As we stepped out of the portal I looked around curiously. It was slightly cold and the surroundings here were dank and murky. Cobwebs stretched in the corners and dust lifted off of the ground in clouds as we stepped around, leaving broken footprints in our wake. A frown broke the curious expression on my face as I surveyed our surroundings, not seeing any signs of life whatsoever.
The building we were in was a ruin and had clearly been abandoned a long time ago. The walls were a cold grey and were crumbling; due to lack of care this place had fallen into disrepair. It was spooky, and I couldn’t help but shudder a little as a chilly wind blew, hugging myself tightly as I looked back at the others and said, “This is a... charming place.”
Lydia went to open her mouth to say something, but before words could come out a piercing scream of agony rang through the air, and all of us stiffened. My eyes widened as my sensitive ears pinpointed the direction of where the scream had come from, and without thinking I ran off, ignoring the surprised shouts of my allies and friends as I raced through the deteriorating corridors of the place. More and more screams rang out, some breaking off with choked gasps, some fading into sobs.
Finally I scrambled into another chamber of the building, and a horrified gasp escaped my lips as I took in the scene before me. Blood was splattered everywhere, running in scarlet rivulets down the walls and across the floors. Chunks of flesh, muscles and sinews were scattered everywhere, and clumps of squishy organs painted everything. Dotting the area were mangled corpses, faces twisted with horror and agony. Their bodies were torn apart; their guts had been slashed open, their throats torn out.
It got worse, I realised, when I looked up. My eyes almost boggled out of their sockets. Hooks – like those used by butchers to hold the carcasses of pigs and cows – dangled from rusted chains, and from those hooks hung more mangled corpses. These ones were hanging from their wrists and ankles, fresh blood dripping down their battered and torn skin, to the ground below, and I felt bile rise in my throat as I surveyed the scene before me. Truly not a pleasant one.
I heard laughter at that moment, and I looked forward just to hear another bloodcurdling scream. It was then that I spotted Ryval standing in front of a poor Human woman, a cat-o-nine-tails with barbs on each tail in her hand. It was made of the same Dark Magic as the spears she’d used back in Heaven, and I was absolutely horrified to watch as she struck the Human again, causing another wail of agony to rip through the air.
The Human woman was in an absolutely abhorrent state. Not only was she covered in huge, bloody gashes, her skin bore large burns, welts, and horrendously dark bruises; it was as if she had been tortured for a long while. But she was not the only living victim in this room, I soon discovered. My eyes widened as I looked around and focused on the other survivors, and I almost stepped forward, but refrained.
Chained to the wall were two Angels. One was female, conscious, screaming and begging for Ryval to stop assaulting the Human in the manner she was. The other was male, and looked like an almost identical copy of the female Angel. He, however, was unconscious. Both Angels were weak and injured… and were most likely the pair whom Lazarus had been attacked over.
Near to the Angels was a small group of shaking, fearful Humans, and I balled my hands into fists as intense anger shot through me. These Humans were even more innocent than the Angels; at least the winged pair had some idea of what Ryval was. The Humans did not, not really. They had no real idea what they were facing... and this had to absolutely terrify them. I had found years ago that Humans tended to fear what they didn’t know, and such was the case now. Sure, Humans saw Demons in all forms of media, but those were all false; they didn’t truly believed that they existed.
“Ryval!” I yelled furiously, unable to take any more, just as she was about to bring the cat-o-nine-tails down on the Human woman before her once again. The Demon woman stiffened before abruptly turning around, her eyes widening briefly. She then appeared to become furious, which didn’t surprise me; it was likely she hadn’t expected anyone to find her here. No wonder about that; this place was completely abandoned and probably had been declared dangerous, so no sane person would approach or enter.
Ryval stepped forward, then, her grip tightening around the torture device in her palm. “How,” she growled lowly, angrily, “Did you find me?”
