The self-proclaimed Angel of Death, Azrael, was crouching over Ryouta, a cyan glow issuing from his pale hand. Ryo had stopped struggling, and seemed to be sleeping peacefully.
“He carries a great power, your friend.” The Angel was nonchalant about it.
“What’s happening? If you really are an angel, you must know something, right?” North asked. It was worth a try.
“I was sent here to find the humans with the power of Scions. It seems I have two already.” Azrael gestured at Duke Powers, still unconscious, though no longer bleeding. “Your world rests on the brink of destruction, human, and only the Scions can save it now. Someone must have broken the seals, though I've not heard the sounding of horns.”
“You mean those creatures from earlier?”
“In your tongue, they are called Demons. They hail from The Blacklands, monsters of your darkest dreams who defile the very ground they walk on. All those without the mark of the Scions will perish in this world, and those with it will fight a hard battle not to join them. You, Young North, will die.”
“This your first time having a conversation with a human or something? You’re kind of dark.”
“First live human, yes. I suppose I do seem rather macabre, but the situation we are in is not to be taken lightly. I must teach your friends who and what they are, and how to make use of the gifts they have been given. There will be no time to protect a man with no power.” Azrael was honest, at least. Brutal, but honest. “If it’s any consolation, I will personally ferry your soul to the Land of the Dead. You seem a decent fellow.”
“Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.” North stood and looked around. “That crazy sword rain seems to have dissipated.”
“Indeed.” Azrael replied. “I shall be very interested to discover the Scion that caused it. They must possess immense power. It certainly wasn’t either of these children.”
“We aren’t children, you know,” North replied, “Ryo and I are twenty-three and Duke is twenty-two. We’re in college.”
“You were in college. And I’m older than your Great Flood monomyth. You’re children. Now go do something useful, if you plan to keep living.”
North just nodded and walked off, hoping he could find some food or water that wasn’t covered in the blue plasma. It was beautiful to look at, but he doubted it was edible. Though that would solve a ton of problems. He shrugged the thought off, and investigated the remains of the apartment he had shared with Ryo and Duke. The frozen food was effectively gone, seeing as they had no electricity. He took a few bottles of water from the fridge and a bag of chips from the pantry. They weren’t perfect, but they’d do for the moment. Supplies in tow, he headed back toward the concrete tent where he’d left Azrael with his friends. At the very least, the Angel of Death wasn’t there to collect their souls. That was something.
Scion of Blades
The Blade Rain had dissipated after a few hours, so the Scion of Blades surveyed his surroundings again, carefully following the flow of mana in the area. The demons hadn’t noticed his scent yet, but he couldn’t let himself be caught by the angel that had shown up. It would ruin everything his family had worked to conceal for so long. He reached out with his mind, quietly and unobtrusively scouting the area. If the angel felt it, he didn’t seem to react. The demons were farther away than he’d expected, ravaging what remained of a city that had once been called Dallas. If he opened his eyes, he could see the burning skyline in the dawn. He snaked his psychic senses through the ruined highways, searching for the immense demonic power he’d felt when the earthquake had started.
He found it, high atop a building in downtown, watching over its new conquest with a strange sense of defeat. He tentatively tapped at it, wondering if it would feel him prying into its mind. It did, and attempted to grab his psyche. When he fought back harder than it had expected, it offered up a name. Vassago. So, its name was Vassago. His name, it seemed. Exhausted, the Scion of Blades closed off his mind and expended all his mana into the atmosphere again, calling up another Blade Rain between the suburbs and the city. The demons might be powerful, but they wouldn’t risk going through something that nasty. He sunk into the shadows again, hoping not to be found.
Aionia’s Council had given them a fair price, and the payment was already being transferred to the Dream. Now Mazkus Stream turned his attention to new work. The comm frequency had tied him directly to the helper, whose name was Matthias. Mazkus felt a little sad - he’d wanted a shot at talking to the beautiful Lady Fox again. A job was a job though, and it seemed Matthias and Lady Fox had one for him.
Rei was behind him as they walked through the foggy streets of Aionia’s marina, quietly humming a tune he couldn’t quite place. She pressed her arm against his, and whispered in his ear.
“Captain, this place gives me the creeps.”
