“No...,” Hailey whispered as we looked around. My heart was twisting in my chest as I observed what had happened to the beautiful place we had laid eyes upon during our very first visit here. It had been utterly ruined. Smoke rose in thick black plumes from houses and buildings that had been reduced to smouldering shells. The rainbow gardens and towering trees were blackened and charred, showing nothing of their former glory. Nothing was as it had been, and as I took a closer gander at everything, I saw glowing golden blood splattered about. My throat felt dry, and I began to tremble as Hailey whispered, “There has to be someone alive...”
“We have to find someone,” I whispered as I began to walk forward, my eyes wide and horror-struck as I scanned for any trace of life. Yet all I saw was more golden blood, feathers, scraps of clothing and fragments of armour, charred rubble, and ashes. Tears welled in my eyes as I continued to scan the area; this sort of destruction and murder was absolutely senseless and cruel. And yet…
There were lifeless, broken Angel cadavers strewn everywhere. Some of them were impaled on the towering spires of Heaven’s buildings, while others had been slammed so hard into the ground that their hollow bones had been snapped to splinters. Some even appeared to have been chewed on by something.
We rounded a corner then, and gasped in alarm as we saw a large pile of mottled pelts and tattered feathers. Blood – coal black instead of glowing gold – pooled beneath the lump, and I swallowed in repulsion as I saw their ugly, greasy bodies limp and cold, already beginning to stink of rot despite being killed recently. “Hellbeasts,” I muttered. My thoughts about who was behind this attack had instantly been confirmed, although they hadn’t needed the affirmation. I’d already been aware of the perpetrator. “This bodes ill.” I looked at my companions. “We need to hurry. Now.”
Lydia nodded. “Lead on, Sai,” she whispered, and I nodded before breaking into a run, keeping at a Human pace so I didn’t leave Tiff behind. Considering who was currently besieging the once-radiant Heaven, we – I – couldn’t afford to leave her unprotected, not even for a second.
We ran through the ash-filled streets, rounding a corner only to lay eyes on an injured Angel. Yet this one was living, and her wounds were thankfully not grievous; the worst injury was a large gash on her thigh. She was applying pressure to it, preventing it from bleeding out, which was the most relieving part of this ugly situation thus far.
“Shit!” I whispered as I ran over. I may have only met this Angel twice, but I knew her name and was worried for her. “Tyta, are you alright?!” I asked as I knelt down and tried to help her apply pressure, only to be brushed off. “Hey—”
“Do not attend me,” her melodic voice interrupted, her eyes dark with worry. “You must go to Lady Eryn and help the warriors with her. I will be alright on my own; the wound isn’t too bad so long as I keep pressure on it. Our Archangel must be the top priority in this situation.” She shook her head, her bloodied hair sticking to her cheeks, her eyes steely. “Please.”
“But…,” Hailey whimpered as she approached, looking rather anxious and tense. “You’re hurt... we can’t just leave you behind...” She looked like she really wanted to help, and I didn’t blame her; Angels were benevolent, kindly beings, and Hailey had inherited that benevolence from her Angelic parent.
Tyta looked at her, eyes softening. “Listen to me. I will be fine; this isn’t the worst wound I’ve ever received. You must do what I now cannot, and go help Lady Eryn.” She reached out and gently touched Hailey’s shoulder. “Please. Fear not. I am strong. I will be alright.”
Hailey blinked a little, but nodded and backed, although she was obviously reluctant to leave the injured Angel behind. I didn’t blame her. I was reluctant to leave Tyta as well, and a glance at the others told me they felt the same. But we were assured that she was at least safe; there were no other living creatures – Angelic, Demonic or otherwise – in the area. Even so, we quickly ensured that she would be alright here, and I personally promised her we would return to help heronce we’d helped Eryn, before we hurried off. Anxiety pierced my heart as we ran down the burning streets; would Tyta really be safe where she was...?
“Aghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” I heard someone yell then, and my eyes widened as the group’s pace hastened. We came into a burned courtyard, seeing more deceased Angels and Hellbeasts... and a living Hellbeast pinning down a struggling Angel. Its fangs were lodged into the writhing warrior’s wing and its head was jerking backwards; it was trying to tear the wing off.
I got a good look at the warrior’s face as he looked over at us, having heard a slight gasp that had escaped Tiff, and was stunned to see it was the Angel man we’d saved from Ryval: Arkaine. He had clearly made a full (and extremely rapid) recovery since the last time we’d seen him, but going off what Oracle had told us about how they’d been attacked by Hellbeasts before their capture… seeing Arkaine struggle for his life like this made me absolutely furious..
I formed a spear of Light Magic in my hand, gripping it tightly. It glowed a vibrant, holy white, and the Hellbeast looked towards me just as I hurled it forward like a javelin. The blade on the end cut through the beast’s pelt and bone as if it were warm butter, piercing straight through, a small burst of blood, shards of bone and ichor spurting out of the beast’s head. It didn’t even get the chance to howl with pain; its eyes glazed as its body stiffened, and it toppled to its side, dead.
