Green fields, sunny days, starry nights and pearly gates. That’s how his mother always described Eden to him. A place so perfect that there was no need for desire, for anything they wanted would appear as the thought came to mind. His mother always had a hard time looking at the color red. According to her, a color so violent didn’t exist in Eden. Nobody bled in Paradise. When they wept they cried tears of joy.
Once upon a time, Cain couldn’t imagine such a place, but here he stands before the gates of heaven. Just beyond the gold-plated rails stands his mother, blonder than he remembers, with a smile wider than any he knew when she was alive. Beside her is his father. His chestnut-colored hair and strong arms betray Cain’s memories. Never before had he seen this strapping image of his father.
To the right of the gate sits a podium and at that podium an angel. The angel doesn’t look young or old, strong nor weak. A being that’s light made physical. Cain can tell what he looks like but feels he could never describe him. Given the manner in which he drags his quill upon an open book Cain assumes he’s Saint Peter.
The sight of an honest angel fastens Cain in place, as it would any sane mortal man. A tightness in his stomach works its way up until it’s a fine lump in his throat. Like any boy, he looks to his mother for encouragement. He finds it in spades. It’s in the way her lips part just enough to sigh and how she nods her head with such subtlety he’s sure he’s the only one to notice. Last and most telling of all is the slight gesture with her hand, a motion for her son to walk forward.
Eager for happiness, Cain takes a step. He’s stopped by a tight grip on his wrist. He looks and there he finds his brother, smiling. His hair is still a mess with twigs and leaves, and his clothes are much too dirty to wear to supper. Abel pulls Cain back then walks ahead of him. Abel strolls right up and passes those gates, no problem.
Now it’s Cain’s turn. Yet again he’s stopped by a weight on his arm. He looks, finds no brother, but a blade. A small dagger fashioned from the jaw of sheep. Luscious red drips from it with sinful avidity.
If he tries to force himself forward the dagger grows heavier. Red leaks from his hand and dances up his arm, growing tighter as it goes. Horrified, Cain watches his family stare out at him as thin red lines overtake his body, pulling him towards damnation.
Because nobody cries in paradise they just watch.
“Cain.” A voice calls out to him. “Cain!” Again. “Cain!” Gruff. Textured. Concern masked by annoyance.
Cain doesn’t get up right away. First, he has to shake off a shiver and combat his heavy eyelids. Sweat trickles down his cheek, bleeding into the peppered remains of a bad shave. Rough knuckles rap the side of his head, and at last Cain comes to.
“You alright?” Longinus casts him a sideways glance before turning his attention back to the road. Large, bandaged, worked over hands clench an aged steering wheel; olive skin going taught over swollen fingers. One of his hands creep up and adjusts the rearview, before flicking the single, frizzed fuzzy die that hangs there.
“I’m fine, Longinus.”
“Another one, huh?” Longinus’ question comes with another quick look back. Pale eyes fall on Cain.
“Just watch the road,” Cain says and lets his head fall back against the car seat.
When he looks up he sees a smile cracking Longinus’ rough face. Longinus scratches his short-cropped salt n’ pepper hair.
"Watch, that’s funny.” Pausing, Longinus exhales and shakes his head. “You’re way too tense. You need to learn to relax, all that stress throws your aura out of whack, and that shit ain’t pretty to look at. Haven’t you heard of bad vibes?”
Cain shifts his attention to the window. Rain beaten glass cools his forehead. The ground’s white and the sky’s gray like an impending storm. It looked like winter. A winter made from ash. Turned, charred, dead trees and utility poles alike blur by. It’s all infertile land as far as he could see. There’s nothing worth salvaging here. Must be why The Archangels hadn’t done much in the way of realm restoration.
Another voice rips through the silence.
“If you’re done enjoying the scenery, mind filling us in on who’s next?” Judas asks in a shrill voice.
The young-looking vampire stretches out across the back seat with his legs propped up against Longinus’ headrest. There’s little dirt on the boy’s sharp-toed shoes, in contrast to Cain and Longinus whose combat boots are now browner than they are black. In fact, the only grime on Judas is the bits of dried blood peppering his attire; a bit on his plaid slacks with the majority congealing around the collar of his peacoat. He sits up, running a hand through his thin silver bangs.
“All you said was ‘we’ll handle it’, and that the details weren’t important yet. Well, we’ve been driving for hours, and I’m sick of playing ‘I spy’ with myself, so can you please spill the beans? Maybe work out a semblance of a plan? We’ll have less of your blood to clean up later if we do.”
Words flow like venom from his pale lips.
“I mean, shit. Haagenti thrashed us last time. I’m surprised Nephil still gives us leads after that last screw up.”
Always criticizing, never helping.
Once Judas quiets down, Cain responds. “Haagenti won’t expect us a second time. “Cain motions towards the horizon, where buildings are coming into view. “Haagenti set up shop in that city. Chances are he has a legion or two of demons watching his back.”
“Hol’ up. Did you just say a legion...ortwo? How many even is ‘a legion’? Why are you being so calm about this and-Wait, what?!” Haagenti?Again?” Judas laughs, barring his fangs. “Are you kidding me? We couldn’t take him down when he didn’t see us coming, and now you’re saying he’s got extra muscle? Of course, he’s expecting us! You said this time it would be something we can handle, so how do you expect us to handle this?!”
“6000 men.” Longinus voice muscles through the air. “What? You asked how many guys were in a legion. A centurion had to know these things.”
Judas sighs. “That, Is a stupid amount. Hey, back me up on this Longinus. He’s off his rocker for wanting to go for Haagey again, right?”
There’s a mechanical groan as Longinus leans his seat back, the aged metal creaking as he drops it on top of Judas, pinning him underneath.
“Last time was a fluke. Lucky for us ol’ Haagen-Dazs won’t see it that way, which means he’s not gonna be expecting a round two.” The seat squeaks again, and pops back into place, freeing Judas.
A massive, forearm finds a perch behind Cain’s headrest, seeking his attention. Longinus looks away from the road again. Even with those empty eyes, Longinus can give Cain a long hard look. “Besides, what doesn’t kill us only makes stronger right?”
