The tunnel was cut at a continuous incline, at times broad and at other times narrow to the point that the four of them had to shuffle sideways through tight crannies. They hiked for what seemed like miles up climbing rock stairways and beside sharp drop-offs of precarious heights. They were wet and exhausted, cold and thirsty. Their water bottles ran out quickly, and they had not packed any food.
Andre would have been concerned about getting lost, but there was only one path to follow and his senses told him they were going the right direction. He hoped that each bend would be the last and they would finally find what they were looking for, but the passage continued on without end. He feared his friends were growing more and more tired. Their steps were slower and, though they did not speak of it, their fear seemed to grow more debilitating the deeper they climbed into Abaddon’s side of the mountain.
The prophet prayed that it was not a trick of Evil that it was taking so long to get there. He needed strength yet to face Abaddon, and he needed the others to be able to withstand what was coming.
The only encouragement was that the air was growing warmer. All four had discarded their outerwear and shoved it into the duffle bag. Andre dragged this along the floor behind him, with the sword caught upon the straps where he could easily reach it. He wore Jora’s hardhat with the light to lead the way, and he paused at each turn to peer cautiously around the corner.
At one such turn, he looked to find the glow of blue light ahead at the top of a narrow stair. His heart hammered in his chest, and Andre ducked out of sight while stopping Declan from advancing with his arm. “This is it,” he spoke in a horse whisper. “Turn off the lights.” He removed the hardhat and switched off the lamp before setting it on the ground at his feet.
Running a damp hand through his hair, he brushed the sweat from his eyes and groped for the sword as the others extinguished the other two lamps and waited for his next command. Andre could hear the erratic rhythm of their breathing in the dark, and knew they were nervous. “Everyone okay?”
“Yeah,” Svana responded.
“I think so.” Jora’s whisper quivered, but she found Andre’s arm and squeezed it confidently.
“Tired, mate,” Declan told him honestly, “but I’m here.”
“Stay close, don’t speak, and follow me.” Andre took their silence as affirmation and handed Declan the duffle bag. He took up Jora’s hand again, held tight to the sword in the other, and began to follow the curve in the rock wall.
The blue light grew steadily nearer as they walked and the scent of iron filled the air just as Andre remembered it. Steam lifted from the inside of Abaddon’s underground dwelling, but there was something else in the air Andre wasn’t expecting.
Before they reached the top of the incline, he stopped and looked around, realizing he had been there before. Far above, on their left, he saw a pin-prick of natural light and recognized the feel and scent of fresh air. They were not coming upon another entrance to Abaddon’s lair, as he thought. They had joined up with the steep tunnel leading out of the cave. Down below him was the passage to the lower chamber lit up under the eerie glow of the blue orb, but above them was the way out.
“Second change of plans.” Andre turned around and faced the others where they stood looking up at the spot of light as if they had never seen the sky before. “Take this.” He shoved the sword at Jora, glancing quickly over his shoulder to ensure Abaddon was not already aware of their presence. “Go, climb toward that light and start shifting the rock. Make a hole big enough for all of us to get out. When I call up to you, answer, okay? Don’t come down, just yell. Alright?”
They looked too confused to respond, but Andre shuffled them toward the second set of climbing stone stairs before they could argue.
“Wait!” Jora whispered desperately.
“Go, Jora,” Andre insisted. “I’ll be right up.”
“You need this.” She tried to hand him back the sword.
“Not yet.” He pushed it back and started down the path towards the underground room without them. “Hold it for me until I come back. Go!” He waved them off and waited until he knew they were starting to climb before moving on with slow and cautious steps.
A sense of dreaded déjà vu swept over the prophet as he met up with the entrance to the lower chamber and paused just within the passage. Every fiber in him screamed to run away, but this time was different. He knew what he was walking into.
“Welcome back.” Abaddon’s greeting rang against the stone walls, and Andre stepped in to meet it.
The chamber looked much like he had left it. No maze walls, just puddles of steaming water and the great pile of bare bones in the middle of the floor. Abaddon had created a morbid throne out of the bones and was sitting with a foot resting on a gleaming, white skull. Before him was a roaring fire with no source in which to fuel it, only lapping flames sending tendrils of black smoke to the ceiling. He was dressed in his pinstriped suit, prepared to do business.
“Here for a chat?” Evil grinned and waved a hand, offering a seat upon his collection of bones. “Come on in, the fire is warm. It certainly took you long enough to get here. The cave entrance not suitable for you anymore?” he asked lazily and followed the prophet with his glistening eyes as Andre moved in across the damp floor and stood beneath the throne. “Sit,” Abaddon insisted.
“I’m fine,” Andre retorted shortly. “I’m not staying.”
“That’s too bad,” Evil replied. “I’ve missed you, Agabus. It’s been so long.”
The prophet wasn’t really in the mood for chit chat, and his expression said as much.
“Don’t be rude. This is my house.” Abaddon forced Andre into a sitting position, causing him to knock several clattering bones off the pile to roll away and catch fire in the lapping flames. “What do you want? I can’t just sit around this hovel all day waiting to commune with prophets. Do you have a proposition? Do you wish to barter for your islanders again?” H leaned forward on his throne and loomed over the Agabus with his wings spreading out behind him. “Do you wish to buy them back?”
Andre didn’t even flinch from the stench of Evil in his face. “That’s not my job. I’m just a prophet. They’ve been paid for already.”
