Chapter 26 - 'Blood Letting'
Jason stared at the crumpled form of his best friend. Blood still pumped from Drew's chest as his body began to convulse in death-throes. He felt the blood drain away from his face and it felt like someone were crushing his heart under their boot. His throat tightened up. He flicked the key up into his fist and charged at Damien, screaming as he caught the fallen angel in the chest and sent them both sailing over the edge of the precipice. As they plummeted, with Jason's body on top, he dug his knees into Damien's sides and began wildly lashing out at him with his fists. Damien desperately tried to fend him off and struggled to force his wings out to stop his fall. His wings slithered out with a sound of metal grinding on metal. They glinted dully in the fiery light. His wings weren't enough to keep them aloft and they continued their rapid fall towards the fiery caldera. For the first time in a long time, as Damien looked up into Jason's rage contorted face, he felt genuine fear that he might not survive.
With each blow Jason landed on Damien's body, his own form changed slightly. He felt his body grow longer and larger, his muscles rippling under his clothes. Damien's wings caught a gust of hot air and they rolled backwards. Jason's head cracked against the stone cliff, jarring him, but he refused to relinquish his hold. He used his weight to force Damien into a roll again so that he was underneath. The impact of his head against the wall had sent them barreling further out over the caldera and away from the cliff edge. The roiling sea of lava rushed up below them with frightening speed, but he no longer cared. The bastard under him had killed his best friend, and all for a damnable quartz key.
The blistering air rushed past them, carrying cinders high into the air. Together they crashed into the top of a column of stone, barely holding out against the sea of magma, Jason's knees still pinning Damien to him. He didn't even wait for his body to stop ringing from the impact. Had Jason not changed, his knees would surely have shattered on impact with the ground, sending his body crushing into Damien. But his body had changed. He was now nearly twice the size he had been, his skin a dark bronze color. He continued to pummel at Damien, the key still clenched in one fist. On one swing, Damien raised his arm to shield himself, and his fist carried on through the fallen angel's arm, shattering the grafted bone and metal underneath his flesh.
Jason's screams of rage and anguish echoed across the caldera. The workers in the foundries and workshops dropped their burdens and tools and fled in terror, sure that the earth was going to split apart yet again. His fists pounded again and again into Damien's body, shattering bone and metal alike.
Mephistopheles watched in wonderment from where he lay on the edge of the cliff as Jason's body continued to grow and alter. Every lash he delivered to Damien's rapidly disintegrating body, his back bulged, growing larger and larger. It moved as if there was something trapped under his skin, writing and spinning to break free.
Jason's vicious attack continued as he burst through Damien's chest and continued to pound his innards into the ground. Gore splashed out over him, coating his arms in thick black ichors. Damien had long since ceased to fight him, his body shattered under the attack. Jason grabbed the sides of what was left of his rib cage and tore them apart, flinging them away from him, over the edge into the lava below.
Mephistopheles almost laughed in delight as he saw Jason fling his arms out to the sides of him. The boy's body suddenly reeled forwards and the pressure under his back built to a critical point. His skin split apart as six pairs of blood red wings burst outwards, twisting and beating against one another, struggling for space. The boy brought his hands together over his head and slammed them down one final time, smashing Damien's head like a ripe melon. The fallen angel could see the heat of the fires scorching both the boy and Damien's remains. Jason raised himself off of his knees, his clothes falling away from him in singed tatters. He stood to his full height of eight feet and stretched twelve wings out like a massive cape of blood. The fallen angel made out a reddish flash of power, before Jason turned and leapt into the air.
With his twelve wings beating hard, he shot up into the sky, before pausing and turning back to look over the caldera. Even from afar, Mephistopheles could see his hands start to glow with red light. The fallen angel wondered briefly what he was doing, before his eyes spotted movement on Damien's crumpled body. Ever so slowly, it was remolding itself, flowing together and repairing his body. Jason opened the clenched fingers of his left hand, still wreathed in red fire, and raised it suddenly into the air. The sea of magma began to churn and boil. He jerked his right fist upwards as well and a wave of lava shot upwards, crested and then crashed back into the burning sea. This time, Jason raised both of his hands together, and two waves rose up out of the magma. They rushed from either side towards the rock pillar where Damien's body was even now struggling to rise again. The waves smashed together on the rock, shattering the sides. Damien's anguished cry rang out as the column crumbled and his regenerating body tumbled downwards to be consumed by the burning magma.
