Thief: Chapter 9

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Chapter Nine

    The doors opened and Abby watched in amazement as the angels, all looking terrified, bowed low. The younger demon had retreated to Horace’s side, and stared with a mixture of horror and revulsion at the thing that stepped into the library. Unable to stop herself, Abby stared too.
    Her mind ignored the four people surrounding it like guards and focused instead on the strangest child she had ever seen. The child, who looked about ten years old, was completely bald. It didn’t seem to have eyebrows or eyelashes either, and its eyes glowed a pure, blank bright white.
    She could feel that that blank, dead gaze resting on her and shivered. She understood why the angels were so unnerved by the child’s presence. It showed no emotion, but its blank eyes seemed ancient as they bored into hers.
    It took another step forward, the pristine, voluminous white robe it wore rustling as it moved. She couldn’t discern the child’s gender at all; its features were too soft to be male, and too harsh to be female. It probably didn’t matter one way or the other, if the child even had a gender. She doubted it was human. Somehow, she just couldn’t see this kid going to school or playing with toys.
    The child and its entourage made their way steadily towards Abby, the angels in the room ducking aside with bows and murmured blessings in another language that she somehow half-understood. When it noticed the two demons, the child raised the skin above its eyes where its eyebrows should have been. “Fascinating,” it murmured in a soft voice that seemed to fill the room, bouncing off the corners and whispering into every ear at once.
    Abby’s eyes widened; that wasn’t normal.
    The demons huddled together wordlessly, Horace shoving the boy who Abby was certain was his little brother behind him, shielding him with his own body as he tried to put up a brave front. His jaw was set in a harsh grimace and he glared down at the child defiantly, almost angrily. It all would have been more convincing if his medals and badges weren’t clinking and rattling together from his constant shivering.
    Dismissing them, the child swiveled its head towards Aiden and Gabriel Sr. “Greetings, General. Archangel.” It said, quiet voice echoing through the entire room again.
    “Metatron,” Aiden said, careful and polite. “What brings you here?”
    Metatron’s tone was as expressionless as its face. “We are here for the girl, the same as you.” It turned, eyes once again meeting Abby’s. “You have caused quite a commotion this night. I expect you would like to know why.”
    Abby nodded once, stiffly. She still had more unanswered questions than anything.
    The child began to speak. “You must understand one thing; you are what they say you are. You are not of them; you are of Us.”
    Its white eyes flashed golden for a split-second, and Abby blinked. “Us?”
    This time, it was the shorter demon who answered, his voice trembling and terse. “It’s the freaking Metatron, girl--get with the program!” Ignoring his brother’s furious cry of “Judah!”, he continued. “That kid’s the Voice of God; the Speaker. The Holy Mouthpiece. It’s God’s freaky little meat puppet, and it’s the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen--and I literally live in Hell!”
    Abby understood that. Metatron didn’t exactly give off a cuddly vibe, and neither did the four angels powering up around it, sending murderous glances Judah’s way as their tattoos spun.
    “Enough,” the child whispered, loudly enough to leave Abby’s ears ringing. “It would take more than a frightened child’s words to anger Us.” Its empty eyes never left Abby’s face. “We are here to discuss your destiny, girl. You have a purpose you must serve, and We are here to tell you to continue on your path.”
    Abby just looked at Metatron incredulously, frustration boiling over. “What path?! What destiny?! Are you trying to tell me that what happened out there tonight, what happened to Gabe and…and Eli…was all part of some greater plan?!”
    It stared at her, unblinking. “Everything happens for a reason. No step you take or breath you inhale is without purpose. That purpose, however, is yours to discover.”
    If anything that frustrated her more. “So what about Gabe then! If you’re an all-powerful being, why don’t you bring his soul back right now?!”
    “Everything happens for a reason. He is exactly where he is meant to be at this very moment. I am not the one to save him; that task befalls another.”
    Those words hurt like a slap to the face--Gabe wasn’t supposed to be in Hell or on some hospital bed as a breathing corpse. He was supposed to be here, with her.
    She opened her mouth to speak, but her voice was crushed by Metatron’s next sentence. “Nothing happened that wasn’t meant to.” As it said this the child cast a look over his shoulder at one of the angels guarding him, a tall, muscular man with short brown hair who wore a crisp black suit. The angel avoided Metatron’s gaze, averting his eyes to stare silently at the floor.
    Metatron turned back to Aiden and Gabriel Sr. and began asking them questions about everything that had happened. It was much to Abby’s surprise when the same whispy-strong voice filled her mind and began conversing with her in private. “The demons weren’t wrong; you are a dangerous weapon, and it’s only a matter of time before you destroy everything you hold dear.”
    Abby inhaled sharply, but was luckily ignored by everyone else. The outward discussion seemed to have taken a turn for the intense. Aiden was gesturing furiously, talking with his hands in big, swooping movements.
    Her attention was abruptly diverted. “You are meant for more than blind destruction. Only you can change the outcome of the war.”
    What war?” Abby thought at the voice.
   “The war that has already begun, the war that has always raged below your feet and over your head. You are the turning of the tide; you are what will decide the outcome of the final battle that rapidly approaches.”
    How is that possible?! I don’t know anything about any of this!” she projected in alarm.
    “And so you must learn. You are Our most powerful Creation. You will be the final factor. Your power alone is the key to victory, and you will either be a pawn, as you so feared, or a force of your own volition. That is your decision.”
    She didn’t know what to think or say or do, and she sat in stunned silence. Metatron’s voice whispered into her mind once more. “Go with the demons if you wish to master your powers; you will learn more outside than you ever could hope to in this place. But be wary. The darkness forever presents an easier road, though you may not like what lies at the end of it. I wish you the greatest fortune, Abigail. May you choose your path wisely. For all of our sakes.”
    The child’s voice and presence receded from her mind, and the conversation playing out in front of her seemed to be drawing to a close. “…there really isn’t much else to tell after that.” Gabriel Sr. concluded.
    Metatron inclined its head, face as blank as ever. No one would ever guess that it had just been carrying on a conversation like that with Abby in her mind. She wasn’t sure that she believed it herself. “That will be all then. Come,” the child said, motioning to its guards. “We must return.”
    One of the angels, a black man dressed in a suit identical to the ones his cohorts wore, cleared his throat. Metatron turned to look at him. “Yes?”
    “I wish to stay, if that would be alright with you. I’d like to see to...” he coughed as if covering up a break in his voice.
    “Ah,” Metatron said. “Your son. Of course.”
    The man he had eyed earlier stepped forward. “I would like to stay as well.” He said simply.
    Metatron considered this for a moment before nodding his assent. “If you insist, Michael. Izrafel, my deepest condolences.”
    “Thank you.” The black man, Izrafel, said as the child and his two remaining guards left the library, though his tone was anything but grateful. He sounded angry and--oh god. Oh no no no no no.
    “You’re Eli’s father?” Abby asked, her voice coming out as little more than a strained whimper. The hard look Izrafel gave her told her volumes more than words could ever hope to convey.

