
Abby looked at Horace, who nodded encouragingly. “Try it. It’s not like you can hurt it. It’s already dead.”
    Abby looked at the tree skeptically, unsure of what to do. “How--“
    “Here.” Horace said, walking up behind her. He took her hand in his, placing her palm flat against the trunk of the tree, her fingers ghosting over the lightning burn. “Think of your power as an extension of your intentions. You want the tree to live? Will it to regrow. Use your power to find what is broken, and then fix it.”
    Abby nodded uncertainly, and Horace took a step back.
    Feeling the rough bark beneath her palm, Abby closed her eyes, and concentrated. She thought of her power, that sickening, exhilarating gold rush, and it jumped to the forefront of her mind. Her vision flooded gold, and she inhaled sharply. There was so much of it, and it was so strong--it took all she had to keep from being swept away.
    Find what is broken, she thought, urging the torrent of power forward, channeling it down her outstretched arm to flow from her fingertips into the dead tree. The gouge was cavernous inside the trunk, a hollow that ripped through the heart of the tree. Ash and rot held the tree up, and it had long-since dried out to a withered husk of what it had once been.
    Abby opened her eyes, looking at the tree. The white bark sparked with flashes of gold as her power poured into it, and something in her mind clicked into place. And fix it.
    She reached into the hollowed core of the tree, and grasped at the nothing with all of her might. Brow furrowed and skin twined with gold, Abby began to turn the nothing to something.
    She could hardly hear Rivkah as the ancient woman said something in a warning tone, something Abby didn’t quite catch. She didn’t hear Horace’s words, either, hardly felt his hand on her shoulder as she poured golden light into the hollow tree.
    The bark began to glow more brightly, golden light racing up the cracks in its surface. All Abby could hear was the rushing sound in her ears, all she could see was golden light. All she could feel was the softness of the snow rushing up to catch her as her vision faded, abruptly, to black.

***

    Abby woke in the garden, a warm breeze tugging gently at the ball gown she wore. She sat up slowly, feeling the sun beating down on her face as she looked around. The maze of roses stretched out around her for miles, the heady scent carrying so many memories with it.
    She looked down at her dress--it was the same one she’d worn to the dance, she realized with a stab of anguish. It was whole again, new and untorn; she raised a shaking hand to her neck. The necklace, Gabe’s gift, was around her neck.
    She let out a shaky breath, one she didn’t realize she’d been holding. “I must’ve passed out,” she murmured. “Go figure.” She stood up, noticing that her feet were bare, as they always were in this dream. The garden was quiet and calm, the warmth of the sun soothing--there was nothing in this dream to be frightened of.
    She began walking, one hand touching her necklace, the other trailing along the wall of multi-coloured roses. They were velvety-soft under her fingertips, smooth petals leading to more of the same. And then she pricked her finger on a thorn. “Ow!” she cried, snatching her hand away instinctively and raising it to her mouth. “Why does that always happen?” she grumbled.
    The wind rose suddenly, flattening her voluminous skirt against her legs. “Aaaaabby,” she thought she heard.
    She looked around, wide-eyed, but she could see nothing but roses.
    “Aaabby,” she heard again, the voice a tortured groan obscured by another gust of wind.
    “Gabe?!” Abby cried, tears welling up in her eyes. The voice was battered and pained, but she would recognize it anywhere. “Gabe! Where are you?! Gabe!!”
    Another gust of wind shook the garden, bringing with it Gabe’s voice, clearer this time. “Abby? Abby…”
    With a strangled sob, Abby took off running in the direction the wind had come from. Rose petals were falling all around her, carried on the breeze like a river. There was a flash of silver hair as Abby turned a corner, ignoring the flowers falling whole from the vine now.
    She could see him in the distance, chained to a wall of obsidian, dried blood on his chest, matted in his hair. His stormy eyes locked with hers, and Abby saw them light up in recognition, then blanch in fear as she began to run to him. He opened his mouth to say something as she raced towards him, the grass of the garden turning to jagged stone.
    Gabe’s image flickered, doubled, disappeared, and the ground fell away from Abby’s feet. The dream faded, and darkness surrounded her as she fell though nothingness, towards a faint speck of light that rushed towards her. She closed her eyes against the intensity of it, blinking slowly.
    Her vision came into focus, and she realized that the light was firelight, dancing along the wall of the cabin. She could smell fresh bread, and something savoury. She turned her head carefully to look out the window--it was dark outside.
    She tried to sit up, and groaned. Okay, this was definitely reality; headaches like that just didn’t belong in dreams.
    She closed her eyes, and when she opened them again, Rivkah stood over her.
    “Welcome back.” She said.
     Abby only groaned in response. This was going to be harder than she’d thought.


