“Flight of the Lilims” – the title could refer to any of the few major characters of this story. Lilith was the apocryphal first wife of Adam who, as I believe the myth goes, refused to be anything less than Adam’s equal and was cast from Eden. She then becomes the mother of demons, who’s offspring were very different beings from the angels, fallen and loyal.
Then there’s Samuel, Michael, Daniel – the Triumvirate, the Three, who know nothing about who or what they really are, only that they exist. They were born, they were children, loved by parents, and lived their lives until each, at a single defining moment, diverged from humanity’s normal path and were with no other choice than be involved in the Morningstar’s plan.
In this story, the battles between Samuel and Michael are long past, the Morningstar hasn’t attempted a breach in years, and the world is at relative peace. Maybe the constant state of readiness and tension has left people longing for the next challenge, maybe a need for more chaos has driven some of the most financially equipped to seek the next great weapon.
As an aside, back then for whatever reason, I preferred half-assed ellipses over commas, “yea” as opposed to “yeah”, and, that’s going to be a recurring theme in all these early 21st century write-ups.
Recommended music: Rammstein’s “Sehnsucht” album, most definitely “Engel”.. must listen to “Engel”
Flight of the Lilims
For most of the breezy Saturday afternoon, Samuel had been relaxing quietly on the porch of his condominium, feet kicked up on the white railing and silently musing over nonsensical ideas while watching the ocean. With the coral colored walls separating the view of adjacent balconies, and being ten stories above the ground, he felt safe taking down the illusion that made him appear to be in the mid-forties. The NSA promised him protection from observation after twenty-two years of service. He trusted them, and they trusted him. Trust was necessary between absurdly powerful entities.
There’s a light rapping on the sliding glass door behind him. He sits up in the lounger and looks over the rims of his mirrored sunglasses, sees his daughter, Alyssia. At first he smiles, a smile that appears wizened beyond twenty-one years, yet retaining the humor and energy of one that age. But it fades upon seeing the look on the daughter’s face. She rarely looks so worried; nineteen years old, two years already in having the Power, she had seen and performed extraordinary things that none her age bothered to think about. Four years younger than Samuel when he emerged as the First, back in 1997.
He pushes the glass between them away, reaches up for her hand. “I don’t like that look you got.. what’s up?”
“Uh, Bonnefeld’s on the phone, he says he’s got something real important that you have to know about, like right now.”
“Damn.. I mean,” he recovered, offering a polite smile, “Sorry. Is your mom back yet?” He lunges forward to sit up from the lounger, grumbling incoherently beneath his breath as he walks back inside.
“Not yet, she’s still at the store. Here.” She hands him the phone and sits down at the glass dining table set close to the outside wall, follows his movements to the couch with amber colored eyes.
“Yeah, Rick? What’s up?” He slides along the seat of the couch to lean back against the armrest, kicking his feet up on the opposite one. Even if on the phone, he intends on relaxing as much as he can now that he’s retired.
On the other end of the line, a nervous and exasperated voice speaks. Having known Director Bonnefeld since he joined their Office of Paranormal Defense in 1998, Samuel knew that to hear agitation of any sort in his voice was grave news indeed.
“Sam? Hi, listen – a high priority message came through to us an hour ago, took that long to sift its way to me. It’s from Macrotech, genetic, advanced biomechanical technology corporation. Apparently at some skirmish of yours or Mike’s or Dan’s, I don’t know, but, listen, they got a sample of blood or something. We don’t know exactly what or how yet. God knows what they’re planning. They gave us a location where one of their reps is waiting to show us what they’ve been working on. A sub-lab of theirs, outside of Indianapolis. Look, we’re placing calls to their main branch, but we need you over here ASAP to go over details of what to do and how to do it. Got it?”
The irises of Samuel’s eyes shift gold just as his face tenses up, but he relaxes, and they return to brown. “Got it, Rick. I’ll be right over.” End call.
“Ok.. what’d he say?”
Swinging his legs around, Samuel hops to his feet, moving silently around the coffee table standing between the couch and entertainment center, crossing the closeted hallway that leads to the front door, down to the end of a short corridor to his room. Pictures of his family and friends to his right; bathroom and Alyssia’s room to the left. A voice calls behind him, followed by footsteps.
“Dad! Don’t go stalking off all quiet like that! No more secrets between us, right? What’s going on?”
He doesn’t intend to answer her question, to bother her with the knowledge he now had. The idea that a genetic alterations company might have a sample of him. But she doesn’t intend to let him off. Just as he is about to cross the doorway to his bedroom, a flash of gold covers the gap and disappears. Samuel frowns and raises his right index finger, a low-power shield covering it, and he pokes at the entrance to the master bedroom. Straw-colored ripples emanate from the point of contact. Looks like she means it.
Turning to her, “Look Aly, I need to get to the office right now. If it’s necessary to tell you, I’ll tell you. But since it looks like I can have this covered, I don’t need to tell you.” He hates this. This is something she should be aware of. But if he could keep his own powers and abilities hidden from her for eighteen years, what was a small bending of the truth?
A little too much for his taste to savor apparently. He leans towards his right against the hall, his shoulder just below the frame of a sketch his wife drew: the naked torso of a man and woman sprouting from a single waist.
“Look sweetie… something…,” he sighs, lips twists as he struggles to come up with the right words. “Something bad’s happened. Some company might have my DNA on file, and no one knows what that could lead to. I have to go investigate. And I want you to stay out of this. The NSA knows I’ve a daughter, but they’re still in the dark about you having powers too. I want it to stay that way. And I don’t want you getting involved either since your genes are probably more valuable than mine. Whatever they can’t do with mine, they can do with yours. I can’t have that. So stay here, please. If I need you, I’ll come back or call if I can’t do that. Ok?”
Another flash in the doorway, and Samuel knows its safe to pass through.
She’s disturbed. Very disturbed. She can’t even look at her dad in the eyes and wordlessly shuffles to her room, locks the door behind her. In the confines of the leopard-print feather comforter, she stares with wide eyes at her toes wiggling from the edges of her wrap. She doesn’t know how in the hell her father was able to deal with being the First. When she was younger, in junior high, she found all his old stories folded into a shoebox hidden in her parents’ closet. She read them all, thought they were average, a little too amateurish. He had the ideas, just not the prose for it. Four years later, on her seventeenth birthday, she ran outside in the dew on the lawn, laughing in glee as the sun rose over her. It bathed her, and she felt every pore on her exposed skin absorb the morning rays. Her appetite was incredible that day. The next afternoon, at school, in sheer frustration with being bawled out by her algebra teacher and the fight at lunch with Lauren, she slammed the butt of her fist into her locker. At 5’7” and 115lbs, she was scared of the deep print she left in the metal door. Her sense of frustration with the world forced her to go rampaging to crime-scenes, patrolling the streets of Miami until she learned to control flight and even portals. She wouldn’t have even thought of such things were it not for her father’s stories. They catalogued everything she could do, offering powers that she had never tried. He claimed to have written them before becoming the First, which made being his daughter even more haunting. There was hardly any mention of a daughter in any of those tales. Her destiny, her role in the order of things, as well as her dad’s, seemed skewed just by her very own existence. There is room for Samuel, Michael, and Daniel. She knows it now. They are the Three, those who had power bestowed on them when the need for it came, and they, unlike her, could assume the Angelic forms. And now, someone had a sample of DNA belonging to one of them? Tugging the comforter further around her, eyes locked on her bare, tan feet, she tries to remember every fight she had been in. Every time she played heroine. How careful was she? When was she wounded? Protective fields were a new power to her, came after teleportation, which struck her as odd. Could there be more of her set loose on the world?
Then a knock on the door, and her father’s voice, soothingly breaking her from her concentration. “Hon? If your mother shows up before I’m back, tell her what I told you straight, and tell her I’ll explain whatever else when I get back. She has to know too.”
“Ok.. I’ll tell her!” She cringes at how weak her voice sounded at ‘ok’.
“Alright, well.. see you soon!”
Samuel had no idea why he was walking to the front door. He is dressed in his old work suit, which he thought he had retired permanently a year ago. Being the most classified and dangerous agent had the luxury of leaving active duty early, especially now that the NSA hired Michael. He looks down at his slacks, nodding at the fine creases down the front of the legs. The jacket feels a little tighter since he had more time to devote to working out. Red tie neatly aligned down the buttons of the Brooks Brothers long-sleeve white. He doesn’t really care what his hair looked like or if he smelled all right. He knows Rick knew how long he could take in making a hurried appearance, and Samuel doesn’t feel like taking any unnecessary heat in a time of panic.
Closing his eyes, he bows his head slightly and shrugs. Instantly, his body is engulfed in infinitely encircling rays of light extending spherically from where his navel was. No trace of his departure left in the condo.
He reappears in the third basement of the Pentagon, in the Office of Paranormal Defense, the arm of the NSA created immediately after First Strike. He chose to teleport to the conference room where, as he figured, Director Bonnefeld, Colonel Nero, and a handful of faces Samuel doesn’t recognize are standing, bickering among each other, or appear to have been by their stances towards each other. They are all staring, locked, when the light in the room subsides, revealing Samuel.
“Ok, so tell me right quick what’s going on, maybe we can catch them before they figure we’d arrive.”
Colonel Nero, a stiff man, always was, steps briskly towards Samuel, handing him a stapled copy of the fax. His hair was a stark black when Sam first met the Colonel, but now there hardly any strands of color left in the gray, tight cut of hair. Thin-lipped and curt as always, “Here you go, Agent Samuel. Good to see you again. We’ve contacted Michael. He should be here soon. Daniel is still unreachable, but that’s hardly a surprise. Current satellite images and reconnaissance scouts don’t indicate that this lab may be difficult to penetrate. It’s what’s inside we can’t get to. All their files are probably hard-disked to machines that aren’t connected. Between you and Michael, there should be no problem in getting in there and finding out what’s going on. Armament has some gear for you and-“
Shadows splay themselves against the walls abruptly, pooling in with the ones cast by incandescent lights. The sharp sound of electricity can be heard, and, with a wince, Samuel turns about to face the newcomer. Char marks and singed carpet make a small halo around black boots. Wearing a tight, olive green nylon shirt with a long-tailed black jacket and matching pants is Michael.
Samuel was hoping to meet Michael at the lab and prolong his time without this encounter. A very evident sneer crosses Michael’s lips; the brown goatee framing it and the narrowed green eyes add to the derision. Samuel turns away and sits down at the gray-top conference table and starts to read through the fax. Colonel Nero steps behind him and hands another copy to Michael, repeating what he had told the First. Richard Bonnefeld moves behind Samuel, placing a hand on his shoulder.
“I know it’s hard to believe, and I’m sure it’s as unnerving to you as it is to us. For all the good work and impossible missions you did for us, to think that these guys would be willing to clone and exploit your being-“
“I know, Rick.. I know. Used to be a big sci-fi fan, remember? Something like this would’ve been my wildest dreams. Well, ‘til the dreams came true that is, ‘cause here I am! I’ll need the fastest transport you can get. We got their location and images. Way I figure, they got the cards. We’ll just show up the way they want us to, see what their deal is and destroy their operations from the inside out. I’m confident enough in my abilities to say that whatever they’re brewing doesn’t bother me. I just want my genetic privacy back, make sure more of me aren’t in the hands of other people.”
