By D. Randall
Chapter One: Demons and Angels
Miranda sat on the couch in the commons near the fireplace. Her mug sat on the low wood coffee table, lukewarm salvation sitting – not tasted – in its confines. A reader sat next to it, just as neglected as the drink. She adjusted her waist length brunette hair as she found herself sitting on it once again. Pulling the length to the front, she allowed it to drape across her short-sleeved blouse, she leaned once more into the soft enveloping cushions. She stretched her legs across the length of the suede and even slouched further into the arm, simply watching the fireplace.
The methane flames were kept low this time of year. Summer had tightened its grip on the desert outside the House and the temperatures even at night stayed well above eighty degrees. Despite the fact that the dome serving their home was thick and well insulated from the brutality of the weather outside, the temperature had come up some. The fireplace couldn't be completely snuffed, however. There was still a need for a heat source, especially for their human friends and compatriots who were less tolerant of low temperatures.
Miranda focused as her thoughts swung around to the other residents of the House. She could hear the low murmurs of diners in the eating area behind her. They were the usual sounds of people greeting one another in passing, chatting about their days with the oncoming night owls. Happiness and sorrow and stress and camaraderie and drama all mingled into one low cacophony of sound.
Listening to the general din but not focusing on any particular conversation, Miranda allowed the noise to wash over her. She let her eyes to slide closed a moment, before lifting her nearly green-eyed gaze to watch the fire dance along the artificial logs once more.
While she tried not to, she could remember many summer nights doing exactly this, only…
She blinked back tears, telling herself not to travel down that mental road tonight. Thinking about Cabal was painful, despite the thirty years between his loss and this moment. She scrubbed her face with the butt of one palm, trying to ensure the tears weren't visible, even when there was no one in the vicinity to see it. Inevitable his fate might have been, but that didn't make his loss hurt any less. Not helping matters was that she was an empty-nester. Her entire family was gone now…all her children grown and living their own lives in the world. Sure she kept in touch with them – but not often enough to fill the aching gaps that opened in her psyche on occasion.
While her friends were many and of great worth to her, their companionship paled in comparison with what she had with her mate and her kids. These days the "Arturo's Couch" was a lonely place to be. Even now, no one dared challenge the right to sit in the familial area. She wished they would, had invited other parties to keep her company many a night. Yet, they thought they were being polite by declining such "invasion."
Miranda sighed, chiding herself silently about the pity-party she was allowing. Normally she wasn't one to wallow in thoughts of the past – didn't really think on these things. She was a vampire "Lady" in charge of a house of 45 vampires, 17 dhampirs, and 102 humans. Normally she was too busy to think about herself at all. As their Lady she was still in charge, still had a heavy hand in how things ran, here and in the factory across the desert. They still had customers to serve and orders to fill, so most of the time her loneliness was kept at bay.
In quiet moments like this however…there wasn't much else to occupy her thoughts.
She sighed, sniffed, and drew her legs closer to her on the cushions. She was more eager for the dawn than she'd been in a long time, hoping that the chance to go to sleep would be the cure for her malaise.
Any further lamenting she might have allowed herself was interrupted as a short rumble moved through the ground beneath her seat. Miranda immediately rose and looked around. The event had caused all still dining or lingering to pause, looking about in confusion as the last of the motion ceased.
Miranda immediately drew out her communicator. "Blaine?" she bit out.
"No damage reported, Miranda," he came back immediately, acutely sensing what she might be asking for. "Minor tremor."
"Tectonics?" she asked next. An earthquake, natural or manufactured was an event she'd been wary of since her husband's death.
"Richter scale didn't go off. Seemed to be pretty near the surface – very localized."
"What about volcanic activity?"
Considering the facility was built from a hollow dome made by volcanic activity, another possibility was that they were close to a weak spot in the crust. The magma below them might find a way through and make this an active volcanic plain again. If so, she wanted as much time as possible to get the residents out.
"Temperatures are good across the board." He sounded as puzzled as she was feeling.