Cain nods in agreement. “Exactly.”
“Dibs, by the way. You and that butter knife of yours are getting a bit too greedy. I can’t keep spoiling you by letting you have all the fun! ”
“Leave Haagenti to me. I don’t break easy,” Cain says while taking the time to reload his pistol. “Longinus you’ll have to be our eyes.”
"Eyes.That’s funny,” Judas says, sitting up.
“I’m serious,” Cain says. “Longinus will let us know what we’re up again, divinity wise.”
“I’m helpful,” Longinus says, nodding.
“Aight, what about me then,boss.”Judas eyes Cain.
“Uh.” Cain eyes Judas. “Can you use a crossbow?”
“What,” Judas asks.
“Here,” Cain says, grabbing the weapon from underneath his seat and handing it over. “Nephil only gave me a few silver bullets so...”
“Uh huh.” Judas studies the weapon then narrows his eyes on Cain.
“I mean, they should work on lesser demons. But once we run into someone withactualdivinity it’ll be pretty much useless.”
“You don’t say.”
Cain secures his gun at his hip and eyes Judas. Looking back to the road, Cain whispers, “Alright, this is far enough. Stop the car and get ready.”
“You have a gun and I...have a crossbow. Yours shoots silver bullets, mine shoots pointy sticks.” Judas hangs his head and rubs his temples. “Can I just go back to Hell already?”
“Why don’t you raise some instead,” Longinus asks as he brings the car to a stop.
Cain takes a deep breath then steps out of the car. While leaving the vehicle he slips into his leather jacket. The black coat is loaded up with extra ammunition and lined with kevlar. Additionally, there are a couple of runes sewn into the jacket that Cain can activate with a tiny incantation. Considering none of his team are adept in the magical arts he doesn’t want to use the spells unless absolutely necessary. After all, Nephil only offers one recharge per visit. The last touch to Cain’s attire is a red scarf. Aside from one additional rune woven into the cotton, Cain just likes the way it looks.
Air blows against Cain’s skin, and he feels something linger in his stomach. It’s fear, something that tells him without a doubt he’s still alive.
He hears Longinus chuckle behind them. A quick glance over his shoulder treats him to the sight of Longinus popping the car trunk and fishing out a long, shabby leather case. Longinus gives it an appreciative pat, before hooking it over his shoulder and facing Judas. “You know, you can always just try whining them to death.”
Judas aims his crossbow on Longinus. “Hasn’t worked on you. Doubt it’ll work on them.”
“I’ve built up an immunity.” Longinus snickers, bookending the statement with two metallic clacks as he opens the case. He whistles at the sight of the contents before closing it.
Besides his case, Longinus also grabs several tactical headsets and tosses one to Cain and Judas. They weren’t the best condition, but they were battery powered.
Cain takes a few steps towards a crusty old gateway sign. He runs his fingers along the edge, over indents that once spelled out ‘welcome’. One thing on the sign is still visible after all these years and that’s the word ‘population’. Cain can’t make out the numbers after that, but he knows not a single soul who inhabited this city is still alive. Fear is often replaced by something else the closer they get towards their would-be makers. Anger.
Cain peeks back to see how his comrades are fairing. Like with just about every other time they’ve headed to battle Cain see’s Longinus kissing a small cross he keeps hidden beneath his military scarf. Despite every assumption, one could make about Judas, he too prays for their well-being in his own way. Two of his fingers dance from his forehead to both of his shoulders then end up clasped with the rest of his digits and he hangs his head for a moment.
Cain’s been around long enough to know that miracles do exist, but they don’t come cheap. So instead of praying to people who won’t hear him, to people who don’t care, he goes over several names in his head; His family
Each name comes paired with a face and a feeling. All of it mixes with the rage and uncertainty in his stomach till it becomes a serene brew that forces him forward.
“Alright,” Cain says. “Let’s head out.”
Cain glances around the corner of a building and catches sight of a stout demon standing guard before a nearby apartment door. Looking disinterested, the beast crosses his thin arms over his fat stomach.
After a quick glance to Longinus who nods, Cain takes the shot. The silencer works as expected and the demon dies quietly. Once again Cain looks to Longinus for confirmation. The larger man runs his thumb pass his throat then Cain signals to move forward.
“Judas, get what you need from him, then make him a little more inconspicuous,” Cain says in hopes of finding a bit of coin on the beast.
Cain checks the door; locked. He takes one step back before taking down the door in a single tackle.
“Longinus, with me,” Cain says as he walks towards the staircase. With every step, they take the splintered stairs creak. Cain’s hand crawls along the dusty banister. As he climbs, Cain speaks into his headset. “Top floor, when you’re done Judas.”
“Yeah, yeah...” Judas’s voice buzzes in Cain’s ear before clipping out.
Once on the top floor, Cain locates the nearest room and hurries to a window. Cain brushes away the curtain, letting light spill in and temporarily hinder his vision.
The clatter of metal on metal brings Cain’s attention to Longinus who dropped the duffle bag he had been carrying on top of a rotting table in the corner of the room, along with the case he had grabbed from the car. He’s assembling and loading a small assortment of firearms and holstering each in kind.
There’s an excited energy about the whole process, but also something somber as well, almost reverent. The man’s a war hawk, he lives for this kind of thing, and he always seems to take an odd and disproportionate amount of satisfaction whenever they take a job. There’s a glint of metal as he tosses a couple extra clips to Cain without a word. With the contents of the case draped over his shoulder, Longinus walks towards Cain. It looks like an ordinary spear, albeit extraordinarily old. The head is polished, almost pristine, and covered in all manner of Latin scrawl. Their eyes lock, and Cain notices an ethereal, otherworldly glow dying down in Longinus’ clear eyes. Longinus fist collides with Cain’s shoulder as he lets out a disappointed sounding huff.
“A legion or two, huh? Haagenti only has a few dozen men stationed here at best. We should go back to the days where the blind guy got us the intel.”
Longinus hooks a thumb under his nose, spear bouncing off his shoulder impatiently.
“Ahh well, just means we won’t be here nearly as long, yeah? Which means we can be off to bigger and better fights that much sooner.”
