Rafael O'Roarke wasn't a happy camper. Of course being trapped in a public building watching your best friend bleed to death with the undead walking in the door did that to a person. O'Roarke glowered around the backroom. Just boxes and darkness: no help there. O'Roarke felt the compulsion to swear but instead offered a prayer to her Father for help and/or guidance.
Preferably a six-man rescue team. Or a portal to Heaven. Both would work, Rafael thought miserably. Years of experience had taught her that the undead, even from the lower rings of Hell, did not do mercy killings for fallen angels. And that's what Rafael O'Roarke was: a fallen saint. A woman with great physic talent in the middle of Ireland, a rare individual in those dark days, or that was what she had been. Then she had been brutally murdered, her deep belief in God and compassion for her world had earned her a trip to Heaven, then she got caught up in the latest uprising there, and fell from her winged position. And now it seemed God had a sense of rather dark humor: she was about to be eaten alive by Hell's rotting corpses then she's become one of them and be sentenced to eternity in Hell by the High Council. Great. Just peachy.
Noel Jackman let out a low moan, signaling she'd be awake for this major problem of being devoured. Was that supposed to make me feel better? Rafael mentally demanded. The corpse-like individuals in the other room were none to bright but it didn't exactly take a rocket scientist to find a pair of females trying to get out of a dangerous situation, a pair who was not to keen on lacking for noise. The rotting corpses also could smell blood, and as Noel was bleeding profusely from both the cut on her head and the bullet wound in her side, it was like putting up a big sign that said "Over Here!"
The minor blockade Rafael had put up in front of the door to the back crashed over with a cacophony of noise. Rafael offered up a final prayer to the seemingly uninterested God but picked up the broadsword. God helps those that help themselves, right? Besides, if you're not alive for God to help you then it really doesn't count.
Placing herself in front of the injured mortal, Rafael waited. Dothan stepped over a box with a wicked grin on her face.
"Well, damn girl." Dothan said with a laugh. "The corpse people seemed to have you and Jackman on their menus. It's a pity you missed that action though."
"They're dead? All of them?" Rafael asked, incredulous. Dothan nodded as she stepped around Rafael and checked Noel's pulse.
"What happened to her?"
"She gonna be alright?"
"You're the physic, baby." Dothan said with a grim look on her face. "She's dead."
"I guess I got part of my miracle." Rafael muttered. "Where are the others?"
"Maria is at the house with the kids, Brice, and Nathan. Rachel and Talon are around here somewhere." Dothan cast one last look at Noel and took a deep breath. Rafael didn't seem to linger on her loss, but then she had been around for centuries losing people as she went so Dothan could only guess if Rafael learned to count her losses and forget them, or better to know that Noel wasn't worrying about being eaten by the undead anymore. Lucky bloody duck.
"Great. I get to deal with a dead best friend and my he-man." Rafael muttered. Talon was not her favorite person, whether she was mated to him or not. Rafael huffed out a breath and slid her sword into its sheath on her back.
Rafael swallowed hard. She was back in the house with her teammates and hating every second of it. She was busy blaming herself for Noel's death and Rachel's injuries and the group was trying to decide whether or not to call Father Antonio.
Rachel's injuries would, of course, heal in two days. Her injuries were not bad, she hadn't been infected by the corpse people, and she was one of the two healers in the group.
"He needs to know about this." Nathan said. "For Pete's sake guys, we lost a team member."
"That's like the third time you've said it, Nathan, we get the message." Dothan replied. Rafael rubbed her temples. This had to end, and soon. Okay so the end of the world was close, she still had to prove she was worth going back to Heaven, and Hell's minions wanted to kill her, but she still needed half a bottle of Excedrin.
"Fine. Let's act like civilized adults, although the civilized bit is questionable, and vote on it." Talon decided. Point for him.
