The sky broke open and driving rain lashed the field. The army of Reapers thrashed their heads and shook their arms desperately trying to rid the freezing water from their bodies. Many had never experienced rain or bitter cold and Aurora had counted on the extreme weather hindering their attack. It was working. Soaked to the core, she ran through the forest and found Gabriel crouched down where she left him.
“We’re holding our own for the moment, but we can’t push them back much longer. Lucifer and the others will be coming. Gabriel, are you ready?”
He tightened his grip on the dagger. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”
She forced a smile and kissed his cheek. “I’m so proud of you Gabriel.”
He was about to respond when a brilliant white light exploded from the cave dwarfing the entire field in its glow. The rain stopped. The birds retreated to the safety of the trees and the world fell silent.
“It’s Lucifer. He’s here,” Aurora whispered. “Let’s move.”
They hurried through the forest until they reached the tree-line where they had a clear view of the cave.
“What do you think he’ll look like?” Gabriel asked. “Will he look like a human, or…?”
Before she could answer, the blinding light subsided and Lucifer appeared at the opening of the cave. He stepped over Melloch’s body and paused at the edge of the terrace. Cascading golden hair fell to his waist and his face was so perfect that Gabriel struggled to take in his features.
“Aurora…” He tried to speak but found that he was mesmerised.
“Gabriel you need to look away. Don’t get pulled in, it’s not real.”
“What do you mean it’s not real?” Gabriel willed himself to look away, but Lucifer’s face was like gravity, pulling at his eyes like invisible fingers.
“It’s a façade, how he used to look when he was an angel. He’s a demon now Gabriel and demons don’t look like that. He was beautiful once but not anymore.”
Gabriel looked again but Lucifer’s appearance had not changed. “Are you sure? He’s so perfect. It’s like my eyes can’t take him in.”
“He was God’s most beautiful creation,” she whispered. “When he was cast from Heaven he was equally loved by Satan. Lucifer knows only adoration and his power is so great that whatever he believes those around him see. But don’t be fooled Gabriel, it’s nothing more than an illusion.”
The second wave of Reapers stepped forward and Lucifer opened his wings casting an enormous shadow across the field. The darkness devoured everything in its path and Aurora wondered how a shadow could be cast when there was no light. But as the dark shape stretched across the field she quickly realised it was not a shadow but something else.
“What’s happening?” Gabriel asked. “What is that thing?”
The shadow twisted and coiled taking on a life of its own until a familiar shape began to form in the sky. A shot rang out in the distance drawing Gabriel and Aurora’s eyes toward the hill.
“Harrison,” Gabriel whispered. “He’s trying to fire at it.”
Lucifer snapped his head toward Harrison’s position and a scream cut through the air.
“Harrison,” Gabriel breathed. “Jesus Christ Aurora what do we do?”
“We need to stay in position. Harrison will have to take care of himself. We can’t jeopardise the plan Gabriel you’re too important.”
Around them the battle raged as Aria, Amelia, Jada and Jasmyne galloped their horses in formation, peeling off arrows at the incoming Reapers. From the safety of the tree-line the Council continued chanting, escalating the effects of the poison. As each Reaper was weakened, the wolves and bears took them down.
From the terrace, Lucifer gazed out across the field and inspected the carnage. Aurora expected him to shout and curse the way Melloch had, to scream and bring about some kind of apocalypse but his face remained expressionless. When he had seen enough, he closed his eyes and raised his arms.
“Let’s go,” she urged. “Now before that thing in the sky takes full form.”
She sent up an arrow and seeing the signal, her sisters began firing in the direction of the cave to clear a path. Lucius and the Council joined hands and Aurel’s wolf pack leapt at Reaper after Reaper trying to clear the way. Armed with long spears made of jagged bone, the Reapers fought back and Aurora cried out as one by one the wolves began to fall.
“No,” she screamed out. “Retreat! Aurel get out of there!”
She grabbed her bow and peeled off arrow after arrow, taking down every Reaper that threatened her wolf. As she cleared the way, Aurora noticed the pattern Aurel was creating and quickly turned to Gabriel.
