Chapter 15: Nephilim
"What are the Nephilim?"
Zephyrus stiffens. "The Nephilim are anomalies in the system," he says finally.
Great. An answer that answers absolutely nothing at all. Thank you, Zephyrus, that's really helpful. "You're going to need to give me more than that."
He hesitates, clenching and unclenching his fists. "Don't you know anything about mythology?" He sounds exasperated.
Sure, I know a bit of Japanese lore. Some Christian beliefs. Some Greek mythology. Some Norse legends... When your father is a theological historian, it comes with the territory. But there's always debate about the origin, some variation in the tale. Why would I waste time speculating when I can ask the supernatural being standing right in front of me for the truth?
I open my mouth to lie and tell him that I don't have any idea what he's talking about, but Ryo cuts in before I can. "If I remember correctly, they're supposed to be giants of some kind," he says. "The result of happy happy fun time between angels and men."
Well, someone's been reading the books in my father's study. He'll never admit it, but Ryo's secretly an ancient history buff who enjoys reading myths and legends when he's not wasting his time reading the volumes of perverse manga he has stashed under his bed.
"Happy happy fun time?" repeats Zephyrus with his usual inquisitive head tilt.
"He means relations between angels and men," I explain while stomping down on Ryo's foot. As he winces, I shoot him a glare. Quit interrupting with bullshit so we can get on with it.
"Correct," says Zephyrus.
Okay, maybe it wasn't entirely bullshit, but still.
"The Nephilim are the children of Angels and Men," continues the Reaper, unaware of my silent interruption. "But they're not giants, they're..." He hesitates.
They're... what? I wait for him to finish the sentence but he just stands there, mouth closed and jaw clenched tight like he's holding back the words that will trigger the end of the world as we all know it. Who knows? Maybe they will. Either way, I think I can guess the answer.
With no explanation forthcoming, I finish Zephyrus's sentence for him. "They're like Draconis."
A grimace crosses the Reaper's face. "Yes," he mutters, a trace of venom in his tone, "they're monsters, just like Draconis. Abominations with no place in either the Spirit or Real Plane. Aberrations spawned from an unseen flaw."
A shiver runs down my spine. 'We're the same, you and I,' whispers Draconis's voice. "Zephyrus too." That's right, he said that, didn't he? Me, Zephyrus and Draconis we're...
No. My fingers curl into fists, nails digging into my palms with enough strength to leave marks. Swallowing, I force myself to voice another question: "What do they have to do with me?"
I don't want to hear the answer. Not really. I already know what it is. What I want is for Zephyrus to deny it, for him to tell me that there is not a single similarity between me, him and that psychotic freak. A white lie that'll tell me that I'm nothing more than human, that there really was nothing I could do.
For a moment, there's a glisten of hope. But he doesn't meet my eye, and that action alone is enough to confirm my suspicions.
'You could have saved him.'
My hands are shaking in earnest. There's a lump in my throat as I stare at the ground. It's a lie. My mother was a nurse. A dead nurse now. And my father is a scholar. A professor who travels the world, holding seminars and research expeditions so that he doesn't have to see the daughter who was responsible for killing his wife. He's no angel. I'm no Nephilim. I can't be. "You're wrong."
Zephyrus just looks away.
Ryo takes a step towards me. "Evelyn?" he asks. There's confusion written all over his face. He doesn't have a clue. But I won't enlighten him, and neither will Zephyrus. He doesn't need to know that he's surrounded by monsters.
There was nothing Ai could do but scream as Draconis's white-gloved hand covered her face. Her head snapped back, shattering vertebrae and tearing tendons with a single hideous crack. But there was no flare of unbearable pain. She could see and she could hear, but she couldn't feel, couldn't move, couldn't speak. She was nothing but a silent observer, a prisoner trapped inside her own head.
The basement vanished in a flash of blue light. Her stomach dropped as the world spun and shifted, and when it all became still once more, the masked Nephilim threw her aside. She skidded across the dirt, coming to a jarring stop as her back hit a stone wall. No, she realised, it was not a stone wall but a monument. A headstone carved into the shape of an angel. She was in the cemetery. Graves lined the ground in front of her, placed in a neat arrangement of rows and columns.