“Hey!” There goes Judas voice screeching in Cain’s ear again. Judas comes through the door, adjusting his satchel and shaking blood from his hands. “I drained him then propped him up. As long as no one tries to strike up a conversation, we should be covered. So, what’s the deal? You find Haagenti?”
Longinus whistles and Cain turns to watch him hiking a thumb over his shoulder, pointing out the window and further into the city.
“Yeah, wasn’t exactly hard. Ol’ Haag hasn’t changed a bit, egotistical as ever. Tallest building in the city is lit up like a damn Christmas tree. Only the best for the boss, right?”
Cain nods. “Good, find a path that will give us the least trouble.”
Longinus looks back towards the penthouse. “Well, most of the ways in on the ground floor are pretty guarded.” He pauses, probably pondering, analyzing the situation before snapping his fingers triumphantly. “But, there’s a small window to the west side with only two bigguns blocking us off from it”
Longinus walks to Judas and grips his shoulder, giving him a playful shake and laughing. “No trouble for our little puppeteer, right?”
Judas squirms out of his grasp and rubs his shoulder. “Just two? Easy. I don’t mind a fight when the other side is outnumbered. I expect you guys to handle the hordes later on, though.”
Now that they’ve got a plan of attack the trio heads back out. As they stalk towards their destination, they make use of Longinus’ sight to scout out any upcoming threats. They safely make it to their terminus by using cars and open buildings as coverage
Longinus has said in the past that there’s a huge spike in Cain’s aura whenever he draws his ‘butter-knife’. So Cain really has to save his trump card otherwise he might alert Haagenti of their arrival. For the time being, Cain picks off a few more guards with the silver bullets. It’s a shame he couldn’t make better use of them.
Just as Longinus said there are two hulking demons standing guard at the door. They wear black suits and thin ties. Even when dressed like men Cain can see they’re monsters. Their leathery red skin, darted tails, massive claws, and sharpened horns are dead giveaways.
Bullets aren’t working on these guys.
“Up ahead,“Longinus speaks up, his eyes on Judas,“go to work.”
Fishing an arrow out of his quiver, Judas nods. “Right...” Instead of loading it right away he twirls it between his fingers. He lets out a sigh then stabs the head into his arm. He rips it back out, the point coated in a syrupy red, but no blood leaves the wound. He rears the arrow into the arm-mounted crossbow, takes aim then fires at one of the guards. Direct hit. The arrow sinks into the creature’s right shoulder. With haste, Judas raises both arms.
“Now the fun part,” Judas says with a grin. His outstretched hands tremble and his pupils flash gold. The demon he pegged starts twitching, drawing the other’s attention.
“Hey, you okay there? I think you got something in yer-” before the demon can finish, the first one had already smashed his head between his massive claws. Just as a look of shock starts to contort the demon’s face, he drives his nails into his own skull, killing himself.
Judas relaxes his body, allowing his target to go limp and collapse. “And that’s how it’s done.”
“Not bad.” Longinus slaps a palm on Judas’ back, offsetting his balance. “You’re pretty good when you’re not running your mouth.”
“Let’s move,” Cain says before continuing towards the penthouse. Cain glances left and right then helps Longinus up into a window. He turns his attention to Judas.
“You go in and give me a few seconds alone.” Judas points his thumb to the pair of demon bodies. “I need a drink.”
Cain nods then climbs through the window himself.
Once Judas finishes up they all reconvene within the designated area. A blind spot that Cain assumes must have at a time been the hotel’s kitchen.
“Ahhhhh, good eats. So, what’s next,” Judas asks, licking blood from his lips with his serpentine tongue.
“Split up, we need to clear a path for our escape. When we fight Haagenti we can’t have him calling hordes of demons to his rescue,” Cain says. He looks to Longinus. “So where is he?”
“Don’t get bossy with me, chief,” Longinus laughs while stepping forward and staring at the nearest wall. Cain’s blind comrade focuses on the wall, his neck turns as if trailing someone. “Well, we’ve got some big stuff on the sixth floor. East wing. Looks like room 666, heh, class act Haagendaz. But then there’s another big signature, moving towards that there from the other side of the building.”
“Anything else,” Cain asks, already beginning in the direction of room 666.
“Yeah, there’s a lot of activity on the proceeding floors. If we run up and face Haagenti we run the risk of getting bottlenecked. Hell, we’ll get shish kabobed no matter how we handle this.”
“Right.” Cain steps through the door. “I’ll distract Haagenti. You two start clearing the building. Be fast. I want you two to be the only ones left by the time he calls for reinforcements.”
Keeping his pace up, Cain takes the path Longinus laid out. Eventually, Cain comes to a stop before a door. The door looks like it had given in to wear and tear long before being forced open. While nudging the door open Cain puts his free hand on the gun at his side. The long creak of the dying door reignites Cain’s feeling of fear.
After another breath, Cain pushes the door open. His grip tightens on his gun and he draws it as he moves. The next sight makes Cain go still, like water.
A woman sits before Cain, huddled over and trembling. He looks at his firearm, then to her, raising a pistol of her own in his direction. For a reason beyond him, these seconds feel extra long. Then there’s a click, a loud bang and a pain at the center of his forehead. A shot with enough force to throw Cain on his ass pierces his skull. At that moment, like many times before, Cain dies.
“A-are you okay? Sir? Mister? Please be okay, please be okay.”
Cain hadn’t heard a voice like that in several lifetimes. A voice woven from sincerity and concern. It leaves him nostalgic.
Normally, Cain doesn’t come to right away. He found himself eager to open his eyes. Anxious to look upon the woman with the caring voice. In her features, he finds more nostalgia. Her eyes are wide pools of emerald and her skin is white like milk, with cheeks blushed to a perfect pink. Wild ebony hair rains down from her head over her trembling shoulders. She leaves him homesick.
“Don’t be dead.”
A whimper springs out of her, and Cain shoots up. His hands stop just shy of her shoulders. She squeaks. Cain’s sure this is a woman before him, but her sounds are like something a mouse would make.
“Y-you’re alive,” she says while leaning forward. Reflexes pull Cain in the opposite direction. “Thank God.” She sounds so relieved.
