Towers of fire billowed up to the sky, great sheets of flame licking at the clouds. The circular formation of the buildings looked familiar to Isobel, but it took her a minute to realise exactly why. She gasped when the realisation hit her; the tall structures were the office blocks from her dream. It wasn’t any wonder she didn’t recognise them, though; the conflagration had warped the environment into a nightmare of fire and violent death. Isobel suddenly felt very grateful that she hadn’t been offered that admin job after all.
She said we had prophetic abilities, Isobel thought. Of course now it was just her and her alone, who carried this nightmare inside of her. Isobel cast her eyes skyward, trying to rid her mind of the unhappy thought. She thought she could faintly hear a helicopter but there was so much smoke it was impossible to be sure.
Strange dragon-like creatures circled the blazing buildings and the sky above, their thick scaly black flesh decorated with networks of fine fiery veins. They were like the fire dragons from her dreams turned inside out. Isobel gasped again as she realised that was exactly what the monstrosities were. The air shimmered with the heat of their passage, as if fire burned through their veins. Steam rose in a faint mist from the things.
Ramona stood beside her, sword in hand, staring at the horror and carnage that greeted them. Buildings and trees alike were on fire, the blaze casting flickering shadows across the cracked concrete and dirt of the ground. Angels and demons clashed on the battlefield, the sky was full of screeching monsters and beating wings.
It was chaos. Utter chaos. Through the smoke and heat haze Isobel saw a couple of emergency vehicles nearby. The crews had been slaughtered, a lifeless body hung head first from the ambulance doors, dead eyes staring accusingly at Isobel. Blood poured from her open throat, pooling beneath the vehicle. The fire service hadn’t fared any better, a severed head lay by the open driver’s door, leaking blood.
Ramona had only ever seen anything like it once before. “1837,” she whispered to herself.
“What?” Isobel said, eyes fixed on the pandemonium before her. She watched an angel skid on his back across the floor, trailing blood and raising a cloud of dust in his wake.
“We’re late.” Ramona turned to her, “We should have been here earlier.”
“What? You afraid you’re not gonna get enough action?” Isobel breathlessly watched another man, demon or angel she couldn’t tell, sail through the air. She felt dizzy watching it all.
Ramona smiled, “There’s plenty of action.”
Isobel looked at her sideways. There was a look of excitement and anticipation on the angel’s face.
She’s enjoying this, Isobel thought, watching her friend’s expression. God, this is like sex for her!
Ramona was eagerly watching the combat from where they stood on the edge of the battlefield. Isobel wasn’t sure if she was looking for something specific or just trying to keep track of the chaos.
An angel crashed into the ground nearby. Isobel heard something snap as the woman hit the floor. Before she could scream the angel was engulfed in flames, fire igniting the feathers of her wings, immolating her body. The angel screamed, howling cries of agony as she burned. Ramona bellowed a cry of rage and charged, unleashing her wings and soaring up after the demon that had obliterated her friend.
Isobel just stood there, numb and trembling. What the fuck was she supposed to do? She could feel the heat rising from the now silent incinerated angel. She was close enough for the heat to be uncomfortable, but she couldn’t make her feet move. She was frozen to the spot. She had known it would be bad, but knowing and seeing were very different things. Nothing could have prepared her for this! All around her people yelled and screamed; shouts, roars, clashing swords and the wet sound of rending flesh filled the air. How the hell were people not noticing this? Aside from the dead emergency personnel there was no one. They should be coming from miles around... or maybe fleeing. Was that what had happened or was there a more sinister supernatural force at work? Isobel didn’t know. She didn’t know what to do! She wasn’t like Ramona, a seasoned battle veteran, she was just a girl.
A girl with the blood of Hell in your veins.
She looked at her lacerated palms. The wounds had only just stopped bleeding from the exorcism. Isobel groaned inwardly, knowing she was going to have to open her veins again.
Maybe this’ll be the last time. She gave a derisive snort. Like hell.
Something large landed with a loud wet splat in front of her, startling her out of her reverie and making her utter a high squeal of surprise. It was a steaming red pile of viscera, too big to be human. God it stank! Isobel covered her nose with the back of her hand, barely blocking out the potent smell of innards. A short distance away one of the dragon creatures crashed into the floor, shaking the earth and sending up huge plumes of dust. Through the shifting cloud of dirt Isobel saw Ramona leap off its back and run towards her, her blessed knife in her now vermilion hand.
“Got the fucker,” she announced triumphantly as she reached Isobel. Isobel just looked at her, still trying to think through the shock of internal organs falling from the sky. Ramona was scorched from touching the creature’s hot flesh and drenched in the thing’s blood. She was so covered in blood that it had soaked through much of her dress, making the gauzy fabric stick to her slender body, emphasising her curves even more. She was doing an awesome job of being sexy and scary at the same time.
No wonder Jake likes her so much.
Ramona ran her free hand through her bloody hair, a few stray drops flying off. She shook her hand to get rid of the excess. “I’ll need a shower when this is over,” she smiled.
“You’re really enjoying this aren’t you?” Isobel was appalled.
“Hell, yes,” Ramona beamed, “I love a good fight.” She was so enthusiastic at such an absurd interval, Isobel couldn’t help but laugh. This whole thing was so fucking insane.
“There’s a gateway around here somewhere,” Ramona raised her voice, competing with the din of the battle.
“A what?” Isobel asked, not hearing her over the apocalyptic noise.
