The Descendants - Rise of the Reaper Army

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Fifteen

Gabriel stormed toward the forest determined to get as far away from Aurora and the Council as possible, but his head was spinning. It was too much information, too much deceit and too much betrayal. His body ached and his brain hurt. Unable to continue, he found an old log and threw himself down with his head in his hands. How could she have done this? How could she have been the thread that caused his entire life to unravel?

Since the night Aurora came to his cabin, mad as hell and wanting to kill him, Gabriel had given himself to her. He had followed her and believed in her. How could she have betrayed him this way? Everything had changed. Everything was different. He wished he had never met her. He wished it could take it all back. He wished he could just go home, but it was a long trip and storming off into the forest half-cocked was a recipe for disaster. He had learned that lesson a long time ago. No, he needed to calm his mind. He needed to find a way to look at things differently. He needed a way to breathe.

He let out a long sigh and asked himself again, had she really known or was she just a victim of the Council’s plan like he was? After all, she wasn’t the one who approached him. He was the one who had gone to the farmhouse and killed her brother. But he never would have been there if he hadn’t been attacked in the first place.

Gabriel cracked his knuckles and tried to think. According to Lucius this was their destiny, but what if she hadn’t been so obsessed with those things? He wondered, could their destiny have been different? He dared to imagine how it might have played out. What if he had never been changed and instead, they met out walking in the forest? What if he could have been himself with her? What if…?

He threw his hands up into the air and shouted out at the top of his voice. He hated her. Worse than that he loved her. He was completely screwed.

Eventually he found the strength to get to his feet, but every step pressed into the earth like a question mark. How would she make it all the way home without him? But how could he wait for her knowing this was her fault? Damn it. He was in his own personal hell. He wandered at a snail’s pace and it wasn’t long before he heard her calling his name.

“Gabriel… Please, just wait. There are things I need to tell you,” she was calling out. “I know about the Reapers.”

He stopped momentarily but then shook his head and kept walking. Deep down he knew she would catch up and he hated himself for wanting her to.

“Gabriel, stop!”

She was getting closer.

“Stay away from me Aurora, I mean it,” he shouted over his shoulder. “Do not follow me!”

“Would you stop? Just for a minute? I had no idea about any of this. Gabriel…”

Thoughts coursed through his mind. Had it not been for her he would still be a part of his family’s lives. He would still be an Army Captain. Hell, he would still be alive. Had it not been for her, he would never have fallen in love.

“Gabriel there are things I need to tell you,” she shouted. “You have to listen.”

“No Aurora, I don’t. I don’t have to do anything. I don’t owe you a damn thing.”

But even as the words left his lips, he knew they were lies. He had killed her brother and the guilt in turn was killing him.

When she finally caught up she stepped in front, leaving him no choice but to stop.

“Just listen,” she begged. “I promise you, I didn’t know. Gabriel we can’t let these things destroy our world. You can’t just walk away!”

“I. Don’t. Care.” He told her. “I don’t want to be a part of this world anyway Aurora, not like this. I’ve had enough.”

But she grabbed his shoulders and fiercely pulled him in. “Don’t you talk like that, do you hear me? Not ever Gabriel, you’re too important!”

The worst part was that he wanted to help her. It was the right thing to do but anger was crippling him. It twisted inside, wrapping around his ribs and squeezing accusations up into his throat. He wanted his life back. He also wanted her.

“Gabriel, when we were in the forest and I shared the Earth’s connection with you I thought you understood?”

“That was one moment Aurora!” He shouted. “I have lost an entire life and it was a life that I loved. It was a life that I made, that I worked for. Damn it, don’t you see? I had a family. I followed in my father’s footsteps and my grandfather’s before him. Did I love fighting? No, but I was proud to serve my country. I had respect and I had honour. Now I have nothing.”

“And that’s exactly why you are the chosen one,” she said, daring to step closer. “Nothing you could have done as an Army Captain would ever come close to what we need to do now. Gabriel, everyone will die. Not a town, not a city, not a country… Everyone, including your family.”

