Day Two: Dawn
Azrael was almost running when he exited the crumbling concrete home at the edge of Beal City. He fell against the doorway, catching his breath. The sheer volume of knowledge he had just received was overwhelming. It can’t—it just can’t all be true.
Anders , flanked by five other boys about his age, dressed in jet-black uniforms, stepped forward anxiously. Azrael raised his head, looking at Anders, who awaited an answer.
Azrael slowly shook his head. “He told me everything…” Azrael realized he was breathing fast, and struggled to calm down. “Nostradamus told me everything…and then he just vanished.”
Anders looked at Azrael sympathetically. “You’ll be okay, Azrael. Everyone goes through that the first time.” Anders paused, looking eastward towards the destroyed church and the rising sun. He then turned back to Azrael. “Did he say where he was going?” His tone was urgent this time. Azrael shook his head. Anders seemed frightened; Azrael gathered that Nostradamus had never disappeared before.
“Anders!” Another boy, this one stocky, red-headed, holding a short sword defensively, sprinted towards Anders, who turned to acknowledge him. “They’re here,” the boy said flatly.
Anders, along with everyone else, looked into the distance. There was a row of lanky, elongated humanoid beings plodding towards the city, their elongated arms hanging limply at their sides. They were burnt orange and purple, as if they were made from the Lake of Fire. Their feet never left the sand, which melted into glass as they glided over it. Their groans, low and guttural, rose into a deathly chorus as they approached.
They were at least twenty across and they seemed to go on forever as they approached. Azrael estimated their number at over a hundred—and they were still coming. At the center of their front row was a crossling dressed in an unblemished, two-piece white uniform. He quickly locked eyes with Azrael and grinned hungrily.
A conglomeration of fear, anger, and bitterness welled up inside Azrael. “I take it that that’s your brother?” Anders asked.
The eagerness in his voice made Azrael want to slap him. “Yes. That’s Anileif,” he answered calmly.
Anders nodded. “Well then…” He reached into a compartment at the small of his back and pulled forth a tiny silver stick that was about a foot long. He made a whipping gesture with the staff, and with a snapping noise, the stick shot three feet out from both ends. “We have work to do.”
Azrael reached into a pocket on the side of his leg and pulled forth his own small stick, this one ebony. Making the same whipping motion allowed the staff to extend fully. A long, curved blade jettisoned out of the top of the staff, making it look like a deformed L. Azrael swung the scythe once; it was generic, but it would do the job.
“Jasker,” Anders asked as they started walking towards the Eternally Damned. “Is everybody safely away?”
A short, tan-haired boy nodded, carrying a sword, trying to hide his fear. “Yeah, Anders. We took care of everyone.” Anders looked at Jasker without saying anything. Jasker looked back and nodded. “I promise, Anders, we did. Even if the town is destroyed, they’ll never find anyone.”
Anders merely nodded, still silent. Azrael wondered how long Anders had been planning this. For his youth, the boy was proving himself an impressive leader—however reckless he could be. As they got closer, the air became so rank with sulfur that breathing became a challenge. Everyone besides Anders and Azrael reached a free hand up to cover their mouths.
“Anders,” Azrael summoned, almost whispering. “If you have seen the same things I have, you know we can’t win.”
Anders nodded, not looking at Azrael. He kept the same, steady pace, as though he was afraid to stop. If he did, he might realize the foolishness of their actions on go running in the other direction. “I have seen what you have,” Anders replied, irritated. “We don’t have to win; we just have to hold out until we see blue lightning.”
Anders looked over his unit. “You guys know what to do then, right?”
Each of them nodded; some spoke words of affirmation.
The Eternally Damned were now less than twenty feet away and the intense heat flowing off of them made Azrael’s layered clothing even more uncomfortable. “Remember,” Anders spoke. “They can become liquid like the Lake, or hard as molten rock. The Seraphim gear you’re wearing will give you a little protection, but not much. Use your weapons and…and…just hang in there.”
Azrael took cold comfort in knowing that Anders knew that not all of them would survive this.
“Azrael!” Anileif barked condescendingly. He took two gallant steps forward, his hands clasped behind his back. He walked to Azrael’s left, surveyed his youthful opposition and chuckled, wagging his index finger at Azrael. “Your courage would be commendable if it could be taken seriously.”
Behind him, the Eternally Damned swayed eerily, waves of sulfuric steam emanating off of their bodies. Their forms were barely humanoid, standing at between seven and ten feet tall, thin, withered arms dangling at their sides. Their eyes blazed and swirled like miniature suns in their misshapen heads, purple flames could be seen rolling in their gaping mouths.
“Our father would be upset with me if I oversaw your demise,” Anileif said, his tone serious. “But he would understand.”