“A gateway,” Ramona repeated louder. “Where the demons are coming from. It would have been opened during the final summoning. We need to close it to stop this.”
Isobel laughed, “But we’re having so much fun.”
“We’re the only ones who can end this,” Ramona stressed.
“I know,” Isobel sighed. “My blood closes the portal.”
Ramona just nodded, “Yes.”
“It’s the only way.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Isobel sighed again, resigned to her fate. “Any ideas where this gateway is then? I mean we need to find it if I have to bleed on the damn thing.”
Ramona smiled grimly and pointed out over the battlefield, with her knife.
Isobel’s eyes widened at the no man’s land that the business complex had become. Swords and bodies were flying in every direction. Jets of flame roared down from overhead at random intervals. “No fucking way,” she shook her head and looked, wide eyed at Ramona. “There’s no fucking way we can get across that!”
“I could carry you,” Ramona suggested, “But it would be too conspicuous. We’re better off on the ground.”
“No.” Isobel said again, still shaking her head, “You don’t even know where this gateway thing is!”
“It’s not here,” Ramona observed, “Which means it’s out there,” she nodded at the battlefield. “We have to find it Isobel. Otherwise everything we’ve done, everything you’ve been through is for nothing.” She paused before adding, “And the world will end.”
Isobel looked out over the warzone again, fear rising in her stomach, twisting her guts into a hard knot. “This is gonna hurt,” she said softly.
“Yes,” Ramona sounded fierce. “It will hurt them.” There was a glint in her eye that scared Isobel a little. It made her glad she was on Ramona’s side.
“Are you sure you’re an angel?” she asked again.
“You keep asking that,” she replied and ran straight into the battle, drawing her sword as she went.
Isobel had little choice but to follow in her wake. She took out her rune inscribed knife, put her head down and charged into the fray. She’d only gone a few steps after Ramona when a jet of fire blasted down right next to her. She leapt to the side, dodging the flames and kept running, following Ramona’s path of destruction. Ramona was an impressive sight to behold. She tore a path through her foes, cutting them down with single, elegant strikes. Isobel watched as she leapt into the air and decapitated a man with a single blow. Blood sprayed through the air in a wide arc, spattering the ground. The demon’s head fell to the floor, but Ramona had moved on long before the spraying body collapsed.
Isobel followed, the heat becoming more intense toward the centre of the conflict as fires and bodies pressed in around her. Hot ash swirled in the air, obscuring her vision and Isobel had to shield her eyes to prevent the debris from getting in them.
Ramona seemed unhindered by the ash, dashing ahead through the inferno, cutting down anything in the path of her sword. Through a cloud of ash Isobel saw her skewer a woman and with a sharp tug on her sword, bisected her from the waist up. Blood and innards showered the ground. Isobel’s stomach churned, but it wasn’t just the bloodshed; the heat and sheer exhaustion were beginning to weigh on her. Her throat was parched from the intense heat and there was no water anywhere she could see.
Next time I’ll bring a bottle.
Something crashed into her side, startling her out of her thoughts and knocking her to the ground. She landed hard, scraping her hands on the rough surface, hissing in pain as grit sliced into her skin and half open wounds. She just managed to turn over onto her back before the demon was on her. He was big, broad and solid, probably a wrestler before he went to Hell. Growling, he grabbed Isobel by the throat, just like her mother and Ramona before him. He lifted her choking off the floor. Hot air swept over Isobel’s bare back where her shirt had ridden up. She had a moment to consider the implications of this before he slammed her back into the ground. Her spine screamed in protest. Dust rose around her in a thick cloud and she choked, gasping for air, sucking down a lungful of dust and ash. She coughed round his choking grip, feeling her head go dizzy. Gasping, Isobel groped for her rune inscribed knife in the dirt, her fingers closing on its hilt as he lifted her again. He lifted her higher this time, bringing her within range. Before she could talk herself out of it Isobel plunged her knife into his eye. The man roared and threw her hard back into the dirt. Dust flew down her throat and she rolled over coughing in the dirt, choking until her eyes ran with tears. Somehow she managed to get to her knees. The giant bellowed above her. She inhaled deeply as soon as she could breathe, but inhaled a load of ash with the air, setting off another bout of coughing. As she knelt choking, rough hands seized her shoulders. Weakened by her coughing fit Isobel nonetheless tightened her grip on the knife, determined to go down fighting. Suddenly the hands disappeared, yanked off her shoulders. Isobel looked round just in time to see her assailant’s throat open in a thick crimson line. His attacker pulled his head back, tearing the wound open wide and pitched him forward, soaked in his own blood, into the dirt. As the ash and dust cleared Isobel saw who her saviour was.
Ramona propped a foot on the demons stomach holding him in place and thrust her sword into his chest.
Isobel turned away, but still heard the sickening crunch and snap as Ramona twisted her blade, dicing his chest. Turning back Isobel saw Ramona stoop over, dark hair spilling over her shoulder as she reached into the wound and tore out the demons heart. She tossed it once in the air, catching it as if it were a ball before pitching it into the nearest fire where it ignited with a wet hiss.
“You okay?” she asked turning back to where Isobel, still knelt recovering on the floor.
“Yeah,” Isobel rasped sarcastically, wiping water from her running eyes, “I’m great.”
Ramona extended a hand downward to help her up.
