We remained silent about the issue at hand as we made our way to the docking platform. Talking about our plan openly in the halls of the Adam was the last thing that we wanted to do. The purpose of the entire endeavor was to prevent conflict from arising, not causing it by inciting a riot due to plans of alliance with Hell.
Nevertheless, a question formed in my mind that I couldn’t let go, and I was grateful when we were finally inside of the smaller ship that would take us to Lucifel so that I could ask Raphael, “What exactly did you tell her?”
“That I was seeking solidarity,” he replied easily. “That there was no reason to let your sins get in the way of bringing the fleet together,” he added with a smirk which quickly became a look of disgust as he then continued to say, “That I was ready to pledge my loyalty.”
“Excellent,” Lumial said with wicked delight, “Then everything is going as planned.”
“Of course,” Raphael replied arrogantly, as if the thought that anything could go wrong with the plan was a personal attack on him. It was strange to see how different he was from when we had proposed the plan in the first place.
The ship took off and headed out of the docking bay. Like every other takeoff I had had, it took a moment to adjust to the movement, but it quickly stabilized and I was able to shift my focus back to our current predicament. Something wasn’t right. Everything was going a little too smoothly.
It seemed I wasn’t the only person who felt strangely about the way that everything was playing out. “I’ve got a really bad feeling about this,” Keith admitted to me telepathically, “His surface thoughts seem so confident in the plan, but that part of him I can’t seem to reach seems to be hiding something else entirely.”
“What do you want me to do?” I questioned with what I can only call a mental shrug, “Call the whole thing off?”
“We just need to watch our steps very carefully, Damien,” he answered after only a moment’s hesitation. His emotions told me that he was concerned, but it was clear that he didn’t know how to fix any of it when he added, “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m just saying that it doesn’t look good.”
I left our conversation there for a moment, not knowing how to help the situation. Instead, I focused on moving forward, which for the moment was the only path we had available. I switched back into command mode and addressed Raphael. “When we arrive, you’ll go out to meet her first, and then we will follow,” I ordered, doing the best I could to leave no room for argument. I wanted to play off of his loyalty as much as I possibly could. “You’ll give us a signal, a keyword that will tell us that she’s open, and we’ll come out and strike.”
“What will the key word be?” He asked simply.
“Avoid using Belial’s name until it’s time, and then address him,” Lumial suggested and then explained, “That will throw him off of his guard as well, which will give us a better opening.”
“Perfect. And now all we have to do is arrive,” Raphael said with a smile that was suddenly unnerving, “Which we should be coming up on Hell right about… now.”
Sure enough our ship was slowing down and the view screen showed us that we were indeed approaching the familiar vessel. It had been impressive when we had seen it before, sitting on Earth, but something about seeing it floating in space made it all the more mesmerizing. No other ships were near it, which made it stand out against the distant backdrop of starlight.
Our pilot signaled our approach to Hell, and the docking bay doors opened, allowing us access. With just a small bit of acceleration, we were inside. It was time to end this once and for all, and I could feel the eagerness of my companions as we mentally prepared ourselves for what we had to do.
The ship landed with a loud thud on the floor of the docking bay, and the thrusters completely disengaged. The ship fell silent except for the anxious breathing of those that remained inside. Raphael appeared most nervous of all, and I once again skimmed his thoughts, though this time there was no mistaking his thoughts as anything but anxious. I went ahead with the assumption that all was well, and put my doubts in his intentions out of my mind.
He ordered the computer to open the door, while the rest of us made sure that we were out of sight. He took a deep breath and stepped out of the ship. The other soldiers that were with us cloaked and then I assumed that they followed him.
The next thing we heard was Lucifel’s voice. “Son, it is surprising to see you, but good at the same time,” she said pleasantly, greeting Raphael as he joined her below. We couldn’t see what was going on from our vantage point, but I couldn’t help but cringe as she added, “I had not expected you to be so open to repairing the damage done by your father.”
“Mother, I’m just happy that you agreed to meet with me,” He replied with obvious relief, “I want this strife to end amongst our people, and I think that will work best by our working together.”
“Well, we’ll have to see about that. How can I be certain I can trust you?” She asked lightly, but then admitted, “You came unarmed and without escort and that’s a good place to start, but how will I be able to test your loyalty beyond that? We have much to discuss, son.”
“Guys, we have a problem…” Alan said suddenly from my side, but I shushed him with a finger pressed to my lips, not wanting him to be overheard. He was still cloaked, as we had agreed he would be, and was in a better position to see what was happening.
