6.3 - REWARD
A shower of dry earth, blades of grass and odd sprigs of heather fell in through the rectangular entrance. They swirled their way down in the silvery moonglow and coated the wooden steps beneath, the draught from the doors being yanked away extinguishing most of the candles.
Cain focused on the ruined doorway, his eyes searching for any hint of movement casting shadows in the half dark. Nothing. But he could smell corruption nearby. The Fallen were waiting - as he’d feared. They reeked of hate, malfeasance, destruction.
He closed his eyes and concentrated on sounds. Becky’s heart pounded next to him. Her panicked, shallow breaths were amplified but, his senses could filter them out and reach beyond. The low moan of the wind weaved its way through the ruins above then cut across the moors vanishing for a short while before it repeated the cycle. Outwith that, he heard the angels; their breathing, their heartbeats, the flit and ripple of feathers. He calculated the numbers of bodies present but suspected more would arrive.
“How many?” Becky whispered as if she knew what he’d been thinking.
Cain looked at her, affording a woeful smile. “Three, I reckon.” He glanced down at her hands as her fingers tightened around his.
Guilt ran rampant again. If only he had never noticed her, had never stopped the thief taking her bag or saved her phone from being smashed... If he had not sought her out at that restaurant, then she would not be in the danger she was now.
He had no idea if once they had him - or killed him in the trying - they would leave her be. The only certainty was that he would do whatever he could to keep her safe. He owed her that much.
“Stay here,” he whispered peeling her fingers from his hand.
“No, you’re not leaving me!” She panicked, pulling him back.
He placed his forefinger to her lips, silencing her. “They are outside. It’s me they want. You are safe in here.”
“Famous last words! I’ve seen the movies, I know what will happen if I stay and you go out there!” She spouted in a rushed breath.
He rubbed her hand. “I cannot ...”
Both looked towards the doorway as the sound of his name boomed through the opening. Becky gripped his arm. Cain ushered her behind some shelving to conceal her from the entrance. She was reluctant to do his bidding until he decided honesty was best. “I have to face them and I don’t know what they will do or what they are capable of. I have never dealt with their kind until today.”
Even in the half-dark, he noticed her face blanch.
“They seem attuned to me somehow,” Cain continued, hushed. “Hopefully, that means they don’t know you are here, therefore, I need you to stay out of sight so I can deduce how best to handle them.”
“Cain! We know you are in there.” The voice sounded again.
Feeling her hands trembling, Cain looked back at Becky. “That at least is encouraging, they seem unwilling to come down here. Stay hidden. Trust me.”
Her eyes were wide, pleading. At that moment he saw the fragility of her human condition. She was in a nest of supreme beings as it were with no method of defence against their preternatural powers. She had to rely on him - a killer, a monster, a forgotten man - to ensure her safety from those who had once served the Lord God. How utterly paradoxical, he thought.
With one last look and a wistful smile, he prised her fingers from his hand again and moved to the bottom of the stairs. He did not glance back for fear of giving away her presence.
The wind had picked up, it’s impetus building through the ruins of the one-time mansion. With his hair whipping and flicking around his face, Cain ascended. As he alighted the last step, all his traits had come into being once more. Obsidian eyes glared at the three angels standing just a few feet from him. Each had shed their human attire, their wings folded around their bodies affording a little modesty.
Two of them he’d already seen; the female and the former Mad Hatter. They stood behind and to either side of a large dark-skinned seraph. This one eyed Cain with proficient rampancy. He towered above the other two, evidently strong and powerful, but exactly what his capabilities were, Cain had no way of knowing. Yet.
“What is it you want of me?” he asked, glaring at the unfamiliar angel.
An unsettling smile graced the dark, chiselled features. When he spoke, it was like distant thunder. “We are here to guide you.”
Cain stepped away from the cellar entrance, a conscious effort to pull their attention away from his temporary abode. He pulled along to their right, all three turning as he continued moving around them. “And what exactly is it you think I need guidance with?” he asked, controlled. He was now behind where the woman had originally stood. She twisted round to face him head on and as she did, her wings opened revealing pert, feminine assets.
The tall one spoke again. “You have not really fulfilled your role to the best of your ability.”
Cain sneered, staring hotly at the angel. “Says who?”
The angel’s smile widened and he stepped forward in between the other two. “Oh, forgive me. I am Beelzebub. This...” he turned to the other male. “Is Xaphan and...” He gestured to the woman. “...Zepar. Beautiful, isn’t she?”
Cain eyed the other angels with indifference. The woman smiled almost coquettishly while Xaphan met his eyes with a hard, unforgiving stare. Cain dismissed the question and merely answered the green-eyed giant. “I’m not interested in your names. I asked who it was questioned my ability, but you have inadvertently provided that answer. Samael is obviously your leader and he has sent his minions ahead to recruit me, hasn’t he?”
Beelzebub’s eyes narrowed. “Careful, little vampire. When I said we are here to guide you, I did not necessarily mean it would be done in a convivial manner.”
Cain’s hackles prickled, his talons flexed. He was used to threats. His adversary this time, however, was of an untested calibre. To date, his quarry had been human. “The path you follow I will not. You are corrupt.”
Beelzebub laughed, the sound cutting through the rising wind. “And you are not?”
Cain tensed, the implication grating his already bruised and troubled conscience. He flinched as the female’s hand touched his arm. The blue flames flickered in her eyes but she wore a vexed expression. “We were all betrayed, Cain. As were you. We must work together to right the wrong which He bestowed upon us.”
Cain shirked away but she didn’t give up. “Fight with us! Together we shall be strong and show the Almighty the error of his ways. Do this... and I will reward you once more.”
“Zepar!” Xaphan shouted across. He stepped towards her.
“Let her be.” Beelzebub grinned, holding up his hand to stop Xaphan. “She can look after herself. Besides, he needs to know the truth, then he will see how misplaced his faith has been all this time as well as how pathetic his mourning is.”
Cain’s eyes flitted between the angels. Once more Zepar reached out to him, her hand resting on the planes of his chest, fingers spreading over his heart. His brow pinched. “Reward me? What are you talking about?”
“Our paths have been intertwined since the day you were born to greatness. We have followed you, looked after you, cleaned up any mishaps. And I have even brought love your way. Alas, she was driven mad, thus failing to convince you to create more of your kind.”
He stilled. His hair continued whipping around his face and the fabric of his shirt rippling against his skin, but otherwise he was rooted to the spot. He looked into Zepar’s blue flamed eyes, his own losing their ferocity. “What are you saying?” he asked in a pained whisper which carried on the wind.
Beelzebub stepped closer. “You are a beast, an abomination; just an ancient talking monkey with fangs who drinks blood! What do you think she is saying, boy? Did you honestly think the Greek whore fell in love with the likes of you without some - intervention - shall we call it?”
Cain stumbled back. At that moment he felt his black but fragile heart crumble, disintegrate, turn to dust. He stared at Zepar, shocked, disbelieving.
Tears welled in her eyes and the flames were suddenly extinguished. What was she crying for? he wondered. It wasn’t her heart which had been played for a fool. It wasn’t she who had grieved for centuries or lived with regret so agonising it gnawed at her very bones. And now he was being told it had all been a lie? Somewhere, hanging in the air he heard Zepar say, “I’m sorry.”
“Oh, you haven’t heard the best of it yet.” Beelzebub guffawed as he watched Cain fold.