Jason turned again and raced up towards the fallen angel. He alighted on the plateau in a matter of seconds and Mephistopheles saw that while Jason's clothes had burnt off in the heat of the fires, he now wore a form of chain mail loincloth that draped down between his legs on both sides, reaching down to his calves, as well as a pair of chain mail boots. His once blond hair had now all turned to a dark pitch. His eyes were no longer blue either, but a solid black with tiny pinpricks of red in the middle. Even his eyebrows had changed. Gone were the graceful arcs that had graced his brow. Instead, they slanted up-wards, giving him a wicked and menacing look. He looked to the body of Drew on the ground and then to his still clenched fist. He relaxed his fingers, opening them to reveal the key still clenched firmly. In fact, so tight had his grip been, that it had cut an outline into his palm, which oozed beads of ruby blood. He lifted the chain and lowered it around his neck so that the key dangled against his bare chest. Jason bent and scooped up the limp body of Drew in his massive arms. Without a word to Mephistopheles, he launched himself into the air, his wings quickly carrying him high overhead. He seemed to hang in the air as he met a resistance and pushed against it. A deafening crack resounded off the crater accompanied by a blinding red flash in the sky.
Mephistopheles stood staring up at the tear that now split the sky. The red glow of the lava was countered by the bright yellow light that poured in. After few moments of awed silence, he opened a telepathic channel with Lucifer. "My lord, you were right. Damien has finally been destroyed, and even as we speak, Azreal has torn open the fabric of this world and rushes towards Heaven. Signal for the army to gather into formations, and I will be at your side to lead them momentarily."
Matt wound his way through the labyrinth. He found it considerably easier than when he had first walked the pattern in Heaven. He was already nearing the third barrier and was still able to keep a jogging pace. He barrelled into the last barrier, and almost froze. Only his deeply rooted instinct to keep moving kept him from standing still. Even as the force closed in on his mind, his body continued to inch forwards. While the pattern in Heaven tested your body and resolve, he realized that this pattern tested your mind. He felt an un-seen force working through his memories, and with each memory it rifled through, he saw it quickly played out in front of his eyes. The first warning bells started to go off in his mind when the presence reached the point in his life where he was still being taught about the old days and the Ancients. Pain flared behind his eyeballs and the memory stopped in its playback. Knowledge filled his mind, overlaying the memories and wiping them away. When again they were replayed, they were full of things he'd never heard or seen before. Tales and visions of the ancients, of the War, of the fallen angels. His entire history seemed to be being re-written.
Things Matthew had been told since he was a child, the lessons from the elders,
his readings of ancient scrolls-- even things his parents had told him, were one
after another, wiped clean and replaced with different stories. Stories, in
which Heaven was, to say the least, cast in a very different light. The entire
conflict between Heaven and Hell was shown to him in a different light. The
disturbing thing, he found, was that these new memories and explanations made
more sense. Even as a child he'd found some of the explanations and ancient
stories lacking or confusing. But centuries of his elders telling him the same
thing time after time had imbedded them in his mind as truth. He'd seen it
before in humans to a different degree. They could tell themselves a lie over
and over again, until eventually their subconscious adapted the lie as the truth
and they could no longer remember anything different. It was a sickening feeling
he felt in his stomach. Like the world had just dropped out from under his feet.
He squeezed his eyes shut in an effort to block out the visions. He conjured up an image of the pattern in his mind, and continued to force his way towards the centre, following the curves and arcs. He expected to come out through the last barrier at any moment, but it seemed to never end. At last, he stepped off of the pattern into the ring at the center. When the invasion of his mind didn't end, he created a mental wall around the part of his brain that dealt with memories, isolating it from the parts of his mind he'd immediately need. One of the stone pillars stood directly in front of him. He peered into the recess where the gem still glowed with an inner light. He set his jaw and made a fist. The gem shattered like glass under his first punch. The light in the hall seemed to dim slightly.
At the next column, he curled his knuckles and again shattered the gem. The ground seemed to vibrate under his feet for a few minutes before quieting. Each gem shattered as easily as the first, but by the time he'd destroyed eight of them, the light in the hall had definitely fallen, and the ground had adapted a steady tremble. He looked behind him and the flames of the labyrinth seemed to barely flicker with life. With the shattering of the tenth gem, the flames finally died out all together, as the ground seemed to come to life under his feet. He focused on the light of the eleventh gem, wary of the chasm in the middle of the cavern. He stumbled several times before he reached it, and then too, he smashed it with his fist. Shards of broken gem clung to his knuckles, imbedded in his skin.
