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by M. R. Forbes
My sight landed on a young girl who was chatting with her friend. She was maybe fourteen, with short brown hair and a plain face. She was wearing a white down jacket that hung open to reveal a white dress with white leggings underneath, silver moon boots and a knit hat that resembled a panda bear. She was pointing at a phone and gesturing like she wanted it real bad. I wondered if her friend knew she was an angel?
I hadn't known how I would know before I knew. There was no halo or anything like that. In fact there was no visual sign of anything out of the ordinary. It was more like a radar signal getting sent from my eyes and bouncing back saying 'Divine dead ahead, captain!'.
The sight of her made me anxious. She was just a kid! I turned my back, but it seemed once contact had been made, line of sight was no longer required. I could FEEL where she was, what she was doing. I realized that facing the other direction wouldn't help me any more than it helped her. She didn't have to see my face. She would get a feel from my soul. That was it, I knew. I was reading her soul, just as she would be able to read mine. The only other question was would she see an angel, a demon, or a diuscrucis?
I spotted the clerk coming back over with the iPad in his hands and I decided to meet him halfway. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the wad of cash, counted out seven hundred dollars and shoved it into his hand. He gave me a look of suspicious disbelief when I told him to keep the change, but he didn't argue, and he didn't fail to give up the merchandise. I was almost at the steps back to street level when I felt her.
"Fellow, why do you not announce yourself?" The voice came from all around me, and ran right through me.
I felt immediate warmth and my whole body began to tingle. I flipped my head back to get a look at her. Her body was still manipulating the phone, her mouth still chatting idly with her friend, but her eyes were on me. Rich, golden eyes that held a soft glow like a single flickering candle. It was mesmerizing. I had to force myself to look away.
I didn't know what to say in response, or how to project it silently the way she had. I did the only thing I could think of, turning back and winking at her before beginning my ascent. It probably wasn't the smartest thing to do. Heck, it probably wasn't a smart thing to do at all, but at least I would know how she was seeing me by the way she gave chase.
There was a rush of cool air, and then she was beside me on the steps, walking alongside me. I peeked back to see her friend looking around, trying to figure out where her companion had run off. She headed towards the laptops.
I didn't say anything, and neither did she. We climbed the rest of the steps together in silence, and then I led her off towards Central Park. Even without speaking there seemed to be an understanding between us that transcended normal human communication. When she had spoken to me, she had made a direct line soul-to-soul phone call, and the more I probed the feeling, the more I recognized that she hadn't hung up. We were silent because there was no need for words. Not yet anyway.
I found a lightly populated part of the Park and settled us down under a bare oak tree, resting the sword against the trunk and placing my package next to it. She sank to the ground as if on a pillow of air, perching cross-legged on the grass. I sat opposite her in the same position.
"I do not recognize you fellow," she said.
Her lips didn't move, but her eyes were incredibly expressive. There was curiosity there, friendliness, and sadness. I knew she had taken me for an angel. I was pretty sure the sword had at least a little bit to do with that.
"My name is Josette,” she said aloud. Her voice was small and raspy. “Are you recent to our family?"
I didn't know what that meant, but I assumed she meant becoming an angel. If I said yes, I would need an excuse for being here without her knowledge. It felt safer to tell a bold lie.
"Not to the family,” I said. “I've only recently returned from a pilgrimage in the Holy Land. My name is Paul." That had to be a safe angel name.
Her eyes widened, and she threw her arms around me. "Paul. Welcome! You have been to the Holy Land?" she asked. "There has been little news since Astrel was killed."
I breathed a sigh of relief. I could lie to an angel and get away with it. "We're losing," I said.
I hadn’t thought about it before, but as I said it I knew that it was true. Whatever mojo came from my crossbred lineage, it was clear in that regard. The balance was tipping heavily towards evil.
"The dark gains reach every day,” she agreed. “Since we lost John Paul, it has been difficult to keep an even footing. Even here, Reyzl has grown powerful beyond my ability to contain him."
Reyzl. It had to be the name of the demon that the messenger had flown off to squeal to. "I had a run-in with one of his messengers," I told her. "He escaped and intended to tell Reyzl about my presence here."
