Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Road Rage

They called it the Dead Ten, a stretch of interstate around the north side of Chattanooga ten miles long and completely devoid of life. No street lights, no off ramps, no police. No cell phone service.

Break down in the Dead Ten and that's what you are. Dead to the world.

Unfortunate, the Dead Ten was also the only way to reach the Northhill area, the suburb of choice for stupidly rich Tennesseans and, not so coincidentally, one of the most important financial backer-magi of the Order of Saint Michael Archangel. Expensive neighborhood to live in.

Expensive neighborhood to die in.

He was dwelling so much on what he was about to do in Money Hills that he almost missed the telltale sign of a shadow descending over him. Almost. As fast as he could, Matt slid forward, sitting on the manifold in front of his seat. Beneath him, Zephyr rumbled and shook, reacting to the sudden shift in weight.

The move was almost too slow. Almost. Behind him, Matt felt something hit where he'd been sitting. There was a flare of light and the impact of something heavy above his bike's rear tire. Matt leaned just enough to look in his rear view, cussing at what he saw.

A winged man, eyes ablaze with holy light, was perched at the very end of his leather seat, one foot planted between his tail lights. The golden edge of the angel's sword was thrust point first into the leather where Matt had been just moment's before. Wings unfurled and spread in a pair of white arches over the back of the motorcycle, the angelic assassin was already pulling his weapon free.

"Death from above," Matt growled under his breath and reached into the air. One of his sword's manifested instantly, a chorus of angry voices protesting him as it bent to his will. He's started calling this one Gospel because of the choir that constantly echoed from within its divinely crafted blade. Swinging Gospel in an awkward arc behind himself, Matt manged to get the angel to at least waste a few moments parrying.

Sparks flew as the immaculate weapons collided. Both complained in hymns of outrage. From the mirror's view, Matt could see the angel pulling back for a thrust. He waited until the last moment and then flattened across Zephyr's right side. Still perched like a raptor on his bike's back, the assassin's strike cut through empty air, the point of the glowing sword stabbing through Zephyr's speed gauge in a spray of glass shards.

Matt growled again and sat back up quickly, catching the sword broadside with his shoulder in an attempt to disarm the angel and through him off balance. The lost speedometer irritated him, but he never really cared how fast he was going anyway.

Unfortunately, the celestial behind him was both fast and savvy, pulling his weapon out of the gauge even as Matt was moving. A low, scoring strike laid open Matt's coat sleeve and upper arm nearly to the bone.

Matt grit his teeth, not wanting to give the heavenly son of a bitch the satisfaction of hearing him in pain. He grabbed the handlebar again and revved Zephyr's engine. If the angel wanted to play balance games, he could accommodate. The bike sped up, moving down the long stretch of dark road like a runaway train.

"Time for fun," he muttered and tilted his weight sideways before the angel could attack again. Zephyr leaned dangerous to the left, then quickly back to the right as Matt rocked sideways. The weaving had two results; the angel had to reach forward and grab on to the seat for support and his attacks were clumsier and harder to control. Annoyingly, he wasn't dislodged. Damn angels and their grace.

Still, getting missed by the contact barrage of thrusts was a bonus. The scars and punctures to Zephyr's cowling and dashboard were adding up though and it would only be a matter of time before either Matt lost control of her or something important got stabbed... possibly himself.

He was trying to counterattack but the position made that nigh impossible. The angel was having to block and parry though, something that was buying him time at least. Between weaving sideways, keeping the bike under control and avoiding impalement, Matt was pretty much out of of options.

A quick glance in the mirror showed him that the angel had wound his clutching hand into the leather strap across the middle of Zephyr's seat. The winged killer wasn't going anywhere. Damn it!

Then a wicked smile crept across Matt's face. That gave him an idea. It was reckless, risky and would probably end up getting them both a dozen shades of hurt. Matt grinned and reached for the brake.

"Are you insane?" The angel shouted at him from the back of the speeding bike, obviously seeing what he was about to do.

"Hell yeah!" he yelled into the racing wind and ground the front brake to a dead stop.