I was about to quietly question what the problem was when we heard the signal, and it brought us right back to the matter at hand. “Belial, perhaps you can take me into custody to show my good intentions?”
“Now!” Keith shouted in my mind, and I forgot Alan’s warning as we leapt to action. We raced down the boarding ramp with adrenaline pumping through our veins, ready to unleash our telekinetic fury on those that awaited us.
Instead we were met with a puzzling sight. The cloaked soldiers that had followed Raphael were standing in a half circle facing us, guns drawn and aimed at our chests. Raphael stood next to Lucifel, smiling smugly as his eyes followed me with contempt. Belial’s face was an emotionless mask, and Shatan’s was almost a perfect match, though his demon eyes seemed to twinkle with amusement.
It was Lucifel, though, whose expression was the most difficult to read. She was angry, amused, and smug, all at the same time, but her eyes also held a burning hatred for me. Somehow, she had known all along that we were coming, though there was still a hint of surprise at seeing me. She hadn’t expected Michael, even though Raphael had obviously sold us out.
A few seconds later, Keith and I were surrounded by the soldiers and had our hands restrained behind our backs. We were marched forward to stand in front of the devil and her cohorts, where she regarded us with nothing but contempt.
“Oh, so good of you to join us, Michael,” she said mockingly, her voice masking the surprise that she obviously felt, “And Gabriel as well? My lucky day to have both of you here.” Dropping the false sweetness she went on to vow, “We’ll make sure that you are properly killed this time… and Lumial, too. Why don’t you come out here, son? Join the party. We’ve been expecting you.”
To his credit, Lumial walked down the boarding ramp with his head held high, and made eye contact with his mother. He wasn’t letting his fear show at all, even though he was practically staring his death in the eye. A pair of soldiers immediately moved behind the angel and restrained him roughly, though he bore it unflinchingly. His eyes flashed momentarily to Belial’s, and then back to his mother’s, an exchange that was not lost on her.
“Why, Raphael?” I asked, doing my best to stay in the role of Michael. I wasn’t sure if our identities had been blown yet, and I wanted to make sure that they were still usable if the time arose, and so I pushed the issue further and also asked, “You could have ended this?”
“Mother contacted me almost as soon as you died,” Raphael explained with a shrug and a smug grin, “We had already hashed out our differences. She expected the demons to come rescue their princes… I don’t know who you are, you played your parts well, but you are not my father, and you are not my brother.” With a glare that said that we would not be much better off even if I actually had been Michael he added, “Somehow you fooled the DNA, but the only liars here are you.”
“You’ve made a terrible choice,” Lumial said with a shake of his head, his eyes speaking of the profound sadness that he felt for Raphael. He had honestly believed that his brother was redeemable, and had had it shoved back in his face. I couldn’t blame him for feeling the way that he did.
“Even now, you still think you can fool me?” Raphael replied indignantly.
“Do you think we can handle this many?” I asked Keith mentally, regarding the soldiers in the room. There were at least thirty of the soldiers, including the four from Raphael’s honor guard, not to mention Shatan, Belial, and Lucifel, all of which were immune to our abilities.
“Not a chance, and especially with the way she is protected from my telekinesis,” Keith replied, echoing my own doubts, “I don’t think we’ll get a clear shot either. I say we try to prolong this for awhile, and wait for another opening.”
“Enough of this,” Lucifel announced with a tone of finality and a dismissive wave of her hand as she regarded me with rage burning in her eyes, “I think it’s time that you learned how to establish order in Heaven and on Earth. Take them to holding, Shatan. I’ll call for them when it is time to make this public.”
We were forced once more to march, this time in the opposite direction of Lucifel. Shatan led the way, while the soldiers holding us followed closely behind. I remembered the corridors well from our recent weeks spent on board, and knew that we were being taken to an area close by the training hall, but when we reached the fork in our route that would have led us there we took the other side instead. It was a direction I had never gone, and I soon found out why. The security in this section was much tighter, with guards posted regularly beside doors that looked thicker than the standard ones. We finally stopped at the very end of the corridor to find another of these doors, but this time the guards let us past and we entered the room.
We were immediately thrown to the wall on the right side of the room, and some large mechanical devices were clamped down over our hands, completely immobilizing them. The manacles then magnetized to the wall, holding us tight against the cold metal surface.