Thief: Chapter 8

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Chapter Eight

    Lucifer raised his hand and the enormous doors burst open with a resounding bang. Storming into the throne room, he lowered his hand and the doors closed again just as quickly and loudly as they’d opened. 
    The servants cleaning up the remnants of the ball took one look at him and his expression and scattered, the ifrit vanishing in puffs of smoke. Others ducked out through the servant’s entrances that were well-hidden in the wall-panels.
    Lucifer ignored them all, very deliberately making his way to the raised dais and his throne. He stalked straight through the group of bloody, beaten demons cowering before the platform, not caring that some of them failed to scramble out of the way. More than one hand got caught beneath the solid, heavy tread of his dress boots and was crunched satisfactorily underfoot. None of them dared to even whimper.
    Lucifer climbed the steps and turned, seating himself smoothly with a rippling flourish of his cape. He had decked himself out in his finest royal trappings, smoothed his tousled hair artfully and placed the heavy crown back on his brow. He looked every inch a conqueror king, and the demons quaking below him told him that it had the desired effect.
    Draven kneeled in front of what was left of his team, his face pressed to the floor even harder than Astarte’s had been. His massive form hadn’t so much as twitched as Lucifer’s heel had ground into his outstretched palm, and if it weren’t for the rise and fall of his naked, heavily scarred back, Lucifer would have thought him dead. No doubt Draven wished he was.
    “What happened?” Lucifer asked quietly, staring down at the exposed back of Draven’s neck. His head General didn’t answer, though a shudder shook through his hunched body at his words. Cold rage filled Lucifer--perhaps Draven would get his wish, after all.
    “TELL ME!” He roared, power flooding him and flinging Draven up into the air effortlessly. Draven grunted as he crashed into a dark marble pillar, the hard surface buckling beneath him. Lucifer picked him up again, never moving from his seat. “How did you fail me, Draven?!” He shouted, tossing him towards the ceiling.
    His impact made the room shake, and tiny chips of stone rained down on them. “Why don’t you explain it to me, point. By. Point.” He punctuated his words with further slams of Draven’s bulk into the ceiling and floor, bouncing him up and down as carelessly as a child with a ball.
 Lucifer smiled. “Finally, the peanut gallery speaks.” He turned towards the voice and was greeted by the terrified gaze of one of Draven’s soldiers. The idiot looked ready to wet himself. Pathetic.
    “I mean, uh, stop, please, your majesty. If you want to, of course!”
    Wordlessly Lucifer dropped Draven from the ceiling, not looking to see where he landed. He was still alive; Draven wouldn’t die that easily. “Speak.”
    The demon flinched, nervously pressing his hands together as he spoke. “It wasn’t the General’s fault that we--that things didn’t go…as planned.” Lucifer stared at him. “There was another reason; the General’s son, the Hunter…he showed up and ruined everything! He was working against us--working against you, your Majesty!”
    “Mammon,” Lucifer growled under his breath. Of course that bastard would come back and try to ruin everything. Stupid naïve pale waste of skin--he’d been breathing for far too long. He made a mental note to scrape the flesh from his bones before he killed him.
    “Is this true?” he asked the puddle of bloody muscle twitching on the marble floor. Draven wheezed, a sticky, wet sound. Lucifer could hear the blood frothing and snapping in his throat with each breath. His lip curled in disgust--how the mighty had fallen. “I’ll take that as a yes, you simpering cur.”
    He sighed and raised his hand, lifting Draven to the ceiling and pinning him there so that the blood poured down, out of his throat to pool on the floor far below. He couldn’t have his General dying of something so mundane as choking on his own blood. He secured Draven in place with another pulse of dark power, and turned back to the man’s cowering subordinates.
    “Thank you,” Lucifer said pleasantly, addressing the one who had spoken up. “You’ve been extremely helpful.” He spread out the fingers of one hand and flicked his wrist, and the demon was torn limb from limb in an instant. His comrades scooted away, one of them going glassy-eyed and green before retching noisily.
    Standing, Lucifer sauntered from the throne, booted feet squelching through the pools of blood that now spotted the throne-room floor. The place grew darker and colder, the walls groaning and quaking around him. “FIND HIM!” He bellowed as he strode from the room.

