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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6. Five: Shady Business

    “I need you to find out everything you can about angel lore. Specifically fallen angels that were locked away,” Damian ordered. “Got it?”

    The man he was talking to nodded, sending a glance to Riya, who gave him a thumbs up. Damian let out a sigh as he hurried away, glad that he had finally given out all the orders he needed to. Baxel was right - this ring thing could be exhausting.

    “What do you want me to do?” Riya asked, perched on her desk in a way that flattered her figure. Damian’s eyes slid past her without notice, missing too the look that spread across her face.

    “Just oversee everything. I should go meet up with Baxel soon, plan the next move,” Damian replied, rubbing the bridge of his nose. The ring felt heavy on his finger. Riya nodded, seeming as eager to obey his commands as everyone else had been. He wondered if the ring had anything to do with that this time. Before Riya left, Damian stopped her, saying, “Actually, one other thing. When you’re not busy - and this isn’t a command, just… a request… could you see what you could find out about a Taryn Cross? She’s affiliated with the GITS, if that gives you a starting point.”

    “The GITS?” Riya asked, her delicate dark brows pulling down. “The group of magicians?” 

    “Yeah,” Damian replied. “You know anything about them?” 

    She gave a half shrug. “Enough. I’ll let you know what I can find.” 

    Damian. Drover, Connecticut. Look for light disturbances. Come immediately.

    The whisper came out of nowhere, and Damian jumped. “Did you hear that?”

    “Hear what?” Riya asked, concern in her voice. He cast around the room with wide eyes. “Are you okay?”

    Damian blinked rapidly, unsure of how to answer that question. “I… yeah. Yeah, I’m okay. I have to go.”

    He rushed past her out of the room and across the building to Baxel’s room. He didn’t bother knocking, just walked right in. There were splinters of wood littering the floor from what appeared to be Baxel’s desk. The demon himself was nowhere to be seen. “Shit,” Damian breathed as he gathered the shadows and dropped into the Nether. 

    Damian didn’t know where Drover, Connecticut was, but the shadows did. The shadows in the Nether were all connected, one giant mass. They took him where he needed to go, then deposited him on the rough terrain. Taking a breath, Damian cloaked himself in darkness and returned to the world of the living. 

    The world always seemed too bright coming from the Nether. Damian shielded his eyes with a hand until they adjusted. He reached for the shadows, feeling the nearby ones for disturbances like he’d been instructed by what he could only assume was Baxel. 

    After a few minutes of searching, Damian could find nothing exceptionally unusual as far as light went, but there was a mass of shadows so concentrated that he didn’t know how anything could be as dark as what he sensed. With no better leads, Damian headed that way. 

    Damian traced the shadow mass to a small house on an empty street. He glanced around before stepping up to the door and sending a trail of shadows under it. With the darkness as his eyes and ears, Damian saw Baxel unconscious in a chair, a man standing over him with a dagger, and a woman in black chanting something. 

    “Uti daemonium et aquæductum, et in regna quae non aperire ad lucem,” she said, holding her palms out in front of her. 

    For a moment, Damian stood frozen, unsure of what he should do. He could let Baxel stay there, held captive and used for whatever they were doing, or he could try to stop them. What did he owe Baxel, anyway? The demon had done nothing but manipulate him. Even so, Damian could feel the agitation in the shadows, and it made him uncomfortable. If he let this spell be completed, there was no telling how much worse their situation would be. His personal feelings about Baxel aside, Damian was the one who had released this angel. He refused to also be the one to allow him to complete whatever his plan was. 

    Damian burst through the door, shadows whipping behind him like tentacles. The woman’s head shot up, her voice faltering in her rhythm. Before Damian could even blink, there was light shooting at him like crystalline daggers. He brought up a shield of shadows just in time, but the light kept coming. The effort it took to sustain his shield was draining Damian’s energy, and he was only on the defensive. The chanting continued in the background. 

    “Sit vero candor lucis illi infra duceretur terga tenebras Nulla porta signa sequantur!” 

    Damian let go of the shadows and rolled to the side as the bolts of light crashed into the floor. Immediately, he whipped out a trail of shadows that were dispersed without hesitation by the angel glaring down at him. With a growl, Damian pushed himself up. Fight fire with fire, he thought before throwing the strongest bolt of light at the angel that he could manage. For a second, it seemed to work - the angel stumbled back in surprise. Damian pressed his advantage, slicing towards him with a trail of shadows, but the angel was too quick. 

    Damian cried out as a thin beam of light shot through his leg. He crumpled to the ground.

    “Dimidium quarterium in orbem terrarum, et hoc quod receptum est in contactu cum eo in pulverem reduces eos in terram lux somno et signa opaca,” the woman continued, speaking faster than before. 

    The angel advanced on Damian, passing Baxel’s limp body without a second glance. Damian drew at the shadows in a futile attempt to stop him, but he was losing strength. The angel waved them away with a lazy motion of his hand. “You’re too late,” he declared, his fingers curling tighter around the knife. 