“I’ll get Agent Fields right on that. In the meantime, you and Michael should get whatever equipment you need. We’ll keep trying to reach Daniel.”
Glancing quickly to Michael with a less than pleased look, Samuel stands and pats Richard on the arm, nodding. He folds up his copy of the Macrotech message to place it in his breast pocket, then mutters to Michael. “Come on. This could very well be your coding in their hands, I suppose you oughta get suited up too.”
Following him into the hallway, arms-folded across his chest, Michael raises his head to look down upon his colleague. “You sure? I don’t think I was ever as careless as you tended to be at your most cautious, and I trust Daniel enough to have thoroughly cleaned any engagement area when he was done. He doesn’t bumble around nearly as much as you do.”
“Hah! Come now! The war is over, Sam. I can smell the hate seeping from you. I think you’ve much less reason to harbor a grudge than I, and I, well, I merely mean to torment you.” To prove a point, Michael pats Samuel lightly on the head, grinning all the while.
Samuel’s fists tighten and his arms go rigid. He takes a deep breath and pounds against the corridor wall before coming to a halt before a small-windowed stainless-steel door. A keypad and retinal scanner attached to it, no doorknob or latch to speak of. Samuel dials in his personal code, 41581. Moves the scanner, pauses and offers his voice recognition: “Agent Samuel, 41581.” He turns his eyes upward to the finger-sized camera fixated on them, sighs, and stands aside for Michael to repeat the same process. When he finishes, the door opens with an audible whirr. It’s a long, cold, and narrow room, ten-feet wide and forty-feet deep. A bulletproof glass wall separates them from a man seated at a desk behind silver bars.
Through the intercom speaker above: “What can I get you guys?”
“Two of the following, please. Medium-assault full body armor, the, uh, Nakimachi full-range assault rifle, with silencers and grenades, two 9mm Berettas, scoped, night-goggles with the InfraRed, and a sniper rifle.”
“Going out on the town are we?”
To this Michael responded, “We’ve a dinner date to keep, Al, and we’re bound to be late. So could you already?”
“Yeah, yeah, hold on, let me type this all in, let’s see.. were those the Nakimachi H7-B’s?”
“That’d be the type.”
A minute later, a hiss comes from both sides of the room, as well as a faint lime tint to the otherwise sheet-white room. Three drawers on the right and left open, displaying in their lit concavities the items requested. The two gather their equipment into the cases provided them from the third drawer and return to the conference room.
“Sniper rifles, Samuel?”
“It’s what I’d want if I had to fight me.”
A small jet was provided for them, government issued but with civilian craft identification, in case somehow this company was keeping tabs on who was entering Indianapolis airspace. It took off as soon as they had arrived at the airstrip and proceeded to take them to Indianapolis.
Samuel and Michael sat opposite each other, sniper rifles nestled between their knees, Nakimachi rifles gripped in a hand and propped in the seats respectively to each one’s left. Agent Bonnefeld, steadying himself on headrests as he shuffles down the aisle, joins them.
“Guys, we can see the lab from here. If I point it out, think you’ll have a good enough visual from here to portal down to it?”
“Alright, good. Look out the port windows, X shaped building.” He pulls a walkie-talkie from his belt. “Howard! Bank left so we can get a better view!”
It is just as the satellite photos made it appear to be. An x-shaped lab that looks like it could be no more than three stories high. Huge parking lot all around it, and a small security booth at the entrance, the whole facility surrounded by a chain-link fence and barbed wire. Samuel counts about two dozen cars there, which he thinks to be strange as it was only 8:00. Generally, places like this kept their research teams on shifts to maximize productivity. Or so Samuel figures.
Pursing his lips, Samuel draws in a deep breath and exhales, saying, “Right. I’m dropping in.”
He tucks the sniper rifle close to his body and tightens the strap on the assault rifle to keep it flush against his back. The floor below him erupts in light, a swirling pond of sundown colors rippling beneath his feet. Two-thousand feet below, six feet above the cold asphalt of a late-March day, the golden doorway reopens, dropping Samuel to a crouch. He brings the sniper rifle up, scans the area through its scope, focuses on the guard booth, building entrances, windows.
He hears the scraping of electricity again and looks up. “Damnit.” He rolls to his right, putting the weight on his shoulder, barely avoiding the falling boots of Michael.
Rising from his crouch, Samuel turns to Michael, “Area’s clear so far. Let’s just cloak and break in, see what’s going on.”
“You cloak and get in, radio me if you find something. I’ll circle this place, see if they’ve anyone or anything watching the perimeter that we should be concerned about.”
With a thought, the light around Samuel bends and conceals his body from sight. He strides through the parking lot, noting the front doors but strafing away from them, to a side entrance he spotted. Seeing no one, he doesn’t quite care that his footsteps are hurried, echoing boot falls. Raising the gun again, he makes a visual sweep of the area; Michael had gone invisible as well. Samuel pulls the IR goggles down over his eyes and switches it on. He sees a smoky figure leap over a car and sprint towards the guard’s booth. Had to be Michael.
The side-entrance was a pair of sturdy looking doors, chained shut and secured with a keypad on the inside of their alcove. Samuel shrugs, feeling no need for excessive stealth. These people knew he would come, knew he wouldn’t lie down and let them clone his kind, so why bother?
He steps back from the door, leans the rifle against his left shoulder, and with a smirk, whips his right arm to the side. Immediately, while still in the arc of motion, an ethereal image hovers visibly over his arm and solidifies into a translucent gold blade, attached by an unseen force to his forearm. He slips the blade point between the two doors and sharply brings the it down, cutting through deadbolt, chain, lock. Samuel reaches for the door handle and pulls the beige door open. As he steps through, he brings his right arm behind him in a brushing motion that, upon returning his hand to the trigger of the rifle, sweeps away the energy weapon.
But after only three steps taken in this corridor, the incandescent lamps lining the hallway flicker to life, one by one to light a path. Cursing, he slings the sniper’s strap into the crook of his arm and slid the assault rifle off his left shoulder, replacing one with the other. He starts to run, trying to conserve his internal energy. Still invisible to the naked eye, his presence sounds off from his boots, like thunder in the sterile white hallways, mercilessly loud on gray terrazzo.
An intercom system buzzes in the hallway. He sees speakers at regular intervals. A voice calmly speaking over them.
“We welcome you to our facilities, Samuel.”
Samuel stops, narrows his eyes at the speaker overhead. Turning around, he looks for any motion, sees none whatsoever, and hurries onward to the intersection where the four hallways met. He can see a large lobby, but no one crosses his field of vision.
“We assume that you have brought either Daniel or Michael with you? He’s killed two members of our security staff but didn’t allow us to see his energy. We saw a golden blade knife its way inside. And we know that color belongs to you, Samuel.”
He snorts and slows his pace as soon as he’s within fifty yards of the lobby. His last step lands on the ball of his right foot, which pumps him away from the floor lightly, gravity and his power settling him at two inches above the floor in a steady levitation. Folding his legs in, he leans forward and dashes into the open lobby, flying and invisible, spinning clockwise, counterclockwise, 360 degrees, gun trained on anything that might move.
“We’ve been able to learn much about the way you work, Samuel. We think you should’ve been more careful in your younger years. Media exposure was a bad, bad idea.”
No one’s there. Just potted plant life: a small palm and ficus bush on each side of the front doors. In the center of the room is a large porcelain colored receptionist desk, with smooth sides that arched around and away from the main glass doors, pointing towards the twin elevators behind it, nestled in the north crossing of two of the corridors. In the east and west crossings, stairways.
Over the intercom, the voice continues still.
“We know you must be disappointed, expecting so much in coming here and so far seeing so little. The main floor is mostly secretarial, public relations, the small things. Join us in the fourth basement. We think you’ll have more interesting things to see there.”
A voice in his earpiece whispers. “Sam, I’m in the southwest hallway. Haven’t seen anyone yet, where are you?”
“Lobby. Flip on your IR, you’ll see me. You been hearing this?”
“The last part, basement. Stay there, I’ll be there in a second.”
Which Michael was. In Samuel’s IR, he could see his partner barreling down the corridor at a speed that he considered to be bad taste for being indoors.
No need for so much voice discretion anymore either.
“Michael, did you pass by any stairwells on your way in?”
“I did. Why?”
“We should try to confuse them. Think you could latch one open same time as we go in this one by the elevators?”
“Probably.” He motions with an emblazoned hand. “That stairwell, let’s go.”
Samuel nods and skims across the tile toward the stairs, gently pressing gloved fingertips onto the bar. “Now, Michael.”
Michael closes his eyes, pictures the door in his mind, presses down on the air with his hand.
The metallic door bar, like the one under Samuel’s fingertips, grinds far away. Soon as he hears it, Samuel pushes down and swings the door open, swooping into the stairwell and training the Nakimachi up and down. He plants a hand on the railing, allows his feet to touch the ground for just a moment, and jumps over the side to the next story below, landing without a sound and an inch-thick cushion of air between him and the rubber coated stairs. He repeats this down to the next floor, and again. A gray, windowless door marked in white, painted print “SB-04” stares at him. He scans to his right and left, seeing Michael in the IR. Point against pride, he’s a little relieved to have him here.
Samuel opens the door, and by pattern, kneels in the center of the basement’s midsection, butt of the gun hitched against his shoulder, panning across the two hallways in front of him. Behind, Michael stands, facing the other direction, staring intently into the scope of his gun, IR goggles slid upward.
“Sh! Hear something?”
The same voice, soothing and sincere, a preacher’s voice, pipes through overhead speakers. “Fathers of our children, welcome.”
Clang! A metal bolt seals the door behind them, and the lights in all four corridors light up just as they had above.
“To test our progeny, we hoped that you could engage them in a fight of sorts. Of course, we know you could leave at any time, though we’re sure that you’d be far more keenly interested in destroying our work.”
Another echo of sound, metal clanging, and a vsh of sliding doors opening.
“These are our first-generation creations. You’ll find we hadn’t quite perfected the excision of imperfect DNA just yet. There are more we would love to test against you two if you can defeat these. Please indicate whenever you are done.”
The buzz of the intercom dies, leaving intense, phlegmy breaths and thudding footsteps as the only sounds.
“Safe to say they know we’re here, Mike.”
“You’re a stunning idiot.”
“I don’t see anything. You?”
“I don’t see anything either. I’m switching to IR now.”
Samuel spins about on his knee, crying out “damn!” again as he falls over to his side, squeezing off a few shots into the left side corridor. Clambering back to his feet, Samuel darts his eyes back and forth between the two corridors. Several burning figures are headed at them, invisible, somehow invisible, four in the left corridor, three in the right, approaching steadily to the common area where the two stand.