"Then what was it?
"Your guess would be as good as mine, Lady."
"Geh, stop calling me that would you? I'm no more a Lady than you are a Lord," she chided. "Okay have the security team on duty keep an eye on things. I want to be as prepared as possible should things go south."
Heading across the open space, Miranda intended to assure diners there was nothing to worry about. She'd made it perhaps a third of the way across open stone floor when another, stronger vibration moved under her, sending her off her feet. Hitting the ground with a grunt, Miranda rolled over onto her back, taking stock of the vicinity in one quick sweep of her gaze. The rumbling grew steadily stronger, the noise of it gaining volume. The floor not three feet from her began to lift and discolor, and Miranda scrambled frantically away as it became clear she was still in the path of the problem. The stone bucked and cracked, even as the normal shade of brown began to glow orange. Cracks spread more as the floor continued to lift. The color morphed to bright red and quickly again to pink. The discolored and crumbling stone seemed to chase her toes as the center of the area turned molten and began to collapse into the pocket below.
Miranda twisted until she was on all fours accelerating at the same time she was trying to get her feet under her. When she had retreated nearly to the couch back, she wheeled to take in the extent of the damage. Nearly eight foot in diameter and spreading, the maw continued to eat more of the stone from the Commons floor. Darting a gaze towards the kitchen and dining areas, she could see that most of the residents had already backed clear of the rift. The furniture however fell prey to the widening gap as several chairs disappeared completely while one large round table tipped into one spear of broken floor. She feared for the residents below if it was this bad up here.
"Blaine!" she bellowed into her receiver, trying to get above the rumbling noise, "We have a breach up here! What's going on below? Is anyone hurt?"
"Breach? Miranda what're you talking about?" He sounded truly confused. There was a silent pause, which probably signified Blaine consulting level monitors. He came back on sounding even more concerned. "There's no indication of any defect or cracking on any of the other six levels. I mean, we're all getting shaken like dice down here, but nothin' else."
"What? That's impossi…." She froze as sounds made it beyond the rumbling and her yelling. Slowly her gaze returned to the now gaping maw before her – what she was hearing was coming from the depths of that pit. They were sounds she had heard once before, a very long time ago.
The noises were louder now because the rumbling was finally dying off. Squeals, groans, and cries originating from the rift lifted through the air. Growls escaped throats not of this world, and with a sense of déjà vu, she watched the first gnarled and clawed hand push over the edge of the gap trying to find purchase on level ground.
"Miranda?" She vaguely heard Blaine call her name through the receiver. "Tell me what's going on? I'm on my way, but it's going to be a bit, I'm down on six."
"D…demons…." Miranda whispered in horror. She wasn't even sure she'd keyed the receiver first.
Her fingers went unfeeling. The communicator hitting the floor didn't even register in her hearing or her brain. She was petrified, horrified by the scene playing out before her. Four of them had cleared the edge of the drop and were looking around, stretching wings too tiny to support flight, and crooking claws in anticipation. Dragon, white, and bug eyes took stock of their new playground.
Another scene overlaid the sight of creatures slowly pulling themselves from the rift. She knew the implications of their presence and the danger they were all in. She'd seen what these creatures could do – only once, but it was more than enough to be etched into her brain. This time they had no warlock available to control their actions, or to send them back into the abyss. It didn't take much to realize that was where Garrett had ripped the hole between this world and the demon to bring in the extra warriors that night.
"Oh, dear God," escaped her lips.
As if it had heard her plea, a bird-like creature closest her screamed and tensed, intent to lunge for her. Despite any want to be brave about it, Miranda cringed. Several of the other demons were heading for those who had been too shocked by events to run below. Meanwhile, even more creatures spilled out the crack in the floor.
