Remain. [NaNoWriMo '16]

[Sequel to NaNo '15 novel Run.] Ruling the world isn't as easy or as fun as it sounds, especially not when a group of angry angels are thrown into the mix. What's worse is that Baxel is without his right-hand man, who just so happens to be the key to everyone's plans.

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16. Fifteen: Disperse!

    Damian came up from the Nether in his own room in the GITS compound. It was exactly as he had remembered it, minus the thin coating of dust over most of the flat surfaces. His bed was still a little messed up from the last night he had spent here - the night before Baxel had kidnapped him and launched the chain of events that changed his life forever. 

    It was strangely nostalgic to be standing in this room again. Despite the musty smell, it was almost refreshing to wander around his room for a minute, to examine the things he had left behind. On his desk sat a framed picture of his family back when he and Taryn were little, his parents beaming behind them. Next to it was The Art of War. Damian had never finished reading it. 

     In the center of his desk sat his laptop, which had probably died long ago. He didn’t touch it; technology seemed so far removed from him these days. Damian paused at his dresser to change into a fresh set of clothes - fresh as in just washed several months ago, but still better than what he’d been wearing for the past few weeks. His jeans were starting to get holes in them, and his t-shirt was fraying at the hems. This new shirt felt tighter than he was used to, especially around the arms. Had he changed so much? 

    After several minutes, Damian recognized what he was doing as stalling, and steeled himself to step out into the compound and face the people he had all but abandoned without a word. At first, Damian was surprised by how empty the place felt. The way he remembered it, the compound was always buzzing with life of some sort - usually serious faces focused on magic or training or studies. Even so, it was better than this… dead silence. 

    Damian walked through the halls, heading to the administrative wing. He passed the empty training room, the empty dining hall, the empty library. When Damian was just beginning to wonder if the entire compound had been abandoned, he came to the conference room and peered in. Venti stood at the head of the long table, his palms flat on the wood and head bent. Each side was lined with eight people, and there was no indication of anyone else in the building. Was this all that was left?

    Easing the door open, Damian listened for a minute to what Venti was saying. 

    “-Not looking good,” he said. “They’re looking for survivors, but it’s only realistic to believe that the entire India branch was destroyed in the attack.”

    There were small noises of distress from the others, and Venti shook his head, eyes still on the table in front of him. “I don’t know what our next move is. At this point…” he sighed. “I’m open to ideas.”

    “I have one,” Damian said, stepping further into the room. All heads snapped around, but Damian met only Venti’s gaze. “If you all want to survive, you’re going to pull yourself together right now.” Damian’s voice was more commanding than Venti’s, his confidence more captivating, and he knew it. “If you can’t be strong, you have to look strong.”

    Finally catching up, Venti asked, “Damian? When… Where have you been?”

    Damian’s expression didn’t change. “I had some personal matters to attend to.”

    Venti nodded. “Yes, your sister told us about your ill relative. I understand it was important, but we needed you here.”

    This was no time for softening blows or playing along with lies. Damian didn’t care what the GITS thought of him anymore; he didn’t care if they never accepted him back. He could never come back anyway. 

    “There was no relative,” Damian stated. “What I’ve been doing isn’t important. What is important is that a group of rebel angels are now loose on earth, and they’re dangerous. They’re the ancestors of all of us with light blood, and at any minute, they’re going to come here to evaluate their descendants for themselves,” he told the group, meeting each one of their eyes. “If they see you like this, if they see a group of weak sorcerers ready to give up, they’ll save you the trouble and kill you all,” Damian told them, his tone hard. 

    “How do you know all this?” one of the middle aged men, Morris, asked. “You disappear for a few months and suddenly you know all kinds of stuff about angels and our ancestors? You’re a kid.”

    Damian’s fists clenched, and he could feel the shadows begging for a command. Taking a breath, he forced them down. “It doesn’t matter how I know. I grew up here. You all raised me,” he said, looking around at the familiar faces of the friends of his parents, the leaders he had looked up to. “Are you going to trust me on this? And if not, well, what do you have to lose?”

