Chapter One

a dead ringer for an ice sculpture

It's funny how quickly your whole life can change.

All it took for mine to completely derail was the one minute it took for Raphael to burst through our front door, a look of horror on his face that could mean only one thing.

"Shit! Fuck! Shit! Bollocks! Shit!"He exploded as soon as the door was closed. I just stared at him, I already had a pretty good idea of what he might be about to say, but I wasn't going to make it harder for myself just to make it easier for him, we didn't have that kind of friendship.

"It's Michael." He was calmer now; though his voice still cracked a bit on the name. It was probably the only way he could say it.

I let out the breath I didn't know I'd been holding, unfortunately this just made him agitated again and suddenly he launched into a confused pause laden explanation.

"They found out about what she was doing. One of those fuckers she was hanging about with, one of them must have told her! That bitch. I mean she was so damn careful otherwise...I can't believe this! I mean... Oh shit Michael... They're going to... Oh shit..." There was a loaded pause; I probably could have filled in for him, but again I didn't. To be honest, I think a part of me wanted to punish him for being the one to deliver the news. Shoot the messenger and all that.

"They're going to burn her. Tomorrow. In front of the court house" There was a loaded silence. Raphael regarded me steadily. "They're not even going to pretend to hold any kind of trial."

It was then I realised that I hadn't thought things through. I'd let him take the bullet, making the announcement with no prompting from me and now I was going to have to play the bad guy and say what needed to be said.

I sighed, ran a hand through my hair and bit the bullet.

"There's nothing we can do for her now. It's time to go" It wasn't going to win any prizes for eloquence, but I was never one for dramatic speeches; that was more Raphael's forte.

He just gave me a look dripping in acid and followed it with words doused in more of the same.

"If you think for one damn second I'm leaving her..." He was practically vibrating with anger. I took a step back, maybe I'd read the situation all wrong?

"You know it's what she'd want us to do." I said in what I hoped was a soothing tone of voice, I felt it was both the kind of thing one should say in such a situation and also, it was actually true. Michael was just as little a fan of self-sacrifice as I was.

It didn't really have the effect I'd intended, in fact it achieved the exact opposite of what I wanted, Raphael was now more angry than he had been before I'd said anything at all.

"What the fuck?" He took a step towards me; it probably would have been more intimidating if he hadn't been a whole foot shorter than me. "What makes you think you'd know what she'd want?!"

Well, that was just a step too far, now I was angry too.

"Just shut the fuck up!" I erupted. I didn't swear too often, well not out loud anyway, it just seems such a waste of words. I know I seem pretty verbose on paper, but I'm not like that in conversation, I'm far more careful with my words. Issues of verbosity aside, my swearing was shocking enough to get Raphael to actually do as I'd asked him to i.e. shut up, if only briefly, so it turned out for the best. I used the pause to gather my thoughts and to start to think up a plan of action.

It wasn't long before I could see the spell had been broken and that Raphael was about to interject again. Probably with something intended to deliberately provoke me if I knew him at all.

"Stop acting like you're the only one who even cares."I cut him off, even I could hear the tiredness in my voice, I frowned at my own weakness.

"Well if you care so damn much, then why don't you act like it?" The little bastard countered, he said it in this faux innocent voice, like it was this deep question he was really wondering about. It was a low blow, he knew I was talking sense and he knew there was nothing else we could possibly do. There were no other options and he was far from stupid.

He didn't like it though. He didn't like the solution and he detested the problem and so he took it out on me. In other words, someone had to take the blame and it would be counter-productive to assign it to Michael when she wasn't even there to yell at. I mean, I can see all that with hindsight, but at the time I was just really, really annoyed.

I could see he was about to say something else, probably something so venomous the whole situation would just devolve into a straight up fight. In the end I decided to just take pre-emptive action and well, I'm not particularly proud of this, but I took the easy way out and just knocked him out in advance. It was as simple as that, Raphael wasn't much of a fighter so all it took was a fist to the face and he was out like a light.