With a flick of my wrist the spear disintegrated, its work done.Arkaine sat up a bit and grimaced, then carefully looked at his damaged wing. Standing and healing the damaged pinion a little bit, then walked over to us and said in a rather appealing baritone, “What are you doing here?”
“We’re here because we were told we would be needed here, to help,” Aidan said. “We were told this by—”
“A trusted source,” Nathan interrupted, shooting Aidan a look that even I flinched at. It was not a good idea to tell Arkaine that a Demon had told us about this, considering the current situation and Arkaine’s personal kidnapping at Demon hands. “It seems our source was right; you do need help.” Nathan’s voice was quiet, and he looked around a bit before returning his gaze to the hurt warrior.
Arkaine nodded, his eyes cold and hard. “Yes. Come. I was heading to the Archangel’s position to give her and Augral some assistance, and could do with my own aid. She is directly facing the Demon.” He turned and ran down a side street, and instantly we followed. He could have taken flight, but with his wing, that would have been excruciatingly painful. That, and he had us accompanying him, and we were lacking the ability of flight unless us Nephilim used our Magic. That wasn’t a viable option right now. We needed our full strength for the inevitable battle ahead.
We rounded a corner, passing more mangled bodies – Hellbeast and Angel –and continuing on until we heard sounds of conflict from up ahead. Arkaine drew a blade of sharp, gleaming metal from the sheath on his hip, the runes on the blade glowing turquoise. Then, we passed the crumbled building blocking our way... and saw Eryn trying in vain to defend herself from an apparently crazed Ryval. I looked over to see Augral nearby; he looked to have been thrown against the wall. He was slumped, unmoving unconscious. From this angle I could see that his arm was twisted in an unholy way, indicating that it was broken, and golden blood was pooling from the many gashes in his skin.
“We need to help Eryn!” Arkaine ordered, keeping his wings folded to his back as he ran forward. Yet he jumped back as a group of Hellbeasts burst from one of the walls nearby and blocked his way. Their wings were in a better condition than his were, so he wouldn’t be able to outfly them if he attempted to do so, and he grunted when he realised this.
He stepped back as the Hellbeasts surrounded us, taking their attention from Eryn briefly, then looked back at me as I said, “We’ve got to fight our way through them!” and summoned a Light sabre to my hand.
“Agreed!” He slashed at a Hellbeast as it leapt forward, slicing open its throat; black blood poured onto the ground as the creature landed with a thud. More began to attack us as soon as their pack-mate hit the ashen ground, and we Nephilim instantly grouped around Tiff and the Halflings, defending them from the fangs and claws that came our direction. Soren and I ended up back to back, and while I still was not entirely happy with him, I didn’t complain, helping him defend our weaker companions as the Hellbeasts attacked feriously and without cease.
A scream resonated throughout the air at that moment, and we all froze in our movements as the Hellbeasts just... stopped attacking. We all looked towards the Archangel, and my eyes almost bugged out of my head, swallowing in horror as I saw Ryval’s arm sticking out of the left side of Eryn’s chest. Golden blood dripped from her back and front, staining her robe. Ryval’s hand and wrist jutted from the Archangel’s back, also covered in liquid gold.The Demon woman then looked over at us and gave a twisted grin before pulling her hand free, tossing Eryn to the ground like she wasn’t the supreme leader of Heaven. She hit the ground like a bag of meat, and limply laid where she’d been haphazardly tossed as Ryval turned to us, laughing insanely, her eyes gleaming maniacally.
“It’s too late!” she declared triumphantly. “I’ve already won!” As she spoke, green fire flicked at her feet, and enveloped her before we could even react. The same flames enswathed the Hellbeasts that were still alive, and soon they all vanished, leaving nothing in their place.
There was no point in attempting to go after Ryval. We’d lost her. Instead Lydia and I were instantly at Eryn’s side, but after a quick examination Lydia shook her head. “Her wound is too grievous.” She bowed her head as golden blood gushed from the wound just above the Archangel’s heart. “We have failed...”
“You may... have not... been... able to... save me,” Eryn suddenly gasped, her voice raspy and rough, “But... I... can still... help you... in your... quest.” She looked at Hailey weakly; I could see the light leaving her eyes with each feeble breath she attempted to take. There was no way we could get her to medical help in time. “Hailey... please... come to me...”
Hailey squeaked a little, but inched forward so that she was beside the dying Archangel. She knelt down, slightly trembling as she did so. “Y-Yes...?” she asked, sounding shy and sad.
Eryn didn’t speak. Instead, she feebly reached up and brushed aside the fringe covering Hailey’s eye, covering it with her hand and not revealing to me the mystery of her eye. Ever since I’d met Hailey, she had always covered her left eye with her fringe. It had been something of an oddity to me… up until I’d learned that she was half-Angel. Now, I had to assume that the eye was Angelic..