    For a moment, they looked at each other, then at Venti. The silence was filled with palpable tension. Venti was staring at Damian, who met his gaze. After a minute, he gave a sharp nod. “What should we do?”

    Damian looked around at them, cowed, weak, tired. He wasn’t sure there was anything that they could do to make this place look like what Samyaza was expecting. “Clean yourselves up,” Damian said. “Make yourself look as commanding and respectable as possible. When they come, act ruthless and bold, but respect them. I don’t know if it’ll work, so prepare for a fight just in case.” He had a bad feeling that their plan B was inevitable. “You don’t have much time.”

    “How long, exactly?” the youngest woman asked. 

    “However long angel sex takes.” It was invigorating to feel so in command in front of these people who had held power over him for his whole life. Damian had never resented that power, but standing in front of them now, he felt bolder than ever, and couldn’t resist a tiny bit of shock.

     Venti didn’t ask, just clapped his hand, saying, “Well, you heard him. Do whatever you can to prepare.”

    The group stood in a conglomeration of scraping chairs and shuffling papers and dragging robes. Damian stepped to the side, letting them file out into the hallway. Venti went with them, but one sorcerer hung back. 

    “Damian,” Griffiths said, smiling as he approached Damian by the door. He still looked young, early forties perhaps, but he was beginning to get wrinkles around the eyes. Damian thought he could see a streak of gray at his temple. “It’s good to see you.”

    Damian relaxed from his grim, serious persona. “It’s good to see you too, Professor.”

    Griffiths gave a little laugh. “You still insist on calling me that.”

    A hint of a smile pulled at Damian’s lips. Griffiths was the closest thing Damian had to a father after his own had died; he was his mentor, his role model, his teacher. He wasn’t a real professor, but the title had just stuck somewhere along the line. 

    “You’re different,” Griffiths said, studying Damian’s face, the smile gone from his lips. “What happened to you in the time you were gone?”

    Damian had the strange urge to tell him everything - from Baxel to the shadows to Taryn to the angels escaping, but he knew he couldn’t. There was too much at stake, and the more he knew, the more he would be in danger, especially with the angels on their way. Later, perhaps… but not now. “A lot. More than you could imagine.”

    “Are you okay?”

    For a moment, Damian wasn’t sure how to answer. “I’m trying to be. I think things might be turning around.”

    “I don’t know,” the Professor replied, shaking his head in a world weary way. “Have you seen what’s been going on? I don’t know where you’ve been or how far removed you were, but… things suck here in the mundane world. Angels aside, humans aren’t doing so well.” Damian nodded as Griffiths continued, “You know about Baxel and that ring he’s got? It can control anyone.”

    “Yeah,” Damian muttered. “That I do know about.”

    Griffiths shook his head again. “I can’t figure out why he didn’t just command us to stop trying to sabotage him. I mean, not that any of our plans have worked, but…” 

    “It’s too much fun for him,” Damian said, almost without thinking. “You’re the Batman to his Joker.”

    Meeting his eyes, Griffiths cocked his head. “You talk like you’re certain.”

    Damian’s jaw tightened. “Like I said, a lot’s happened. You need to prepare. I wasn’t kidding about the angels; they’re dangerous.”

    Griffiths shot Damian a small grin. “Listen, I taught you everything you know. If you’re not worried, I’m not.”

    With that, he clapped Damian on the shoulder and left him there alone. Damian was worried. He was really worried. After all, Griffiths hadn’t taught him everything he knew, and Damian still wasn’t sure he could go up against these angels. 

    A heavy weight in his stomach, Damian turned and headed out into the hallway, ready to help in whatever way he could. He wasn’t going to let his surrogate family go down without a fight. 

 

—[]—

 

    Taryn had long believed that dinner was the meal with the most potential to be awkward, and this particular dinner did not disappoint. The four of them sat at a table that was far too large, all scrunched together at one end. Despite the delicious food, Taryn had the distinct feeling that no one was even remotely enjoying Laurita’s cooking. 