A blinding light erupted over the pit, pure white and painful. She drew her arm up further to shade her tearing eyes from the brilliance, praying that the creature headed for her wasn't going to take advantage of her blindness. Like the rumbling before it, the light began to fade and she could just make out…
Three new figures had appeared in the Commons, hovering just off the floor. Outlined in the dying light, their profiles were strange – wider than they were tall. An odd ruffling sound reached her – so soft, yet easily heard by the silence invoked at their entrance. Feathers on feathers.
As the light faded and she was able to focus, Miranda found herself blinking and disbelieving her own eyes. Wings? What was she seeing? Winged creatures? Angels?
Her throat went dry.
Before she could process more, the three were in motion, as were the demons, quickly forgetting the disturbance to their simple little game of mayhem. The creature that had been intent on her began loping across the space separating them. Miranda was simply too overwhelmed by all this to protect herself. She tried retreating but came up against the couch back and couldn't think clearly enough to throw herself over it. Four feet from her, the creature made an amazingly graceful leap – claws outstretched to rend her to shreds.
Before the creature could lay one claw on her skin, a glowing blue line of light wrapped around its throat, a heavy weighted piece smacking it in the face. Mercilessly, it was yanked back. Smoke rose from the creature's skin where the chain of light was in contact. A heinous sound of pain escaped the demon's throat. Another yank and the beast slid closer to the owner of the weapon. As it came to rest at the angel's feet, black wings emphasized the motion of a weapon in the man's opposite hand and the head of the demon came neatly free. One quick flick of the angel's wrist freed the light chain from the stump. As the weighted piece settled into the man's palm, the whip disappeared leaving two tapered weapons resting in his hands.
Miranda tilted her head at the sight of them – her sense of déjà vu coming back once again.
The winged man didn't look at her, didn't ask her if she was all right, and didn't seem to know that she was standing there. Instead he knelt next to the dismembered body at his feet, grabbing both parts and chucking them into the void. As it released the pieces, another couple of demons had reached the lip. He smoothly turned his motion with discarding the body into an attack on the creatures trying to invade her home. A boot smashed into the closest demon with enough force that it took out its neighbor. The two bodies fell back into the abyss.
Out of immediate danger, Miranda found herself unwilling to draw more attention by trying to find a better perch and stayed put. Instead she took turns watching the three winged beings as they fought the small horde of demons capering through her home.
Some of the residents had gathered their wits enough to start fighting for their own protection. Individuals and small groups took on demons, slashing and shooting at the creatures. Vampires, even ones with no combat training, were no slouches when it came to the use of their natural weapons, and they proved it as demons came away from altercations bleeding and dying.
One of the angels proved to be female, though Miranda didn't notice this detail until she moved away from the triumvirate to assist the residents in their impromptu battles. Miranda focused on her for a few moments. There was no hair visible on her head, hidden beneath an elaborate head piece that seemed glued to her forehead and temples and stuck out at an angle from the back. She was shorter than her two companions, porcelain pale and thin. Her wings were as dove white as her skin, speckled here and there with liver-colored spots. Despite such a weak appearance there was little delicacy about how she handled the glowing sword in her hands or mercy in the way she dispatched the demons.
Miranda's attention was drawn back to the rift as the largest among the three spoke.
"You have this?"
A short nod was all the response the other angel gave, making the straight black hair draping between his wings pull up and then fall again.
Reciprocating the acknowledgement, the dark-skinned one moved to help against that larger concentration of demons.
The one who had saved her from the first demon continued to stand watch over the rift – to dispatch demons as they tried to make their way through. Though large groups tried all at the same time, he had an uncanny knack for ensuring none got past him and into her environ.
She shot a quick glance to the action taking place to her right, but was unable to help how her gaze was drawn to the creature playing guardian of the gates to hell. Suspicion crept in as she looked at him. His back was to her, his black wings slightly spread, and his stance set such that he could react quickly to any threat. There was familiarity in the way he moved – when he was fighting, even now as he was standing still.
She wanted a good look at this angel, but she knew the prudence at this moment of staying out of their way.