Zephyr immediately went nose down, her front shocks absorbing as much as she could. The angel's wings, unprepared for the sudden shift in position, hit the incoming air flat sides forward. A rage of grisly, shattering sounds ripped through them as virtually every blessed bone suffered a harsh collision with physics.

Matt shifted into Neutral and threw all of his body weight to the left, leaning into the stop and forcing his bike to fishtail. The front wheel skidding and smoking, Zephyr nearly folded in half as she slid. As the entire motorcycle started to turn around, now freewheeling down the asphalt backwards at breakneck speed, Matt used his own momentum to spin in place.

Even as he turned around, he slashed with Gospel in a wide, powerful arc. The sword figured out what was about to happen before the angel did, howling an aria of protest even as it finished its bloody stroke.

Matt reached out with black tendrils of wild magic, destroying most of Zephyr's forward momentum in a body-wrenching halt. The bike's tires squalled to a smoking stop, nearly throwing him clear off his ride. Instead, he twisted with the kinetic force, letting it spin him back around to face the front of his back and throttle her to a growling stop.

There, back a hundred feet, a one armed angel lay in a pile of broken flesh and feathers. Incredibly, almost piteously, he was still alive. Barely. Looking up into Zephyr's headlight, its beam easily visible in the cloud of rubber rising off the road. "You..." The not-so-immaculate was rasping for breath. "...haven't won... hellspawn."

It was hard to hear the angel's words over the tirade of furious, lyrical voice swirling around his bloodstained sword. Gospel was pissed. Good.

"Really? Cause, from where I'm sitting? It kinda looks like I just did."

"Kill..." The angel was obviously weakening, the light in his eyes almost gone. "Kill as... many of us... as you can... it won't matter." The celestial somehow managed to sit up, the wet sound of his fragmented body making even Matt wince. "HE is here now."

Before Matt could ask the obvious question, the angel reached out with an almost right-angle arm and spent the last of his strength in a sudden, violent gesture towards him. Matt had to dive free of Zephyr as the angel's sword flew through the air on a column of holy fire. It slammed into the front of his bike, stabbing through handlebars, manifold and engine in a flare of divine wrath.

Zephyr howled in pain, her chassis sparking wildly as she fell over, wounded to the core. Matt, who would have been similarly struck had he not dodged, rolled across the side of the road and came up in a crouch with both pistols blazing. The angel ended its life torn in a hail of exalted gunfire.

"You mother f..." Matt spat at the twitching corpse, emptying his guns until all that remained was a shredded mess cast into shadow by a dim, sputtering headlight.

Five minutes later found Matt talking constantly, reassuring his wounded mechanical familiar that she would be all right as he walked her the rest of the way down the Dead Ten. He needed parts. He needed soul energy. He needed a circle to work in.

The Order was about to provide all three.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Heaven Calling

Let not thy enemies vex thee. Send unto me the measure of their sins and I shall cast down among them my wrath.

No sooner had he gotten in the car than a small buzz in the glove box caught his attention. There was a message waiting for Uriel on his cell phone. Starting the car, he retrieved the small silver annoyance and flipped it open. The name and number on its tiny display actually made him pause.

Sitting in the alley, the engine in his Concept S growling away, he hesitated for just a moment before pushing redial. Of all the calls he knew he would be getting, this was the one he'd been hoping to put off.

"You have to stop. Now."

Uriel almost smiled. No hello, no pleasantries. Exactly what he'd expected.

"And a good day to you too."

The voice on the other end was completely unamused. "There is nothing good about today. You have to stop. That is an order."

Alright. Right to business, then. "Sorry to disappoint you but I don't take orders from On High. Remember?" Uriel tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, considering whether or not to start to driving. He had a feeling this conversation was going to require more attention than he could spare on his way to the next safehouse.

"Fine. Then consider it an order from me."

That made him wince. Only slightly, but the reaction was there. "You are going to get involved?"

"You've ensured I have to."

That... posed a complication. "I don't recommend that."

"Yes, well, I don't take recommendations from Down Below."

Uriel narrowed his eyes, staring down at the phone for a moment before answering. "You know damn well I haven't fallen."

"Perhaps but you certainly aren't on the side of the angels either."

