*Author’s Note*—This is a work of fiction and not intended to be a complete representation of the Bible or religion in general. BETWEEN SHADOWS AND DARKNESS was created with religious elements in mind but never claimed to be anything other than a work of fantasy.
Exhaustion finally caught up with Labbiel after hours of running. His breath rattled around his chest as his feet became increasingly heavier. If he didn’t slow the pace he’d probably pass out. That, he knew, would be a death sentence. He knew they were close, could feel the malice aimed at his back. The Fallen were relentless, but he’d die before giving up the girl.
Once, long ago, all angels–including the Fallen–had been united under their Father’s love. Now they stood on opposite sides of an invisible line. Choices had been made and blood had been spilled. So many angels had been lost. Labbiel still held out hope for a peaceful resolution. His hopes faded as he rounded a corner and saw the collapsed subway tunnel.
No more running. End of the line.
He turned and waited. To his surprise the promise of violence brought no satisfaction, only sorrow. A few less angels, even fallen angels, would be a great loss. Their numbers were declining too rapidly. Soon they would be gone altogether, nothing more than distant memories, forgotten stories of a time long past. The weight of it tugged at him.
The abandoned subway tunnels under Manhattan weren’t an ideal place for a last stand but they would have to do. He took in his surroundings, losing himself in the aura of the once beloved place. It calmed his mind.
The subway platform had once been a grand hub where New Yorkers would convene to catch or transfer trains. Like echoes of yesterday, the hustle and bustle of big city mass transit seemed to haunt the place. Labbiel could almost see men in three piece suits, cut and tailored from an era long past, clutching briefcases, newspapers tucked under their arms as they waited for the next train. He almost believed a train would come. But sadly, man had abandoned these tunnels and platforms long ago, leaving them to fade through the years like a decomposing corpse until only bones were left as proof of its once proud existence.
It was the perfect place to hide a gateway to heaven.
The sound of hurried footsteps reverberated through the tunnel leading to the platform. He let the memories fade. Behind him the gateway hummed. Home, he knew, was only a few feet away. The urge to slip through crossed his mind. He shook the craven thoughts away. Protecting heaven was more important than his or any other angel’s life. He swore an oath and meant to keep it.
“Thy will be done,” he muttered aloud, accepting his fate.
It had been years since Labbiel fought. He unbuttoned his trench coat and tossed it aside before drawing his sword. The familiar grooves in the handle and the weight of the blade helped calm him as they had countless times before. There always seemed to be another fight.
Two sets of footsteps echoed around the tunnel making it sound as though dozens of enemies were rushing toward him. He closed his eyes. Labbiel felt so far from home, from the life he had lost many years ago. This last task was perhaps his most important. The Nephilim–he knew from his visions–was their last, best hope. Just the thought of what she’d become filled the weary angel with warmth and courage.
Getting a fix on his enemies through the near darkness was difficult. After a moment of careful searching, he finally spotted two large shapes. “Why has it come to this?” Labbiel asked through an exhaustive sigh. “Have you forgotten we are brothers?”
Two figures emerged from the shadows. These were no common foot soldiers. Cypriel was one of the Fallen’s leaders and a fierce warrior, Prziel his trusted lieutenant.
Cypriel stepped closer, his yellowed eyes sweeping from left to right. They stopped and fixed on the collapse. A look of satisfaction washed over him. “We stopped being brothers the day you chose the humans over us.”
“I didn’t choose the humans,” Labbiel responded. “Our Father did. I simply had enough sense to honor his choice.”
“Save your breath.” Cypriel’s voice crept through the darkness as cold and calculating as a serpent through grass.
“Terms?” Labbiel asked. It was a custom as old as the two combatants.
“Give me the girl and your death will be quick.”
Labbiel motioned toward their swords. “Throw down your weapons and you’ll live. You have my word on that.”
Cypriel’s eyes narrowed, “Throw down? You should be the one throwing down, brother.” The last word had been laced with contempt.
Neither fallen angel disarmed. So much for diplomacy.
“Your day of reckoning has finally come. Soon all of heaven will either bend the knee or fall before our gathering might. We shall crash the gates of heaven with a fury not seen or felt in ages. You should be honored to be the first.”