Abaddon sat back and looked down from on high with fire reflecting in his eyes. His pinstripes eased away and turned white, billowing into the princely robes of his usual attire. Business would not be conducted that day. “Then why are you here?”
“Command the Daimons to get off our island,” the Agabus insisted.
Abaddon laughed in amusement for this naïve prophet and his simple ideas.
Andre waited for him to finish, watching Evil with a cautious gaze of distrust.
“You trekked the guts of a mountain for that?” Abaddon asked, shaking his head in mock disappointment. “I believed you had more sense.”
Shrugging carelessly, Andre let him believe what he wanted. “You proved your point. you got them in, now we’re done. We chose Theos over you, test over, we pass.”
This ended Evil’s mirth, and he moved in again, sneering in Andre’s face with self-righteous certainty. “You and your psychotic komer may follow blindly like the sheep you are, but your countrymen do not. They have invited my army in and catered to their every need. You do not have the power make such a demand. This island is mine now, find yourself another paradise.”
“You’ve been living down here too long,” Andre goaded him. “The steam’s clouding your perception.”
“Is that so?” Abaddon enjoyed these chats immensely, and he found the prophet entertaining. “I created confusion. This steam, as you call it, is more clarifying than a hindrance to me. Though I have no doubt it’s debilitating to your intelligence. Why else would you be here?”
“I told you why.”
Evil waved this aside, “We’ve covered that. Let us move on to the part where you beg for your people and I crush you under the weight of your ineptitude.”
“I think we’re going to skip that.”
“Oh, you do?”
“And do what, exactly?” Abaddon was growing annoyed with Andre’s flippant responses.
“I thought I was clear.” The Agabus disregarded Evil’s previous insistence to sit, getting to his feet and brushing bone fragment from his jeans. “You’re done, Abaddon. Your moves are predictable and ineffective. I know you’ve got this whole power-hungry, bitterness thing going on with Theos, but it’s overplayed. Our army is greater, and yours grows weaker by the minute.”
Abaddon roared with impatience for his words, raising his hand and knocking the prophet with a force which sent him flying, skidding across the wet, stone floor and landing hard near the open passageway out of the chamber.
Crossing the room with long, powerful strides, Evil bore down on him with a burning glare of disgust. “Your people are divided. My shadows scatter them in fear. What army, prophet? You are alone.”
“Not quite.” Andre met his glare and held it as he yelled up the stairwell behind him with his voice ringing off the dripping walls. “Svana! Declan!”
A change came over Abaddon’s face, and his eyes darted to the dark passage as he caught the scent of mortals in the vacuum of air rushing through the open shaft.
“Jora!” Andre finished his call as the responses began to ripple through the tunnel.
“Andre!” Jora’s voice stumbled into the chamber last, giving him courage and the strength to lift himself out from beneath the Oppression standing over him.
“I’m not alone yet.” Turning and scrambling to his feet, Andre ran for the stairs with Evil in hungry pursuit.
The walls shook under the pressure of Abaddon’s assent. His scrambling footfalls crushed stone as cracks spider-webbed through the ceiling. Evil pulled himself through the tunnel behind the fleeing prophet.
Andre had the advantage in his size, and he darted up the uneven stairs with the widening gap of natural light as his beacon. He heard the continued call of his name and made for it as the mountain shook and crumbled away beneath him.
Mathis stopped his car abruptly outside the Phulake station and jumped out while Pondyakov remained behind with Costa. The komer had insisted on riding with them to the village to ensure the warning bells were sounded. He refused their offers to take him to Iasis. He insisted that he was fine and encouraged them to hurry. The people needed to gather at Alleluia immediately.
The earth shook as the elder ran to the station door, and he paused, looking up at the mountain in alarm before Costa shouted from the open door of the car to move! Bursting into the front office, he darted up to the counter. “Hit the alarm,” he commanded the stunned set of officers behind it. “Call the people to the Circle.”
The Panoplia heard the sounding of the bells and turned their eyes to the north. The Daimons felt a shift as the people began to gather, and they pursued the scent of fear and anxiety with the Panoplia on their heels. Kentro filled with mortals and spirits alike, gathering in Metoche with their gazes set on the mountain.
Havoc leapt onto the domed peak of the Alleluia House roof and clutched the tiles with his rear claws, raising to his full height and releasing a deafening shriek in the direction of his pursuers. The Panoplia fought off advancing scum with weapons swift and true to their mark. They did not grow weary, but the army of the enemy outnumbered them twenty to one and fought like animals intent to rip their adversaries to pieces.
Malachi landed heavily on the roof of the Community Center with his massive wingspan spread out behind him. His armor burned like the sun, blinding the Daimons into further fury. “Keep them frustrated, Guardians,” he encouraged his forces with a deep rumble of exhilaration in his booming voice. “Don’t give them time to take a breath.”
The Messenger looked to the sky as swift movement in the clouds caught his eye. Half-a-dozen kinsmen decked in impressive war costume descended on the scene to the dismay of the crawling vermin on the ground. Their chief landed beside Malachi with firm footing, bowing her head in greeting with eyes alight with longing to join the fight.
“This is a welcome surprise.” Malachi touched his sword blade to hers.
“We come to aid you in response to a request made across the sea,” the Panoplia, Kefira informed him.
Kefira took in the chaos of battle within the market circle and landed her hungry attention on Havoc. “I’ll take that one.”
“I’ll join you.” Malachi pushed off the roof beside her and the two spirits leapt into the fray.