Uriel steadied his breathing. He knew what was going on. Rattle your enemy, make him upset. Make him make mistakes. Make him defeat himself before the battle even begins. Clever...

...but two could play that game.

"That entirely depends on which angels we are talking about."

There was a long pause. Uriel knew that meant he'd scored a hit. The Holy Schism was still a sore point with the Old Guard, a chink in their exalted armor. It was a cheap shot, to be sure, but he had to take what he could get.

"Last warning, Uriel. Leave the Order alone."

"Or what? You'll dispatch more errand boys like Tanarael for me to break and send home hurting?"

Another long pause. "Tanarael's not hurting, Uriel. He's dead."

That stopped Uriel cold. Dead? He sighed inwardly. That, he supposed, had been the risk of using an entropic, especially one carrying a paragon demon in his soul. His "partner" certainly had the power to actually kill a celestial but Uriel had believed that power to still be dormant.

Damn. This complicated things too.

"Perhaps you shouldn't be putting the Host in harm's way, then." It was a blank response, no emotion behind it. It was just something for him to say while he tried to figure out how to handle this latest development in the game.

"Don't worry. I won't be."

"Well that's good. If you'll excuse me then..."

"Attack the Order again, Uriel, and you'll have to have to deal with me."

He blinked at the phone. "You're serious? You'll actually come down here?"

"I'm already here."

Those words didn't come from Uriel's cell phone; they were spoken aloud. There, at the end of the alley, standing right in front of the opening into the busy street beyond, was a figure of muscle and presence.

Dark hair spilled out over both the man's shoulders, one side caught in a bright silver clasp shaped like folded wings. His strong jaw was set in a seemingly permanent scowl beneath a pair of mirrored aviator glasses. Handsome yet terrifying to behold, the man wore his ankle length trenchcoat and half-calf leather boots like a suit of black armor.

"I know where you are headed, Uriel. Don't go there. Don't make me end you."

A bus drove past behind him, its brights flaring the alley for a moment. Uriel glanced away from the painful light and when he looked back, the figure was gone. All that remained was a single falling feather the color of a raven and, in the distance, a large black bird disappearing into the city beyond.

Uriel sighed deeply, folding his phone and putting it away.

"Yeah. Nice talking to you too, Michael..."

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Exit Strategy

He started on the fourth floor but by the time Matt brought Zephyr to a stop again, he was at the bottom of the ground floor stairwell. Five seconds after that, his teeth stopped vibrating.

"There has got to be an easier way to do this," he groans, trying to keep the contents of his stomach where they were. He felt dizzy and ill but at least all his bones were intact. Driving down eight landings worth of concrete stairs will do that to a body.

"Seriously, can't you like... fly... or something?"

His motorcycle just roared at him in frustration. The engine wound up and eased down, the spiritual equivalent of, "Whatever."

"No, seriously. You are supposed to be the soul of a griffon, right? So why is it I only ever see you fly when I'm not on you?"

The bike dropped into a low, irritated growl. Matt got the distinct feeling this was something he needed to not push any farther. He was getting tired of reaching these little impasses but right now Zephyr was his ride home. Best not to antagonize living vehicle, especially when one is not carrying cab fare.

"Fine. Let's just get back to Casa de Mercy. Okay?" With that, Matt sent a quick pulse of entropy at the fire door between the stairs and the building's wide open lobby. The black, hissing magic left his hand, convulsed through the air and settled into the metal beyond. The door shuddered, a shadow passed over it and the air grew cold enough for Matt to see his breath.

A moment later, the fire door disappeared in a fall of ferrous powder, rusting away to nothingness in an instant. A thousand years of erosion in the blink of an arcane eye.

Matt grinned to himself. No matter how many times he did, it never got old.

He guided his bike through the ruddy mist of the former door, hopping the jamb and turning sideways onto the lobby tile. From here is was just a half-throttle ride through the main hall to the front doors, both of which were most likely in smouldering pieces all over the foyer. At least, that's how they were when he came into the building. That's what tended to happen when high security met high explosives.

Matt opened up the bike's choke and let Zephyr run a bit. The back columns of the lobby zipped past in a blur. He was doing 40 miles an hour inside an office building. This was so much fun, it should have been illegal.

