Pick a side

When demons descend on the world and the future as we thought it would be changes forever, as cities burn and countries crumble, angels must come to our aid. But the question is, what form will these angels take?

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1. Pick a side

   Leo threw himself behind the concrete divider as a corner of it exploded into a blizzard of shards, some of which lodged themselves into the athletic man’s tousled black hair. His eyes were a dark brown and his features were chiselled, his jaw set grimly with a scar running along his left cheek. He pulled his feet in, which stretched out into the road. Not that there was much road left, for it had been torn up by the bullets and spells which hummed through the air besides one another, leaving only ragged patches of tarmac remaining.
   He sat with his back pressed against the stone and felt the divider vibrate as its opposite side was ripped into by a stream of bullets. Beside him, his younger comrade, Lara, clutched her fully automatic machine gun tight in her hands, both she and her weapon as dirty and battle-worn as Leo. Her hair was blazing ginger and she wore a look of determination on her young, rounded, dusty features.
   Leo was only twenty-nine, and Lara a mere four years younger, but like everybody else on the planet, they had been thrust into this war without warning and with very little choice. Leo knew of a few pockets of the globe that remained untouched by the raging fight for earth, but no more than half a dozen.
   Rolling around he popped around the side of his divider and in the distance saw the Empire State Building, not quite as proud as it once had been; now sporting a gaping hole in its eastern side and without a top, which had been torn off two years prior. However, Leo also spotted a man dressed in black army clothing totting a gun in his direction as well, and he jumped back behind the divider as another volley of shots attacked the concrete behind him and Lara.
   For a moment he fell into the past, remembering the day everything had started; a fine summer’s afternoon in Austria in late 2037. He had been feeding his young baby, Isabella, with his beautiful wife Amanda. Then a newsflash had burst onto their television screen; the planet was under attack. At first nobody had taken it seriously, but then the footage had shown; he remembered a steam hole where the Eiffel Tower had once been flashing onto the screen, followed by an airbourne image of London blazing. Even despite the beating rotors of the helicopter the footage had been taken from, the screams of helpless people burning alive had permeated through, wrenching Leo Armstrong’s gut and throwing him back to the night his father had died as their house burnt down.
   Nobody had any idea what had happened, it had come upon them so quickly, but then, two days after with the world in shock as over half of their capital cities blazed, with a body count of millions, the culprits showed their faces. A flock of blazing creatures had landed upon Buckingham Palace’s rooftop, and the worlds media had turned to them. As it turns out that is just what these strange beings wanted.
   They looked human, but their faces were warped and hideous, their eyes devoid of humanity, their bodies broken but continuing to move. Their skin was burned in places, and the air around them, Leo remembered would shimmer with power. Their veins burned a fierce red and every now and then, an arc of red energy, like lightning almost, would flicker across their bodies.
   The creatures announced themselves not as aliens, not as monsters, but as demons. And they came offering an alliance. Leo was sure that had they simply appeared, the human race would have not listened to them for a moment, but as it was, their cities were falling, their people dying, and everyone knew that there was no force on earth powerful enough to do such a thing. Deep down, each individual knew that these demons spoke the truth.
   According to them, they had ascended from the fiery pits of Hell in order to overthrow the planet. The last time they had tried this, they said, had been in the Dark Ages, but now they saw that the world was much more developed than they had previously thought. They offered the world the chance to ally with them, to rule the world together, to serve under these demons. Some said yes, the dark, the evil, the villains that lurked in street alleyways, and these were welcomed with open arms. The demons gave the world thirteen days to reply, and in this time millions of fighters were recruited into the ranks of the devilish beings, training under their hand to become the best of the best, learning to fight and protect their masters.
   On the thirteenth day, the world’s leaders had stepped up onto a podium before Buckingham Palace, to whose rooftop they returned, stronger in number this time. The President, The Prime Minister, The Queen, every leader of every country stood before their overlords and in one voice, together shouted aloud, ‘No!’
   Leo smiled at the thought, the thought of those incredible people standing there and openly defying these creatures that could cause untold damage and suffering, proclaiming that this world was their world, and no hideous monsters would take that from them. Fully knowing the power of the demons, they’d stood there, no weapons, no protection, putting themselves completely at the mercy of the demons.
   What came next took the world by surprise. The demons had shrieked hideously and that red energy glowed and crackled around them, turning the sky red such was their number as they floated in the air and stood upon the roof. Everything said that the only hope the world had, those people on that podium, were going to be killed where they stood, but then from the sky had come an explosion of light which doused the energy and sent the demons flying away. Those that did not flee cowered before the light, and as it washed over them it melted their skin from their bones, seared their muscles and then charred their bones until they were just mounds of ash upon the floor.
