This entry contains discussions, mentions, and descriptions of dark and triggering topics such as firearm usage, violence, and death.
READER DISCRETION ADVISED
20 km outside of Charlotte, NC – 2:18
The mission was, thus far, a success: Remiel only had a handful of captives left to retrieve, and Dominik and the other medics were working at double their usual speed in order to keep up with the speedster’s rescue efforts. With their combined forces, Chris was teleporting a group of hostages every few minutes, and between their squad and Nashville’s, Lizzie was certain that Kris and the medics back in Atlanta had their hands full.
I’m glad he’s helping us, she sighed, her eyes glued to the distant silhouette of the Charlotte market. Monty said he normally stays out of spirit conflicts, but since this one involves humans he agreed to heal the wounded.
Cassidy and Gabriella were seated side by side on the gravel shoulder of the highway, hidden by the parked pickup truck that carried Koji’s potential vessel. Koji and Vince watched over the girls as Ricky focused on vetting the rescued humans for any signs of hostility. Finley had taken over in Lori’s stead, directing the scouts to work as efficiently and quietly as possible.
Matteo stood alert to Lizzie’s left. Lori looked bored by her right. And Leah…
The silhouette of a small, dark canine bolted up the highway and headed straight for them. Lizzie didn’t bother stepping out of their zone, out of Cassidy’s reach; she knew the fox would come straight to her, as she was the only one who could hear its thoughts.
She wasn’t sure how long that had been going on, or when she first noticed it. Lizzie was always able to understand Monty’s creations to some extent–sure, they communicated less with words and more with feelings and images, but she got the gist of what they were trying to say. It helped that each ink creature seemed to give off a small amount of Monty’s aura, granting her yet another avenue to understand them.
So when Leah was close enough for Lizzie to study her energy, the human’s blood ran cold.
Her royal blue halo was stained a cloudy merlot shade, and the images that flooded Lizzie’s mind were just as alarming: street signs before a large brick building with glass doors, most of which were broken; a bandit reporting to their superior, gesturing to the south; another waving around a smartphone, and the mischievous grin of a man she wished she could forget.
Lizzie gasped, catching the attention of her companions. “Clyde’s here.”
“The hell you talkin’ ‘bout?” Lori demanded, her face twisted in a mixture of rage and something that her sister believed to be fear. “He ain’t s’posed to be here–he moved the gang out west. They stayin’ in Montgomery–”
“Well, he sure as shit didn’t get the memo, Loretta!” Lizzie snapped at her elder sister, her own panic rising.
Lori sneered at Lizzie’s use of her full first name. “Watch yourself, Elizabeth.”
“Did Leah see where the bandits are?” Matteo cut in, forcing the Peters sisters to focus on the mission.
“Yeah, some big building filled with lots of chairs,” Lizzie reported. “Kind of like the auditorium we had at the school.”
“Can you think of anything else?” he pressed. “Think. What did Leah see?”
“Uhhh…” Lizzie shut her eyes and replayed the scenes the fox had presented to her. The green street signs hanging outside the massive building were high up, almost out of the fox’s line of sight, but she just barely made out the name of the road. “Trade! Trade Street!”
The angel’s eyes lit up with recognition. He pulled a folded map out of his back pocket and unfolded it just enough to allow them a view of the center of Charlotte. “That’s the old concert hall at the center of the colony. We sent representatives there over twenty years ago in hopes of finding a thriving colony. The bandits hadn’t moved in yet, so it was completely empty.”
“If it’s at the middle of the market, then it’s no wonder why Clyde’s there,” grumbled Lori. “Always had to be the center of everythin’…”
“Should we stop the evacuation?” Lizzie asked the elder spirit. “According to Gabby, all the hostages were being kept here,” she tapped a part of the map not far from the concert hall; a large, open structure on Mint and Graham.
“They’d only need two minutes to get there an’ ambush Remi…” Lori hissed under her breath. “An’ considerin’ it prolly took that dog five minutes just to haul-ass outta there–”
“She’s a fox, Lor.”
She rolled her eyes. “What-the-fuck-ever! Point is, these assholes could be waitin’ for Remi.”
“She’s right,” Matteo sighed and turned around in time to see Remiel hand a filthy, half-naked child to a scout. “Remiel! Hold off for a sec.”
The speedster frowned but did as his friend suggested, jogging over to meet them. “What’s up?”
“The bandits know we’re here, and they may be waiting for you at the stadium,” Matteo relayed. “We need to reassess.”
Remiel pursed his lips and let out a huff through flared nostrils, shaking his head. “I can’t stop now, Matt. There’s only a few left–I know I can get ‘em out before–”
“We can’t risk losing you,” Matteo interrupted him. It looked as if Remiel was about to protest further when he added in a lower tone: “I promised my sister I’d bring you home safe, man. I can’t let you go in there alone.”
Lizzie and Lori shared knowing looks before they addressed the older men: “We’ll go.”
“Whoa–” Remi began, only for Matteo to shake his head. “No. Absolutely not–”
“If you send any other scouts in there, they will die before Uncle Remi can finish his mission,” Lizzie pointed out, her expression as obstinate as her tone. “We were raised by them, trained to fight like them. Lori and I know how they think–we’re the only ones who can keep them off his back.”
Matteo and Remiel were quiet for a short moment as they considered her offer. Neither angel appeared to like the idea, and Lizzie wondered if her words had fallen on deaf ears when Lori spoke up.
“This our mess, anyhow,” she muttered. “That’s our uncle in there–our family. If anyone deserves to kill ‘im, it’ll be me. None o’ y’all can take that from me.”
