This entry contains discussions, mentions, and descriptions of dark and triggering topics such as firearm usage, violence, child abuse, sexual assault, and death.
Reader discretion advised.
Time seemed to slow to a crawl. The prince had no time to run for cover, and barely enough to adjust his aim. All he heard was his heart pounding in his ears as he set the other man’s face in his sights, adrenaline coursing through his veins–
Then someone tackled him from the right, sending them both flying to the left just as a bullet whizzed past Monty’s head. What the–?
He barely had time to register the demon’s presence before Dane grabbed him by the collar of his t-shirt and clocked him in the face. The force of the blow was enough to make the prince suck in a sharp breath and shove the chief off of him. “What the fuck are you doing?”
“Knocking some sense into you,” Dane growled. Then he addressed the demon to his left without so much as a glance. “Take Kaine and find Benji and the other angels around here. Make sure they aren’t acting as stupid as their prince.”
Fletcher grinned and nodded, already waving Lizzie’s friend over. “On it, chief.”
Monty was about to suggest they find cover when he realized that, while the sounds of gunshots echoed all around them, the bandits were barely getting any shots off. Two of the demons–the only two that arrived with Dane, his headman, and his porter prior to his recruitment of Lizzie’s friends–were holding down the fort, taking out the human scavengers left and right. The younger of the brothers had sprinted into the madness, killing the men at point-blank range with a pistol in each hand. The elder was covering him from the stadium side of the street with a rifle, eliminating all the threats his brother could not see.
It was another moment before Monty realized that neither of these two young men were actually holding firearms; instead, Spencer’s hands were transformed into pistols, while Jason’s entire left arm had become a semi-automatic rifle. Whoa…
“Hey!” Monty tore his eyes away from the carnage and locked eyes with the scowling teenager before him. “Do you need me to hit you again? Pay attention!”
“What are you doing here, Dane?” he commanded, his patience wearing thin.
Dane scoffed. “That’s a helluva way to say thanks, Your Highness.” Before Monty could offer any words of either apology or gratitude, the demon held up a hand in dismissal. “Forget it. Just listen, alright? Tawni brought us up to speed. Sal, Nat, Gordon, and Sam are helping your people protect the captives. I sent my porter and two of mine to Charlotte to help your squad out there.”
The prince let out a sigh of relief. Dane’s words lifted the burden that had been weighing on him. “Thank you. You didn’t have to help us.”
Dane smirked, though Monty guessed that there wasn’t much humor behind the action. “I was going to ask for an extension on my loan, so consider us even.”
They heard shouts coming from the stadium entrance, and turned to find Aldo and Cameron sprinting from the building, their weapons still drawn. “Is that a good sign?”
Monty nodded. “Yeah, it means our porter on sight got all the hostages out…”
Then he clutched left cheek and cursed. “Fuck, man… Was the punch necessary?”
The chief shrugged, still grinning as he assessed the scene. “Probably not… But it felt good.”
Charlotte, NC – 2:20 (nearly 10 minutes earlier)
The light from Chris’ teleportation faded, allowing the humans to take in their new surroundings. Lori had to blink a few times before she was comfortable, which Lizzie attributed to her sister’s limited experience with porting, but both women still managed to assess their surroundings by the time Remiel had arrived with Leah a moment later.
Their small group was standing in the middle of an empty street and staring up at a giant black building. It was wider than it was tall, covered in hundreds of windows that took the place of several walls. The image of a large black panther’s head jutted out from the top of the building’s metal face, its maw gaping and teeth bared. The chain-link fence that surrounded the structure was pulled open off to the side, leading Lizzie to believe that that was the only way anyone entered or exited the premises.
Leah hopped gracefully out of Remiel’s arms and stood by Lizzie’s side, gazing up at the scout and awaiting orders. Her energy had shifted from its initial alarming shades; it was now a smooth cobalt with a stripe of magenta off to one side and another of chartreuse closer to the fox’s body. Leah’s familiar aura brought a sigh of relief to Lizzie’s lips; if Monty’s creation was doing well, then so was he, right?
“How many you got left, Rem?” asked Lori, her eyes peeled for any sign of trouble.
“Ten or so, including the little ones,” he offered with a huff.
For the first time since meeting him, Lizzie noticed the darkened skin beneath the speedster’s eyes. This mission had kept him away from his soul mate for too long, and she was sure that he was ready for it to be over with.
“We’re almost done, Uncle Remi,” she assured the older man, her hand reaching out and squeezing his arm affectionately. Her fingers were too small to wrap all the way around, but she could tell that the gesture still had its desired effect on the angel. “Go and focus on getting the hostages. We’ll take care of the rest–”
Her words were cut off by the sound of Leah’s growl, followed by the screeching of tires as an SUV sped down the curved road that led straight to them. Lizzie’s expression hardened as she and Lori drew their weapons and trained them on the opposition.
“Get everyone out now!” Lori ordered Remiel. Though hesitant, the speedster turned back to the stadium and raced out of sight, too fast for them to see.
“You gotta go, too,” Lizzie conveyed to Chris.
She didn’t give him a chance to respond before she let off four shots in quick succession, taking out the vehicle’s front left wheel. The SUV lurched to the left, and she saw the panic in the face of the young bandit driving as he did just as she predicted and slammed on the brakes.