Thief: Chapter 16

Sunday, 1 May 2016





Chapter Sixteen




    Satan walked into Notre Dame Cathedral like she owned the place, all casual grace and one small, self-contained smirk at the stone saints that surrounded her. Their cold, empty eyes passed over the Queen of Hell as she waltzed right past them and into the sacred sanctuary.
    The cathedral was strangely empty; it was too early for evening mass, though the lack of tourists with their flashing cameras was a little surprising. Satan shrugged elegantly in her fitted black wool coat. One less thing to worry about--all she had to do was set up a barrier to keep them out.
    Her fingers trailed lightly over the backs of wooden pews as she walked down the centre aisle, and her eyes flashed red. Humans loved their iconography, and, for a little while, would be very interested in the carvings that covered the building’s exterior.
    The light of the hundreds of candles reflected in her eyes as she strode to the high altar, Louis Vuitton heels clicking on stone, the sound echoing around the silent nave. One well-manicured hand was hovering over a golden Eucharist goblet when someone cleared their throat behind her.
    Satan whirled around, immaculate red curls trailing after her. “Hello, Michael,” she said, red lips curling into an almost-fond smile.
    “Sataniel,” Michael said, looking up at her from his place at the foot of the altar steps. “It is…it is good to see you.”
    Satan looked at him curiously. “Why are we here, Michael? The last time we spoke--well, I didn’t think you’d want to see me again, with your consequences this and He knows that.”
    Michael’s face was as calm and inscrutable as ever. “Last time we spoke, I seem to recall doing you a favour. I was hoping that now, you could help me.”
    Satan blinked. “The great Archangel Michael wants to make a deal with the Devil? My dear brother,” she grinned sharply, perfect white teeth glinting in the candlelight “I thought you would never ask.”
    Reaching behind her, Satan plucked the chalice from the draped altar and sat where it had been, crossing her bare legs demurely and carefully arranging her red skirt. She set the chalice down beside her, idly running a finger around its golden rim. “What would you like?”
    Michael, who looked-to Satan’s glee-at least somewhat put-off by a demon sitting on the high altar of one of the holiest places on Earth, grimaced before he spoke. “Abby Shepard,” he said softly, saying the name like it was a curse. He looked into Satan’s eyes, and she saw something there that she hadn’t expected. “I--we--need to destroy her, once and for all.”
    Satan leaned forward, green eyes wide as she searched his. “You’re afraid of her.”
    Michael stiffened, looking down at the worn checkered tile. “We all should be.” He said after a moment, gaze returning to hers.
    Satan considered this, pursing her red lips and nodding slowly. The pensive look melted into a small smile. “It seems we both want the same thing.” Satan said, “I’m happy to help.”
    Michael’s shoulders relaxed, his posture, while still technically perfect, a little softer. “Thank you, Sataniel. I--“
    “One question, though--why not just kill her yourself? You’re an Archangel, so it’s not like you can’t get to the little whelp. And I know you’re not squeamish--I’ve seen you fight.” She said, matter-of-factly. “So why would you come to me for help? Did her weak little Guardians stop you? Or does she just remind you too much of Set--“
    “Don’t talk about him.” Michael snapped, a flash of anger and guilt flitting across his usual careful calm.
    Satan looked down on him through narrowed eyes. “You never had the stomach for it. What happened? Couldn’t bring yourself to kill his daughter?”
    “That’s not--“ Michael growled, then took a deep breath, steadying himself. “That is not what happened. We were ready to finish her. She escaped before we could do anything.”
    “Escaped? How?” She was just a girl, powerful, but completely raw and untrained. She shouldn’t have been able to leave a warded estate filled with some of the most powerful angels in Creation.
    “She had help. Two of your kind.”
    Satan once again found herself surprised. “Really. Two demons broke into a house teeming with angels and spirited her away, right under everyone’s noses? I’m a little impressed, if that’s true.”
    “It is true. I thought--I’d hoped--that they were in your employ. It seems they are related to that Thief of yours. Raph, was it?”
    Satan’s breath caught in her throat, the words she’d been planning to say dying on her tongue. She stared up at a grand stained-glass window, flaring rainbow light in the slowly-fading sunset. “Raphael.” she said flatly as she digested the news. Things were clicking into place in her mind. “Of course he’d try to save her.” she sneered, looking at her brother “He thinks he’s in love.”
    “Love.” Michael repeated thickly, a strange look on his face.
    Satan nodded. “Love. Which means we must act quickly. You know what they say about love, right? It makes you do the craziest things. So this needs to be over before that atom bomb of a girl decides to tear a rift in the cosmos in the name of love.”
    Michael didn’t say anything, no doubt remembering what had happened nearly eighteen years ago.
    She hopped down off the table, stepping off the raised dais to stand in front of him on the steps, her eyes level with his, green gazes locking. “You can stop it this time. You and I can finish this, once and for all. Together.”
    Drawing in a nearly imperceptibly shaky breath, Michael nodded. “Alright. Thank you, Sataniel.” He looked up at the stained glass window, the light behind it dimming in the twilight. “We have been here too long. I will contact you soon.” He turned to leave.

    “Earlier,” Satan said, stopping him in his tracks, “You said ‘we’ were ready to finish her. ‘We.’ My dear brother,” she said, clicking down the steps to stand next to him, and looping her arm through his. “I simply must meet your accomplices.”


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