Isobel shook her head, already getting to her feet herself. She rubbed her back and shoulders as best she could, trying to soothe the aches she now had courtesy of the demon she’d fought. Ramona was going to speak again, but another demon was already charging her. She jabbed forward with her sword impaling him on its glowing bloody length. Another man was charging her from the left. Ramona whipped her head round, finding her target. Before Isobel could see what happened a torrent of fire ploughed the earth between them, forcing Isobel back several steps. The fiery wall stole the air, making it harder to breathe. Isobel stepped back some more until she could breathe again. God, it was hot in here. She was already covered with a fine layer of sweat as well as dirt and ash.
“Ramona!” she called into the flames, worried about the angel. “Ramona!” A second went by. Another. A severed head sailed out of the flames, wisps of smoke coming off the skin and hair. Isobel wanted to smile, but the grizzly sight stopped her. Ramona was okay. If she was throwing severed heads around she was probably having a wail of a time. Isobel, however, was trapped. She could see no way through the wall of fire to Ramona. The shadow of a fire dragon passed briefly overhead. Standing still was not a good idea.
A good idea would be to skidaddle.
A small smile touched her lips at the thought. Isobel knew she wouldn’t run. She was in this to the end now.
In for a penny motherfuckers.
She jogged up the line of flame, springing past corpses and smaller pyres, looking for a way through. Her arms were running with black veins now, in response to the evil surrounding her. She could feel the demonic minds pressing on her, infiltrating her consciousness in a way she hadn’t before.
Double the taint, double the fun, she thought bitterly. Up ahead a blonde man was running towards her. She had her knife out and was about to tackle him when she realised who it was.
He was covered in gore and favouring his right side slightly as he ran, but it was definitely him.
“You got here then,” he said, gasping for breath as they reached each other.
“Yeah,” Isobel nodded. “Fucking wish I was somewhere else though.”
He laughed good naturedly and Isobel reflected on just how weird these angels were when he asked, “Where’s Ramona?”
“Back there,” Isobel gestured at the blaze roaring nearby. “We got separated when that came out of the sky.”
Elliot nodded then frowned at her weapon. “Is that all you’ve got?”
“You gonna offer me your sword?” she retorted.
“Sorry,” Elliot replied with a wry smile. “Can’t.”
“That’s what I thought.” Isobel held up the now bloody runic knife, “I’ll be alright.” She’d never believed that less than in this moment. Still, she held Elliot’s gaze with a warrior’s grim determination.
“I believe it,” Elliot’s demeanour had turned grim. “We should find Ramona, maybe some of the others. Co-ordinate an offensive.”
“I think Ramona just wants to kill things,” Isobel observed as they trotted along the fiery perimeter.
“She would,” Elliot said, in what seemed to Isobel a fond, but vaguely disapproving tone. It was interesting how different, how much of an outsider Ramona appeared to be amongst the angels. They seemed to regard her as a dangerous maverick, at least that was Isobel’s impression. She wasn’t universally admired that was certain.
Except by Jake.
A small wavering gap appeared in the flames and Elliot, without warning, dived through. Isobel followed, skidding on her feet and almost falling. When she looked up she looked into chaos, into the gaping mouth of Hell.
All around her figures ran and fought, some with fists, others with swords. The ash filling the air added to the chaos, making it harder to see what was happening. Isobel couldn’t tell who was an angel and who was a demon. She’d completely lost track of Elliot. A sound from the floor brought her wandering attention to focus. When she looked down she couldn’t believe her eyes. Crawling toward her, making noises of pain and hunger was a man, his face covered in blood seeping from a deep head wound. Through this gory mask his eyes locked on Isobel’s, his lips twisting in a snarl of anger and hate. As he approached Isobel noticed half his leg was missing, cut roughly away below the knee. He was trailing blood behind him as the wound bled out. She caught a glimpse of intestine dragging behind and under him and recoiled, stepping back in horror and shock. The fire at her back was making her sweat; she could feel its heat on her skin through her flimsy top and knew she couldn’t retreat any further. A shadow fell over the man. A sword shot down, slamming through his back, the weapon twisted twice before being yanked out. He coughed, blood pouring from his mouth and slumped to the ground. Isobel found herself staring into the eyes of a red-haired female angel she’d never seen before. The angel acknowledged her with a nod. Isobel returned the gesture but was interrupted by a great roar before she could speak and the angel shot into the sky, beating her powerful wings.
Shielding her eyes against the ash filled wind, Isobel looked up to see the angel sticking her sword into one of the dragons, several others swooping in to help her with the kill. Isobel watched in sickened awe as the group hacked, stabbed and sliced at their screeching foe, riding it crashing into the ground.
Did Ramona take one of those down alone?
Isobel was sure she had. If so it was a truly impressive feat. There was no time to wonder though, several figures were running towards Isobel, freed from combat when the nearby angels went to tackle the greater threat.
Isobel was alone on the battlefield. There was no one to help her. She did the only thing she could think of, she sliced open her palm, hissing at the familiar pain of the old wound reopening. Crimson blood poured from the gash, dripping as she held it out in front of her. Even as she did Isobel knew she’d never be able to control all of these things at once. She was fucked. As they closed in she flicked her hand, sending drops of tainted blood flying at them, mentally commanding them to stop as she did. Some of the drops hit and those demons stopped in their path. It was surprisingly easy this time; she barely had to think to control the demons. The power boost from Jake had clearly helped. She wondered if that would make her more evil or not and shook her head. There was no time for that right now. One of the demons had taken a step forward while she was distracted and she refocused her thoughts. She couldn’t stay still for long, she’d either be immolated or killed by the demon’s reinforcements. She had to act fast. Could she take them all one by one? Quickly she went round each of the four individuals, smearing her blood on their foreheads. They snarled while she did it, but held still. She could feel them more strongly inside her now, a growing demonic presence in her head.