Azrael was surprised to see the look in his twin’s eyes soften. “Please,” Anileif was pleading. “Come home.”
For a moment, Azrael said nothing. He weighed out everything Nostradamus had told him; the course of the future changes with every breath. The future revealed to him was certain only if Azrael remained on the same path he was on when he entered that house.
But when he had left Nostradamus’ home, Azrael had a made the critical decision to do whatever was necessary to keep that future from becoming. He gripped his scythe, resolved. “I am home,” Azrael said quietly. “And you’re trespassing.”
A look of barely controlled rage descended upon Anileif, who pointed to fingers at his brother and screamed to the Eternally Damned, “KILL EVERYTHING!!!”
When the Eternally Damned came, they weren’t plodding; their lower halves seemed to merge together and as one, and they raced toward Azrael and the others, howling, arms outstretched.
Azrael took a defensive stance, holding the scythe with the blade above his head, and watched his brother vanish beneath the oncoming wave. Azrael prayed the blue lightning would arrive soon; they would not hold out for long.
Anders and the others roared valiantly, charging back toward the seemingly endless army. Azrael was more patient, waiting for the first one to come to him. Azrael stepped to the side and swung downward, hacking off the creature’s arms. He quickly brought the weapon up and it passed through the underside of the demon’s face, which dissolved with the strike. Azrael found himself surrounded and nearly suffocated by the stench and overwhelming heat; like behind held above boiling water and rotted eggs. The scythe allowed him to keep the creatures at a distance, although they didn’t seem to mind being cut down. They rushed mindlessly towards Azrael as if killing the former Thanatonian was their only objective.
Azrael had no time for thought; he kept his body low to the ground and used both ends of the scythe as a weapon. The staff passed through the Eternally Damned as though they were made of water, the blade cut them down. As they fell, they melted together, becoming flowing lava at their feet. They reformed moments later and began their attack anew. Sometimes, they learned, and began evading Azrael’s carefully-timed attacks. In the conflagration, Azrael could hear Anders and the others holding their own, although the roaring din of hellfire made it difficult to differentiate one noise from the next. Completely enveloped by the army, Azrael couldn’t see them. He felt the searing heat of their magma begin to eat through the reinforced soles of his shoes. He didn’t have much time.
Although Azrael was certain only minutes had passed, he felt like he had been fighting forever. He turned behind him, swinging wildly outside, and at least seven of the army were cut down. A fireball struck him at the back, sending Azrael splaying forward and falling to a knee. His flesh hissed as he was forced to touch the flowing, superheated liquid beneath him. Azrael involuntarily screamed and quickly scrambled forward, barely avoiding one of the creatures as it tried to pour itself over him. In the distance, Azrael heard someone scream for their life, only to be overtaken by the sound of a satisfied demon.
With the desperation of trying to stay alive, Azrael relinquished skill and technique and began to charge forward blindly, swinging the scythe back and forth as though making his way through a field. The army fell beside him left and right, but more hissing at his feet indicated that his magma had eaten completely through his shoes and was now burning away his feet. Sore, burned, and in pain, Azrael staked the scythe into the ground and leapt into the air, shooting his leg forward towards the nearest creature.
Surprisingly, the creature stood its ground, turning its body to solid, lava rock. Azrael didn’t have a chance.
Azrael struck the creature and nearly shattered his leg, the force of the impact reverberating up through his body. Again, he screamed, falling to the magma. He crossed his arms as he fell, allowing his garb to take the brunt of the burns as he landed in the lava.
Azrael looked up and saw the creature descending upon him. With no time to counter, Azrael covered the back of his neck with his hands and braced for the inevitable. Another dying scream in the distance was the last thing he heard.
The creature shrieked in surprise as four rapid staff swings reduced the demon to large droplets of molten lava. Azrael was singed as they fell, but the alternative would’ve been much worse. Azrael looked up and saw Anders, his uniform ruined, bleeding from a head wound. The two held eye contact for a moment before re-entering the fray.
Azrael tried to inhale but was only able to take in sulfur, and he coughed violently, clutching his chest. Still, he rose, swinging his blade upward at another demon that tried to pour itself on him, cleaving it in two. Azrael found himself at the back of a number of the Eternally Damned and lunged into them with what little strength he had left. A few clean swings and they melted into the ground.
Something clutched him from behind, both burning and choking. He felt long, thin tentacles slither around his neck and constrict as he was hoisted. From behind, he heard an angry, eager growl from the creature that had him. Something hot pressed into Azrael’s back. He would have screamed if he had been able…but now, he couldn’t even see, the world was turning to an orange haze before him. As the heat overtook his body, the last of his strength left him, and Azrael slowly went lifeless…
There was a crack of thunder and suddenly he was free of the demon’s grasp, falling and coughing violently. He couldn’t take in any fresh air; he was still in the thick of the Eternally Damned, but looking up revealed that the skies had clouded over. Blue lightning struck everywhere randomly. Azrael glanced behind him and saw smoldering, dark red boulders.