I stared down at his prone form for a few seconds, unconsciously rubbing my knuckles, but then I shook myself out of it. I reasoned I'd have plenty of time to feel bad about it later (though to be honest I don't think I ever did get round to that feeling bad thing) but I wouldn't be feeling much of anything at all if I stuck around for my execution. Anyway, I had far more pressing concerns to attend to; I needed to pack for a hasty departure...

And a whole new life.

-

I suppose I should probably introduce myself before I tell you anything more; I can't have you enduring this whole thing without knowing anything about its illustrious narrator.

Well, first things first I suppose.

My name's Gabriel Sunsmoke. And my age is... Well to be honest I've been alive so long that I don't even know how old I am anymore. That's usually the way with us Immortals; once you've lived through a few human life spans worth of birthdays they just cease to have any meaning. I can tell you how old I was when I stopped aging however; I was only 19 and so that's how old I'll look now and forevermore.

As for my appearance, I'm around six foot in height (which is pretty tall for an immortal) and there's not a single ounce of spare fat on me. Not that I'm like anorexically skinny or anything mind, I'm just in very good shape, hardly surprising seeing as I make my living off of the back of my ability to fight.

I prefer to keep my hair quite short, with a bit of a side fringe sorta thing going on (I have quite a long face so having it all swept off my forehead just makes me look a bit like a horse) in reality though it's usually pretty long as I tend to forget to cut it. Hair's just not very high on my priority list. It's a kind of dirty blonde colour, some would refer to it as dish water blonde but those people clearly have no poetry in their souls. Not that the phrase 'dirty blonde' really contains much in the way of poetry, but it does make me sound amusingly like a porn star.

My eyes run to various shades of grey, mainly dependent on the light conditions in the room. Though I must admit, I have received several love letters claiming my eyes to be like 'liquid silver'. Romantics clearly have no eye (every pun intended) for colour.

As if I was an actual 19 year old I don't think too much about what I wear, I like to keep it simple. There are plenty of Immortals stuck in the old ways, wandering around heaven in robes like they'll be needed by some druids to participate in a ritual any minute. I'm a much more modern creature myself - I wear jeans most of the time, black ones, bootleg cut, none of this too tight or too wide malarkey for me thanks. I also favour shirts with poppers, for reasons I shall elaborate upon later.

All in all, I'm pretty plain looking for an immortal, most of us when we go down to the mortal realm would have to hang about in Camden or the Harajuka district to fit in – all madly coloured hair and eccentric outfits -but I'd fit in fine in most mortal cities. In fact, if you saw me on the street right now I doubt you would even notice me at all.

-

I knew we had to move fast; they would be coming for us soon, and it was safe to say that I did not want to be there when they did. By they, of course, I mean Kellandria's secret police; there isn't an angel amongst their ranks who doesn't know at least 50 ways to kill you quickly and/or horribly. In short they are all horrendously vicious and I didn't, and still don't, really fancy my odds against a large group of them.

Michael had got into this mess all of her own accord, but alas, the important thing to them was that, even though we must have known exactly what she was doing or at least suspected it, we hadn't told anyone about it. In their and Kellandria's eyes that made us just as guilty as her, if not, perhaps, even more so.

If I'm honest, I had thought long and hard about selling her up the river. My oldest and best friend, she wasn't even doing anything I didn't agree with, but I'm nothing if not a realist and it was clearly a doomed endeavour from the start. I didn't see why we should all have to take the fall when it inevitably blew up in everyone's faces. In the end though I had done nothing and so here we were.

I'd known all along it would come to this and now it was too late to fix a thing.

I grabbed the stuff I deemed to be most important, shoving it all into the nearest bag to hand, which was, luckily, a holdall warded against wear and tear. That done, I grabbed Raphael's work bag and started shoving what I thought he'd want into it. In went a jumble of research notes, clothes and items of sentimental value. Then I got ready to leave, I was almost out of the door when I paused to stop by the one photo we kept downstairs.