For a moment, I struggled against the bonds to no avail, but then I took note of the rest of my surroundings, and suddenly hope was born in me again. Against the wall opposite Keith and I were two other prisoners, their winged bodies looking healthy, even if they certainly looked bored. We had found the demon princes.
Maybe being imprisoned wasn’t so bad after all.
“I don’t particularly like seeing him constrained like that,” I admitted telepathically to Keith, regarding Marc’s hanging form, “I know his strength, and whatever these bands are holding us, they must be incredibly strong.”
“We’ll figure this out, Damien. Besides, Alan seems to have gotten away,” he answered with a mental smile, “We at least still have that ace up our sleeve. He might be able to free us, somehow.”
Alan! In the commotion I had completely forgotten about our cloaked friend. I couldn’t help but wonder where he was, and if he was being smart enough to avoid capture. He was more than a little reckless at times, even when it was something important like this. I would have to hope that he would be able to rely on his sense instead of his emotions.
“Perhaps, though with Shatan watching us like that,” I replied, turning to regard the hulking form of the demon. He stood stoically by the doorway, his eyes slowly going from one prisoner to another. “I’d be incredibly impressed if Alan can manage to sneak in here. Hopefully he’s smart enough to avoid taking unnecessary risks.”
“This is Alan we’re talking about,” Keith responded with a mental chuckle, “That’s a fifty-fifty chance, and I have no idea which way to bet.”
“How can you laugh at a time like this?” I asked with a bit of surprise. This was far from the ideal circumstance for me, and I couldn’t imagine feeling anything positive enough to cause me to laugh. I certainly wasn’t happy.
“Sometimes, when death stares you straight in the eye, you can’t help but laugh at it,” he explained with a mental shrug, “Let’s face it, Damien. Things are looking quite grim right now. Would you rather leave life thinking about all the bad, or would you rather have a smile on your lips? Death is the only inevitable part of life, and I intend to face it laughing.”
Though I was still bewildered by the mentality, I couldn’t help but find myself nodding along as I thought about it. It took me a moment to understand that I could sympathize, at least when I thought back on the way Michael viewed things. His mentality had been much the same and it made me wonder if that was why he had acted as arrogant as he had when we met him at Avalon. Perhaps he had known that he was about to face his death, and had presented himself accordingly. He had met his death head on; at least until the fear had finally overtaken him and he tried to escape.
Still, there was a part of me that couldn’t quite grasp the concept. Why would I be smiling at the prospect of death? People in my life had been dying for as long as I could remember, and the only thing it had left for me was sadness. It had created a separation from those that I loved, and had left holes that had never been refilled.
Thinking about separation brought another question to my mind, which I then sent to Keith. “I wonder where Lumial is. Did they take him to a different holding cell?”
“I don’t know… maybe. Perhaps splitting us up was meant to keep us from working together, or maybe he’s being tortured?” The smile slipped from his thoughts as he considered Lumial’s fate, but it was back a moment later with a shrug as he admitted, “Either way, we have no way of making contact with him. Hey, look, Marc is staring at you.”
I immediately turned my attention to Marc, and I couldn’t help but smile, even though I was still trying to play my part. Deciding to let my words do the job of convincing everyone I was still Michael, I asked smugly, “Got a problem, demon boy?”
“What are you doing!?” Keith said almost immediately, drawing my thoughts away from the situation I was creating, "Maybe you should just come clean and talk to him. Our cover is already blown… If we work together we might be able to sneak out of here.”
“Cover isn’t blown yet. They don’t know who we are they just believe that I’m not Michael, and you’re not Gabriel,” I replied, a little testily, “I might still be able to convince them otherwise. Besides, I have other ways of convincing Marc of my identity without letting Shatan know. Now do something useful while I distract our guard.”
“Not exactly,” Marc replied through bared fangs, “I find it incredibly ironic that my murderer is now sitting in the cell across from me; a sort of bittersweet victory, despite my circumstances.”
“Well, consider this an opportunity then,” I bantered with false sweetness and then added a challenge, “Break free from your shackles and you can have another chance to kill me. Maybe this time, you won’t fail.”
“You’re that eager to die? I suppose so, if you let yourself get captured by your worst enemy,” he chided, the smugness thick in his voice, “We always thought you were a reasonably good commander, but Lucifel outsmarted you. That’s got to sting.”
“We can trade insults all day,” I replied with a shake of my head, then suggested, “or we can work on a way to get out of here.”
“You really think that Shatan is going to let us go?” he asked incredulously, “He’s been listening to our conversation this entire time.”