Rapid flashes flare from Michael’s gun, a steady stream of bullets into the left corridor, casings harmonizing as they bounce off the floor. He sees two figures fall backwards, crying in something between a yelp and a scream. A spray of red smudges the IR field. He isn’t willing to take any chances. He pumps once on the grenade launcher and fires one at the oncoming four. Michael turns his attention to the three that Samuel’s conservatively attacking…
..and realizes something isn’t quite right yet. He turns back to his targets, the grenade is nowhere to be seen. No explosion. Two creatures now racing at him on all fours, the other two snarling, limping after their first wave.
“Damnit..,” he growls through his teeth.
Samuel had fired controlled rounds into the legs of his attackers, effectively putting them to the ground. Now he sees them run at him like wolves. He fires again, aiming for the head of the lead creature. It falls, kicking about on the floor and whimpering desperately. The other two jump over it, closing in, twenty feet away now. Bullets too weak, too close for a grenade, Samuel raises both hands, summoning in each a yellow sphere of burning light and drives them at the monsters. The lead one suddenly rears up on shaking hind legs, spreads its arms wide. On the IR, Samuel could see a tremendously fast heat buildup, now coming towards him, no, towards his attacks, dual explosions of light and heat.
Michael, stepping backwards and firing at his group with both pistols, catches sight of Samuel’s failed attack.
“Oh enough of this! Samuel! Now!”
Samuel understands, he’s been taking this too lightly. He drops his gun to the floor, the metal weapon rattling against the tile. He realizes whatever these things are, they know where he is, invisible or not. He drops his cloak and yells for their attention. Michael does the same. Dual energy blades grow down Samuel’s forearms, and he takes a step back, raising one blade high, parallel to his line of sight, the other across his body. Michael summons a blackened-green shield over his left arm and a long, serrated blade of his own, spiked to a point past his elbow, glowing in a dark hunger.
Five creatures with limited abilities to wield the Power. Two beings holding back.
Michael charges forward, letting loose a guttural yell. One creature leaps at him, the other two scurrying beneath it to attack from below. Michael jams his shield into the ground, the sharp corner of it digging into the tile. With a grin, he swings his arm upward, catching the lead creature mid-leap, slicing deep below its armpit and, twisting about, cutting the creature in half. He brings the blade around in an eye-level swipe, draws his arm in and ducks behind the shield.
Samuel charges the two creatures, their paces slowing at the new development of their prey’s advance. They skitter around to his sides, their forms increasing in intensity on the IR. To his right, one erupts a large energy beam at him. Samuel raises a blade and curses, the blast crashing into a hastily raised shield morphed from his blade. The other beast takes advantage of this and runs at his legs, tackling him to the ground.
Michael shoots a glance to Samuel, bares his teeth, and returns his attention to his targets, hits one with the flat of the shield. He can hear and smell something burning but can’t identify the stench. While reaching over to impale the one he’d slapped, he powers the shield down, crossing his left palm below the thrust of his blade-arm, and lets go a trio of high-power explosive charges at the last of his group. One is dodged, the other intercepted, the third meets its mark, tearing the thing’s chest open in a sickening sound of combustion, ribs snapping, and liquidation of flesh.
Samuel’s IR goggles are ripped from his eyes, leaving him grappling with two invisible attackers. He feels claws ripping into the sleeve of his suit. The other could be preparing another attack.
No time like the present.
The irises of his eyes shift gold, and with a yell, he repels both attackers away from him with a radial blast. He hears Michael’s boots land on the ground and the scattering of claws on tile from two directions. Samuel climbs to his feet and pulses a spherical wave. It collides against a hidden form, outlining it in an iridescent yellow film, but for only a millisecond. Just long enough for him to see it, to bring both hands together and launch a furious blast large enough to blow apart the creature’s midsection, the wall behind it, and the floor.
Behind him he hears a shriek and silence. Until Michael yawns.
“That was a little enervating.” He slides his blade out from the last beast’s neck, which, as it collides with the floor, becomes visible. “Ugly things, aren’t they? To think they came from either of our genes.”
Samuel looks over to the body at Michael’s feet, then to the one he had shot down in the corridor. They are simian in appearance, almost the size of a man. He wasn’t sure if they were chimpanzees or some other ape; they were too distorted from whatever experiments they went through. Very human teeth glinted from open, gasping mouths. Their eyes are all amber colored, gray furred, legs longer than would be expected of a chimpanzee but shorter in proportion to a human’s. Only one trait stands out.
“They’ve got black blood.”
“I noticed. This isn’t some new capability they invented. It’s us.”
“What do we do now?”
Buzz. The intercom answers for them.
“See how your second child fares. Your agency should be able to locate our primary lab. Call them and get the directions. You haven’t quite seen the real thing just yet.”
Samuel looks to Michael while retrieving his goggles, and Michael looks to the body before him. A minute of silence passes.
“We can’t leave data lying around here. We got to destroy it somehow.”
“Somehow? Sometimes I wonder how in the hell you were the First.”
“What? You think no one’s going to notice it if we just take this place out?”
“You destroy some demon in a quad of your old university, and now is when you consider secrecy?”
Both disappear, one in a blaze of light, the other in darkness, reappearing two hundred feet above the central portion of the lab.
“It’s time to stop messing around, Samuel. You know what sort of terror they’d unleash on us if given the chance. Those things we fought would be mere infantry, first wave cannon fodder. You know it is right to do this.”
“I’m sick of this, all of this, after years of this. I’d just like to be left in peace.”
“Peace? Hah.. for us death is the only peace.”
With that, Michael closes his eyes, draws in a deep breath and slowly unveils the moon. His mind centers on the war from years ago, of the hate, of being controlled, the Second used to fight humanity’s champion First. His breathing quickens and his hands tighten into fists. The moon appears to darken above him as his eyes begin to give off a smoky green trail of power, of the raw brutal power inside him. It builds up within, beats against his heart, against his lungs, fills every sinewy muscle of his body into an edgy excitement, demanding movement, something, anything to vent this excess.
And it happens.
Screaming as a devil into the night, his control over it explodes, the unfettered energy surges out of him in a fast, harsh pulse, growing away from him, stopping, ebbing, returning. It encases him in an armor shaded black, gray, or darkest of green, depending on the angle. Bands of energy grow from the middle of his back, upward, curving inward. He roars wildly, spreading both arms wide, and simultaneously, dual blades appear over his arms, growing from the armor. The two bands split apart at their bases once, twice, again and again, creating a mimic of a bat’s wings, or rather a demon’s wings, which he stretches out and recoils. The shielding over his face wavers to create the image of a horned skull. Finished, Michael allows the armor and helmet to fade, seeing no reason for them just yet; he turns to Samuel, sneering at him just as he had back at the Office.
Samuel frowns but floats away from Michael regardless, releases the sniper rifle from his back and brings it around to hang from his shoulder. He bows his head and concentrates, piecing together the details of the day he learned to do this. The implications of the form were clear at the time. His only intelligible explanation was that in order to properly channel the amount of power that they called on at these times, their minds needed an embodiment of superhuman strength and might to imitate, a way of diverting the flood in a controlled manner, and this suited their upbringing.
When he found his symbol that first time, he became the spectacle of many an awe-struck onlooker. He would’ve died had he not finally found a way to dig into the deep reserves that lay within.
He imagines all the power within his body, all the sunlight he had absorbed that day, the day before, the week, all of it unused, untapped, stored for a single purpose, stored into a swirling ball buried in his chest. The ball grows and its swirling speeds. He is calm, his breathing slow and measured, but the charging forces an involuntary shudder from him. The ball’s circumference steadily increases, but by his command, not of its own volition.
He lets it grow until its surface bumps against the inside of his chest, and against his spine, spreading as it fills the unused volume, trying to find a way to break out of him and radiate throughout the world. Against his shoulder blades now, into his arms, he feels his skin crawl along his neck.
Yelling, trying to relieve the pressure, he lets the now amorphous ball inside him flood its way out, and it surrounds him, creating gold, glassy plate mail around his body. Sharp angled wings sprout suddenly from between his shoulder blades, made up of individual bands of power like Michael’s, each rising upward and making acute, quick angles outward. Unlike Michael, whose wings were attached to a single base, Samuel was able to keep independent control of each projection. Solidifying is a high rising face plate, from a softened point at the chin climbing to just below the eyes and wrapping around to just in front of his ears, where it absorbs into the rest of the transparent helmet. He voluntarily summons a large, lance-like blade over his right arm and a long oval shield on his left. His armor and helm, like Michael’s, is willed aside until the time is ready.
Michael points both blades to the building below them, hesitates, and with a thrust of his wings, sails upwards to put more distance between. Samuel follows.
Fluctuating waves of star-riddled darkness build at the tips of Michael’s blades as he slowly extends his wings. Samuel’s blade drinks in all ambient light, forcing it grow brighter, larger, such that he extends his arm away from himself. Michael lays his arms out in a gentle motion, like a man warming his hands over a fire, but with fists clenched. The waves over Michael’s blades quicken their rippling into the sword tips, now accompanied with a hum. The waves stop, frozen about the blade points, and launch themselves toward the building, rapid-fire succession, foot wide energy projectiles slamming into the lab’s roof and exploding on impact. Samuel swipes his hand across his body, causing a two hundred-foot lance to cut mercilessly across the building’s midsection, then down, dissecting the southwest leg, and across, gashing the parking lot in half and preventing access from the south entrance. Michael focuses on the northern portions: each gangrenous green eruption from his hands forces a dozen square foot rent from the roof, continues firing into the holes, drilling his way floor by floor to the basement. He directs his wrath along the northwest and northeast sections, watches as the walls along cave in as the interior is torn asunder with each descending blast. Samuel raises his arm, the long blade coursing up the east parking lot and around the north side, nearly cutting the building off from any ground transport. Asphalt steams from contact, tar melting at the immediate points that touched the lance – the rest appears as though a demolitions team had set a line of explosives around the building. He extends his other hand, fires a golden orb the size of his torso toward the barely standing crossways of Macrotech’s secondary facility. Michael nods in approval of this, reaches behind him, a verdant spear thundering to life in his hand, and throws it down to match Samuel’s target. The orb hits, dissolves the third floor, second, lobby, basements, finally unleashing in an explosion that buffets both fliers back and away. The ground quakes, the building crumbles in on itself, only the tips of its outer limbs stand, as well as scattered pieces of wall, a staircase, the bare ribs and skeleton.
But not for any more than a half second. Michael smiles watching, seeing the spear enter the debris and chaos, feels it land on its mark, creating an equal blast that shatters whatever pieces of the frame that still stood. Forty feet deep, one hundred feet in diameter, a crater stands at the center of what was one of the leading research facilities in the United States. Smoke and steam rise to the nostrils of the two, each slowly, purposely flexing and relaxing his wings.
“One last part.”
Michael spreads the fingers of both hands, small black vessels no larger than a golf ball appearing between the fingertips. He curls his hands, flicks them out, watches them descend like lazy maple leaves in late October.
They collide like mortars against the west lot, blowing apart so much groundwork that no crew could find a way through or over the piled mounds without the use of explosives of their own.
“There Samuel. That wasn’t so bad.”
“Quiet, I’m contacting Bonnefeld.” He reaches for the radio receiver on the left shoulder and clicks a button. “Rick? You copy?”
“I’m here. Was that necessary?”