It'd been taken the last time we'd gone to the mortal realm together. We'd been in London for some research Raphael had been doing; I don't even remember what on anymore. The photo was of me, Raphael and Michael; we had gotten some kind old lady to take it for us. Raphael was in the middle, he was grinning like the little kid he looked like (he had stopped aging at only 14). I was on the left; it had been sunny that day so I had a pair of sunglasses hooked on the neck of my tee shirt. The woman had caught me mid laugh. Michael stood to the right. She looked like a student teacher, with her silver rim glasses and short black hair. She looked like she was trying not to smile and failing dismally, probably at whatever I was laughing at.

The old woman had thought we were siblings out sightseeing, we looked like we were.

I snapped myself out of it; this really was not the time for pointless nostalgia. Taking one last sad look around the cluttered entrance of the small but lovely house we had called our home for so long I turned to leave. I couldn't stop thinking about the pawing our things would get when the secret police arrived to ransack the place and how everything that wasn't taken as 'evidence' (now that was a joke when there was hardly ever even trials for those who got on Kellandria's bad side) would be burnt. With a sad sigh I hoisted both bags onto my shoulder before walking back to where I'd left Raphael's prone form and adding him to my load. I was glad Raphael had stopped aging at such a premature age, as it meant he was nice and light. I grabbed the picture as I walked past, self consciously placing it in the top of my bag.

I had briefly toyed with the idea of trying to make a stealthy escape through the back door, then making my way via less crowded streets until I reached the city limits. It wouldn't work though; I mean lugging around an unconscious body was hardly inconspicuous. Plus everyone knew who we were, and probably knew before we did that Michael had been charged with treason. We were marked men.

As soon as I got outside, I put Raphael down again and braced myself to unfurl my wings. It's a very painful process you see as, when you're not using them, they merge back into your body and the body heals itself around them. Which means every single time you want to use your wings they have to literally force their way out through the flesh covering your shoulder blades complete with a horrible ripping sound. It's a necessary evil, I mean I have a 6 foot wingspan, so needless to say if I couldn't store them somewhere I'd break a lot of ornaments. Still though, it's really not a fun sensation and no matter how many times you go through it, it never hurts any less. I don't understand how werewolves can stand to have that agony throughout their entire body once a month, I really don't.

It's customary to have a small rest after getting your wings out, to recover and all, but I didn't really have the luxury of waiting around to catch my breath as I could already see a startled looking secret policeman at the end of the street. he looked like he was a bit green - I could probably take him simple as - but still, others would soon follow. It was time to leave.

I was a bit slow to start, I needed to shake all the gore off my wings before I could go full speed, but my feathers were soon dry and I sped off.

Where was I was heading you ask? Well, I was going where all Angels who have fallen out of favour go. I was making my way to Hell.

-

Your planet, and those that surround it, may be round, but the place where we live is completely flat. Supposedly it goes on forever but, for obvious reasons, that has never been proved. Oddly enough there is no universal name for it, people call it whatever they think is best. Personally I think of it as the Plain.

It's not only flat, but it's also almost entirely barren, if there's not a city or a forest there, there's nothing. Well nothing except layers of this grey stuff that isn't ash, or so the scientists tell us, but is something very much like it. The ash like substance does raise the disconcerting question of what was here before we were and what happened to them? Every creature on the plain shares the same nagging worry that what was here before somehow angered the Gods and as a consequence everything was razed to the ground. That maybe someday we'd make the same mistake.

Some Angels are of the opinion that the ash is meant as a warning to us to not forget there are limitations to our immortality; fire being one of the few things that can permanently kill one of the Immortals. I think that's a bit of an ethnocentric view though, I mean we're hardly the only species that lives on the Plain, true Vampires certainly share our aversion to fire but not everything does.

Anyway, I'm sure you're wondering about my reference to Gods. There's more than one? What are they like? Well they'd probably be a grave disappointment to the religious amongst you. The Greeks got the closest with their pantheon of petulant and debauched Gods and Goddesses. The real Gods are a lot like that, they're a very hedonistic group; like spoiled rich kids it's all drugs, sex and violence. Though they can't get sick or die of old age, they can't regenerate like we can either so they have an appalling life expectancy, there are always murders and overdoses and horrible accidents, no one even bothers to report them anymore. With all this going on, most of them never even bother to use their powers for anything as trivial as meddling in human affairs. Of course, that's not true of all of them; some of them have this horrible tendency to cause far more trouble than they're worth, but that's a story for another time.