“Okay,” she exhaled a shaky breath. Her control should be greater, easier now. The blaze crackled at her back. How could she kill all of these guys with only a knife? One by one? “Fuck,” she bit her lip, not sure what to do. Suddenly she had a brain wave. Her eyebrows went up in surprise at the simplicity of the idea and she smiled grimly at the near perfect symmetry of her plan.
She looked at each demon in turn. “Walk into the fire,” she commanded them. “Walk into the fire and stand still.” It took a second, for a horrifying moment Isobel thought it hadn’t worked. Then the demons stepped forward, towards Isobel and the fire behind her. As they drew nearer, she stepped aside to let them pass, keeping her hand held towards them, her bloody palm enhancing her control. The nearest one turned and looked at her with an anger so intense she skipped a breath. But like the others he disappeared into the flames. A great mass screaming rose from the inferno as the men burned. Isobel closed her eyes, a tear sliding down her cheek. How could she have done such a thing? She closed her eyes, trembling as she listened to their dying screams. Something crashed into her from the side, sending her tumbling end over end. Her eyes flew opened as she rolled. The demon who’d glared at her had somehow escaped the fire and was grappling with her, flames still licking at his back. Isobel screamed as they rolled. They ended up a short distance away with Isobel on top, straddling the flaming hulk. Screaming, almost incoherent with fear, anger and pure horror Isobel slammed her knife into his eye, shoving the blade in past the hilt. She felt it puncture his brain and pushed down a wave of revulsion. The man roared and bucked. He grabbed Isobel by the straps of her top and pulled her closer, as if for a kiss. Then he pushed. Isobel flew across the field, crashing into the ground a good distance away, rolling head over heels and scraping skin off her arms and back as she landed in a breathless, battered heap. She lay there, on her back, listening to the roar and crackle of the fire as she recovered her breath. Propping herself, painfully up on her elbows she could see the demon staggering toward her, clearly hurt but not giving up. Something steel glinted in his eye socket, Isobel’s blade. She had felt it snap when she was thrown. Anyway she’d lost the now useless hilt.
She was completely unarmed.
She looked around her. She was in a warzone. Surely there was a weapon somewhere?
Behind and around her lay a smattering of corpses, angel or demons she didn’t know; they all looked human. Near one of the closer bodies something glinted, Isobel looked closer. It was covered in blood and fallen ash, but it was a sword. With the demon closing on her, Isobel picked herself up and ran in a low crouch towards the blade. She quickly closed the gap and snatched up the weapon. Whirling, she swung the sword out in an experimental arc to ward off anything nearby. She nearly took the man’s head off. He darted back out of range, snarling. Isobel held up her hand, running with blood and black veins.
The demon stopped his retreat.
Isobel smiled thinly, she couldn’t help herself. Her power was pretty cool. She thrust the sword forward, through his chest and pulled it out. The demon fell in a bleeding heap to the floor, a pool of blood spreading beneath him. Isobel looked in breathless, wide eyed shock at her handiwork. She didn’t think she’d ever get used to this. She flipped the sword round, it was lighter than she thought it would be, and brought the tip down, piercing the man’s heart again. She squeezed her eyes shut and looked away as she twisted the blade, the fragile inner bones and cartilage breaking easily under the heavy steel. She pulled the blade out and was thinking about cutting his head off when movement distracted her. Turning, sword at the ready, she found another demon almost upon her. She brought her sword up and was about to strike when a shape shot out of the nearby flames, barrelling into the man, sending him tumbling the other way across the field. There was the sound of metal meeting flesh and Isobel saw a head tossed casually aside. A second later the figure straightened up and looked at her.
It was Ramona. She was bloody and charred, patches of black and red covered her skin. Her dress was torn at one shoulder, the ripped fabric hanging down, showing her bare sooty skin. She nodded at Isobel. Isobel nodded back. Ramona’s attention turned back to the battle. Isobel watched as she charged forward, leapt and spun, her saturated skirt flaring out as she turned, blood drops flying from the hem, her blade singing through the air decapitating her opponent in a single strike.
Trust her to make violence look pretty, Isobel thought with dry amusement.
Three others were closing on Ramona. Isobel sighed; she knew she had to help. She sprinted across to the melee and got stuck in, grabbing the first demon by the head, smearing her blood roughly across his features before running him through with her sword, almost jabbing Ramona in the process.
“Watch it!” Ramona yelled, dancing backwards.
“Sorry.” Isobel shrugged and gave her blade a violent twist before withdrawing it.
The monsters were dead within a minute, leaving the two women standing together.
Ramona gave Isobel a sardonic look. “You so need fencing lessons,” she told her gore drenched ally.
“Funnily I never thought I’d find myself in a swordfight,” Isobel responded drily. “Can’t imagine why.”
Ramona’s smile widened. “Good to see you’re still breathing.” Her smile disappeared as she caught sight of the weapon Isobel was holding. “No,” she whispered. She shook her head, eyes widened in shock. “No, that’s impossible.”
“What?” Isobel frowned.
“That!” Ramona gestured at the sword Isobel was holding. She shook her head again, “You can’t be holding that.”