    Isaac had eased up a little bit since their talk, at least until his father arrived. Matias was stiffer than his wife, more professional and less warm. He seemed almost awkward around his wife and son, and this seemed only to encourage Isaac’s standoffish behavior. 

    “So, what have you been up to?” Laurita prompted, trying to start conversation.

    “Oh, you know,” Isaac said, swirling a spoon in his gazpacho. “Trying to overthrow our evil demon overlord- sorry, your beloved boss. Trying to save the world from destruction,” he deadpanned with a little shrug. “The usual.”

    “Isaac,” Matias warned. 

    Isaac’s jaw clenched, and he kept his eyes on his food. Taryn sat silent, trying not to draw attention to herself by eating too slow or too fast, regardless of how hungry she was. 

    “So, Taryn,” Laurita began, changing course. “How’s your brother? Damian, right?”

    Taryn could feel Isaac’s eyes on her as she stiffened. “He’s fine,” she managed. 

    Latching on to that escape, Laurita continued, “I remember him as quite promising. Always so eager to learn, and so good to everyone.” Taryn’s fingers clenched around her spoon. “He’ll make a fine leader one day-“

    Isaac’s chair scraped against the floor as he stood abruptly. All eyes turned to him. “You got your meal, mother. Show us what you want to show us and let us leave.”

    Laurita looked like she had been stabbed, but she gave in. “Alright. Matias?”

    Matias stood and left the room, the tension only growing in his absence. I shot Isaac a look of thanks, knowing that his outburst was half to spare me. He responded with a barely perceptible nod, which Laurita missed as she tried to hold back tears. 

    “We think you should take her to the GITS in America,” Laurita explained, breaking the silence. “There was that angel around last time we were there - Sirio. We think that maybe he can help her.”

    “Help who?” Taryn asked, not mentioning what she knew about Sirio or the fact that he was currently locked up in the Nether. That information could come later, if it needed to at all.

    “This girl, she was picked up trying to cross the border. She almost killed one of the guards with light, they said, so they tranquilized her and brought her in,” Laurita said, her voice empty and dull. “We don’t know what she is, or how she has these powers, but she hasn’t tried to use them on us. I think she’s just scared.” She paused. “Her name is Rirnemis, she says. She said she escaped from the ‘angel devils.’ And…” Laurita trailed off, her eyebrows drawing together, “she said that she was born three days ago.”

    Taryn and Isaac exchanged a look. “How is she talking?” Taryn asked. A three day old child…?

    “It’s not-“ Laurita began, then shook her head. “She’s-“

    The door opened, and Matais walked in with his hand on the arm of a girl who looked to be in her late teens. She was taller than Matais, and graceful in a way that he was not. Everything about her was pale - her skin, her hair, even the blue of her eyes. She looked confused and scared, and nowhere near three days old.

    “Rirnemis,” Laurita said, her voice careful. “This is Isaac and Taryn. They’re going to take you somewhere safe, okay?” 

    Rirnemis’s eyes darted between the two of them. “I don’t know who I am,” she whispered. 

    Taryn shot Laurita a glance, but Laurita was gazing despondently at her son. Stepping forward, Taryn tried, “You’re Rirnemis. That’s your name. Can I call you Nemi?”

    Nemi nodded. “I know my name,” she said. “But who am I?”

    Taryn looked to Matais, who was standing straight and silent. “Take her to Sirio. If anyone can help, it’ll probably be him.”

    “Pfft,” a voice said from the corner. “Sirio couldn’t help a fly.”

    Taryn whipped around to find Baxel striding out from the shadows. Everyone in the room froze. Baxel grinned, “Taryn, what a pleasure - and a surprise - to see you here! Miss me?” 

    Taryn had to dig her nails into her palms to keep from doing something rash. “I’m going to rip your head off.” Her voice was slow and careful. Like she meant it.