Thief: Chapter 7

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Chapter Seven

    Gabe’s eyes creaked open slowly and painfully. Ugh. What happened, he wondered as he stared blearily into the dark. The blackness of wherever he was didn’t stop him from noticing that his arms were outstretched and chained to the stony, freezing wall behind him.
    He flexed, testing the bonds; iron, cold and tight around his wrists. The movement made the shackles bite into his skin, and they burned where they had chafed already. His ankles were bound as well, but he had no memory of being chained up. The last thing he remembered was Abby’s worried face after they had…kissed…
    He shivered as the cold began to seep in, and he realized that he wasn’t wearing a shirt. When did he lose his clothes? At least he still had pants on. He tried to hunch forward, huddle in on himself for warmth, and stopped with a gasp at the shock of pain that slid up his ribs. His stomach ached and burned, and he could feel hot blood oozing from deep, slicing cuts that hadn’t been there before.
    He could tell from the way the pain hit him that he had left his body behind. It didn’t mean much here; whether he had a body here or not wouldn’t stop him from being tortured. If anything it would probably hurt more, and damage his body wherever it was.
    He opened his mouth and sucked in a shallow breath, tensing at the throb of agony that followed. He could feel the flaps of skin opening and closing with each breath, and he shuddered again, this time not only from the cold.
    This awakening was grim, the polar opposite of the gentle, albeit brief, touch of Abby’s lips against his. This freezing cavern that he found himself imprisoned in was so different from the garden he had been in with the girl he loved. And in that instant, he knew where he was. He was in the only place he could be. He had fallen in love with his charge. He was in Hell. But she wasn’t human. That shouldn’t have happened.
    It didn’t make sense. If Abby was actually human, he would be shocked. He didn’t know what she was, but Abby Shepard was no ordinary human being. Not that he cared; he loved her, and that was all that mattered. But still--how did he end up here? Falling in love with Abby shouldn’t have enforced the penalty, and he was pretty sure that a demon hadn’t dragged him down.
    Raph couldn’t have managed something like that-not at his level-and who else would want him cast into the pit? Something else was happening here; something much more powerful than him was pulling strings here, and it was beyond his scope to understand. He didn’t care about all that, though. He just needed to get back to Abby.
    The sounds of a door being unbolted and pushed open demanded his attention with a shriek of unoiled hinges. The torchlight spilling into the cell was bright enough that he had to look away. He blinked hard and tried again, and was greeted by a sight that took his breath away in the worst way possible.
    He knew her immediately; there was no mistaking the Queen of Hell. Satan walked leisurely into the room, resplendent in a red robe that hugged her curves and offset her shiny copper curls. There was a soft jangling noise of metal on metal as she pulled something into the room behind her on a thin silver chain.
    The door shut and robbed the room of light again, aside from the small flickering ball of flame that floated above Satan’s open palm. It was too dark for Gabe to see what had followed her in, though he could hear it shuffling quietly in the background and a muffled thump as it took a seat on the stony floor.
    His eyes were on Satan the entire time, adjusting to the dim light that picked her out against the cell that seemed all the more dark for her presence. “Satan.” He gritted out, disgust dripping from his slurred words. “I’d curtsy, but I’m a little tied up right now.” He coughed wetly, and tasted blood on his tongue. Speaking had been difficult--his shoulders were beginning to ache where they were being stretched apart, and he could feel liquid pooling in his chest. That couldn’t be good.
    The Queen stared at him for a moment, and then Gabe noticed the spark of recognition light up her eyes. “Charming!” Satan exclaimed, turning her hand and dropping the fireball into the open space between them, where it remained floating in midair.
    She took a step towards him, deftly sidestepping the flame, and gave him a coy smile. “Utterly charming! I know who you are. Let me get a good look at you; so very like your father, aren’t you? Not as smart as daddy though, it seems.” The look she gave him was a mockingly sympathetic smile. “The Archangel Gabriel would know better than to screw around with little miss horror show. Oh, Gabe,” She reached up and patted him on the cheek. “didn’t they teach you anything at the Academy?”
    Gabe jerked away from her touch with a snarl, and instantly regretted it as the movement tugged at his wounds, re-opening them. He hissed in pain and sagged against his bonds.
    “Oh?” Satan raised her perfect eyebrows and glanced down at his stomach. “Well. That isn’t something you see every day.” She said conversationally, leaning down to get a closer look.
    He flinched back as her hand ghosted over the strange, deep cuts, and she looked up and gave a breathless laugh before returning to her exploration. “You’re more interesting than I thought!” she grinned, caressing the lines carved into him in a pattern that he found himself recognizing as she did
    “A…pentagram?!” he whimpered in pain as she drove a long-nailed finger into the slice below his navel, the torn, bloody flap of skin gliding over her fingertip as she traced the pattern.
    “A pentagram,” she confirmed, making her gory way through the carving. “And a very powerful, ancient one at that. Someone used you as a portal, boy.” She straightened up, crooking the finger still lodged in his chest.
    He bit the inside of his cheek to keep from crying out, but a low groan escaped his lips.
    “Congratulations. You just became interesting enough to keep alive.”
    Gathering the blood that had pooled in his mouth, Gabe spat at her as hard as he could.
    The splatter landed above her plump red lips, still curved into a cold, crazed smile. Her tongue snaked out, running over the blood and bringing it to her mouth. “You are going to be fun. I can just taste it!” She smirked and dragged her hand down his chest, nails scratching at the skin, to stop suddenly at the centre of the pentagram. “Maybe I’ll make you my new pet.”
     Her eyes flooded with glowing pitch, and Gabe could only scream in agony as her power pierced his flesh, the blazing, oily heat of it searing his skin and trapping the blackness below the surface. His skin crawled as he felt her power oozing slowly through the new scars, writhing lazily within him. It clung to him, climbing up his chest towards his heart.
    He glared at Satan in fury, stormy-blue eyes burning into her now bright green gaze that seemed…far too familiar. He squinted, sharpening his vision before the thin black lines began to obscure her teasing pout. Those eyes…It wasn’t possible! Horror gripped his mind before a much darker, deeper, older horror clawed its way in, and he couldn’t.

