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Velvet Redemption

By C. M. Lanning All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Action

Blurb

Following the death of his girlfriend in a car crash for which Justin is to blame, he resorts to taking his own life. But when demons need your help, it’s not that easy. Brought back from the brink of death, Justin makes a deal with Lilandra, a demon seeking assistance in the mortal world. Tasked with preventing all out war between Heaven and Hell in return for the resurrection of his girlfriend, Justin sets out on a bloody war path. Armed with a legendary blade he’ll do battle with anything that stands in his way, living or dead.

Chapter 1

“Justin Pierce?”

The voice of the delivery woman from UPS brought me back to my office settings.

“Yes. That’s me,” I said.

I signed for the stupid folder and glanced at the clock. It was still 10:30 AM. . . same as the last time I looked. It was no different than I was used to. Time had been slow every day for the past six months; why would today be any different?

Opening the brown paper folder, I found some delivery orders from a company in Portland. They were wanting some new elevator buttons for their current models, though, their elevators were a little old, and finding buttons to fit the design would be a challenge.

Looking at the clock again, I saw 10:31 AM.

“Jesus this day is slow,” I muttered, holding my head in my hands. I didn’t have a headache. . . I was physically fine. My mind, however, had just about had it. Why was I even here? I wasn’t fit to be drawing elevator schematics as a graphic designer for Innovation Inc., an elevator parts designing company in Denver, Colorado.

Oh yeah, it’s because if I sat at home with nothing to keep my shattered mind busy, I’d just see the same scene on repeat in my head. Lisa. . . oh my god. . . Lisa.

Don’t say her name. You know what happens when. . . too late, I thought.

The scene started, and there was no pause or stop button on this mental VCR.

“Will you put that phone down? Or at least pull over and let me drive?”

It was dusk as I drove us home.

Lisa’s voice registered, but I didn’t really hear what she said all that well. I was too busy looking at a design request from a skyscraper in Dallas.

“Relax. I’m just looking at an email. I’m an excellent driver,” I said as I glanced at my speedometer and saw I was doing five above the limit.

No cop will pull me over for five, I thought.

Muttering to myself, I glanced at the email again, “The doors. . . they want. . .”

My red 1996 Ford Contour sped through the outskirts of Denver as we headed further into the city toward our apartment.

Lisa had been with me for a couple years now. I knew that she was my soulmate. I was absolutely smitten with her. Sure, we’d had our arguments, especially when she moved in, but I loved her. In spite of her trying to get rid of my Star Wars posters in our bedroom, I loved her (I got rid of Leia in the golden bikini, and she let me keep the rest).

Without really thinking, I increased my speed a little more. I had to get home and draw some of these sketches, or the next day at the office would be short one lunch break.

“Justin. . . seriously, honey. Just pull over and switch with me. I don’t mind driving while you check your emails,” Lisa said, a little more nervous.

Again, I ignored her. The last thing I remember was “Baka Survivor” coming on my iPod stereo before it all started.

“Justin!”

That was all Lisa had time to say before I saw her chestnut hair whip back in slow motion. I looked over, but the Toyota Tacoma that slammed into my Ford Contour didn’t allow my neck to get far. It slammed into Lisa’s side, killing her instantly. Her body crushed inward slowly before my eyes.

I escaped the accident with my life in tact and only a few bruises. The only reason I wasn’t prosecuted for running the 4-Way intersection was because the man that ran into me had alcohol on his breath. I was so ashamed, I didn’t even mention the cell phone.

After that night, I didn’t know how to go on. I didn’t know which crushed me more, the fact that I killed her, the fact that I’d never see her again, or the fact that I survived, and she paid for my mistake. Every day, I’d get up, go to work, wait for the clock to run out, then cash my check at the end of the week and go home.

I used to cook a little before Lisa died, but in the six months that I’d been alone, Chinese food and frozen pizza had been my steady diet.

When I snapped out of my delusion, I was sweating and the clock read 11:00 AM. I left my office and said, “I’m taking an early lunch.”

Outside, I put on my sunglasses. Innovation Inc. was located about a mile from Downtown Denver, and there were several little shops and restaurants close by. That was when the sun reflected off of the windshield of a Toyota Prius driving by. I just happened to see the driver of the vehicle. She had her phone out in front of her on the wheel.

Snapping, I looked behind me and found a fruit stand selling apples and other things. Angrily, I snatched a few apples and hurled them at the Prius.

“Hey! Godammit, stop your car!”

The first apple hit the top of her car, while the second smashed right into the back windshield. The driver stopped immediately after the third apple hit her side-view mirror.

She hopped out of her vehicle and proceeded to stomp over to me in her high heels. She was wearing a black suit and skirt, and she was muttering angrily. When she reached me, she slapped me across my face, and yelled at me for hitting her car.

Then, the owner of the fruit stand, an older Hispanic-looking individual came over and started yelling, but I didn’t care about him.

When I raised my voice, they both shut up.

“Are you insane? You’ll kill someone if you text on your stupid phone while driving! Put it down and wait!”

She slapped me again and raised her own voice.

“You have a lot of nerve to accuse me of that! I was using the GPS on my phone to find a local office. I have a presentation to give you little prick!”

“You were. . . using. . . GPS. . .,” I muttered, breathing heavily. Putting my hand up to my eyes, I pulled my sunglasses off my face and wiped the sweat off my forehead.

Her anger melted into pity when she saw how pale I was.

“Hey. . . no big deal. It’s just a rental car. Are you okay? Do you want me to call a doctor?”

I felt a pair of hands pick me up and fix my situation.

“He’s sorry. He lost someone dear to him in a car accident recently, and it’s got him a little shaken up,” Joshua’s voice said, explaining to the woman.

Another voice was behind me apologizing to the owner of the fruit stand. When I turned, I saw Benjamin giving the man a ten-dollar bill and apologizing again.