Draconis loomed over her, his painted black eyes glinting in the moonlight. "Come on, Mother Dear," he said, his voice almost teasing, "I know you have more fight in you than that."
Her body sat up, hands moving to realign her skull. White sparks flickered across her skin as her spine fused itself back together with a series of light cracks. Her head rolled as Gabriel, the entity in control of Ai's body, tested out the repairs to her Vessel. She'd called herself an Angel, told her that there was a dangerous spirit on the loose, but Ai was beginning to doubt the legitimacy of her claim. She'd watched as Gabriel targeted Evelyn. The evil spirit she was after was undoubtedly the masked creature standing before them, yet Gabriel had purposely aimed her lightning at an innocent. What Angel of God would do that?
'Be quiet,' hissed Gabriel's voice in her mind.
Ai flinched and did her best to silence her thoughts.
Thunder rumbled overhead as the angel brought her Vessel to its feet. "Laugh while you can, Draconis," Gabriel snarled. "When this is over I'll send you to the deepest, darkest corner of the Spirit Plane to rot for the rest of eternity."
Draconis giggled and flapped a hand in her direction. "Oh purrease. You Angels and your delusions." A low hum filled the air as his hands began to glow. A steel edge in his tone, he continued, "We both know who's the stronger of the two of us, Gabriel. You couldn't even keep me in your cage. Even Zephy-puu could best you if he just had the spine—" A bolt of lightning from the heavens struck the ground in front of him, the accompanying crackle of thunder drowning out the last of his words.
"Zephyrus is loyal to the service of Azrael and Heaven," spat Gabriel, sparks flickering across her skin as her face twisted in anger. "I will not allow him to be corrupted by you or your sinful words again."
Draconis laughed. "You shouldn't show such favouritism. People will start to get suspicious," he jeered. A bolt of lightning crackled towards him and he vanished. Gabriel froze, scanning the grounds. He reappeared behind her, leaning forward to whisper in her ear, "Nice Vessel by the way, Mother Dear. What lie did you tell to convince her to let you in?"
Lie? repeated Ai.
'I told you to be quiet,' hissed Gabriel, her voice resounding in Ai's head. She turned and Draconis shifted Planes once more. Her lightning-covered fist sliced through the blue outline he left behind and met with the statue instead, sending fissures rippling through the stone. The carved angel shattered in an explosion of white light.
A flash of blue in her peripheral vision told her that Draconis had reappeared. "I bet she's in there wondering what I'm talking about," he said, his voice coming from behind her once more. "She doesn't know you Angels like I do after all. She probably thinks you're just, righteous creatures. But we both know that's a lie. Isn't that right, Mother Dear?"
"Silence, Nephilim!" snarled Gabriel, sending a blind volley of bolts into the air. None hit their mark. Instead they struck earth and headstones, showering the graveyard in fountains of dirt and debris.
Once again, there was that flash of blue from behind her. In her ear, Draconis let out a mock-sigh. "Goodness me," he said admonishingly, "look at all that damage. Have some respect for the dead, Gabriel. But then again..." Gabriel turned and the Nephilim caught her fist with her ease. Sparks of lightning crackled as they raced across his skin, scorching his white gloves and black coat, and melting the plastic of his mask. "You've never had much respect for anyone other than yourself," he finished, his white faceless head visible for just a moment before his free hand shot out to seize her by the throat.
The Angel choked as Draconis lifted her into the air. She grabbed his wrist with both hands, kicking her feet as she failed to pry his fingers from her skin. The air began to hum. Light emanated from his palm, spreading down her neck towards her extremities. A contemptuous sputter of laughter burst from throat. "Is that it?" she sneered. "Do you really think that you can hurt me with this pitiful display of—"
The light encased her mouth. It shoved its way down her throat, burning as it went. Agony pulsed as it entered her chest. A convulsion ran through her body. "What is this?" she gasped. "What are you—?"
Her sentence ended with a scream.
"If you can hear me, little Hostling, don't you worry about a thing," said Draconis cheerily, ignoring Gabriel's shrieks. "I'll get that nasty little Angel out of you and then everything will be right as rain!"
Get her... out of me? asked Ai silently.