"You guys do that, I'll be outside." Rafael said, standing. Brice called for her to be careful. It was a sick place and time when going out to sit on the front step you had to be careful. Rafael left the house and sat on the front step. She sat there a moment, taking deep breaths before she realized it was night. Night equaled free-for-all for the bad guys. Yippee. Let's hear it for Hell. Or not.
What's wrong? Talon's voice sounded in her head. Rafael let her head roll back as she let out a noise halfway between a groan and a growl.
You know, this mind-to-mind stuff really blows. And I've already told you a dozen times to stay out of my head! Rafael retorted. Talon's healing abilities wandered into the psychic so he could mind lock with his mate, however it wasn't an ability that Rafael held highly.
One would think that you would grow accustomed to our many talents. It's not like I'm jubilant that my mate is a warrior. And is fighting to keep her soul.
You had to bring that up. Every time we fight, you bring up that near soullessness. Get over it already, Rafael shot back. She grimaced. She hated to fight with him, though sometimes it could be most entertaining. Talon enjoyed taunting her or bringing up serious stuff and then making her mad; he had a fixation with 'don't let the sun go down on your anger'.
So she stood and decided to bounce on everybody's nerves by taking a long walk. Rafael strode off down the empty town street. Marker Creek was a small town, unoriginal and bland, but that's what Father Antonio had decided they all needed to regroup and start fresh. It really wasn't so bad, for Rafael, but for some of the group like Dothan and the kids it was irritating to have nosy neighbors in your business every time you turned around. Dothan was a city girl all around.
Small town gossipers could only gossip if there was something to put their attentions on you, Rafael had discovered. But then, keeping a low profile was one thing she did well.
The occasional noise or bump in the night that would give a city girl pause, didn't faze Rafael in least, if anything such silence in the night soothed her.
The group of them: Nathan, Brice, Maria, Nicole, Dawn, Rachel, Dothan, Talon, and Rafael were a team. A team without name but a team all the same. Their main goal was to aide in the defeat of the Dark One. In most theories tossed about by theologians during earth's long time in existence no one ever wondered how evil organized things. Heck, half the time people thought messiness was a sign of slobbery and therefore a bad thing. Not that disorganization was a good thing; it just wasn't of the devil.
Dante had only been partially right in saying that there were levels of Hell. Six levels of Hell, seven levels of Heaven.
Rafael had to chuckle as she turned to complete her block circuit. Breathing two lungfuls of fresh small town evening air, Rafael debated whether or not to ask, when she got back, what had been the result of the vote and discussion. Well, she was going to have to ask or be told one way or another but she didn't want to do it first thing walking into the house.
It was the tail end of May in Iowa. It was damp, but now and again you'd have a warm wash of wind. Rafael went up the three steps in one step and entered the house. It was still. Too still for a place inhabited by nine people. Well, immediately Rafael could cross off four levels of Hell off the list of to-worry-about. Hell couldn't come in, unless you were stupid enough to invite them. However, Hell didn't appear to be Hell after Level Four.
Rafael's hand itched to go for the dagger she wore at hip level. She set her teeth and opened the front door. She quietly shut the door and walked deeper into the house. She glanced into the living room and found Maria's two girls, Dawn and Nicole, sprawled out on the couch and floor. The easy rise and falls of their chests told Rafael only what she needed to know: they were alive.
There was no sign of a disturbance, just silence. Rafael strode further into the house, passing the back of the couch and entered the kitchen. Nobody. Rafael casually walked into the dining room, and then tried not to allow her shock to show.
She blinked, willed the trio to go away, she opened her eyes and they were still there.
"What no welcome? Rafe, even for you, that's pretty cold." Armageddon said softly. Rafe fought the urge to glower and masked her face with a look of absolute tranquility.
"I think you got your welcome when all their jaws hit the floor. Take the hint, Geddon. Go back to your cloud." Rafe said, meeting tricolor eyes of the angel before her. His eyes were the most extraordinary of all the eyes she'd seen in six millennia on the face of earth. They were three shades of violet. The dark black lashes that surrounded them only made them deeper in color.