Oh yeah... it was illegal.

Of course, so was breaking and entering, a couple dozen counts of discharging a firearm in city limits, assault, battery and however many miscellaneous felonies he had performed on the premises thought. In the balance of things, a little reckless driving was the least of his infractions.

Up ahead, approaching very quickly, his last turn before getting out appeared. He reached out, grabbed the corner rail and spun Zephyr in a perfect right angle turn, locking her brakes and downthrotlling to kill his momentum. The end result was him stopped at the opening to the foyer, just forty feet of marble tile between him and the exit.

Forty feet of marble tile and a single figure standing between the ruined doors. Matt stared at the man, trying to make out his features in the darkness of the hall.

Long white hair, streaked through with dove grey, framed a downcast face, the man's features obscured by shadows. He was wearing a floor length coat and tall boots with small silver plates across both toe and heel. Riding gloves covered each hand, disappearing into the long cuffs of his pale shirt. Silver buttons walked the length of his chest, appearing wherever the coat lay open all the down to the argent plate at the front of his polished black leather belt.

"Hey!" Matt called out, gunning his bike and holding down the brake so his wheels spun but he stayed still. "I'm coming through! You might want to get out of the way!"

The man looked up, his eyes hidden behind narrow, almost sagely-looking sunglasses. He stared forward, presumably at Matthew, and slowly shook his head. The man moved to settle his feet in a sentry's stance, arms at his sides. He clearly had no intention of stepping aside.

"Look!" Matt growls slightly, idling Zephyr forward a few feet. "I have had a long night and I intend to go home!" Then, a little quieter but no less exasperated, "I am leaving. NOW. Get out of the way."

Again, there was nothing but a shake of the head from the long white haired figure at the threshold.

"Suit yourself!" Matt took his hand off the brake and let Zephyr rocket forward at full speed. Her back tire squealed, sending a cloud of noise and burned rubber into the air as he raced toward freedom and the front doors. Just before his bike made contact with the fool blocking the exit, there was a sea of white and then motion and sudden pain.

It took a moment for Matt to remember what had happened. Until that clarity returned, he simply laid at the base of one of the lobby pillars, his body protesting the pain of impact and the sheer speed of the man's attack.

Wings. It had been wings. Just as Zephyr was about to made contact between her front wheel and the black coated figure's chest, he had turned sideways and manifested a massive pair of snowy feathered wings. One had caught Matt's motorcycle broadsides and sent her across the room to wreak into a cut stone wall. The other had done much the same to Matthew, slinging him bodily into a column.

Shaking it off as best he could, Matt leaped to his feet, fighting off the wave of vertigo that accompanied the move. He reached into his coat, pulling both pistols from their holsters with a hiss of well-oiled leather. If he was fighting what he thought he was fighting, there would be no time to waste or to aim. He would have to shoot fast, try and take the bastard down before...

...and Matt looked at the front doors to find no one. The man was gone. Matt sighed, correcting himself. Not a man.

And as the shadow from above gave him only a split-second's warning to dodge before a glowing blade of deadly light transected where he was standing, Matt finished the thought. This was not a man at all.

It was an angel.

Matt dodged to the side, avoiding the sword stroke but failing to evade the burst of broken tiles that resulted from the forceful strike and the landing angel hitting the floor where he'd been. Several of them darted around him, one catching his cheek and gouging him deeply. "Ahhh!"

There was no time to dwell on the pain. The celestial assailant was not slowing down and not taking even a moment to recover. From the moment it landed, it was spinning into another attack. Matt barely sidestepped a lunge and ducked a head stroke from the man, distracted by the almost sinuous way his opponent was moving. This was almost a dance for the angel, almost too graceful and ceaseless to be real.

But the painful cut on his face and the sudden sting of the angel's sword tip drawing across his right arm was enough to bring Matt back to reality. As hypnotic as the unearthly figure was, the winged white-haired killer was exactly that - one of Heaven's executioners. He could never let himself forget that. Angels were divine slaughter hounds, the winged pack of the Christian Wild Hunt.