Quickly and efficiently the winged beings worked through remaining demons. When all that had loosed from the rift had been laid low, the two others then gathered bodies. The House residents moved to help with this clean up, but the angels stopped them four feet short of the rift, making them pile the bodies there rather than allowing them to approach the hole. While the black-winged angel continued his vigil, the other two moved swiftly to get the dismembered and decapitated bodies back through the rift.
With that grisly task accomplished, the three resumed that perfect spacing around the gaping slash in the earth.
"Hafiz, it's on you." Her savior said – a gruff voice – a familiar voice – a voice that made her ache all over again. "Piera and I will keep them at bay."
The Angel on the left took one step closer to the edge of the pit. He was a large man, brimming with muscles. Dark brown curls framed his swarthy face. This angel extended his reddish-brown wings once more and his entire frame began to glow. The undersides of his wings contrasted sharply with the color of the outer shell.
The glow intensified, beginning to travel from the rest of his body until it concentrated in his palms. Kneeling, the angel named Hafiz, set his hands to the floor. There was a flare of light as blinding as the angel's entrance had been. Miranda automatically shielded her eyes from it, still trying to see what was happening.
Vibration moved through the floor, numbing her feet even as she made out the dying of the devilish orange glow from the rift. The others witness to and participants in the combat had created a partial circle around what the three were doing – as intensely curious about what they were accomplishing as she was. Miranda lowered her arm as the brilliance faded; watching in wonder as the rift slowly knit and the floor resumed its standard contours and dark brown appearance.
"Well?" Piera snapped, looking anxious.
The black-winged angel knelt, passing a gloved hand over the floor for several moments. "It's sealed. There's no energy trace remaining. The demons won't be able to pass through this gateway again."
Miranda jumped when the wings on the three of them simply vanished in one faint flash of light. They might just as well have been three human warriors in heavy armor standing in the Commons now.
The disappearance of their wings seemed to unlock her muscles and she found herself rushing forward. She was halted by the blade of Piera's sword under her chin.
"You are not worthy to approach us, hell-borne!" she hissed, a haughty expression on her pale face. Up close, Miranda managed to notice her eyes were pupil-less and nearly silver in shade. She got a decided impression this warrior was blind.
In a blink the man before her rose, laying a restraining hand on the she-angel's wrist and drawing it away before Miranda truly felt the bite of the sword on her skin.
"Piera, no," her savior growled. Miranda tried to look through that fall of black hair for some confirmation or denial of her suspicion, but none of his profile was visible. He and Piera seemed to be exchanging visual daggers, however. "She's no more hell-borne than I am."
"Who is in charge here, tracker?" she challenged him.
"You are, Piera." His grip tightened on the woman's arm and she tried to hide the wince at his strength. "However, our orders did not include the vampires. 'Drive back the demons and seal the previously unattended rift,' that's what we were sent for. He did not send us for them. Besides, they proved to be handy in the fight – we'd have been at this longer without their assistance."
Piera bared perfectly straight teeth which were even whiter than her skin. Even when that show of aggression faded, her face remained knife-edged. She yanked her arm from the man's grip and took one grudging step back. She didn't relinquish or stow her weapon however.
Miranda heard Piera mutter something, but didn't catch what the derision was. Besides she was too focused on him…on the angel that had saved her twice since his arrival.
The angel before her tilted his head down a moment, seeming to sense her stare. His fingers came together in a loose fist as if he was steeling himself for something difficult. Slowly he turned to face her. Brilliant blue eyes peered out of his dark face, and Miranda suddenly found she couldn't breathe.
"Hello, Miranda." A small, unsure grin turned up one corner of his mouth.
She felt his arms catch her as she fainted dead away.
A/N: Well There was something I wanted to add to this story at the end - a twist as it were. But the way I had worded this chapter would make that twist hard to come across with..so with a great deal of care I altered how this chapter was handled slightly...but I will not point out to you where that change took place...heh. It is very subtle...
Anyway, I am currently working on chapter Six. I figure after six there should be one or perhaps two more chapters in the tale before it is complete.
Hope you like what you're reading!