Armageddon bared his fangs at Rafael in a playful display of power.
"You know we dislike working with the humans that think us from Hell, however the Lord bids and we go." Gabriel said shortly. Rafe rolled her eyes at the Archangel and glanced down the table at the six others.
"Rafe, things have gotten much worse than we've feared." Michael said, for him that was a lot of words. Warrior angel or no he was a quiet guy.
"Rafael care to tell us what is going on?" Nathan asked in a demanding tone, the way he said us she could tell he meant me. She shot him a look of reproach.
"Maybe you should ask the three winged fruitcakes that just showed up, Nathan." Rafe said curtly. This wasn't her party. And even if it was, there was no way she was going to allow that big-mouthed pain in the ass think she answered to him.
"Fortunately, it looks like the Lord's Warriors are back together. Thus, this little group is going to be less a fallen, soulless angel. That's about it." Armageddon said mildly, like he wasn't upending their worlds.
"Is it true you're mated to a mortal?" Gabriel asked. Sure, Michael, Gabriel, and Lucifer had been the original three Archangels, but Gabriel was more like Lucifer than Michael ever showed. Talon. That's what was amiss from this cute little assembly.
"Where is he?"
"You didn't feel it?" Rachel asked. Her thin, pale face glared up at Rafe. "Well, smoking finally killed the idiot."
"You care to repeat that, Rachel?" Rafe asked. Rachel laughed. They were talking about the possible death of Rafe's mate and a teammate and Rachel was laughing?
"He's dead." Dothan murmured soberly. The kids went out to the front steps to wait for you to come back, he went out, alone, when he heard something. Then they got him. Vampires."
"And the girls?" Rafe asked, her throat threatening to constrict.
"Rachel gave them something to help them sleep." Dothan replied, her heart aching for her comrade.
"Who needs me more, this 'little group' as you called them, Geddon? Or the three of you who are more experienced and better trained?" Rafe asked, her despair falling into her voice.
"Rafael, we don't want you here. You've gotten two of us killed." Maria nearly yelled. "Then my girls almost got killed today as well. You can't stay with us. You damn us."
Rafe's head jerked up at the last. Armageddon caught her arm as she started forward.
"No." The command in his voice and the centuries of working under him were instilled into her system, she stopped. But she didn't like it. The words on her tongue would cause their little world to come crashing down around them, and how she longed to spit them out and see Maria and Rachel's pretty little faces screw up with tears.
"Take your anger out on me if you must, Maria, however know this: I knew both of them before you, and I cared for them more than you care for your daughters." Rafe paused for strength. "It's not the end of the line, so your rebuke is not necessary." Rafe's voice never wavered but her pounding heart nearly stopped her breathing. Without another word, Rafe strode out the way she came.
Rafael grimaced as Armageddon, Gabriel, and Michael slipped out of the dark little house, Rafe's bags in hand.
"That was childish." Gabriel said with a grin. "Walking out like that, just unprofessional."
"I take it he hasn't grown up from the stage of early childhood." Rafe said.
"Has your mate's death made you bitter this quickly or is this something else?" Michael asked as they walked down the street. Soon a Jeep came into view. Rafe shook her head but followed their lead when they got into the vehicle. It seemed she was destined to sit next to Armageddon for the trip.
"Michael's right." Armageddon said. "You're different. Darker." Rafe shot him a wry grin.
"Jealous I'm taking your position?" Rafe asked, her eyes laughing into his serious ones. Armageddon finally smirked in response. He started the Jeep. It had finally occurred to Rafael she had no idea where they were going or what they were doing, wait no, that was a lie, she knew that they would some how be combating the Dark One. But her ingrained sense of duty and obedience had kicked in so she had asked no questions. "By the way boys, where are we going?"
The three chuckled. But it was Michael who answered her. "New Orleans."
"That means…oh damn." Rafe said shortly. Rafael had possessed a pair of wings like they did, at one point, however the humanized way of flying was – to say the least, not for her. "I really hate you guys, I hope you all know that."