Thief: Chapter 6

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Chapter Six

    When Abby woke she was once again in the library. Her brain felt fuzzy and ached as she sat up, the blankets that covered her pooling around her legs as she shoved them away.
The first thing she noticed was that someone had taken the time to clean her up and change her out of her tattered gown. They had wiped away most of the blood and dirt, and she now wore one of her old t-shirts with a sweatshirt zipped up over it. Her legs had been pulled into the familiar fabric of her favourite pair of faded, paint-splattered jeans.
    Her feet were still bare, but they didn’t ache and sting nearly as much as they had before. A quick wriggle of her toes confirmed her suspicions; the cuts and bruises were gone. That was a little disconcerting, and she wondered which of them had been brave enough to try and heal her--that was something they could do, right? They’d tried to heal Gabe…Gabe.
    She pulled her legs up onto the couch, tucking them and holding them to her chest. Gabe was going to be alright, she told herself firmly. He was strong and smart and powerful, and... I’m sure Fern thought the same thing about Eli, a cruel little voice whispered in her mind. The knot in her stomach twisted and power bubbled to the surface again, erasing all other thoughts from her mind as the gold light filled her vision and the room.
    She barely heard the angels in the room reacting, but she could make out enough to figure that more had moved in and surrounded her, lining the room. She wasn’t capable of caring about where they had come from; some part of her, deep down inside, was lashing out at them in anger.
    Her vision blurred again, everything fading to inky black in a heartbeat. She gasped, thinking for a moment that she had gone blind, but then that faded too, to a burning, dazzling whiteness. Her eyesight abruptly cleared and returned to normal. “What’s happening?!” she cried, panicking.
    She locked eyes with Aiden, who stood at the opposite end of the couch and was physically unable to get any closer to her. The cycle started again, her senses assaulted by forces she had no control over. Aiden’s voice rose over the unidentifiable sound thrumming through her ears. “Abby, try to calm down! You have to try to contain your powers, or you’re going to get hurt!”
    Frantically she tried to turn it off, flip a mental switch and force it all to shut down. It wasn’t working. “I can’t!” she whimpered, pressure building up behind her temples and throbbing through her nerve-endings. She didn’t know what to do anymore, and neither did the angels.
    She slumped backwards in her seat, letting her body go limp against the gently yielding couch. Her head had tilted up, and she watched, removed and dazed, as small objects orbited around her, far overhead. Huh. The books and pens and globe cycling lazily above her would have made her chuckle if it wasn’t for the tremendous amount of pain lancing through her skull.
    She sighed, and her teeth hurt from the simple action. She didn’t know how much longer she could go on like this; the constant, mind-numbing pain was more than she could handle, and her thoughts flashed to Malakh. He was the personification of Death, right? That explained the instinctive fear she had felt when she first laid eyes on him.
    Now, though--now she wouldn’t mind seeing him, might even welcome him with a smile, if she could manage it. What did she have to live for? With Gabe gone and everything she thought she knew being burned away with each beat of her corrupted, inhuman heart, she wouldn’t be Abby Shepard for much longer.
    She closed her eyes tightly. She could feel it within her; somewhere beyond the powers surging through her body, she was changing. She was becoming something not human or angel or demon. She was becoming something…else. And that scared her more than anything else that had happened in this crazy, screwed up night.
    The commotion in the hallway snapped her away from her dark thoughts, forced her attention to the doorway. Her eyes opened a crack as the doors burst open, and she inhaled sharply in surprise. The nausea that followed convinced her to keep her breathing shallow and even. It didn’t discourage her from opening her eyes wider and staring.
    It took her a moment to grasp what, exactly, she was looking at. It couldn’t be Raph. It really couldn’t be two of him, either. Now that she was getting a better look, it wasn’t; one was too short, and the other too tall. Other than a few small differences, though, they looked just like him.
    The taller one, with his dark hair pulled back into a short, curly ponytail at the nape of his neck and some sort of black military uniform on, surveyed the room. He quickly layed eyes on her and strode forward, his steps brisk and even. He ignored the angels bristling and glowing with Holy Power all around him, and casually sidestepped a swipe of one’s blade as he drew closer. “Don’t interfere.” He reprimanded without so much as slowing down.
    The shorter boy stayed by the door, leaning against the doorjamb and looking almost deliberately bored. The black markings swirling over his skin and the inky pitch of his eyes told Abby that he was on guard, though. The angels were also on high alert, but not moving in on the intruders. Abby started to wonder why before pain jackknifed through her bones and banished all thought.
    In a flash Aiden was in front of her, between her and the strange man, ignoring any harm that might come to him from Abby’s unchecked powers. He blazed with power of his own and held two elegant blades at the ready. “Don’t you dare come any closer.” He snarled, and Abby could see white runes dance up his tensed neck to flare around his glowing eyes.
    The stranger gave him an unimpressed look. “I thought you wanted her to live, General…That is what you were fighting for earlier tonight?”
    Aiden didn’t move a muscle. “So why would I let something like you near my girl?” he growled.
    “I see; you’ve taken over as her Guardian, then. A fine choice. Now, step aside so I can save her life.” The man deadpanned, waving Aiden aside with one hand. Again, Aiden didn’t budge.
    The man shrugged and looked over Aiden’s shoulder, catching Abby’s gaze and holding it. “Hello, Abby.” He said, tone a shade more pleasant than it had been when addressing Aiden.
    She licked her dry lips and started to say something, and the man held up a hand to stop her.               "Don’t speak; you must be in a lot of pain right now with all that power running through your veins.”
    Abby managed a weak murmur of assent. Understatement.
    “My name is Horace. I’m here to help you. You should have had your entire life to master your powers as they emerged, but they were sealed from you with a powerful binding; the work of one of your parents, no doubt.”
    Her expression must have conveyed her confusion.
    He arched an eyebrow. “They haven’t told you? Well.” One corner of his lips curled upwards in a smooth half-smile as he glanced at Aiden. “Just like a Guardian to keep secrets from his charge.”
His words cut through the beginnings of Aiden’s angry retort. “I’ll tell you, then. I’m sure you know by now that you aren’t human, nor angel. You certainly aren’t a demon. Simply put, you’re unique. A rare specimen; the first of your kind, in fact.”
    “Don’t you dare--“
    “You’re mixed, Abby Shepard. For lack of a better term, you’re a hybrid. One part angel, one part demon. A whole new creation.” He crossed his arms over his chest and gave Aiden a mocking smile. “There, was that so difficult?”
    Abby felt the bile rising in her throat. She almost didn’t notice when Horace’s hand came down to rest on her shoulder, though she did notice when he began whispering in her ear in a language she had never heard before. Somehow, though, despite the impossibility of it, she understood every word of the guttural, ancient murmuring. “Don’t allow yourself to be consumed by the discord, Abby. The chaos raging inside you is not out of your control; it cries out for your control. You contain power unknown. Only you can master this.” The last part was said in English as he pulled away from her, taking a step back and yanking Aiden with him by the arm.
    Taking a deep breath, she pushed the power down and away to the back of her mind, muzzling the twisting golden tendrils and forcing the markings to fade away from her skin. She could still feel it, the heavy burden of the power taking up residence inside of her, but it didn’t dance through her blood uncontrollably. Now it was held at bay, a man-eating tiger trapped in a golden cage; not fully tamed, but no longer wild, either.
    Something had clicked within her brain, and the falling globe narrowly avoided Aiden’s head as it crashed to the floor and bounced across the room. Abby blinked, and her vision cleared to reveal a room full of frightened-looking angels and two demons wearing nearly-identical smirks.
    Horace cleared his throat and met her gaze. “Trapping it was the simple part; learning to use your powers without destroying everything around you will be much more difficult.”
    “And who are you to teach her, demon?” Aiden snarled, whirling around to face him.
Horace tapped his chest with two fingers, indicating his badges of rank. He pointed at one, an obsidian star in an orange brass setting. “I’m a specialist. I’m sure I don’t look like much to you, General, but I’ve been training soldiers to use their powers for a very long time. Everyone from new recruits to nobility have been under my tutelage, and while I’ve never handled anything like Abby’s power, I still think I’m more qualified than your flock to teach her.”
    “I’m her Guardian!!”
    “And she’s a ticking time-bomb.”  
    “AIDEN!” Every head in the room swivelled to look at Gabriel Sr. at his shout. He backed into the room and shut the door behind him quickly before turning to Aiden, eyes wide.
Abby had never seen the man look anything other than confident; right now, he looked terrified.
    “What is it? What’s wrong?” Aiden asked sharply.
    “Aiden, it’s Him. He’s here.”
    A shiver of fear ran down Abby’s spine at the words, though she didn't understand why. But by how horrified and pale the people around her suddenly looked, she was sure she would soon find out.