Mazkus didn’t blame her. Aionia’s Lower Quarter, which housed the marina, was a dark and poverty-stricken place. The buildings there were even made of wood, unlike their stone and metal counterparts in the rest of the city. All manner of thieves and brigands roamed the alleys, so he told Rei to stay close and be ready to fight if they had to.
The meeting spot that the Vanguard Liberators had chosen was a backwater tavern known as the Blackfoot. The walls seemed to be rotting and the ruckus issuing from within made him smile. Rei was scared, though, he could see it in her eyes. He’d been careful to never bring her to a place like this before, but it was time she learned the real face of profiteering and freelancing.
“Just don’t drink anything unless I give it to you myself,” he told as they walked up to the double doors , “And keep your trigger finger ready.” He loosened his sword in its scabbard, and pushed one of the doors open.
The inside smelled worse than he remembered, but he walked up to the bar and took a stool anyway. The barkeep walked up to him and put down a glass.
“Your usual, Mazkus.” The bartender said.
“You come here a lot?” asked Rei, unsure.
“Half my business is done here, actually. You’re old enough to come now, that’s all.” It wasn’t a lie, while selling the stars the ship collected was profitable, it was the odd jobs the Dream’s crew did under the table that kept them going, kept them busy. He was certain she would grow used to it, in time. He motioned for Rei to take the seat next to him, and downed the glass of dark alcohol that the bartender had given him.
“What do we do now?” asked Rei.
“We wait.” Mazkus replied.
“Not for long, I assure you.” Matthias said as he took a seat next to Mazkus. The captain looked the helper over again, studying his features. Matthias was an older man, the edges of his black hair were graying and his cold blue-grey eyes had crow’s feet nagging at them. His face was lined and tired, and stubble covered his lower jaw. There was something eerily familiar about him, but Mazkus shrugged it off, and decided it was just the fact that he was Vanguardian.
“So, you mentioned needing transport,” he started, “Where to and what’s in it for us?”
“We’ll talk somewhere else. Lady Fox would like to make the request herself. Will you come with me?”
Matthias stood and walked toward the back, where the private rooms were. A moment later, Mazkus grabbed Rei’s arm and motioned for her to follow with him. The hallway smelled worse than the main room, and Rei’s nose was wrinkling. Matthias stopped and turned into one of the rooms ahead, and Mazkus followed.
Inside the small private room, the beautiful girl with the sea-green eyes was sitting on a worn couch, her hands playing with an exquisite knife. He took the seat across the wooden table from her, while Matthias motioned for Rei to stand out in the hall with him.
“So, you’re the Captain of the Infinite Dream, then?” the woman asked.
“I am, milady. Name’s Mazkus Stream.” He offered his hand to her in greeting, but she looked at it with disdain until he withdrew it.
“I did not bring you here to shake my hand, Captain. I and Matthias require passage to Serrala. Quick passage.” Her eyes were steely.
“The Dream is the quickest airship outside of Ra’Zaan, ma’am. But Serrala’s a little bit out of our way. We’d need to be amply compensated.”
“Payment will be provided upon our arrival in Serrala, I assure you.”
“That’s not really that assuring. I think I see why the Council denied you. “
“Do you always insult clients who are offering you a high-paying job?”
“Do you always ask unreasonable things of working men? Who the hell are you, anyway? It’s not often a member of the VanLib gets an audience with anyone, let alone the High Council at Aionia. What the hell’s going on?” He slammed his fist down on the table, and Matthias jumped back into the room and aimed a pistol at his head.
“My name is Fox, and I’m the leader of the Vanguard Liberators. That’s all you need to know.” she said, her voice laced with ice and death. “We require passage to Serrala. You will provide it. There will be payment.”
“Alright, alright, I get it. You have your reasons to keep quiet. So do we.” Mazkus said, pushing the barrel of Matthias’ gun down.
“So we have an accord, then, Captain?” asked Fox.
“Yeah. We’ll take you. Just stop with the threats and abuse already.”
The woman sighed, and the older man holstered his weapon.
“My ship is restocking and offloading our haul right now, so we won’t be able to leave until tomorrow,” Mazkus said, “We have guest quarters on board, so you’re welcome to stay there tonight. Gods know it’s safer than anywhere around here.”
Fox watched the Starchaser leave with his assistant, her eyes cold but restless. She had seen in his own eyes a fear of her that she did not like. Fear, and insolence. Fox looked to Matthias.
“What do you think, Matt?”