I didn’t know what happened, but Hailey sucked in a sharp breath, stilling a little. Then Eryn’s hand fell, and Hailey’s hair fell back over her eye. We all realised what was happening as Eryn took one final, small, weak breath before she slumped, her eyes glazing over, the life leaving them right in front of our own. The flow of blood had stopped, by now, and had stained her radiant white robe a dark golden colour. None of us spoke for a while, and I put a hand on Tiff’s shoulder as she burst into tears, while the others bowed their heads in morose respect for the fallen Archangel.
It was then that I heard a groan, and I looked over to see Arkaine kneeling beside Augral, who was now awake and struggling to sit up. His arm, still bent awkwardly, dangled uselessly by his side. His blond hair was plastered to his face, and he slowly looked over at my small group, focusing on Eryn, his eyes filling with a bitter regret that was mirrored in Arkaine’s own. “So,” he said lowly as Arkaine helped him carefully to stand, “Our fair Archangel is dead.”
“We’re so sorry,” Lydia whispered in reply, distraught.
“It is we who should be sorry,” Augral said, bowing his head. “We have failed one of our most sacred duties. We have failed to protect the Archangel.” His wings were pressed against his back, and Arkaine was dead silent, his face absolutely shattered.
I stood, turning to the two warriors, and shook my head. “You didn’t fail. You tried your best,” I said, my tone a silent plea for them to realise that they had done all they could in their injured states. “You were both hurt.” A frown appeared on my face as I examined their wounds. “You couldn’t have done anything against the Hellbeasts in your conditions; their numbers were too great. And you couldn’t have possibly done a thing against Ryval...”
This got a reaction. Augral’s wings suddenly twitched and lifted a bit from his back. His eyes became bitterly angry, and he hissed, “Speak not that woman’s name,” before moving away from his fellow, supporting his arm as a string of Angelic curse words burst forth from his vocal chords. Arkaine seemed quite alarmed at whatever was said, but said nothing in reply as Augral suddenly extended his pinions and jumped into the air, flapping powerfully as he did so and launching himself into the skies, heading to Creator only knew where.
I watched him as he disappeared, frowning and wondering where he was going, but I shoved that thought aside as Arkaine stepped over to me and said, “Please move aside.” I did so, moving over to the rest of the group, and watched as the warrior carefully pulled Eryn’s corpse off the ground and into his arms. “I will take her to the coroner, where she can be officially declared deceased, and then to the undertaker, who can begin the process of preparing her body for the funeral.”
“Very well,” Lydia said softly, keeping her eyes downturned. “And again… we’re so sorry.” She spoke for all of us.
“Do not be,” he replied gently. “You did your best as well.” He then went to walk away; his wing was still damaged, and with Eryn’s added weight, flying would be excruciating.
“Brother,” came a honey-like voice, and we all looked over just as Oracle landed nearby and slowly walked over, bowing her head in respect to the deceased Archangel. She said a few words in the Angelic tongue to Arkaine, who nodded before walking off, taking the cadaver with him. Then she turned to us and said, “I... I do not wish to inform you of more ill-boding news, but alas, I must.” She blinked at us calmly. “There awaits someone, at your safehouse, and they are not friendly.”
I grimaced. That did not sound good. “Can you tell us who it is?” I asked.
She shook her head. “No.”
I sighed. “Alright… Thank you for telling us.” Because she couldn’t reveal the identity of whomever was waiting at the safehouse, I didn’t want to take Tiff there. But we had no real choice, and I knew it, so with a heavy heart I turned to Lydia and said, “We’re going to need to keep our guards up.”
She nodded, taking the crystal sphere from her jacket pocket and holding it out. Not a word came from her, nor did any come from the rest of us as we placed our hands on the sphere and closed our eyes, soon getting the feeling of rushing through air, yet at the same time completely unmoving.
When my eyes opened, I found that we were about a kilometre from the safehouse, and tension thickened the air as we began to walk. Tiff stayed behind me, while Aidan and Hailey stayed close to Nathan and Soren, whose jaws were tense and fists were clenched. Lydia walked ahead of the rest of us, grimacing.
When we finally emerged from the trees surrounding the little house I laid eyes on our visitor. My body almost stopped working then and there, and refused to move, eyeing the symbol stitched to the breast of his shirt. The others just stared at our visitor, who smirked and said, “Hello. It’s been a while.” He walked over and stopped right next to Iris’ tombstone, I felt everyone become tenser than they already were.
“Tyrus,” Lydia said lowly, growling and clenching her fists. “What are you doing here?”
“Do you really want to know?” he asked, voice suddenly having a dark edge that I didn’t like. I immediately took up a protective pose in front of Tiff; Soren and Nathan did the same in regards to our two Halfling companions. None of us said a word, and this seemed to irritate Tyrus… because he suddenly crushed Iris’ headstone, causing Soren to gasp in alarm, and his eyes gleamed in triumph as he declared, “Your plan to stop Ryval... ends right here, and right now!”