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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5. Four: Shit Gets Real

 

    Taryn looked down at the watery can of green beans with contempt. 

    “We’ve been at this for weeks,” Isaac complained. “And I don’t feel like we’ve made much progress.”

    “I didn’t ask you to come,” Taryn shot back. 

    Isaac nodded in agreement. “No, you didn’t. In fact, I remember you actively discouraging me.” He gave me a sidelong glance. “Via knife aimed at my head.”

    Taryn rolled her eyes, setting aside what remained of her beans. She’d have another go at it later. “It was aimed an inch to the side of your head. If it was aimed at your head, it would’ve hit it, trust me.”

    “Oh, I trust you. And that trust has gotten me… stranded in the middle of Africa.”

    “How do you mean stranded?” Taryn asked. “It’s not like we’re that far from civilization.”

    “But we’re not any closer to finding your brother, are we?”

    Taryn scowled at one of the cracks in the old wooden table. “Look, it’s not like I have some kind of tracking device on him that I can just look at. If he doesn’t want to be found, it’s not going to be easy.”

    “It hasn’t been,” Isaac agreed, running a hand through his curly dark hair. A few flecks of dust or dirt fell to his shoulders. “And I know I demanded to come with you and all, but… are you really sure this is the best plan? I mean, I’ll do anything, but I’d rather make sure we’re not wasting our time, you know?”

    For a minute, Taryn was quiet as she looked out the window of shelter they’d rented for the night. “I really thought we were getting close,” she muttered, looking out at the little village. “I really thought we’d find him here.”

    “Why?” Isaac asked, joining her at the window. He had just followed her, heedless of the logic behind her decisions. 

    “When we were younger, before my parents died, they came to a magic conference around here. It was something the GITS did every so often - make contact with the other branches of sorcerers across the world. They were few and far between, but they could swap techniques and discoveries, and all learn from it,” Taryn explained. 

    “I know. My dad met my mom on one of those in Spain.”

    “Sorry,” Taryn muttered. She often forgot that Isaac was one of the few others who was raised almost entirely within the ranks of the GITS. “Anyway, they came to one just outside this village. It was small, nothing extravagant, so they brought us.” She turned and crossed the room, sitting down on the hard mattress. “We were bored, mostly, and Damian kept trying to escape to the forest. He wanted to explore it in the worst way. But then there was some kind of emergency back home - I can’t remember what - and we had to leave in a hurry. He threw a fit because he never got to see the forest.”

    Isaac was listening quietly, giving her space for once. Taryn continued, “He never let it go. It was always on his to-do list. He was saving his money and promised to take me with him right after he graduated from training, as a gift to himself, to us. But he never graduated.”

    In a few short strides, Isaac made his way to the mattress and sat next to her. “He might be around here. Just because he’s not in the village doesn’t mean no one has seen him. A light skinned guy is bound to stick out here, right? I mean, even I feel like an outsider here, and I’m, like, five times as dark as you and he are.”

    Taryn nodded, hoping he was right. 

    “But just get some sleep for now,” Isaac encouraged. “It’s been a long day getting here.”

    “Yeah,” Taryn agreed. “Here, you take the mattress, and I’ll-“

    Isaac silenced her with a look. “Taryn Cross, don’t you dare insult my chivalrous nature.”

    With a sigh, Taryn gave in, too tired to properly argue. “Fine. At least take the blankets to lay on, though.”

    Isaac agreed, and soon enough Taryn was laying in the dark, staring at the ceiling. She felt like she was getting close to Damian, that perhaps she might find him after all. But even so, something was nagging at her, pulling at her gut. If she was getting close, why did Damian seem farther away than ever?

 

—[]—

 

    Once Damian’s facial expression settled his trademark scowl, I no longer found anything so funny. He crossed his arms. “You need to teach me how to spy with shadows.”

    “You mean you haven’t been playing with that little trick?” I asked in surprise. “That’s the first thing I’d do.”

    “The first thing you would do would be chop something in half.” 

    I gave that a moment of thought before conceding, “True, but it’d totally be the second.”

    “I did practice some,” Damian said, “but never real long distances.”

    “Wait, so you’re asking me to teach you?”

    Damian shrugged. “I guess. I mean, while we’re working together, you might as well.”

    “You,” I said again to clarify, “are asking me to teach you? To be your teacher?”

    His scowl deepening, Damian replied, “Yes, okay?”

    “Ha! You’re asking that we re-establish a relationship!” I crooned. “I’m no longer ‘nothing’ to you, I’m your teacher!” I paused. “Well, and your father, but you don’t seem so keen on furthering that, relationship, so…”

    “I’m not.”

    “Well, I’ll take what I can get,” I shrugged. “I’ll teach you. But not right now. Right now, we have work to do, we have a dog to find, and we have an angel to murder.” 