So where were we? Ah yes, I was zooming across the barren wasteland Raphael cradled in my arms like he was my bride and the Plain was our threshold. There was a very long way to go before we reached Hell, for obvious reasons they were a long, long way apart. We'd have to stop and rest soon but there was a colony of banshees not too far from where we were and for some reason banshees always seem to be pretty enamoured with me, don't ask me why, so I thought that'd be a good place to stop.

I could actually see the forest that led into the banshee town when I heard the distinctive sound of wings flapping somewhere behind me. I must admit, for the second time that day I found myself swearing. Admit it, you would too if you'd had a day like mine!

I darted a quick look behind me, and there they were, less than a mile behind and slightly to the right of me, two members of Heaven's illustrious secret police, weapons in hand.

One had a spear, but I wasn't too worried about him as it was the one from earlier, the one I thought looked a bit green. I think it was fair to say that he'd probably only been sent on this mission because he had a wingspan almost equal to mine, a rare thing as like I said I'm tall, and a wider wingspan means a quicker flight. There was no point sending someone with all the power but not enough speed to actually ever catch me.

It was the other one that really concerned me. She was clutching some kind of lethal looking halberd; the large flat blade adorned with Kellandria's personal crest, a serpent eating its own tail. She likes it because it symbolises eternity and she likes to think that's how long she'll rule for. The egotistical nature of the crest aside, it was certainly worrying that my pursuer was wearing it, being allowed the 'privilege' of wearing Kellandria's crest was a sign of someone very important indeed. I had a great many things adorned with her crest myself in fact, I made a mental note to burn all those things as soon as possible.

Of course, I had never seen this woman before, and I could be reasonably sure of that as I certainly would have recognised such a striking woman. Unfortunately like most dictators who'd been in power for awhile Kellandria was exceedingly paranoid and so liked to keep all the different factions who kept her rule running smoothly completely separate. Considering the circumstances I suppose that was wise, I mean who would have been sent to chase us down otherwise? The most worrying aspect of the whole scenario though was the fact that the woman's weapon was positively crackling with magic, it ran up and down the handle, caressing the blade like a lover.

It was obvious I needed to land straight away.

Normally I would have been fine with an aerial fight, but not whilst carrying Raphael, not to mention the bags of stuff I was having trouble keeping hold of just flying normally. So I took another quick glance back at my pursuers; upon the discovery that they were quickly gaining on me I tucked my wings in and plummeted suddenly to the ground. Normally I would have rolled when I hit the ground to minimise the impact, but I didn't want to throw our belongings everywhere so I had to land feet first. I bent my knees but it still absolutely killed. My left knee made an alarming cracking sound that probably heralded bone damage; I hoped my body would sort it out by itself as quickly as possible.

I knew I didn't have long before I had to face down my adversaries so I quickly laid Raphael on the ground and placed the bags next to him. Then with a resigned sigh, I knew how painful this was going to be, I ripped open the shirt I was wearing (now you see why I wear shirts with poppers instead of buttons whenever possible) and plunged my hand in to the centre of my chest. Yeah actually into my chest, believe me it takes nerves of steel.

Just like unfurling my wings, this was a pain that never grew any less agonising no matter how many times I subjected myself to it. Breathing raggedly in and out I grasped the hilt of my sword, the arcane patterns swirling as if they were alive, and slowly dragged it from my body.

I wiped the blood and splatters of gore off of it and onto the corner of my formerly pale grey shirt. It wouldn't be long before my chest began to knit itself back together but I didn't have time to wait around for it to do so, I mean my blood was replenishing itself almost as quickly as I could lose it so I'd be fine soon enough. I should tell you that most immortals would die and then have to revive from such a wound but I have much faster healing than the average Immortal. Yeah, I know, I'm basically the Wolverine of the Immortal world... If only any Immortals understood that reference.

