None of the previous nephalim had fought Finsternis on killing the Horsemen. Lucia was unique in that. If she had not been so, they would have guaranteed the End of Days the moment they killed Zachary Grant. Finsternis could hardly breathe thinking of what would have happened had Lucia not restrained him.
Why had she?
Rejected and abused by humans her entire life for reasons she could not have understood, why did Lucia care what happened to one human? One human fated to kill billions, no less.
And why did she have pointed ears?
Lucia was right. Lucifer did not have pointed ears. No archangel nor any angel did. Neither did any demon- any living demon.
Finsternis had never seen an archdemon. No demon alive had, not even those on the Counsel, finally long-lived enough to show some age. Every demon had, however, seen the statues erected in honor of the archdemons and their sacrifice. Those statues had pointed ears.
Finsternis shook his head. The Bloodlines of the Archdemons was an old story. A story likely dreamed up by the Morningstar himself. Finsternis would not put it past Lucifer to give his daughter pointed ears solely for the purpose of causing Finsternis to doubt the honor of the archdemons. Finsternis and Lucifer had that kind of history.
“Hey! We’re there!” Lucia pointed at Famine’s car, pulling into a driveway. Finsternis whipped the car into the driveway in a tire screeching turn, parking next to Famine’s car.
“Nice house,” said Lucia as she got out of the car.
“Thanks,” replied Famine.
Finsternis had no idea what made a house nice or not. Demons lived in sprawling castles grown from the living substance of Hell. They were dark and shadow-filled and changed shape as they wished, such that no two trips through a Keep were ever quite the same. Famine’s house was . . . symmetrical.
Finsternis studied the sky as they approached the front door. He did not like this pairing of Hell’s champion and a Horseman. To Finsternis’ eye, Famine’s aura, the brackish yellow of rotting things, had a scarlet and gold tinge at the edges. Finsternis had no idea why Lucia’s aura was overtaking Famine’s, or what was happening to Lucia’s aura. If he could see the peculiar interaction between Famine and Lucia, could the angels sense it, and if so, from how far away? Finsternis did not like it.
He did not like any of this. How could he win a game if he did not know what game he was playing? Could he count on Lucia instinctively knowing every winning move? Whose game was it, anyway?
Finsternis shook his head. Speculation was useless, he needed to focus on the task at hand.
They were greeted just inside the door by a plump older woman, her pleasant face a mix of confusion and fear. Her aura was all calm blues and soothing greens overlaid with the greenish grey of chronic illness. Famine was right to be concerned about her.
Famine put up a hand to forestall his wife’s question. “I’ll explain later, Sherry, go pack a bag for each of us. When I’m done here, we’re picking up Matt at school and taking a trip.”
She gaped at him. “But, but why? School’s not out for three more weeks, and the tomatoes need planting . . . where are we going?”
Famine looked at Lucia. She shrugged. “I’d suggest somewhere with a lax interpretation of ‘extradition’”, she said.
“Extradition?” Sherry put a hand to her chest, her face a study in fear. Famine looked ready to sick up.
Lucia caught Finsternis’ eye and winked. She moved to Sherry, put a hand on her arm and said, “Ma’am, this is Special Agent Dereck Finsternis,” she gestured at Finsternis, “and I am Lucia Stanton. We are from an agency-“
“An agency?” interrupted Sherry.
“A government agency,” said Lucia in an officious but kindly tone. The change in Lucia was remarkable. Her accent had changed from Southern to the crisp accentless tones of a news anchor. Her posture, facial expressions and body language had all changed to match. She was a government agent, she had answers, she knew what to do. Famine’s wife was already under her spell.
“Agent Finsternis, please assist Fa- Dr. Grant. We do need to be on our way soon,” said Lucia.
“Of course, Agent Stanton. Come along, Dr. Grant. You have a job to do. For an agency.” He winked and Lucia stifled a laugh.
As Lucia wove a tale that had Famine as the hero, uncovering terrorists at Santalmo, Finsternis told Famine, “Get to work, Horseman. We need to be gone before the agents of Heaven get here. Billions dying, spitting your name with their last breath is Heaven’s plan. They will not abandon it if they can help it.” He pulled his lips back, displaying every fang.
“Uh, yes, sure.” Famine walked to a desk in the adjoining room, sat down, placed his finger on a small square device next to the keyboard. “See, no agent of anything could get in.” He began to work frantically, chewing at his lip.