“Seems like it. They say you got the directions to their main lab. Just tell me how to get there from where we are, as the crow flies.”
“Check your GPS, we’re uploading the coordinates to you right now.”
Samuel feels something vibrate, as does Michael, both look down to the phosphorescence coming from the beeper-sized GPS units clipped to their belts. Samuel mentally commands his to be unclipped, beckons it before him, frowns at seeing it.
“That’s really inconvenient. Ugh, fine, got it. Michael? Follow me. I can save us some time getting there.”
“If you do this right.”
Ignoring that, Samuel rushes backward, putting twenty feet between him and Michael. His wings stretch out as far to his sides as they will go, the individual bands packing together. He then spreads them, the top and bottom bands circling above and below him, left and right wings touch. As they move, the sharp ends cut lines into the air, the space, along their arc, and create an oval shaped portal, snipped from the normal dimension that they floated in. Tucking his wings back in, Samuel gives them a single push and flies backwards into the portal. Michael, shrugging, flexes the outlined demon wings of his own and, hands clutching holstered pistols, floats into the large opening of space and time.
When the portal shuts behind them, they’re hovering in the air over the Staples Center, Los Angeles. Samuel smirks at the irony of it Los Angeles being the destination. The lab is twenty miles north of the city’s outer suburbs. Michael looks down at his GPS, squints, lets a draft pull him five degrees westward, and, looking once more at the unit, grins. He bends at the waist, tucks his legs in, and with a strong flap, soars in the direction of the lab. Samuel rises thirty feet at an angle, dives swiftly, and extends his wings fully, gliding into position behind Michael. He takes powerful, measured strokes to catch up with the dark’s harbinger.
Effortlessly they glide with the currents; the world below passes by in quick mosaic blurs of city blocks, sounds, red and white lights snailing their way up and down. Samuel dives for a building, caught in the moment, and lands on it at a running pace. As soon as he reaches the roof’s edge, he leaps off, sailing twenty feet ahead before he commands the Power to keep him aloft, and catches an updraft. Michael, watching this, fires off an illusory blast across Samuel’s nose – completely harmless but as apparently real as the ones that had gutted the lab. Samuel spins about, angry eyes staring upwards at Michael, who yells above the wind, “If you plan on playing around, plan on one of those knocking you from the sky! I don’t need you lagging behind while they prepare! And be more careful, I might not be the one doing that!”
“Careful! Michael, the NSA only needs one of us to return, so don’t test me!”
“Hah! Sure, sure, we never did finish our last fight! Anyway, focus already!”
Growling, Samuel rights himself and draws closer to the ground, keeping an estimated altitude of one hundred fifty feet. Away from the entanglements of downtown, he has the luxury of doing so. He pulls the half-face balaclava over his chin to obscure his face. Michael descends as well but keeps twice Samuel’s distance from the streets.
Below, cast by moonlight, two angelic shadows speed across the streets and rooftops, as the walkers and outsiders look up and gasp, some yelling and waving arms, others rushing inside Spanish styled houses. Samuel sees some running down a street, constantly glancing up at the agent, phones up, a glittering mess of flashes. Someone will have some interesting shots to spread across the internet now.
“Lovely,” he mutters. Thankfully twenty years of events precluded any attempt at concealing their existence.
The GPS puts them within a few miles. The air around them feels heavy. A shiver runs down between his shoulder blades. Tingles break out on his skin, and he rubs at his forearms. He removes the black leather gloves, pulls up on the left sleeve, starts scratching his arm. His mind scrambles to the beginning years, trying to remember if he’d ever experienced something like this when he was first trying to control the Power. Once – a few months into the war, that’s right. He had a green-haired demon by the throat, was about to drive the forearm blade into it. The creature had emerged inside a mall of all places, slaughtering all it could. Before Samuel could end its unlife, he felt the same way. The back of his neck was nervously ticking, his skin itched, the whole air felt combustible, heavy. That was when Michael ascended. He first appeared before Samuel with a shadow-green shield visibly surrounding him, the first enemy of Samuel’s enemies to have that ability.
“Oh no.. Michael, IR!”
Samuel reaches for his goggles, pulls them down, but too late. The being uncloaks before them with sonic collision that shakes the trees and air around them. Heaving its great chest in heavy, seething breaths, corners of its mouth turned down in a fatigued expression – a giant! Both Samuel and Michael come to a complete halt, staring in angry astonishment at its size. It had to be about a hundred feet in height. Its thick and scaled arms look like they could reach out and swat Samuel down in a second. Human.. it looks human, Caucasian maybe, unkempt hair drifting across its face and covering its eye. Just one eye, and a large, lipless mouth. Patches of brown scales are littered randomly across its body. A large loin cloth made of canvas is wrapped around its waist.
A standoff. Two points of light set against a pillar of unnatural work.
Seconds pass, the duo waiting to see the creature’s intent.
It wipes the hair away from its eye, blinks twice. The corners of its mouth twitch as it sucks in a dollop of saliva.
“Sam? What do y-“
Mike’s cut off. The giant, with a sweeping roll of its shoulders, throws its head back and roars.
Samuel, rising to get out of arm’s reach, looks down where the giant’s standing. A park, no civilians so far as he can see. Not that they’d be sticking around by this point. Cursing, he dips his shoulder, allowing the sniper rifle’s strap to slide down to the hook of his elbow, then grips it under his right arm, finger on the trigger. Michael floats next to him, eyes locked on the giant, Nakimachi under-barrel grenade launcher reloaded. Floating on ethereal wings, armed with automatic weapons, cherubic special forces.
“You’re the one who fought the big ones, Samuel. How do we do this?”
The giant bellows again, slams both fists against each other. The two feel the ionic tug as the mammoth charges up a blast.
“Never fought one with a shield! We move, find out where that shield isn’t covering-“
It cuts Samuel off by firing a devastating beam as thick as a train. Wide-eyed, Samuel teleports out of the way, behind the beast. Michael turns off his power of flight, drops like a lead weight out of the way. His bare face burns from the blast wave’s heat. Samuel, reappearing, raises the rifle against his shoulder, aims at the giant’s neck. He fires three times, each shot splashing far-reaching rippling waves against its shield. Michael, regaining flight, dashes for its knees, unloading the Nakimachi into a spray that does no more than draw a visible line across its defense field. He banks to the right, soars to its waist line, fires a grenade that explodes harmlessly against it. It yells and swings its scaled left fist toward Michael. Michael throws the gun strap around his neck, and with a thunderclap, the Second summons his energy blade, catching the giant’s hand with it in an explosion of light versus dark. The strength behind the thing’s attack shoves Michael back, but he stays in adamant defiance, intent on draining the cyclops’ defense. Meanwhile, Samuel takes another two shots at its skull, and the five-inch bullets flatten on shield impact to clatter serenely to the grass below.
Samuel cries out in anger, throws the rifle aside and dives at the giant. A radiant beam of light interrupts the night and forms a lance in his hands. At crossing half the distance to the giant, the golden armor summoned in his transformation reappears around him, the templar reborn. He sees Michael struggling in his pushing contest against the giant, a shower of sparks raining from the opposing forces’ contact. Lips pulled back, Samuel brings his arm close to his body to become part of the lance. With a final hard push of the wings, he crashes into the shield over the giant’s head. The seven-foot weapon pierces slightly into the shield and forces a seething, crazed half-grin from Samuel. He channels bursts of energy into the lance, trying to override the shields. Torrential waves careen down the spherical field surrounding the giant, and it senses the increasing drain on its own reserves. The monster turns about and drives its right palm into Michael, knocking him into a sixty-foot backwards flight. It flashes a short blast to accompany Michael.
Samuel grinds his teeth, settles his clear-gold plated boots onto the flickering shield of the giant. The contact of the two defensive forces creates static, licking sounds of voltages exchanged. By this point the lance has pierced a foot through the shield, but part of the lance has dissolved into the target, dispersing into the giant’s shield. He doesn’t know why, this is new, impossible, but he throws his might into another stab, knowing now isn’t the time for idle musing.
Michael sees the giant’s attack coming. His wings snap open, the plumy black bands quivering in anger. They wrap around him just as the coarse and unstructured blast hits Michael. The explosion skips Michael across the park’s green like a stone on water and rips the leaves off nearby trees. The Second lurches onto his hands and knees with his teeth bared. Black blood trickles from his temple to his chin. With a mental command, the dark armor surrounds him, the skulled helm occluding his face. Michael doesn’t remember a time in the last ten years where he felt more displeased.
Howling, the giant is throwing its head back and forth to free itself from Samuel. It screams and beats its chest. Sirens blare in the distance. Samuel doesn’t relent, but his attempts to drive the lance through are futile – he can feel the weapon slowly gouging through, but he can’t see it closing in to the creature’s scalp.
Furious, raging, the gargantuan slaps down on itself to crush the little man.
Samuel sees the massive forearms in his peripheral and looks up.
“Pain in my-”
He dissolves the lance, ducks into a ball and stretches out his ribboned wings to full extension. Their ends are fine points, destructive and solid.
They collide with the giant’s shields and hold. Samuel’s arms shake violently in trying to keep himself from being shoved flat onto his stomach by the immense strength of his enemy. But things suddenly shift, the ionic repelling of the shield shifts to an attraction, and the wing tips slip through the defensive field, into the giant’s palms and pierce through the other side, seven stab wounds through each. It recoils from the pain; black liquid leaves steaming trails to boil down the lengths of the wings. Samuel’s head is bowed, and he looks up just in time to see a wide slap coming but not with enough time for even his reflexes to save him. He’s knocked clean off the giant’s head, falling uncontrollably to the grass. Michael flicks his wrist out, mentally catching Samuel and rights him. Samuel from the distance nods to Michael.
This is now out of hand.
The giant lurches towards Samuel. To distract it, Michael floats down to the ground, slices a leafless tree at the base of its trunk and levitates it. A frown and furrowed brow crease his face. Commanding with two fingertips, he beckons the tree skyward, points it to the left, and points straight. The tree missiles its way at the giant and splinters on impact. It growls and turns, looking for Michael, looks at the torn tree lying in the park fountain, but doesn’t see the small winged one. Michael has already teleported besides Samuel. Both stand with tight-eyes watching the menace stamp the broken tree into the dirt.
“Samuel, it’s nighttime. My reserves can hold out longer than yours, and you can’t replenish yourself in the dark. We need to find a way to destroy this thing quick.”
Satiated, it beats its chest and lurches forward with a shriek.
“I know. I can’t think of a way to get through its defen-..-ses.. huh.”
“What? Say it fast, it’s coming!”
“You ever try to portal through shielding?”
“You will now. Let’s go.”
Two portals open simultaneously, amber-gold and night-green: Samuel and Michael descend into their creations which snap open to put both Michael and Samuel a nose away from the giant’s skin. Michael faces its sternum, and Samuel eyes the scales on the nape of its neck. Both screaming, they alight blazing swords just as the monster opens its mouth in surprise.
It doesn’t leak a sound.