“Run behind Aurel and don’t look back! You have to trust me Gabriel, I won’t let anything happen to you. He’ll get you to Lucifer, you have my word. Now go!”
Gabriel didn’t hesitate. Trusting in her aim, he grabbed the dagger and set off behind Aurel. With no time to question what might happen next, he let the monster in. Heat seared through his body and his eyes bled to black. As the anger took over, Gabriel fixed his eyes on Lucifer and ran. He ducked and weaved his way across the battlefield and when a Reaper ran up on his right side, Gabriel swung the dagger and felt it slice through flesh and bone. Sticky black liquid splashed across his face, warm and thick like syrup on his skin.
“Gross,” he shouted as he ran. “Goddamn it, I hate these things!”
Around him the Reapers stopped and stared at their fallen comrade. They looked at the ground and then at each other until one of them threw back its head and roared. At once the others joined in and Gabriel felt the ground tremble beneath him. Across the field Aurora shouted to keep running and he trained his eyes on Lucifer and pushed ahead.
As he crossed the middle of the field, Gabriel remembered Aurora’s warning not to make eye contact, but as he looked up his eyes locked with Lucifer’s and a voice whispered in his ear. He began to slow, first to a jog and then a walk.
“Gabriel,” Aurora shouted. “You can’t stop now, you have to keep going! What are you doing?”
But the seductive voice had taken hold. It adored him. It wanted him. It promised love and power. All he had to do was say yes. He stopped where he was and fell to his knees. The dagger dropped onto the wet earth and quickly disappeared, sinking beneath the wet snow and slush.
“Gabriel no!” Aurora cried out. “Get up!”
When he did not respond she ran out across the field dodging Reapers and their spears until she reached his position and threw herself down beside him.
“Gabriel snap out of it,” she shouted. “Don’t listen to his lies. You have to be as strong as he is. Gabriel…”
Aurora cast her eyes across the field until she found Aurel. She whispered on the wind and hearing her call, the wolf turned and bounded back toward them. She threw herself backward onto the snow as Aurel leapt through the air smashing his body into Gabriel. Slivers of ice flew flew the air as Gabriel crashed down against the ground.
The Reapers were closing in. Their black bodies screaming out against the pale snow like stains. Aurora got to her feet and fired arrow after arrow trying to keep them at bay and when her quiver was empty, she scanned the ground looking for a rock or stick, anything she could use as a weapon. Realising she was out of options, Aurora turned and put up her fists.
“Come on then you son of a bitch,” she shouted. “You need a spear to kill a woman?”
One of the Reapers stopped and stared at her, its lifeless eyes boring into hers. She didn’t know if it understood anything she was saying, but it slowly grinned and tossed its spear onto the ground.
“That’s it,” she whispered. “You want to take me on?”
It stepped over Gabriel and raised its arms into a fighting stance. Focused on Aurora, it did not see Gabriel slowly reaching for the dagger concealed beneath the snow. As the Reaper took its final step, Gabriel rose up and buried the weapon deep into its back. It fell forward and black blood oozed out across the snow.
“Gabriel,” she breathed. “Thank God, I thought…”
“Thank your wolf,” he told her. “The blow must have interrupted Lucifer’s signal. How did he know?”
“He’s Aurel,” she smiled. “But we have another problem.”
They were surrounded. Just as the vision had showed, she and Gabriel stood back-to-back in the field as hundreds of Reapers closed in around them.
“There’s too many,” Jada shouted from across the field. “Aurora, what do we do?”
Before she could respond, one of the Reapers launched a spear directly at her sister. “Jada look out!”
The spear found its mark, lodging into Jada’s right shoulder. She screamed and fell from her horse landing heavily on the snow.
“Jada!” Aurora shouted. “Amelia get her out of there.”
Amelia leapt from her horse and piled Jada onto one of the bears. The animal carried her to the tree-line and Amelia ran back toward her horse, but as she prepared to mount a Reaper sent another spear sailing through the air. It sliced across Amelia’s back and she fell forward, her face ploughing into the snow.