Her eyes held deep concern for my welfare. I was starting to feel bad for lying to her, and also beginning to wonder if I could do what Dante had asked. It wasn't much of an issue right now, but who knew what the future would hold. Would I be expected to kill this beautiful creature one day? If so, would I be able to do it?
"I do not mean to intrude, but what business brings you here?" she asked.
She reached forward and took my hands in her own. They were small, but so soft and warm. Her whole being exuded peacefulness. I felt like I could tell her anything. I could tell her the truth, and it would be okay.
"To be honest, I'm not sure," I said. "I've only arrived very recently, but I had a run-in with a vampire, and lost my phone."
My mind was beginning to feel as if it were mired in a pit of mud. Clarity was escaping me, replaced with this overwhelming need to tell her everything. All I could think about was the warmth of her hands, the softness of her voice, her shining golden eyes, and the connection between our souls.
"I used to be a computer hacker,” I said. “I went to prison for credit card fraud."
It had been so easy to manipulate people. So easy to get the information I needed to get into databases, e-mail accounts, you name it. So tempting. It was a victimless crime, I had told myself. The credit companies had plenty of cash. They wouldn't miss a little bit here and there. I had gotten too bold, a friend had blabbed, and it all crumbled around me.
Two years in a low security facility, another year of probation, and banned from owning or using a computer for three more. I still didn't always feel remorseful for what I had done. I was more sorry I hadn't been more careful, and had gotten caught.
It had all started pouring out in a torrent, and I was drowning in the truth. I could tell by the way her golden eyes flared that she knew what I was. I could feel the warmth of her hands turn cold, feel the peacefulness turn to violence and anger. It was only then that I realized she had used her power on me, so subtly that I hadn't even known it. She must have suspected me from the beginning. I yanked my hands away and got to my feet. She rose, her sword appearing in her hand in a flow of swirling mist.
"Diuscrucis," she cried. "You seek to deceive me!"
I started to reach toward my sword, but decided against it. "Wait," I said, holding up my hands. "I don't want to fight you."
She had taken an aggressive posture, with her sword cocked and ready for the battle that I refused to start.
"I just want to talk," I said.
Seeing that I wasn't going to fight her, she let the sword dissipate back to wherever it had come from.
"Speak," she said, her voice powerful in my mind. She was showing me her strength, sending me a warning.
"The balance is tipping," I said. "The end of days are coming if it isn't restored. We should be fighting together, not fighting each other. You know, allies?"
Her golden eyes narrowed. "Allies? Seraphim Law states that I should strike you down where you stand."
This wasn't going well. "What benefit would that be to you? You're losing Josette. I think you need all the help you can get."
I started inching away, closer to the sword. We both knew it wouldn't harm her, but at least I could make some kind of feeble attempt to defend myself if she decided to follow her laws. She stood motionless, undecided.
"I can help you defeat Reyzl," I said, trying to convince her of my value, even though I knew I had none. "If he's grown beyond your control, it's only a matter of time before he comes for you."
Our souls were still connected, and I felt her demeanor shift again. It seemed even angels had a sense of self-preservation.
"Very well," she said. Her eyes were cautious. "There can be no alliance, our Laws forbid it, but I will not destroy you today. In return, you will seek out Reyzl and either destroy him or weaken him so that I can finish your work. I do not care if you live or die completing this task, but know that I will seek you out again one week hence to see you to your end if you do not hold up this bargain. I will not come alone."
I didn't need to ask what the other option was. I had only bought myself a week, but a week was better than nothing.
"We have a deal," I said.
The feeling of heaviness in my gut was immediate. It was if a chain had been clamped down onto my soul, an awareness of the power of the contract I had just verbally signed. Josette hung up the connection, and the sudden sense of loss nearly overwhelmed me. I had been tapped into some of her power through the bond, and had drunk from it like an alcoholic. I could feel a small piece of it within me.
“What is that?” I asked.
"So I can find you again," she said. "Do not think to double-cross me, Landon. You will speed us closer to these end of days if you do." She had said my real name. What else did she know? Why didn't Dante put 'never touch an angel' into his short list of rules?
"I'll see you in a week then," I said, trying to sound a lot more confident than I felt.