“That’s what I’ve been counting on,” I answered with conviction, and then asked, “Got it, Keith?”
“Got it!” Keith shouted in response, and he revealed just how useful he could be as the shackles disengaged from around Marc’s hands and feet, dropping him to the floor. Keith had used my distraction to figure out how the devices worked, and had managed to open Marc’s with his telekinetic powers. He was already working on freeing himself, though it seemed that the locks took a great deal of manipulation to cause them to disengage, which took some time; time that Marc didn’t have.
Marc bounded to his feet quickly, and immediately dashed toward Shatan, the lone guard remaining in the room. Shatan was already moving as well, and they met in the middle of the floor; claws, teeth, and scaled limbs scratching for any chance to hurt the other.
Despite the surprise of a suddenly free prisoner, Shatan quickly gained the upper hand. Within a few seconds, he managed to get behind Marc and clawed deep furrows into my lover’s exposed back.
Though he howled in pain, Marc didn’t let it get to him, and he dropped to the floor and spun around as he did so, allowing him to sink his teeth into Shatan’s calf. The older demon growled in response and kicked at Marc’s face, causing him to let go, even though he managed to deflect the foot from doing any real damage.
My eyes were glued on the combatants, but I could sense that Keith was hard at work on his own shackles, and for a fleeting moment I thought about working on my own, but then I was drawn back into the fight as Shatan followed up his kick with a jump into the air, aiming to plant his knee in Marc’s stomach as he came back down, an attack which succeeded.
My lover’s groan in response was not an indicator that the fight had left him, but rather it quickly became a primal war cry as he growled and returned the attack with two quick swipes at Shatan’s stomach. The first swipe scored a hit, but Shatan was already moving to avoid the second. He let the claw swing wide, and then caught Marc’s extended arm, turning the momentum against him as he brought his elbow down to collide with Marc’s face.
The blow seemed to stun Marc for a moment, which gave Shatan an opening to strike with his elbow again. I winced as Marc’s head was driven hard into the floor by the force of the blow, and I looked away the moment I saw Shatan’s elbow raise to strike again, unable to bear the sight of Marc getting beaten again. Instead of the sickening crack I expected, Shatan growled in pain, which drew my attention back to the fight.
Somehow Marc had managed to get his wits back and had latched on to Shatan’s forearm with his fangs, and this time he wasn’t about to let go. He allowed Shatan’s backward momentum to pull him from the floor and wrapped almost all of his smaller body along the arm of the larger demon. His feet raked across Shatan’s shoulder and chest while his clawed hands dug into the arm that his fangs refused to let go of. Shatan continued to howl in pain until he finally managed to pry Marc off of him with his other arm, throwing him back to the floor with a solid thud.
He then dove onto the younger demon, and they tousled about for a moment, clawing and biting at each other like they had done at the beginning, until Shatan suddenly fell backward, landing heavily on the metallic floor. I wasn’t able to make out what had happened initially, but then I saw Marc’s horns, dripping with blood and noticed the corresponding holes in Shatan’s abdomen. Marc had managed to gore his opponent and it looked like the fight was over.
Marc knelt over Shatan, his clawed hand prepared to strike down at his now exposed throat, when Shatan’s form began to shift, elongating as his limbs withdrew into his body. As Marc’s hand descended, it met with the coils of a man-sized snake instead, the result of Shatan’s transformation.
While a vicious gash still appeared in the scales, it seemed to faze him very little, and Shatan retaliated by wrapping his entire serpentine body around Marc, and began to constrict him. Marc flailed about, cutting more gashes into Shatan’s flesh, but he was quickly losing stamina as the snake continued to crush him.
A couple seconds later, and Marc’s body went completely limp. Horrified, I could do nothing but stare at Marc’s broken form, as the serpent released it to fall to the floor. Marc’s fight with Michael began replaying in my mind. Once again, Marc was dead, and it was my fault. Once more, we had accomplished nothing with his sacrifice.
But then I saw it, his chest was still moving. Shatan hadn’t killed him, but he had certainly forced him unconscious. I sighed in relief, something I was glad the still serpentine demon didn’t appear to notice. He hadn’t been killed, but he was seriously injured. Knowing that he was still alive, however, restored my courage. We weren’t beaten yet, but we had lost that fight. We were back to square one.
Except that Keith was free, and rubbing his wrists as he inched toward the door. I could tell from his thoughts that his plan was to escape and come back for us, knowing that with Marc down he didn’t stand a chance against the demon. Unfortunately, it only took a fraction of a second for Shatan to recover, and he turned his gaze on the druid, serpent eyes glaring.