   Down onto that rooftop dropped a quartet of beings, glowing bright at first, but then their light faded and the world saw angels for the first time. They were ordinary people, one was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, and his body looked little more than nineteen years old. Another was much older, some fifty or sixty years older, and wore a tweed jacket. They were a motley bunch, but across their bodies arced a blue energy which sparked every now and then, and the world knew their saviours when they saw them.
   The people named themselves as angels of the Lord, and they stepped down from the Palace roof, and went among the people. They told the planet that a war was coming, that they would have to fight their own for possession of the planet, but that when it was over the world would be cleansed of evil and they could start again.
   Entire nations had converted to Christianity practically every night and as the demons regrouped and planned their next attack, the world set about preparing itself. It truly had been a feat to see, and Leo had quickly become as involved as he could. The governments stopped all school education, and instead trained children as young as fifteen to start fighting, whilst also educating them in the process. Anybody younger, or those who wished not to fight were transported to huge warehouses built into mountains and a joint empire rose as the world’s leading and only hope; people called them The Empire of the Thirteenth. After all, they had been formed on the thirteenth day of the demons’ deadline, so it seemed only fitting. Militaries had mobilised, armies had formed, weapons had been developed and the world had stood together.
   The first battle had broken out in Germany in early 2038. Berlin had quickly become a steaming, fiery mess unable to be claimed by either side, but on the day of the fight, Leo had witnessed a sight that he would never forget and he knew would go down in human and demon history alike.
   Every human, every last person who fought for freedom around the globe, men, women, children, young and old had stepped out into the sunlight and shouted aloud in one voice that would ring through history. Leo mouthed it as he sat, pinned down behind the divider with Lara. Soon his comrade joined in;
   ‘We will not bow down to the Devil, nor shall we watch as our earth is consumed by fire and sin and greed. We will never sit back and watch as our loved ones are taken from us, we will defend our planet, to the end, whatever the cost. Do your worst demons, for we will prevail. We will survive. We will win. We will never lay down our weapons! We will never stop fighting! We will never surrender!’
   Not hours after that had first been chanted he had barely escaped Austria with his life. The demons had struck Berlin and hurtled through the skies into every adjacent country. Germany, Poland, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Austria and Italy had all fallen in the same day. A tear rolled down Leo’s face; Leo had escaped with a small group of survivors. His wife and child had not been so lucky. He wore now around his neck a pendant his wife had bought him for good look, and as he opened his eyes, a rage like never before filled him.
   He gripped his gun in his hands, filled with bullets that could kill a man, but also which were filled with fearsome spells which could render a demon dead, and send them back to their prison in Hell. His hands trembled and he popped his head around once more, receiving another set of rounds spraying into the concrete behind him.
   He sat beside Lara, then turned and looked her in the eye. She nodded.
   ‘We will not bow down to the Devil,’ Leo said quietly.
   ‘Nor shall we watch as our earth is consumed by fire and sin and greed,’ Lara said, a little louder.
   ‘We will never sit back and watch as our loved ones are taken from us,’ Leo said strongly.
   ‘We will protect our planet,’ Lara replied.
   Then they joined in unison, shouting aloud, ‘To the end! Whatever the cist! Do your worst demons! For we will prevail! We will survive! We will win! We will never lay down our weapons! We will never stop fighting! We will never surrender!’
   Continuing to chant, Leo grabbed a nearby brick and launched it into the air above them. It disintegrated in a cloud of rocky shards as it was peppered with bullets, but the momentary distraction of their enemy allowed Leo and Lara the time they needed. Leo rolled sideways and sprayed the bewildered foe with bullets, watching as two of their lifeless bodies dropped to the floor. Meanwhile, Lara popped over the barrier and took out a further three in a hail of metal death.
   Quickly the duo sprinted into a nearby alleyway and found themselves in a dead end. They could hear the thumping of the remaining foe upon the ground and the pair looked around frantically for an exit. Leo soon spotted a side door leading into a high rise building and kicked it in.
   Rushing through they found themselves in a kitchen, and Leo threw a handful of cutlery in each of the four microwaves near the door. Flicking the switch on the wall, what little energy remained in the New York grid pumped into them. Twisting every dial up to full they hared out of the kitchens and into the lobby. In no time at all they were halfway up the nearest staircase and taking the steps three at a time. Behind them they heard shouts and someone bellowing orders, but then a huge explosion rocked the building. Leo and Lara stopped for a moment, but then a few shouts echoed up to them and they continued to bound up the stairs.