“What? Why the hell not?”
Ramona swallowed, wide eyed with shock. Her voice shook a little as she spoke, “Look at it!"
Isobel did so, not getting why Ramona was so disturbed. “What about it?”
“That’s a sword of Heaven,” Ramona explained. “You’re tainted, you can’t be holding it. It is not for you to wield.”
Isobel gave a nonchalant shrug, “Well, I’m wielding it.” She held the sword up, examining it, “Maybe it’s not one of these holy swords of yours.”
“No, it is,” Ramona said. “See how it glows?”
Isobel looked more closely at the blade. Under all the blood and grime there was a faint blue-white glow. The same glow she’d seen on Ramona’s weapons. It was subdued by the dirt and gore… but it was there. “Shit,” she breathed.
“The lore says the swords of Heaven are forged only for the angels, a little piece of God’s divinity lies within each blade. No other being can touch them. Remember how I couldn’t hold your demonic knife? How even through the cloth it scalded me?”
“This is the same thing. You’re tainted by demon blood. Holding that should burn. It should hurt you.” Ramona watched the black veins on Isobel’s hand, circle away from the sword and shook her head, “You shouldn’t be able to wield that sword.”
“And yet,” Isobel said defiantly.
“Amazing,” Ramona was truly stunned. “Your taint is retreating from it, look.”
Isobel looked. Sure enough the black veins, called forth by the surrounding evil, were staying away from her fingers and palm where she gripped the sword hilt, straying no further than her wrist. “That is... just cool,” she breathed, a slight smile on her lips. She looked at Ramona, “What does it mean?”
“I don’t know.” Ramona was still staring at the incredible sight. “I’ve never seen this before. There could be all sorts of implications.”
“Well this hand works fine,” Isobel held out her bleeding hand where tendrils of black snaked all the way up to her fingertips, as if the evil in her blood was looking for a way out, maybe seeking an escape from the sacred weapon in her other hand. She had begun the battle armed with a demonic knife, now she held an angelic sword in her blood slick hand. It took her a moment to absorb the enormous possibilities of the event. “Does this mean I’m saved?”
“I don’t know,” Ramona shook her head. “I don’t see how. You’re still obviously tainted…”
Shouts and roars of anger came from across the field, breaking the conversation and causing both women to look up. A multitude of enemies were appearing on the horizon.
“Do they ever stop coming?” Isobel asked.
“Not this near a gateway,” Ramona said grimly. “They can just keep sending people up from Hell until they run out. That could take a while.”
Isobel ignored her sinister explanation and asked, “Where are the other angels?”
As if in answer a winged, bleeding heap fell, flaming from the sky, landing with a dead thump between them and the incoming demons. Smoke rose, drifting up from the woman as the flames petered out.
“Son of a bitch!” Ramona screamed at the embattled dragon, swooping across the sky, shedding angels as it went. She ran to the still smouldering body and dropped to her knees. Reaching for her smoking friend she shook her head with grief. “Julia,” she cried, cheeks twitching in upset.
When Isobel looked lost she elaborated, “The girl with the cornrows.” Ramona was distraught as she gently touched the dying angel’s arm. Hot, charred flakes of her skin floated away on the wind as Ramona turned her over to see her face. Julia’s features were covered in burns and blisters, one bruised eye swollen completely shut, her crushed nose pouring blood. She gave a small moan of pain as Ramona knelt over her, looking down into her burned and battered face.
“Hey,” Ramona said gently, taking her hand. Julia’s one good eye opened and she mumbled something Ramona didn’t catch. “Sorry,” she apologised, leaning in closer to her comrade’s lips. This time with her ear next to Julia’s bloody lips Ramona heard her friend’s dying words, Julia’s rasping breath hitched as she spoke, coughing blood on Ramona’s ear. Ramona smiled as she leaned back and looked her friend in the eye. “I will,” she vowed, her voice laced with menace.
Ramona stayed kneeling, clutching the peeling flesh of Julia’s hand as she died. When she stood and faced Isobel a single black line of mascara ran down her face.
“What did she say?” Isobel asked, anxiously watching their enemies.
“She said, ‘kill them all’” Ramona said grimly. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and looked out at the approaching demons, her jaw tightening in anger. “I was going to do that anyway.” Her grim, hate-filled expression scared Isobel. She took a step towards the angel.
She’s gonna snap.
“We need to end this,” Isobel told her worriedly.
“We do,” Ramona agreed solemnly, glaring at her foes.
“Any idea where this gateway thing is?”
“Yes,” Ramona nodded. “I know where the gateway is.”
“Which way?” Isobel asked.
Ramona pointed with her sword... toward the encroaching enemy horde.
“Oh fuck,” Isobel groaned.
“Sorry,” Ramona smiled, her anger and sorrow at the death of her friend gave her smile a sinister edge. “Just use your taint.”
“Yeah, I did,” Isobel said. “I sent a bunch of men into the fire Ramona. With just my words and my blood.”
“Impressive.” Ramona brought her sword up and began to advance towards the unarmed mass. After a moment’s hesitation Isobel followed her. What choice did she really have? “I count twelve,” Ramona said, “Good odds.”
“Yeah, for them.” Isobel paused. “Why aren’t they armed?”