Finsternis did not bother to tell him that angels and demons both were proof against biometric security devices. Machines were as easy to fool as the humans who built them.
Famine worked quietly, the only sound the clicking of the keys under his fingers. Lucia’s ramblings, filtering from the second floor of the house, were louder. The windows were open, letting in the sounds of birds and lawnmowers and passing cars. To a human, this would probably be pleasant, comforting even, but Finsternis was getting more and more tense with each passing second. Part of it was simply being on Earth, in the company of Famine, rather than at home in Hell with other demons, but something else-
“Finsternis!” Something thumped at the bottom of the stairs.
Famine looked up.
“Keep working!” Finsternis ran to the stairs as Lucia came thundering down them, a suitcase in either hand, Sherry right behind her, clutching at her chest. A third suitcase already sat at the bottom of the stairs, right where Lucia had thrown it. Finsternis opened his mouth to ask Lucia what she was doing when he felt it.
Terror and pain gripped him, squeezed his heart, filled his lungs, beat at his mind. Angels. Four, maybe five. Lucia squealed as something heavy crashed into the roof, through the roof. Famine and his wife looked up, wide eyed and shaking, afraid but not enough.
Finsternis looked at Famine. He was Famine no more. His aura was all warm browns and greens, not a trace of brackish yellow left. He had finished his task and he was a Horseman no longer. Good.
Finsternis grabbed Dr. Grant by the arm, pulled him close. “Take your wife and get out of here. Do not take the bags, do not look back, no matter what happens. Get to an airport and take the first plane out.”
“Uh, okay.” More crashing from the attic drew his eyes up.
“Now!” Finsternis put command in his voice. He could not persuade as nephalim could, but he had led armies of demons before this man’s ancestors had ever colonized the continent.
“Sherry, let’s go.” Dr. Grant reached out to his wife. “Now, honey, we need to go now.”
She looked at him as if she had no idea who he was or what he was saying. The attic went ominously silent.
Lucia put her hand on the woman’s shoulder and said, “Go with your husband, Sherry. Right fucking now. Goodbye, Sherry, Dr. Grant.” Sherry’s aura went equally scarlet and gold for a moment reflecting Lucia’s persuasion. That was a good deal more gold than had been in Lucia’s aura just a few hours ago.
“Wait, what about you?” asked Dr. Grant.
“I was planning on giving you cover to escape, but if you don’t leave, that’s not going to work!” replied Lucia.
The humans left, running out the front door as fast as they could. Finsternis and Lucia watched the stairwell. Finsternis had no intentions of helping Dr. Grant escape. It was of little concern to Finsternis whether the former Horseman lived or died. Finsternis was simply picking the most advantageous place for him to fight: inside where the angels’ swords would be hampered, where there were shadows, where he could put himself between Lucia and a wall. Outside, in the sunshine, with nothing between the ground and the sky, would be disastrous for them both.
“What’s up there?” whispered Lucia. Her accent had reverted to Southern.
“Angels. Four, maybe five. No archangel.”
“Oh, good.” Finsternis idly considered attempting to teach her demonspeak. In demonspeak, there was a word for things that were good only in comparison to the worst possible outcome, it perfectly described their situation. Unfortunately, demonspeak required the ability to produce a minimum of five tones at once, something nephalim vocal chords were not capable of.
The first angel burst through the ceiling over the landing at the top of the stairwell to land lightly on his feet. Like every angel Finsternis had ever seen, he was tall, broad shouldered, slim hipped, and well muscled with pale gold skin, pale gold hair cropped short and pure white eyes. His tunic and loose trousers were an unblemished white, a perfect contrast to his rough leather sandals and belt.
“Wow,” said Lucia. Finsternis was annoyed at her for being impressed until she continued. “You’d think they would’ve updated their look at some point in the last two thousand years.”
Finsternis laughed and when the angel cocked his head in confusion, he let it turn into a howl of challenge. The angel moved forward, down one stair, then the next, with the silent, deliberate movements of a tiger stalking prey. Another angel, a perfect twin of the first, dropped onto the landing.
“Um, Finsternis?” Lucia moved behind him, pressed her forehead against the middle of his back for a moment.
“Shouldn’t we have weapons?”
