End of Days Page 38

The sun becomes blotted out by layers of bodies and wings. I’m in a living dome with no way out.

A breach opens up in the wall of bodies. Through it, the hellions get tossed my way. They flap around, trying to find a way out, but there are no gaps in the dome.

Everyone is chanting. ‘Trial! Trial! Trial!’

Somehow I don’t think their idea of a trial and my idea of a trial are the same.

The last hellion cage that gets poured into the domed arena is Beliel’s. As he spills onto the ground, he looks up at Uriel, snarling.

For a second, he looks angry and betrayed. Fear peeks through before he puts on his sneer again. His declaration of always being alone and unwanted seems to be proven over and over again. For an instant, I forget what a horrible being he is and I feel a flash of sympathy for him.

He walks into the center of the dome, at first stumbling and unsure, then with more confidence and even outright defiance. The angels cheer like he’s their favorite football player in a championship game. I suspect hardly any of them even know who he is. I know who he is and what happened to him, and I barely even recognize him.

The hellions are scrambling in a mad panic. They bounce from one edge of the dome to the other, frantically trying to find a gap between bodies.

‘What kind of a trial is this?’ I ask, suspecting the answer.

‘A warrior’s trial,’ says Uriel as he flies above me. ‘It’s more than you deserve. The rule is simple. The last one alive goes free.’

The crowd cheers again, roaring their approval.

‘Try to make this entertaining,’ says Uriel. ‘Because if it’s not, the crowd will decide whether the last one standing lives or dies.’

The angels chant, ‘Die! Die! Die!’

I guess that answers the question.

I have no idea if the hellions understand the rules, but they screech and try to attack the wall of warriors. The angels grab one and throw it down onto the ground where it lies dazed and shaking its head. The other angels roar at the hellions as they approach. The beasts pause in midair and back away.

‘Hellions,’ says Uriel. ‘One of you gets to live.’ He puts up an index finger for emphasis. ‘You must kill the others.’ He points to everyone else. He speaks slowly and loudly, as if speaking to a befuddled dog. ‘Kill!’ He points to me.

The hellions all look my way.

I step back without thinking. What am I supposed to do?

I back into the hard body of an angel who is part of the living arena. He bends down and growls into my ear. I look around frantically for an escape as the hellions begin flying toward me.

Amazingly, I see my sword lying on the ground between me and the oncoming hellions. I’m sure that was no accident. They want to see the Daughter of Man slaughter hellions with an angel sword.

I race for the sword as fast as I can. I grab it off the ground, roll to manage my momentum, and begin swinging my blade even as I jump to my feet again.

I slice just as the first hellion reaches me. It screeches as blood gushes out of its belly.

Without thinking, I swing at the second one that comes at me.

It’s so close I can smell its rotting-flesh breath. It swerves, and I miss by an inch.

I steady myself and take a solid stance. During the next couple of swings, I calm down and let the sword take over. This is easy for her. Pooky Bear has killed thousands of these things. Walk in the park.

Only the things aren’t behaving the way the sword is used to. The two from the Pit make their hyena noises, calling to the others. The others pause, listening, then they start circling me.

They hover, just out of reach of my blade. I spin around, trying to see them all, unsure of what’s happening.

In the meantime, Beliel is backing away – I can see him out of the corner of my eye. He grabs a hellion and snaps the neck as if it were a chicken.

He silently drops the body and grabs the next one nearest him. The others are all focused on me. All except the spotted hellions from the Pit. They look smarter, craftier, and they watch him with intelligent eyes.

Beliel isn’t trying to save me, I know that. He’s just killing off as many as he can while they have me as a distraction. Then, by the time they’re finished with me, he’ll only have a few to contend with.

That’s okay. I don’t need him to be my friend, so long as he’s killing off my enemies.

The spotted hellions make their hyena calls again, and the others fly to include Beliel in the circle. Then they tighten their flight pattern, corralling us.

Beliel and I are forced to back up until we’re as close to each other as we can stand. Obviously, neither of us likes it, but for now, the bigger threat to both of us is the hellions, and we have to make a choice to either stand alone or fight together.

We decide simultaneously and step back-to-back against our enemies. Together, we can now see all of the hellions coming at us.

I have to count on Beliel needing me to survive for as long as possible. We both know that if we succeed in killing off the hellions, it’ll be me against him, but for now, it’s us against them.

The hellions hesitate like none of them wants to go first. Then one dives in at us.

Beliel catches it.

Another dives in while Beliel is occupied snapping the neck of the first hellion.

I shift and slice through it.

Two more come at us.

Then four.

Then six.

I swing my blade as fast as I can and am surprised at how fast that is. Pooky Bear is working overtime. She’s almost a blur. She’s wielding me, not the other way around. My job is to keep a steady stance and point her in the right direction.

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