I moved a bit farther away from Raphael and our things and waited for the woman to descend. She was spiralling lazily downwards; obviously trying to show me just how unfazed by me she was. Her less experienced companion wisely decided to follow her cue.

I moved into a fighting stance, watching her the whole time I did so, there was no way I was going to let her know I was worried. I did have to look away for a minute though to enchant my sword. To enchant a weapon you generally have to take two fingers, the index and its nearest neighbour work best, and place them either side of the blade right down by the hilt. Then, and this has to be done as fast as possible, you pull your fingers upwards all the way up the blade. If your magic's strong enough this should be enough for it to manifest itself on your weapon in a physical form, like the electricity on my adversary's halberd.

The form my magic takes is fire, but not just any run of the mill fire, mine comes with blue flames, I know, if I was a human I'd be such a giant nerd. With my sword successfully enchanted I turned back to look at the woman. My chest had already almost fully healed; I felt far more ready for the fight to come.

-

After what felt like an age, but was in reality only a few seconds, the woman landed gracefully in front of me a feline smirk playing across her features. The magical electricity playing up and down her weapon flickered as reflections in her cold lake eyes.

Though my main focus was always going to be her, I knew better than to just ignore the rookie. I could see him out of the corner of my eye; he was sidling towards where I'd left Raphael. I decided I better get rid of him before I got too wrapped up in fighting his companion.

I had yet to recoil my wings and so all it took was a jump to get airborne. I launched myself forwards, she was obviously expecting me to attack her so she braced herself for a collision but instead I flung myself straight past her. With my arm fully extended I swung and took the unfortunate guy's head clean off his neck, my flaming sword cleaving through his flesh like a hot knife through butter. I left the lifeless body to crumple to the floor and turned to parry the inevitable counter attack that was coming my way.

I wasn't disappointed as no sooner had I turned, I had to thrust my sword up to block her own retaliatory lunge, there was so much power behind her attack that I was actually thrown bodily backwards. I used my wings to halt my trajectory before launching a counter-attack of my own. My blocking her attack had forced her weapon up so it was now above head height, so I took the opportunity to get a body shot in. I used my wings to get some force behind me and launched myself straight forward kicking her with both feet in her now unprotected mid section. She went flying backwards and it took her a moment to stop, so I took the opportunity to land and get my breath back. I left my wings out in case I needed them again.

It wasn't long before she was back up, thrusting her halberd at me. I was mainly on the defensive, using my quick reflexes to make sure the lethal looking blade never touched me. It was hard for me to get a hit in now she was expecting me to use my feet, there wasn't much else I could do. If I went in for a hit over her head I'd end up skewered by her much longer weapon before I could even touch her. This fight was really a waiting game. I would just have to hope I could wear her down enough that she'd start making mistakes, but if her stamina ended up being more than mine, well, to put it in the vernacular, I was screwed. Another worry that was quickly building in urgency was the fact that I had no idea how long it would be before the other guy revived, as though a beheading slows down the healing process, only fire can permanently kill an Immortal and then I'd have both of them to deal with and no chance of another sneak attack.

Thankfully, that worry at least was quickly resolved, as not long after I'd thought of it the body went up in flames. I could only spare a second to look after I felt the sudden rush of heat a magical fire produces but it was enough. Raphael was brushing the remains of the magical powder he had just used to combust the unfortunate rookie off his hands. A few minutes later he interrupted the brawl, pulling what appeared to be a human shotgun out of his, warded to be bigger on the inside, pocket .

"Do you see this gun?" He asked conversationally - me and my opponent both snatched quick glances at the gun in question, it was pointed directly at us.

"The bullets in this gun will combust you instantly as soon as they touch you." He gave us a moment to take this information in, not that I got to do much taking in as I was in the middle of trying to avoid a particularly vicious attack.