Samuel’s blade is already lodged through its throat. Michael pierced its heart and spine. A gush of blood hits Samuel, and he withdraws his weapon, the tingling from earlier now left his senses. The giant teeters from the balls of its feet to heels and back. It clutches at its throats and coughs vehemently, blood pouring down its chest and raining on the park. The black liquid sizzles and evaporates against the summoned gargoyle’s armor of Michael. Samuel clasps his stomach and dismally floats away from the giant as a bile creeps into the back of his throat. Nausea hits him harder than when he was forced to kill his first enemy. Nothing he fought in the war was this human. He didn’t know why it was so set on attacking them at the beginning, what it might’ve been subjected to – his thoughts raced on, “Why would someone create something like this? The difficulty to control it? Jesus. They were lucky it was so untrained and, young? Must have been. If this thing had it any idea what its potential, we probably never-“
Samuel commands a hole to open in the faceplate of his helm and throws up.
The giant finally falls backwards, into an almost comical sitting position. After a second of its eye lolling, its head rolls back and it crashes to the ground, breaking a park bench with its back. Blood pools out of its body in sickening quantities. Its fingers twitch, and with open eye, it stares out to the neighborhood opposite the park. Michael glides down to its forehead. He forms a spear in hand and stabs it through. A power flux winds down the shaft, creating barbs all the way to the spear’s end. Michael twists it hard clockwise, pushes in, then counter clockwise. Squatting down, he jumps off and into the air, pulling the spear out with a sound that makes Samuel close his eyes with a pained wince.
Michael lets the spear evaporate into the air and rejoins Samuel with a hard look.
“Your weakness sometimes disturbs me, Samuel.” Michael reaches for his GPS, hits the settings button twice to operate the satellite phone function. He mutters into the miniature microphone at the unit’s base. “Office of Paranormal Defense.” Three rings until the Colonel picks up.
“Tell one of the west coast branches we’ll need a clean-up crew here quick. Big dead creature, leaking blood all over the place. I suggest you quarantine this area and burn the entire park with acid. Then put in a parking lot for all I care. I’m not going to let my efforts go in vain because someone didn’t do his job right.”
“Alright. I’ll phone over now. Location?”
“We’re north-northeast of Los Angeles, two point three miles from main target. Look for the small park with the hundred-foot dead man in it. I’m sure it won’t be hard to find.” He hits ‘settings’ again, hanging up on the Colonel, and speeds forward with GPS in hand, not willing to wait for a quip or witticism from Samuel. The First is comfortable with allowing the Second to go ahead without him for a second. He’s too busy swallowing back salt and acid and regaining his equilibrium.
The neighborhoods surrounding the park disappear, revealing short, newly built commercial strips. He’d seen plenty of the same sort back home. Two stories high, just a rectangle from above, probably half a dozen upstart businesses taking shelter inside. A four-lane street below, cars knocking his shadow over their front grills to roll it off their hoods. Michael stares at them, so busy in their little cars, never dreaming of more than the easy way out of life. One man here wanted something more, the president of Macrotech, housed in his mock Aztec pyramid of glass and painted white steel beams. On the horizon, the mission’s end is in sight.
A shadow casts over Michael’s vision, and he looks up. Above is Samuel, who peers down at him once and speeds up toward the pyramid. Floodlights on every corner pan back and forth into the sky. Both fliers dive to ground level, skimming two feet above grass and street. Their armors both fade once parallel to the earth. Armed guards in blue jumpsuits stand by the main doors. An APC is parked in front, its gun alert and rotating slowly. The bodies of the two waver, flicker in the light, and disappear.
The Second’s hand reaches for the Nakimachi, and the First for his pistols. They close in fast, heading straight for the front entrance. Sweeping around the APC, Samuel takes in a deep breath and hovers over the two guards. The one to Samuel’s right shrugs and appears as though he’s about to say something. But the words arrest in his mouth. Samuel pistol-whips him before he can, as well as the other guard. In the meantime, Michael has already carved the turret from the frame of the APC, kicking it off as he would a garbage can, and discharges a low-energy grenade into the open compartment: enough to kill the gunner and driver.
Frowning, Samuel places a hand against the glass doors and sends a wave down the length of his arm, which courses through his hand and pounds against the glass: it bends, flexes, then shatters entirely. Both become visible again and float into the expansive lobby: apparitions coming to thresh the wicked from the good. White marble tile glitters all around. Alexander palms grow along the inside of the pyramid’s walls. Shimmering cascades of water flow from the mouths of stepped fountains in each corner, which pour into streams carved into the marble floors. The streams flow towards the center, each passing beneath the legs of a statue, angels guarding the streams. One bears the flaming sword, another a balance, the third a scroll, and the fourth a spear. Their heads tilt downward on noble necks, just at the appropriate degree so that they stared dismally toward the middle of the pyramid. Central to the pyramid is a spire, an Egyptian obelisk that reaches the building’s peak, its finely carved point just touching the glass roof. Within its base is an elevator door. Samuel can see no other way down besides through there.
“Looks like the actual facilities are underground.”
“No kidding, Samuel.”
“How much of this feels very, very wrong?”
“All of it.”
“The aura of this place… something awful’s down there. Do you feel it? Like a light pressure just sitting on your shoulders?”
“Something like that. Come on.”
The two, with guns held high, glide forward, no faster than a casual walk. Just like the secondary labs, there’s no sound, no movement. They see no one. Samuel reaches for the infrared goggles and slides them down, waits for them to reboot, and scans about. Still nothing. No abnormal heat signatures, hardly any heat at all save for the glares produced by the overhead lights. Samuel squints and clicks his teeth together in thought, removing the goggles. This was just like the secondary lab, but with one thing missing: the voice.
At the elevator, Samuel hits the single button.
Samuel and Michael raise their weapons immediately, fading from view at the same time, intent on unloading every spare bullet into what comes out of those doors. Samuel pulls back on the hammers of his two pistols. Michael pumps another grenade into readiness.
Soundlessly, the doors open to them. Nothing and no one. Michael has his IR goggles ready this time and confirms the lack of any opposition. He renders himself visible again and growls.
“Nobody. Come on Samuel, stop wasting energy, there’s no way this isn’t going to end in a siege. They’re waiting for us where they know we’ll go.”
Samuel thumbs the pistols’ hammers and relents. His body flickers back into view again. “I can’t stand all this damn suspense.”
“Nerves?” Michael smirks as he steps into the elevator, folding his wings in as much as possible.
“Shut up.” Samuel closes his wings and slides into the cab, standing opposite of Michael. He reads over the floor selection, Lobby, B1, B2, B3 all the way down to B10. His hand sits hesitantly over B3, but instead reaches down for B10 and stops with indecision. “Intel didn’t tell us anything about where to go once we got here.”
Michael notices the speaker built into the cab’s ceiling. He whispers to himself “Three, two, one..”
The voice from on high returns. “Basement level ten should be your desired course of action, if you wish to try to end this. You could try to return to the outside and try to ruin this building like you did the last. But we assure you, those efforts won’t kill our perfect creation, our third child. In fact, we think you should be interested to see your purified form.”
Samuel immediately hits the button marked ‘B10’. The cab starts its descent slowly without the usual kick and quickly builds acceleration. Must be the new series of magnet-run elevators.
“Samuel, what the hell is he talking about? Purified form?”
“I only got one idea. Purified forms.. uh, in the stories, the main two characters, the brothers, they were sort of half-breeds. Each time their people would go to another planet..” B4. “..they’d acquire a genetic piece of the sentient race there..” B7. “..the pure-bloods, on their original planet, hated the travelers because they did that to themselves..” B10. The doors vsh open, and the two scramble into the open, guns raised and ready. In the dull orange glow, Samuel sees some movement scurrying through the shadows.
The shadow keeps running. Michael turns, grabbing the goggles and reverting them to night vision mode, sees the shadow. Another creature like the ones from the first lab. As Samuel fires a warning shot, Michael jumps over the First, briefly touches ground in front of him, leaps again and fires a three-bullet burst into its forehead just as it turns to cover a fear-stricken face. Michael lands in a crouch over its body. In the dim light, even without the skull’s mirage overlaying his face, the Second draws a smile that, for a second, forces Samuel to question the allegiance of the Second. Flexing tired and taut muscles, the First breathes deep and sends pulses of light down the lengths of his wings, ebbing Power from his eyes, using his own body as a small star to illuminate the lightless depths. They are surrounded by more glass. Watch rooms. Specimen rooms. All around them, ten cages on each of the four sides, one door open. Only three of them are occupied. Across the surveillance room from the open cage, there is a break, where a hallway, in lieu of a cage, extends towards a titanium-barred glass door. A man stands on the other side of it. Samuel raises a pistol in greetings and squeezes the trigger. The man smiles broadly when the bullet bounces to the floor.
“Of course it’s bulletproof.”
Michael sees that of the two occupied cages, neither holds anything that hadn’t been seen already. More of the base monsters they had unleashed before. Michael moves around the elevator shaft to rejoin Samuel.
The man on the other side raises a black box to his mouth. Finally, the voice of reason.
“We’re glad to see that you’re here. We apologize for that, another one our pets found out how to open locks with its mind. Regarding the reason you were invited, your third child lies this way.” He turns aside and, with a graceful hand, waves down the ghostly lit hallway who’s mouth he stood in.
Samuel approaches him first, the power around him brightens, and the sharply defined borders of his wings now ebb against the constraints of his form. He presses the muzzles of both pistols against the glass and leans into it, looks into the blue-suited man’s green eyes.
“Why should I bother with that? Why not destroy this place from the inside out and prevent you from making any more of these things?”
“Because you’ve no idea what your child can do. I have a technician standing by. If I don’t return in ten minutes, he wakes the child and sends him out to the world at large. You, I’m sure, don’t want that.”
Michael takes measured steps to the glass, his armor returning to clad him in the netherworldly visage. The bony gauntlet’s formation cuts through the Nakimachi rifle’s grip and part of the barrel, leaving the remains to resound off the tile. He flexes his hand open, dropping the remains. Four claws elongate from armored fingertips. He presses against the glass barrier, claws flawlessly digging into the tempered glass, almost sinking through. His eyes now glow, shifting from raven to the abyss green. “And why should we even bother with your game? Why not just kill you, kill your technician, then this bastard clone you made?”
The blue-suit laughs and slides a hand into his pocket. The way in which he kicks his heel into the ground, the look in his eyes, neither assures Samuel that this man’s life is of any consequence now.
“Dear, dear, Michael, as if all the implications in the world weren’t enough. Firstly, we weren’t trying to clone you. Secondly, haven’t you heard, save the best for last? Did you think the giant we sent for you was it? That he was our most powerful creation? No.. no. Whatever order you plan on going on with your little explosion binge, you will have to face our child sooner or later, and you will not walk away from it. So long as it lives, the destruction of the labs, our data, myself and others, none of it will matter. Samuel, Michael, and Daniel will be kept in check by our dear Belial.”
Samuel grimaces at the name. He casts his golden eyes to the glowing pits of Michael’s, knowing the look beneath the Second’s brow. Samuel stands aside.