At this distance, which wasn't much, his guns would be useless. He tested that theory by firing off a couple of rounds from each. The ease with which the angel avoided the point blank barrage was almost laughable. Matt tossed the guns and stepped back for a moments breathing room.

Room and space to draw a more appropriate weapon. Closing his hand around empty air, Matthew willed his own angelic sword to appear. Its edge manifested just in time, catching an incoming swing from what was now his very surprised looking foe.

"You have no right to that weapon." The angel's voice was calm and clear, an audible perfection to match his outward one. Unfortunately, the winged warrior wasn't saying anything Matt really wanted to hear. Not again, anyway.

"That's too bad, since I'm keeping it." Now that he had the option to parry, he was back in this fight. Matt intercepted the next attack, catching the angel's sideswing and then deflecting the riposte that followed. The angel was good. Damn good. Good enough to wound him twice more in the next minute. Matt was defending himself adequately but he couldn't keep this up for long.

He parried aside the next head stroke, managing a clumsy attack of his own and getting counterslashed for his trouble. At this rate, he would have to buy a new shirt; the one he was wearing was rapidly becoming tatters and blood stains.

If he was going to walk out of here alive, he was going to have to cheat.

Fortunately, he didn't mind that thought at all. There was a time and a place for nobility. This was life and death; anything was fair game.

Unfortunately, most of his tricks would not work here. Angels were immune to his magic and aside from his sword and fallen guns, he possessed no way to hurt them. He needed a way to get past the angel's guard, though. His opponent was just too damn good. If he couldn't get the celestial to drop his guard, eventually Matt knew he'd make a mistake and get skewered.

Ending his life as another mark on an angel's kill list was not appealing. He considered how to avoid that fate as he and the angel continued to do battle. Their weapons were glowing fiercely, flaring into angry flames every time they met. The fight ranged from the middle of the hall to the far corner of the room past the new-destroyed elevator and back again.

Unfortunately, Matthew's arms were getting tired fast. He'd managed to ward off the seemingly indefatigable angel with only a few scratches and shallow cuts to show for it. However, each minor slash was a bit deeper than the last. If this kept up...

Then the angel got lucky and drove his sword point into Matthew's shoulder. There was a wave of raw, holy agony, a power that had him screaming in pain and nearly unconscious. It was all Matt could do not to look his blade in the sheer agony. He had to get away, had to get this weapon out of him...

...but then his awareness kicked in and he knew instinctively what to do. Instead of pulling the blade out, he decided to keep the blessed thing in him. It hurt like Hell, pun intended, but it also immobilized the angel for a moment.

All Matt needed was that moment. With the angel's sword pinned in his own body, there was a single window of attack open to him. Throwing everything he had into this last strike, Matt turned his blade from a defensive motion to a killing blow. If it missed, there would be no stopping the angel's next attack. He had to make this one count!

The stroke came up between the two of them and connected with the angel's upper chest in a draw cut. Long coat and white shirt both parted under its edge, pale flesh cleaving right behind it. Matt was suddenly awash in an angel's blood, caught for a moment in a spray of blood.

There was enough demon active within Matt now that the touch of an angel's blood was like acid! Matt cursed, howled in pain and whirled away before he could complete the strike. "Damn it!" he spat, turning around as soon as the sudden red pain was gone. His sword was steaming and his warding coat was nearly spent from saving his life...

...and his target was gone. There was a glowing sword of light impaled through his upper shoulder, a trail of blood leading out of the building and a mass of feathers - some of which were fluttering to the ground as he watched.

"Bastard got away..."

Paranoid and gasping from pain, Matt managed to pull the blade out of his body, drag his way to his damaged but not destroyed bike and get out of the accursed building. He was hurt. Badly. He needed a doctor but no hospital would admit him without I.D., especially when the interns started asking awkward questions; some of which had no good answer. He had no I.D., no insurance and his injuries were obviously violence-related. The police would have to get involved and from there things would just get ugly.

Forcing himself not to pass out, Matthew kept his motorcycle on the road and managed to stay conscious... mostly. Right now he needed the only comfort or care he knew of...