Benjamin and Joshua were my two closest friends. Within a few moments of their arrival, they’d fixed my situation, and the two involved in the skirmish were minding their own business again.

Joshua asked, “Justin, are you okay?”

“I’m fine, thanks,” I said, putting my sunglasses back on.

“We went by your office, but you’d just left for lunch. Come on, let’s go get some food and talk,” Benjamin said.

I’d been mainly avoiding them since Lisa’s death. I knew they were worried about me and wanted to cheer me up, but I just didn’t feel like I deserved that at the moment.

We arrived at a little sandwich shop called Deli-Lama. We went inside and Joshua took me to a table to sit down. Benjamin got us all some shop specials and bags of chips. He came back a few minutes later with a few plates of big sandwiches and individual bags of chips.

Joshua asked, “You wanna tell us what happened?”

Benjamin put my food down in front of me, but I didn’t feel like I had the strength to eat. I was still breathing heavily, my mind feeling like it would snap again at any second.

“No big deal. Let’s just eat some food, and you can go home and take the rest of the day off if you need to. Then, if you’re up to it, you’re welcome to come play cards with us tonight.

I’m getting pretty tired of beating Joshua at every game,” Benjamin said, laughing.

Benjamin, Joshua, and I would meet to play poker once a week before Lisa died. We each had our mannerisms. When Josh knew he had no good hand and he was about to bust, he would shove what chips he had left into the middle of pot and shout, “All in!”

He had the most ridiculous smirk on his face when he did it. The guy never figured out how to bluff or use that trick against us, but a few nights before the car accident, we were playing poker. I had two aces in my hand and was ready to make a raise when it came to my turn. At that moment, Josh put his cards down on the table and shoved his chips toward the center of the table.

“That’s right ladies, I’m all in!”

Benjamin and I just laughed at him. We knew he didn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell of taking that hand, but that was his cue. He was about to bust.

Benjamin was a tall skinny man who had served in the air force and had short dark hair. He was always clean shaved. I watched him check his blood before he ate. He was discharged from the air force for being diabetic. He found that out in the middle of one of his tours in Afghanistan. Benjamin was married to a shorter kind and soft-spoken woman named Sarah, and they had an energetic child named Elijah. The couple had even given me the honor being Elijah’s godfather. Benjamin handled all the computer repairs and maintenance at Innovation Inc.

Joshua was a different story. He was shorter and a little more solidly built, more muscle. He had even shorter buzzed hair and usually kept a peach-fuzz beard on his face. He hadn’t joined the military, but kind of drifted from job to job before joining in as a salesman at Innovation Inc.

They started eating and were talking about Joshua’s last date. Benjamin was poking fun at him for dumping the girl because she made fun of one of his favorite television programs of the 1980s.

“You don’t make fun of K.I.T.T. You just don’t,” Joshua said.

“Right, so the perfect woman comes along and says, I can’t believe Kevin Costner starred in such a lame show like Knight Rider. She’s beautiful, well educated, and God himself wants you with her, but you break up with her because of her comment?”

“First, David Hasselhoff played Michael Knight. Second, of course she’s history. I don’t care if she’s my soulmate. You don’t make fun of my show,” Joshua said.

They continued to joke around while I scooted away and stood up. Putting down some money on the table, I grabbed my coat and said, “Thanks guys. You’re a wonderful pair of friends that mean the world to me, but I just can’t do this right now.”

“We’re worried about you,” Joshua said.

“I know,” I said, and left it at that.

Benjamin caught me outside the restaurant with a business card.

“This is Mikayla,” he said, pulling up the picture of an attractive redhead woman on his phone’s Facebook.

“I told her I’d set her up on a blind date, and I think she kind of digs you,” Benjamin said, trying to give me her card.

Mikayla was one of the other graphic designers that worked for Innovation Inc. Her office was on the other side of the building, though.

We worked together occasionally on big projects, but we didn’t especially hit it off.

“Benjamin, I appreciate this, but there are two problems,” I said.

“Which are?”

Sighing, I explained, “One, Mikayla drives her car on the opposite side of the road, if you know what I mean. She’s probably expecting you to set her up with someone like Ashley in accounting. Two, I honestly don’t think I’ll ever love another woman again. Lisa was just too much of my life for me to continue being happy without her.”

“She’d want you to move on and be happy. We all do, but no one more than Joshua and myself,” Benjamin said.

“Thanks again, but no.”

I left and walked back to my new car. It was a 2005 Chevy Impala, also red. Getting inside, I drove out of the city. I couldn’t take it anymore, and I was about finished.

An hour later, I stood at 14,000 feet in the air contemplating the final steps in taking my own life. The rocky mountains were already cold in September. The air blowing past me made me shiver, but what did I care how cold it was? I’d left a suicide note in my apartment taped to my fridge. If anyone from work were to come looking for me, they’d find that note and get the gist of what I was thinking.

Truth be told, I wasn’t really trying to be dramatic. It seemed to me that there are two kinds of people in the world who commit suicide. Those who want attention and those who just don’t want to be alive anymore.

I guess I fell into the second group. I was just too tired to keep going. I didn’t see a reason to get up every morning and go to work, to come home, to eat a frozen pizza, and to go to bed.

My phone vibrated.

I have reception up here? Sprint does a better job than I realized, I thought as I pulled out my phone. It was the same phone that I had been using when Lisa died. I had received a text from Josh asking if I wanted to go to iHop tonight. I put the phone back in my pocket as a strong gust of wind blew my long black hair around. I had my hair tied back in a braid, but the bangs often flung around at the slightest hint of a breeze.

I pulled out my phone and looked at it again.

Why do I still have this thing?