Michael reaches back, the talons of his left hand extending to a foot long each, and he gashes through the glass of the door. He recalls them, floats an inch from the floor and puts a foot between himself and the broken barrier. The man smiles even more widely, waking crows’ feet to the corners of his hazel eyes. In an instant, glass daggers explode at the blue-suit, cutting his face, eyes, and as he screams in pain, the knives disrupt and ruin his anguished cry. Michael uncurls the fist he threw and plants his left hand on the jagged pieces of the door that managed to not shatter and rips them down. The two subjects left caged dance back and forth in their cells, pounding on the walls and shrieking. Relentlessly, the Second grabs at the titanium bars, gauntleted fists sizzling against the metal, and pulls at them. The lights of his eyes flare even more, his anger pouring his might into this next obstacle. He jams his elbow into one, bending it far to the right and slams his palm into the one beside it, sending it to the left. Michael glides through and wraps his burning hand around a bloodied neck.
“Is this what you wanted then?”
Samuel’s eyes widen. “No, Michael! Wa-“
Black energy melts away from Michael’s hand and creeps over the voice’s head. It separates into tendrils that wrap themselves around the blue-suit’s face, suffocating him, burning him. Steam. When Michael lets go, the voice falls to the floor, the skin of his face, nose, lips, ears, and hair, burnt and gone.
“Jesus, Michael! What.. what the hell is wrong with you?”
Michael turns to Samuel and thrusts his fist at him. Samuel swings his right about and catches Michael at the wrist with a shielded hand. Gold and black crackle and bite at each other.
“Don’t! Question! Me! Ever!. He deserved death like the rest of them, the rest you didn’t stop me from killing!”
“Like that? Like that!? Goddamnit, we could’ve used him for questioning! Find out if there’s anymore out there! I’ve had enough human come for my head in my time, but there is a limit!”
Samuel’s grip tightens.
Michael relents, and Samuel lets go. The First looks overhead and sees a camera watching them, red light on. Whoever down this hallway likely saw the entire scene. It didn’t matter now.
Samuel’s lips curl back as he eyes Michael, clenching his fist, torn between completing the mission and finishing his partner. Cracking his neck, he growls, “Let’s just go.”
They both push away from the floor and speedily fly down the hall, to the light at the end. They see another jail door plated with glass like the last one. Samuel, in the lead, tilts his wings upward to slow down, then rights himself, driving his feet into the glass. It cracks. He swings his left leg up, then swivels his hips around, bringing his right foot about in a hard roundhouse kick, the shielded toe of the tactical boot crashing into the fault lines to shatter the first layer of the door. Each wing tip grabs hold of the titanium bars and, with his labored grunt, rips the entire thing, bars, lock, frame, from the stonework housing. Throwing the door aside, he enters serenely into the room.
Perhaps only fifty by fifty feet, this new area was clearly not meant for research. Devoid of any equipment or furniture indicative of a working space, there is only a single podium in the corner where a lab technician stands, a flat-screen monitor before him, his fingers working diligently on the keyboard even while staring at the First. The other corner furthest from the entrance is draped off. Wire runs and cables are neatly directed from a wall penetration to whatever was on the other side of the white curtain.
A voice on the other side of the curtain chides.
“So now there’s only I. Michael, you are a violent one.” A hand reaches around and slowly walks the curtain down its track.
The technician at the podium meekly looks over to the unveiled chamber and offers a weak smile.
In a royal blue Armani suit, with green eyes and perfectly coifed blonde hair stands the other half of the “we”, a twin to the one that greeted the two previously. He stands with hands folded delightedly over his chest. The way his teeth gleamed wasn’t entirely right, thought Samuel. But this one is not the surprise. Lying back at a sixty-degree angle is a broad-shouldered frame, perhaps seven feet tall. Naked. No visible reproductive organs to decide a gender. Its lean muscles move slightly against the straps encouraging it to stay laying down.
Samuel and Michael both touch the floor, wings folding, shocked from their fury.
The creature has a most serene expression on its red scaled face. Samuel studies its features: three nostrils, no real nose to speak of, and large, amber colored eyes. Where its nose would be, there is only a slightly raised region above the mouth, wet-rimmed nostrils twitching at short, periodic breaths. Its head tapers into a bony crest covered in tough, knobby scales that, from its position, looked like a shark’s fin to Samuel’s searching mind. Two clawed toes on massive feet the length of its calves, no ankles. Its forearms are abnormally larger than the upper arms, from which bony extrusions grew, just above the elbow joint. Its thighs are of sinew. Huge lower legs thin rapidly to meet the knee. The scales on its hands disappear where its four stretching claws grow; they appear red and as dangerous as bull horns.
This thing was new. This is the danger of human curiosity, giving birth to what should never be. This matched nothing that Samuel had seen during the war or created in the stories.
The second blue-suit reads the expressions of the two and leans against the creature’s bed, placing an elbow by its shoulder to rest his head.
“Oh you two, we knew you would like what you saw. Don’t you see? He is pure! He is what you are without your humanity degrading your heightened forms. We read, in our younger years, the few stories you published, Samuel. He is what you would call, Tuluhrai. He is your people’s pure-blood, your ancestor, before you and he and that Daniel came to taint your people’s godhood with mortal blood. And we created him!” He butts his chest with the thumb of his right fist. “Come! Come closer to him. See in your child the bloodlines of your fathers.”
If there was one thing that truly bothered Samuel in all this, it was that his stories did accurately detail everything, and this wasn’t there. Those stories were like backlogged memories forgotten from a past life. Unlike Michael, the First had the power of insight, to be able to categorize events of past, present, and future against the foggy memories of childhood storylines.
The suit’s claims don’t match the stories. Tuluhrai, by this point in their evolution, were supposed to be noble looking beings. He could see some traces of them in the creature’s size and claws. Jortasha, on the other hand, were the red-scaled people. Tall, but not as much as Tuluhrai. The traveling tribes in the stories had left Tuluhr and eventually arrived on Jortash Prime and gained some of the natives’ genetic traits. Then from Jortash Prime to Earth. Those were the stories at least… and the stories never lied.
To Michael, “I never published anything about where the travelers went, just where they’re from and where they last wound up. This thing’s almost as diluted as we are.”
“The hell are you babbling about?”
“This guy’s full of shit.”
“What?” The second half stiffens up, red-faced and shaking. “I don’t want to hear any secrets here before our child! He shouldn’t be raised in such an environment!” The suit looks to the technician and nods to him. In turn, the technician hammers away at the keyboard with more urgency.
It stirs against its straps.
“Oh, but I didn’t tell you our child’s name! Meet our dear and beloved Belial.”
Belial, upon hearing his name, frowns. Two sharp tugs and it breaks the leather-lined chains over its forearms. Then the upper arms. It reaches for the steel bar over its stomach and pulls it off its hinges, drops it to the floor. The suit backs away, bows to Belial, and stands next to the technician. Belial throws his torso against the bed, then forward, the momentum and strength with which it does tears his feet and legs from their shackles, dropping him to a bare stoop on the floor. It scrapes its toes against the cold, polished tile. Samuel draws a foot back into a defensive stance. The translucent full-plate armor of energy reappears around him, eyes glowing through the uncoated slit between visor and mask.
“And one last thing.”
Michael looks at the two men at the podium in disbelief. There’s more?
“Unlike our giant, Belial has learned much of its capabilities. It too can unleash full potential, and our child loves to show off. Belial? Could you?”
Belial nods to the voice and rolls his neck around, cracking the vertebrae, and then stares down to the two.
“I’ve… waited.. for this…”
Its scaled lips barely moved in saying that, as if the words simply leaked through its parted mouth. Belial’s huge arms swing out, and he looks towards the ceiling.
The light of the room dims, all around, even around the emanating form of Samuel. It all concentrates around Belial. The ionic tug again. Bare outlines of wings surround Belial’s body appear briefly; a second later, another flash, accompanied with a loud crack. Sparks streak the space around his body, forcing the hair on Samuel’s head to start to rise. Michael looks to the technician and finally notices that he’s been wearing rubber gloves. Another glimpse of wings.
Michael, before this day, was sure that it was impossible for someone outside of the Three to be able to access a heightened form. Even Samuel’s daughter, who Michael himself once fought, was incapable of it. She simply didn’t have enough Power in her to do it. But here, before his now simple, black eyes, it is happening.
Then they unfurl to their fruition. With a shockwave that sends both Samuel and Michael crashing into the wall behind them, the huge wings of Belial finally force their way into reality. Dense ribbons of gold wave menacingly from his back, their sharp ends reaching out for something to impale. They grow from his lower back, from behind the neck, a crown made of sunrays. They look just like Samuel’s. Something else forms before them, shadowing their power and covering some of the shimmering yellow bands from sight. Demon wings. Thick and in varying shades of the darkest grays, they have the same distinct dactylic traces as Michael’s, but unlike his, the splayed fingers of the wings suddenly form fields between them, making them whole, nearly obscuring the illuminated bands behind them. Even the intimidating frame of Belial seems small before this massive output of power.
Belial is to Samuel majestic, noble, unnatural, demonic, evil. The First, on his knee, stares in awe at the spawn. He didn’t expect to see anything like this. Not at all. Michael too is silenced by the sight. He stands with his arms dangling near lifeless in front of him, back bent in a slight forward lurch.
Neither sees the concentrated, full body defensive field around Belial. Samuel wants to reach up for his goggles, but it inclines his head to watch the First. Its gaze seems so cold and judging. Michael narrows his eyes and, barely flicking his thumb, commands the goggles to slide over his eyes. Another flick, and they’re on. He sees it now. Belial’s body is amorphous with power: the wings stretch from one end of the wall to the other, but it’s unmistakable. In the waning brightness of his image, there is a definite boundary of stark color tightly clasped to the body. Its form is no different than theirs.
Michael’s heart shudders cold until his fury builds at this indictment – some laboratory pet has developed a form no different than theirs.
Clearly not amused with Michael’s slight movement, Belial bares a cloven hand at him and calls the goggles to his four-fingered grasp. They tear away from Michael’s head and are summarily ground to pieces. Samuel stands back up, realizing now that they must treat this creature like it knows every manipulation of the Power that they do. Who knows, it probably has tricks of its own that even the two are not aware of. An odd grin crosses Samuel’s lip, half a smirk, half desperate, and he speaks.
“Belial, whatever your intentions are, I suggest you think twice before doing it. There is only one of you. There are two of us. The odds don’t stand in your favor.”
Michael’s armor glints, a short wave passing all throughout, darkening it. The canines of the projected skull become fierce. He speaks as well.
“That’s right, dear Belial, oh child mine. I suppose we could let you join us, but I would bet your controller there wouldn’t like that.”
Belial remains silent, but his body pulses with energy that, like a riptide, draws the powers of the two closer to itself. Michael and Samuel alight from the ground once more.
The technician, evidently nervous now, types frantically away on the keyboard while the suit whispers argued words into his ear. Belial takes his attention away from the two and turns his back towards them to watch the two at the podium. It was used to seeing only one command, the other do. It was interesting to watch the blonde bear such vehemence in his expressions. Interesting and intriguing.
That was the moment Michael wanted. A spear flashes and solidifies in his hands. Samuel bares two blades from the backs of his gauntlets.