I shook my head, my eyes narrowing and flashing with anger, refusing to answer. This angered Ryval even more, and her rage grew more intense as the others burst in. The eyes of my fellow Nephilim were cold and hard, and their body language suggested they were prepared for a fight. The Humans and Halflings on the other hand looked hesitant, and no wonder. Humans couldn’t fight a Demon even if they were well equipped with the strongest military armaments. The Halflings could hold their own for a short while, but their inherited powers were far weaker than that of a Nephilim’s, an Angel’s, or a Demon’s, due to the Human blood diluting the Magic in their Angel or Demon blood.
Ryval’s eyes narrowed even more as the cat-o-nine-tails vanished into thin air. “So, you refuse to answer?” she inquired, although I don’t really know what she expected, for yet again she didn’t receive an answer. With each passing second of my silence, her anger grew, and she violently snarled before saying, “So be it!” and turning to the small, shivering group of Humans, raising her hand at them.
“No!” I cried in alarm as Ryval chanted something in the Demon tongue, and each Human exploded into intense flames. Their screams assaulted my ears, and it took all of my power not to cover them in a desperate and potentially futile attempt to even muffle the sound. The screams died down as the Humans were reduced to nothing more than ashes, and hot, angry tears pricked the corners of my eyes, beginning to drip down my face as I yelled, “You monster!”
Her eyes glittered with disturbing satisfaction at my words. “No,” she murmured. Then, louder…, “No, I am no monster... I am a Demon!” She laughed with dark mirth as she chanted another Demonic spell, and twenty Dark Magic spears appeared around her. I shivered as I felt the emanating Magic wash over me, and took up a defensive pose.
“Be at the ready!” Lydia muttered lowly as Ryval laughed again, and we Nephilim surrounded the Humans and Halflings as my mother sauntered forward, a confident smirk plastered on her face. She flicked her wrist, and one of the spears shot forward, aiming directly for Soren’s chest; he had no chance of reacting in time... but I did.
Needing no incantation unlike Angels and Demons, at least for this particular spell, I focused my thoughts on forming a protective ‘bubble’ around Soren. The minute the spear struck the bubble’s perimeter it burst into harmless particles, and an angry snarl escaped from our enemy as she realised her attempt to kill Soren had been thwarted. Yet she did not appear to realise exactly who had foiled her attempt. She kept flinging these spears at all of us, and I kept forming bubbles around my fellows. More and more kept appearing around her, but eventually she stopped throwing them, for Nathan – aided by Nephilim Magic – leapt forward and swung a punch at the Demon woman.
Ryval jumped back as Nathan landed heavily on his feet, his fist flying through the air where her head had been mere seconds ago. His eyes flashed with annoyance about his miss, yet he kept leaping at her, trying to strike her with his full strength. Because she had to keep dodging, she couldn’t fling any of her spears, and this appeared to frustrate her. Her vexation only grew as Soren, Lydia, and myself joined the assault. Growling and muttering a quick spell, she erected barriers around herself; just like with my protective bubbles, whenever we attempted to strike her, our blows deflected off harmlessly. We were quick to discover that her ‘armour’ was not without its weaknesses; Soren – who had been continually beating and pounding on a small section of the barrier – managed to break through and deliver a very harsh punch to Ryval’s left cheek, and she roared in anger as she stumbled back, the remainder of the shield shattering. A dark mark immediately began appearing, and she carefully wiped blood from the corner of her mouth.
Nathan was the first to jump back to the Humans and Halflings; the rest of us were quick to re-join him as he said, “Her Magic armour... it was flawed.”
Soren nodded in accord, narrowing his eyes as he eyed the slightly stunned Demon. “It’s like armour made of steel. Strike it constantly, in one place, and powerfully enough, and it will eventually break due to stress.” He looked at Lydia and I; as the leader of the group and the attending Firstborn, respectively, we were often looked to for advice or guidance in these cases. “What do we do?”
“We—” I started, but before I could say more, Ryval summoned a spear to her hand and – with a twisted laugh – threw it too fast for even my Firstborn reflexes. I could only watch as it shot straight through Iris’ heart. At first she didn’t emit any sort of sound; instead, her eyes widened and she gaped as blood welled in her throat, dribbling from the corners of her mouth. Then she collapsed. Soren raced forward and caught her body, his eyes wide with shock and horror, lower jaw tight with distress as he fell to his knees.