I was alone on the peak of Mt. George. There wasn’t another human for miles around, and that is what presented the perfect opportunity for me to take my time with this. I imagined a simple fall would be one of the most peaceful ways to go. I threw my phone off the cliff. It wasn’t out of anger or anything; it’s not like the phone killed Lisa. That said, I didn’t want the phone to be in existence any more. I lost sight of it as it fell into some thick fog.

Another cold breeze blew as I walked up to the edge of the cliff.

“I don’t know what’s on the other side, but if Lisa is there, that’s where I want to be. Do you hear me, Lisa? I’m coming to where you are,” I said.

Whether it was some kind of last prayer or monologue that just escaped my lips, I didn’t know. What I did know was that it was about to be over.

I looked down at the fog below me and thought about my jump. Would I just step off the cliff? Would it be any different if I actually leapt off? I wondered if it’d make a difference how I landed. A 14,000 foot drop would kill anyone no matter how they landed, right?

I can’t believe I’m actually over thinking my suicide, I thought.

Without any further thought, I just stepped off the cliff. My center of gravity shifted and I began to free fall face first.

The cold air made it hard to keep my eyes open, so I just closed them as I fell to my doom. I didn’t think there would be much to look at anyway.

“Are you that ready to end your life?”

I looked up to see a woman projecting her voice. I wondered who she was and why she was falling in the sky with me.

Her long dark-red hair and large red wings glistened in the sun before we both entered the fog.

“I thought I was alone when I jumped,” I said.

“Nope, I’ve been watching you since Lisa died,” Lilandra hollered.

She wasn’t more than an arm’s reach in front of me, and the moving air should have made it difficult for me to hear her, but I could hear her just fine for some reason.

I didn’t know what to ask this girl next. She appeared to be younger than me, and she knew about Lisa. I suppose it didn’t matter since I was going to be dead soon, but she peaked my curiosity.

“I’ll save you some trouble, Justin, since you’re so short on time. Normally, humans can’t see me because I’m a demon. There is a war coming, and I need your help to stop it. If you succeed in stopping the war, you can have Lisa back,” Lilandra said.

When someone is in the process of committing suicide, one of the last things they hear usually isn’t, “Hey, I can fix the reason you’re taking your life.”

“If you could give Lisa back to me, why haven’t you done it by now?”

“Because you can’t see me unless you are close to death. I had to wait and see if you were actually going to be desperate enough to commit suicide,” Lilandra said.

“What is this war-”

“Justin! You’ll be dead in a few more seconds. You need to decide right now if you’re in on this deal or not. Once you’re dead, your soul will be taken off into the afterlife. This won’t change unless you make a deal with me right this second to let me have your soul,” Lilandra said, with a tone of urgency.

“How do I know I can trust you? I mean, you are a demon, right?”

“You don’t know. You just have to decide if getting Lisa back is worth the risk. I mean, you’re getting ready to die, so what more do you have to lose?”

“An eternity in Hell?”

“Justin, you were probably already heading there before I showed up. At the very least, you prolong that future and get a chance to get Lisa’s life back,” Lilandra said.

This is definitely not how I pictured my suicide attempt panning out, I thought.

I still couldn’t see the ground below me through the fog, but I knew I was approaching it fast. What was I supposed to do? Make a deal with a demon to see the woman I loved again or just die and hope I met Lisa on the other side?

“Justin! What are you going to do?”

Without much further thought, my mouth answered for me, “I’ll take the deal; just give me Lisa back!”

Lilandra was suddenly closer to me. She was right in front of me now. Her hands grabbed mine, and they felt extremely cold. I looked directly into her eyes; they were also red. Everything about this girl was red. Red lips, hair, eyes, the woman looked like several gallons of red paint had exploded on her.

She grabbed the middle of my t-shirt and tore it off. Then, she placed her right palm on the center of my chest and her hand caught fire. It burned as she scorched my chest, and I did my best to just grunt from the pain.

“What, couldn’t have just sealed the deal in a more conventional way?”

“Believe me, there are plenty of ways to seal a deal with a demon, but when you’re this close to death, a powerful magic seal is required to bond your soul to my grasp,” Lilandra said.

When she finished, her hand cooled off and once more felt like ice. The scars on my chest where she had scorched began to heal, and I felt relief. The relief almost felt like I was swimming in some crystal clear lake. I almost lost focus.

“I didn’t figure demons got to keep their wings,” I said.

“Later. Right now, you need to focus on where you’re landing,” Lilandra said.

“What, you aren’t going to fly me out of here?”

“You need to establish your spirit form first. You’ll notice that since your head cleared back up, you’re almost a little transparent now,” Lilandra said.

I looked, and below me was. . . myself. My body had its eyes closed as it fell face up toward the ground below.

“What the-”

As my body fell, Lilandra grabbed my ghostly body with one hand and hovered with me in midair, as if I were light as a feather to her. My body plunged below.

“Focus, Justin. I just pulled your soul from your body. In its current state, your soul is very fragile right now, and if you don’t establish a permanent spiritual form soon, you’re going to shatter and then fade into the afterlife,” Lilandra said.

“What do you need me to do?”

“To establish a permanent spiritual body, you’re going to need the aid of a powerful relic that we’re about to head toward. Right now, think of yourself as being hollow, and you’re about to cave in. You need something to make you whole,” Lilandra said.

I was starting to feel a little dizzy, but Lilandra put her other hand on his face. Its shockingly cold touch brought my eyes to her own.

“Listen to me. If this doesn’t work, you’re going to fade into the afterlife, so we have to be quick-”

“Why the Hell didn’t you tell me we had a chance of failure before I-”

Lilandra slapped me across the face.

“I’m talking now, Justin. Pay attention or you die.”

I nodded my head, angry at this demon. What had I gotten myself into?”

“Look, you’re Casper right now, but you’re also unstable. I need you to get to this relic and claim it so that if can give you a more solid and permanent body. Right now, only I can see you, and no humans can see me. However, once you’re claimed this relic, you’ll have a new body that will be visible to all humans again. It’ll also likely change you and give you a new form,” Lilandra said.

