Book 2- There But For The Grace
Tabbris, the Angel of Free Will, is in Hell…
Worse, the keys to the gates of Heaven and Hell have gone with him. Now, the hounds of Hell are close on his heels as he fights a desperate battle to keep the keys out of infernal hands, while trying to reach Earth once again. At least he prevented Adelaide from being dragged down with him.
Meanwhile, Adelaide is still possessed by the Angel of Visions, and Iaoel seems to be planning to stay, regardless of what Addy wants. Now she’s in search of a rogue angel to find a way into the underworld to rescue Tabbris…
Before all Hell breaks loose…
“This is it?” I asked and huffed out a dubious sigh.
“It’s a prison. It ain’t the Ritz, Baby.”
I glanced over at Uriel and narrowed my eyes, “When Gabriel does it, it’s funny, and almost cute. When you do it, you look like a jock strap.”
His eyebrows disappeared into his fiery ginger hairline, and his lips spread into a giant smile as he struggled not to laugh.
“Uriel,” Raphael’s lyrical voice came from behind the both of us, “Michael has asked us not to encourage her crude behavior.”
“You always do what Daddy tells you to do, Raphael?” I asked, turning.
Raphael gave me a smile that was beatific in nature, as serene and unblemished as the silver glass of a lake on a calm day. One of the most peaceful things I had ever seen. I blinked when he answered me, “Yes, Child… but do remember, Michael is not our father.” He pointed one elegant, long finger skyward. “He is, and always will be.”
I rolled my eyes heavenward. “Yeah, sorry. You guys really don’t get us at all though, do you?”
Uriel shrugged. “We try.” He side-eyed Raphael. “Some of us harder than others.”
“Right.” I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, returning to the problem at hand, “How am I supposed to break into a prison?”
We stood alongside the road leading up to the prison gates, a long, lonely stretch of cracked blacktop, the center lines so faded they were barely there. Two lanes, one in, one out, nothing but scorched and waving unkempt grass, no more than knee height for almost as far as the eye could see. Even if a man managed to escape, he’d be easy pickings out in that grass. It was a sad, lonely, and desolate place to spend your last days. I wondered how on Earth Haziel had become an inmate here. How the fuck I was going to get in? Did they even allow death row inmates visitors? I mean, random ones…
“There,” Uriel said, and I followed his pointing finger. An old Mercedes, something out of the 1980s, was stopped behind what looked like the last in a series of chain link gates topped with razor wire, as it trundled aside. The Mercedes waited until the gate was all the way open, pulled through, shifted gears and headed up the road in our direction.
Uriel and Raphael stood with me on the side of the two lane highway. They had assured me we were quite invisible to the humans inside the prison. They said that was one of Raphael’s stronger gifts: to obfuscate. Being a healer, obfuscation during the heat of battle was kind of a necessity. I’d asked him why he hadn’t done a better job in the battle beneath Chernobyl and he’d smiled a little sadly and had told me that with the state of things as they were, he’d had little to no energy to expend on obfuscation, that he had, instead, relied on Uriel to defend him and the rest of the healers. It’d made me a little ill to think of the implications in that. I’d voiced my theory anyways…
“Were we really that outnumbered?”
“My dear child,” he’d said, “We are fortunate that none of the Archen fell during such a fight. Our Father, was with us, so it seems.”
I looked from Uriel to Raphael and back to the Mercedes coming our direction. The Archangels both looked expectant, and I sighed inwardly. Not for the first time, I wished that Gabriel were here instead of these two. Mostly because Gabriel was at least familiar, and we kind of got each other. I looked from Uriel to Raphael one more time and followed their eyes to the oncoming Mercedes. The car pulled up, and I looked at the driver, a priest: black shirt, white collar and all. He turned his head and looked right at us curiously, before pulling past and driving on. I blinked stupidly. Damn it!
“I thought we were invisible to anything human,” I said with a sinking feeling.
“We are.” Raphael’s serene smile stretched, and I really wanted to smack it off his face.
“Then was that..?” I pointed after the Mercedes.
“It was.” Uriel’s smirk was even more infuriating.
I ground my teeth and watched the taillights fade into the gathering twilight before turning on the two Archangels.
“Now what do I do?” I asked, and it sounded petulant even to me.
“Well, I guess you wait for him to come back,” Uriel said with a wink, and then they both winked—right out of existence.
“Oh you happy bastards!” I cried, then wondered if I were suddenly visible to the guards that were mere dots in the towers to either side of the distant gate. I had to assume I wasn’t, and that I was still hidden from sight or invisible or whatever when no one came out to investigate When the shift change came? Well, the cars that passed me by, not a single one of the occupants turned to look at me, so that confirmed my hypothesis.
“You guys are such assholes,” I muttered under my breath to myself. I wondered briefly to myself: if you prayed to someone and cursed them the fuck out in your prayers, would they hear it? I unshouldered my pack, dropping to sit cross-legged on the edge of the road and prayed to who mattered.
I smelled brimstone and tasted blood. Mine, theirs—mostly theirs. Looking around, I estimated two dozen bodies this time. Unfortunately, I didn’t recognize any of them. The first group’s reinforcements hadn’t arrived in time. I discarded the broken Hell-forged sword in my off-hand and picked up a replacement, testing its weight, discarding it, then finding another whose balance I liked better. It would work until I found something more suited for defense—for all sorts of reasons, the more military rank and file of the forces of Hell never had any problem getting more things to shed blood with, but their superiors rarely cared as much about their survivability.
Replacing the weapon was all the time I had. The baying of the hellhound packs was a constant now that they’d had time to organize the hunt. Sneaking past some of the sentries had worked for a while, but once they had the hounds out and leashed—as controlled as the packs ever got—the only option was often violence. I was better at violence anyway, but it left a trail. I also had new wounds that needed tending. None were severe, thankfully, but enough small injuries would add up, and it just made tracking me easier.
I still couldn’t fly, thanks to Lucifer’s binding, but gliding for some distance I could do. As often as I found open spaces, I relied on that to try to leave fewer bloody footprints and less of a scent trail. Imperfect, but it would have to do. The echoing of the noise through the caverns made it impossible to accurately determine how far behind me other groups of Fallen, Demons, and hounds were, so I had to perpetually assume they were on my heels.
“I’m not giving up, Tab.”
The prayer came through clear as day. There was more, but the rest was less clear. Hell had a way of taunting me, along with everyone else, dangling hope, and trying to pull it away. It was Addy’s voice, and the first prayer in what felt like weeks. In all likelihood, for her, it had been, what? Days, perhaps. Hours, maybe. It was hard to tell. Hell’s time was diluted, so those days would come across as weeks here. I’d long since lost all track of days and nights, so I just knew it had been a long, slow fight for progress, and every chance to rest I’d had, hidden away, I’d needed.
And now that they’d organized, I’d have less of those. The packs and hunters were out in force, from who-knew-how-many different factions, even if all nominally under Lucifer’s influence. Thankfully, they weren’t necessarily coordinating with each other. It was one of the few advantages I had: Lucifer, Samyaza, and nearly everyone else among Hell’s hierarchy would be out for their own agendas, and some of those might even be at cross-purposes. Being the one to bring me in would be valuable to multiple someones, so it was to plenty of hunters’ benefits to be that one, and, just as often, by the nature of the inhabitants of these places, to make sure that others weren’t that one.
The prayer echoed in my mind again. She was still out there, still thinking of me, and wasn’t giving up that a way out would be found. Even if it was only days for her, it was hope—which was exactly what I needed to sustain me.
Text Copyright © 2016 Jeffrey Cook & A.J. Downey
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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