The penthouse was a hard target. On the upper floor, armed guards peered out the windows, watching for the cops. At least two of them, with body armor and carbines and white full-face masks. On the lower floor, two more patrolled the outdoor terrace, watching over the hostages. I counted six captives, hands cuffed behind their backs. The gang leader stood before them, arms outstretched, yelling into the sky.
And behind him, the world split open, revealing a realm of infinite darkness.
No time to waste. Stowing my night vision monocular, I patted myself down. DDM4, M1911, plate carrier, ear protection, ammo, tools, stowed and ready. Good to go. I touched my finger to my right temple and rubbed at a knot of scar tissue. At the place where a bullet had drilled into my head, leaving a hole for something to crawl into.
A tall man in a gray suit and gray hat appeared on my right. He wasn’t real, just an illusion generated by the being dwelling in my brain. He called himself Nathaniel, but that name was probably as real as this image.
I nodded. “I need your help.”
I gestured at the penthouse. “I need to break in, kill the bad guys, stop the summoning, and save the innocents.”
“There are no innocents.”
Nathaniel had a very old school approach to sin. Sometimes I wondered why he still bothered with me.
“Innocent enough,” I said evenly. “And this job is your mission as much as mine.”
“You won’t wait for the authorities?” he asked.
“Whatever it is he’s summoning won’t.”
“Good. Fewer witnesses that way. What do you need from me?”
I froze a thought in my mind and held out my left hand. Smiling, he took it.
Light flooded my sight. Liquid fire flowed through me. Flesh and bone and clothing melted, their constituent atoms rearranging into new forms. Huge black wings sprouted from my back.
I stepped off the roof and jumped.
My feathers caught the air and grabbed the spaces between atoms. Branes thrummed, manifolds pulsed and strings danced under my wings. Reality itself bent to my will, defying gravity to keep me afloat. Gliding silently through the air, I cloaked myself with the colors of the night, aiming for a balcony on the second floor.
As I approached, I altered my eyes. An invisible veil lifted, and fresh information flooded my brain. A gunman in a white mask stood at the balcony, peering down. A dark, smoky aura smothered his body.
It was the mark of murder.
Halting in mid-air, I lifted my DDM4 and flicked off the safety. Aimed. Fired.
The integrally suppressed carbine cracked. The .300 Blackout round punched through the mask and into his head. He went down. His aura was gone, his soul departing for eternal judgment.
I dove for the balcony. Everyone in the house would have heard that shot; they just wouldn’t know where it had come from. Rearing up, I landed softly on the parquet.
Harsh noise surged through me. It tore at my nerves, ripped at my wings, scratched at my eyes. Gasping, I dropped to a knee and melted my wings into my back.
Nathaniel crouched next to me. “You need more of me.”
I nodded. “Yeah.”
A thousand voices, golden and dulcet, soared in my ears. The choir chased away the sonic assault. They were singing, but I didn’t dare listen too closely. I had to maintain my humanity.
The balcony had two sets of sliding doors. The further one opened, and a masked gunman peeked out.
I shot him in the face.
Automatic fire replied, shattering the glass. Flinching away, I opened the other set of doors and stepped through.
I was in a huge bedroom. Had to be the master bedroom. There was no cover. But there was a bathroom. With a massive golden bathtub.
Dashing into the bathroom, I lay inside the tub, pressing myself against its curves.
“He’s not here! Where did he go?”
“I’ll check the bathroom!”
Boots pounded on the tile. I counted to three and sat up.
A white-masked gunman sprang away.
I drilled him in the face.
As I climbed out of the tub, a fresh target appeared at the doorway. He fired high, missed. I fired low, blasting him in the groin. He doubled over and I double-tapped him in the head. Stepping clear of the bodies, I sliced the pie around the doorway.
A third gunman waited near the bedroom door. I shot him in the throat and worked my way up to his face.
Past the doorway, I heard a heavy object crash against the floor. I grabbed a stun grenade from my carrier. Pulled the pin, rolled it through the door. Someone screamed. The grenade erupted in blinding light. My earpro killed the sound. I charged through.
I was in the dining room. A man hid behind a huge overturned wooden table, one hand covering his eyes, the other holding his carbine. I blasted him through the wood. Stepped around the furniture and shot him in the head.