"Now put down your weapon and leave and I won't have to use it." I jumped back to my feet and got a clear shot at her arm whilst she was distracted. She didn't even wince as her bicep was rent asunder.

"Do you think I'm stupid? I don't believe you've got any such bullet" She hissed through gritted teeth, her voice was husky. She took another extremely violent swing at me; if I hadn't ducked it would surely have caved my skull in.

"Do you really want to risk it?" He tilted the gun so that it was aimed straight at her head. I could see that she didn't want to risk it, though she still hesitated a few seconds before throwing down her weapon and taking off. I had to jump into the air to avoid the discharge of magic that flared out from the discarded weapon when it made contact with the ground. I landed quickly and walked over to Raphael.

"Why did you let her go? We could have bought ourselves some time if Kellandria thought we'd been dealt with." I asked him, a bit annoyed. She definitely seemed the recurring villain type. He made a face at me.

"Don't be thick, Kellandria will have been tracking her, she'd know if she was dead all right. Which reminds me, don't forget that Kellandria's crest carries her magical signature, so she can track anything with it on." I had in fact forgotten but I tried not to let it show, now I had an even more pressing reason to burn all the stuff tainted with her mark. "I wanted to make sure Kellandria knew we were a threat so she'd think twice before sending anyone else after us."

Now it was my turn to make a face, that definitely wasn't going to work, Kellandria would just be hoping each new attacker would be the straw that broke the camels back, to her everyone was expendable, plus she already knew we were a threat but I wisely kept that observation to myself.

"Anyway. She was right, you really don't have any such bullet." I pointed out, careful not to sound accusatory, I didn't want to aggravate him anymore than I already had.

"She didn't know that, and neither would Kellandria." He shrugged. I had to give him that, the woman would have been briefed all about us and it was certainly plausible that Raphael would have been carrying something like that. There was a moment's awkward pause.

"Is that mine?" He asked pointing to the larger of the two bags I had brought. I nodded and just stood there silently watching as he rummaged through the bag checking what I'd seen fit to bring.

"We can't stay here long, they'll send more people." I remarked casually after a while as Raphael didn't seem particularly inclined to address the issue of what we did now. I was still steadfastly ignoring the spectre of Michael which was hanging between us like the smell of yesterdays cooking. The worst part was she could very well really be a spectre by now.

Raphael just looked at me coldly, before turning away to stare off into the never ending grey distance. I just wanted him to yell or hit me; that was what Raphael did, he threw tantrums. He didn't just stand there, a dead ringer for an ice sculpture, damning you with his eyes.

"I think we should split up." He said it offhandedly, as if remarking that we had run out of milk and reminding me to get some more in. I could almost pretend that was what he really had said, until he turned his head around to look me straight in the eyes. I could see hatred scrawled all over his gaze.

"If you really thought I'd done the wrong thing you'd have gone back." I said quietly. He had turned to face away again.

"It's too fucking late now." He replied angrily.

"It was too late from the moment Michael decided she was going to singlehandedly fix all of Heaven's wrongs. It was always going to end this way." I shrugged resignedly, even though he couldn't see me. "You knew I couldn't just let you kill yourself on a suicide mission."

A horrible thought occurred to me.

"You did know that didn't you?" I said appalled. "You're too smart to have not known how I would react... You always have every contingency neatly mapped out in that head of yours. You were never planning to stay were you? You just manipulated me into taking the fall for that decision." I laughed bitterly, amazed it had taken me so long to work out.

My words just hung there, a flood of fire slowly engulfing hundreds of years of friendship. I just stood by as the ashes of the bridge flew away in the wind.

I wasn't sorry. I'm still not.

"Fuck you." Though the voice was abnormally quiet you could still hear the slide into hysteria Raphael's voice was always threatening to make. "Why don't you just go? There's nothing here for you to wait for."

"And if I need to find you?"

"You won't."

And that was that. He still had his back to me as I picked up the small bag containing all the possessions I had left to my name and unfurled my wings.

Though it took all my strength I didn't look back once, not even once. I wish I had; now I'll always wonder if he watched me go.