Like many of the attacks Cain’s faced in his life, when the woman reaches for him he doesn’t flinch. He feels her soft palm cup his cheek and he watches her green eyes search his forehead.
“Did I hurt you? I-I’m so sorry, I thought you were a demon. I-” She gasps. “Your forehead...there’s not even a scar. Y-you healed?”
Different thoughts beat around Cain’s mind as she checks his wound.She’s looking right at me. She’s talking to me. She’s touching me. And she isn’t, she isn’t afraid.
Realizing his mind’s veered way off course, Cain whips his arm up and grabs her wrist. With a tug he pulls her touch away then gets to his feet.
Around the corner, Cain can hear the sound of clicking heels coming down the hall.
“Damn it. Get back,” Cain says, his eyes flitting away from her’s. “Damn gunshot must’ve alerted him.”
Cain brings his hand up and inches his fingers towards his right eye. A dreaded but necessary feeling fires from his chest and through his head, ending right beneath his closed eye. A warm feeling beckons his fingers to dig deeper. Cain growls as an agonizing and burning sensation trails across his eye. It hurts like hell every time he has to do it. But this is just another part of his curse. The pain told him how much he deserved this life and how far he is from salvation. Gripping at the empty air in front of his eye, Cain opens it, at last, knowing that the throbbing sensation has left him with no pupil. With a forceful swing downwards, a massive weapon appears in Cain’s hand.
His sword, large red and ugly, growls. There are teeth that gnash at the sides of it and rotate along its edges like a chainsaw. Eyes open and close all over the weapon, pupils darting about the room before focusing on whatever is just outside the door. In the hilt, Cain can feel rumbling, a deep low tremble he’s come to associate with his weapon’s hunger.
Cain hears the woman squeak again. It’s not the same as before, this time it upsets him. He looks back to see her taking small steps away. Her already big eyes widen further and seem to look pass Cain to his blade. He’s much more familiar with this look. Seems it took a bit longer than usual for her to feel the effects of his curse.
“Get back,” Cain repeats as he looks away. “I don’t need you getting in my way. So try hiding.”
He can tell she wants to say something. Instead of giving her the chance, Cain continues.
“I’ll hold him off. My squad is clearing a path. Leave when an opportunity presents itself. Do not hesitate..”
Looking back, Cain finds she’s taken a step forward, eliminating her earlier act of hesitation. It looks like her lips could push off one another at any second. Another small sound creeps from her, the beginnings of something she doesn’t get to say as a surly voice eases into the room.
“What do you mean Raum lost his territory to a little girl?” Cain hears Haagenti’s effeminate voice creeping closer. “He had thirty legions beneath him how could a mere godling-” His voice is just around the corner now. Cain’s grip on his weapon tightens. He takes a step back, putting himself in front of the woman. “Oh.” Cain can see his shadow stretching into the room. “The Phantom Queen you say?”
“Phantom Queen?” Cain repeats under his breath. “There’s no way...”
“That sounds...sexy.” The deep rumble of Haagenti’s laugh refocuses Cain on the matters at hand. “Don’t get me wrong, I’ll miss Raum, but he was much too lax about his operation. And his fascination with little girls led him to an untimely end. Now, if this so-called Phantom Queen isn’t a poser, and we can get our hands on her, we might be able to use her as leverage. I’m talking about everything from expunging our records to first pick of Hell’s biggest and baddest. The princes will be putty in our hands.” Another loud, deep, passionate sounding laugh erupts from outside the room. “That world and this one will be ours.” He pauses briefly. “I’ll call you back, Asty. There’s something I need to take care of real quick.”
Cain’s eyes widen, and in a swift step, he turns around to cover the woman. Next thing he knows the room is filled with fire.
All he needs to do is feel the heat to know it’s magical but not hellish in nature. Good. Magic combats magic. Cain runs his fingers along the edge of his jacket’s collar, igniting one of the runes. A sphere of light blue aura surrounds the two, shielding them from the flames.
As the heat around them dies down the protective sphere dissipates.
“Are you alright,” Cain asks, looking down at the woman. She pushes Cain away and looks around the room.
Unfazed by the explosion, the woman gets to her feet. “No, please no no no!” Despite the thick smoke surrounding them, she starts running towards the back of the room where she disappears from Cain’s sight. He hears her cough, wait, no there are two voices coughing. From behind the thick coat of sulfur and ash, Cain hears crying. Not like the woman’s whimpering, but instead the stirring of an infant.
“There’s no way.” He mentally readies himself before holding out his blade towards the direction the woman scurried. Flashes of red light fly from the sword and illuminate the immediate area before Cain. His eyes widen when he sees the woman again. She’s crouched in the corner cradling a bundle of crying blankets. While Cain can’t see it for himself, he’s sure there’s a baby beneath the cover.
“Yoo-hoo! Is anyone alive in there?”
Haagenti’s voice creeps into the room just before the demon himself does. He strolls in casually, confidently, clawed hands dismissively brushing dust and debris from the shoulders of his indigo suit as his cold, yellow eyes slowly scan the area. He stops, a curtain of dancing smoke obscuring Cain’s sight of him.
Gripping the hilt of his weapon, Cain feels the blade rip a memory from his mind, of its own accord. A passing thought, an image carrying with it a name; Focalor. It takes the thought hungrily, greedily, eagerly drinking from Cain’s own malice. All of the eyes scattered about his weapon blink, and their iris take on the color of a long gone enemy. Cain sees the deceased’s face in the weapon, beating up against the red steel from inside. His weapon screams in an old victim’s voice and fills the room with a mighty gust. All the smoke vanishes in the updraft. There’s nothing standing in either’s way. He sees Haagenti and Haagenti sees him.
Haagenti’s thin lips crease into a smirk. “Well, well, if it isn’t the baby brother butcher himself. How’ve you been, Cain?” Haagenti motions towards him and shakes his head. “Why couldn’t it be the cute one? You know, your new friend? ” He pinches his nose and turns his head. “Or maybe the big one. The funny guy? Just anyone butyou. You’re theboringone.”