“I just need a little more explanation. I mean, cut me some slack. A few seconds ago, I was committing suicide. Now, what am I doing?”

Lilandra sighed and slowed down as she allowed us to descend again at a light pace, “My tale is complicated, so I’ll sum it up for you. I used to be the armor bearer for Michael, the Archangel of War. It was my job to carry his sword and shield. When the war in Heaven broke out and Lucifer started his rebellion, I . . . made some stupid choices and almost cost Michael the war.

His sword fell to earth and has rested here since. I’ve spent thousands of years searching for it, trying to beat Lucifer to it. Michael eventually had a new sword forged by Micah, Heaven’s blacksmith. When the war was over, I fled to earth and became a demon for failing to keep Michael’s command to ignore the old sword. Since then, I’ve been looking for someone to wield it because a rematch is brewing. Lucifer has been looking for Michael’s sword so he can wage war on Heaven again. I have located the blade, and you are to be its new master,”

God does exist. . . , I thought to myself with a little shock.

I’d never really been very successful at the whole religion thing. I suppose I described myself as a nonchalant agnostic. I wasn’t too interested in being bossed around by people with titles like, “priest,” “father,” or “pastor.” Once in a blue moon, I might have uttered a word or two to God, but not since I lost Lisa.

“This sword. . . why am I its new master?”

“When the sword fell to earth, it changed. It remained Michael’s blade, imbued with his power, but when Micah forged the sword, it was an evolutionary weapon. Michael asked for a blade that would change to fit his needs. Micah forged a blade that changed based on the wielder, never intending for anyone other than Michael to wield it. Your tormented soul calls out like a beacon seeking redemption. You’ve cried many a night just asking for a second chance to right your wrong,” Lilandra said.

She continued, “It’s one of the strongest resonances I’ve felt on this planet. I believe that resonance will be picked up by Michael’s blade, and because it is a holy blade, it will give you a chance for redemption.”

My head started to spin again, but Lilandra seemed to sense this as she put her hand on my cheek.

“Look, you’re not the only one seeking redemption. I may be a demon now, but you’re going to have to believe me that I am not out to fight against Michael and his army. I’m trying to stop Lucifer from getting his hands on this sword,” Lilandra said.

I could see the ground below us now, and there was a large pond at the base of the mountain. It must have been about a quarter mile long and half a mile wide. The water was crystal clear, but it reflected the sky so I couldn’t see the depths. My trajectory didn’t put me in the pond, but Lilandra flipped around behind me and carried me by my arms. I looked up and saw her red wings glistening in the sun. They weren’t flapping, instead they just glided us toward the water.

Noting that I didn’t really feel cold or warm, she seemed to sense my confusion and said, “Your spiritual form needs to be established before you start feeling again. The sword is at the base of that pond where it has rested since the creation of the world when Lucifer rebelled. This pond may not have always been here, but the blade has. It’s been hidden to all until just recently.

Find the blade, focus on the strength you’ll need to stop a war between Heaven and Hell, and grab it. If you can pick it up. . . well, I really don’t want to lie to you. I don’t know what will happen when you clutch the hilt of the blade.”

I made one more remarkable discovery about myself since this whole mess started. When I jumped, I felt horrible. For the past half year, I’ve felt horrible. Now, I was actually starting to feel better, and it was shocking to me that now that hope was once again in my life, how much more free my mind seemed to be.

Now that I had a chance to bring Lisa back and fix my mistake, it was as if the large weight I’d been carrying on my back for the past six months was gradually lessening.

She pulled me tighter, not that she was loosening her grip, and I could feel her breasts touching my back.

“All you girl demons have big breasts, or did you just get a good deal in that department?”

“Are you complaining?”

“Not at all, it’s just I noticed that your purple tank top is doing everything it can to hold the ladies in, and uh. . . well I’m not complaining, no.”

“Good. I’ve had them for thousands of years, and they’re just as new as the day I took this form,” Lilandra said.

I smirked. That sounded like a joke Lisa would have made. . . if she were thousands of years old but had some form of immortality.

Well, at least I sold my soul to a demon with a great sense of humor. I figured that if they did exist, they’d all have some sort of attitude problem, I thought.

As my mind wandered to Lilandra without the tank top on, she said, “Michael’s blade isn’t going to lend itself to some pervert, Justin. Be thinking some purer thoughts, will you? We really only have one shot at this,” Lilandra said.

I stopped thinking anything at that point, just to avoid her further probing into my thoughts.

“When you hit the water, it’s going to feel weird because you won’t really feel wet. Instead, you’ll feel a little cold as if you’re passing between the water molecules,” Lilandra said.

As we finally came over the pond, she squeezed me tighter and said, “Good luck.”

Then, she let me fall. I didn’t bounce into the pond so much as I slid in. She was right; it did feel very weird to be in water but not be wet. It did feel just a little cold, almost as if condensation were trying to form on my arms but just couldn’t for some reason. It almost felt as if I had goosebumps. . . soul goosebumps.

I slowly sank, not really being able to swim. At least I was sinking feet first. The pond was deeper than I thought. I must have slowly sank at least a hundred feet before my toes finally hit the bottom. I’d been submerged for about ten minutes, and even the earth at the bottom of the pond didn’t feel right under my. . . soul feet?

Soul feet sounds like the name of some horrible spiritual comedy, I thought.

I looked around, unable to see too much. There was a little light filtering around, but ultimately, there was nothing I could really make out. The hard ground below me was all dark, and I wondered where this sword was supposed to be located.

Looking in all directions for at least five minutes, I finally noticed something reflecting a little light just a short distance from me. I began to walk toward it, and because I wasn’t really feeling the water in a normal sense, I wasn’t hindered by it either. The ground below me wasn’t slippery, and I wasn’t moving any slower than I would be if I were walking on a sidewalk back in downtown Denver.