With the connection broken, Josette nodded, then turned back in the direction of the Apple store, most likely to return to her friend. I was bending down to grab my iPad when a massive wave of heat crashed into my senses. My mind didn't have time to process it, but my body reacted.
I dove to the left and rolled to my feet, somehow managing to escape the path of a black, jagged edged blade that buried itself deep in the trunk of the tree we had been sitting under. There was a growl of frustration, then the sound of pounding feet running toward me. I looked up just in time to see the demon make his leap at me, his long sinewy frame carrying him an impossible distance at an impossible speed. I moved faster than I could think, shifting my weight and dropping to the ground just underneath its outstretched limbs, escaping being raked by eight-inch claws.
The beast landed and turned, small black eyes looking right at me, a snout full of razor teeth bared. It had a humanoid frame with grotesquely long limbs that ended in those sharp claws, leathery skin, and bones which protruded at awkward angles from various points on its body.
"Reyzl sends his greetings, newcomer." Its voice was gravel, and its words dripped with disgust.
I got to my feet and reached over to where the sword was leaning against the tree. My instinct seemed to be doing a good job of keeping me from being destroyed. As long as I didn't think too much maybe I could get lucky.
I had forgotten about Josette. The demon didn't seem to have noticed her either until we both saw a white blur darting in at us. It raised its paw just in time to deflect her first strike, causing a shower of energy to reverberate against the air around us. She pressed the attack, her sword a blur of stabs and swipes that was matched by the demon's blocks.
Their attention diverted, I took a more defensive position behind the tree and peered out from the side to watch the battle mature. I looked around and saw the area was deserted of people, as if something in their minds had told them to stay away from this part of the park. Was this how the Divine war raged on with humans none the wiser?
The waves of energy from the clashing enemies filled my senses. Josette was a whirlwind, her down jacket flowing out behind her as she spun and twirled, the sword an extension of her arm that danced and pricked at the demon. It roared in pain and anger, lashing back but finding only empty air. She continued to press the attack, forcing the demon to retreat backward.
A few more quick jabs and she was past those massive claws, her body slipping inside the demon's reach, her sword being pushed up into its chest. She yanked the weapon free and leapt backwards a good ten feet, leaving the demon on its knees, doubled over as it's body expelled a viscous mess of thick black blood.
I stepped out from behind the tree and started moving towards them, wanting to get a closer look. Josette turned to glance at me for just an instant, then resumed her vigil of the demon's demise.
Something happened then. Something Josette clearly hadn't expected. The demon's wound closed over, and with a razor sharp grin it pounced forward, slamming her with its hand and sending her torn body thirty feet through the air. She bounced against the ground a couple of times and came to rest against a distant tree. The demon turned to face me.
"What are you staring at seraph?" it asked. "Have you never seen a Great Were before?"
Never seen, never heard. I only had a second to wonder if by were it meant werewolf, when it leapt at me for a second time with a speed that I couldn't match. There was an explosion of pain that blossomed throughout my entire body when the sharp claws dug into my flesh and rended it from the bone, ripping into me like no more than a piece of meat. My vision blurred and doubled as the Were lifted me to eye level.
"Pathetic," he said, throwing me across the lawn.
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About the Author:
M.R. Forbes is a software engineer by day, and a crime-fighting super... no, wait, that's someone else. M.R. Forbes is a full-time keyboard monkey: a software engineer by day, and a bestselling author by night *. His debut novel, Balance, has sold over 16,000 copies, one of which he knows for a fact is sitting in the bathroom of a police station in Gloucestershire, U.K. It was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize **. When he can't be found staring at a computer screen, he'll most likely be staring at his wife, trying to tune out the infernal mewling of his ever-famished feline companion, or throwing a stuffed squirrel only to have his dog bring it back over and over again.
If you want to get in touch with M.R., he accepts email (email@example.com), Facebook (facebook.com/mrforbes.author), Twitter (@mrforbes), and Paypal (michael@mrforbes again).
If you want to put Balance in your bathroom (or on your e-reader), you can choose your favorite retailer at http://books.mrforbes.com.
* Top 10 Urban/Contemporary fantasy on Amazon, #277 overall.
** This is not true.