As the twelfth and final gem splintered under his fist, the whole mountain seemed to shake. The ground buckled and chunks of rock rained down from the ceiling. A chunk the size of Matt's head crashed into the cage and ricocheted off onto the ground, sending it rocking. Matthew's father continued to sit motionless and he panicked to think that the aged man had somehow died in his seat. The floor groaned and then all twelve stone pillars simultaneously toppled inwards. The struck one another at the same time and locked in place by their own weight, forming a cone over the chasm just under the cage. He eyed the heavy lock on the door, before snatching up a large rock chunk and running up the nearest pillar. He balanced precariously on the smooth stone, and when he struck the lock, his footing gave, causing him to slip down several feet. He clambered to the top, and this time using both hands, he raised the rock over his head and struck the lock hard. It sparked and the chain snapped. As the tremors in the cavern continued to grow, Matt flung open the door of the cage. He was worried he'd have to pick up his father and carry him out, but the old man was on his feet in a flash, stepping down out of his imprisonment even before the door and swung fully on it's hinges. Together, they slid down the columns and onto more secure ground.
And not a moment too soon.
A roaring, rushing sound filled the cavern as red light seeped up out of the chasm. The force of wind being pushed up the chasm was so great that it blasted the fallen pillars outwards, narrowly avoiding Matthew and his father. The cage shot upwards, jerking the chain it dangled from free as it was knocked to the side by the rushing air. Matthew grabbed his father's arm and ran with him towards the exit of the cavern. He felt a great foreboding for whatever was rushing up the tunnel. Red light blazed out of the yawning pit, lighting the room malevolently, before something shot out of the hole. They stumbled as whatever it was, impacted with the roof of the cavern, and the whole mountain shook. Rock shattered and split apart as the force continued to push upwards. With a horrendous ripping sound, the mountain tore apart and the thing shot upwards through the gap it had created and into the open sky far above.
They covered their eyes and coughed against the cloud of dust that descended from the ceiling. Some one screeched in the cavern, and Matt saw a shape moving through the debris, flailing her arms about to clear the air before her. His mother spotted them from across the room and shrieked again in rage.
"What have you done here Matthew?" She cried as she drew her sword and marched towards them.
She halted halfway across the cavern, as again the room was filled with a rush of air, and this time the sound of thousands of flapping wings. All three pairs of eyes darted back to the chasm, as river of shapes poured out of it, rushing upwards through the split in the mountain. Matt caught sight of black feathers, scales, shining steel among other things, as the rush of shapes continued to pour outwards and upwards. He tore his eyes away from the sight and looked for his mother, only to see her slipping through a stone door in the side of the chamber. It closed shut behind her, fusing with the rest of the wall again without leaving a trace. He grabbed his father's arm and guided him towards the tunnel he'd taken on the way in. He tried to run in the darkness, but shapes seemed to lurch out of the darkness at him, only to turn into nothing.
"Make a light, Matthew." His father spoke for the first time.
He summoned up the energy and felt it flow up his wrist towards his hand. He expected it to splutter out into darkness as it had before, but was surprised when it blossomed into a glowing pinprick of light. He fed it energy until it hung as an orb before him. Together they raced up the tunnel, the roaring of the cavern echoing on their heels.
"What about Miriam?" Matt asked as they raced around a bend.
"This place is riddled with secret passages." His father answered without emotion. "She's probably well on her way out and heading back to her seat in Heaven."
Matt couldn't help but laugh inwardly. "She'll be in for a nasty shock when she gets there. The council has voted her out of power when she stopped showing up, and I think Ashley is running things now."
His father looked at him as they burst out into the bright, but icy air. "Everyone's in for a nasty shock Matthew. Those were fallen angels among other beings."
"What?" Matt almost shouted.
His father's wings blossomed down his back with a silvery light. He shook them and stretched them to their full reach. "The armies of the underworld are marching on Heaven, lead by two of the first generation. We have to hurry." He leapt off of the ledge, and Matthew almost shouted out a warning that you couldn't fly where they were. But the air caught his father's wings and the elder angel rose suddenly on a draft. Matt quickly spread his own wings and followed suit, rising quickly after his father.
"You said there were two first generation angels," he shouted to his father over the rushing air. "But Lucifer is the only one left... all the others vanished thousands of years ago--"
"Look into your mind Matthew. Forget what you were told by the elders in Heaven.
