Monday, August 25, 2014

Hamming it Up

“Azraal is dead,” I announced.  “If you look around, you’ll see that a number of your comrades are dead, too.  You aren’t winning.”  The demons stared back at me inscrutably.  I wasn’t sure if they were frozen with fear or smoldering with defiance.

“I was wounded, but I’ve healed.  My power is back and, let me tell you, I’m pretty fucking pissed.  You all have one chance to give up and go back to Hell before I start killing,” I explained.   “If you leave the Realm of the Living, that will be the end of it.  I will not look for you, I will not punish you.  But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”

I was really hoping none of these demons had seen Taken.  It might take some of the punch out of my little speech if they realized it was mostly lifted from a movie.  None of them were laughing or smirking at me, so I figured I was probably in the clear.  “You have until the count of three,” I said.  “One…two….”

To my great pleasure, several of them teleported out before I even got to two.  There were maybe twenty-five of them left by the time I shouted, “Three!”

I looked around at the rebellious demons, took a deep breath through my nostrils, and closed my eyes.  I wasn’t back to full power like I’d implied, so I needed to make the best of what telekinetic prowess I had to scare the rest of them into obedience.  I opened my eyes, selected a nearby target, and instantly relocated myself into his body.  I arrived amid a shower of bloody chunks of flesh, immediately spotted a new mark, and blasted her to pieces before most of the demons had even reacted to the first kill.  Within only a few seconds, I’d telefragged five of them and exhausted almost all the energy I had left.  All the other demons had fled in a panic.

Except Kezin.  He stood his ground, pointing a clawed finger in my direction reproachfully.  “This isn’t over!” he quavered.  “You haven’t seen the last of me!”  And then, not unexpectedly, he departed. 

I scoffed.  “It’s like he read that line out of every cheesy movie ever,” I said.  “At least Azraal could come up with his own taunts and threats.”

“Yeah,” Jaelin agreed.  “Because the cleverness of their banter is really the best way to determine how much of a threat someone is.”

It took me until she had finished speaking to realize she was being sarcastic.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Recuperating and Strategizing

I was starting to feel stronger.  I carefully got to my feet, and it felt like it had been days since I’d last stood on my own. 

Though the battle raged on, it was clear that Azraal’s death had turned the tide.  The demons were disorganized—their leader was gone and Kezin, the one who was ostensibly in line to assume control, was less worried about leading and more worried about making me pay for killing Azraal.  Salabas had executed another of his signature moves, and it looked like more than ten of our foes had been rendered temporarily incapacitated.  Talamur was busy possessing a demon that he was forcing to telefrag the others, Sylnie had plucked the Firstborn blade from Azraal’s carcass and put it to good use, and Jaelin was still valiantly defending my position from repeated assaults from Kezin and a few others.  I gauged by a quick count that we’d managed to kill about ten of our enemies, which was impressive, considering we’d been outnumbered ten-to-one and all five of us were still standing.

Of course, we were still outnumbered eight-to-one and death was still a very real possibility for each of us.

My physical and psychic might were both returning to me more quickly now.  I definitely wasn’t close to one hundred percent, but I could feel power thrumming through my veins and standing up didn’t give me a headache anymore.  I realized that, except for maybe Salabas, I had the greatest potential for destruction of anyone in this fight.  I decided to use that perception to my advantage and bring a swifter end to the violence. 

EVERYONE STOP!” I bellowed.  My roar carried easily over the havoc and reached every ear in the vicinity.  My tone of voice translated just as easily—every single combatant stopped and turned toward me.  Evidently even the angels listen when the devil is angry.

In the stunned stillness, an old Pontiac drove past us on the road a few yards away, blasting Metallica.  The car had a pizza delivery decal on it and the driver was apparently oblivious to the blazing school building, the horde of demons and the overturned firetrucks.

“Mmm,” Talamur grunted.  “Right now I could go for some pizza.”

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Not a Problem

As he collapsed on top of me, the first thought that went through my head was simply that Azraal’s final word before he died was fuck.  Not exactly the most decorous way to go.