“Don’t you talk about my family.”

“They’ll die Gabriel, just like my mother and father. Just like thousands of mothers and fathers. Every animal and plant will be decimated. Rivers and oceans will dry up. Forests will disappear. If the Reapers are allowed to rise and stay here, nothing will be left but a barren wasteland. I’ve seen it. You want to know what happened here in the forest on the way to the Council? That’s what I was shown. I saw the end. Is that really the legacy you want to leave behind?”

He stared out into the forest. There were no words left to say. All he knew of the Reapers were some paintings on a wall and a vision shown to him by a vampire, probably the same one that ended his life. How could he trust that? How could he just believe? His heart ached and sorrow descended like nightfall. He shivered and wrapped his arms around himself, suddenly so cold that he wondered if he was coming down with something. But strigoi couldn’t get sick, could they?

“What’s happening to me?” He managed through chattering teeth. “Are you doing this?”

“No Gabriel, I’m not.”

“Then what?”

“You were thinking about them, weren’t you? The Reapers?”

He nodded and looked away, hating that she could read him so well.

“Their time is drawing closer. It’s the darkness that you feel Gabriel, the darkness that lives inside them. Try to imagine a world without sunshine, without love, without hope. If they rise nothing will survive.”

“But how can that be? I don’t understand any of this.”

“A demon is made of dark matter. They have no light inside them, no soul.” She stepped away and opened her arms. “For everything that exists there needs to be balance. That is the essence of the universe. Think about it. Black and white, light and dark, hot and cold, male and female, even Heaven and Hell. God created humans and Satan created demons. That is the balance, but their darkness is beginning to seep into our world. That is what you’re feeling.”

Gabriel rubbed at his forehead and tried to find his bearings. A cold wind blew in off the mountains and moisture hung heavy in the air. Despite his dizziness he could smell the scent of rain coming in, fresh and clean.

“What did Lucius say to you?” He asked. “Did he tell you how to kill them?”

“No, but he told me that you are the only one capable of destroying the army.”

“The army?” Despite how ill he was feeling, Gabriel threw back his head and laughed out loud. “Well that will do me Aurora. You have got to be joking! No one can defeat an army alone, demonic or any other kind. It just can’t be done.”

“Not alone Gabriel, with me.”

“Oh well then…Why didn’t you say so? That changes everything.”

“I can fight Gabriel,” Aurora snapped. “I can - ”

“You couldn’t even win a fight against me,” he bellowed. “Stop fooling yourself Aurora. I don’t know who your mother was, but you are no match for an army of demons. Like I said, you couldn’t even take me down.”

“That’s only because you’re not like any other strigoi Gabriel. You carry the strongest bloodline of the entire strigoi race. You are the closest thing on Earth to a demon. And besides, I wasn’t really trying to kill you, obviously.”

Gabriel took two steps back. “What did you just say to me? I’m a demon? Did Lucius tell you that?”

Instantly regretting her outburst, Aurora let her head drop. She hadn’t meant to hurt him, it had just come out somehow. “I’m sorry Gabriel. I didn’t mean to - ”

But he cut her off. “Is that what he told you? That I’m a demon?”

When she didn’t reply, he stormed over and grabbed her by the shoulders. “Answer me damn it! Am I a demon? Is that what he said?”

“Gabriel…”

“Tell me!”

“In a way, but - ”

“Stop talking,” he warned. “Do not say another word.”

“Gabriel it’s not like that. You just carry the strongest bloodline.”

Thunder crashed overhead and sheets of rain swept in across the forest.

“I’m sorry,” she shouted over the storm. “I didn’t mean it to come out like that. Gabriel…”

But he wasn’t listening. Instead he turned and ran deep into the forest, determined to get as far away from her and everyone else as he could. As he ran, he told himself that Aurora would be fine, that the forest would keep her safe. That she didn’t need him. Undeterred by the storm, he pushed forward not caring as wet tree branches slapped against his face and wind whipped through his hair. If what Aurora said was true, then he had no reason to be careful. If he was a demon, then he didn’t want to exist anyway.

