Dark Day, Bright Hour – Snippet 09
Considering the fact that the Word has not a single complimentary thing to say about wolves, I’d often wondered why Father had Named me such. I even asked Him once. He’d smiled enigmatically and said, “You will know in the fullness of time, Zeeviel. But consider well the issues of love and loyalty, and take them to heart.” I decided He knew better than I how I should be called, and He who created the lamb also created the wolf. So I let be, and didn’t allow it to bother me overmuch.
Except when my erstwhile Fallen brothers were being absolute brats. Or, anyway, one brother in particular. Derek walked backward down the sidewalk, blatantly not looking where he was going, while the rest of us scanned the surrounding area for the dangers which seemed bent on besetting us from every side.
“What are you doing?” I finally asked Derek, allowing no small amount of exasperation to tinge my voice.
“Watching your back, big brother,” he said, with a nasty grin.
I crashed to a dead stop. “That is water under a bridge burned long ago. But if you’d like to hash it out again, then by all means.”
“At least then your pet humans will stop wondering what happened.” His smile was sharp, toothy, and infuriating. “They will know the depths of your failure and realize what a ruinous idea it is to count on you for, well, anything.”
Freddi’s worried gaze drifted back and forth between us. “What did happen? Clearly this is more than just angel and demon animosity. It’s personal.”
Derek gestured magnanimously. “Go ahead and let her hear it from you, Zeevi. I’m sure it will be instructional for us all.”
My wings slumped. “You know the story of Lucifer’s Fall, I’m assuming. Battles broke out. Vicious ones, brother against brother. Sometimes Father’s side was outnumbered. Sometimes Lucifer’s. Depending on who caught who and where.” I took a breath I didn’t need as a pang pierced my heart, sorrow for what we’d all lost during that war. “Derek was known as Hasadiel, back then.”
Derek’s brow lowered. “That name is as dead as the angel I once was. I’d prefer not to hear it again.”
“As you wish.” I kept my sigh inward. “He and I walked into an ambush. Ten of them. Two of us.” I still bore the scars from that encounter, both in and out. “We sent three back to the Lake, but paid a heavy price. I collapsed. Derek stood above me.” I stole a glance at him. “Bleeding wings spread wide. Sword shining. He was magnificent.”
“It didn’t help me, though.” I held Derek blameless for the bitterness in his voice. My own failure was the cause of it, after all. When I didn’t continue, he took up the narrative. “I managed to send one more howling back to the Lake, but the others descended en masse. They were strong, and I was wounded, and they brought me–” He stopped, scowled, and made a rude gesture at our surroundings. “Here. And no one came after me. No one.”
“I make no excuses for my part in that fiasco,” I said. “I only reiterate that I am sorry for it.”
“Well, your sorrow changes nothing, does it,” Derek snapped. “Everyone has a breaking point. I hit mine before Father saw fit to send anybody. So here we–“
I felt it before I saw it, a cloak of dark power heading straight at his back. My wings launched me into the air without conscious thought, my sword already in my hand. It swept a scimitar aside, and my follow-through disarmed the demon who’d attacked Derek without warning. Aziguth, the demon Anthony had smited first. Because of course.
My sword tip pointed at Aziguth’s throat. “Do not.”
“My, how… protective.” Hellions had elevated toothy grins to an art, and this one was no exception.
“You have no idea.” I’d failed Derek once. Probably more than that. I would not do it again.
“Your care for him makes you vulnerable. And all of Hell is now on the outlook for the four of you.”
My chin lifted. “They will not find us asleep.”
“So you say.” The scimitar appeared back in his hand, which was already in motion. Before I could react, it skewered me through the middle and pinned me to a wall, two stories above the ground. Aziguth held me there, grin widening as blood ran down the blade. He had deliberately missed the nucleus of Grace at my heart, no doubt planning to toy with me.
But my own blade was not idle. In immense agony, I thrust forward through the throat directly in front of me. Aziguth had time to look surprised before he dissolved in black tar, taking the sword with him.
I slid down the wall to a sitting position on the sidewalk, letting my wings fade out. “Ow.”
Derek blinked. His lips tightened, and he crossed his arms. “Well. That was foolish, big brother.”
I huffed. “I will not see you hurt where I can prevent it.”
Freddi knelt beside me and put a hand against the wound. “Oh, Zeeviel.”
“Your Grace soothes me, even here.” I closed my eyes and laid my head back against the cracked brickwork. “This place is wearisome, Derek. How do you stand it?”
“Why do you think I spend most of my time on Earth, roaming crossroads? Hell’s not meant to be restful, even for demons.” He paused. “Maybe especially for demons. After all, it was created as a punishment for us first.”
I winced at the reminder and hauled myself to my feet. “The sooner we reach the river, the sooner we can escape, I suppose.”
It was Anthony’s turn to wince. He wouldn’t be escaping. But his chin came up, and he nodded. “This is no place for people like you and Freddi.”
“And yet, here they are. Why is that, do you think?” The new voice was wholly unwelcome and accompanied by a wholly-unpleasant skunk-musk odor.
I groaned with impatience. “Mephistopheles. What do you want now.” It wasn’t really a question.
“Things should be more unsettled than they are, so I wandered by to see what sort of progress you’re making with my rebellion.” He crossed his arms and took a stance, one cloven hoof forward, black and white goatee bristling. “Precious little, it seems.”
Freddi crossed her arms right back. “We don’t work for you. Beelzebub says ‘no thanks,’ by the way.”
His lip curled, baring a long fang. “I can make things more difficult for you than they already are, if I don’t start seeing results.”
My wings unfurled from my back. “And we can whistle up Lucifer and tell him that his right-hand demon is angling for his job.” The feathers bristled. “Your decision, really. But I don’t think that would go well for you.”
“Why, little brother, I had no idea you could play hardball this well. Very well, you’ve got me at check for now.” He fixed Freddi with a nasty leer. “But best see that you don’t out-maneuver yourself and lose your queen.”
Which is when she stepped forward and punched him full in the face with no warning or ceremony whatsoever. The odor of burning flesh smote the air, and Meph stumbled backward, howling and holding his broken nose. Great gouts of black blood poured from under his hand. He landed on his rear and stared up at her in mingled surprise and outrage.
She stood over him, fist still clenched. “And you’d best watch yourself. I’m a queen, not your pawn, and definitely not a damsel in distress, mister.” She pointed at him. “And don’t you forget it.”
“Freddi,” I said mildly. This wasn’t the first time I’d had to remind her to keep her temper on a leash. In this place, I was sure it wouldn’t be the last.
She leaned down into the demon’s face. “I do not like being threatened. You probably shouldn’t make a habit of it.” She’d taken on a distinct glow.
Meph scrambled away from her. “Fine,” he said nasally through the hand still covering his face. “Just remember that the weaker Lucifer is when it all goes down at the end, the better off everyone will be. Including the feathered twit trying to talk you into reason. Assuming he survives this jaunt to the river.”