The second thought that went through my head was how much pain my body was in.  Azraal was a big demon with a lot of muscle mass and he was literally dead weight right now.  And, of course, Sylnie’s plus size voluptuousness was on top of him.  Between the two of them, there was so much pressure that I thought I might actually start sinking into the dirt.

“Did you kill him?” Sylnie asked hopefully.  “You killed him, didn’t you?”

“Yep,” I grunted.  “Uh, would you mind…?”  I tried to wave her off.

“Oh, right,” she said, blushing through her green skin as she hopped down.  “Sorry.”

I slowly heaved Azraal’s corpse to the side, finally relieving the pressure on my weakened frame.  It was starting to dawn on me that I’d actually ended Azraal’s existence.  He’d been a tricky enemy and a thorn in my side for a long time.  I hadn’t really meant to kill him before he got me in one-on-one combat, but I had to admit that this wrapped things up nicely.  He was now officially not a problem.  He could escape from the Department of Enforcement, but he couldn’t escape death.  I’d never have to worry about him again. 

I still had to worry about his comrades, though.  I heard a bellow of anger and saw Kezin flying through the air toward me.  Jaelin intercepted him in the nick of time and continued fighting him off, but it seemed clear that his primary target had shifted from Jaelin to me, the guy who had just murdered his boss.  It wasn’t the kind of loyalty I’d have expected from a demon so powerful.  In my experience, they were mostly out for themselves and wouldn’t waste time avenging their fallen leaders.  If anything, this probably meant a promotion for Kezin, and demons with the ability to exercise power usually enjoyed being given more of it.  But as he tried to push past Jaelin’s defenses, I could have sworn I saw his eyes brimming with tears.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Last-Ditch Effort

I needed to do several things simultaneously.  Any timing error could easily spell failure and any serious timing error could just as easily result in my death.  Death was becoming a habit that I really needed to kick.

My weakened body and physically demanding situation denied me of the ability to take a deep breath, but I tried to do the mental equivalent to prepare myself for a high-risk display of badassery.  My mind was clear and focused.  I didn’t have a lot of time anyway, but I figured I was as ready as I could ever be.  I went into action.

The first thing I did was set Sylnie’s hand on fire—as gently as I could.  She shrieked in surprise and, obviously, pain, and released her grip on Azraal’s arm, allowing him to lean more pressure into his painstakingly slow attempt to spear me through the heart.

The second thing I did was telekinetically pull the Firstborn blade from Azraal’s grasp.  I didn’t have a lot of mojo left in me, so I tried to make the movements as efficient as possible.  I simply popped the blade out of his fingers, flipped it around so it was pointing upward, and lowered it so its base rested against my chest. 

The last step was to stop resisting.  The first two steps of the plan had been pretty draining anyway, so it wasn’t difficult to let my exhaustion take over and let my muscle strength slacken down to almost nothing.

Azraal’s eyes went wide.  He had quick reflexes, and he was sharp enough to realize what had happened.  But the force of his relentless assault added to the absence of resistance and the everpresent force of gravity were all drawing his body inexorably downward toward the tip of the Firstborn blade.  He was probably preparing to teleport out when my backup plan kicked in—Sylnie’s throes of agony from her scorched hand had thrown her balance off and she collapsed onto Azraal’s back, her added weight propelling him just a little faster toward his doom. 

I could sense the psychic energy he was calling up to whisk himself off to safety, but he never got the chance.  The Firstborn blade pierced his skin, ripped through his heart, and erupted violently from his back as he landed heavily on my chest. 

“You slick little fuck,” Azraal whispered in astonishment.  

Friday, August 15, 2014

Searching for a Solution

Sylnie sat up, rubbing her head. 

“Jaelin!” she called out.  “Just telefrag these assholes and put a stop to this!”  Apparently she’d decided that, since the problem was beyond her powers to directly affect, the solution could only be reached through delegation.

“Can’t!” Jaelin grunted in the midst of her showdown with Kezin.