Cain shifts his footing once again to make sure he’s in front of the woman. Though he’s certain Haagenti’s noticed her by now.
“Your parents didn’t teach you manners, did they? It’s rude to show up uninvited.” Haagenti’s eyebrow arches. “It looks like you survived my attack....again.”
Haagenti runs a hand through his deep maroon hair, smoothing down any rebellious strands before taking a breath. His lips part to let loose a soft chuckle. “Honestly, you and your friends have such a talent for making yourselves quite the nuisance.” His eyes trail from Cain down to the woman. “That is, assuming, of course, they survived as well. Please tell me they did, I’ll need someone to keep me entertained after I’ve torn you limb from limb. I am trying to save her for later, after all.” He finishes, jabbing a finger through the air to point at the woman.
Narrowing his eyes, Cain positions his sword before them. The first time they fought Cain couldn’t land a single hit and his blade has hungered for Haagenti’s blood ever since. After that battle Cain slew many with little prejudice. Not everyone deserved to meet their end by his weapon but Cain finds solace knowing all the wasted lives goes towards eliminating scum like Haagenti.
“Now let’s see...” Haagenti presses one of his sharp fingernails against his chin while rocking back and forth on his tail. “...last time I put a claw through your chest. Just now I attempted to burn you alive. Third time should be the charm... ” He rocks forward onto his feet and takes two careful looking steps towards Cain. “Well, I guess I’ll just have to make sure you actually die this time. How does decapitation sound? Does that work for you? Because itreallyworks for me.” With that said and a final, exaggerated flourish of his wrist, Haagenti’s claws extend to the length of short swords. “Now stand still, this will only hurt for as long I want it to.”
The horrible symphony of Haagenti’s claws scraping against each other leave Cain unsettled. Then another sound rushes into his ears, as though to overtake that terrible gnashing of keratin. It’s the soft cry of the baby the woman is trying to hide behind him. Cain peeks to see her cradling her child.
“Shh, please don’t cry...it’s okay, it’s okay. I’m here. I’m here..”
When Cain’s looks back he sees Haagenti walking by, his long demon tail caressing Cain’s neck as he goes.
“You should let me hold him. I’m absolutely fantastic with children,” Haggenti whispers.
Cain whips around, throwing all his weight into the swing and letting the sword carry him towards Haagenti. Seems the demon was anticipating the move and already holding up a clawed hand to intercept the attack. Cain’s oversized sword snags between two of Haagenti’s extended nails. The demon seizes his gaze as the two men lock in a stalemate.
“Please, let’s not play pretend here, Cain. We both know you’re no hero, so don’t make such obvious moves like one. At least keep things fresh for me, or this will go exactly like last time.” Haagenti pauses, the tip of one of those razor-sharp claws tapping his chin. “Oh wait-” he chuckles “What am I saying? That’s exactly what I want!”
As Cain struggles with Haagenti, the demon peers down at his weapon. “My my, you’ve gottenbigger.”
Cain hears the baby wail again.‘Have to get him away from them’. He steps, trying his hardest to push Haagenti back. His weapon glows as though responding to the infant’s cries. A screech echoes through the stained red metal as it pulsates, luring in Haagenti’s yellow gaze.
“Your sword. You must have taken a lot of lives with that thing because it...has aheartbeat,” Haagenti says, lips quivering.
Knowing the fight can’t continue this close to the mother and child Cain makes a gambit. He reaches for his pistol but wasn’t fast enough. He had to take a hand away from his sword, losing out on precious leverage and giving Haagenti an advantage that the demon immediately presses. Haagenti’s push is enough to send Cain careening towards the nearest wall. Cain stretches his hand out behind him and his blade glows again. A swirl of wind catches Cain and lets him land on his feet. Cain rips his pistol from its holster and points it at Haagenti.
Before Cain can pull the trigger, Haagenti is on him again. Using his tail, Haagenti slaps Cain’s gun away. With Haagenti in range, Cain attacks. His sword is as heavy as it looks, so Cain’s attacks aren’t the fastest. A weakness Haagenti exploits.
Every slash Cain makes is countered by a much quicker attack from Haagenti. When Cain swings right, there’s Haagenti, when he swings left, there’s Haagenti. Up, down, it doesn’t matter where Cain comes from they just end up exchanging blows. By now Cain’s sword has clashed with Haagenti’s claws more than twenty times.
Good, he’s got Haagenti in a rhythm. Those ‘obvious’ attacks got Haagenti dancing to his tune. His weapon is heavy and he is slow, but magic has always been a great equalizer. Once more Cain calls upon the name Focalor and by extension the powers of the west wind. Soothing air builds up around his glowing red blade before it rockets forward, propelled by a mighty gale. Now he’s too fast for Haagenti to predict and as a result, Cain manages to wound the demon. A large bloody gash remains in the wake of Cain’s first connected attack.
They lock eyes; this time Cain smirks. For all of a minute, the room becomes like the eye of a storm, a hurricane made of fire and blood. No longer is the fight one-sided, as Cain is able to cancel the wind boost whenever he needs to vary up the speed of his strikes. At times where Haagenti does attempt to stoke fire between them Cain counters and cushions it with one of Focalor’s great winds.
Confident, Cain glances at the woman with her child in the corner. She still hadn’t taken the opportunity to get away. When Cain’s attention returns to Haagenti he notices the demon disengaging him. Shit.
Acting fast, Cain redirects the air pressure so that he won’t have to commit to such a deep attack. There’s no use, so Cain flexes in anticipation of the counterattack.
A fine cold pain rushes through Cain’s arm, tearing his muscles and shattering his bones. A scream rumbles in his throat but never passes his lips. It takes all of Cain’s will to keep himself up as he watches his arm go limp on the ground. Haagenti chuckles before kicking the arm with the blade still in hand across the room.
There aren’t many options now. Maybe he can punch him? No, not with one arm he won’t. He glares up at Haagenti, then to the scene behind him.
“Go!” Cain yells out to the woman then rushes forward in an attempt to tackle Haagenti. Given how Haagenti isn’t budging, he must’ve braced himself. Good, he wants all the demon’s attention on him.