   Continuing up they heard their enemy break into the lobby and the bullets ricochet off the walls as they burst in guns blazing. Next came the thundering beat of boots on the stairs.
   The stairs up the centre of the building were wide and too open to give any cover, plus they would end soon, so the two comrades rushed for the eastern stairwell. Leaping up the stairs they heard the bellowing of their pursuers and then the clatter of guns on the metal handrails as the team behind them split up to take each stairwell.
   It seemed like an eternity to the two fighters, constantly circling up the building, the levels slowly dropping past, but eventually they neared the roof. Leo fired several shots down the stairs and they heard the grim thump of a falling body, which moments later was overridden by the bullets which ricocheted up, bouncing off the metal. Sparks flew as the bullets scraped past, and a few steps were torn up in the process, then Leo and Lara knocked down the door onto the final level.
   On the opposite side of the door stood a trio of the foe, who had clearly reached the skyscraper’s top quicker than Leo and Lara, but they were taken by surprise at the violence of the entry. Clearly the two had not been heard coming and so the enemy drew back slightly as Leo and Lara entered, giving the duo more than enough time to pepper them with bullets. Stepping over their bleeding enemies, the two stood on either side of the stairwell door in an attempt to ambush their enemy.
   The door burst open once more and the first two enemies fell to Leo and Lara’s point blank shots, and a third they heard fall as the bullets ricocheted off the walls of the stairwell. However, a further two burst in after them and knocked each fighter to the ground.
   Leo clutched his wife’s pendant as he stared down the barrel of a gun and then bellowed aloud, ‘To the end! We will prevail!’
   All of a sudden, the man staring down at him burst into flames which ate through him with such vigour that in seconds he was a pile of ashes on the floor, his weapon melted and useless. His comrade turned to look for an attacker, but then a gaping wound opened in his chest as a lance of flame speared into him. The fire quickly dissipated, but the wound remained and he stared dumbly at the whole in himself before thumping to the ground, spewing blood and a few organs too.
   Leo continued to grip his medallion, for he knew those killings were the work of a demon, and both he and Lara stared about frantically to spot it. Suddenly the other two stairwells exploded in flame and a wave of heat washed over them both, beads of sweat saturating their skin.
   Then the heat was gone, and the flames dies, the only evidence of anything ever happening being the dead bodies and blood splatters.
   ‘Show yourself!’ Leo shouted aloud, standing up.
   With a smash the nearest window broke and the wind howled in, but so did a demon. For a moment in flight she was the burning, blazing creature everyone knew but then she landed and she appeared to be a beautiful young woman, blonde and dainty with fierce blue eyes.
   ‘I believe thanks are in order,’ she said and smiled.
   ‘We don’t thank killers,’ Leo said, refraining himself from killing the abomination in an effort to gain intel.
   ‘That’s funny, because that’s what you are,’ she smiled again, ‘anyway, enough chit chat. I’ll cut to the point. You guys have a serious problem on your hands. The demons are amassing an army bigger than any you could ever hope to beat with your forces, and they’re doing it fast. Not just that, but they’re learning how to take on truly human form, so you won’t be able to recognise them. Luckily for you I’m here to help.’
   ‘You? Help?’ Lara sniggered.
   ‘Yes. Look at it as an insurance policy. I help you win the war, you tell the angels, I get to Heaven. Simple.’
   ‘Why would you want entry to Heaven?’ Leo asked curiously.
   ‘Do you know what it’s like in Hell? It’s awful! That’s why it’s called Hell! Demons are formed from the mad souls of humans who end up there, and they are taught to serve only Lucifer himself. Luckily for you there are a few of us who have realised that sitting down there isn’t as much fun as we thought, and if the demons win Hell will descend upon earth so that really wouldn’t do you or us any favours. Plus, if Lucifer gets onto earth, most of demonkind will be wiped out. We’re hundreds of years old; he’ll prefer some newer souls to add to his army.
   ‘Look I don’t expect you to trust me, hate me for all I care, which you probably do. But I did just save your life. All I ask is that you allow me a meeting with the angels. I’m merely looking out for myself and my friends, wouldn’t you do the same?’
   ‘You’re trying to appeal to our better nature?’ Lara stared at the demon angrily.
   ‘Let’s give her a chance Lara; if we grant her meeting with the angels, either she’ll be telling the truth – which the angels can tell – and we’ve made an alliance. Otherwise, I’ll enjoy seeing her face as the angels kill her.’
   ‘Fine,’ Lara said huffily.
   ‘So what’s your name, demon?’ Leo asked.
   ‘The name’s Lilith,’ grinned the demon, ‘Lucifer’s first demon, at your service; and just wait till you meet my friends.’

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