“Why not?  The Devil does it all the time!”

“But he’s the Devil,” Jaelin said, her fists flying.  “If a demon teleports into another demon, the space in dispute will be occupied by the being with greater psychic power.”

Sylnie glanced frantically in my direction and then turned back to Jaelin.  “Okay.  What does that mean?”

Jaelin took a hefty kick to the stomach, rolled, and came back up swinging.  “It means I could telefrag you, no problem.  But Azraal might have me beat and if I try it, I could lose.”

“Azraal would stay put and you’d blow yourself to bits?”

“The Devil’s come back from the dead before,” Jaelin said.  “But I wouldn’t.”  She wrapped Kezin in a headlock and winced as he pummeled her kidneys trying to break free.

Sylnie sighed exasperatedly.  She hurried over and tried to bowl Azraal off me again, with expectedly ineffectual results.  So she climbed on his back, pulled at his weapon arm with one hand and tried to score another eye-poke with the other, though he squinted and bucked his head to give her a difficult target. 

All this had served to convince me that, other than Sylnie’s well-meaning but limited help, I was pretty much on my own.  If I didn’t do something soon, Azraal’s strength would overpower me.  So maybe the only way I could beat him now was to use his superior strength against him. 

I was about to take a pretty big risk.  Or maybe I was about to be brilliant. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Delaying the Inevitable

Azraal threw his shoulder back roughly into Sylnie’s face as he kept his other arm steady, forcing his weapon toward my heart.

“Just another inch or two,” he taunted in a singsong voice.  “Maybe I’ll drink some of your blood when you die.  And if you come back, I’ll force some of mine down your throat.”  I gurgled unintelligibly in response.  “Good comeback,” he mocked.

He absorbed another of Sylnie’s tackles.  “Can you call off your bodyguard?” he grunted.  “That fat bitch is only delaying the inevitable and I’m worried about her blood pressure.”

Sylnie immediately wrapped one arm around Azraal’s throat.  “I’m not fat!” she snarled indignantly.  “I’m thick and curvy!”  She demonstrated her contempt by sticking her fingers into Azraal’s eyes, Three Stooges style.

Azraal bellowed in rage and ripped her from his back with his free hand, sending her rolling across the grass.  He’d lost a lot of progress with his knife, however, and as I gripped his wrist my arm was almost fully extended.  Nostrils flaring, he glared at me and redoubled his efforts.  My elbow began to bend further.

Jaelin and Kezin were locked in an intense one-on-one battle that would impress a seasoned MMA fighter.  In the background, I saw Salabas do his signature move, felling at least a dozen demons with sunbeams erupting from his hands.  He and Talamur were still outnumbered.  The demons also seemed to have a group in reserve who casually dispatched any police or firemen who dared try to interfere with the mayhem.  Sylnie was lying in a heap a few feet away, but she was still moving.

The muscles in my arm were burning.  I could feel the entire limb giving out.  Azraal’s blade loomed ever closer.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Sylnie to the Rescue

I was still weak, but nothing gives you a shot of adrenaline quite like the realization that you’re about to die.  I shot my arm up and gripped Azraal’s wrist to keep him from driving the deadly dagger between my ribs.  Adrenaline or not, I was operating on low power and he was among the most powerful demons I’d had the displeasure of fighting.  It was only a matter of time until my strength gave out and I’d wake up in Heaven next to my stressed out great-grandfather.

It seemed kind of backwards that going to Heaven was something I preferred to avoid.

Sylnie was the first of my friends to see my predicament.  She heroically plowed into Azraal from the side in an attempt at a tackle.  She was a big girl and it looked like she had a lot of momentum but Azraal took the hit like a siege tank.  Then Sylnie tried hopping on his back and pulling on his arm.  Though Azraal managed to shrug her off repeatedly, I could feel his pressure slackening each time she tugged on him.

But despite my resistance and Sylnie’s various hindrances, Azraal kept staring at me with that greedy, sharp-toothed grin and inching the point of the Firstborn blade closer and closer to my chest.

