Raphael and Khamiel had arrived at the marble platform outside the Assembly Hall when they heard the voice. With disdain, Raphael turned to see Cutler jogging towards them. Khamiel observed as Raphael’s hand slowly moved to the sword at his hip.
Khamiel tensed, hoping that Raphael, whose youthful recklessness Khamiel wouldn’t soon forget, wouldn’t attack the Seraphim leader. Khamiel would intercede if necessary to save Raphael from a treason charge, but hoped it wouldn’t come to that. Even with only one arm, Raphael was still one of Heaven’s top swordsmen, and Khamiel was hardly at full strength.
Cutler appeared on the platform, forming a triangle between himself, Khamiel, and Raphael. “I’m going with you,” he said.
Raphael took a step towards him, invading his personal space. “No, you’re not, boy,” Raphael spat back. “You have your orders; you need to see to your ‘charges’.”
Khamiel winced in pain, his injuries not yet healed, as he slowly reached for his sword. Oh, please don’t try to gut him, Raphael…
Cutler merely smiled, as though the idea of facing the former second-in-command of the entire Holy Sefiroth didn’t faze him at all. The smile was gentle, as if greeting a lost child. “Sir, I know you don’t like me, and quite frankly, I don’t blame you. But I’m curious. Do you hate us because we remind you of your friend’s betrayal…or that we have the power—and the authority–to eliminate any Angel we deem a traitor?”
“Lucifer made his choice.” Raphael replied, “I don’t hold that against you. What I dislike is that you take action without due process. You’re inexperienced; most of you have never seen a battlefield, so you know nothing of the extenuating circumstances that prompt our decisions.”
Raphael raised his finger, pointing it centimeters from Cutler’s nose, “And your people act with absolute power. Don’t act like you’re not aware of it.”
For a moment, all was still.
Finally, Cutler exhaled, his shoulders sagging, and he lowered his head as though ashamed. Slowly, he began to nod. “I know,” he whispered, as if first admitting the truth to himself. The humility in the boy’s face surprised Raphael. Cutler raised his head and continued to speak. “I know…I know that some of my people have gone rogue. But you have to understand, Raphael; the order to arrest Uriel came from Yang himself. And whatever the circumstances, your old comrade has been killing the Seraphim. He needs to answer for that.”
“If you really believe what you’re saying, then you don’t need to be here,” Raphael replied. “Go find Uriel and bring him in yourself.”
“Uriel can take care of himself. Look, Raphael, like it or not, you need all the help you can get. I’m going with you. We can leave now, or we can continue to argue about it. What do you want to do?”
“Hmph!” Raphael scoffed. The boy would probably be dead in an hour anyway. “Take a long look at the night, Cutler,” Raphael said, smiling coldly. “Enjoy it. It’s probably the last one any of us will see.”
With that, Raphael turned and bound into the sky, heading for Valhalla. He wanted to take the lead; fly by himself to clear his head, but Khamiel soon arrived at his right. “Watch him,” Raphael whispered, fearful that Cutler, who flew a few yards behind them, might intercept a Reach. “Keep him ahead of us and if it looks like he’s going to turn on his, we’ll attack him together.”
Khamiel nodded, although he didn’t relish the idea of dealing with Hell and the leader of Heaven’s most powerful army at the same time. Fear and then acceptance flashed through him. This really was their last night. “I understand,” He said somberly. After a moment, he spoke again. “Raphael?”
Raphael turned to look at him. “Yes?”
“If we are to die this night…I can’t think of any better reason…or any better person to be with.” Khamiel extended his hand.
Raphael nodded in gratitude, accepting Khamiel’s gesture and shaking his wrist. “You as well.”
The rest of the flight was silent. Raphael and Khamiel led the way, landing several miles away at the rear of Valhalla, a gigantic black square oddly placed in the center of a white marble city.
Raphael landed and cautiously approached the onyx. He could already hear the sounds of eternal battle raging within; the sound of swords clashing with shields mixed with the screams of the dying to create a terrifying cacophony. There was the occasional boisterous laugh as one of the residents who had just ‘died’ was immediately reborn, feeling foolish at leaving themselves open. Such was the final fate of the warriors of Asgard. They wouldn’t have it any other way.
Raphael touched the onyx with the palm of his hand, and circular ripples emanated outwards from his hand. The ripples increased in number and speed until the entire wall seemed to be a mere mirage, a shifting black object in the darkness of night. Raphael stepped inside first, followed by Khamiel and Cutler.