Samuel crosses around to Belial’s right while Michael takes the left. In the blurring edges of his vision, Samuel sees the Second take advantage of the high ceiling to attack from above, so he decides to take Belial’s midsection. The majestic, scaled beast cranes its neck around, frowning in annoyance, and spreads his wings with a simultaneous outward sweep that catches Samuel and tosses him aside. Michael is poised to bring his spear between Belial’s outer golden wings to break the energy fields, but before he can, three illuminated tentacles shoot out from Belial’s back. They catch Michael’s arms and spear. With a sharp pull at the spear’s middle, Belial snaps the energy weapon in half to cause the rest to fade in the air. Without a whit of emotion, Belial raises Michael over his head and plows him into the ground, up again and down. Michael draws his own wings up and covers his front with them, brings their fingers down between his binds and sweeps outward, binding and wing colliding with a flurry of sparks and crackling of energy. “What the hell is this!” His wrath and panic start to peak.
It draws Michael closer, and, seeing Samuel up and on quick approach, palms a short-sputtered burst of silver colored orbs at the First. Samuel is forced to a mid-air halt, throwing his arms in front of him a fraction of a second before the explosive charges collide. Samuel yells; his armor absorbed the impact but not the shockwave that knocks his lungs free of air. Michael shoots a blade from his right fist toward Belial’s head. The black spike jams to a halt against a silver ripple floating a centimeter from between alien eyes. Belial snorts, reaches for Michael’s throat with a shielded hand and throws him towards Samuel who, with barely a second’s notice manages to telekinetically catch Michael before he runs into him.
Michael pulls his away from Samuel, chest heaving, shoulders tensed, eyes returned to the smoking embers they were in the previous room. Serrated claws grow out of the glowing, stretching fingers of Michael’s armor. The ephemeral skull frowns.
Michael looks to Samuel and opens his hand to him. “He’s toying with us, Samuel.. toying with US!” With that, he flies backwards to the wall behind, plants his feet on it, and pushes himself off towards the still and quiet Belial.
The First hesitates, unsure how to approach the behemoth. Direct and forceful seems the only way, given the lack of room. He throws himself to the ground, catches the tile, and like a cat of the hunt, bounds forward at Belial, leaping at him as soon as Michael delivers his first blow across the demon’s face. Scathing streaks of silver cross Belial, more across its stomach; it punches down at Michael who blocks it with the crux of a wing. Samuel is now on him, entangling the demon’s bastardized wing bands with the golden ones of the First. Belial feels Samuel’s blade trying to carve into its neck, the lightning sensations of the colliding powers stinging through his thickened scales. The Second grabs for Belial’s face with both hands, blocking his sight, tries to rip through his shields to tear its head clean from those massive, hybrid shoulders.
Belial’s command summons a pillar of blood-colored energy from below Michael, a look of surprise and, maybe, fright on his face. Tile and dirt fly out of the hole created, pelting the two humans huddled in the corner. The pillar engulfs all of Michael’s body, shoving him against the ceiling, through light fixtures and wires, embedding him in the floor of basement nine.
Samuel looks up in wide-eyed horror, hearing Michael’s screams of pain as live wires torrent electricity through his defenses. The Second’s body fluctuates energy waves, shaking, convulsing against the broken ceiling tiles. Light bulbs dim and pop across the ceiling. Basement level 10 is in total darkness save for the emanations of Belial and Samuel. Michael falls to the floor in a smoking heap, near unconscious, seizing into contortions on tile. The dark emanations of his wings and armor fade away with exasperated flickers.
The moment’s distraction is put to use – Belial coils his freed limbs around Samuel’s belly and slams him down. Spitting blood, Samuel rolls over to his hands and knees. “Belial. I have fought many, many demons, Michael, everything the Morningstar could muster. This isn’t he end of MY STORY!”
An upwelling of wrath and adrenaline courses through him. He scrambles from his prone position into a jump, upper-cutting Belial’s chin and blasts it with an energy wave that sears against the demon’s invisible helm. Spinning over the axis of his wings, Samuel then drives his heels into Belial’s chest with all his waning inhuman strength. The grip around his wings loosens, and he draws together energy between his palms while Belial stumbles back. The demon looks downward on Samuel, but the attack is already launched. As the spherical explosive absorbs into the shields of a panicking Belial, Samuel flies over to Michael and grabs him. A quick look behind, the ball’s dissipated nearly fifty percent into Belial’s defenses; silver is sullied with tides of gold. Samuel winks to the two at the podium and flies through a hastily made portal before the explosion sets.
Top floor, in the sterile Babylonian gardens, the two reappear. Samuel sets Michael on the ground just as a quake throttles the whole building. The glass walls of the laboratory flex with the shockwaves but remain intact. Samuel is sure that, at the very least, Belial must be drained and vulnerable. Anything else down there must be destroyed. He wills away his gauntlet from his hand and slaps Michael lightly on the cheek.
“You awake? Michael, we have to go now.”
Nothing. He places a hand over Michael’s chest. The air brightens around his hand as he passes around Michael’s chest and neck. Samuel takes his glove off and feels for a pulse, a breath, pulls back an eyelid, then slaps the Second in the cheek. Michael blinks and sits up with a dry cough. Samuel twitches the slightest of smiles and glances back to the obelisk, frowns. It’s shaking at its base.
“Michael? If you can, get yourself back together. I think Belial’s angry now.”
“..n-no.. you.. didn’t-” a deep breath, “kill it?”
“Thought I did, I really thought that last one would have done it.”
Just as Michael climbs unsteadily back to his feet, spikes of energy blast out of the sides of Macrotech’s central spire. Samuel glides in front of Michael and reinforces his armor just as the obelisk’s foundation violently blows apart, shooting stone and metal out in all directions, some ricocheting off Samuel, the rest piercing the ground floor’s outer walls like bullets through sheet metal. The midsection and peak of the spire collapse. Where was once the elevator now stands Belial, wings spread full, bolts of static electricity jumping from wingtip to wingtip. The once cool yellow eyes are now radiantly orange, burning fires.
Samuel draws his swords. Something certainly doesn’t feel right.
Michael calls a shield about his body and pulls his pistol, not yet willing to reengage his demonic form. The hairs on the back of his neck stand instantly on end as the protective field solidifies.
“Belial, if that really hurt you, you’ve no right fighting me. I’ve beaten everything the Morningstar sent our way, and I’m still here! You hear me? THIS IS NOT THE END OF MY STORY!” Samuel beats his chest, wondering if deep down he truly believes his boast.
The demon frowns and, with a frightening acceleration, flies at Samuel who swiftly brings his blades up in defense, eyes wide and digging his feet into the tile. As Belial comes towards him, he sees the red beast bring his hands out and unveil a menacing silver pike with unbelievable speed and effortless motion.
If Samuel moves, Michael might not be able to dodge in time. Exasperated and scowling, Samuel wills his left blade to shift to a rectangular shield.
Almost on him, Belial draws the pike back. It is ready to thrust through Samuel’s shield, through his tender belly, and stake him into the ground as a trophy, to prove its worth, its dominance against these unpure. The pain in its chest from the First’s attack only increases its anger, urging its wrath onward.
Then, something jerks its neck backwards with such immediacy and force that Belial, on hitting the ground, dazed, doesn’t move, unsure if it even can.
Samuel’s body was tensed and waiting for the proper moment to deflect the attack with his shield, slide under, and attempt impaling Belial. Until he sees the monstrosity whip its neck back so fast that inertia had kept its body moving forward still, feet kicking up and above its head before the beast landed on his upper back.
“What the hell!?”
Samuel kicks off the ground and forms a pair of illuminated grenades in each hand. He looks around, agitated, nervous. Then a form appears in a hover over Belial’s body. A head tilted back with maybe a chilling smile, maybe a sneer, arms folded, wearing boots, jeans, and a thick, tan leather jacket. Ethereal wings keep him aloft, silver-lined and clear, as though the higher power simply traced them and forgot to create them in whole. Two larger wings shadowing his shoulders, two smaller ones peering from behind his thighs – the phantom wings of the Third.
“Indeed.” The smile fades into a deep-set frown, and Daniel descends swiftly on top of Belial, digging a heel into its armored spine. Daniel raises a hand and thrusts it down, pinning Belial’s skull to the floor with a command. “Enh.. didn’t think you two would’ve started without me. Was busy. I was having dinner with the Inuits.”
“Really? That’s all good and interesting to hear – damn glad you finally showed up though!”
Michael finally feels collected enough to reenter the foreground and assumes again the heightened form, gliding over to nod to Daniel. “Finally. Maybe now we can get this job done, hm?”
Daniel nods only.
From below, Belial, infuriated, screams out a golden wave that throws the three away from him. It sees them steeling themselves and reclaiming a flighted equilibrium around it, circling it. Three on one.
And they all dive at once. Samuel’s blades, Michael’s claws, Daniel fitted with a spear. Ten meters, five, two-
Belial jumps, wills a forearm blade into creation, stabs at Michael; left wing bands wrap around Samuel’s weapons, right ones around Daniel’s spear. Free bands rope around the waists of the three angels. Michael is thrust away before he can get a clean slash on Belial. The demon slams the other two together, creating a magnificent shower of gold and silver ashes from the armors’ contact. Michael roars and grips his tether, then, with a flash of power, cuts through it, the band around his waist dissipating. Belial howls and brings the First and the Third around to crush Michael with their bodies.
Michael’s not caught this time.
He juts both arms out and stops their path at him, giving the two time to turn themselves upright. Michael closes in on Belial, grabs it by the neck and starts slashing wildly at the demon’s face. He draws his wings over his shoulders and drives their bat-like ends into Belial’s back.
Daniel feels his constraint loosen. He easily cuts through the ribbon binding him and hurtles himself backwards several meters, putting his palms together and gathering together thousands of kilowatts of power. Samuel fires a dozen, machine-gunned blasts into Belial’s forewings, which cause him to relinquish hold of the First.
Belial grabs Michael’s torso and tries to throw him off, but finds itself caught in the momentum forward: Michael’s wings have them pinned together. It can’t see the other two, its view obscured with the seething mania of Michael’s relentless attacks. Belial feels something colliding with his ribs: Samuel, a flying kick into him, followed with a short explosion. Before it can turn on Samuel, a train wreck hits it from behind, forcing both Belial and Michael into a short flight: Daniel’s hands steam from the powerful attack.
Michael suddenly lets go of Belial and climbs up his chest, flips over the demon’s shoulders, turns, and summons a spear in his hand. This he throws at Belial just as the powerhouse turns around, catching it in the forewing, piercing all the way through and colliding with the energy plating over its ribs. The explosion rockets Belial further back again, into a structural pillar. Belial rolls over onto all fours, stands hastily and faces Michael with a growl. A few angered paces in the Second’s direction and a pause. The demon sees a yellow form flash into the air.
Sudden pain and Belial squeals.
Samuel rains down from both palms a payload of explosive orbs, small each, but their number forces Belial to cover himself with broken wings to take the hundred impacts. Each drives him further into the pillar; each drains Belial of energy. The attack fills the rattling walls with the sound of an endless chain of demolitions.