“Captain Stream, you mean? He doesn’t want this job, but he’ll do it anyway.”
“Do you think he knows? About me?”
“No. He didn’t seem to. Though he might realize it sooner or later if we stay on his ship too long. I suggest we ride to Serrala and end our involvement with him there.”
“He might be useful, if he knew the truth.” Fox offered.
“Or we might be useful, were he to hand us to the Ra’Zaan.” Matthias retorted. “Whether he is or isn’t who you believe him to be, this Mazkus Stream is nothing but a vagrant Starchaser. He isn’t some valiant knight looking to save a kingdom, elsewise he’d have done something by now.”
Fox looked at him again, staring into his eyes and looking for comfort, as she often did.
“He’s definitely the person I’m looking for, Matt. I know it. The hair, the face, the eyes… it’s all the same. It’s him.”
“We’ll see, little one. We’ll see.”
Duke sat up, his head clear. Across from him, he saw Ryo still sleeping. A strange being with pale skin was sitting between them, his tattered black robe flapping in a light breeze. From the way the sky looked, he figured it was somewhere around noon. The strange rain of swords had moved to the southeast, it seemed. North was off in the distance, picking through the wreckage of the parking lot and apartments.
“You’ve awakened.” It was the strange thing next to him with light blue skin and yellow eyes that spoke. Its voice was eerie. “From what the one called North has told me, you are Duke Powers, yes?” Duke didn’t answer right away, so the being kept going. “My name is Azrael, Angel of Death. I’m here to help you.”
“If you’re the Angel of Death, why would you be here? I’m alive, right?” Duke asked, trying his best to get a grip on the situation.
“Yes, you are alive. Worry not on that, Duke Powers. Instead, I advise you to look within, and worry over the power you have been given.” Azrael answered, his pale face emotionless.
“Power? What are you –“
“You bear the mark of a Scion, child. The glyphs burned into your hands by the Suul are no mere tattoos. They are fonts of power, catalysts to let you accomplish things beyond your wildest dreams.”
“By the what? I…”
“No, you don’t. But you will know. That is why I have come. To stem the tide of destruction by teaching you what you are and how to use your new gift. If I am successful, your species might even survive.”
North’s voice broke the air between Duke and the angel.
“So, you do have a sense of humor, Azrael. It’s just morbid.” North had a silly grin on his face. “Is Duke alright? I think we can move somewhere safer now.”
Azrael nodded, and North offered Duke his hand to help him up.
Scion of Blades
The demons were getting closer, tracking him. Vassago had reached out dozens of times now, calling telepathically for the one he’d felt before. He knew better than to answer that call, not with everyone so close, not when that angel was so near. He needed to see them to safety first.
For days, he’d kept the Blade Rain falling, expending all of his mana into the atmosphere. It served several purposes: the rain itself provided protection from the demons that prowled the city, he used it to isolate them from the humans he protected. Its darker purpose was to hide him from the demons. With all his mana swirling in the sky bringing cold steel death down, nothing was left in him but the spark of life itself. He was indistinguishable from a normal human to those who could read the flow of mana, and that was his intention. This is not their fight, he told himself, so I will not see them fight it.
As he stood in the grey mists of dawn, the Scion of Blades took in the sights of Dallas fallen. The tall buildings were burned and blackened, some of them half the size they used to be. Empty cars filled the roads, and a long gaping wound split the city in two, with water and the strange blue plasma mixing in it. Corpses covered the ground, gored from the struggles that had ended them. It was far from the city he remembered, far from anything he’d imagined it would be. I knew this was coming, he thought. I saw the signs, I felt the Earth tremble and shake, and I heard the voice of Caliburnus in my dreams. And yet I did nothing. I ignored what was right in front of me. He knew the disaster was not his fault, but he couldn’t accept that he couldn’t have changed anything. He watched the swords continue falling, and turned a few of them into axes and spears. In its own way, it was a thing of beauty, his bladestorm.
He could feel another Scion nearby, one he hadn’t noticed before. She was afraid, but he could feel her mind lashing out and touching everything. She knows not what she is. The girl was flailing mentally, unable to comprehend her expanded senses.
He was about to start towards her when her name screamed through his mind. He turned and went another way. She needed help, but he couldn’t be the one. For her to see him now would ruin all the plans he’d set in motion. No, this was on the others. Besides, the Angel would have felt the call as well.