What did the pattern show you?"
He looked into his own mind, bringing down the mental wall around his memories. He could still feel them changing as they flew, the force in his mind growing closer and closer to present times. He looked back into his childhood, back through the centuries to when he'd listened in fascination to the tales the elders told them about the Ancient Ones as they conjured up images to show the children. Rather than the original tale he remembered, he now saw visions of the War-- before it had been won. He was thrown into the midst of the battle and immediately recognized the twelve ancients-- the first generation angels who battled. Eleven of them against Lucifer. But a red streak shot through the battlefield, it's six pairs of wings whirling and flapping, and Matthew immediately recognized it for what it was. A thirteenth Ancient. A first generation angel that had seemingly been wiped from the history of Heaven.
"He's come back." His father's voice shook him from his revere. "Azreal has finally come back."
` An aide came running into the council room, shouting for the president over the hub-ub of the Antioch Council. "Sir! Mr. President Sir! We're receiving a transmission from our Chinese agents near the Indo-Chinese border."
The president dropped the manila file he had been examining and swiveled in his chair to face the screen. The wall split apart again and it opened, relaying a display of radar scans with their agent's voice talking. "Mr. President, these images just came in a few minutes ago."
The green radar map showed nothing over the mountainous area, until suddenly a dot appeared on the screen. The sweep of the radar only caught it three times before it was off the map. "We detected an object moving at immense speed over the mountains, heading west, out of the mountains. There was no sign of it over India or Taiwan, which means it took off from somewhere in the Himalayas."
"You're sure it wasn't just a computer error?" The President asked into the com.
"No sir. We thought at first that it might have been a meteor coming in, but then a few minutes later we started getting these readings."
The radar screen blossomed with a green splotch that grew and grew, before it too shot across the screen, hot on the heels of the first dot. Except, this object wasn't a dot. It moved in a band across the screen, like a green snake, and it didn't seem to end."
"Whatis that?" Someone shouted in the room, loud enough for it to go through the com.
"We don't know. Whatever they are, they're packed so tight that the radar is reading them as one continual object."
The President leaned over the com. "Get a jet in the air there. I want video images of whatever this thing is."
"I'm afraid we can't do that sir. The Indo-Chinese border is being closely watched by both countries. There's no way we can get a plane near it without drawing attention of one or the other military. We'll have to wait until it's over less contested air space to investigate it."
"Can you tell which way it's moving?" Someone else in the council asked.
"Due West sir."
The President had more pressing issues on his mind. "How soon until someone else notices it?"
"They probably already have sir. If we hadn't received your warning earlier, we would have assumed our radar was malfunctioning and taken the whole thing off line to be fixed. They probably think their machines have a glitch and will be in a panic that they could be under attack without any working radar. We should have at least a few hours before they're as sure as we are that it's real."
"Good. We'll contact other operatives and get a plane in the air shortly." The President said, signaling the conversation was over. He switched off the com and then looked up at the room. "If anyone knows what the hell is going on, now would be the time to step forward and say something..." His eyes cast around the room and fell on Mr. Parker, where they lingered before passing on.
Jason felt only semi-aware of what was happening. It was as if he were seeing everything through someone else's eyes or-- or like he was watching a movie from his point of view. He could see what was happening, but he had little idea how or why he was doing things and no control over what. He saw the land rushing past far below him, as if he were flying, and he saw more than felt the body he was carrying. He wanted to check his best friend to see if he was ok, to make sure he was still breathing. But he couldn't. And he didn't look at Drew for very long. Every now and then his head would angle down, as if to make sure he was still carrying the boy-- how he was managing to carry him with such ease, Jason couldn't figure out either, but it seemed less strange than the fact that the land below seemed to be frequently obscured by clouds.
The land underneath him was replaced by a vast expanse of blue, and he realized he was over water now. Maybe he'd been knocked unconscious somehow and was in a plane? He thought furiously, trying to figure out what was happening. If he were on a plane, he'd have to be facing a window... in fact, his face would have to be right up against the glass. But then... that would mean Drew were out side the plane... and if Jason were on a plane, he should be able to turn his head and see the rest of the cabin. He tried doing this, but his head didn't seem to respond. After a few moments, his head tilted downwards and Jason found himself looking at Drew again-- his arms, holding Drew, and the blue water rushing past underneath. The waves looked like choppy water in a breeze, until he passed an oil tanker that looked like a bath toy and he realized just how high he was.