    “Vocem meam obscuro, daemonis vestri coram me tui.”

    The angel smiled. “Too late.”

    “Facientes voluntatem, et voluntas opaca!” the woman shouted just as Damian remembered that he had the ring on his hand. 

    “Stop!” he commanded her, and she froze. Damian let out a breath of relief, but it was too soon. The shadows had already begun to gather, pouring out of Baxel and enveloping the angel. Damian pulled at them, but their will was iron. They didn’t obey him, didn’t even acknowledge him. The room went dark, and when the shadows dissipated, the angel was gone. 

    The angel had been right. Damian was too late. 

    “Fuck,” was the last thing Damian breathed before he, too, passed out.

 

—[]—

 

When I woke up, it was not one of those comfortable slides from sleep into waking. It wasn’t even one of those tired moans of reluctance. It was with a cheese grater playing my head like a violin while a half a dozen meat tenderizers slammed down on every inch of my flesh. I had seen better awakenings.

    I groaned, squinting against the ambient light which, however little, was too much for my screaming eyes. My throat felt sore, like I had been singing at full volume for several hours. Or maybe screaming. Huh.

     “What the hell,” I breathed as my eyes adjusted and I realized where I was. 

    And then I remembered. 

    I glanced around the room far too quickly, and my head punished me for it. “Ah,” I gasped, dropping my head into my hands and grimacing. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been in this much pain. As a demon, mundane pain tended to fade quickly, but this? This was supernatural. This was pain woven into the very fiber of my being by the shadows - my best friends, the one force I could count on and trust this in this world. I felt betrayed and disappointed. 

    My disappointment only grew as I raised my head to spot Damian sprawled out on the ground, blood pooled around his leg. Kim stood behind her altar, unmoving. She stared at me, wide-eyed and terrified. “What are you looking at? Help him! Bandage his leg before he bleeds out.”     She didn’t move, just stared. I growled. I hated humans. I eyed the dark metal on Damian’s finger, and pushed myself out of my chair to pull it from his hand. Every muscle in my body cried out in protest, but I ignored them. I may not be used to pain, but that didn’t mean I was weak. Slipping the ring back onto my finger, I felt a little calmer, a little more in control. “Help him,” I commanded. 

    Instantly, Kim jumped into action, searching the room for bandages, herbs, and whatever else she needed. I leaned back, resting against the legs of the wooden chair I had been imprisoned in. “You sent Sathariel to the Nether, didn’t you? And used my powers, my connection to the shadows, to do it,” I accused Kim. “Tell me the truth.”

    “Yes,” she answered, helpless to do otherwise. “To take a being of light into the Nether, the shadows have to obey the sender. We needed you to act as a conduit. If I had forced them with a spell, he might have been destroyed in the transition.”

    “But you forced them into me.”

    “That wasn’t the part that mattered,” she answered. 

    I huffed as she bent down with a bowl of water and began to clean Damian’s leg. He didn’t stir. “What did you do to the knife?”

    Kim answered, “I let him store light energy in it. The shadows won’t be able to break the warding on the crystal, so they can’t touch the light until it’s used.”

    “Why?”

    “He needed it.”

    I pressed, “Why did he need it? What’s he going to use it for?”

    Kim hesitated only briefly. “To break the chains holding the other angels.”

    I cursed, wincing as I pulled at a muscle in my neck. I watched as Kim hovered her hands above Damian’s leg. It didn’t look quite so bad all cleaned up, and as she muttered a spell under her breath, the skin mostly closed over the wound. It was still a little mangled, but the bleeding stopped. “It’ll hurt him a little, but not as much as before.”

    Kim sat back on her feet, waiting for her next instructions. I had none, only a few questions. “Where’s my dog?”

    “In the back room,” Kim answered. “He’s fine.”

    I scowled. “Why’d he have to take my dog?”

    “He heard that you were especially… attached… to your dog, and thought that if he took it, you would rush back to your headquarters. Which you did. And he would already be hiding in the building, he would know the way to your rooms, and he would have the upper hand of surprise.”

    I didn’t want to acknowledge that I had fallen perfectly into that trap, so I went on, “What does he plan to do once he releases the other angels?”    Kim shook her head. “I don’t know. He didn’t share those plans with me.” 

    I nodded, noting that my muscles didn’t seem quite as bad as when I first woke up. I reached for the shadows, but they still weren’t obeying me. “Remove the suppression spell on me.”

    “It’s already gone.”

    Alarmed, I looked up at her. “Then why can’t I use the shadows?”

    She shook her head helplessly. “Shadow magic isn’t my area of expertise. I just follow the spells-“

    “Why can’t I use my shadows?” 

    “I don’t know!” Kim cried desperately as the ring forced her to answer. 