Inside her head, Gabriel snarled, 'Don't you dare—'
Grip tightening around her throat, Draconis whispered, "Váde angelus caeli..."
The Angel's head snapped back. Her limbs went rigid.
"Invéntor et magíster ómnis falláciae..."
A second convulsion ran through her Vessel. Its bones cracked, shattering with each spasm. Gabriel shrieked voicelessly in pain. Even Ai felt something. It was small at first, mere pins and needles that pricked at her core. But it spread, growing until it enveloped her entire being, intensifying. She gasped as the stabbing sensation clawed at her being. What—
"Hóstis humánae salútis..."
Light began to flare from the Vessel's eyes and mouth. Inside, Ai could feel the binds that connected her to Gabriel being pulled apart. The Angel was screaming, begging for Draconis to stop.
Ai choked as another tearing wave of pain rolled through her. It felt wrong... like she was bring torn into pieces.
"Exorcízo te ex mundi."
Gabriel let out one final shriek, and then she was gone.
The light faded and Draconis let Ai go. She hit the ground with a thud, her twisted, shattered limbs splayed out on the ground. It should have hurt—she should've been in agony, but she felt nothing. Not even an ache. Her head jerked as shudders ran through her body.
Ai choked as she looked up at Draconis and tried to force out a few words, "W-w-what d-did you...?" But her tongue didn't want to listen. She fell silent, breaths coming in short, laboured rattles as darkness encroached.
The Nephilim simply stared down at her. His mask had melted off completely, giving her full view of his blank white slate. Draconis knelt, reaching out to touch her, but was interrupted by a shout. He turned to check the source and then looked back at her. Blue lights flickered to life in her peripherals. She tried to turn her head to see, but her muscles wouldn't obey. But something was burning, she could smell it.
Without a word, Draconis disappeared.
The red lights of an ambulance and a police car illuminated the streets. The fire brigade was packing up, apparently finished with their part of the job. Meanwhile, inside the cemetery, the medics were loading a body onto the gurney. A crowd had gathered outside the gates, which had been sealed off by the preliminary officers. Officer Suzushima Kotone, a newly minted member of the police, frowned as her partner pulled the car up behind the rabble. "That's some crowd," she murmured.
"Given what they told me about the scene, I'm not surprised," answered her partner as he loosened his seatbelt and stepped out of the car.
"And what exactly did they tell you, Tachibana-san, sir?" asked Suzushima as she followed suit.
The man just shrugged and began pushing his way through the sea of onlookers to get to the barricade.
Suzushima sighed and went after him, murmuring quiet apologies as she manoeuvred through the crowd. Despite having spent the last forty minutes in a car with him, the detective still hadn't heard shared a single detail of the case with her. Not that she was surprised. If she'd been on the force for the better part of a decade, she wouldn't be too keen on being assigned a partner fresh out of the academy either. Suppressing a second sigh, she showed her badge to the officers at the gate and followed Tachibana inside.
A chill went up her spine as she made her way through the rows of graves. "A murder in a graveyard, huh?" she muttered, eying the looming shadows with unease.
"Not a murder," replied Tachibana as the paramedics hurried past them towards the ambulance.
Suzushima stepped out of their way, catching a glimpse of the girl shuddering on the stretcher: red hair, teenager—a high school student most likely, judging from the uniform. Her stomach rolled as she took in the way the girl's limbs were bent. They were broken, twisted. "Assault?" she asked, breaking into a trot to catch up with her partner.
They passed an officer interviewing an elder gentleman dressed in navy overalls. The cemetery's caretaker, Suzushima concluded as she paused to listen to the exchange.
"—I'm telling you that he vanished! Set the ground on fire and then disappeared as soon as he saw me!"
"Sir, I'd like you to take a moment to calm yourself down and really think. Did he have a weapon, perhaps? Or a light-emitting device that he used to blind you while he escaped?"
"He had nothing of the sort! One moment he was there, and then in the next he was gone. My peepers might not be quite as good as they were when I was your age, son, but I know what I saw!"
Suzushima frowned and shook her head. A disappearing culprit? Impossible. She wasn't looking forward to reviewing the old man's statement later. No doubt it would be filled with senile fantasy. Although...