Thief: Chapter 5

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Chapter Five

    The descent hadn’t been pleasant. Not that going back to Hades had ever been a fun experience, but travelling through a portal carved into an angel’s flesh wasn’t something Raph would recommend, having tried it. It had been warm, for one thing, and eerily dark. And it had taken time.
    He had fallen through the place between places for…he didn’t know how long. Longer than he had expected. Longer than he ever would have wanted. It couldn’t have been longer than a few moments, though, as the Solstice celebrations were still in full swing when he landed suddenly on his feet in an unlit alleyway, feeling the crack of the pavement below him as it shattered. The impact shuddered up his legs, rattling his bones and clicking his teeth together.
    Shaking his head briskly, he chanced a look around. If he didn’t know better, he would say that he hadn’t left Earth after all. He did know better, though, knew this particular part of Hell like the back of his own hand. The decrepit buildings with their crumbling foundations, the rank smell of searing brimstone and sweat, the smoke in the air so thick he could nearly taste it; this was no mortal city. He was in Hades alright, on the far side of the Styx.
    He inhaled, taking in a nostalgic lungful of the putrid air. He was home. He hurried through the alley, ignoring the ache in his legs, and rounded the corner onto a familiar street. This was his old neighbourhood; good, his aim hadn’t been entirely off. That was lucky, he guessed. Truth be told, he had had almost no idea how the spell worked in the first place, so landing had been tricky at best. Now that he was there, he knew what he had to do.
    He walked down the honeycombed streets as fast as he could without breaking into a run, dodging groups of drunken revellers and slipping through alleyways when he could. He did not want to be recognized. He didn’t have time for the dungeons--not yet, anyway.
    Skirting around gathering of petite imps, their big dark eyes set in their pointy faces fully ignoring him in favour of some drinking game, Raph scanned the street. He could smell the hot, bubbling blood of the damned rising up from the riverbed; it wasn’t far, now. The bar was just around the bend and across the street, nestled safely under the bridge over the River Styx.
    He walked by a lone woman, her tall, skeletally thin body swaying from side to side as she lurched tipsily away from the bar on too-high heels. She leered down at him as he passed, giving him a wide smile that revealed each of her double rows of gleaming, needle-sharp teeth and her long black tongue.
    He forced himself to slow his pace, keeping it steady and even despite his instinctive revulsion. The last thing he needed tonight was a Wendigo on his ass, even a drunken one who hadn’t figured out her shoes yet. If he activated her prey drive, she would probably tear him to bits and have his guts for a midnight snack, wasted or not. He made his way carefully around the corner, and, thankfully, the woman continued on her all-too-merry way.
    Finally the Riverside Inn stood before him in all its rundown, ramshackle glory, bright firelight and cheery music spilling out from the cracks in the wooden door and between the crumbling bricks of the old façade. He let out a shallow breath that he felt like he had been holding onto forever; he was finally, finally home.
    Pulling open the door with a familiar creaking that was nearly inaudible over the din of drunken partying, Raph stepped inside of his mother’s pub. It was hot and crowded, every corner packed with lesser demons, with the occasional high-class demon mixed in and slumming for kicks. He began to weave his way through the room, keeping an eye out for his family.
    He narrowly avoided the clawing grasp of a smashed, amorous incubus who dealt him a sultry wink and blew him a kiss when he danced out of reach, and the fiery mane of a wildly gyrating ifrit nearly caught the sleeve of his jacket on fire when he backed into her. Snatching his arm away quickly, his eyes darted around the room. They had to be here somewhere, they were always home for the holidays.
    He took another step forward, more carefully this time, and was nearly pulled off balance as he was pulled back by two arms winding around him, turning him around and crushing him into a very buxom embrace. “’ello, mom,” he managed, struggling to breathe against her tight hug. “Hard to…breathe!” His mom didn’t say anything, squeezing him to her for another moment.
    Suddenly, she thrust him away from her, holding him by his shoulders at arm’s length, those sparkling sapphire eyes that had lured so many men to their downfall roving over every inch of him. His mother’s dark, curly hair was swept back in a simple bun, as it always was when she was working, though a few strands had escaped and hung down, hastily tucked behind one ear.
    “What’s wrong with you? What happened?” she demanded, her gaze boring into his as if she could uncover the truth in his eyes.
    Raph shrugged and averted his gaze with a half-hearted laugh; what was he supposed to say? How could he explain to her, of all people, that he had fallen in love with the soul he had been sent to retrieve, and was now a fugitive on a mission to rescue her angelic boyfriend? Actually, with it all summed up like that, he felt like it was stupid. Like he was an idiot for even attempting something so crazy for a girl who despised him. Rightfully so, but still.