Next thing Cain knows he’s suspended up with Haagenti’s tail around his throat. If Haagenti’s to be believed then a beheading would follow.
“You’ve been awfully quiet this whole time Cain,” Haagenti hisses. “I know it’s cliche but do you have any last words?”
Rather than say anything at all, Cain spits in Haagenti’s face.
The sound of a gun cocking gets Cain’s attention. It comes from behind Haagenti, and when the demon turns, Cain too looks over.
‘Damn it, really?!’
There’s the woman again. Even though Haagenti was preoccupied she still didn’t take the chance to get away. Though his vision is blurry, Cain can make out her trembling form as she raises her gun to Haagenti. Even as the baby’s cries grow louder by the second, she doesn’t take her aim off the demon.
“P-please,” she whispers in a poor attempt at sounding strong. “I don’t want to hurt you. S-so let us go.” While she stammers across her words, her eyes narrow and she moves one of her hands back along her arm. Her hand grips her wrist as though trying to steady herself and combat the trembling. “I repeat. I don’t want to hurt you. So put him down, and please, just let us go.”
Pointing in the direction of the woman, more specifically her gun, Haagenti laughs. “That’s a gun, right? Mortal weapons don’t work on me, but if you must try for peace of mind.” Haagenti holds out his arms, closes his eyes and rears his head back, leaving himself open to the woman. “Alright, go ahead, shoot me. I want you to have exhausted all possible options.”
There’s a click, a gunshot, then another, and one more before silence.
“W-what?” For once there’s no arrogance in Haagenti’s voice. Cain looks down and finds blood seeping through the back of Haagenti’s blazer. “How could this? With a mere...” The sound of Haggenti’s strained voice rings through Cain’s ear. Once uppity, now hoarse and weak as he chokes on his own blood.
Once Haagenti’s grip on Cain loosens he slips away from his tail. Seeing as Haagenti’s still in shock Cain decides to use this opening. Once again he empties his mind, save for a single word; Focalor. Ichor, still ‘in hand’, releases a mighty gust of wind, launching itself towards its owner. It makes a slight stop on the way, slamming into Haagenti’s leg before tearing through them. This puts the weakened demon on his knees. When the sword reaches Cain he bolts forward, eyes narrowed on his enemy. There’s no shred of remorse in the way he drives the barbed weapon into Haagenti’s back. Fear helps carry Ichor through the demon. Though it’s malice that hoists the demon into the air where he’s allowed to bleed out like a sacrificial lamb. Only after Cain’s satisfied with the puddle of ruby red beneath them does he slam the mobster onto the floor.
Standing over Haagenti, Cain whispers, “Ichor is thirsty.”
Honestly, Cain never thought he’d see the day where Haagenti’s writhing around, bleeding out and trembling a scared pig. It’s brief, but Cain does wonder if it’s wrong to be enjoying this the way he is.
When Haagenti tries crawling away Cain follows, steps on his leg then stabs Ichor into his back. “Don’t struggle. Let it drink.”
The best thing about Ichor is that it gnaws on its victims. No matter what angle Haagenti tries to take to escape, his back would have to grade across the rows of sharp teeth.
“No worries Haagenti, you’ll live on. And look at it this way, at least you won’t be sent back to Hell.”
Cain pushes down with all his weight so that he can complete his cleave through Haagenti. He sees Haagenti, or what’s left of him, burst into a fine red powder. The concentrated demon dust seems eager to rush into the base of Cain’s glowing weapon. Ichor drinks. The last ghoulish wails of the demon bounce off every wall in the room until it’s silenced by Ichor’s hiss.
“It’s over,” Cain whispers, panting. He looks down at Ichor, redder and heavier than it was when he drew it.
When Cain turns the woman is there to greet him.
“Your arm...” The woman’s shimmering emerald eyes bounce from Cain’s bleeding stump to his gnashing blade. “That weapon...” Lowering her gun, the woman glances away. “It...ate him.”
If she wasn’t afraid of him before, she is now. Soft beginnings of a cry get the woman’s attention and she drops her gun to run over to the baby. Looking around the room, Cain finds what was left after his fight with Haagenti; the bullets from the woman’s gun.
Pinching a bullet between his fingers, he holds it up to his eye and examines it. There are fine inscriptions, scripture etched into the rounded silver. These bullets are tailor-made for killing demons. Now that Cain has a better look at her, the woman’s tattered clothing is reminiscent of a Catholic nun. The way she rocks the baby in her arms tells him it’s her son. She looks young, and given it’s a baby, she must’ve only recently abandoned her beliefs; probably when the world went to shit.
Ichor dissipates and his missing pupil returns. While watching the woman Cain contemplates interrogating her. Questions he should ask, but doesn’t, come to mind.
‘What were you doing here?’
‘Why do you have these kinds of bullets?’
‘Where did you get them?’
‘Who are you?’
‘Why are you able to smile at me?’
“There you go, it’s all better now. Mama took care of it. We’re okay. We’re okay.”
Cain looks up at the sound of her voice; soft, effortless, as though she hadn’t just taken part in slaying a demon. He watches as she rocks back and forth with that bundle in her arms. As she turns, the baby stops crying. Her hand dances up to the top of the blankets and pulls them aside. Cain’s eyes widen in surprise.
There’s a tuft of bear brown hair atop the baby’s head, and it shares it’s mother’s shamrock-colored eyes. But that isn’t what bothers Cain. A child is gonna look like its mother, and have traits from its father no doubt. What’s alarming is that it doesn’t share its mother’s most defining trait.
Distinguishing features that once separated man from monster are so commonplace Cain hadn’t noticed it at first. Nestled within her unruly black locks are floppy pointed ears. Yet her baby has round ears. He looks, even from a glance, completely human.
“Yo Cain! Backups here, you alive man?”
Cain turns in time to see Judas and Longinus entering the room, both covered in blood; he doubts any of it’s their own. Longinus looks around and Judas’ mouth gapes. His sight flits between Cain and the woman several times.
“Uhhhh..Did we miss something?”