The stench of gunpowder hung thick. Reloading, I checked my corners and made my way to the far side of the room. The windows here overlooked the terrace below. I peeked out—
Two gunmen waited below, their weapons trained at me.
“THERE HE IS!”
I ducked away. A fusillade of automatic gunfire followed. The bullet-resistant glass held, but there was no going through that way.
Another blast of discordant noise. It was a million industrial drills, screeching and tearing, the collective voice of the damned. My earpro was defenceless against it. It wormed into my head and ate at my soul.
But I could still hear the choir. I latched on to it, pulling it into me, letting it become me.
The voice of angels drowned out the infernal ensemble. My body and soul softened before it, becoming as pliant as clay. Strange tongues filled my head; if I listened closely, maybe I could…
More footsteps. There was a staircase to my one o’clock. Ducking behind a leather sofa, I brought up my carbine.
A gang of gunmen charged up the stairs. As soon as they were in sight, I switched to full auto and ripped off a burst. Gore spattered across the wall. I worked my way left to right, knocking them down, but a couple fled before I finish them.
“MOVE!” Nathaniel yelled.
I leapt away.
A hellish red beam blasted through the spot I once was. I blinked, and another beam carved through the floor inches away.
Nathaniel appeared next to me.
“The demons have come. Stay and you’ll be destroyed. Head downstairs and you’ll be gunned down. What will you choose?”
I sighed. “What must be done.”
Holy heat burned through me. Everything on me—clothes, weapons, kit—melted into my body. Flesh and bone softened, becoming as pliant as clay. The song of creation soaked into me, changing me to its needs.
Wings of fire sprouted from my back. My skin and skeleton turned hard as adamantine. An eye grew on every feather. Peering through mere matter, the eyes saw the sinners and the Fallen in the lower floor. The singing filled my heart and head, and I opened my mouth and joined my voice to the great choir.
Hellfire punched through the floor. I widened the spaces between my atoms, sank through the wood and reformed on the lower floor.
A quartet of demons gaped at me. They were mockeries of creation, with the heads of rams, the bodies of men, and arms swathed in Hellfire. I tapped the powers of Creation, channelling them through my eyes. They unleashed a storm of blinding white spears, ripping them apart.
The three surviving mortal gunmen opened up on me. The bullets stung my feathers and bounced off my skin. I gathered their bullets to me and flung them back. The storm of metal cut them down and sent their souls to the Pit.
I stepped out into the terrace. The leader of the gang was still here, his back to Hell. The hostages knelt in front of me, their mouths agape.
“Who… who are you?” the leader demanded.
His soul was stained pitch black. It was the foulest crime of all: consorting with the devil.
I raised my palm and blasted him with Light. His body vaporized. The portal sucked his soul into Hell. The celestial choir raised their voices in a great song, a song of mending and order and beauty and justice, and the doorway to perdition sealed shut.
The patriarch of the family looked up at me, relief across his face. “Thank you… whoever you are. They said they were going to sacrifice us. Punish us! We didn’t do anything wrong!”
His soul was dyed a sickly yellow and deep browns. A liar, motivated by greed. His wife was no different; a gold digger who had latched on to the wealthiest man she found and leeched off him. Their sons and daughters shared in their sins, and in their gonads I saw evidence of lust.
They had to be judged.
A voice, clear and ringing, cut through the chorus.
YOUR MISSION IS COMPLETE.
JUDGMENT IS MY PREROGATIVE. YOU ARE MERELY THE INSTRUMENT OF MY WRATH.
“They are sinners!”
THEY MAY YET BE REDEEMED. RELEASE YOUR MORTAL NOW, LEST YOU BE JUDGED ALSO.
Lightning crackled through me. A great weight lifted off me. The wings retracted and disappeared. A heavy, unseen cloth covered my eyes, and now all I saw were six hostages huddled before me. My body cooled, settling into a familiar form. My kit and weapons reappeared in my hands.
Nathaniel stood next to me, clad in brilliant wings and toga. He smiled and shrugged. “Sorry. Got carried away.”
Snorting, I pulled my pocketknife and cut the captives free.
“Are you… an angel?” the father asked.
“Just a man.”
For more stories of angels, demons and men who walk the line between heaven and hell, check out my latest novel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES.