Dark Day, Bright Hour – Snippet 13
We continued walking in awkward silence for a bit, each sunk in our own particular brand of misery. The atmosphere did nothing to lighten our spirits. Ambient red light shrouded Hell in oppressive shadows, and the screams of the damned were nothing to happily march by, not to mention the demonic laughter.
A miasma of rot hung over everything; I could taste it on the back of my tongue. Uneven sidewalks caused us to stumble if we didn’t closely watch our steps, and the wildlife was nothing to write Home about. An occasional bolt of lightning cracked against the top of the buildings. I wasn’t sure they’d done that when we started, and it worried me.
Most of the demons gave us a wide berth and no grief. Freddi’s reputation preceded us, for which I was grateful. The less I needed to fight down here, the better off I was.
But there was always one jerk. Or a group, hoping to gain prestige and station by winning a fight others deemed too risky. Eight of them descended upon us, roaring, blades swinging. Derek leapt aloft with his scimitar to the fore.
His back was unprotected.
My own sword appeared in my hand, already alight with divine fire. Pinions pumping, I put myself between Derek and a broadsword that would have removed his wings at their roots, my blade clanging against the demon’s like a discordant bell.
Anthony’s pistol boomed, and a demon above me fell shrieking to the ground. That was all I had time to note before I was beset by a pair acting in concert. One worked high, the other low, and I couldn’t counter one without leaving myself vulnerable to the other. A broadsword sliced through the meat of my wing near the center, ripping downward and scattering feathers.
I faltered in the air, managing to counter a swipe that tried to take my arm off–and utterly failing to dodge a stab that took me all the way through my midsection.
The air rushed out of my lungs as fiery pain radiated from the wound. Freddi shouted my name, but I only heard it dimly as roaring filled my ears.
The demon yanked his sword free, cackling at the bright gout of blood and light that followed. “You’re on our ground now, Tweety.” Two-handed, he readied himself for a death-blow targeted at my throat. “Batter up!”
His head exploded. An instant later, the rest of him did too. A shot of Grace infused me with new strength, and I glanced down to see Anthony’s gun smoking and Freddi aiming glowing hands in my direction.
Well, then. They were all right.
I countered another strike. A cry of pain made me jerk my head up. Black blood spattered through the air from the battle above me, and I couldn’t tell whose was whose. Derek’s clothing was stained with it, and his left arm hung limp at his side.
Only four of our foes remained. A pair engaged Derek. One pursued me. The last fired alternating bolts of dark power at Anthony and Freddi.
Two impulses warred within me. Protect my Charge, or help my brother. I hesitated for a heartbeat…
And flew to Derek’s defense.
The demon facing me didn’t expect that, and he was caught flat-footed when I turned upward and removed his head from his shoulders in the same motion. Hard charging, I impacted a demon bodily just before he swung at Derek. It threw off his aim and got his attention, which probably wasn’t a good thing, because he was twice my size and three times as mean.
His sword met mine in a shower of sparks. I backwinged away from Derek, drawing the demon with me. Pretending a lack of skill, with desperation writ on my face.
He grinned, thinking he had me. I blipped out of existence and reappeared behind him, spearing my sword forward even before I materialized. It slammed home between his wings, and he dissolved with a surprised sound.
I made a surprised sound of my own when Freddi appeared in midair with her hands wrapped around the throat of the last demon standing. He vanished with a pained train-whistle shriek. Anthony had apparently taken out the other demon with that gun, though I’d been too busy with my own worries to see what he was up to.
I wrapped Freddi in my wings and floated us to the ground, though once I found myself on solid earth I collapsed a bit more inelegantly than I meant to. Derek alighted beside me with a groan.
“We need to get to a safe house,” he said. “Before anyone else decides we’re easy meat in this state.”
“Is there any such thing as safe, here?” Freddi said, glaring about.
“Might be, if you would all deign to grab onto me. Or each other. As the case may be.”
I gripped his shoulder, while Freddi, with a frown, gripped mine. Anthony snatched at Derek’s free hand, and Derek swept his wings forward. I helped as best I could, but it wasn’t much. Derek had time to shout, “Not on the carpet!” before we found ourselves in a different apartment than before.
Anthony, fortunately, came into being right beside a trash can. He proceeded to be copiously sick into it. Freddi was unaffected by the demonic move and stroked his back with her free hand. I braced myself on my knees and one palm, letting my sword disappear.
Derek flumped into an armchair. “Well. That was certainly a thing you all did there. Good aim, Anthony.”
Anthony wiped his mouth off on his sleeve and made his way to a reclining sofa. “Used to be my trade, right? The gun shoots what I point it at.”
“What the hell were you thinking, Zeevi?” Derek demanded. “You have one job here, and it’s not saving my sorry ass.” He conjured an amber liquid in a pilsner glass from somewhere and took several long swallows.
“I failed you once.” I wouldn’t look at him, or Freddi. “More than once. I’ll not do it again.”
“Oh, for–” He put the glass down and thumped his chest. “Demon here. They’re not after me except inasmuch as I’m with you. Once all this is over, I’m back to doing what I do.”
“It’s not over yet, is it?” Freddi said. She hadn’t let go of me, and her Grace infused me with strength. “So they are after you.”
“And then there’s you,” Derek said, picking up his glass again and pointing at her with that hand. The left arm still hung limp. “Since when can you move around like that?”
“You said yourself that human physics don’t obtain here,” she answered, raising her chin. “No reason I shouldn’t be able to, right?”
“That’s the kind of creative thinking that might get us to the river in one piece.” Derek lifted his glass in a toast.
“Which of the Seven did they belong to?” Anthony said. He’d found a decanter of something and poured a drink. “Because I think I’ve sort of figured out how things work down here.”
“Beelzebub’s still not awfully happy with us. Four of them were his,” Derek said. “The other four…” He frowned and looked over at me. “Belial’s?”
“We haven’t even talked to him yet,” I said. “But it seems right. They were pretty arrogant. Maybe he’s testing us.”
“Pride,” Derek clarified for the humans.
“The reason Lucifer fell in the first place, right?” Anthony said. “He thought he was better than God.”
“I’m under no illusions for myself, of course,” Derek said, “but most of them fell because they were deluded fools following a grandiose line of bullshit they refuse to give up on. Not because they were…” He flexed the fingers on his left arm, which seemed to be healing. “Weak.” The rest of his drink disappeared down his throat.
I straightened, frowning. “I don’t know what else you could have done, brother.”
“Died, probably.” His glass refilled itself. “It was a test. I failed. Game over. Such is life.”
“Didn’t they make it clear that your death wasn’t on the table, though?” Anthony said. “I’m not sure it was a fair test.”
Derek shrugged, and winced. “Daddy says He won’t test us beyond our endurance. Demons aren’t quite so scrupulous. I’ve come to terms with it.”