    And then he pictured the look on Abby’s face when she had arrived at the hospital, bloody and barefoot, caught in the midst of a battle between Heaven and Hell, and he remembered why he was doing this. He had done that to her. This was the least he could do to atone, even a little. But he would need help.
    “Mom,” His voice came out a little more cracked and broken than he would have liked. He cleared his throat and tried again. “Mom, where are my brothers?”
    He watched as her hands turned to fists and she planted them on her generously curved hips, her shapely legs widening in a solid stance as she drew herself up to her full height, towering over him a good six inches. Her face, still beautiful after all of her many aeons in Hades, twisted visibly in suspicion. “Why?”
    “It’s important--I need their help.” He gave her his most pitiful look; truthfully, it wasn’t a difficult expression to pull at this point. “I need your help, mom. Please.”
    She stared at him for a few more seconds, and Raph could almost see her resolve vanishing as shook her head and sighed. “Fine! Fine. They’re in the kitchen. Raph, I don’t know exactly what you’ve gotten yourself into. But I’ve heard things…bad things. At least promise me that you won’t get hurt.” 
    He didn’t say anything, just slipped by her wordlessly and headed to the swinging door that hid the kitchen from view. He couldn’t promise her that, and she knew it. Slamming his open palm into the door, Raph stepped into the Riverside Inn’s dingy little kitchen.
    Two sets of dark eyes, so like his own, shifted to watch the door at the sound of his entry. His older brother, Horace, picked up the bottle of liquor from the rough wooden table in front of him and poured himself a shot, glanced at Raph again, made it a double for good measure, and downed it in one solid, smooth gulp. He cleared his throat softly, picking up the bottle again and swirling it experimentally. “Hmm…Either you’re actually here, or mother’s distillery is getting better.”
    His younger brother Judah hopped up from his seat next to Horace on the stained bench and sidled over to Raph, smiling crookedly at him. “He’s real, Horace! What’s up, Raph? Didn’t think we’d see you for a long time after what you pulled upstairs.”
    Raph winced. “You heard about that, huh?”
    “It’s all over the streets. I mean, sure, it was ballsy of you, mouthing off like that to the Queen of Hell, but let me tell you, man, you are so utterly screwed. Like, you’re basically a walking corpse right now. You’re toast when she finds you!” He said, grinning a little too cheerfully.
    Horace pushed to his feet, slamming his hands down on the table for emphasis. “That’s enough, Judah. Raph,” he said, holding a somewhat unsteady hand out to his brother, “Come, sit. You look like you’re about to be sick.”
    Raph began to protest feebly, but Horace shot him an authoritative glance that shut him up. “Sit.” He wasn’t used to being disobeyed, and he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Grudgingly, Raph sat down across the table from his brother. Horace nodded his head at the bottle between them. “Now, drink.”
    Raph raised an eyebrow at him, and Horace snapped his fingers, a glass materialising next to the bottle. “You have that look new recruits get when they see their first bloody corpse, Raph. You’re either going to faint, vomit, or drink. So drink, because we don’t have much time and I’m sure Judah doesn’t want to clean up your puke.”
    A loud “Hey!” flew from Judah’s mouth, which earned him a look from Horace. “You work here.” He said pointedly, cutting off all protestations as his younger brother lapsed into sulky silence.
    Raph reached for the bottle and poured some into the glass, bringing it to his lips and slinging it back. Immediately, he began choking and coughing on the liquid as it burnt a fiery path down his throat. “What proof is that stuff?!” he spluttered, wiping his mouth off on his sleeve.
    “Let’s just say you don’t want to strike a match near it,” Horace said, taking a slow sip from his own refilled glass as he refilled Raph’s. He set down his glass and reached up to loosen one of the buttons high up on the neck of his military uniform jacket, carefully brushing aside his short ponytail of dark, wild curls. “Now, do you feel well enough to talk? I assume this isn’t a social call.”
    Raph swallowed, fighting back another wave of coughing. He did feel better, surprisingly. The coughing had shocked him into a clearer state of mind, and the warmth of the alcohol was spreading to his cold, aching limbs and making them feel a little more alive. “Yeah. It’s all gonna sound insane, but yeah.”
    Horace chuckled quietly, one side of his lips lifting slightly. “Try me. I’ve dealt with my fair share of insanity, kid.”
    Nodding once, Raph told his brothers everything. Everything about Abby and the angels and Satan. Everything about how he had betrayed everything they stood for as demons, and had broken the girl he loved and angered the woman he feared. He told them everything he could think of, and only stopped when he ran out of words.
    He closed his eyes, drew in a deep breath and expelled it slowly. “You’re right, Horace--I didn’t come here to vent.” He opened his eyes and looked at his two brothers, both now sitting across from him, completely silent. “I came here to ask for your help. Both of you. I need to find a way to get Gabe’s soul back.”
    Horace’s expression remained impassive; Judah’s eyes grew wide and incredulous. “So lemme get this straight--you want us to help you nab an angel’s soul from somewhere in Hell and get it back to his body so that you can what? Get yourself back in some chick’s good graces?! What the fu--“