“GO!!” The voice was Anders’; he was Reaching into Azrael’s mind. He felt like his chest was about to burst and he was inhaling needles, but Azrael got to his feet, ignoring the pain as he stomped through the lava, following the streaks of lightning. Freeing himself from the army, Azrael saw what the lightning had brought. Michael, his body smoking, was groaning as he belly-crawled away from the conflict, toward the church where he and Azrael had met. As Azrael drew in refreshingly clean air, he saw Michael’s leg; the knee was completely shattered, as though someone had taken a bat to it. Dread passed through Azrael as he realized that someone had beaten Michael pretty badly.
Scrambling, Azrael lowered himself to Michael and rolled the boy over onto his back. Michael was clearly in a lot of pain, fighting to stay conscious. He looked up to Azrael, scowling. “Azrael…?” He voice was groggy and weak. “What happened to you…?”
“Michael,” Azrael said flatly. “We need your syonic abilities.”
Michael’s eyes widened in terror. “What…what’re you talking about? My name is…”
Azrael draped Michael’s left arm over his shoulder and hoisted him to his feet. “I am not your enemy, Michael. If you don’t do this, we will die.”
Whatever pain Michael was in seemed to pass as Michael looked ahead of them and took in the entirety of the Eternally Damned army. Michael nodded, raising his right hand. He closed his eyes and began breathing slowly, rhythmically.
The skies boomed and blue lightning flashed throughout the gray clouds. Like rapidly-fired projectiles from Yang himself, hundreds of blue lightning bolts rained down upon the battle scene. Azrael watched in amazement as the bolts quickly incinerated the army, reducing the Eternally Damned to rubble. Within moments, it was over.
As the skies began to clear, there was one final, lingering boom of thunder. Both Azrael and Michael looked to the sky quizzically, but Michael suddenly lowered his head as if remembering something. “We have to hold onto something,” he whispered.
Azrael leaned down, preparing to ask Michael what he meant, when Anders came charging towards them. “YOU GOTTA HOLD ONTO SOMETHING!! HURRY!!”
Without completely understanding what was happening, Azrael raised his scythe and stabbed it into the ground. The weapon deeply impaled the ground.
There was the sound of oncoming thunder, and then a terrible wind flew through the forest and overtook Beal City. Azrael, clutching desperately to Michael and the scythe, was instantly ripped from the ground as the wind slammed into him with more force than anything he had ever known. This was beyond a gale or a tornado. The wind felt as though it would tear the flesh from their bodies.
In the distance, the buildings of Beal City could be heard cracking under the force of the wind, and then breaking apart. The debris was carried off into the distance. Azrael tightened his grip on his scythe as he began to slide up the weapon; the wind threatened to carry him away.
The wind stopped as suddenly as it started. Azrael and Michael fell to the ground, both releasing a gasp of relief. Azrael dared a look up; only a few chunks of the Eternally Damned remained. Anders, flanked by his surviving friends, were quickly approaching. Holding onto Michael, Azrael gently got to his feet, careful not to aggravate Michael’s injury. There was a dark look in Michael’s face. “Balaam.” He growled. Azrael turned to look at him. “What?”
“Balaam,” Michael repeated as Anders and the others arrived. “He destroyed the Great Wind Gate.”
“We don’t have time for that right now,” Anders quickly said. He looked at Azrael. “You know what to do.”
Azrael looked at Anders pleadingly. Anders’ gaze was firm, and he looked to Michael. “I’m sorry, Michael.”
Michael was confused. “Sorry for what?”
He turned to Azrael, who looked to Michael with genuine remorse, almost about to cry. “Please,” he said, his voice cracking. “Forgive me.”
Before Michael could figure out the situation, Azrael released him. Before Michael could fall, Azrael made a wide swing with his scythe, catching Michael cleanly in the midsection and opening a wide cut. The strike nearly eviscerated him.
Michael slowly sank to the ground, clutching his stomach as blood poured over his hands. He raised his eyes to Azrael, and Azrael looked away, unable to face the hurt and betrayal in Michael’s gaze. Mouth agape and unable to scream, Michael fell face-first to the sand. He did not move.
Azrael reached down, placing two fingers at Michael’s neck, and closing his eyes tightly, trying to keep himself from openly crying. Slowly, he nodded, knowing that Anders was watching. “He’s gone,” Azrael announced.
(c) Avery K. Tingle for Akting Out LLC
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