Ramona shrugged, “Just be grateful, they’re tough enough as it is.” Ramona tilted her head slightly to the side, assessing the situation. “Help is on the way, but it could be a while.” She locked eyes on a big black demon in ragged burnt clothing. “You look like you just crawled out of a pit!” she taunted him. She glanced at Isobel, “How many did you send into the fire?”
“Four, but one came back out,” Isobel told her. “I had let my guard down though.”
Ramona nodded considering. “Did it hurt? I mean headaches or anything?”
“Want to see if you can control this many at once?”
“I couldn’t last time.”
“Last time you weren’t double tainted.”
“Thanks for that,” Isobel said chagrined. “I hadn’t quite forgotten how freakish I was.” Ramona just smiled at her as if all this were perfectly normal. Isobel supposed it probably was… for her. Although even by Ramona’s standards this surely had to qualify as an eventful day.
“Let’s do it,” Ramona’s voice was full of ice cold venom. She clearly wanted vengeance for her friend. To Isobel it hadn’t seemed like her and Julia were close, but she guessed she didn’t really know much about the depth of their friendship. Was it just the obvious camaraderie between the angels or had Ramona and Julia been friends? She didn’t know and now wasn’t exactly the time to ask.
Tentatively, Isobel held her bleeding hand up. The nearest demons stopped in their tracks but the all too human others continued forwards, growling at her and Ramona.
“Maybe it would have been better to fly,” Isobel commented.
“Maybe,” Ramona replied, smiling as she stared the demons down. “But it wouldn’t be as much fun.”
Isobel shook her head. If this girl worked for Heaven what was the other side like? The answer was right in front of her, snarling in her face. She swung for the demon and it leaped aside, another immediately filling the gap. She held up her hand, the two demons stopped in place, wide eyed in panic. Isobel still found it unnerving, having this degree of control over people. It wasn’t right. It was too much power. Still, despite her moral discomfort, she stabbed forward with her sword, piercing the first one’s heart. The other was taken care of by a gout of flame, firing down from the sky. Isobel dived to the side, flames igniting the leg of her jeans. Emitting a high shriek she slapped the tiny flames from her clothes, extinguishing them with still bleeding hands. Bloody palms stinging from the heat, Isobel spared a second to watch the man burning on the ground before her. He was silent. Dead.
Looking round she saw more people running toward them, demons or angels she wasn’t sure. Her question was answered by a pair of angels bursting out of the sky, accompanied by the loud swooping of their wings. The wind caused by their passage sent tornadoes of debris and ash swirling. Isobel’s hair blew back in the gust and she held up an arm shielding her face from the dust and dirt blown by the angels’ arrival. She and Ramona, together with their new allies fought on.
“Enough.” A voice said calmly into the mayhem.
Isobel looked round. The little girl from her dream was standing just across the field from them. With her mother. Myra stood there strong and robust, greying red hair blowing back in the wind. The pair were side by side as if hiding something behind them.
“Mum,” Isobel whispered before remembering it wasn’t her mother; just a demon within her mother’s shell. Nonetheless it was disorientating. There was a screech and a wet shlurp of a sword impaling someone and Ramona was beside her.
“Fuck,” she breathed as they faced her evil doppelganger and Myra through a cloud of swirling ash.
The little girl Ramona was holding Elliot’s torn and broken body. It looked disproportionately large held in her tiny arms.
“Elliot!” Ramona cried. She glared at her other self, eyes flicking between her and the corpse in her arms. “You bitch,” she snarled.
The other Ramona just smiled wider.
The sounds of the other angels’ battling had stopped. When Isobel looked round she saw monsters closing in from all sides. They weren’t hurrying either, they were closing in idly as if they had all the time in the world.
Are they that sure of themselves? The idea worried her. All she could see were walls of flames and enemies.
“I’m going to rip you apart,” Ramona was snarling at her villainous alter ego.
“You’ll die too,” the girl smiled.
“You sure about that?” Ramona tilted her head to the side, as if considering her enemy.
As they bantered Isobel watched the enemy monsters closing in. “Ramona!” she said alarmed.
“I know,” Ramona didn’t take her eyes off the little girl version of herself. “They’re closing in.”
Isobel looked round at the semi-circle gradually drawing in on them. Demons of all shapes and sizes were coming to finish them off. “They really are,” she said. “Are we all that’s left?” Panic made her voice rise a notch, “Are we it? Are we alone?”
“Not for long.” Ramona charged the smaller version of herself, the part of her that had been banished centuries before. Isobel had the briefest glimpse of their rugby tackle before her attention was distracted by the wind and parting smoke that accompanied their reinforcements. A terrific gale blew dust and dirt everywhere as more angels arrived. They weren’t alone however. Pursuing the angels, in some cases already grappling with them in mid-air were more demons. Flying demons. Isobel blinked in shock at this new terrible spectacle.
You think you’ve seen everything.
For a minute all she could do was gaze in amazement at the fresh horror. The winged demons looked human, just like their earthbound counterparts, except for the wings sprouting from their scarred backs. There was something wrong with their wings. As Isobel watched them spin and twirl, she saw feathers missing from their wings. The feathers that were left looked uneven, crisp as if parts of them had been burned away. The asymmetrical wings sent the demons flying at odd angles but they had clearly adapted to this, their ability to kill unimpaired. They looked like a warped version of the angels they were attacking.