    “That’s not why!” Raph snapped at Judah, irritation rising. He hoped he wasn’t wasting his time being here. “Don’t you see it? Abby is wanted by both the King and Queen, and Heaven is doing all they can to protect her. She’s not ‘some chick.’ She’s a weapon. And even though Gabe was doing a piss-poor job of it, he’s still her Guardian. He’s leverage. Abby loves him; if we don’t get him back, who knows what stupid things she’ll try to get his soul back!” He knew that that probably sounded more bitter than he’d wanted it to.
    Raph gave Horace an imploring glance. “Horace, please. You’ve been in battle. You know better than any of us what would happen if Lucifer or Satan got their hands on her. You know who actually pays when wars happen, and you know it sure as Hell isn’t the nobles sitting pretty in their palaces.”
    Horace made a noncommittal noise in his throat and took another sip of his drink. Judah, at least, had the decency to look surprised. The thought obviously hadn’t occurred to him. “Shit.” He said, tone hushed. “Damn it, that’s low. If we don’t help you, we’re cannon fodder. If we do help you, we’re practice targets for the army. Shit.”
    “Trust me--this isn’t what I wanted either, but if we don’t do something we’re all screwed.” Raph said, gaze fixed on his older brother. Jude was as good as in; the little rat knew when to abandon a sinking ship and jump onto the only lifeboat still floating.
    Horace, on the other hand…Horace was a mystery, as always. The man was disciplined from his military training, stony poker-face in place despite the amount of alcohol he had knocked back. He was sharp and calculating, but surprisingly kind all the same. Raph knew that he often trained new soldiers, helping them to harness and master their powers. Horace made war machines. Raph had plans for that, if Horace would agree to help.
    His older brother finally met his gaze, giving a nearly imperceptible nod. “Fine. We’ll help you, but finding and extracting a soul from the Dungeons isn’t going to be easy. Assuming that that is where he is?”
    Raph nodded. “I’m pretty sure he’s down there somewhere. I got here through, uh, unconventional means, so I sort of half-managed to track his soul’s descent.”
    Judah flopped forward, thumping his head onto the tabletop and groaning dramatically. “Great. He half-managed it. That’s it. We’re dead! We’re all dead.”
    Horace gave him a casual swat upside the back of his head, earning him a glare that he ignored completely. “You’ll need to get into the palace, then. I know someone who might be able to get you in, for the right price.”
    Relief washed over Raph like a tidal wave. “When can I meet him?”
    Horace’s brow furrowed. “You aren’t going in alone, Raph. I hope you realise that. You want to save the angel, save the girl; you’re going to need a plan and a team. Unless you were planning on a suicide mission, in which case, why are you wasting my valuable time off?” Raph wanted to point out that his time off was being spent getting drunk, alone, in his mother’s kitchen, but he stopped himself. He was right, of course; strolling into the castle solo would probably be the last thing he ever did.
    “Who did you have in mind?” he asked grudgingly.
    Horace shared a glance with Judah, and suddenly Raph knew. “Oh no. Oh no, not her!” Judah grinned. “You wouldn’t!” He didn’t want to deal with her, of all people, right now. The girl and he were oil and water; this was going to get ugly, he was sure.
    Judah snickered and snapped his fingers, and someone appeared beside him in a puff of vibrant fuchsia smoke. “This had better be good, Jude! I was at a great party on the other side of the River, and I left a whole bag of loot behind!”
    “Hello, Cara.” Horace said, greeting her with a fond little smile.
    “Hey big bro! ‘Sup?”
    “Oh, not much. Actually, we have a proposal for you.”
    At the “We”, Cara looked past him and spotted Raph for the first time. “Oh. My. God.” The smirk splitting her face was disgusting, and Raph rolled his eyes. “You? You need my help. Oh my GOD that is… That is priceless.”
    “Yeah, okay, I do. I need your help, you and anyone you know that’d be up to grand treason and theft of a soul from the deepest, darkest part of the royal dungeons.” He spat, giving the girl a surly once-over.
    He hadn’t seen her in a few years, and his half-sister had shot up like a weed. She had their mother’s bright blue eyes and shapely figure, though she had inherited her father’s sleek black hair. Raph didn’t really remember her father; he had been another one of his mother’s short-lived flings, and not a remarkable one at that.
    Cara was the youngest of them, but she was far from being meek. She co-led Hades’ biggest street gang with Judah, and she had always held a fierce rivalry with her predecessor. And now? Now he was asking for her help. She laughed lightly, gloating. “Of course. I can have the best crew of thieves and liars gathered within the hour. But first, I wanna know why.”
    Raph waved her away irritably, belatedly remembering why he didn’t come home very often. “Jude can fill you in. Basically, if you and your little friends want to survive to steal another day, you’ll help me out. Horace,”
    Horace turned his attention back to his brother.
    “Do you have a spare mirror? I got rid of mine, and now I think I’ll want one sooner than later.”
    Horace reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, flat gold compact. “Picked that up off a General once upon a time ago. I thought it might come in handy someday, so it’s been in my pocket for a while.”
    Raph nodded his thanks, stuffing the mirror into his breast pocket as he spoke, lowering his voice and leaning forward. “I need you to do something else for me. Take Judah with you. I think she’ll need both of you.” 