Knowing he could never outrun the one thing he wanted to get away from most, frustration itched and bit at his skin. He loved her but he hated himself. She wanted everything and he had nothing. How could he save anything when he couldn’t even stand to be inside his own skin?

A sound in the distance caught his attention and he imagined it was Aurora crying out for him. His heart leapt. He ached to turn back, but quickly shook it off. He couldn’t go back, she was better off without him.

Up ahead a finger of lightening lit up the forest and thunder rolled across the sky. Beneath his feet the ground shook and just for a moment he hesitated. The lightning cast an eerie glow across the wet cliff face and he peered through the darkness. Was he imagining it, or was somebody there? He drew in closer and saw camping gear littered across the rock face. A backpack and a sleeping bag, a broken tent, its framework poking out through the canvas like pieces of broken bone.

“Help us please…”

The voices cut through the dark and Gabriel immediately ran to the edge and looked over.

Crouched on a rock ledge below were a man and woman, both soaked and both terrified.

“Are you hurt?” Gabriel called out against the roaring wind.

The woman looked like a drowned cat. Her blonde hair was plastered across her face and tears had made her eyes as red as Aurora’s. The man was trying to hold it together but one look at his face told Gabriel just how scared he really was.

“We’re not hurt,” he shouted back. “But we’re stranded.”

Gabriel knew there would be no explanation for what he was about to do, so he closed his eyes and said a prayer that he could disappear before they asked any questions. “Just hold tight. I’ll help you.”

“Please hurry! I don’t know how much longer we can last down here.”

Gabriel nodded and quickly began searching for something he could use to pull them up. All around him the wind howled, an ominous sound that chilled him to the bone.

After covering every inch around the edge of the cliff, Gabriel threw up his arms in frustration. There was nothing he could use that would bear the weight of an adult man and out of options, he threw his head back and cursed at the sky. He was damned. No matter what he tried nothing worked. Everything was falling apart. And then she appeared, wet and weather beaten and yet somehow still beautiful.

“Aurora there’s people down there that need our help,” he shouted, no longer caring about their fight. “We need something to pull them up.”

If they worked as a team maybe they could save the lives of the stranded campers, he thought. His life might be over but perhaps theirs didn’t have to be.

“What do you need me to do?”

“That thing with the vines. I need something to pull them up.”

She quickly scanned the forest for trees with vines strong enough to haul the people up from the ledge. Finding one, she walked over and closed her eyes. She whispered to the tree and it responded, quickly offering up metres of vine.

“Okay that’s enough, now go and find shelter. There’s no need for us both to be out here Aurora.”

But stubborn as usual, she shook her head. “No, I’m staying. You might need me again.”

Gabriel knew there was no point arguing and right now the people on the ledge needed him more than she did. Turning away from her, he ducked his head over the ledge and peered down at them. “When I pass this vine down, I want you to take hold of it. But only one of you at a time, okay?”

“Take my wife first,” the man shouted. “I need to make sure my wife is safe.”

The request made Gabriel’s heart ache. What must it be like to love someone so much that you would immediately put their life ahead of your own? It was an emotion he would probably never feel and yet he ached to love another with such devotion. He thought he had fallen in love with Aurora, but at the first sign of trouble he had abandoned her. He wondered if that meant he wasn’t capable of loving another, if perhaps the world really would be better off without him.

When the vine was lowered far enough, the man kissed his wife on the forehead and wrapped her hands around it tightly. “Don’t you let go Laura. Promise me you won’t let go no matter what.”

The woman nodded and took hold of the vine. She was light and for Gabriel towing her to safety was easy, but when she reached the top, he noticed the palms of her hands were bleeding. Before he could move away, she threw her arms around his neck and pulled him close. “You saved my life. How can I ever thank you?”