He tried desperately to think what was happening. He remembered the plateau. He remembered Damien stabbing Drew-- why wouldn't his body listen to him and check to see if he was ok?-- he remembered barreling into Damien and knocking him downwards off the cliff, but things had gotten hazy after that. He saw himself, as if through a sheet of gauze, battering into Damien with his fists until they hit a column of stone. He'd kept pounding his fists into the bastard-- that was it! He'd been so recklessly involved in attacking Damien; he hadn't noticed someone approach him from behind. One of Damien's allies must have attacked him and—and what? And knocked him out? He hardly felt Damien or his compatriots would just let him leave, and make him fly no less! And if he'd somehow been possessed by a demon working with Damien, then... why was the demon carrying Drew away from them to safety? Nothing seemed to make sense, and his head started to throb. Or rather, his MIND started to throb. He couldn't feel his head. He couldn't feel any part of his body.
Without him realizing it, they'd reached land once again, but now they were going lower. He was through the clouds, down, down, down. He shot over a city-- was it Boston? Philadelphia? With his burden still held tight in his arms, he went lower and lower, he could see individual roads, and then roofs and swimming pools, covered over for the winter, soon he could make out the branches of trees as they went lower and lower over the land. He was over the suburbs of some area, and then he began to recognize the area. There was Fiona's house, there Mrs. Miller's house-- the cat lady everyone said was crazy and who'd terrified Jason as a child-- there was his street, the lamp Matt had stood under to sing to him, the lamp Damien had abducted him under. And his house... they were over his house now, through the smoke of the wood fire in the living room and over the kitchen where--
His mother was lying facedown in the snow, shards of broken glass and wood all around her. He was going down towards her. He needed to check to see if she was ok! What had happened? Where were Sara and Scott and his dad-- and Matt? Where were they all? Had someone called an ambulance? He laid Drew carefully in the snow, trying to avoid the larger shards of glass. With Drew out of his arms, he could see the hole in his chest. Damien's blade had been thicker than he'd thought. The boy was an ashen color, and he didn't seem to be breathing. He needed to do something... CPR or... or... something! But he was standing now. He didn't even go to his mother to see if she was ok. Why not?! Why wouldn’t his body listen to him! And then he was shooting upwards again. Up, higher and higher into the air, away from his friend, away from his mother, away from earth.
His body raised its arms in front of him, and his hands were wreathed in red fire. He was burning! He needed to put them out, his hands were on FIRE! But his body wouldn't respond. The air around him crackled as the ions became charged. Lightning arced out of the air, striking his hands. Again, and again, and again until he lost count. The air before him suddenly snagged on something. The air was bending, as if he could see it. The clouds ahead and above him seemed to be stretched taught and bend away from him. He heard a sound of thousands of flapping wings and clinking metal, and his head turned towards it. He saw a black dot that quickly grew into a rushing dark mass that streaked across the sky towards him. His head turned back and his arms seemed to shoot forwards. Everything seemed to freeze-- the clouds stopped drifting, the birds below him stopped circling, and the flames on his hands stopped dancing. And then the sky tore open. It ripped apart where his hands were, and the tear lengthened and widened until it tore open the sky as far as he could see. And then his body was moving through the rift, leaving his world behind as he drifted into Heaven.
Elizabeth groaned as she pushed her hands under her and raised herself out of the snow. Her head felt like it was splitting in two. Her vision swam and she closed her eyes again. Something prickled her hand and she opened her eyes again to look down. A shard of glass tickled her right hand. She pushed up into a kneeling position and looked back at her kitchen. The French windows had been shattered and the fragments of them littered the snow around her. Drew was lying a few feet away. He looked oddly pale. Mindful of the glass, she picked her way to his side. They must have been outside for a long time if he'd gone that pale. Even his lips had a bluish tinge. She realized they'd have to get inside quickly before they became hypothermic. She tried to shake him, but he didn't wake.
"Come on Drew, you need to wake up," she said loudly. "We need to get inside before we freeze."
She shook him more vigorously, shaking his body. His head lolled from side to side in the snow, but he didn't move. She sat back on her haunches and was about to stand, so she could drag him into the warmth of the house, when her eyes fell on the hole in his chest. She placed her hand on his side, near the wound to inspect it, but jerked her hand away when his shirt felt cold and wet. She looked at her hand, now stained red with blood, and screamed.