Finsternis pulled Hell’s Inferno into himself, felt his muscles loosen as the pain of being so close to angels receded into the glory of the Eternal Flame. He held the Inferno, let it roar through his veins and up inside his skull, let it burn away every thought and feeling, then sent it back out into his hands, brilliant violet flames casting unnatural shadows about the room.
“I have all the weapons I need right here,” Finsternis finally replied, his voice echoing in a way natural in Hell and impossible on Earth.
“What about me?” asked Lucia.
“What about me?” mocked the first angel in the clarion tones of all angels. He flicked his wrist, drawing a greatsword of pure, white light.
“Oh, fuck you,” said Lucia.
“I am not fallen,” sneered the first angel and took another step in perfect unison with the angel behind him.
Finsternis realized that there were at least two more angels not coming down from the ceiling above the landing. In one movement, he snuffed the flames of one hand, used it to grab Lucia and throw her behind him while sending a torrent of violet fire at the angels on the stairs.
The first angel screamed, a beautiful sound really, as flames tore at his golden flesh, melted his perfect face. He dropped, rolled down the stairs, screaming and burning, his greatsword gone. The second angel ducked up the staircase out of the way of the flames. He made no move to help his brother.
Lucia landed in the fireplace of Dr. Grant’s office with a muffled curse. Finsternis pulled in every shadow from the foyer, staircase and office, leaving corners and spaces under furniture impossibly bright and took a step back. He wrapped himself in darkness and took another step back. Flames poured out of both of his hands, holding the second angel at bay. The first angel had stopped screaming, lay gasping and twitching at the bottom of the stairs. Finsternis took another step back.
Two more steps to Lucia and the remaining two angels burst through the ceiling, landing between himself and her. She froze, wide-eyed. Finsternis sent flames at them, but these angels were more experienced then the first two angels, or better trained. They pulled out wings before swords, the feathers of pure white light providing them protection against the Eternal Flame.
Where were the demons? Groups of demons on Earth created a resonance angels could feel. Two in the same place for any period of time could be sensed by an archangel. Otherwise, Finsternis would have had a full legion escorting Lucia on her quest. But that was demons together. There should have been demons carefully spaced all around the area ready to respond to any draw on the Inferno. Where were they?
One angel swung his sword at Finsternis in a slow, graceful arc while the other swung at Lucia, frozen in terror on the floor. Finsternis abandoned flames to draw shadows from further into the house, bound them tightly around himself and wondered why the angel was trying to kill Lucia with a sword made of Heaven’s Light when simply stomping her with one thick sandal would do the job. Nephalim were practically immune to the forces of Heaven and Hell, a fact proven by the greatsword passing through her harmlessly to lodge in the floor.
The other sword hit Finsternis’ shadows, showering purple and white sparks with a sound like an enormous cracked gong being hit with a lead hammer. Finsternis staggered backwards as did the angel, graceful even in that.
The sound seemed to free Lucia from her fear. She gasped, shook her head and scrabbled to her feet. Swaying, she ran to the huge picture window dominating the far wall. The angel closest to her abandoned his sword and grinned, displaying straight, white teeth.
Lucia reached the window and Finsternis, fearing she meant to escape into the sunshine yelled, “No, don’t-“ stopping when she grabbed the thick blue curtains and pulled them shut, plunging the room into shadow. She turned to Finsternis, smiling triumphantly and barely avoided an angel’s fist to the head, her sudden twist out of the way sending her to the floor again. This time, the angel did the sensible thing and raised his foot over her head.
“NO!” Finsternis roared, the sound of a demon in full rage rattling the floorboards and sending pictures and knickknacks crashing to the floor while Lucia crawled out of the way. He leapt onto the angel and dug his fingers into pale gold flesh, sending indigo fire into the angel’s veins before they even hit the floor. The angel’s shriek of agony as Hell’s Inferno invaded his body was quite lovely indeed.
Two angels out of the way, but Finsternis had put too much power and rage into killing the second and had lost his protective shadows. He caught movement out of the corner of his eye and looked up to see a sword of light raised over him. Finsternis rolled out of the way, too slow, too slow—
Lucia moved into view, swinging a fireplace poker like a baseball bat. She stepped into the swing, putting all 100 pounds of her behind the blow. The black metal bar hit the angel square across his wings, exploding the Light, sending Lucia into the far wall and causing the angel’s sword to wink out of existence just before it hit Finsternis, who sent a great gout of hissing violet fire into the now defenseless angel. He had no time to scream before he fell to the floor, smoldering.