Every measure of physical and telekinetic energy I had was focused on keeping Azraal’s arm at bay.  I tried to call out for help, but my feeble lungs could only produce a gasping wheeze that was easily drowned out by the sounds of combat.  Sylnie, desperate to avert my impending demise and frustrated by her impotent assistance, became my voice in appealing to our comrades.

“Hey!” she barked.  “Get over here, the Devil’s in trouble!”

Salabas was out of earshot but Talamur and Jaelin exchanged an exhausted glance and a deeply communicative nod.  Jaelin came over to us and was reaching out to wrench Azraal off of me when Kezin tackled her from behind, sending the two of them tumbling past us.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Round Two

The hordes of Hell collectively pounced on us a second time.  The fact that they no longer feared Salabas was evident by their renewed ferocity. 

The demons had either forgotten about me or written me off.  I was still weak, sprawled out on the ground and forced to watch the frenetic violence from below.  I’d managed to close the wound in my shoulder but I was still struggling to repair the internal damage and reacquire my strength. 

“Jaelin!” Talamur shouted over the din.  “You have to take the Devil and go!  It is imperative that he makes it out alive!”

“Then we’re all going!” she yelled back, tearing the arm off of an enemy combatant.  “You’re coming with!”

“Whatever we do, we need to do it now!” Sylnie said raggedly as Salabas dispatched a demon that had been about to destroy her.  Her left foot had been shorn clean off and she sported at least three wounds to her upper body.  She wouldn’t last much longer in battle and the only reason she’d made it this far was because the others were watching her back.

“Okay,” Talamur said.  “Jaelin, grab the Devil.  I’ll take Sylnie.  Salabas, meet us in the trees on the far side of the parking lot.  Go!”  I felt Jaelin’s cool fingers close around my bicep and I was whisked away to temporary safety.

Instead of lying in a pile of concrete rubble and broken floor tiles, I was now in a more comfortable bed of grass.  I saw Talamur and Sylnie appear a few yards away.  Salabas arrived behind them.  But our opposition had reacted quickly and my companions had hardly caught their breath before the demons began popping into sight around us.

Then Azraal appeared on top of me, straddling my chest and brandishing the Firstborn blade.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Show of Force

The scene became chaotic with demons teleporting into our little knot of defenders from every direction.  Some had also opted to charge on foot.  In seconds, we were enveloped in a swarm of enemies.  Talamur dropped me onto what remained of the charred gymnasium floor so that he could fight back.  I couldn’t blame him, considering that I was almost literally dead weight.  I curled up into a ball and focused on three things—not getting trampled, not getting stabbed, and healing my shoulder so I could get my strength back.

A new sound began building in the midst of the cries and grunts of battle.  It was a low thrumming that I could feel vibrating in my internal organs.  I glanced toward Salabas, who inexplicably seemed to be the source of the sound.  His sombrero was torn and his robe was spattered with blood, but he was in a state of intense concentration.  The thrumming grew even louder and the air around him began to shimmer.  When he opened his eyes and lifted his head, he practically exploded.

Stretching his arms violently out to his sides, the angel sprouted numerous narrow beams of brilliant yellow light from his palms.  By some unknown targeting system, each beam rocketed directly toward various demons’ chests, burning clean, fist-sized holes through their hearts.  In one extraordinary and terrifying moment, roughly twenty of our assailants collapsed.  As advertised, Salabas had taken twenty of them on by himself.

Demoralized, the demons fell back, but not far.  We remained surrounded and they remained vigilant.  Azraal was still alive, but I’d spotted his apparent second-in-command, Kezin, on the ground with a tunnel through his torso.

“That was fantastic!” Sylnie enthused, staring at Salabas in awe.  “Can you teach me how to do that?”

“My apologies, ma’am,” he replied with a sympathetic grin.  “But I do believe that kind of thing is exclusively found in an angel’s skill set.”  He heaved a heavy sigh, giving the impression that his unparalleled badassery had taken a lot out of him.

