“The Company of Angels”
Written by Aaron McQueen
Illustrated by Jennifer Lange
Copyright May 10th, 2018
This story is dedicated to my family, my friends, and my most generous subscribers, whom I have listed below. Without their help, support, and contributions, this production would not be possible.
Polly crept around the edge of the roof. It jutted upwards in odd peaks and peculiar slopes where the elaborate rooms of Del Rossi’s mansion rose through the roofline. She could see Valis standing at the far end, perched like a weathervane at the peak of a low steeple. His eyes were on the sky, where the overhanging cloud of smoke and soot rising up from the city had begun to churn.
Nathanius was with her.
She whispered to him.
“What do you suppose he’s up to?”
He shook his head.
“It looks like he’s waiting for something.”
He pointed to the sky.
Polly resumed her watch. The roof offered plenty of cover for concealment along the edges, but few approaches to the sorcerer’s perch. He would see them coming.
A tangle of darkened chains and smoke surrounded him. It was the same spell they had witnessed when he had ambushed them back at her hideout in the workshop.
She couldn’t see Azarelle, and they hadn’t found her inside. Valis must have hidden her somewhere else.
They’d found the mansion to be oddly deserted. Asterious had warned them of Del Rossi’s power, only to find him absent. Either he had left, or he was dead. They’d accessed the roof by way of a third floor balcony.
Polly gripped her long, leaf-bladed knife. There was nothing special about the weapon, apart from the fact that it left a grisly wound. It would be a pleasure to gut the man with it when the time came…but that would have to wait until he had shown them to wherever he had taken her friend.
In the meantime, she had to find a way to get close.
Her eyes drifted to the stone gutter that ran around the edge of the building. Nathanius probably wouldn’t be capable of the climb but, hanging from it, she might be able to work her way around alone until she was only a few feet away.
She pointed to it.
“Can you make it?”
“I think so.”
The others were hanging back, holding position by the balcony door.
“Go. I’ll go tell the others. We’ll wait a few minutes and come out. Ellyn and Asterious will go directly; when they do, I’ll try to sneak around. With a bit of luck he’ll focus on me; then you can make your move.”
Polly sheathed her dagger.
“It’s our only shot. Stay out of sight until we’re in position.”
Polly climbed down and swung over the edge.
“I’ll be careful.”
There was a scuffle. A boot scraped against the thick wooden shingles of the roof.
Valis spoke over his shoulder.
“I know you’re there. Come out where I can see you.”
Asterious and Ellyn emerged and began to cross the roof.
Valis shook the chain in his right hand. Its black coils began to slither toward them. His left hand clutched the amulets from Tormar, now dangling together on a long chain, waiting for his masters.
He turned to face his seeming assailants. Asterious held his weapons out to guard. The musician, Ellyn, held a thin dagger in her hand.
A subtle movement at the corner of his eye grabbed his attention. He shook the chain again. The dark tendrils struck like a venomous snake, driving into a shadow behind a parapet. He heard a yelp. Valis smiled and pulled gently back on the dark links as the half-elf Nathanius was dragged out into the open, tightly bound around his hands and feet.
Valis gave a cool smile.
Valis chuckled. He’d left three of them back at the workshop. Where was the last?
He stepped down from the parapet and turned to the others.
“Where is the Halfling?”
They didn’t answer. He shook the chain. The long tentacles of his spell slithered to Nathanius’s throat and slowly began to tighten.
The thin, sharp point of a blade came suddenly to rest against the skin of his throat.
A voice spoke into his ear.
She was standing on the platform he had just abandoned. She must have been hiding there the whole time.
“Let him go.”
He did. Nathanius sucked in a breath and coughed as he climbed to his feet. The pressure on his neck eased ever so slightly as the Halfling spoke again.
“Azarelle. Where is she?”
He shook his head stiffly.
“You’ll never find her.”
“Then take us to her.”
The point of the knife pressed in against his flesh.
“Not for long.”
Nathanius stepped forward.
He turned to face him.
“Look. We don’t want any unnecessary trouble. Give her back and we’ll go.”
“I won’t. We had a deal. She belongs to me now.”
“We didn’t have a deal. You just had an advantage. Now you don’t. Give her back or I’ll kill you right here.”
Valis kept his eyes on Nathanius.
“Then you will die. Look out at the city, con man. Surely you can see that it’s hopeless.”