She watched Tachibana as he surveyed the scene and consulted with the head of the forensics crew. She wasn't the only one either, as soon as they'd crossed the gates, she'd noticed the other officers eying him and exchanging looks. She'd heard the stories about his 'specialisation'—her superiors had advised her about it when she'd been assigned to work with him—but she hadn't put much credence towards them.
The older officer pulled an orange lollipop out of his pocket and popped it into his mouth.
"Should you be eating that on duty?" asked Suzushima as she approached him.
He raised an eyebrow. "Are you going to report me?"
"Well, no, but—"
"Then it doesn't matter," he said, dismissing her with a wave of the hand. "Now instead of bothering me, take a look around and tell me what you see, rookie."
The woman didn't move. "Suzushima," she said.
Tachibana stared at her. "What?"
She hesitated. Did this count as insubordination? "It's Suzushima, not 'rookie'."
Tachibana was unfazed. Removing the lollipop from his mouth, he gestured with it and repeated his orders, "Suzu-chan, take a look around and tell me what you see."
Suzushima sighed. She couldn't tell which was more degrading. Shaking her head, she did as she was told. The forensics team had flagged points of interest: piles of scorched debris that had once been headstones; holes in the ground surrounded by sprays of dirt that looked like they'd been created by a concentrated explosive force; and most notably, a large spread of dead, burnt grass in front of what had once been a statue in the shape of an angel. Given the scorched state of the potholes and headstone debris, she wouldn't be surprised to find a large patch of burnt grass, but the pattern it formed... it almost looked like—
"Wings." Suzushima jumped and turned as Tachibana finished her train of thought out loud. He met her eye and smiled crookedly. "That's what it looks like, don't you think?"
"Yes," she agreed with a frown, "it does."
He beckoned to one of the forensics officers who handed him a smart phone. Turning it on, he opened a video that had presumably been taken by a witness before emergency services had arrived. "It was still burning when the fire department arrived. The victim was lying in the middle of it, like a broken angel with wings made of flames."
"That's pretty elaborate staging for an assault," muttered Suzushima.
Tachibana raised an eyebrow. "Who said it was assault?"
He closed the video and opening the crime scene photos instead. He flicked over to the photos of the victim. Again, Suzushima felt her stomach roll at the sight of the girl's misshapen limbs but forced herself to examine them.
"Med crew says that despite the fact that almost every bone in her body is broken, there are no signs of external trauma. No soft-tissue bruising, lacerations or any visible sign of her being physically restrained." He caught her eye and smirked. "The way they describe it, it's almost as if some kind of force captured her and bent all her limbs backwards."
"Which is why they called you in," responded Suzushima. Then, realising what she'd just blurted, she clapped a hand over her mouth. But the damage was already done.
Tachibana scowled at her—the action made somewhat ridiculous with the lollipop stick poking out from the corner of his mouth. "And what's that supposed to mean?"
She floundered for an excuse. Then, realising that honesty would make for a better working relationship, she hung her head and admitted, "I was told that you, uh... specialise in 'weird' cases, Tachibana-san, sir."
"'Weird cases'," he echoed. "Is that what they're calling them now?"
"Well, yes. But you don't really believe in all that supernatural mumbo-jumbo, do you?"
He shrugged. "I believe that having an open mind is better than having a closed one."
"Which means that you do," stated Suzushima.
"And you don't," said Tachibana pointedly.
"That would be correct."
Tachibana frowned. "If you're going to work with me, Suzu-chan, you might want to reconsider your stance."
Suzushima smirked. "On what?" she asked. "Ghosts? Demons? Psychics?"
"You laugh now, but you haven't seen what I have." Tachibana switched his attention back to the phone in his hand, flicking through screens to bring up another video. "Watch this," he ordered, holding the device out to her.
"What is it?" she asked, suspicious.
"A video recording of what happened before the fire department arrived. We got it from a witness. Maybe it'll change your mind."
Ryo stops in front of me. "Evelyn," he repeats.
I shake my head. I can't let him get involved any more than he already has.
Reluctantly, he backs off and the silence stretches on. Ryo frowns as he alternates glances between Zephyrus and me. Then he sighs. "Okay, I don't really know what's going on and I have a feeling that you two aren't going to fill me in, but what's our next move?"