“N-No...,” he sobbed softly, tears beginning to drip down his cheeks. The rest of us just stared in utter despair, unsure of what to say or do... until Ryval began to laugh.
As Soren cradled Iris, Ryval moved towards the Angels and said, “Time to go. My work here, for now at least, is done.” Yet just as she took another step towards them, Nathan growled and summoned a sword to his hand, leapt forward, and slashed at her. A deep wound appeared in her arm as the blade’s edge sunk deep into the flesh, clipping the bone and drawing a shriek of intense pain from the Demon woman. She whipped aroundas Nathan swung the sword again, but this time she ensured it never made its mark.
Ryval was not a stupid woman. As soon as Nathan went to attack again, the Demon woman knew she had to flee, and she quickly chanted something before fire enveloped her. The flames were so fierce that Nathan could not approach, and he could only give a frustrated growl as they vanished, taking Ryval with them. An angry snarl rose from Nathan’s throat next as he returned to the sword from whatever realm it had come from. “Fuck!” he hissed, before turning to the Angels and raising his hand to telekinetically free them.
Yet he was interrupted, for the Angel woman – who had been only capable of observing the transpiring events – said in a quiet, morose voice, “Your Human friend… I am sorry. She cannot be saved. She was dead the second her heart was pierced by the spear.”
As soon as she spoke, I felt my heart shatter in my chest. And from the expressions on the faces of the others, their hearts had also broken into infinitesimal pieces. Soren was the worst affected; as we looked over at him he began to howl in anguish, holding Iris’ body to his chest. The girl gasped feebly for air that wouldn’t come to her lungs, the spear jutting through her body, her heart failing to beat and pump blood around her body due to being pierced. Blood dripped onto the ground from the very tip of the spear, which had not yet disappeared despite the wielder of the Magic being long gone.
“So-Soren...,” Iris coughed, blood splattering from her lips onto Soren’s cheeks. “I-It... hu-hurts...” She coughed again, her breathing becoming more ragged and feeble with each pathetic gasp, and the rest of us turned away to give them some privacy. Lydia, Nathan, and I walked over to the Angels. It took both Lydia and I to break the female Angel from her restraints, while Nathan broke the male Angel free with relative ease, taking the unconscious man into his arms.
“Are you alright?” Lydia asked as she helped the female sit down, while Nathan laid the male against the wall and started cleaning him up. I could hear Soren sobbing louder, now, and no longer could I hear the faint sound of Iris’ desperate, faltering heartbeat. She was gone, and I had to force my tears away as Lydia asked, “What are your names?” without waiting for an answer to her previous question.
“My name,” the female Angel said, her voice soft and musical, “Is Oracle. My brother—” she paused and gestured to the unconscious male “—is named Arkaine.” She looked back over at Iris, her eyes dim with grief and mourning, before returning her gaze to the rest of us. By this time, Tiff and the two Halflings had joined our sides, and we remained quiet as Oracle mused, “I assume you are curious about what happened to us? You did, after all, come directly from Hell… I assume you were tracking Ryval, and by extension, us.”
Tiff bobbed her head. “Yeah, actually. We are.”
Oracle seemed unsurprised by her answer; it appeared to me that she had expected it. “A few days before our capture, Arkaine and I were out for a fly; he was doing a routine reconnaissance, while I was attending merely because I could.” She looked away as she spoke, biting her lip gently. “While in the middle of discussing recent events, we were assaulted by flying Hellbeasts. Initially I believed that the Demons were breaking the treaty, although now… I know they were sent by Ryval, seeing as the treaty prevents a direct attack like the one that occurred.”
Lydia nodded as Oracle looked back at us. “It was definitely Ryval. The Demons may be a little… uncouth, shall we say, but they respect the treaty.” She crossed her arms over her chest, thinking. “I apologise for interrupting.”