Finally making it to the reflecting light, I found it. I didn’t figure there were too many swords that occupied the ponds scattered throughout the Rocky Mountains, but I could have been wrong.

Once I saw it, I was captivated with it. There wasn’t a scratch on it, but it wasn’t sticking out of a rock or anything. It simply lay at rest at the bottom of the pond.

Have you really been down here for thousands of years?

The blade was actually quite long. I estimated that it was at least five feet in length. I couldn’t technically see the blade since it was in its scabbard, but the hilt was wrapped in black leather. Below the hilt was a metal diamond shape that actually had a spot where I guessed a gem used to be. The scabbard itself was probably the most curious part of the blade. It was long and narrow, but it didn’t look hard.

Kneeling down to have a closer look, it appeared the scabbard was made of nothing more than white cloth.

I slowly poked it, cautiously, in case the sword decided to disintegrate me or something. It was fairly soft. I’d never seen a soft scabbard before, not that I was some weapons expert.

Looking at the hilt, I thought that I’d spent enough time staring at the blade.

Well Michael, whether or not I’m worthy enough to hold your sword. . . I’m going to try. I’ll be honest here, I don’t care about your war. I don’t care about angels or demons at this point. I’ve got a chance to right a wrong I did, and I’m going for it. I’m doubling down and going all in. So if I see you in a few minutes due to me being blasted into the afterlife, I guess you can tell me I screwed up, I thought, saying some kind of silent prayer.

I didn’t know if someone could pray to angels or not; I bet the answer lay with some man of the cloth.

Thinking back to what Lilandra told me, I focussed on the blade. I thought about power for a second. What kind of power would one need to stop a war? Strength? Wisdom? What about some kind of healing powers? Surely people get hurt in wars, even angels and demons. The one visual I kept coming back to was Lilandra’s red wings. The color red intrigued me. It was the one thing I kept seeing in my mind, the color red.

It was Lisa’s blood after the accident, and it was the color of redemption as I fought for a chance to get Lisa back.

I would get Lisa back, no matter the cost. I didn’t know what else I had to give after selling my soul to a demon, but I would get Lisa back. Heaven and Hell could try to stop me, but they would fail. God himself would have to personally put an end to me to stop me from seeing Lisa again.

The sword in front of me began to glow, and I had to close my eyes for a second and open them to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating.

“All in,” I muttered as my hand grabbed the hilt of the blade.

The leather was cool, and I froze there, halfway expecting some sort of explosion or flash of light to destroy me. Neither happened, and after a few moments, I actually picked up the blade. It was heavy, but then again, I was just surprised I could lift it. For some reason, the sword directed me to place the scabbard over my left shoulder and onto my back.

It wasn’t like the sword physically told me to, but I just got a feeling that is what it wanted. As soon as I had done that, two straps shot out of the scabbard and one wrapped around my right shoulder and left rib cage, the other wrapped sideways across my stomach.

The straps pulled nice and secure so the scabbard really had no wiggle room. It felt weird, and the sudden movement of the blade surprised me. I don’t know why, but I thought the scabbard would squeeze until I was cut in half. It stopped when it was nice and snug though.

Next, the blade compelled me to draw it. Slowly, my right hand reached and grabbed the hilt.

Is there a certain way I need to go about this? Should I do it on dry land?

I drew the sword and surprised myself by not being clumsy. It was as if the sword had somehow made me momentarily graceful. Holding it in front of me, I felt the sword as if it had a heartbeat. The blade was long, thin, and silver. As I thought about Lilandra’s wings and color red, though, the sword began to shake and change before my eyes.

The long skinny blade curved more, and it grew much lighter than it had been. The hilt thinned, and instead of a diamond shape below the hilt, a razor-sharp crescent about five inches in length now appeared. After that, the sword changed to be a dark red color. When the blade stopped shaking, my body began to shake. My eyes began to burn, and my shoulders began to ache terribly.

Falling to the bottom of the pond on my knees and hands, I screamed loudly, but nobody came to give me relief.

Is this the sword rejecting me?

After what felt like an eternity of gruesome pain, I passed out. When I awoke again, I noticed that I could see much more. The light above the water had faded, which indicated that it was night out, but for some reason, I could see just fine. In fact, I could see the entire length of the pond in all directions. As I rose slowly to my feet, I noticed that my shoulders felt very different.

It was at that moment that I looked and saw rising with me was a set of wings, identical to Lilandra’s. My eyes widened.

“How the Hell did that happen? Was that why my shoulders were hurting so bad? I was growing wings?”

They were a bit larger than Lilandra’s, probably about six feet in diameter when I finally figured what muscles to move to flex them. The last thing I noticed was a flow of energy through my body. It felt like I was vibrating with electricity. I was no longer slightly transparent, and I felt much more wholesome than I did previously.

The water was wet now too, and the ground below my feet was soft.

“I guess that means my spiritual form did whatever it was supposed to?”

I still didn’t need to breathe, which was kind cool.

Looking at Michael’s sword again, I got lost in its deep red color, and its razor sharp edge. The blade looked gorgeous, and I got to be the one to use it? How did that work out?

Time to find Lilandra, I said to myself.

Thinking about swimming because I had physical weight again, I decided to try something different. I wanted to test my new wings.

Crouching and summoning as much strength to my legs as I could, I focussed on my legs and then leapt up with the speed of a snake’s strike.

I roared through the water and exploded into the air. Water went flying everywhere, and I shot up into the sky.

Trying to flap my wings, I realized that I didn’t know how to fly yet, so I spread them and glided down to the shore, landing roughly and almost falling over.

Lilandra was sitting on the shoreline, soaking her feet.

“You were successful,” she said, smiling.

