End of Days Page 9

‘Come closer.’ He holds out his hand to grab it.

I hesitate. ‘Do you need to hold it, or can you just touch it?’

‘Touch it.’

‘Okay. Turn around.’

He turns on the dirt without protest. His back is roped with strings of dried muscle. I don’t want to touch him with a ten-foot sword. But I press the tip of my blade into his back anyway.

‘One wrong move and I’ll stick you right through.’ I’m not sure if the connection is enough with only the tip touching his back, but he doesn’t seem concerned about it.

He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly.

I feel something opening in my head.

It’s not like the other times when I suddenly found myself somewhere else. This one is weaker, lighter, as if I could choose not to go there if I wanted, as if the sword isn’t so sure about this particular voyage.

I take a deep breath too. I make sure my feet are in proper fighting position and brace myself for an attack.

And then I close my eyes.

7

I feel a moment of dizziness, then I land on firm ground.

The first thing that hits me is the overwhelming heat. Then the stench of rotten eggs.

Under a black-purple sky, a chariot is drawn by six angels harnessed like horses. Blood and sweat stream down their shoulders and chests where the harness cuts into them. They strain to drag the chariot and the giant demon who drives it.

The demon has wings of course. He could just fly to his destination if he wanted. Instead, he rolls slowly through his domain.

The demon is so big he makes Beliel look like a child. His wings flame with what looks like real fire reflecting off his sweaty skin.

He carries a stick with a circle of shriveled heads at the top. On the heads, the eyes blink and the mouths try to scream. Or maybe they’re drowning and gasping for air. I’m not sure, because no sound comes out. Each has long blond hair that flows up and around the heads like seaweed waving in a current.

Once I get past the horror of the heads, I realize that the eyes are all the same shade of green. How many heads would you have to choose from to be able to collect a group with the exact same shade of eyes and hair?

The ground is covered in broken glass and shards of bone. Each wheel is draped with two angels as if the monster demon didn’t want his shiny wheels marred by the rough ground. The Fallen angels are chained to the wheels and are stuck through with all kinds of shards sticking out of their skin.

Beliel is one of these Fallen chained to a wheel.

His wings are the color of a dying sunset. They must be his original angel wings. They’re half stretched out like he hopes to be able to keep them from being crushed. But many of the feathers are already scorched and broken.

I hadn’t thought about how demons become the way they are. Maybe there’s a transition time between being an angel and becoming a demon. Since Beliel still has feathers, I’m guessing this probably means that it hasn’t been long since his fall.

His face is recognizable, although somehow smoother, more innocent. His eyes lack that stinging, harsh quality that I’ve come to know. He looks almost handsome without his usual smirk and bitterness, though there’s pain.

A lot of pain.

But he bears it without a whimper.

The wheel rolls, crushing his body against the bone shards covering the ground, making him endure the weight of both the vehicle and the monster riding on it. His face is focused and determined, looking like he’s clenching his jaw to keep from screaming.

His wings tremble with the effort to hover above the ground. That protects them from the worst of the damage, but they still drag along the field of sharp bone and glass.

As the wheels roll, the angels who are chained to them are getting their wings slowly crushed and splintered. They still carry their empty scabbards, which clank and drag against the rough ground, reminders of what they’ve lost.

The giant demon cracks his stick above his head, and it unspools, whipping through the air. The shrunken heads begin shrieking as soon as they’re let loose. They shoot toward the harnessed angels with hair streaking through the air in front of them like snaky spears.

When they hit the angels pulling the chariot, the sharp hair begins to shred their skin.

The heads open their mouths wide and frantically gnaw on the Fallen. One of them manages to burrow halfway into the back of an angel before the whip gets pulled back.

These Fallen angels look starved and are covered in festering wounds. I suspect even angels need their nourishment to fuel their speed healing.

Then, in the middle of all this, a pack of hellions with their bat faces and shadowy wings slink toward them. They’re bigger than the ones I saw in my sword’s memories. Beefier and with spotted wings, as if they had disease blooming on them.

These hellions have a crafty gleam in their eyes that make them look more dangerous than the ones I’ve seen before. They look around, aware, moving with purpose. The modern hellions seem to have devolved into smaller, weaker, dimmer versions of these.

Still, these hellions are nothing compared with the demon lord. They’re shadow creatures against the towering thing riding the chariot, and they’re clearly afraid of him.

Maybe they’re not the same species. They don’t look anything like him. The hellions look like toothy bat-winged animals with squashed faces while the giant looks like an angel gone ugly.

The hellions are dragging someone behind them. She was probably once pretty, with mahogany hair and gray eyes, but now she looks like a used-up doll. Her eyes are empty, her face blank, like she’s sent her inner self away somewhere.

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