Thief: Chapter 4

Chapter Four

    Panting, Mammon picked up the pace. Snatching his dogs by their coat-sleeves, he hurtled through space for what felt like the hundredth time that day. He couldn’t be sure how many times he’d zapped himself to a new locale in the past few hours--between the fight with the child (though he would hardly classify that as a fight; it had been more of a drawn-out murder) and avoiding the thing currently tailing him, he’d long ago lost count.
    As to exactly who or what was following him…he wasn’t altogether clear on that either. He shot a glance behind him, saw the other’s warp-trail glowing blackly past the bobbing and swaying of Fenris and Freja’s heads as they ran. He huffed a breath, darting forward as quickly as his aching limbs and waning power would allow.
    This shouldn’t be happening looped on repeat in his head--he should have been the only one left, the only teleporter remaining in creation. So what was the thing that was chasing him, had been hot on his trail since he’d dropped the corpse at the angels’ feet? It wasn’t another angel, that he knew. Angels didn’t feel like that. There was no cloying sense of virtue and light, no soft warmth in his pursuer’s aura. No; what followed him was as cold and ruthless as himself, if their unflagging chase was any indication.
    He heard Fenris stumble over something and yelp, and Mammon was reminded of their injuries and his own. They were running on fumes through a barren, rocky landscape--truthfully, he wasn’t sure where they were anymore--and they were all covered in blood. Some of it was their own; most of it was their own. He was concerned for his dogs--they were tired and in pain, any he didn’t want to abandon them, or put them down.
    He sighed. The night had not gone as planned, not by a long shot. He had meant to destroy the girl, the single simple damned-to-hell teenaged girl, and he couldn’t even manage that because of angels.       At least he had killed one, and it had been amusing to watch the boy die, but…he’d gotten his hands dirty, and he had nothing to show for it but the wrong corpse.
    It was gaining on them again. Reaching back, he grabbed the dogs again with his long, naked fingers and leapt forward, hitting the ground running in a vast forest of impossibly tall trees. It was warmer than the rocky place had been, the humid air filled with a loamy scent that intensified with each scrambling surge forward.
    Mammon’s foot slid in the moss that coated the forest floor like a thick blanket and twisted his hip sharply. He hissed as pain ricocheted through the wounds scattered across his tall, thin frame; the fight hadn’t been kind to him. Though he had gotten the upper hand and emerged victorious, he had amassed his own share of scrapes, bruises and gouges. He was fairly certain his nose had been broken, and the blood from it still continued to run down his pale face to drip off his delicately pointed chin. There was a tear in his side where the boy had dashed him into the side of the Appalachian Mountains, and a gash that tore through his coat and into his arm where an iceberg they had been brawling on snagged him.
    His gloves had been missing for hours, and he couldn’t be sure where he lost them; perhaps it had been in the candle-lit cathedral in Belarus, or the scrap-metal covered beach in India. Wherever he had lost them, he was annoyed. His hands were sticky with gore, his body ached and his head burned from sheer exertion--he couldn’t keep this up for much longer.
    But he had to, he had to keep running. If he stopped, even for an instant to catch his breath, that thing would catch up, and whatever it was, it would catch him. And he didn’t want to be caught, not after last night. He’d messed up, miscalculated and lost his chance for redemption. He had failed both the King and Queen of Hell, derailed both of their plans in one simple, stupid motion. He’d have to lie low for a few millennia and hope that things cleared up eventually; he was a dead man otherwise. He was likely a dead man already.
    Leaves rustled in their wake and moss shifted underfoot as they ran and ran, while their pursuer got closer and closer, chasing them into a small clearing. This was madness, Mammon thought bitterly, anger growing hot in his gut. He was a Hunter, a terror, one of Hell’s finest. He would not run any farther; his legs were ready to give out anyway, and his head throbbed painfully.
    He stopped, turned to face his attacker, standing as tall and proud as he could manage with blood pouring from him and his tattoos whirling over his skin. He waited, seconds ticking by in the silence of the untouched forest. It was still there; he could sense it, all of that dark, boundless energy. A demon, then. Idly, he wondered if it was Lucifer’s or Satan’s. Not that it mattered; they would rip it limb from limb, either way.
    He was focused on the way they’d entered, and whirled around when he heard the twin startled yelps from Fenris and Freja. A teenaged girl stood between their kneeling, shaking forms. “Good dogs. Stay.” She said, patting them mockingly on their heads as she strode towards Mammon, an uneven smirk on her tan face.

    Amazingly pale eyes stared into his as she smiled up at him sweetly, head tilted to the side. “Hello, Daddy.”
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