“Well done, Little Light,” said Finsternis. He was impressed. Iron was the only possible weapon she had against an angel, though he had no idea how she knew that.
Lucia extricated herself from the wall and sat down heavily next to the smoldering corpse, looked at it with horrified fascination. “I always wondered why iron chariots would be a problem for God, then I realized it must have been angels.” She shrugged.
A curious faint honking noise drew Finsternis’ attention back to the stairs. There stood the last angel, brilliant white wings wrapped around him, holding a shofar up to his lips, attempting to sound the note that would summon an archangel.
A think line of verdant fire tore between Finsternis and the angel, knocking the shofar from the angel’s hands. It clattered on the hardwood as the angel stared at it, too surprised to move. Clearly, the angel was under the impression that the shofar itself contained the power of Heaven, rather than simply being a focus device for an angel’s natural abilities.
“Niran, good to see you. Finally,” said Finsternis acerbically.
“You seem to have everything in hand.” Niran pushed tangled green hair out of green eyes now surrounded by bruises. His already broad nose was flattened and the skin of his hands and arms was scorched. His shirt was in tatters and a tear in his pants displayed a gash on his left thigh still oozing brilliant red blood that smelled of sulfur.
The angel rounded on them with a snarl. Finsternis casually flicked a fireball at the angel, taking off his face before he could open his mouth.
“That explains much,” said Finsternis, nudging the shofar with the toe of his boot.
“Oh?” Niran edged away from it as a human would from a venomous snake.
“Yes, they were ill-prepared, untrained, stupid, in fact,” said Finsternis. “These were new angels. They were doubtless ordered to summon an archangel if they happened upon us, not to engage us.”
Niran chuckled. “They decided to earn their first glory against a purple? How foolish.”
Finsternis started to ask Niran what had kept the demons away and why he looked like he had attempted to cuddle a razor wolf when he noticed that Lucia had not moved. He walked over to her, knelt down and tried to catch her eye. She did not seem to notice him. Her eyes were heavy lidded, her face was even paler than usual and her expression had an alarming slackness to it. She continued to stare fixedly at nothing even as he called her name. “Lucia? Little Light?”
Niran moved to her other side. “Is she injured?”
Finsternis could neither see nor smell iron based blood, but he would not be able to smell internal bleeding, either. “Lucia?” He put a finger under her chin, tilted her face up.
“Oh, dear,” said Niran.
Lucia’s eyes were red from lid to lid, scarlet tinged with gold. The pleasure and triumph of the battle drained out of Finsternis to be replaced by cold dread. He had seen this before- when it had killed Osiris. Lucia had been caught between Hell’s Inferno and Heaven’s Light. The fight had triggered the part of her that was archangel and it was consuming the human in her.
Finsternis had not expected this, not yet. Until Lucifer had awakened her, Lucia had been fully human. They archangel in her should not have been a danger so soon, nor should any but an archangel have been able to trigger it.
“Then all is lost,” said Niran with quiet despair.
“Niran, go,” Finsternis ordered. He stood up, pulling Lucia up with him.
“Do not argue! All is not lost. Wait for me on the shore of the Sea of Shadowed Souls. If I do not appear in one hour, Lucia is well and we are off to find War.”
Niran shook his head sadly, but pulled the shadows for travel to Hell.
“Do not speak of this to the Grand General,” said Finsternis.
“I can take no such order from you,” replied Niran neutrally, face carefully blank.
Finsternis sighed. “You can take such an order from the Dark Prince, can you not?”
Niran bowed deeply. “Yes, I would have to.” He drew verdant fire into the shadows and faded from view.
Finsternis considered Lucia. She had begun to shake. The archangel within was ripping through her faster than Finsternis had expected. For millennia after Osiris had died a protracted, horrible death, Finsternis had wrestled with whether or not Osiris could have been saved. Finsternis had come to the conclusion that it should be possible to quiet a triggered archangel by passing Hell’s Inferno through the nephalim being consumed. However, simply blasting Lucia with fire would not suffice. She was virtually immune to it. Finsternis did know another way to use the flame, though he doubted Lucia would like him for it.