Right now he needed Mercy.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


The door was locked. Seven warding spells protected it from being broken, burned, unlocked, affected by magic, touched by living flesh or seen by mortal eyes. It had kept the sanctum to which it served as the only entrance safe for decades. Nothing had successfully penetrated its demesne; it was a testament to the protective powers of true cabalistic High Magic. Behind its complete and total defense, those kept inside were in one of the safest places in North America.

In fact, they were so safe that it took both a wave of raw entropy weakening the rune-inlaid metal around the door and the impact of Matt's motorcycle moving at more than 90 miles an hour down the long hallway leading up to it to tear the invulnerable door from its nigh-invulnerable frame and send it smashing through the far wall.

For the guardian knight standing directly behind the door, life was brief. His wet testament adorned most of the back of the room by the time Matt pulled Zephyr sideways and body-checked the other guard with the animated bike's muffler cowling.

Before the unfortunate man's shins had even finished breaking, Matt was up off Zephyr's seat, somersaulting through the air with his pistols drawn. One shot through the back of the guard's head ended the pain of his ruined legs. Matt considered it a kindness.

The cabalist priest crouching behind the room's massive desk obviously disagreed. "You murdering blasphemer! Burn in the lowest pits of Hell!"

He'd heard that before. Many times. "Thank you for the stock dialogue." Matt hit the ottoman with both feet, using it to spring back into the air and avoid another predictable fate. For a group priding themselves on their mastery of 'holy magic', it was funny how many of them carried guns. Or, in this case, a shotgun.

The cone of fire and steel shards tore through the air under him, right where he would have been standing had he landed and stayed still. The buckshot ripped apart the recliner and wall behind it, sending a cloud of sheet rock powder into the air.

Matt dove behind the calcite fog, using it to mask his landing and keep from getting shot again. The Order of Saint Michael Archangel usually armed their priest-mages with Benelli Novas, sturdy shotguns capable of chambering both slugs and shot in the same feed. Nice guns which, Matt counted his blessings, were almost always carrying pellets to make up for the poor marksmanship of most of the 'blessed ones' carrying them.

If the gun had been full of slugs, the shots the priest was now firing into the recliner would be ripping straight through both the chair and the Matthew. He was not all right with that last part. As it was, the pellet shards were making an unholy mess of the chair but not achieving nearly enough penetration to reach him.

Silently, Matt counted each round. Three... Four... Five...

This was where it got interesting. A few of the priests in the Order were knowledgeable enough about their guns to request an extended capacity. If they didn't, the Nova Pump would be dry in five shots. That meant Matt could pop up and end this now.

If this priest had added the option to his issued weapon, the barrel could still conceivably have two rounds left. Popping up would be a bad choice if that was the case.

Matt decided to take the chance and rolled out from behind his cover, his silver-plated pistol whipping up to draw line of sight on the manic Father. To his dismay, the man of the cloth pulled his weapon around just as fast, an cold smile as he pulled the shotgun's trigger.


The smile traded faces and Matt pulled his trigger a split-second later.

His handgun didn't click. It made a nice, earth-shattering kaboom. The puff of fire and smoke bursting from its barrel surrounded a magically created bullet forged of pure force and blessed by an act of, if the Order was to be believed, Pope Urban II. Every pistol carried by the highest agents of the Order of Saint Michael Archangel, including the two Matt had liberated, carried a relic in their handled. These relics, arrowheads from the first Crusade, allowed the weapons to strike through magical protections and the foul defenses of demons and other heretics.

Matt had become amusedly aware that for all their attunement against 'evil', the guns managed to do nicely violent things to members of the Order as well. Was that a divine commentary about these soldiers of the church? He didn't know and he really didn't care.

All that mattered was the result, that being the passage of the glittering clear projectile through the air between his weapon and the priest's left shoulder. It hit, pierced the protection spell on the holy man's vestments and went straight through the man's shoulder. The hole going in was considerably smaller than the one coming out. The wall went red and the priest went down.

Matt took a second shot before he stopped rolling. This one did ouchful things to the man's right arm, sending the Nova Pump flying across the room in a sanguine shower. Then he was up and taking aim with both guns. No more body shots; the pistols were aimed straight for the High Father's head. He wanted to fire, the darkest corner of his soul was screaming for him to end this man. The thought of shooting until there was only pastor paste on the beige carpet was so appealing. So deliciously violent...