The three immediately found themselves at the edge of a battlefield. Green grass soaked red with blood as thousands of warriors engaged in unceasing combat, paying the new arrivals no mind. Variations of Asgard’s flag—one red, one blue—indicated the alliances of that day. To Raphael’s immediate left, a carrier of the blue flag met a temporary end as a particularly large brute ran him through with a long spear, singlehandedly. The victim screamed, clutching the mortal wound, as he fell. As the conflagration continued all around them, the brute waited. The victim rose moments later, removing the spear. The two men laughed heartily and embraced. The flag changed colors, and the two men re-entered the fray side by side.
“Amazing,” Khamiel breathed.
They were at the top of a staircase made of dry ice that seemed to descend forever into the bowels of Valhalla. Warmer air rose from the steps as the temperature dropped considerably. “Let’s go.” Raphael said. He wondered if the others were dealing with the overwhelming sense of dread that came with heading towards certain death. He stayed in front, tightening his cloak closer to his body as his breath became visible and the cold chilled him to the bone. Khamiel, ill-dressed for the freezing temperatures of Nifleheim, rubbed his arms rapidly. Cutler didn’t seem to be affected.
They entered the icy land a few minutes after beginning their descent down the staircase. Above them, large icicles hung, and at the end of each one was the body of one of Asgard’s many slain. It was here they had been laid to rest.
They passed through silently, as though making a sound would awaken them or worse, cause them to fall and shatter. There were hundreds of them, some of whom Raphael remembered. In the center of Nifleheim, Odin’s family hung in large, icy coffins. Odin’s slain wife, Freya, hung between Loki and Thor in the largest and most decorated tomb. Odin had wanted her tomb to sparkle ‘as she had in life’ and as such her final handlers had created the ice with purple, red, and light blue fluids. When the light hit, it cast a rainbow of her favorite colors.
Thor and Loki, rivals in life, had been entombed in full battle gear. Beneath Odin’s family cemetery, in a regal throne composed of ice, sat the guardian of Nifleheim. She was naked and pale as the dead with long, braided black hair that came down to her waist. Her wide eyes had no pupils; it was impossible to tell what she was looking at. She leaned to the right, slouching with her head on the top of her hand. She may have been sleeping; one could never tell.
“Raphael,” she said, her voice raspy from lack of use. “What is it two and a half Angels wish with me?” She laughed a chilling, damning laugh that reverberated throughout Valhalla and caused the airborne tombs to shudder. She raised her head and focused her attention squarely on Raphael, who stepped forward, unafraid. He had dealt with her before.
“Hel,” Raphael greeted her flatly. “We wish to enter the ninth world.”
Hel leaned back in the throne, reassuming her position, her smile showing blackened teeth. “To rescue your comrade, no doubt,” she replied, speaking slowly and savoring each word. “You’re aware that you will never return?”
“That is our business.”
“And I am not to be held responsible?” Hel asked skeptically.
Raphael chuckled at the question; Hel had not changed. She and Yin had been close before the war started, but when Yin was exiled, Hel had been quick to save herself. Hel had distanced herself publicly from Yin, but because she was so distrusted, she wasn’t welcome in any of Heaven’s realms. Odin had allowed her to become the guardian of the Underworld, a role that ensured she would never be seen again.
Raphael shook his head. “No, Hel,” he replied sardonically. “As always, you are innocent.”
Hel nodded her head and gestured toward the wall behind her throne, to the left. “Very well, Raphael. You may pass.”
The ice behind her began to shimmer and sway back and forth; it was an illusion. Taking one last breath, Raphael stepped past Hel, followed by Cutler and Khamiel. As Raphael drew closer to the illusion, he could hear an ominous humming sound that came from within, rising and falling with the swaying of the ice.
“Raphael,” Hel interjected, startling the party. She pulled gently at his cloak, revealing his dead arm, “Let me heal you.”
Raphael looked down at Hel, who smiled up to him seductively. “You always enjoyed my healing.”
Raphael yanked the cloak free of Hel’s grasp, and she receded into her chair, the smile remaining. “Times change.”
With that, he stepped into the illusion, followed by Khamiel and Cutler.