She eyed my wings and walked behind me, touching them and feeling them over. She stroked the feathers, which I found I enjoyed a little more than I thought I would. Her strokes sent shivers up my spine, if I still had one.

“Wings, huh? I didn’t expect that. The sword looks as new as the day it fell to earth,” Lilandra remarked.

“You didn’t know what it looked like?”

“I was lucky enough to finally find it. I couldn’t ever really sense it, but after years of wandering, I finally noticed that the energy near this spot felt slightly different than any other spot on earth. Also, you’ll notice that the water behind you that was once crystal clear, has gone back to being muddy and hard to see through.

I looked, and sure enough, she was right. Not that there was pollution or anything in this water, but it was absolutely muddy now. There was also a bunch of algae that didn’t use to be in there.

“What happened?”

“Michael’s sword had more powers than you can possibly imagine. . . in fact, most of the abilities you will eventually learn to use will be what you can only imagine. Michael’s sword-”

“Stop calling it that,” I said, interrupting her.

This surprised her. . . and myself. I had not intended to say anything that forward to her, but the sword had compelled me, yet again.

“The sword’s name from this moment is Velvet Redemption,” I said, again without thinking.

“Velvet. . . . Redemption? The sword named itself?”

“This surprises you?”

“Michael is the only one that I have ever seen wield it. A human wielding it is completely unheard of to me. Everything is new. The sword has thoughts and realizations of its own, but Michael is the strongest angel in existence, so his aura always dominated the sword. And though I carried it for him, it certainly never spoke to me. If Velvet Redemption really did talk to Michael, he kept it to himself, which wasn’t too odd because Michael was always very quiet and reserved,” Lilandra said.

“Okay. . . well, what do we do now?”

“We need to leave. I don’t know the extent of Lucifer’s abilities, but I’m sure he knows that at the very least, the blade has been awakened,” Lilandra said.

“One last question,” I said.

“Ask me anything, Justin.”

“If you know so much about this blade and have such a personal history with it, why can’t you just pick up this blade and stop the war?”

Lilandra paused before answering and said, “I’m a demon now, Justin. I, too, am on a path toward redemption. I can’t touch the blade without it roasting me or worse. My job from here will be to guide you to use the blade to stop this war. That blade, if you aren’t careful, will likely try to kill me as it will see me as an enemy since I am a demon.”

“Do all angels that leave Heaven turn into demons?”

“It all depends on how you leave, I guess. I may not have left when Lucifer was hurled down with all his followers, but I did make choices that the angels above did not agree with,” Lilandra said.

“Choices like?”

She did not answer me that time. She looked away and a breeze blew both of our hair in the wind.

“I won’t ever lie to you, Justin, but there are some things I will let you know that I can’t tell you. That is something I will not tell you right now,” Lilandra said.

Thunder could be heard in the distance, and I looked toward the sky. Clouds were gathering and blocking out the previously clear starry night. I hadn’t realized how peaceful it was until the thunderstorm rolled in.

“That’s not too odd I guess. Thunderstorms do tend to form at random in these parts,” I said, not noticing the look of fear on Lilandra’s face.

When I finally did notice her expression as she stared at the clouds, I asked her, “What’s wrong? Don’t tell me demons are scared of thunderstorms.”

“We need to go. . . now!”

She grabbed my hand and together we got a good running start as she explained to me the basics of taking off. It didn’t take me long to figure it out, and we were suddenly airborne. I didn’t know what had her so shaken up.

We were flying north, and what was odd was the storm was still behind us. Even after flying quickly for about half an hour, the storm was still behind us. It hadn’t hit us yet, but it kept looking like it was going to.

“This must be a very wide and slow moving front,” I said.

“That’s no ordinary storm. Those are demons looking for the awakened bl- . . . they’re looking for Velvet Redemption,” Lilandra said.

We flew faster, but the storm kept on behind us. I got a good chuckle from thinking about what the folks at the National Weather Service were thinking watching this thing on radar, if demon storms showed up on radar.

“Lilandra, can’t you fight them? They aren’t letting up,” I said.

“I haven’t had any time to prepare you for combat, and if we got into a fight with some of Lucifer’s crowd, I couldn’t watch your-”

A bolt of lightning struck us and everything for me went black. . . or rather white, then black. It was unexpected, and caught us both by surprise as we fell toward the ground.

There was nothing but forest below us when I regained consciousness. Lilandra still hadn’t woken yet. I maneuvered over to her and then landed as best I could without dropping her.

The skies overhead began to darken even more, and I could hear rustling in the bushes around us.

What came into view was a pack of wolves that had us surrounded.

“Well I suppose under normal circumstances it wouldn’t be all that uncommon to find a pack of wolves in the woods of the western United States. . . but wolves that a demon would fear? Not so much,” I muttered.

Lilandra was slowly coming around when the first wolf came forward and said, “Wow. . . the famous demon Lilandra, former armor bearer for the mighty Archangel Michael. I haven’t seen you since the revolution in Heaven. Why would you run from an old acquaintance?”

She stood shakily on her feet, but did not respond.

“We have plenty of time until Lucifer shows up. So, how do you want to do this?”

“Do what?”

“Playing dumb was never one of your specialties. Your companion there is holding something that Lucifer is very interested in,” the wolf said.

“It’s a decoy,” Lilandra said.

“Wrong answer. Guess we’ll just kill you both and present it to Lucifer ourselves,” the wolf said as three wolves charged Lilandra and I from different sides.

With two wolves on my left and one on my right, I turned my attention to the left. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but Velvet Redemption compelled me to draw the sword.

As I did, a bright red light glowed from the blade, and several of the demons shielded their eyes.

“Sorry boys, sword chose me,” I said, running at the two wolves on my left.

I swung the sword down at them, but they leapt back for a second and then came forward, each tearing into a different arm and pinning me to the ground.

“Shame you didn’t get to teach the boy any combat basics,” the lead wolf said.