    My chest was heaving in panic. Without the shadows, what was I? I was nothing. I was nothing but an eternal being with good skin and great hair. But I wasn’t a demon. “Get my dog,” I ordered Kim. “Then wake Damian.”

    Kim nodded, seeming relieved to have an excuse to get away from me for a little while. She opened the door to the back room, and Mr. Skullcrusher came bounding out, bracing his paws on my shoulders to drag a rough tongue over my face. “Hey, buddy,” I smiled, feeling a little more like myself. At least my dog still liked me, shadows or no. “Good to see you too.”

    When he settled, he sat next to me, eyes on my face and tail dragging a happy path back and forth across the floor. Kim knelt next to Damian with a tin of smelling salts, and in a few moments, he was stirring. He opened his eyes, winced, groaned, and closed them again. 

    “I know the feeling,” I commented, extending a hand as his eyes opened in tiny slits to look at me. He took my hand, and I pulled him into a sitting position. The motion jostled his leg, and he let out a little gasp of pain. “Does it still hurt?”

    “Kind of. What…?” he trailed off, looking around the room. “Oh. Right.”

    “Right,” I agreed. For a moment, we just sat there. Then I spoke up, “Things have gone from concerning to… moderately terrifying,” I informed him. “But, uh, thanks for coming. You know, to help.”

    Damian looked at me and nodded. “I didn’t really have much choice, did I?”

    I shrugged. “You could’ve ignored the message. Pretended you didn’t get it. It wouldn’t have surprised me - shadow messages like those are unreliable. Don’t exactly get a read receipt.”

    Damian didn’t meet my eyes. “What happened here? I’m a little lost.”

    “Kim here sent Sathariel - the angel you let loose - back into the Nether with a knife filled with light magic so that he can cut the chains of his fellow angel prisoners, presumably to return and wreck havoc on the world,” I summed up succinctly. 

    “Oh.”

    I turned to Kim. “How are they getting back up anyway? Which I assume they are.”

    “It was built into the spell,” Kim answered, glancing from me to Damian and back. “In six hours, the shadows will bring Sathariel and anyone in contact with him back up. But that’s six hours from the spell, so… about three and a half now.”

    “Great,” I muttered. To Damian, I said, “Well. There you have it.”

    Damian scowled down at his leg, poking at the tender flesh. 

    “Can you walk?” I asked.

    “I don’t know.” With some effort, Damian stood and took a few tentative steps. He winced a little, but said, “Yeah. Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

    I didn’t argue with him. He was my son; he could handle it. “Good. Then are you up for a bit of hunting?”

    “Hunting?” 

    “Ever gone hunting in the Nether?” I grinned at him. He shook his head. “Neither have I. But sounds like a nice father-son bonding trip, huh?” 

    Damian’s gaze was razor sharp as he turned it on me. “How many times do I have to tell you? Do not call me your son,” he growled. “I know that I am. Fine. We’ve established that, and I hate it. But if you want me to even pretend like I like you even a little bit, don’t ever bring it up. Pretend that I’m nothing to you. Understand?”

    I searched his face. He looked serious, and I did want him to like me. I wanted to be able to trust him, and vice versa. I wanted him to be my son, but more than that, I wanted us to be friends. It had been so long since I’d had someone to depend on, and I wanted Damian to be that person. “Fine,” I conceded. “It’s probably better if our enemies don’t know anyway.”

    Damian nodded. 

    Turning to Kim, I gave my final commands. “Tell no one of what you did or saw here. Don’t attempt to contact Sathariel, and if he comes back here, slit your own throat. Do not perform any spells that will harm us or help him from here on out.”

    She nodded with wide eyes. I looked back to Damian. “Well? Why don’t you do the honors?”

    Damian looked over at me. “What, take both of us?”

    “Yeah,” I replied, trying to pass it off as casual. “Why not?” 

    He squinted at me through the dark fringe of his hair. “Because that’s stupid. You’re more powerful than I am. Why would I waste my energy trying to drag you down there if you can just do it yourself?”

    I shifted my gaze from his. “Um, yeah, about that…” 

    Damian’s expression changed as he figured it out. “Oh. You can’t. What happened?”

    “I don’t know,” I snapped. “Maybe the spell just drained me of shadows. The Nether will make me feel better. Just take me, okay?”

    “Okay,” Damian agreed. 

    He stepped closer to me and drew the shadows around us like a cloak. It was something so familiar, but this time felt so different. I was used to feeling them like an extra limb, but this time, they moved like a separate entity. I didn’t like this. I didn’t like this at all. When the shadows compressed, it didn’t feel natural, it felt claustrophobic. I felt squeezed, constricted, and still very much on the same plane. 

    When the pressure became almost too much to bear, it released, and I opened my eyes, unaware that I had even closed them. I found myself looking at Kim. “What?” I asked, mostly to myself. The shadows had dissipated. Damian was in the Nether. 

    And I was still on Earth. 

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