“Are they dead?” Jaelin said oddly.  While she sounded impressed with Salabas’s display, she was probably just as concerned that his destructive capabilities could be turned on her.

I could see the demons on the ground next to me start to squirm.  One of them was already patching up the gaping hole in his chest.

“Damn,” Talamur whispered.

“That’s what I thought!” Azraal shouted triumphantly.  “The angel can’t kill us!”

Monday, August 4, 2014

Weighing Options

“Anybody got any bright ideas?” Talamur asked grimly, scanning the swiftly contracting circle of enemies.

“I reckon I could take at least twenty of ‘em myself,” Salabas offered. 

“But what are we going to do about the rest?” Sylnie said nervously.  She had every right to be nervous, of course, considering she was probably the least powerful being here by a pretty sizeable margin. 

“We have to run,” Jaelin insisted.  “The angel makes no difference.  We’re still way too outnumbered to try and fight them all.”

“But you did come here for the purpose of stopping them,” Talamur pointed out.  “You’ll have to fight at some point.”

I decided to try and buy my companions some time to come up with a strategy that had any hope of success.  “Azraal!” I called out weakly.  “Did you really just lure me up here to kill me and take my throne?  Again?  I expected some originality from you, at least.”

Never one to leave a taunt unanswered, Azraal stepped into the center of the circle to face us.  “I was just in the neighborhood, killing some humans,” he explained with exaggerated nonchalance.  “But then we bumped into you, and I figured…here were two birds, and I had a couple dozen stones at my disposal, so what the hell?”

I was struggling to come up with a witty retort to keep the distracting dialogue going when one of the demons in the back whined loudly, “Come on, man, give us the attack order!  Can’t you see this assclown is stalling?”

It was difficult to tell for sure, but from my vantage point in Talamur’s arms it looked like Azraal teleported over to the speaker, tore his body in half down the middle like it was made of tissue paper, and calmly returned to his original location.  Then he flashed me a toothy grin that was almost charming and said, “Well…he’s not wrong.  Get ‘em!  Kill ‘em all!”

Friday, August 1, 2014

Our New Friend

The new arrival was facing away from me.  He was tall, lean, and dressed in a floor-length off-white robe and a traditional sombrero.  The sombrero made me wonder if I were hallucinating.

When the man turned around to look at us, I was startled by the fact that he looked strikingly similar to Kanye West, neatly close-shaven goatee and all.  For a moment, I thought maybe he actually was Kanye West.  Although I would have been really surprised if the demons surrounding us would have been so terrified of the real Kanye. They began whispering fearfully to each other and backing up a few paces.  Even Azraal and Kezin looked uncomfortable.  I saw Azraal speak quietly to a few of his subordinates, who quickly disappeared. 

"Salabas!" Talamur breathed.  "I can't express how relieved I am to see you right now!"

The rapper doppelganger flashed him a brilliant grin and replied in a jarring backwoods dialect, "Well, shoot.  I ain't gonna leave youse to die out here like little critters in a hailstorm." 

"Who is this?" Jaelin asked.

Kanye tipped his hat coolly to her.  Everything about his appearance, demeanor and behavior was inscrutable and bizarre.  "The name's Salabas, ma'am.  Captain in the Ninth Battalion of Heaven and Emissary to the Living Realm, at your service."

Sylnie's eyes went wide.  "You're…an angel?" she stammered.

Salabas nodded.  "Right you are, little lady. Heaven, born and raised.  I bleed white, sure 'nough."

"It's okay though," Talamur said quickly.  He'd clearly noticed Sylnie and Jaelin bristling suspiciously.  "He's a friend.  We can trust him.  He's here to help, I can promise you."

I said nothing, quietly healing the near-fatal wound in my shoulder.  I was thinking about two things—first, I was trying to remember for certain if Salabas was the name Talamur had mentioned when he explained that an angel hired him to have me murdered.  And second, I was trying to count the number of demons who had begun teleporting in around us. 

Azraal had called in reinforcements and half of the people who could help me get out of this alive had also been involved in my murder.