    “Wow.”

    “Why are you here? Is this about Damian?” 

    “Damian?” Baxel asked, raising a brow. “You think the whole world revolves around you and your brother. Lately, you’ve taken that literally,” he said, casually walking closer, his hands in the pockets of his suit pants. “I hate to burst your bubble, but I’m not here for you.” He turned his gaze to Nemi, sweeping her up and down. “I’m here for her.”

    Looking at the others, Taryn waited for one of them to say something, but Isaac’s parents seemed frozen in fear. Isaac, however, found his voice. “What do you want with her?” he demanded. 

    Baxel blinked, turning from the girl to him. “I’m sorry, who are you?”

    “I’m-“

    “Nevermind, I don’t care,” Baxel said, waving him off. “And it doesn’t matter why I want her, but I do, so that’s that.” He shifted his gaze to Isaac’s parents. “I do find it interesting that you were going to send her straight to Sirio without even telling me, though. Honestly, Sirio? Sirio is an imbecile.”

     Laurita opened and closed her mouth a few times, trying to find words. 

    “Close your mouth and keep it closed,” Baxel advised. “You’ll look less like an idiot.”

    Her mouth snapped shut. Matias stepped forward, his voice like steel - apologetic steel. “I’m sorry, My Lord. We didn’t think you would want to be bothered by something as trivial as a lost girl.”

    Baxel smiled, the red skin pulling back to reveal white teeth. “Ah, but she’s not just an ordinary girl, is she?” He stepped closer to Rirnemis, surveying her. The girl gulped, her eyes blown wide with fear. “I think you knew that,” he said to Matias without taking his eyes off of Nemi. “I think you didn’t want me to know about her.”

    Turning only his head, Baxel said to Matias, “But I see everything.” He turned on his heel and pulled at the shadows. “Hmm… how to punish you…” The shadows licked around the legs of both of Isaac’s parents, who were becoming more terrified by the second. 

    “Stop,” Isaac spoke up, his voice reverberating through the large room.     Baxel did, turning to face Isaac once again. “Are you not allowing me to punish them?” Isaac met his gaze, but didn’t respond. “I should punish you all for not obeying me.” 

    Taryn could see the shadows move across the floor, heading for each of them. They crept over the ground, tendrils reaching for their legs. Taryn took a stop back, but they kept coming. Just as they were about to wrap around her ankle, a sound cut through the tense silence. 

    A word in your ear, from father to son, hear the word that I say, the music blared, muffled by fabric. 

    Baxel dug in his pocket, pulling out the cell phone and shooting everyone an apologetic grin. “Can we just put the punishment on hold for a sec? I gotta take this.” There were no protests, so he answered it. “Hello?” 

    There was a pause before Baxel said. “But I was right about to-“ He stopped. “Okay, okay. Alright. Got it, bye.” He hung up. 

    Meeting Taryn’s eyes, Baxel said, “You have your brother to thank for me sparing all of you.” Taryn didn’t even try to keep the surprise from her face. Clapping his hands, Baxel said, “On an unrelated note, I need to go right now. So, you two,” he said, pointing to Taryn and Isaac, “you go ahead and take Rirnemis to the GITS in America as soon as possible, and I’ll meet you there. Keep her in as much dark as possible. Put a bag over her head if you need to. That’s an order.” 

    They nodded, not really having much choice since Baxel had the ring. “And you two,” he said, gesturing towards the two adults, “one more failure on your part, and you’re both dead, Damian or not. Understood?” Laurita tried to speak, but couldn’t. “Oh, you can talk now or whatever,” Baxel added.

    “Thank you, My Lord.” 

    “Yeah, yeah. Since we’re clear, I’m going to go,” he said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. “So, uh, disperse!”

    Baxel dissolved into the shadows, and everyone did disperse. Taryn’s head was spinning as she looked over at Isaac, who said, “We should go. Now.”

    Taryn couldn’t agree more.

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