Despite myself, I look up. "Our next move?" I repeat.
"That's right, Evelyn. We can't stay here. And I'm not becoming a Shinto priest just to avoid these 'Nephilim' or whatever they're called. We need a plan so wake up." He emphasises the point by slapping me on the shoulder.
"Ouch." Reflexive response. He's right. I don't fancy camping out in Makoto's backyard for the rest of my life, forever haunted by Draconis. Not to mention that Makoto's mother probably wouldn't be too pleased if she ever found out that she was providing safe harbour to the very person responsible for her son's death. We need a plan.
I glance at Zephyrus.
The Reaper—for some reason I feel more comfortable calling him that—frowns. "Why are you looking at me? I had a plan, and you ruined it. I told you to stay low and stop changing Fate, but did you listen? No."
My eyeballs are going to fall out of my head if I stare at him any harder. "You're not seriously telling me that the reason you started meddling with my life was because you were fulfilling your role as some guardian half-angel?" Forgive me if I don't believe that. "If you really wanted to convince me, you probably should have started with 'there's a batshit-crazy, renegade Reaper who wants to kidnap you because you change fate' when you first teleported into my room."
"You wouldn't have listened," he growls. "You didn't even believe me when I told you that I was a Reaper."
I pause. Those words... where do I know them from?
"Not to interrupt," interrupts Ryo. We both turn to look at him. "But the plan? Where do we go from here?"
"You are free to leave whenever you want," states Zephyrus. "Your role in this is over. Draconis and Gabriel don't know who you are, they're only after Evelyn, so go home and live your life as usual."
Ryo raises an eyebrow. "The shinigami that possessed me is telling me to go home and act like everything is normal," he says wryly. He folds his arms over his chest. "I know that you're not from our world, Shinigami-san, but are you stupid?"
Zephyrus scowls and I have to turn away to hide the beginnings of a smirk. Ryo really doesn't pull his punches when he's serious.
"We left a dead body in that basement," he continues. "Evelyn had blood all over her hands and probably left fingerprints everywhere. And you weren't exactly subtle about getting in or out to save her, Super Sentai-san. People would've seen us—or more accurately, me running around like a lunatic. Someone's going to find that body and tell the police that they saw us in the area."
The smile disappears. A wave of nausea rolls through my stomach. The police... I didn't even think of that. I was so caught up in Reapers, possession and Nephilim that I forgot about the consequences of the real world. The panic's welling up again. What do we do? What can we do?
"Easy there," says Ryo, rubbing my back. "Slow breaths, Evelyn. You're going to pass out if you hyperventilate like that. We'll figure it out. "
Am I hyperventilating? I didn't even realise.
As I struggle to get myself under control, Zephyrus sighs. "I'll go hide the Vessel."
I freeze and snap my head up. He's going to do what now?
The Reaper ignores me and looks at Ryo instead. "If I do that then you have nothing to worry about, correct?"
"Hiding the body isn't going to be enough. The bloodstains on the ground, and anything that Evelyn could have touched needs to go too."
Tell me they're not serious.
"I'll take care of it," says the Reaper with a dismissive wave of the hand. "You two just stay here. Whatever you do, don't leave these grounds." His blue eyes lock with mine. "You, especially." With that, he's gone.
As soon as he's gone, I turn and shove Ryo in the chest. "Are you insane?" I hiss. "Do you even realise what you're doing? You're covering up murder!"
"Murder committed by a supernatural being. You really think that police are ever going to pin it on this Draconis guy? No. They're going to go for the most likely suspects and that's you and me."
"That's not the point!" I go to hit him again, but he grabs my wrists and pulls me close.
"Then what is the point?" he demands, voice low and brown eyes serious.
"It's..." I hesitate. "It's—"
I... don't have an answer. Not a legitimate one anyway. Swallowing, I yank out of his grip.
He scowls at me. "I know exactly what I'm doing, Evelyn. Do you?"
No, I don't. I really don't. But I can't tell him that. "I..."
The lie never makes its way out. Instead, a shout shatters the silence of the night: "Who's there?"
We freeze and glance at the grounds. The lights are on in the house and there are silhouettes coming towards us. Ryo and I exchange glances. This day just keeps getting better and better.