Chapter 15 - What's Going on Here?
Where the sky was blue without so much a hint of even the wispiest of clouds, where the green grass was lush and soft as the finest of silks, and where the air was pure and sweet, filled with the bracing aromas of eucalyptus, geranium, and lavender. The rolling, green hills stretched in all directions with islands of the most magnificent and beautiful flora. Pockets of majestic Redwoods, forests filled with thick ferns, shrubs, and palms, and small, colorful gardens overflowing with stunning roses, delicate hydrangeas, and solemnly gorgeous bluebells. The place was truly indescribable, certainly unforgettable, but above all, overwhelming and irresistible.
The sights, the smells, but actually the feelings of beauty and oneness with the Almighty were all around them – a constant reminder of Gabriel’s earlier warning. The longer they toiled in the Lost Paradise, desperately seeking the Tree of Knowledge for just a single piece of the fruit it bares, the deeper each of them sank into silence. Withdrawn but still wary of the each other, they watched and waited respectively for any sign of strange behavior.
Marching side-by-side under the clear, blue sky, they followed Noel the First as he took direction from the makeshift map. The given path seemed straightforward enough but it also seemed to take longer than they were expecting, or at the very least, hoping.
“How much farther?” groused Phil of Rugged Strength, breaking the long standing silence.
“I don’t know,” replied Noel, looking at the map, “this thing isn’t all that accurate.”
“Lemme take a look at it,” returned Phil.
“No, I got it.”
Phil snorted. He turned his attention to Art the Great and said, “How ya doing o’great one? Feeling fine?”
Keeping his eyes fixed firmly on the horizon ahead, Art replied, “If you’re wondering whether I’m affected the way Gabriel mentioned, then no. I’ll be glad to leave once we get the fruit.”
“Oookaaay,” said Phil dubiously.
Reaching the top of another sleek, green hill, the scene that met them was shocking. The beautifully pristine vista was marred by a trail of trampled and rutted grass, trees torn from their roots, and bushes hacked to pieces. Small fires burned in the distance as smoke lingered in the air mixed with a rancid smell of hot, rotting garbage.
“What happened?” asked Noel, knowing the answer.
“The demons—” spat Phil.
Art finished for him, “They’ve torn a path of destruction as far as we can see.”
Noel quickly referred to the map and breathed, “Oh no…”
“‘Oh no’ what?” said Phil.
“That rut in the ground, it’s pretty much the direction we need to go.”
The implication was obvious – the demons where on the trail to the Tree, and they were ahead. After passing knowing looks to each other the three angels took off running.
They had assumed that they had the advantage of the map. It was Gabriel, Michael, and Uriel who had last entered Eden, but the Deceiver had been here as well. Not only had the first fallen angel stalked in the Garden, he had slithered in the Tree itself. So it came as no surprise to them to finally understand how these un-as-yet seen demons reached the entrance first, and now were leaving a furrowed path straight to the fruit they needed to retrieve.
Racing through Eden, they were appalled by the damage inflicted by the demons. Much of it the work of simpleminded vandals – gouged grass, ripped branches and leaves – but some of it was the obvious and surgical use of the flaming sword – thick trees cut in half, whole portions of smaller gardens raging in flames. It was trying to avoid the fires in one of these areas when they finally caught up with the demons.
The creatures sprang from the fires, surprising the angels, pouncing on them two at a time. They were dreadful, not like any demon they had ever seen or encountered, it was obvious now what Jeremiel had meant about their hands and arms being like weapons.
These demons were a sooty, dirty color, charcoal gray-to-black and stood seven-to-eight feet tall. Their heads were reminiscent of helmets used by medieval knights, with red, beady eyes hiding behind two bony slits, and instead of a smooth faceguard, its maw was a crooked collection of long, spike-like teeth. The hands and arms were weapons: On the back of the hands hundreds of needles stuck out and lined each of the four digits facing forward, the arms were thick and muscular with a huge, sharp blade protruding from the forearm, stretching wrist to elbow. And they all stood on the strong legs of an ox ending with pointy hoofs for feet.
The angels, still wearing the armor which appeared on their bodies earlier, were held at their arms by two creatures each. The monsters spoke to one other in a gravelly series of clicks, hisses, and taps – a language, if that’s what it was, never before heard by the angels.
“What are they saying, Noel?” said Art calmly.
“I have no idea.”
“Whatever it is,” said Phil ominously, “it ain’t good.”
And the cherub was right.
For what one of the demons had told the others was to cut the heads off the messenger and guardian, to bring back as proof of their success to the Master, while returning the cherub back alive as a grand prize.
One of the two demons that held Art, while another of the two that gripped Noel, raised their forearm-blades back readying to swing at the neck. What immediately saved Art and Noel was the commotion by the third pair of demons and its captive angel.