"Oh, but you haven't even heard the good part yet, Rafael." Armageddon said. Uh-oh, Rafe thought, first he used my full name, second, his sense of humor was borderline dark. "Akldm has been brought in on this." Akldm or Akeldama, for pronunciation purposes, was Hebrew for field of blood.
Not good, not good at all. It seemed that the High Council was apposed to using converts for bigger missions. However, any mission involving the Lord's Warriors was big.
"Who invoked him?" Rafe asked sharply. They themselves had buried that particular bad boy. After Rafael had fallen in love with him. Akeldama happened to be Zeke's right hand man. Zeke happened to be the highest man on Hell's totem pole. Or that had been Akeldama's vocation before Armageddon, Rafael, Gabriel, and Michael had crucified him upside down.
Yes it had been as cruel as it sounded. The holy object had tied him to the earth. He was left, bleeding, upside down in a cave.
"Darious." Gabriel said simply.
"Has he had his head examine recently?" Rafael asked dryly. The only way Akeldama could ever have gotten out of that cave was to be converted or aided by a Heavenly being. Darious held the credentials.
"He get converted?" Rafe asked sharply.
"That's the way Thomas and Ramseys tell it." Armageddon replied. "I'm surprised you hadn't heard. I mean Akeldama has managed to get himself into the better graces of our Father."
"That's ex-captain for he's now your boss." Rafael said, dreading to know the truth. Armageddon's bared teeth were enough of an answer.
The flight was too long. They were too high. They were too reckless for the height, or that was Rafe's interpretation. And that was before they hit considerable turbulence. Life just wasn't fair.
So while Rafe clung to the armrests for dear life, Armageddon sat to her left, Michael to her right, and Gabriel sat a row back. While Michael was trying to distract her with the latest major conversions, fallen angels, and how the vampires may have gotten out of Level Five, Armageddon decided it would be a good time to mention how high they were in the air. His saving grace was that they would be landing in a few. The stewardess made her way down the aisle to confirm that. Soon but not soon enough.
Akeldama did not meet them at the airport, which Rafe counted as a small, personal blessing. One blessing which the Most High was probably going to make her pay back through her nose. Well, she'd just cross that bridge when she came to it.
Her rather unhappy reunion was only delayed the few hours it took for Armageddon to arrange transport from Baton Rouge to New Orleans and for them to drive there. The moment they all exited the small vehicle in the French Quarter, Akeldama was there. Rafe set her teeth in order not to say anything damning.
However, she still had to remind herself to breathe when she set eyes on her ex-lover. He still had that panther-like grace, the mouth-watering fashion sense, the same tall muscular frame, the same pitch black hair worn past his shoulders, the same odd eyes: one blue as the ocean at midnight, and the other green as a forest in twilight.
Hell's bells, she didn't have to say anything damning, he was damning enough for the pair of them.
"Rafael." Akeldama began. His tone, and the way he rolled her name off his tongue made her want to grit her teeth. She didn't. Point for her.
"Akeldama." Rafael allowed her dislike to seep into her tone. His lips quirked as he motioned for the three of them to follow him into a building. Following even your ex-enemy into an unknown place was a perfect recipe for disaster. So what'd they do? They grabbed their weapons for the car and followed after, Rafael bringing up the rear.
Years of experience had taught her never to let her guard down nor to let someone walk behind you. Who knew what awaited them? Sure Armageddon, Gabriel, and Michael seemed content enough but it was her life to throw away.
The dark hall led to stairs, which led to more stairs. Finally the four of them ended up in a room, a story above the street. The room fanned out into a semicircle, it wasn't a design you saw often in the construction of apartment complexes. How Akeldama came into the building Rafael didn't know, and considering his old tactics, she didn't want to know.
"Now there's less of a chance the humans or the damned hear you." Akeldama said, like that explained everything. It really didn't. The damned was the overall chosen name for Hell's occupants and there servants and once you got a good look at one, well, you'd know why. The whys and wherefores of the use of the name by one that used to be high up in their ranks, Rafael didn't have.