    Damian nodded, fingering his new ring. “What’s that angel locked up for anyway?”

    “Money laundering.”

    There was a brief moment of silence. Then, Damian demanded, “What?”

    I grinned. “Just kidding. It was something way worse than that which ultimately caused the death of every human and animal on earth with the exception of what would fit on a tiny - but surprisingly large on the inside - boat. Ring any bells?”

    “Noah’s ark?” Damian asked. “How-“

    I waved a hand. “It’s a long story, okay? I’ll explain it later. Right now, we have priorities, and it doesn’t matter what this angel did thousands of years ago. Just now he stole my dog, and that’s a major crime. Plus, we’re going to lock him back up whether he’s a Major criminal or Minor criminal, right?”

    “I guess.”

    “Good. Then get to work,” I instructed. “Those commands don’t make themselves. Trust me, I’ve tried.”

    While Damian went off with Riya to organize a search party, I paced my room. I had brushed off Damian’s question just a moment ago so he wouldn’t be alarmed, but I couldn’t lie that way to myself. I always saw right through me. It wasn’t that I was scared - I wasn’t. I was experiencing a… healthy level of concern. Considering what I knew, considering what I had seen, it was only logical. And, as everyone knew, I, and all other demons, were hopelessly concerned with logic at all times. 

    Right. It was only logical to be concerned about the likely escape of angel, let alone an angel that had been trapped in my realm for the past several hundred years and itching to get some revenge on somebody. I made no bones about who that somebody would be. It would either be me - the one who occasionally popped down to the Nether to taunt them, or the one who had put them there to begin wth. And the Big Man Upstairs was just that: upstairs. He hadn’t come down for the reign of Hitler, the birth of Saddam Hussain, or the political campaign of Donald Trump. I couldn’t count on him to step in on my behalf. 

    I was still pacing when I heard the door to my room open and close. “Damian,” I said, turning. “I have an id-“

    Damian wasn’t standing in front of me. I froze. “How did you get in here?”

    The man in my room smiled, the curve of his lip tugging at the pale, gaunt flesh of his face. His eyes we’re bright, too bright. They almost hurt to look at. “That’s the least of your concerns right now.”

    I was just reaching for my shadows as my desk came hurling at my face. I tried to dodge, but not before the wood splintered against my back, driving me into the floor with painful force. In my moment of distraction, the room went white, then the room, the desk, and the angel were all gone. 

    And then they were back. But it was a different room, an altar instead of a desk, and…. well, regrettably the same angel. “Hello, Baxel. Sorry for the drama, but, well, I hear you’re a tricky one when you’re not taken by surprise.”

    In a flash, I reached out to the shadows outside of the room, which identified my location as Drover, Connecticut. Before the angel figured out what I was doing, I sent a quick message in a way that I rarely used. It was effectively playing Shadow Telephone, passing a message from one shadow to another to another until it reached its destination. It was tricky, unreliable, and could be slow, but I had hope. After all, hope was about all I had. Damian. Drover, Connecticut. Look for light disturbances. Come immediately. 

    The moment after my message was taken by the shadows, I made the mistake of trying to move. In an instant, there were chains of light around my wrists and ankles, forcing me into a stiff wooden chair. I pulled at the shadows to cut them off only to find that they didn’t obey. I tried again. Nothing. 

    Behind me, I heard low chanting.

    “What is this?” I hissed, writhing in the seat and turning my most vicious glare on the angel. “What are you doing to my shadows?”

    “Just a suppression spell,” the angel assured me. “We can’t have you messing this up, can we?”

    “Messing what up?” I demanded. “Who are you?”

    The man’s taunting smile turned into a disgusted frown. “Of course you don’t know me. You only know the major players, the leaders, the noteworthy ones,” he huffed. “Well, this is my chance. I’m going to make every angel - and demon - know the name Sathariel and give me the respect I deserve.”

    I scowled. “As much as I sympathize with your whole ‘overlooked potential’ backstory, I know your name now. If I promise to not forget it, can I go? This doesn’t really seem like my problem.”

    Sathariel shook his head, pacing a circle around me in slow, easy steps. The chanting continued. “No. You’re going to help me first. After that… well, I don’t really care what happens to you.” He snapped his fingers and a woman stepped into my line of vision. She finished her chant, and the shadows were still removed from me. I felt empty without them, weak. Alone. 

    And maybe I was. 

    I plastered on a mocking smile and spread my palms as much as I could. “In that case, how can I assist you today?”

    Sathariel and the woman exchanged glances. “Well, first, we’re going to need your shadows.” 

    “I’m glad you refer to them as mine,” I quipped to cover up my mounting panic. I should be stronger than this. I should be able to best an angel and some random… woman. I turned to her. “And who are you? Let me guess - Cyrena, worshipper of the Almighty Dark One, Satan,” I speculated in my most dramatic tone.