The other wolf stopped short of Lilandra, threatening to attack her if she made a move toward me.

They bit down to my bones, but didn’t shatter them. Blood was running from both arms though, and I could tell the taste of it was giving the wolves some terrible temptation to keep chewing.

Lilandra’s words echoed back to me, particularly how she talked about it having powers to do what I could only imagine.

“Combat basics? I don’t have any. I’m told that I hold the most powerful weapon in the world though,” I said, remembering the tingling feeling of the energy that flowed through my body the moment I awoke the new owner of Velvet Redemption.

“Redemption starts here,” I said, tightening my grip on Velvet.

Grunting, I started to tap into the energy inside of me. I wasn’t sure how I was doing it, but I knew it was there. I could feel it, pulsing with the heartbeat of Velvet and I. It felt like. . . electricity was running through my entire body as my biceps tensed.

“You aren’t going anywhere, so just lay down and wait for the devil to come get his due,” one of the wolves growled.

I was going to end them. . . end them all with this blade and power. I didn’t know if that was what Lilandra had in mind for stopping the war, but these demons were all about to be killed. The sword agreed with me, and the glow around it changed from red to white.

At the same time, I tensed my body, and started to output the energy that was inside me. It burned horribly, but I could tell it was hurting the wolves too. It was like I was shocking them with electricity inside my body.

Increasing the voltage rapidly, I began to scream. The pain was getting much worse. It felt like my muscles were tearing apart, and my lungs and heart were burning something awful.

The wolves eventually let go of my arms, and I rolled back over my head. Rising quickly to my feet, I rushed forward raised Velvet. I brought it down on one of the wolves that had held me, and the sword but through that demon like a hot knife through butter. Blood splattered on me as I carved that wolf clean in half.

“Shit, he’s up,” the other muttered.

The wolf leapt at me and clamped its jaw down on the hilt of Velvet Redemption. My right hand felt the sting of his teeth, attempting to crush my bone and to get me to drop the sword.

I drew back my left fist and slammed it into the neck of the wolf demon. Well, I thought it would slam into the neck. It really went clean through. The force from the blow was much stronger than I anticipated, and the demon’s body hung limp. I pulled my left fist out and let the body fall. Slinging my left hand down, some of the blood came off, but not all of it.

“Lilandra? You okay?”

“I’m fine. I count seven remaining, including their leader. You’ll have to kill all of them if we’re to make our escape before Lucifer arrives,” she said.

“Not to sound negative, but you aren’t some helpless girl. Can’t you take a few?”

“You really haven’t told the pup anything, have you? You know, that’s cruel to just string him along like that,” said the leader.

“Shut your hole, Dega. If I wasn’t dealing with you peons, I’d be telling him anything he wanted to know. Justin, I’m not really an offensive combatant. I’m a little more defensive,” Lilandra said.

I had no clue what she was talking about, but it sounded to me like I just got dumped with the main load of the work. My arms were still sore, and my right hand was also hurting from the wounds I’d sustained thus far. I felt like I had gotten lucky with the first two kills. How would I kill seven more?

Velvet seemed confident in my ability to kill them, but I didn’t know where the blade got its confidence from. It pulsed and alerted me to a wolf that had leapt ten feet in the air and was now diving toward me at full speed.

“I love this sword,” I said, putting both hands on the hilt and lowering the blade to my right. When the wolf was close enough, I lowered myself to avoid the wolf’s teeth, and then immediately came up and thrust Velvet redemption into its chest.

“If you demons want to go ahead and retreat, that’d make this so much easier on me,” I said. I was really tired, and my arms were still hurting.

“The demons are under strict orders to retrieve Velvet Redemption, Justin. They will not retreat because they know what Lucifer will do to them if they return empty handed,” Lilandra explained.

She moved closer to me now. The wolf that had been threatening to attack her had fallen back to join the main group of six remaining demons. Lilandra did not remove her eyes from them as she moved to join me.

“Stand still. I may not be able to directly combat these demons, but I am still useful in battle,” she said.

She grabbed my arms, each with one hand. Her touch felt cool, but it actually was kind of nice because it numbed the throbbing I felt from where the wolves had torn into my flesh.

Lilandra’s hands began to glow a shade of light green, and I felt a stinging sensation in my arms as the flesh began to change. I looked away and grunted from the stinging pain.

“Ahhh, I thought you said you were useful! Causing more pain is not useful. Whose side are you on?”

When the stinging stopped, I looked down and noticed that my arms were healed. In fact, they no longer hurt.

“When we escape and begin your training with Velvet, you’re going to have to learn to stop being such a baby. It was like watching a child at the doctor’s office getting a shot,” Lilandra said, taunting.

“I think you mean, if, we escape. There are still six left, and I get the feeling they won’t be as quick to make a mistake, underestimating Velvet Redemption’s ability,” I said.

“You and Velvet are going to slaughter these lowly demons, Justin. Just hang in there,” Lilandra said.

“You’re quite cheerful for a demon. . .,” I said.

“I wasn’t supposed to become one,” Lilandra said, quietly.

“Enough chatter. We’re taking that blade. All we have to do is kill the person wielding it,” Dega said.

Three wolves ran straight at Lilandra and I while the two behind them tried to flank us from the left and right sides.

I felt much better since Lilandra had used her healing abilities, and now I was ready to go a few more rounds with these demons. Hours ago I was throwing my life away, and now I was fighting for a chance to get Lisa back. I wasn’t sure how fate or karma or God worked in all of this, but if I did survive this ordeal, I had plenty of questions for Lilandra.

As the three wolves in front of me drew closer, I charged at them as well.

Lilandra shouted, “Stay close!”

I ignored her and swung down at the center wolf in front of me. It sidestepped me and clamped its jaws around my neck, pulling me to the ground on my knees. Choking and nearly losing consciousness, I managed at the last second to raise Velvet Redemption with my right arm and bring it down on the wolf, decapitating it.