No! He wasn't here to kill. He was here to deliver a message.

"Get out. Get your people and get the fuck out of Tennessee. Go thump your bibles in another state." As he spoke, Matt thumbed back the bolts on both his guns. It had taken him days to perfect that little bit of legerdemain but it looked really cool. "You're not welcome here any more. Get it?"

The priest looked up at his from the floor. Though both shots had been non-fatal, they were still serious. The shoulder wound was just going to bleed until it was stitched shut and the arm... well... quick enough medical attention might save it. Might. "You are a monster. The Order of Saint Michael Archangel takes no orders from the spawn of the Devil."

"I am trying to save your lives, old man. You don't want to know what's coming next." He wasn't lying. This priest had no idea why Matt was here. if he had, the poor man might nibble the barrel of his own shotgun.

Instead, the older priest, going a touch pale from blood loss, spat at him. Literally spat, as the bubbling droplets on Matt's face could attest. "Let me guess," the man said in an Italian-accented snarl of derision. "Hell rides behind you? So arrogant. So typical..."


The man's head lolled backwards, pitched forwards without a face and slumped to the ground. Matt lowered his guns, cussing and looking to the doorway. There, a smoking pistol rested in the flawless grasp of a white gloved hand. "Heaven... actually."

"Damn it!" Matt hissed. "I thought you said we were here to warn the Order."

The angel pushed his mirrored sunglasses back up to the bridge of his nose with his free hand. His suit, which should have been covered in little crimson dots form the spray of the dead priest's ruptured skull, was immaculate. As always.

"You did warn the Order."

Matt sighed and holstered his guns. "Yeah, sure, and now they are all dead. What good is a warning if everyone who heard it is dead?"

Uriel returned the sigh, kicking a guard's corpse out of his way as he crossed the room to the dead priest. He knelt, his white clothing completely uncorrupted by the wholesale death he waded through without hesitation. "Two things. Pay attention."

"I have a choice?"

The angel shook his head. "If you don't want me to kill you, no."

Matt glared but knew that was no idle threat. "Okay, fine. I'm listening."

"That's better. The first thing is that messages are not always meant for the people who first receive them." As he spoke, Uriel tore open the man's cassock and pulled a gold crucifix off his red-drenched neck.

Matt looked away. He was in no way squeamish about death but this didn't look like anything he needed to watch. Whatever the crazy angel was doing, he didn't feel like providing an audience. Instead, he pulled his motorcycle around and walked it back to the doorway of the ruined office. "And the second thing?"

"The second thing," Uriel said as his gloved fingers dropped the small cross into his inner jacket pocket. "Not all messages can be given directly. The people who find this mess, the people who will be sent to clean this up? They'll get the message loud and clear."

Matthew stopped at the door just as he was climbing astride Zephyr. "Wait a minute."

Uriel looked up, rising to his full six foot height over the bodies of the fallen. For a moment, the shadows of the room included a full spread of wings folding to settle against his back. In the next instant, the dark image was gone and in its place a soft white feather fluttered to the ground. Its silken fletching touched the edge of a pool of blood, staining half of it in a matter of moments.


"You said we were going to get rid of the Order in Tennessee, not attract even more of the bastards here. You lied to me. This isn't what I signed on for."

The angel looked down at the floor, regarding his lost feather with a strange, unreadable expression before raising his eyes to meet Matt's. Disturbingly, Matt could feel the celestial's gaze though all he could see was his own reflection in Uriel's sunglasses.

"I did not lie. This will ultimately result in the dismantling of the Order."

"By starting a war?"

Uriel nodded, tugging his gloves tight at each wrist. "Indeed."

Matt turned away, unable to bear the intensity in the angel's attention. "You son of a bitch."

"Correction. Technically I was never born."

Matt's only reply, at least at first, was the growl of his bike's massive engine as he revved her to life. Then, without looking back, he murmured, "Don't you care about the people who might get caught up in this?" He didn't bother to speak up; the inhuman creature would hear him anyway.


Then, just as Matt started driving away down the fourth floor hallway, Uriel said to the empty air, "But apparently you do."