The smell was sweet and agonising and Gabriel’s head began to swim. “I need you to stay over there,” he ordered the woman. “As far back as you can get so I have room to pull up your husband. In fact, see that tree over there? I need you to go and stand by it and do not come over here again. Not under any circumstances. Do you understand me?”

Gabriel knew that if the woman stood by the tree-line she would be down wind and the scent of her blood would be carried away by the storm. When she moved away, he sighed with relief. Aurora had taught him well.

“Okay it’s your turn,” he shouted down to the man. “I need you to take hold of the vine and do not let go. That ledge will not bare the weight of your body falling onto it from a height. Do you understand me?”

The man nodded as Gabriel passed the vine down to him. When he felt his weight on the end, Gabriel began to pull. He was a lot heavier than his wife but within minutes Gabriel managed to lever him up and over the edge. When it was safe to let go the man immediately ran into the arms of his waiting wife.

“Gabriel you saved their lives,” Aurora breathed. “You see. We’re a good team.”

He nodded and let go of the vine. “Aurora, this doesn’t change anything. I don’t want you in my life. Nothing is going to change that.”

Rain was running down her face and yet he could still tell which of the drops were tears.

“Gabriel, I didn’t know. I swear I had no idea.”

“Don’t you get it Aurora?” He shouted. “It doesn’t matter if you knew. I was changed because of your fixation with these Reapers or whatever the hell they are. I’m not - ”

But before he could finish a finger of lightening lit up the sky and struck a tree just metres away.

“We have to get out of here,” the couple shouted over the wind. “We’re going to try and find higher ground. Come with us, please.”

“They’re right,” Aurora told him. “We can’t stay here.”

He had been about to reluctantly agree, when a second lightning strike cut through the dark. It struck the earth between their feet sending sparks flying high enough to sting their legs. Before they had time to react, the ground moaned like a waking giant.

“Gabriel you have to move! Hurry!”

As Aurora said the words, the ground cracked open and Gabriel’s feet slipped in the loose rubble.

“You have to jump away from the cliff face,” she screamed. “Gabriel leap toward me, you can still make it!”

He crouched and sprang up, leaping as far as he could toward the other side. He made it across the growing divide but landed hard, his fingers clawing in the loose rock on the other side. His eyes met Aurora’s and for a moment they simply stared at each other. Her lips whispered his name and then he fell.

Gabriel’s body bashed against the side of the cliff, over and over until he landed with a heavy thud on the rock ledge below. Unable to take the weight of his fall, it quickly gave way and he fell further and further until the sound of Aurora’s screams were swallowed up by the wind. His body smashed against rock and earth. Protruding branches cut his face and then his body hit the ground and everything went black.

Up on the cliff Aurora screamed. Behind her the couple shouted out, but their words were muffled by the storm. She stared down into the darkness calling Gabriel’s name over and over until eventually the man edged closer and took her arm.

“You need to come away from the edge sweetheart. You don’t want to look down there. The fall was too great.”

But Aurora was not ready to give up. “No, he’s strong. He’ll be okay.”

“This storm is too dangerous. You can’t get to him. You’ll be killed trying.”

But she spun around and stared wildly into the man’s eyes. “You don’t understand. We have to try.”

“I’ll go for help,” he shrugged. “That’s all I can do.”

Aurora glared at him, her hair blowing out around her face. “He just saved your life. Are you really going to turn your back on him?”

“No, I’m going to make the most of what he gave me. A long life spent with the woman I love. He’s gone. Now please, come with us.”

Aurora stared into the darkness. Gabriel was down there, and he was hurt. “I can’t. He needs me.”

“Well good luck then, I hope you make it out. My wife and I will go for help.” The man turned and ran up the hill to where his wife was waiting. “We’ll send help,” he shouted back. “You have my word.”

Left alone in the raging storm, Aurora fell to her knees and shouted up at the sky. “Gabriel will fulfil his legacy. He will sacrifice himself to give the people a second chance. It has already begun.”

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