Two silver strikes and a kick from behind topple nearly a third of the pillar over the monster. The roof starts to sag down from the lack of total support. Daniel now carries an eight-foot spear in his hand, waiting at thirty feet above. Belial pushes itself to all fours, snarling, eyes washed with golden light, and rolls the 4,000 cubic foot cut of concrete-wrapped steel off his back. Watching this, the lines of Daniel’s face grow darker, and he turns the weapon over, spearhead down, and drives himself onto the demon, stabbing Belial between the shoulders. No sound, no sparks, just a quiet struggle until Belial’s armor recognizes the weapon’s energy pattern. Two bolts of electricity reach up from the armor, reach up for the spear and pull it in. The crested head pivots back, perfect teeth gnash with a stunning scream of pained silence, while stiff arms flail harmlessly to grapple with the nothing directly before him.
Daniel reaches high for the butt of the spear and, with a great thrust of his wings, drives it through Belial’s back and stakes the red beast to the ground.
The Third keeps his hand on the weapon, channeling his power to force it to stay solid. Another flap of the wings. He turns his wrist, the spear-head moving with it. Planting his other hand firmly on the shaft, he removes it with a strong pull, slicing through ribs and lungs on its exit. His face is emotionless as he tosses the spear away to disappear into the free energy of the night.
Samuel returns to ground-level. Michael glides towards the failed experiment. Daniel watches it cautiously, not removing his eyes even as he starts to speak. Blood leaks from Belial’s fallen body, thick as oil. The ambient light seems to grow dimmer immediately around the growing pool.
“So, Samuel, this anything you seen before?”
“No. Well, not really. Like I said to Michael before, this thing’s not really one or the other. I mean, it’s.. it’s a hybrid. Right now we don’t know with certainty if you killed it.”
“Yes, Samuel, but anything that bleeds that much can’t be alive. I don’t care what sort of biology it has. Daniel’s attack should kill just about anything.”
“Hm. Didn’t kill a couple things I remember,” Daniel mutters.
Seeing Belial immobile in its full length, Samuel sighs, then looks to Daniel. “None of this should have happened. Belial was unique and, really, a tremendous advancement for science. But why did it so easily absorb your weapon while it was so damned effective against both mine and Michael’s?”
Daniel shrugs and Michael, taking a knee, shakes his head.
Pensive silence is soon broken.
Samuel eyes widen at Daniel who’s in the air again with a torn wing fragment wrapped around his foot, another trying to rip the Third’s lower wing off. Michael leaps at Daniel and slices through the band with both sets of claws.
Belial staggers to a kneel and rises again. Visible force fields cover the voids in its body. The fires of its amber eyes blaze with finality while the rest of its wings slowly reappear to beckon the challenge.
Michael, already in action, kicks off the floor upon his landing and turns about to launch at Belial again. Samuel shoves his forearm under the bend of its elbow and pins the wrist beneath his armpit. He feels the arm flex beneath him and barely manages to keep pressure on it. He smells something burning; Belial’s unshielded!
Michael strikes out with both claws, but Belial’s longer reach catches him by the face to toss him aside. While still in reach, Michael whips his hand out and cleaves three deep lines into Belial’s cheek through bone and teeth. Just as Michael hits tile, Samuel reaches for Belial’s throat, and drives it into the broken pillar’s ten-foot stump. He pulls back, forward, keeps hammering the demon’s head into the construct. Belial raises his right shoulder and uses his superior height to throw Samuel off his arm. It then turns its decaying focus to Daniel.
But it’s too late.
Four silver daggers pierce through Belial’s stomach. From under its blood-dripped lids, it sees Daniel staring at it with an open palm aimed. Four more daggers sink through his chest, nailing it to the stump.
Michael staggers toward him, clutching his rib cage, pistol gripped in his right hand. Samuel, sitting back up, groans while pointing to Belial.
“If you’re going to do that,” said as Samuel slides away from the oil-bloodied form of Belial, “do a better job than I did downstairs.”
Michael says nothing, appearing to ignore the comment. Belial’s head jolts up, but sags back down on a ruined neck. The Second stands before Belial and puts his fingertips lightly against the exposed upper jawbone to lift its head upwards. He places the gun beneath the soft of the tattered lower jaw and fires three rounds high.
Daniel closes his hand to a fist causing the translucent daggers disappear. Belial crumbles forward and lays motionless, a small gasp as the last breath seeps from its mouth. Samuel can feel the power leaving its body, finally.
“Samuel?” Michael’s hand rests on the First’s shoulder.
“His body’s still there. Do something about it.”
Michael turns from them all and takes a few pained paces forward. The wings around him fade, and he falters in his step. Samuel, quiet, purses his lips while watching Michael. Daniel keeps his watch on Belial.
A tall, slim portal soundlessly opens, drawing the ambient light into its void. The Second holsters his pistol just before stepping through. No final words, no final glance. The portal closes behind him.
Samuel and Daniel exchange glances. Daniel shrugs.
“I think we both know what he meant, Sam. You up to it?”
“Yeah. Let’s get some distance though.”
They float upwards to put a fifty-foot distance from Belial’s corpse. Samuel forces waves of power to course from his shoulder to his fingertips. With a murmured word, a column of blinding light erupts from below, engulfing and obliterating Belial’s broken body.
When Samuel closes his hand, nothing remains of the demon but cinders and soot. This left only the whole of Macrotech’s research facilities.
Daniel mutters, “We have to destroy the place or whatever idiots made that monster are gonna make more. The NSA’s cleaning crews are incompetent, and I don’t trust the agency to not use the information for itself. And Sam, I’m not going to be summoned every week because someone decided to play god.”
Daniel brings his palms together and slowly, methodically slow, pulls them apart. Samuel feels the distortion of energy building up within Daniel. Daniel’s hands are a foot apart, struggling not to clap back together. Exhausted, Samuel slowly forces another lance into existence.
Through grit teeth, Daniel, “Ready?”
“Go for it.”
Daniel reaches outward, a shimmering spatial distortion built between his fingertips. From the gateway, a pillar, silver and black, Daniel’s act of balance, plummets down the elevator shaft, drives past the bottom foundations, into the earth, holds for a moment.
Samuel throws his lance down, creates another, and repeats, one after the other, a deepening pallor setting into his features. He casts a dozen of them within the minute, each leaving a glowing hole in multi-tiered pit of Macrotech’s underground facility.
The First and the Third look to each other and nod. The column of light and dark erupts: level by level, the concentrated mass explodes, radiating outward through each floor, each corridor of the building, consuming everything in a path of fury. The two polar destructive waves fly from each other in such force that the earth itself is blown out from below, creating a volcano of rock, dirt, and debris of the elevator shaft. The tiles of the ground floor sink into the cavity created by Daniel.
Then Samuel claps his hands. The dozen lances explode within the underground complex’s remains, sending fumes, smoke and light through their entry points. The whole of the ground floor breaks apart and falls into the chaos below. The fountains topple, the streams divert. Glass and white infrastructure bend and start to cave in. The roof rains shards on the two, covering their armor with tranquil ripples.
Flying upwards, Samuel, Daniel, leave through the hole in the pyramid’s summit, and watch as the sinkhole they created consumes Macrotech in a gaping maw of dirt and pipe.
“Got enough energy left in you to shower the place?”
“Yea. One sec, gotta cool down.”
“Understood. I’ll put up as much of a barrier around this place as I can.”
Saying that, Samuel finally noticing the sirens and lights. Flashing red and blue, black vans, barricades. He can’t tell from his position if the vans are NSA or what, but, by this point, it doesn’t matter. His eyes close, and he imagines four large walls of his own making surrounding the broken architecture. Eyes open, he sees those walls reaching high towards them, panes of golden aura.
Seeing the defenses up, Daniel tilts forward, parallel to the earth, a gray portal opens before him. He puts his hands behind it, eyes aglow with the same smoky tone.
“Shower-head” is what he called it the first time Samuel saw this attack. Hundreds of baseball-sized explosive charges spill from the portal, pouring out like summer rain into the sinkhole. The surrounding shield-walls light up with constant shrapnel; Samuel struggles to contain the hundred-fold explosions.
They turn away from the brightness of the flash bombs. Below, police and NSA agents run away from the building or duck behind cars.
When it’s over, the portal shuts and both angelic forms drift with the wind. Macrotech Headquarters is no more. Debris is piled up where the energy walls contained the carnage. Samuel wipes his forehead of sweat and again looks at the crowding emergency responders, jaw agape from exhaustion, wondering when, how, attempting to contain disaster became a matter of routine chaos. At some point, their ends justified their means, and that moment has become lost in the frequency of being left no better option.
“So,” Daniel pointedly says, disrupting Samuel’s thoughts.
Samuel perks an eyebrow. “So.. now what? Is that what you mean?”
“I guess. Not that I care. I go back to finish my reading. You go do what you want. Nothing’s left of that place, so now it’s all up to the Agency to clean up the dust and explain it however they will.” Daniel pauses and rolls his eyes towards the stars above. “I wish we had more time to respond, do some research, see if he came from one of us, or all three of us.. whatever the hell we are.”
“I.. I really don’t know anymore. Too many possibilities, I guess. Taking a literal translation of the stories, we’re alien descendants. Or we could be the resurrected forms of old guardians who were the alien descendents? Or just Earth-born supernaturals. Or angels? Sure would be a hard sell after all this, after Michael.” Samuel’s brow quirks in amusement at that.
“Enh.. I don’t know about angels. That just wouldn’t be right. And know what? The idea of aliens still bothers me. I don’t know what to think about it.”
“Neither do I man. We’ve been at this for about twenty years now, right? Why start worrying now? I mean, if it weren’t for humans this time, we would still be setting a new record for time without an incursion.”
“I suppose.” Daniel shuts his eyes. He takes a deep breath, then returns his attention to Samuel. “Anyway, it’s too hot out here. I’m headed back home. Stop by sometime, Sam. That Florida humidity can’t be doing you any good.”
“Heh, well, I’ll think about it. I’ll definitely drop you a line somehow, before I do.”
“A’ight. Well, later.”
A portal opens and Daniel glides through it, wing tips grabbing the celestial gate’s edges and effectively shutting it with a pull. Returning to Alaska, Samuel assumed. Alone in the humid gusts of the summer night, the First takes a deep breath and sighs. His powers feel more drained than they had since his learning days. He ignores the sirens and voices below. Bonnefeld and the Colonel can hear all the details later. For now, Samuel intends on returning home.
When the portal reopens, he’s home, standing in front of the couch again. He can see the trails of light from the kitchen around the corner, some rustling.
“Dad? You there?”
“Yea honey, I’m here, I’m back.”
Alyssia comes around the corner, white Hanes undershirt and Tigger pajamas on.
“What happened? You don’t, wait, what’s with the Kevlar vest and everything else you got on?”
“Nevermind these..”, said as he rolls into the length of the couch.
“I found this little rhyme in your notes while you were gone.” She holds a torn piece of notebook paper in her hand.
He throws his arms over his face, shaking his head, asking only to amuse her, “It’s been years, hon. What’s it say?”
She sits down next to him, on the edge of the cushion and recites in a hushed voice.
“’When Lilims fly,
the Angels cry,
their halfling cousins,
destined to die.’”