Phil had used his superior speed and surprising strength to escape the clutch of his captors but was unsuccessful in chopping one of them down at the legs. The loud clank of metal-on-metal was enough to distract (and delay) the monsters from carrying out their horrible deed. This had given Art enough time to drive a forceful side kick into a demon holding Noel and escape from the grips he was held by in the process. But before the Great could do anything about the other demon holding the messenger, his helmet took the brunt of a painful roundhouse to the side of his head.
The battle that ensued was frenzied and furious.
Separated from the messenger and guardian, Phil clashed against the two demons he had escaped from, finding them as fast as Jeremiel had warned. Although dazed, Art was still able to defend himself as two demons attacked with spiked hands and swinging forearms. Noel meanwhile was not completely defenseless. Using his free hand he swung at the demon who held him, sword clanging against the monster’s shoulder – though they appeared to be made of flesh the creatures were actually made of metal!
Noel’s weak attempt at escape was awarded by repeated backhands across his face and head. Bloodied and now unconscious, the messenger was thrown hard to the grass as the creature reached back to swing its razor-sharp blade. The sound of hissing and clicking stopped the demon – he had been ordered to join the others in surrounding the guardian and cherub.
With Phil backing up beside Art, the guardian noticed the fallen body of Noel, “Is the First dead?”
“I don’t think so,” said Phil, without looking, “but he may be an inch from true-death.”
Art pursed his lips and replied, “Any ideas, cherub?”
“Let’s see, six against two, and every time I hit ‘em the sword bounces off. Uh, no, I’ve got nothing.”
The demons stalked closer and closer, forming a wall. As they neared, Art looked at them then glanced at his blade. The sword bounces off, he thought. He looked at them again, this time with furrowed brow when he changed his attention back to the blade. Hmm, I wonder, what if…
“I got a plan. Don’t just swing at them, thrust instead.”
“Thrust? Like jab?” said Phil, confused.
“Just do it. The more, the better.”
Art helped Phil understand by tossing his own shield aside and with the next hand movement another sword appeared. Phil smiled and did the same; only his second sword was just as ridiculously long as one he already held.
Working together they parried the slashes and wild swings from the demons, answering these with thrusts and jabs of their sword-tips. Much to their surprise (and the demons as well) the swords not only found their mark but cut through with no resistance. Quickly Art and Phil jabbed and punctured demons in multiple places, slowing them down with every stab.
“Try cutting them from inside,” ordered Art.
“Oh, if it works,” replied Phil, grinning, “this’ll be quick.”
The next series of jabs came with swords placed together aiming for throats. Once they connected, they slashed and pulled their arms apart lopping off an ugly head. When the last of the heads fell to the trampled grass, Art’s attention turned to the still unmoving body of the messenger.
“Noel, Noel.” Splaying his right hand, Art keenly motioned it over the messenger’s body.
“Well,” said Phil, “is he alright?”
“He’s alive,” replied Art, sounding relieved, “but his face...and his jaw, it’s broken in a couple of places.”
After one more movement over Noel’s body, the guardian said, “No, nothing serious. He may be sore in the shoulder area, but we can try to wake him.”
Phil bent down and softly turned the messenger on his back. He grabbed Noel by the jaw and wiggled his head.
“Aay, oouw!” said Noel, waking up and slapping Phil’s hand away. “Tha huts!”
“Oh, sorry,” returned Phil, pulling back and straightening up.
Noel touched his jaw gingerly then sat up, “Oouw, my ja, my sheek.” He offered his hands to Art and Phil, who eagerly helped him stand, he then noticed the headless demons and said, “Wha happa?”
“Doesn’t matter messenger,” said Art. “What does is that you’re okay.”
“I doan fees ookay, my fay re-e huts.”
“Yeah,” said Phil, looking at Noel and cringing, “and it don’t look to good either. You’ve face is all cut up, and you’re swelling all around your jowl and cheeks. ”
Noel touched his face and winced.
Art shook his head and said, “We can’t send him back alone, there may be other demons running around.”
“An I’m naw goey ainwhere.”
“We can’t bring him along like that,” said Phil.
The guardian studied Noel for a moment, “Here, we can do this.” He waved a hand across the messenger’s face and slowly a full-face hood materialized. It resembled a motorcycle helmet but more form fitting and made entirely of shiny, reddish-brown metal, like bronze. Noel actually looked menacing with his eyes hidden behind a tinted visor.
“Hey, this actually feels good,” said Noel, turning his head from side to side and nodding it up and down. “And I can talk normally, wow. Did you heal me or something?”
“No, just another one of those tricks we can do,” said Art, grinning. “The helmet is acting like a temporary cast, protecting you from further damage. But keep one thing in mind, it’ll feel good, until you get hit.”
“Aw, perfect, just perfect.”
Phil laughed, “Come on helmet heads, let’s go.” Quickly turning serious, he added, “That rut in the ground is calling us.”