From the Story Arc: The Fading Flame

Previous Story in the Arc: Disaster by John Murdock (Tuesday, April 10, 2007)

Next Story in the Arc: Determination by John Murdock (Tuesday, April 10, 2007)

(posted Tuesday, April 10, 2007)

Abyssus abyssum vocat -- "Hell calls Hell."

Take someone--and to have the maximum impact, make sure that she is happy, that she suspects nothing--send her on what she thinks will be a brief journey, of no more than a few hours' duration.

Then, instead of dropping her at her assumed destination, reroute her to Hell.

Rip her soul, her heart, in half.

Inundate her with a rain of poison. Face her with her worst enemies.

And to add the final cruel touch, make sure she has her children with her, and knows that they are in the deadliest of danger.

Seraphic Flame screamed as the Portal closed behind her. The emotional, the psychic pain, was shattering.

It was also familiar.

Once before she had felt this; when she had sacrificed all that she was to give John life, to allow him to be reborn from the ashes of his former self. She had lost him, lost her connection to the Infinite, lost everything in that heartbreaking moment.

Now--once again, she felt her bond with John, and her connection to the Infinite, to the song of her siblings, snapped off, and she shrieked with the pain and the loss of it.

But this time, as she dropped to her knees in sickened, shocked agony, this time was different.

"Ma!" she heard Aedan cry, as if at a distance, and "Mama!" his twin sister screamed as all of them came under an attack of withering strength. The darkest of energies, black flames, and a torrent of despair rained down on them. And she knew these energies, knew them of old.

The Fallen. She could see them now, in the flashes of lightning. Human in form, but surrounded by their own dark powers, with dark pits where their eyes should have been. The shadowy suggestion of wings at the backs was a reminder to anyone that saw them of their angelic origins, but these wings were in tatters, feathers sooty and broken. They would not fly again. Their feet were shrouded in shadow and their faces were feral and cruel. Like Sera, they could pass for human if they chose to--but this was their natural shape, the shape they had been doomed into by their own wills.

She was frozen, paralyzed, poisoned. Fallen surrounded them on this blasted ruin, as bitter, polluted rain poured out of a sky black with thunderclouds and laced with sickly green lightning. There were five, no, six of them, and they knew her--their hatred battered at her fracturing shields as their weapons and powers lashed at her and her children.

The children!

"Mother!" JJ shouted--and in that moment of distraction, was cut down by a stray bolt of sizzling energy.

And that was the Fallen's first mistake. Without even thinking about it, the four still standing moved.

Astra, in her armored form, leapt to straddle JJ's body. Aedan took to the sky in Hulnanim shape, lashing the Fallen below him with his own dark powers, darting behind the shelter of his twin when they answered with return fire. Sera called her fires--Ratt did the same--and flanked Astra. Anger and fear fueled her flames; she suspected the same for Ratt. As the Fallen closed on them, she drew her fires up into the shape of a sword, as Ratt called the earth into the form of a great stone hammer.

And the battle truly began.

Sheltered by Ratt and her mother, Astra flashed between human and Kurukt form, healing them, healing herself, healing JJ as best she could, and adding her own energy blasts to the fray. But when the first of the foes dropped, and Aedan started to take human shape to drain off his energy force as he was used to doing at home, she screamed at him in her mind, and froze him before he could do so.

< Don't! They're poison! > She didn't know how she knew this, but she was as sure of it as she was sure of her own name. Fortunately, Aedan believed her. Instead, he flashed back into Hulnanim while she brought both armored claws down on the head of the nearest enemy, and finally dropped him as well. This was like a nightmare. Sera's pain was her own, and Sera's pain could shatter a world. JJ was alive, but not conscious; however they had lost their bond with their father, it had shocked him almost as badly as Sera, and he'd been wide open to the enemy's weapons. Astra was pretty sure she could heal his body--but his mind, his self, was far, far away and she didn't know how she could reach it. The bitter-tasting rain stung, and the weapons that the enemy used were horrid, every little touch burned like the bolt out of a Q-gun.

Then Sera screamed and--exploded.

The light blinded Astra completely, and she felt Aedan drop to the ground in similar shape. She fought past the eye-dazzle--

When her vision cleared, her mother was on her knees, exhausted, beside JJ, her fires out. Ratt's still burned, and he was looking all around with a terrible expression on his face, stone hammer in his hands, searching for more enemies.

But there were no more enemies, or at least, none left standing.

Slowly, Sera reached out and seized Astra's hand. She didn't speak, but so clear was the demand in her mind that Astra recoiled with the force of it.


"We cannot slay them, for they cannot die, not here, not on their own ground," Sera whispered raggedly. "I do not have the gifts for this, and I would not ask you if there was any other way. But we cannot let them know that we are here, that I am here. You must do this, my daughter. You must."

With a sick feeling in her stomach, Astra nodded. Sera was right. This was the only way. So, one by one, she went to the enemies--to what she now knew were the Fallen, once angels like her mother, and now--now vicious creatures of despair and hate and utter darkness of the soul. One by one she invaded their minds. One by one, she delicately, surgically removed the memories of what they had just fought, and replaced them with the memories of other foes that they were more familiar with. Rebels. A horde of them, swarming the six Fallen as they waited for the Portal to open again. When she was done she felt as if she had been bathing naked in the worst of the Vahzilok sewers...

But then Sera caught her, Aedan, and Ratt in an exhausted embrace, and somehow, though Astra could not tell how, made her feel clean again.

"Ma," Ratt said urgently, "We gotta get outa here. This place looks a lot like Praetorian Earth, an' that means there's gonna be more guys like this comin' along soon."

The rain had stopped for the moment, although the lightning continued. In the flashes, Sera could see that they were on the edge of a city, and the buildings, though showing lights in the many windows, still somehow looming dark and shadowed with menace. Near at hand...the landscape was more like Boomtown, shattered ruins of that had once been multi-storied buildings, piles of rubble, broken pipes protruding from the ground.

To their right, what appeared to be a kind of shanty-town was carved out of the ruins. Here and there, were flickers and dots of fire--controlled fire of torches and cookfires and lanterns, not the fire of burning buildings.

The Fallen have not had this place for very long, came the unbidden thought. Then the next--I am ill-equipped to lead us here....

Sera walled her pain, her loss, her grief away from her children, and raised her weary head. "Can you find us a safe place to rest and regroup, Ratt?" she begged. "You are the expert here."

Startled, Ratt looked at her wide-eyed. Then his chin firmed, and his mouth was set in a grim line. "You can count on me, Ma," he said. He cast about them, and picked a direction a little to the side of the shanty-town. "Follow me. Astra, we worked together a lot, you fly air support. Aedan--"

Aedan had already transformed to armored shape and scooped up his brother's unconscious body. < Lead us out, Ratt. > the thought rang hollowly in their minds.

Under cover of the storm, into the gathering night, the tiny band of heartbroken exiles slipped away, leaving behind the six still forms of the Fallen Angels for those who would eventually come to collect them.