Keith smiled and held up his hands helplessly, then walked casually back to his manacles. He put the first one on himself as Shatan shifted back to his demon form, watching him carefully. The demon quickly approached Keith and replaced the other restraint, his eyes staring into the druid’s menacingly. Keith just kept grinning back, applying his philosophy of smiling at death, and even when I scanned his thoughts, I didn’t sense a trace of fear in him.
Surprisingly enough, Shatan’s eyes lost their edge and were replaced with a look of respect. The respect grew even stronger as he turned his attention to Marc’s body. Though he was obviously exhausted from their altercation, he dutifully picked up my lover’s body and carried it back to the place he had been imprisoned before, replacing the restraints and then walking back to his post. His watchful gaze resumed its stewardship over the prisoners.
Without taking his eyes off of any of us, he opened a small compartment in the door and withdrew a small roll of cloth, with which he started to wrap around his numerous wounds. How me maintained the level of control he needed without watching his own work, I didn’t know, but I was impressed that he was bandaging himself so perfectly.
Once I finally got over the shock of the last few moments, I voiced my frustration to Keith. “Dammit! We were so close.”
“Well, the game may be up, now. Marc looks incredibly hurt, but I’m glad to see he at least survived,” Keith replied nonchalantly. I had to admit that I was getting a bit sick of his seemingly uncaring attitude,“Shatan certainly doesn’t look in the best of health either. Maybe Alan will be able to take advantage of that.”
“Well we can’t risk anything more,” I said firmly, my thoughts carrying an edge of warning, “I can’t watch my lover get nearly killed again. I’ll have to think of something different.”
“Looks like our time may have finally run out anyway,” Keith replied with another mental shrug. The doors opened and several guards started piling in, taking up defensive positions around Shatan, weapons drawn and pointed at the prisoners. A familiar face appeared behind them as Keith explained, “Here comes Belial, and he doesn’t look happy. I wish we could put him in a position to do something about this.”
“Mother requests your presence, Michael,” Belial announced as several of the guards began to remove our restraints, “as well of that of Gabriel, or should I say, Keith. I wish I were seeing you under different circumstances, Keith Morgan.”
“I as well, Lord Belial,” Keith replied formally, and then slowly reached to disengage the holographic projector he still had hidden on him. The guards originally moved to stop him, and so he shrugged and turned the device off with his telekinesis instead. “I guess we can drop this charade then.”
“Well, I was surprised you made it this far, honestly,” Belial replied with a half-hearted smile, “You must have done a number on Raphael to pass off a holographic projection of someone who was supposed to be dead as your identity. Admittedly, he did know that something was up, but he would have played his hand much quicker if he hadn’t believed at least some of your story was genuine.”
“I have my ways,” Keith answered cryptically, but the sly smile he offered in return wasn’t half-hearted at all. Once again, he was smiling in the face of death. And then I began to find out why as he asked, “But why do you want to see Michael as well?”
He was trying to draw attention to himself, and away from me. He had taken my words to heart, and was trying to keep my cover from being blown. Since he had already been exposed, he was going to act as a diversion so that I could get another chance.
“The two of you appear to be in league,” Belial explained, eyeing me suspiciously, “I’m surprised to see you working with Michael, honestly. So I’m sure there is an explanation attached to all of this, but for now we are going to investigate.”
Keith shook his head as we were led from the room, taking a moment before he responded, but when he did he confirmed my suspicions about his plan. “I assure you, Belial. Michael was just the person I used to get here. We were temporary partners and nothing more. As soon as we defeated your mother the alliance was going to end, and we both knew it. I was the mastermind though. I was the one that knew that Lumial was still alive to resurrect your father.”
Belial stiffened at the mention of Lumial, but he didn’t let it touch his voice as he replied quietly, “You weave an intriguing tale, Keith Morgan, but unfortunately it is not up to me to decide what your fate is. It is my mother who will determine what will happen to all of you.”
“Belial,” Keith replied just as quietly, “It’s always been up to you to decide your fate.”
I studied the angel as we stepped through the doors of the council chamber, which had been remodeled to resemble a throne room, rather than a meeting room to discuss war. Even as he announced our presence to his mother, he seemed completely overwhelmed by the state of things. I could only hope that he would be able to gather his courage when it came time to act.
As it turned out, that would be too late for Keith.
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