Sighing, Cain picks up his stray limb. Cain aligns his dismembered arm with its socket. All the feeling in his arm goes away, leaving him numb as he let his body heal. It only takes a few minutes before Cain starts noticing sharp pains throughout his once limp appendage. Signals of pain blitz through his nerves as they reconnect and the flexing of his fingers let Cain knows he’s as ‘good as new’.
The woman had watched the entire process as though she were studying him. It shouldn’t bother him as much as it does. In fact, he thought he’d be relieved if a person besides Longinus or Judas could look at him with anything but ire. But her gaze, it makes him feel anxious. He anticipates something. It’s like a joke with no punch line. He just waits for her eyes to narrow and the ‘gotcha’ moment to set in.
Noticing her grip around the baby tightening, Cain nods. An understandable reaction. Can’t say he wouldn’t do the same if he saw someone cleave clean through a demon. Plus there’s this look Cain has when he does it. Judas says Cain’s got the eyes of a killer who knows he’s got more butchering to do.
With nothing more to do Cain sits down in a corner of the charred room and rests.
Hours are fickle things. In the thick of the battle they fall faster than warriors, but on the sidelines, they move like sap from a tree. Over the hours following Haagenti’s demise, Judas plunders the penthouse and Longinus talks to the woman. Here and there Cain caught pieces of information. Longinus would go on about his day as though they hadn’t just slaughtered demons in droves and she let him in on where she was headed, but not how she was getting there.
“There’s a safe haven up north for survivors. I’m headed there to reconvene with Jesus and-”
“Then if anything here is yours. Pack it. Because we’re going.” Cain uses his words much like he would his sword; quick and to the point.
Cain feels a hand on his shoulder and turns when he feels it pinch him. “Can I talk to you in private?” Longinus says, staring Cain down with those grayed out eyes. He nods his head towards the entrance before walking to the door.
As Cain follows Longinus he notices Judas smirk while strutting over to the woman.
Once away from the woman, her child, and Judas, Longinus speaks in a hushed tone. “You think it’s a good idea to bring her along? She looks so....soft.” Longinus pauses and he frowns. “I’m talking about her soul, by the way,” he quickly adds. “It’s pure. The kind of soul you don’t see anymore. She’s a good person. Wouldn’t fit well with the theme we got going. Not to mention she’s got a kid.”
“That’s exactly why she’s coming with,” Cain reveals with a tiny glance in the woman’s direction. He catches her looking at him, but then she looks away, back to Judas who doesn’t seem to be making much progress. “It was her weapon that allowed me to defeat Haagenti. Not to mention she doesn’t seem to be bothered by my mark.” Longinus chuckle cuts Cain off, causing him to glare at his comrade. “Why’re you laughing?”
“So that’s why, then? The ‘Mark of Cain’ doesn’t affect her, so you’re thinking this might be the first trim you can get in what? How many thousands upon thousands of years,” Longinus whispers, a poorly hidden smirk on his face. Longinus tussles Cain’s hair but it isn’t long before Cain bats his hand away.
“You don’t understand. It’s only because you’ve been assigned to me that you can tolerate my mark. Otherwise, you and Judas would be like everyone else I’ve ever encountered. Aggressive, weary, uncomfortable. You wouldn’t be able to be around me. But she doesn’t seem to notice it. I want to know why. But these aren’t even the most important reasons. That is,” Cain says then points towards the child in her arms. “Right there. That baby is mortal.”
“What?” Longinus steps forward, gripping Cain’s shoulders in the same motion. “All the humans are dead, and new ones don’t just grow on trees. So what makes you think he isn’t an elf-like his mom? Maybe his ears just haven’t come in yet.”
“Maybe it’s a hunch.” Cain starts over towards the others. Once again his and the woman’s gaze pass over one another’s. “Maybe it’s something else.”
A smile comes to Longinus’ face while he sighs. “Well, if we’ve got no choice but to bring her with, then I’m going to say it now. Dibs.”
Judas glares at Longinus. “That’s the dumbest shit you’ve said today, a day where you’ve said nothing but dumb shit. Besides,” Judas scoffs as he turns his back on the mother. “A girl like her is wasted on a blind guy.”
Turning away from Longinus, Judas speaks to the woman. “So, have a name beautiful?” He smiles at her and ends up bearing his two sharp vampiric teeth. Cain shakes his head. Couldn’t they save this talk for the car ride?
Surprisingly, the woman doesn’t seem very bothered by Judas’s fangs. In fact, she smiles, giggles even, before answering. “It’s Mary, Mary Magdalene.” Judas gasps, and Cain makes note of the name as it sounds familiar. The woman, Mary, looks down at her child and bounces him in her arms briefly. “And this little guy here is Adam.” A long time ago, Cain might’ve chuckled hearing that name. Mary looks up and her gaze scans across the men. Cain finds her eyes on him again, but they dart away the moment he threatens to catch them.
“You’re Mary Magdalene!?” Judas shouts, throwing his arms up. “Like, THAT Mary Magdalene? The one my cousin dated?!”
Cain arches an eyebrow. His back meets the nearest wall in an attempt to look disinterested in the conversation. Even with his eyes off in another direction, he focuses all his effort on listening to every word spoken in detail. On occasion, mostly whenever he hears Mary, he peeks over.
For example, now is one of those times he looks, because he can hear a soft high pitch squeak coming from the young looking mother. There’s an undeniable redness to her otherwise milky cheeks. Her emerald eyes are flitting back and forth between Judas and Longinus.
Longinus steps up, cupping his chin, and asks, “Wait, so you’re the one Jesus stepped in for, right? The one about to get stoned. You’ve got quite thereputationyoung lady.”
A nervous sounding peep plumes out from Mary. “P-please don’t bring up those stories about me. You know they aren’t true, right?” A tiny pout inches onto her face, replacing that wide smile from earlier. Her eyes still look back and forth between Judas and Longinus, as though seeking some sort of confirmation from the men.
“I don’t know. You were there, weren’t you Judas? What do you say,” Longinus asks.
“I guess? It was a long time ago. Jesus never really brought her around too often. But we were like, 120% certain they were a thing. Outside of his mom, Mary was the only girl he ever talked to.” Judas chuckles.“Guess it was an Oedipus thing.”
