-A fire rising
Time could be compared to an endlessly flowing river. Sure one could throw rocks in the stream, causing a small ripple. But just as quickly as it formed, the river would consume it and continue its flow, despite the minor anomaly. Time stopped for no one. In all of Drake’s years of life, time changed like a variation of the wind. Except in limbo and hell…
Here, the flow of time was non-existent. The realm eternal and abstract. But his stomach dropped when Irene Irons said, “I forgive you.”
He shook his head and turned away from her. He paced around the space, his hands resting on his hips and deep in thought. Then he faced Irene again, his face a mess and erupting with tears. Drake gasped and fell to his knees before her.
“Irene…” his voice broke. “I was trying to save you. But I failed. I never thought that idea in your head would grow and-”
She raised a forestalling hand and cupped his face in her palms. He didn’t realize the vise-like grip he held on her dress. The velvet fabrics felt all too real in his hands. Irene’s palms felt like the warmest sunshine upon him. She sat down and embraced him.
“I forgive you,” she said, soft as a kiss.
They exchanged a glance. Drake’s face was queer. “I was defeated… by the old me.”
Irene twisted the curls of his jet black hair. The same way she always did. Nothing felt more relieving to him. The way she stroked his hair or massaged his scarred and battered body. The way she bandaged his wounds so gingerly and methodically. He missed the gentle touch of her hands. He missed watching Irene Irons, the doctor, physician and his lover spread her kindness. A kindness he thought the world did not deserve.
“If I have to wait for you a little longer, then that’s okay,” she replied, “he’s very forgiving-” She looked up towards a radiant light that blazed like a second sun and formed a frown. “You poor thing. Compared to yours. My pain will be over in an instant…”
“Just tell me one thing. Tell me about our child. The one we lost…”
Irene made a face. “He’s not here-”
She sighed. “Adriel is alive. He’s been alive this whole time. He’s grown strong and brave… like you. But he’s also angry. Angry at the world. Angry at you. Adriel won’t be as forgiving as I am.”
Irene placed a large crucifix in his hand. A silver cross with pointed ends that could retract and extend at the user’s will. Drake’s reluctance remained plain. He buried her with that cross. Her most prized possession. A cross taken from Jerusalem. Rumored to contain a fragment of the cross that Jesus was crucified on. He accepted her gift from beyond the grave and attached it to his waist.
“Use it to stop the four horsemen,” Irene said. “Absolve their souls and return them back to the afterlife, or punish them. You’ve bested death, therefore you have the right to punish or absolve souls.”
Her footsteps slapped against the rain filled alley as she traveled further into the dark abyss before her where the light died. Powerful thunder raged above her with flashes of brilliant lightning that turned the night into day. Full drops of rain pounded against her red umbrella and against the sheet metal roofs of the surrounding buildings. She found herself in a four-way section, where a single light pole stood with its dying light. A black cat caught her eye as it scampered through trash and dumpsters before retreating into an open window.
The thunder roared once again, as if it would tear open the sky. Rain waited patiently beneath the safety of her umbrella. Her red trench coat and skirt resembled the color of blood, the sporting color for House Dusang. An ancient coven long since vanquished from the world. Her glowing indigo eyes and loose strands of pink hair peeked under her hat. And in a blinding flash of lightning, a figure appeared before her, basking in the rain.
At first she thought he was a specter. But the muffled breathing beneath his mask and fierce blue eyes told otherwise. The blue eyes also reminded her of someone familiar. Drake. The steel plague doctor’s mask he wore hid his nose and mouth and wrapped around the back of his head. But his serious yet thoughtful eyes told her everything she needed. The angel of death was real, Adriel.
She watched the raindrops slide off his shaved head and bulging muscles. His imposing shadow filled her with dread and a pinch of trepidation. However, she knew one could not show any weakness in the presence of Adriel. He feasted on fear and despair. To his enemies, he was much more than just a man. The closer she inspected his countenance, the more and more she saw Drake in him…
“It’s been a long time…” Rain prompted. “Artemisia couldn’t make it?”
“She has more important things to attend to,” Adriel replied. “You’ll just have to make do with me.”
“And the others?”
“They’re scattered across the globe. Our search for the map continues-”
Rain raised a brow. “You must mean the map to Tartarus?”
“I might have an idea where it could be. But first, I need help to deal with a certain someone. Drake.”
She watched the anger fester in Adriel’s eyes. With one punch, he dented the light pole behind her until it toppled over. His breathing intensified. It took Rain everything she had to collect herself.
She took a deep breath. “Forgive me, I should have been more considerate.”
“Alfajr has no more ties to him. We search for the map and only the map. And once we find the gateway to hell, I will steal Satan’s flames and cleanse the world with them.”
“Then perhaps we can trade information,” Rain suggested.
Her words seemed to quell Adriel’s rage. The brute relaxed his posture. He fiddled with the tubes embedded in his mask. Rain could hear gas leaking from them. Adriel remained infamous in the underworld. The half-breed Nosferatu that wielded death’s touch in his left hand and the fist of God in his right. Rain wasn’t sure who favored him more, God or the devil. But now she understood why he was given the moniker “The angel of death.”
Adriel crossed his arms. “Ask your question.”
Rain wore a sullen expression. “We found Aspasia’s tomb not too long ago. It hides in Iraq. But we don’t have the red pearl. It’s the only way to access the tomb. Where is it?”
The brute released a soft chuckle. “It’s hidden under Drake’s right eye. Unfortunately for you. He’s dead now, and he took the pearl with him. Hope you have something useful for me. For your sake…”
Rain took a sharp breath. She reached in her pocket and removed an antique map sealed in a container made of papyrus. She offered it to Adriel who raised a skeptical brow.
“This was taken from a French artist during the second world war. I found it in his studio the night we destroyed his village. I kept it as a souvenir you could say. But I think this will lead you in the right direction.”
Adriel accepted her gift without inspecting the container’s contents. But Rain knew better than to cross him. She enjoyed smoking and drinking and killing, but nonetheless she was no fool. Adriel covered his head with a wool hood before looking over his shoulder.
“Imagine the fire…”
Rain grinned. “The fire rises…”
A branch of lightning blinded her. Adriel vanished in the flash. She couldn’t believe her eyes. No one encountered the angel of death and lived to tell the story. She thought of the story in the bible. When the Israelites painted lamb’s blood on their doors so that their firstborns would be spared the touch of death.
Perhaps the cross that hung from her neck and the blood-red clothing spared her from Adriel’s fury. Freezing rain flew sideways into the empty alleys that blew away her umbrella. She flinched from the cold as the ruthless winds untangled her braids.