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.