The vehicle spun to the left before rolling over, the screams of the bandits drowned out by the sound of crunching metal and glass. The truck then slammed into the corner of the building across from the stadium, and the two scouts jogged forward, their eyes on the upside-down vehicle and its occupants.
The bandits within were all dead and immobile, their faces covered in blood, sweat, and dirt as their lifeless bodies remained crumpled on the vehicle’s ceiling. The kid who’d been driving had been thrown from the SUV, lying face down beside the wreck. Lizzie did her best not to think about how young they all looked; she didn’t have that luxury as she and Lori spun around to continue down the road.
“Leah, scout ahead–”
Both women stopped short when they came face to face with Chris. He had followed them to the wreckage, and his hazel eyes were wide with shock and disgust at the scene laid out before him. His breathing had quickened, and his aura was overtaken by a deep denim blue with elements of cloudy red, powdery pale yellow, and a weird green that was somehow both dark and transparent. His energy was so murky that it didn’t take long for Lizzie to realize what he was feeling; everything about his colors and mannerisms screamed, “conflicted.”
“We’re supposed to help humans,” he muttered, his eyes never leaving the body of the bandit that could not have been much older than him. “We’re here to save humans. To protect them–”
“From who?” Lori demanded, forcing Chris to tear his watery eyes away from the images that would surely haunt him for the rest of his life. “Who’re you here to protect humans from?”
Lizzie noticed the flash of violet that spread over the angel’s irises before disappearing. It happened in an instant, but she was certain of what she saw. “I don’t know. I thought I did–I thought we were supposed to keep humans safe from bandits. But after meeting your family, it’s made me realize that bandits are just humans looking to survive in any way they can. The things they do are wrong, but do they all really deserve to die just for carrying on with a lifestyle that’s been beaten into them?”
Lizzie heard her sister let out a humorless chuckle. “You don’t get it–”
“The fuck is there not to get?” he clapped back, his eyes radiating crimson. “We save and protect humans. Bandits are humans, so–”
“You really gon’ stand there an’ tell me that these bastards deserve to be saved?!” she spat. Lori’s energy was just as dark and shifty as Chris’, though her colors leaned closer to grey, murky brown, and deep eggplant.
The teleporter’s eyes softened as they passed over the two scouts. “You did. Are you gonna tell me that you’ve been saints all your lives? I don’t know about what you did before coming to us, but I can tell by how easily you shrugged off these deaths that you’ve got blood on your hands. Where’s the line? What’s the difference between you, these bandits, and our colonists?”
Lori pursed her lips and stared off to her right, giving the impression that she was keeping an eye out, but Lizzie knew better. Her older sister always had an answer for everything, but she couldn’t conjure a rebuttal for this.
Suddenly, both scouts bristled at the subtle sound of hurried steps, and they both spun around in time to see the driver bandit charging straight for Lori, who stood closest to him. Hunting knife in hand, he lunged forward.
Lizzie and Lori both raised their pistols, poised to shoot–only for Chris to sprint between Lori and the bandit. Lizzie gasped, “Chris–!”
The porter tackled the young bandit just as lightning tore through the dark sky and struck him, taking him and the injured bandit with him. Lori let out an aggravated huff.
“These angels are fuckin’ crazy!”
“Yeah,” was all Lizzie could say. She and her sister pressed forward, jogging up the road from whence the vehicle had come. Her mind was a mess as she sifted through her own thoughts and emotions, and seeing the familiar sight of Leah seated on her haunches at the intersection did little to ease her rage, shame, and guilt.
She had every right to resent the bandits. Lizzie and her siblings were raised by them; her father and uncle abused their mother, beat their brothers in an effort to “toughen them up,” and raped the girls regularly in order to groom them to be obedient wives. They taught them to lie, cheat, and steal, and forced them to kill and torture to achieve results. The bandits had raised Lizzie and other children to become monsters, mindless violent beings driven by selfish desires to the point that nothing else mattered.
“What’s the difference between you, these bandits, and our colonists?”
Chris’ words echoed in her mind, leaving a pit in her stomach that made her nauseous. If her time in the colony had revealed anything, it was the revelation that colonists were a lot like bandits. Sure, most of them behaved better and acted civil, but a handful of them were horrible people who abused, neglected, or outright abandoned their loved ones. It was the reason she had petitioned for the halfway house in the first place; she wanted to shed light on the colony’s skeletons, to give a safe space to those who needed to heal. She saw herself in the young humans she took in, and Lizzie knew without a doubt that the differences between a bandit and a colonist made up a very short list.
So if Chris is right, and we’re all human, where do we draw the line? She asked herself as she and Lori turned off of Mint Street while slowing to a power walk. Leah hopped up and joined them, maintaining a steady pace as well as a couple yards between her and the two scouts on her tail. Is it okay to kill bandits who have killed other humans? If that’s the case, then none of us would have a chance except Addy…
“Stop that,” Lori practically growled from Lizzie’s left.
“Thinkin’ so much ‘bout that shit blondie was sayin’,” she threw out there, her tone insistent. “Save it for after. Right now, all we gotta worry ‘bout is keepin’ Clyde an’ his goons off Remiel’s back.”
Lizzie glanced over at her sister and confirmed her suspicions; her aura had not changed much from when Chris had yelled at them, which told her that Lori was probably thinking about their conversation, too. “Yeah, okay. After.”