"We have a plan, boys?" Rafe asked idly, she paced off from the group as Akeldama closed the door.
"Nope." Armageddon said. When Armageddon, master of strategy, says he doesn't have a plan the Lord's Warriors were in some pretty shitty shape, Rafe mused inwardly. Rafe turned back to face the three in the empty room.
"Geddon, you're slipping." Gabriel said accused.
"Let me get this right, ladies, the Most High suddenly decided that it was okay for his master of strategy not to have a plan, and then bring together a newly converted and a fallen angel?" Rafe demanded, not believing a word of it. Something most definitely was up, but what? Soon the hair on the back of her neck was standing on end, something was happening. Magick.
"Not exactly, little whelp." A portal had opened and had let forth Mercy, the only creature that had ever called Rafael 'whelp' and was left standing after saying it.
"Long time no see, Mercy." Rafael managed, trying not to show how relieved she was to know she had a second person that was just as suspicious of converts as she was. Mercy tended to be called Dark Mercy usually, or his name was just skipped all together. Back in Egypt, with Moses, they'd called him the Angel of Death. Now the Angel of Death cracked a grin at her, baring a mouthful of sharp teeth. Hell wasn't the only intimidating force around. All Archangels had them, fangs, sharp teeth, that is.
"Yeah, it's been a while, old buddy."
"Old buddy?" Akeldama asked, looking between the two, incredulous. It usually wasn't a good thing for the ex-bad guy to be clueless with two creatures inclined to squash him like a bug.
"They're both early Archangels." Michael said. Armageddon and Akeldama were the newbies but Mercy was older than both Michael and Gabriel.
"How well are the portals working, Mercy?" Rafael asked. Akeldama instinctively winced at the second open mention of the Angel of Death's first name. Rafe caught the movement from the side of her line of vision. "Kel, if you can't take the heat, go re-find the Most High." Akeldama hissed in reply.
"If boyo there has a problem with a name what's he going to do when we're in the middle of a battle and we Open our Fists?" The Archangels had what was described in other sects as a hand of power, their personal powers bestowed upon them by their Creator. When an Archangel Opened their Fist they unchained that power or those powers, since that magick, that strength was Light-based it was reasonable to ask what the ex-enemy was going to do about all that Light. Or an even better question would have been, how would he Open his own Fist?
"It's being worked on. You both will have to learn a little humility, forgiveness, and trust before we even think of going into battle." Armageddon said. Rafe shot him a look that plainly said oh really
"Sorry, Geddon but I've learned my lessons. Not interested in retaking the course." Rafe said icily. Yeah, I learned, don't fuck the enemy, and damn well don't fall for them, Rafael snarled inwardly.
"Still cranky about fraternizing with the enemy?" Gabriel asked casually. Rafe felt the age-old impulse to rearrange his face.
"Back to the topic at hand, Gabe." Gabriel shot Rafe a dark look at the use of his uncared for nickname. "Since we clearly don't have a plan, anyone care to tell me the original idea here?"
"To find Menses new champion." Michael said. Unlike what everyone likes to think, Hell is a monarchy type deal. Lucifer got the original spot as King of the Underworld or what not for getting them liberation from Heaven, then he was overthrown. Those pesky demons. You just can't trust 'em. Menses was his place taker.
"Duh. Those were the implicit orders from our King, but did anyone but me, I don't know, read between the lines?" Akeldama asked. Trust the ex-bad guy to look for more than was there.
"Our Father doesn't give orders that have double meanings." Rafael snapped impatiently. "Heck, we can't lie."
"Yeah, as someone who has been on the opposite side of things, your humans and all Heavenly beings dance around the truth, without lying." Akeldama said with a detersive noise, crossing his arms over his broad chest. "Our Father is no different."
"If you would like decked, all you have to do is say so. It's not like you have to say all of this to make me want to hit you." Mercy said absently.