One angel, either injured or distracted by battle, careened straight into the ground at high velocity, the impact snapping his wing bones. He screamed in pain, throwing his head back in agony. The woman riding him let forth a high bloodcurdling shriek of triumph and struck forward, her teeth digging into the angels exposed throat. Isobel watched in horror as others descended on the struggling angel. The last thing she saw before the new arrivals obscured her view was the woman bloodily tear out the angel’s throat, throwing back her head and swallowing a huge chunk of crimson flesh. Isobel heard the angel’s screams as other demons landed and began tearing him apart. She turned round, wondering if she was going to be sick and trying to find Ramona. The flurry of wings had sent dust and ash eddying every which way, thick clouds of it swirled around her and Isobel couldn’t tell which way she was facing, let alone see her friend. As she turned, blinking and squinting into the maelstrom, an angel hurtled past overhead, grappling with two of the winged monsters. She saw it send one of its assailants flying, but the combat was quickly swallowed by the smoke and ash. She coughed, covering her mouth with her sword hand. Something moved off to her right. Isobel spun round and found herself face to face with her mother. Or at least the demon now inhabiting her body.
“Mum,” she said reflexively, knowing it wasn’t true.
“You,” Myra looked Isobel over with contempt. “This is all your fault you know.”
“What?” With the chaos raging around them, Isobel found the conversation difficult to follow.
“This.” Myra hit herself in the chest, “If you weren’t such a whore this wouldn’t have happened. If you were only a good girl, but no...” Myra regarded her with a contempt and anger that looked like hatred, “You always were a vile child and now I’m damned because of you! I couldn’t have wished for a worse daughter.” She spat on the floor at Isobel’s feet.
Isobel sniffed, blinking back tears and stared her mother straight in the eyes, upset but defiant. Her jaw set in a determined line as she returned Myra’s glare. She’d had enough of this.
“You know what Mum?” Isobel looked her mother up and down, disdain curving her lips. “Fuck you. Fuck you all the way to Hell.”
“You little bitch,” Myra seethed.
“Fuck you,” Isobel said again. “You were the worst fucking mother a girl could ever have, so I guess we’re both disappointed.” A tear rolled down her cheek, but Isobel stuck her chin out defiantly and spread her arms wide. “Just fucking kill me if you want,” she sniffed as more tears fell. “I really don’t give a fuck anymore!”
Her mother just stared at her as if waiting for something.
“Come on!” Isobel screamed, years of frustration and anger boiling over. “Come on and kill me! You fucking bitch, kill me! It’s what you’ve always fucking wanted, God knows you tried hard enough! Come on! Kill me!!” She shrieked, screaming so loud her voice gave out and she started coughing.
Isobel spat at her mother’s feet and with trembling lips and streaming eyes, her body shaking from the extremity of her outburst she brought up her sword. She held the weapon up, studying it for a moment.
Her mother just stood there silently, watching.
“Hey Mum,” Isobel said, a light, nervous smile on her face. “Catch.” Without giving her time to respond, Isobel tossed the sword to her mother. Myra caught it by the hilt and screamed, bellowing in pain as the blessed steel burned her skin, a hissing noise and steam rising from her closed fist as the holy sword branded her cursed flesh. She dropped the sword, but it was too late. Isobel barrelled into her, knocking her down on her back. Crying, she punched her mother’s face, rocking her head back against the hard ground. Myra grabbed her arm as she struck again, holding off the attack. The pair rolled across the ground, grappling, punching and biting. Myra gained the upper hand biting into Isobel’s arm. Isobel screamed and pulled her arm back staring in shock at the imprint of her mother’s teeth.
With both arms Myra shoved Isobel off her, sending her daughter flying across the battlefield straight into another demon. Isobel didn’t waste any time. She scrambled to her feet just in time to avoid the new enemy’s attempt to grab her. Aching and bruised, her arm hurting from her mother’s bite Isobel ran across the battlefield towards her blessed sword. She could see its glow through the swirling ash calling to her like a beacon. She dove for the sword, snatching it up and rolling away just in time to avoid an airborne attack from one of the flying demons. As she looked up, chaos and hell erupting all around her, Isobel found herself staring once again into her mother’s deranged face.
She doesn’t look that different to when she used to hit me.
She stamped on Isobel’s hand, crushing it into the muddy, ash covered floor. Isobel screamed as her bones grated against each other, her fingers threatening to break under the intolerable pressure. She stared up at her mother, unable to move her hand. Myra stood over her laughing, gloating at her victory. Isobel had only a moment to act. Summoning all her strength, she lunged up, thrusting her sword through her mother’s chest, praying that she hit the heart. Blood instantly poured out around the blade. Her mother stared in slack jawed shock, blood trickling from her mouth. Slowly she slid down the sword, the blade ripping out through her back. Isobel held the blade as far away from herself as she could, but her mother slid down, all the way to the hilt, her blood leaking onto Isobel’s clothes and hands. A string of bloody saliva fell from Myra’s lips momentarily connecting them before it broke. Isobel watched as the malevolent light disappeared from her mother’s eyes.
“Wrong hand,” she grunted in pain as Myra took her last breath, and wrenched her sword free. Dark heart blood fountained out of the wound, cascading down onto Isobel’s face and body where she lay. Myra fell, crashing into the floor next to Isobel, a pool of blood spreading beneath her body. Isobel flexed her injured hand, it was stiff and painful but it worked.