The armies were fighting in the streets, a host of mindless dead against the mob. The zombies shambled forward, only to be beaten back and harvested of their heads by the city’s defenders, who were in turn pushed back again by the steadily thickening horde. The battle was being fought not fifty yards away, forwards and backwards, rending and tearing, and all the while in great and growing numbers the city’s defenders were turned their gaze up anxiously to the sky.
“My masters approach. When they arrive you will all die unless you lay down your arms and surrender to me now. It is already too late to flee.”
Polly pressed hard with the blade against his neck. The edge pierced his flesh. A twinge of hot pain ran up his neck as a thin trickle of blood slid out along the blade.
“You’ll die first.”
Nathanius spoke up. He gestured to Asterious.
“He’s stalling. Get the amulets.”
Valis still had them in his left hand. He dropped them.
The dark chains closed in. A thin tendril lashed out, snatching up the braid of pendants. It held them aloft, out of reach.
A roll of unnatural thunder shook the sky. They looked up and their eyes went wide. The black smoke burst apart, revealing a huge foundation of pure white stone, jagged and rough as though it had been clawed by a giant out of the ground. As it descended, the swirling gloom revealed an enormous tower resting heavily upon it, carved from the same stone that made up its base. Its height was obscured by the clouds. It floated, flawless walls of alabaster catching the light of the burning skyline, a smouldering ember hanging in the sky.
A great door opened. From within, a winged shadow unfurled into the air, descending until it came to rest over the roof
“What is that!?”
Valis gave a maniacal chuckle.
“The end of your world.”
Asterious stepped forward.
The god angels.
He’d forgotten how tall they were.
They wore little, only white shawls and flowing cloths to gird their loins. From their backs emerged enormous wings of willowy feathers as long as a man’s arm. They drifted in the currents of the air like streaming pennants of pure white. Their skin was black as polished obsidian, and their eyes glowed red.
It looked down at him.
“Your highness. I did not wish to see you again.”
Its voice was like the wind of a gathering storm.
Asterious looked up. It was as though all his worst nightmares had come true.
“Nor I, you.”
In its right hand the creature gripped a spear of silver and white. It held it out, pointing.
“And yet you come prepared to fight.”
Asterious looked down at his weapons.
He looked back up.
“Remind me, which one are you?”
The creature sneered.
“Insolent creature. Do you not remember your own gods?”
“It was a long time ago, and you were never my gods.”
The creature rolled its shoulders and spread its wings. They didn’t flap them to fly. The force of its own power was enough to keep it aloft as it slowly descended to rest gently on the parapet behind Valis and Polly.
“I am Generosity, Holy God of all Mortals.”
Asterious nodded. They all used that title. He shook his head.
“Always, and forever.”
Asterious took a step forward.
“No. Your kind are forgotten.”
The creature growled. The sound was like an earthquake.
“Then I shall remind them.”
He turned the spear in his hand and gripped it tightly. The point flashed with blinding light. Asterious brought up his sword, Lamp, as a beam of pure magic sliced through the air. It struck the blade. The force was enough to drive him back across the roof as the enchanted metal turned the searing strike aside. The beam pierced the wall of a nearby building, burning a line clean through its walls. The energy burst out and the structure exploded into the street.
Ellyn took a step back.
The creature interrupted.
Valis shook his chain. The long tentacle flung the amulets up to the creature. He caught them with his free hand and smiled.
He held the pendants aloft and began to chant. Sickly magic radiated from his form, washing out in all directions like the tolling of a temple bell.
A chorus of howls rose up from the city. Asterious looked down into the streets. The undead horde seemed to quicken suddenly, invigorated by the god angel’s power. The shambling monsters began instead to run; their leaden blows were transformed into vicious strikes. They lashed out and surged forward, overpowering the city’s disorganized defenders, directed by a mind of such will and complexity that controlling even the whole host was barely an effort.
The defenders routed, only to be overrun and slaughtered, and when the grisly work was done the frenzied horde turned next upon their masters. The clerics of Tormar cried out their magic words desperately, brandishing their useless amulets as they fell in droves to the lifeless hands of their former servants.
Ellyn took another step back.
“Nathanius, what do we do?”
Asterious raised his eyes to the god angel, Generosity. The creature turned to stare back at him, spear at the ready.
Asterious took a breath.
He’d fought the gods before. He turned to Nathanius.
“Whatever you do…”
He drew his swords.
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