“It’s not true,” Cain speaks up. He would have walked over, but being too close to the baby just makes it cry, so he’ll keep his distance. “In the middle ages, Western Christianity made her out to be a prostitute. I’ve kept up with scripture since the first time it was archived and nothing like that was in the original gospels.”
This time Cain looks at her and keeps his eyes on her even if she were to look away. Mary’s gaze locks back on his. She nods, smiles and seems thankful for his words.
Such a simple gesture from her leaves Cain’s cheeks burning. It’s a sensation he hasn’t felt in a long time, and it’s nice. But as nice as the feeling is, it’s short-lived. The warm feeling fades when Longinus throws his arm over Cain’s shoulder and pulls him into a headlock.
“Leave it to the world’s oldest man to be our walking fact checker. Though it still makes me wonder why they were going to stone you in the first place. Nah, shouldn’t matter, they were stoning people for just about anything back then. Man, those really were the good ol’ days.”
Judas raises his hand. “Well, how’s about the stuff with Jesus? Is that canon or what? I just wanna get stories straight.” Judas looks at Mary for answers. Understandably, of course, Cain had no reference for this. His own eyes might show some bemusement in the idea, as much as he might be trying to convince himself that he doesn’t care.
“Uhm, w-well, “Mary whispers as she looks down at Adam. Cain catches it, the subtle change in her emotions. Her face had been flushed, and her eyes an unfocused strain of emerald, but looking at her son levels her out. She holds a finger above him, and the baby reaches out and grasps it. Soft giggles parade from the two.
“Jesus was someone very important to me. In the end, I loved him but he loved his duty more than anything else...” She looks up at the three, Cain in particular, at least that’s how he felt. “Let’s just leave it at that.”
“Oh...sorry for bringing it up,” Judas says, tugging at his collar.
If this woman really is the Mary Magdalene then like the three of them she has lived longer than any mortal. But unlike them, he’s sure that her case is more liken to a gift than a curse.
“I-it’s fine...Judas, right,” Mary says, rocking Adam in her arms as he dozes off. “It was a really long time ago. I miss Jesus a lot, but we’re kind of from two different worlds. He’ll always have a place in my heart, but I won’t trouble him with silly things like my feelings.”
Mary glances down. “Good, he’s asleep. We can start moving my things. Do you three have a car?”
“Yeah,” Longinus says, stepping in front of Judas. “It’s my car.” He offers her a hand. “Name’s Longinus-”
Judas grunts, he turns into a cloud of smoke to circle around Longinus. The smoke comes together as Judas with his arms extended outwards towards Mary.
“Load me up. Trust me, I’m stronger than I look.” Judas bobs his eyebrows up and down. “You and I have a lot of catching up to do. We had a pretty important mutual friend back in the day. We can talk about him, then we can talk about us. Then we can talk-”
Longinus silences Judas by yanking on his ponytail. “Mutual friend? Yeah, tell her the story about how you kissed him to death.” Longinus pulls Judas back and steps in front of Mary.
An elbow to the gut sends Longinus flying back.
“What would you even talk about? How you carried out his execution? Interesting story. Let me tell you how it ends: He survives.” Judas pauses brings a finger to his chin and squints. “More or less.”
Through the hopeless display, Cain can see Mary sitting there smiling at the two. She nods when they speak, and makes sure to look back and forth between them equally. It’s a really polite display, actually. When the two end up bickering, something Cain knew was inevitable, Mary seems to focus on him. She stands up and walks right up to Cain.
“I can’t wait to learn about all three of you.” While looking up at Cain she rubs Adam’s back, as though to keep him at peace while this close to Cain. “I don’t think I caught your name, sir. Did you know Jesus too?”
“It’s Cain,” he says, averting his eyes. “Didn’t know him. Heard he’s great. Doubt he’d like me.”
Cain turns to leave but feels Mary grip his arm. The arm he’d used to kill Haagenti.
“I-I just wanted to t-thank you...Cain, mister, um, sir!” He doesn’t want to turn around, but the muscles in his neck are already forcing his head back. He finds her staring up at him with her big green eyes. He catches all the nuances of her visage; A tiny nose, small pert lips, and little eyebrows arching above her eyes. It’s like everything about her face is small and fragile. Opposite of his hardened sullen mess of a mug.
“I don’t know what I would’ve done if you hadn’t shown up,” Mary says.
Cain feels something, kind of like when he arrived earlier. An anxiousness he relates to fear, but it’s different. His life isn’t in danger, not immediately anyway, but his heart’s still beating around like it is.
There’s a long pause, and Cain feels himself counting seconds, as though they were precious, as though he weren’t immortal.
“I’m also sorry for shooting you in the head back there,” Mary says. “That was my bad.
Despite living for as long as he has, there weren’t a lot of people who apologized to Cain. As he’s about to respond the baby wakes up and cries.
“Oh, are you hungry Adam? Here, I’ll feed you.” Giggling, Mary holds Adam in one arm, while unbuttoning her top with her free hand.
Now that the attention is on Mary’s chest he can see how buxom she is. Every button flicked open reveals more of her fair skin. She’s oozing out of her top. How did her outfit restrain so much meat? It was only a glance, but Cain already felt his many animalistic urges taking over. Upon seeing the light lavender color of Mary’s lacy bra, Cain turns away, fearing what else he might see.
“What are you doing!?” Cain shouts, burning up. The mood of the room had completely changed. It almost feels like Haagenti hadn’t just been slain there.
“Hmm, what? Is there a problem? I can’t feed him here?” Cain hears the confusion in Mary’s words.
To save her the trouble he turns around and walks past her and over to Longinus and Judas. He hikes a thumb towards the door and both men take their leave.
Cain stays behind just a bit longer. Mostly so he can tell Mary, “The car’s outside. Just come out when you’re done.”
Without waiting for a response, Cain walks out of the room. Once around the corner, he lets out another heavy sigh of relief. He’s known Mary for a handful of hours and she’s already proven herself more complicated than Longinus and Judas combined. Cain wonders if he’s biting off more than he can chew, but then he remembers her mortal child and his resolve returns.