End of Days Page 39

If even one of them gets past the sword, it’s game over.

That thought puts a little zest in my swing, slicing three of them in one completion of a figure eight. One across the throat, another across the chest, the third across the belly. The best part is that two of the injured are thrashing in midair, blocking the others from getting too close.

My back prickles with vulnerability, but I just have to trust that Beliel is holding up his end of the fight. Our biggest advantage right now is that the hellions are getting in each other’s way. There’s not enough room for all of them to rush us.

Since I have a weapon and Beliel does not, I take more than half our circle. I swing from side to side, taking on as many hellions as I can. But I can’t cover my back. If Beliel goes down, I’ll be following him soon thereafter.

He holds his own, though, even without a weapon. His strength is fierce, his fury fiercer as he snaps, kicks, and punches at the hellions.

Beliel and I kill off the last two local hellions while the two from the Pit hover and watch. We deliver our final blows at the same time – I slice through one, and he snaps the neck of the other.

Beliel then backs off, stepping away from me, leaving a clear opening for the remaining two hellions from the Pit.

But there are only two of them left, and although they’re clever, they can’t surround me. They don’t even try. Instead, they fly to Beliel – slow and unthreatening. They chirp at him. They point their monkey fingers at me, look at Beliel, and nod.

They’re offering to ally with him to take me out.

I take a couple of steps back with my sword raised. I want as much time as possible to react to whatever is about to go down.

Beliel may have been my fighting partner for a few minutes, but these hellions freed him from our chains on Angel Island.

He nods to the hellions. There’s no glee in it, just a grim determination to survive. At least I can take some pride in knowing that he assessed me as the greater threat over these Pit hellions.

The two bat-faced uglies circle around – one above me and one to the side – while Beliel walks forward to stand just out of reach. Perfect position to charge me head-on as soon as I’m distracted.

If both the hellions had stayed at my level, I could have swung in a circle and kept all three of them at bay. But with one above, I can only cover two directions and be vulnerable to the third.

Before I can work out a strategy, teeth and claws come at me from above and to my right. Beliel holds back, forcing my move.

I swing my blade up first at the one diving on me, then circle it around for the one attacking me from my side. At the same time, I’m sure that Beliel will leap on me.

But he doesn’t.

He feints as if he’s going to dive on me, but he holds back.

At the same time, the hellions pull back just as they get into my cutting range. I still manage to slice one across the torso and the other across the face, but neither is a killing blow.

Beliel chuckles as I go back to my ready stance. They all had tried to double-cross each other.

If they all had dived on me, I would be dead. But if one had betrayed the others by feinting an attack, then I would have probably killed one and maybe injured the other. The one who betrayed the others would have had the best chance of being the only survivor.

But now they all know that no one can be trusted. Their alliance is over.

The two Pit hellions fly up in opposite directions as far as the angel dome will let them. They’ve figured out that if they stay up there, Beliel and I will have to fight it out on the ground. One of us will die, and the other will be tired and easier to kill.

Beliel curls his lip in distaste. ‘Outmaneuvered by hellions and threatened by a scrawny Daughter of Man. Insult upon insult.’

We get ready to face off, Beliel and I.

31

‘Stop!’

Everyone turns to see who shouted that command. The tone is almost irresistible.

I keep one eye on Beliel while trying to see what’s going on. Blood drips down into my eye, and I have to blink several times before I see what everyone else sees.

There’s now a gap in the dome letting the light in. A pair of large snowy wings glides through, blocking out the sun.

Raffe’s perfect form comes into view.

He is both the Raffe I know and a terrifying stranger. He looks like a pissed-off demigod. I’ve only glimpsed him once in this perfect angel form.

His wings are magnificent as they sweep the air behind him – white against blue.

The angels all stare at Raffe. They hover, silent and still except for the slow beating of wings. A whisper echoes through the winged crowd: Archangel Raphael.

‘I hear there’s an unsanctioned election going on,’ says Raffe.

‘There’s nothing unsanctioned about it,’ says Uriel. ‘And if you had been here, you’d know that. In fact, you are one of the candidates.’

‘Really? And how am I doing?’

A couple of angels yell out in support of Raffe.

‘You’ve been away too long, Raphael.’ Uriel raises his voice to address the rest of the angels. ‘He’s too out of touch to lead the greatest battle in history. Does he even know that the legendary apocalypse is about to begin?’

‘You mean the one you artificially created out of your lies and parlor tricks?’ Raffe addresses the angels too. ‘He’s been lying to you all. Fabricating monsters and manufacturing events to pressure you into a quick and dirty election.’

‘He’s the one lying,’ says Uriel. ‘I can prove that I was meant to be the chosen archangel.’ He raises his arms to the crowd. ‘God spoke to me.’

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