    She blinked at me. “Actually my name’s Kim,” she replied. 

    “Oh. That’s anticlimactic.” 

    “But you got the Satan worshipper part right,” Kim added. 

    I would’ve shrugged if I could. “Eh, one out of two’s not bad.” I eyed her. “So why are you helping him? I’m the son of Lucifer himself. You should be helping me.” 

    Kim glanced at the angel, then back at me. Sathariel didn’t give her a chance to respond, saying, “Because I offer what you can’t. I have the power to open a magician’s third eye. Let her see the light of Satan himself. Can you do that?”

    “Sure,” I lied. Third eyes were bullshit. “Better yet, I bet I could let you talk to him.” 

    That was another lie, but this one made her eyes go wide, then narrow again. “You’re trying to deceive me, demon. Everyone knows that to see Lucifer, to speak to him, would incinerate you.”

    I knew that. I didn’t think she did.

    “Well, sure, unless he stops it from happening,” I told her, and this time it was the truth. I quirked a smile. “I was always his favorite son.”

    “Don’t trust him,” Sathariel warned. “There’s a reason he was kicked out of Hell. Do you really think Lucifer would voluntarily abandon his favorite son on earth?” 

    I shook my head. “You’ve got it all wrong, I wasn’t kicked out, I-“

    “Make him stop talking,” Sathariel commanded. “He doesn’t need his voice for this spell.”

    Kim hesitated for only a moment before complying. I cursed the fact that the Ring of Mortals was missing from my finger - if I hadn’t given it to Damian for something as trivial as a loyalty test, I could be out of here in seconds. After all, this was the true loyalty test. When Damian got the message, would he come for me? 

    The next time I went to open my mouth, no sound came out. I sent a look at Kim, who didn’t seem at all apologetic. Instead, she simply went about readying the rest of the ingredients for whatever spell they were working on. I had my suspicions, and I didn’t like them. 

    Turning to Kim, Sathariel asked, “Did you ready the knife while I was off capturing this…” Sathariel surveyed me with an impassive expression, “imbecile?”

    I snarled. At least that was one noise I could still make. 

    “Yes,” she replied. “You have to fill it with light, though.” Kim pointed at a knife about twice the size of my hand laying on a wooden table across the room. 

    Sathariel nodded, crossing the distance to it in long, elegant strides. He wrapped his slender fingers around the leather grip, testing its weight. Closing his eyes, Sathariel tightened his grasp on the handle, and the light in the room dimmed, sucked into the white jewel in the knife’s hilt. The only light that remained were my own chains until it seeped back in from under the doors and windows, illuminating Sathariel on one knee. He had a pained expression on his face, his head hung and shoulders heaving. Slowly, he straightened and stood. “That’s everything I have,” he said, his voice weaker than before. I tried to tug at my light chains while he was weakened, but to no avail. “Until I recover.”

    Kim nodded distractedly. “It’ll have to do.”

    “Will it be enough?”

    She hesitated. “I think so. It should be,” she amended at Sathariel’s piercing look. Despite the fact that he was weak, it was still formidable. 

    The spell she was executing seemed complicated, and she spent an excruciatingly long time reading instructions, drawing symbols on the altar, and muttering things under her breath. At last, she brushed a strand of brown hair out of her eyes and turned to Sathariel. “We’re ready.”

    Sathariel smiled, his pale face marred by red lips and gums. “Excellent. Let’s begin.”

    Kim breathed in deep, then let it out slow. She closed her eyes, centered herself, then began to read. “Umbris regni umbris parturiens dolebit Pelusium,” Kim said, her voice turning ethereal and the words rolling from her tongue like they had never been anything but what they were - alive. She continued, “acquiesce consiliis meis imperium.”

    I still couldn’t feel the shadows, but I could see them. I could see them roll about the floor like crashing waves, clawing up the walls in their agitation. I pulled at my restraints, but I still couldn’t break free. Sathariel’s eyes were on me, his concentration unwavering. 

    “Venite, colligite, unum in forma.”

    The shadows came together into one writhing mass. I knew that if I could feel them, their power would be astounding, invigorating. Right now, all they were was terrifying. 

    Kim’s voice was growing in volume and intensity. She all but shouted,“Manus tua in canali daemonium dolor in fortitudine vas in forma colligere potes!”

    The moment the last word left her lips, the shadows rushed into me, snapping my head back. I let out a shriek of pain as they overwhelmed me, boring into every part of my being. Usually, I was one with the shadows. We worked together on my terms, but this was different. This held all the sharp pains of attack, a battle for control. I had never felt the shadows like this before.

    “Se continere!” Kim yelled, and the shadows pushed harder. 

    My body felt like it was bursting at the seams. I let out a yell, and the world went black. 

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