“He’s not your family,” Matteo countered, reminding Lizzie of their conversation not twenty minutes prior. “Family are the ones who’ll miss you when you’re gone. Your family isn’t in that market, or back in Montgomery–it’s in Savannah. It’s liberating Nashville. It’s here with us, working together to undermine their operation.”
Lori averted her gaze and shifted her weight from one leg to the other, obviously discomforted by the angel’s sudden affectionate nature. “What’s your point, old man?”
Matteo surprised them all by letting a short chuckle slip past his unprecedented smirk. “My point is don’t die. We want you girls to come home.”
Then he called over Chris and caught the teleporter up to speed, and the Peters sisters hammered out the specifics of their new impromptu plan with the angels. It took less than two minutes for Matteo to figure out the coordinates Chris required, and before the elder knew it, all four of them were gone. Chris held onto Lizzie and Lori’s hands as he summoned his lightning, teleporting them into the dead-center of the closed market just as Remiel sped off to meet them with Leah cradled in his arms, a feat they only accomplished with an order from Lizzie. Matteo watched as lightning struck at the heart of the bandit city, and he prayed to whatever gods would listen that his son’s soul mate would return alive and in one piece.
So when Gabriella Moore, the psychic for the Semes Tribe, gasped and stood from her spot on the shoulder of the highway, Matteo knew that something had gone very, very wrong.
He ran over to where she stumbled into Koji’s arms, her face buried in her hands as she sobbed. “Gabby? What’s going on?”
“L-L-Lizzie! I-I need Lizzie–”
The elder angel frowned at the demon psychic. “Didn’t you hear our thoughts a little bit ago? Lizzie and Lori went into the market as Remi’s backup. The bandits know we’re here.”
Koji’s face blanched. “G-Get her back! Where’s Chr–”
Lightning struck at the center of their encampment, leaving Chris and a teen bandit in its wake. The two were grappling with one another, and it almost looked as if the bandit was about to win when a shot rang through the camp. Blood sprayed out of the right side of the filthy boy’s head, and his body slumped to the ground as Chris shoved him away, staring incredulously at first his attacker’s lifeless form, and then at his comrade who had taken the shot.
Ricky’s rifle was still raised as he caught his breath, adrenaline coursing through him. “What… What the–?”
“Chris!” Koji called out to the stunned porter. “Bring Lizzie back!”
Chris’ eyes darted between the demon and Matteo expectantly; the elder shook his head. “Hold on, Chris.”
“What the hell do you mean, ‘hold on’?” Koji shouted at the angels. His arms were wrapped tightly around Gabby as her shoulders shook from her sobs. “Gabby says we need her, so go fucking get her.”
“You are not in charge of this mission, demon,” Matteo reminded him with a harsh tone and a point of his finger. “You’re here to help us, just like your tribe was lent some of our people to help you. As long as you’re here, you’re following orders.”
“You d-don’t under–understand–” Gabby began, but the older man cut her off.
“What I don’t understand is how our squad’s psychic wasn’t listening to our thoughts, and therefore wasn’t aware of our latest development,” he rebuked. While Matteo Alagona was known for his level-headedness, he had to admit that dealing with bandits and teenage demons was testing the limits of his patience. “The bandits in Charlotte know we’re here. Lizzie and Lori volunteered to go in and cover Remiel while he brings the last of the hostages. As soon as he’s done, he and Chris can pull them out, and Vince can let loose on the market–”
“Aunt Desi gave me a prophecy!” Gabby protested, wrenching herself away from Koji’s arms to face the angel. Her hazel irises were almost completely overtaken by the violet glow indicative of her rank and ability, and her cheeks were streaked with fresh tears. “We’re going to lose lives–this isn’t a battle we can win!”
A wrinkle formed above the bridge of Matteo’s nose. “Tell me.”
Catching her breath, Gabby wiped her face and recounted the prophecy: “As Chandra oversees the prismatic inferno, a love distinguished leads to lives extinguished. Death lies in wait to collect, as she views Life with little respect.”
A hush fell over the spirits as they mulled over the prophecy–and at that moment, Remiel sped into the camp and set a young woman down at the edge of the rescued captives. “Hey! We need evac–they need to see Kris.”
The human looked to be about the same age as Matteo’s daughter, and in her arms was a young child no older than five. She was not moving; her lips were blue, and the rags that covered her tiny body were soaked with a dark, glistening liquid that he could only assume was blood. The very sight of the child, who was most likely already dead, struck him as an ill omen in the wake of his sister’s prophecy.
Desideria’s visions were never exact, and the warnings that accompanied them were usually vague–but if there was one thing Matteo knew, it was that her prophecies always came true. Of that he was certain.
“Remiel–where were Lizzie and Lori when you saw them last?” he probed. “We–I made a mistake. We need to get them back.”
The speedster shook his head, his pecan-brown eyes apologetic. “Sorry, I don’t know. Last I saw, they were fighting some bandits down Graham Street, but they looked alright to me.”
Matteo scratched the back of his head and weighed their options. Lizzie and Lori were putting their lives on the line just so Remiel could complete the mission–their sacrifice was even more evident following the delivery of Desideria’s latest prophecy. Having Remiel and Chris go back to retrieve them would jeopardize their mission further, which did not sit well with the elder.
Even so, the thought of seeing his son standing before a fresh grave sent chills down his spine. This is a lose-lose situation… But I need to make a decision. I can’t keep holding us up.
He opened his mouth to give the order when a flash of fire erupted at the center of their camp, causing some of the humans to cry out in shock and fear. The amber flames reached high into the sky before reverting to the ground, snuffing themselves out beneath the sneakers of the new arrivals.
“We thought you could use some help,” offered one of the demons, his dark eyes twinkling in the moonlight.