Oracle shook her head, giving a nonchalant smile. “It’s of no consequence,” she said lightly, before looking away again, closing her eyes. “We ended up captured, but soon after our capture a squad of Demons found out, discovered upon where we were being held, and spirited us away, back to Hell for treatment before they returned us to the Archangel.” She opened her eyes, looking between those of us standing before her. “Alas… as the Demon emissary was preparing to return my brother and I to the Angels along with an explanation, Ryval attacked him, knocked him out, and stole us away, taking us here for some reason or another… She refused to explain.” She shook her head. “That is the gist of it. I hope it’s a sufficient explanation.”
A frown graced my face as I nodded. Ryval was a Demon, and due to that she had to keep to the terms of the treaty... so why had she captured two Angels? What had she intended to do with them? The only explanation I had for any of this was her status as a rogue, and her plans to end Humanity… but the question that lingered was this: how in the world did two Angels fit into that plan?
It was a question nobody could give me the answer to, so I merely ruminated upon it as Nathan walked up to us and said, “Augral’s here; he’s outside. Seems he became aware of the Angels here, somehow.”
Oracle blinked in surprise at my fellow Nephilim’s words before she shakily stood, using the wall to support herself. As she did this, Augral entered the room, his eyes filled with impatient wariness. He had opted not to wait outside, obviously, and it was clear to me that he could sense the still-lingering danger here despite the threat being long gone. It was blatant that he was on edge. Yet he did not reveal this in his voice as he walked over and said, “Apologies; I failed to arrive sooner and prevent something that never needed to happen.” As he spoke, his eyes flicked over and rested upon Iris’ now-lifeless body. Grief was manifest in his voice.
“The young Human’s death… It wasn’t something that could be prevented, even with you here,” Oracle whispered softly, hanging her head and pausing briefly to gather her thoughts. “What brings you here, anyway?” she asked, her wings fluttering slightly.
“I have come to retrieve you and your brother, determine the medical attention you require, and escort you back home,” he explained, his voice calm as he delivered the details of his mission. “You have been sorely missed, and many – including the fair Lady Eryn herself – are worried for your health and wellbeing.”
Oracle nodded in understanding, remaining quiet and watching as Augral walked over and carefully picked up the unconscious Arkaine. Then, as he returned to the female Angel’s side, she murmured, “Thank you, Augral.”
“You needn’t thank me for doing what I must to ensure the safety of my brethren,” was his simple, kindly reply before he turned his attention to my group and I. “I am… loathe to say this, but… I am now certain that Ryval will become more vengeful than ever.” He exhaled quite heavily as Soren approached, his eyes puffy and red with tears, but he was silent as Augral said, “I fear that the remaining Humans in your group – Halflings inclusive due to their Human genetics – are now in imminent danger.”
I nodded at this, and mused, “So that means we all have to watch our backs more closely, now.” It was a task easier said than done, I knew, but it was required of us and we would do it with no complaints. “Especially because Ryval will possibly target us primarily, in order to facilitate her plans.”
Augral nodded, but spoke no words... at least, not in the common tongue. In his own mother tongue he chanted something, ripping a portal open in front of him and directing Oracle into it. Yet, just as she disappeared and he went to follow, Augral paused and looked directly at me. “Sai of the Firstborn,” he said, smiling a small yet genuine smile, “I am incredibly proud of what you have done, what you are doing, and what you will do in the future.” Without further explanation he strode into the portal, leaving me... bemused. Very bemused.
I kept my confusion to myself, instead focusing on my fellows as Lydia said, “Let us return to the safehouse,” in a quiet tone. At her words Soren carefully scooped Iris’ body into his arms and we departed, leaving the derelict building in sombre silence, with Nathan pausing briefly in order to use his Magic to turn the building and the horrendous murder scene within to nothingness.
Now, all we had to do was find the car, return home, and have a private funeral for our lost friend. Then we would seek Ryval again to not only do the task we had been given… but to avenge Iris and the other Human lives that had been lost on this day.