“Jasmyne get Amelia back to the forest,” Aurora called. “I want everyone out, now!”
On the other side of the field, Aurel took a kick to the stomach that sent him spiralling through the air. The Reapers were everywhere. They were outnumbered.
“Retreat,” Aurora shouted. “Everyone back to the forest!”
“We can’t just leave you,” Aria cried out.
“Just go Aria, get out of here.”
“I said go! That’s an order Aria.”
“Aurora there’s no point,” Gabriel began. “The Reapers will just - ”
“They can at least say their goodbyes,” she told him. “We’ve done our best. That’s all I can give them now.”
But Gabriel was looking past her. “Aurora, I think we have another problem.”
She spun around as Lucifer took his first step off the rocky terrace. With each step the snow beneath his feet caught alight, leaving behind him a blackened trail of destruction. The circle of Reapers held their position and above them the coiling shadow had formed a giant pentagram. In the centre was the shape of an eye.
“It’s Satan,” Aurora whispered. “He’s watching the battle.”
Gabriel gazed up and fought the childish temptation to flip his middle finger up at the eye. He knew it would serve no purpose, but the temptation was there all the same.
“Whatever you’re thinking, don’t,” Aurora warned. “This is not the time for games.”
Lucifer closed in and Gabriel and Aurora tensed. She took a fighting stance while Gabriel’s knuckles turned white around the handle of the dagger.
“Greetings,” Lucifer grinned as he approached. “This is quite the battle you’ve orchestrated here. Arrows dipped in the blood of fallen vampires, very creative, well done.”
Aurora swallowed hard as she tried to take him in. The feathers of his wings were so white they burned into her eyes.
“Yes, they are glorious.” He followed her gaze out along the expanse of his wings. “I thought they were worth holding on to even after… Well, you know the story.”
Lucifer stared at his wings for so long that Gabriel wondered if he had forgotten he and Aurora were even there.
“It’s amazing,” he said eventually. “That you have the audacity to try and fight us. What is it you hoped to achieve here? You didn’t really think you could kill me?”
Without meaning to, Gabriel glanced down at the dagger in his hand.
“Oh, you did,” Lucifer grinned. “And with that old thing? Tell me, did you know that when Michael tried to use that blade to kill me, he failed also? It seems that weapon is just bad luck.”
“Worked well enough,” Gabriel replied. “Kicked you out of Heaven pretty quick.”
Lucifer reached out his hand and Gabriel rose up off the ground as though an invisible fist had him by the throat.
“Stop it,” Aurora shouted. “Leave him alone.”
Gabriel immediately thumped to the ground as Lucifer turned his attention to Aurora. “And you are?”
“I am Aurora.”
“Oh yes, the mixed breed.”
“I am a descendant,” she seethed. “How dare you.”
“Either way, I’m bored. Enough of these games.”
Lucifer opened his arms and gazed out across the field. “This world will bow before me for I am the most beautiful creature ever created,” he announced. “The most perfect being to ever grace Heaven and Hell. I am Lucifer the Morning Star.”
Gabriel looked up at Aurora willing her to read his mind. He knew how they could kill Lucifer if only she could figure it out too.
“Tell me something,” Gabriel began, pulling himself up to his knees. “How do you know you’re the most perfect being in all of creation?”
Lucifer dropped his arms and stared down at Gabriel. “I beg your pardon? I have been adored throughout every realm of the Universe. I am beloved by all who are graced by my presence. Look upon me and you will be blinded by my radiance. Now we have conversed enough. It is time for your punishment.”
Aurora suddenly clutched at her stomach and fell to her knees screaming out in agony. “It hurts,” she cried, digging her hands deep into the snow. “Gabriel…”
Distracted, Lucifer peered down at her. “And what is this?”
Beneath the snow Aurora’s hands found the earth and dug in. She whispered and the snow began to melt. In its place water bubbled up forming a shallow pool at Lucifer’s feet.
“What is going on?” he demanded, staring down at the water. “I don’t…”
And then he caught sight of his own reflection.