The temperature spiked, and they were in near blackness. Khamiel took a step and nearly lost his footing. Raphael whirled, grabbing him by his arm to keep him from falling. “Walk where I walk.” He said softly. “And don’t believe anything you see.”
Breathing rapidly, Khamiel nodded.
Raphael took a cautious step forward and reached his hand out. To their right was a wall of rock, although it gave slightly, soft to the touch. To the left was open space, and who knew how long the fall was. Probably fatal, Raphael thought, inching his way along the walkway, which curved to the right. The walkway itself couldn’t have been more than a foot wide, making for a treacherous journey. Raphael had to silently urge himself not to look down, or think about what awaited him if he took a misstep.
In the distance to the left, red lightning illuminated the sky, briefly painting the image of what could’ve been a city. The lightning brought a tortured scream with it that rose and fell with the light. Thunder that was not thunder churned throughout the land, accompanied by many more pained, anguished screams. The lake must be beyond there, Raphael figured. They were on the outskirts.
“So now what?” Cutler inquired softly, watching his footing. “We can’t search all of Hell without being discovered.”
“We Reach,” Raphael answered. “It’s the only way we’ll key to Metatron.” If he’s still alive.
Two more blasts of crimson lightning flooded the sky to the left. They were given another glimpse of a black city, miles away. The few apexes that jutted into the sky appeared sharp enough to kill. More groans came with the thunderous rumbling that passed through the land. These weren’t groans of pain; they seemed more like unintelligent demons or something. Residents of Hell.
“If we Reach, they’ll key to us!” Khamiel protested.
As they made their way along the narrow walkway, another crimson lightning bolt illuminated their path…followed by several more. When the thunder came, its intensity was so great that the three had to lean back against the wall to keep from falling.
Angry, hungry howls came from all directions, growing in number and reaching a fever pitch as they sky continued to be peppered by red sheet lightning.
“They already have,” Raphael responded gravely.
The ground shifted suddenly, causing everyone to fight for balance. Raphael looked back at Khamiel, and was met with a horrifying sight. Cutler was gone.
“Where did he go?!” Raphael barked. Khamiel turned, looking back to where Cutler had been standing a few moments ago. They both looked down; no sign of him. The boy had vanished. Khamiel turned back to Raphael, trying not to show his hopelessness. “We knew what we were getting into–.
The ground shifted again, more violently than the first time. Raphael and Khamiel were thrown from their perch and flew into the air. Raphael attempted to summon his wings, but nothing happened. Powers are blocked already; they definitely know we’re here.
As he and Khamiel fell, Raphael began to feel like there were hot needles being dragged along his skin. Gritting his teeth and forcing himself to concentrate, he turned back to the wall and drew his sword. Khamiel did the same. With everything they had, they drove their blades into the wall, and their descent slowed.
Viscous fluid opened from the two gashes and poured down on the angels as something bellowed in agony. The roar was deafening, overtaking the other noises of the realm. Raphael saw Khamiel’s mouth open, but couldn’t hear him. He couldn’t hear anything now.
Raphael felt something wet come from his ears. He began to get dizzy, and his vision blurred. He pulled his sword free and fell to the ground fifty feet below.
The shock of the landing sent a jolt of pain through his entire body, even though he landed on his dead arm. Khamiel landed a few feet away, gritting his teeth in pain.
Raphael’s face was suddenly burning hot; the ground was superheated. Raphael quickly got to his feet, touching a hand to his ear and looking…blood. I’m deaf. Maybe permanently… He knew the soles of his shoes wouldn’t last long against the ground. Flying was no longer an option. Cutler was gone…
Khamiel, who had gotten to his feet, pointed towards the city. Raphael looked, and his mouth fell open. Small black creatures—imps, millions of them—rose from within the city, growing into an upside-down tornado, coming together and swirling in frenzied excitement. As they reached the peak of a sky that still flashed crimson, they dove toward Raphael and Khamiel.
Raphael joined his comrade in taking an aggressive stance with his sword. Imps drew their strength in numbers, but they were of the lowest intelligence…that was where Raphael and Khamiel would find their advantage.
Their eyes were wide and orange, their hands, jutting from the waist and bearing two talons, were outstretched in eager anticipation. You’re going to earn your snack, Raphael thought, grinning, knowing very well this was his last stand, and Metatron…forgive us for failing.
(c) Avery K. Tingle for Akting Out LLC
Post Footer automatically generated by Add Post Footer Plugin for wordpress.