Reaching up with my left hand, I pried the wolf’s head from my neck. My neck was bleeding pretty bad, and I was having trouble breathing when I felt Lilandra’s stinging sensation again. My neck began to glow green as I looked over and saw her pointing both hands at me from a distance. There was a green circle formed around her on the ground.

Seeing her heal from a distance gave me the idea to try attacking them from a distance. . . if that was possible. She got the wound on my neck closed, but the healing stopped as the wolves that were originally flanking us slammed into her. As soon as she hit the ground, another wolf was upon her, and she was holding its jaws back with her bare hands.

I needed to be twenty feet closer to her to properly assist her, but Velvet assured me that I could hit my target from here. I merely needed to swing my blade. Not having any idea what I was doing, I took aim at the wolf on her and swung my sword to the right. I didn’t think I did anything except slice the wind, but I was wrong.

A bolt of lightning had flown from Velvet and struck the wolf. It wasn’t very powerful, but it was enough to shock the wolf and give Lilandra a chance to free herself. She immediately leapt up into the air where she hovered just out of range of the wolves. It was at that point that I realized her hands were injured. They didn’t just have teeth marks, they were black, like they’d been burned.

Did Velvet shock her along with the wolf? Did it treat both of them as enemies?

I didn’t have much time to think about that as the wolves, realizing they couldn’t reach Lilandra, began to move on me. I could see them looking at my wings, trying to decide if I too would try to fly away.

That was when they took formation again with two charging me and two flanking me on both sides.

“Oh come on, just let me go,” I said, out of breath.

Though Lilandra had been healing me some, I was dog tired from using this sword. It was draining my energy.

“Look sharp Justin!”

“Enough of this,” I said.

I was ready to end this fight in one more move. These demons were getting ready to die by my hand, that I was sure of it. I let them get a little closer before I made my move. When the two charging me were within leaping distance, I suddenly leapt up into the sky.

They looked up at me, and now the wolves that were flanking me had gotten even closer to where I previously was. I didn’t figure I had the energy to use any more lightning, but there was a thunderstorm brewing overhead that the demons had brought with them. If I could get Velvet to harness that, it might save me some energy. Velvet apparently read my thoughts as it instructed me to raise my blade with both hands and get ready to dive to the earth below.

Thunder rumbled as I held my blade toward the sky. My pulse slowed as I inhaled deeply, and the situation really sunk in for the first time since the battle started.

I’m. . . fighting demons. . .. I’m fighting demons with a sword. What did I sign up for?

Velvet didn’t give me much time to really think on these new thoughts as it pulsed and told me to focus. This had to be perfect. I looked up, waiting for the lightning. Then, it happened. In slow motion, I watched the lightning fly out of the clouds and strike Velvet, turning the blade bright blue. Before the lightning could travel through the blade and shock me, I dove down toward the earth, as quick as the lightning itself.

The wolves didn’t have time to react as I hit the ground and sunk my blade into the earth. The result was an electric shock wave that flew out and literally roasted the wolves that were around me.

They didn’t get a chance to howl in pain because it took less than a second for them to roast.

I nearly dropped the blade as I doubled over from exhaustion. Although I didn’t produce that lightning, I guess it had taken the remaining energy out of me. I was extremely dizzy and lightheaded. Slowly slumping toward the ground, I felt and heard two things at once. One was Lilandra shouting my name, and the other was the pulse of Velvet warning me.

Dega was taking advantage of my weakness to strike me from behind. I don’t know where I found the strength, but I clenched my left fist and spun right before he attacked me. I backhanded Dega in the jaw smashing his teeth in the process.

The force shocked him, but not me. I was passed ready to end this. Still unsure of where my sudden strength was coming from, I realized I was beyond angry. While Dega spit out some blood, I landed a kick that knocked the wolf up on his hind legs so he was standing like a human. Then, I drew back for a moment with Velvet and rushed forward with strength that several linebackers in the NFL would marvel at.

I drove Velvet into Dega’s chest while the wolf was still on its hind legs, and the result was the two of us flying through several trees until we came to a large oak that I pinned him to. My hilt was all the way to his chest, and the blade was sticking through the opposite side of the tree.

“Know this Dega, you are just among the first to be slaughtered by Velvet Redemption. And anyone else who dares to hinder me will find themselves in your position now,” I growled.

Dega took a moment to respond, but eventually, he asked, “You. . . really think you can. . . stop the approaching war? You are. . . naïve, human.”

“I don’t give a damn about your war. I’m fighting to get back the woman I love,” I said.

Dega did a mixture of a cough and laugh. I didn’t understand what he found so funny. He was the one in his last moments.

“I’ll be watching from Hell. . . looking for your expression when. . . you realize the truth about your woman,” Dega said.

And with that, he breathed his last. I pulled Velvet from the tree, and his body fell to the ground, dead.

Wiping the blood from Velvet with what little remained of my shirt, I felt Lilandra’s hand on my back.

“You were amazing. Velvet-”

I turned and grabbed her arms and pinned her to a nearby tree.

“You need to answer me now! Where is Lisa? What did Dega mean by what he said?”

I was pissed, and Lilandra was the only one I knew who had the answers I sought.

“I’ll tell you everything, but right now we need to go. Lucifer will either send more demons after us or come here himself if we don’t leave quickly. I promise you I am not your enemy, Justin. Just hang on a little longer.”

I didn’t know if it was some demon trick, but when she spoke, my anger at her inexplicably dissolved. The strength I had from my previous anger that had allowed me to kill Dega had faded, and I fell to my knees.

“That sword really did a number on your stamina. I’m going to get us to safety,” she said. I could feel her hoist me over her shoulder as we both took off. I was too exhausted to fight her, so I closed my eyes, and my world, which had now been turned completely on its head, faded to black.

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