She reached up with her free hand to wipe her mother’s blood off her face, unwilling to let go of the sword. An immense flapping nearby made her stop in mid motion. Instinctively, Isobel rolled to the side, reacting without thought. A great torrent of fire roared out of the sky, setting the ground on fire and damn near consuming Isobel. She slapped the small flames licking her ankles out with her free hand. The smell of burning flesh next to her made her look round. The demons flames had missed her, but they had set her mother ablaze. Isobel watched wide eyed and traumatised as her mother burned. Gradually, she became aware that something was tugging on her arm. She looked round.
It was Ramona. She was saying something. “
What?” Isobel asked, dazed.
Ramona crouched next to her. “We need to move,” she said urgently, “You’re a sitting fucking duck here.”
“Oh.” Isobel blinked at her, flexing her grip around the sword hilt. “I just killed my mother.”
“She was already dead, Isobel. You know that.”
“She didn’t look dead.” Isobel’s voice shook, trauma and emotion threatening to overwhelm her. She couldn’t afford to think about this right now… yet she could think of nothing else.
“She was,” Ramona assured her. “You killed a demon that had taken over her body. You didn’t kill your mother.”
“I know who did.” She looked bleakly at Ramona then, “It’s all over isn’t it.”
“Not yet it isn’t.” Ramona stood up and held out her dirty blood caked hand. After a moment Isobel took it and let the angel pull her to her feet. She was blissfully unaware that Isobel hadn’t been talking about the apocalypse.
“Where’s Evil Ramona?” Isobel asked.
“Somewhere.” Ramona wiped her heavily bleeding nose, flicking blood into the dirt. “I lost track of her a while ago.” She sniffed and wiped her nose again. “Bitch gave me a present though,” she smiled wryly at Isobel, “Although I guess you could say I gave it to myself.”
“What?” Isobel was lost.
“Hurting her, hurts me,” Ramona grimaced. “And I’m good at hurting people.”
“So if I stuck this through you…?” Isobel wiggled her sword.
“I’d rather you didn’t.”
Isobel smiled briefly.
“Those flying things...” she shook her head. “What the fuck are those?”
Ramona shrugged, “Hell, changes people.”
“Those were people?”
“They were angels,” Ramona said. “Angels who got sucked into Hell.”
The colour drained a little from Isobel’s face. “That’s why their wings are burned,” she breathed.
“Yes,” Ramona nodded. “One of them might be Isolde.”
“The angel who tried to exorcise her lover.” Ramona shot her a pointed look, “See why I was reluctant to try?”
“God.” Isobel blinked, trying to process the horror. “Oh my God.”
Together they turned, looking through the fog of smoke and ash. A greater fire was raging nearby, crackling flames licking up through the ground. “There,” Ramona pointed with her sword toward the blaze. “The gateway.”
Side by side they ran towards the fire, swords at the ready. Isobel held her hand out in front of her stopping a demon in its tracks. Ramona cut it down, turning its heart to mince meat with a twist of her sword. She didn’t stop to decapitate it.
A minute later they stood together, facing the gateway to Hell.
“Jesus,” Isobel whispered, gazing down into the fiery pit spread before her.
“It’s growing,” Ramona said looking along the thin line of fire where the earth had cracked. “Soon it will be too late.” She looked at Isobel, “It’s up to you now Isobel, this is your show.”
“What do you mean it’s my show?”
“Only you can close it.” Ramona looked around, demons were closing on them.
The girl, Ramona, was leading the charge.
Ramona looked back to Isobel, who was gazing down into the flames.
“I hear screaming down there,” Isobel said softly. She turned to Ramona, “That could be my mum down there.”
“We’re running out of time Isobel,” Ramona sounded tense, her eyes wandering back to the line of approaching monsters.
Isobel followed her gaze. There were a lot of demons approaching, men and women, some with weapons, most unarmed except for their supernatural strength. The terrifying girl leading them was bleeding from her nose. All Isobel could hear was the roaring of the inferno before her and the low growl coming from their opponents.
“Are we it?” she asked Ramona.
“No,” Ramona looked back at her, “You are. Get this thing closed, you know how. I’ve got your back.” With that Ramona disappeared, behind her. Isobel looked back once and saw Ramona, skirt billowing on the breeze, sword in one hand facing down the entire line of demons led by her demonic self. She turned back to the fiery abyss before her. She did know what to do. She looked at her already scarred and bleeding palms.
She raised her sword, examining the gleaming edges of the fearsome blade. Light glinted off the narrow sliver where the edges became a deadly weapon.
That’ll do it.
Before she could think too deeply about what she was doing, Isobel ran her palms up either side of the swords razor sharp edge, screaming as the blessed steel bit deep into her flesh. She stepped back letting the sword fall with a faint clank to the floor. She stared at her bleeding hands, vermilion streams pouring from them, dribbling onto the floor at her feet. A great wind blew behind her, forcing her off balance and she took an involuntary step forward, towards the pit. She knew Ramona had just unfurled her wings for the last time and wished she could spare a glance back at the awesome sight, but she knew time was running out. She had to do this now.
Resigned, Isobel took a final step forward, dropped to her knees and put both bleeding hands palm down into the fire, slapping them down on the hot, scorching earth. She screamed as she felt her hands burning and squeezed her eyes shut against the immense heat and searing pain. She could feel her blood pouring out of her wounds, flowing into the ground and the fire, could smell her own charring flesh, could feel it peeling away as she held her hands in the flames. Isobel screamed and screamed, feeling herself growing lightheaded and dizzy. She kept on screaming until she passed out from the pain. Her last coherent thought was a prayer that she would survive.