Labbiel shook his head, a great sadness settling in his heart. “You don’t understand, and you never will.”
“Allow me,” Prziel said moving forward, unsheathing his blade.
Cypriel gave a curt nod then took a step back. There was an overpowering aura of confidence about him, like the outcome had been predetermined. He flashed a contemptuous smile.
Labbiel drew a breath and held it. His sword reflexively cut the empty air, a foolish habit but one he had adopted many years ago. He motioned Prziel forward.
“I’m going to crack open your skull and drink the juices from your brain,” Prziel sneered.
Labbiel exhaled slowly. “I haven’t seen you in nearly two thousand years, Prziel. Your stench is as foul as ever.”
A rumbling growl started in Prziel’s throat, growing increasingly louder until a frenzied roar exploded from the jagged twist that was his mouth. He lunged forward and swung hastily at Labbiel’s head. Labbiel ducked the blow. With a quick swipe, Labbiel’s blade sliced through Prziel’s exposed flank.
Instead of recoiling, Prziel wiped the wound with his free hand. He held up a blood stained finger and burned a hole through Labbiel with his eyes. His forked tongue rolled over the black liquid until the finger was clean. “You’ll beg for death before I’m through with you. They’ll hear your death all the way in heaven.”
Cypriel stood there, unmoving, arms folded across his chest. Fighting seemed to be a formality. Labbiel knew he was no match for them but it wouldn’t affect his effort. Death wouldn’t come only for him this day.
A burst of fiery hot pain brought Labbiel back to the fight. He winced. Without looking, he reached down and felt the wound. It was only superficial. He wiped the blood on his pants. He’d had much worse, would probably get much worse before the day was up.
Prziel raged forward, eyes bulging with hatred. His blackened blade parted the air with ease. Labbiel anticipated the blow but wasn’t prepared for the power behind it. Their swords clashed. Labbiel fought through clenched teeth to hold his ground. Prziel pressed down harder. Labbiel spread his feet accepting the force with his core. He leaned forward; calling on reserves of strength he hadn’t used in centuries to deflect the blow.
Prziel stumbled back off balance. Labbiel stuck a leg out and sent the fallen angel scrambling toward the ground.
In one fluid motion, Labbiel’s blade was at the fallen angel’s throat. “Yield,” he said. The word echoed ominously around the tunnel.
“Never,” Prziel spat. He flung a handful of sludge at Labbiel’s face.
Labbiel stood, shaking his head from side to side, his eyes stinging with pain. One of the oldest tricks in the book caught him off guard. He sliced out blindly hoping to land a lucky blow.
Prziel howled with delight as his sword sank into the soft middle of the defenseless angel. Pain raced through Labbiel’s stomach the likes of which he’d never known. He swallowed a cry of pain as the black blade twisted around several times for good measure. Choking back blood, he pulled back but wasn’t able to free himself.
“Control yourself, Prziel.” Cypriel moved forward with purpose and placed a heavy hand on Prziel’s shoulder. “You’ll have your fun after I’m finished.”
Labbiel blinked the remaining sludge from his eyes. His hands felt light, sword gone. How could he have been so careless? He balled up a hand and aimed before unloading. With a crunch, fist connected with face.
Prziel clutched his newly crooked nose. “Time to suffer,” he said, a crooked smile betraying his anticipation. The cold blade ripped mercilessly through Labbiel’s mid-section, cutting and sawing through his flesh. Agony was too nice a word for what he felt.
“Enough!” Cypriel’s voice boomed, momentarily stopping the torture.
Prziel jumped and turned toward his master. “I was promised a heart,” he sniveled. “You won’t deny the spoils of victory.” This time Prziel turned his blade and sawed vertically.
Cypriel rushed over and pulled Prziel away. “You’re right,” he said, lifting Prziel by the neck. “I did promise you a heart.”
Labbiel watched as Cypriel slammed a hand into Prziel’s chest. The organ came free with a snap. “Here it is,” he said, flicking it at him.
Prziel looked on, wide-eyed, as his heart beat a final time. “You…can’t kill me. You need me.”
Cypriel scowled unapologetically. “Give Yamael my regards on your way to the underworld.” He pulled the blade from Labbiel and plunged it above the hole where Prziel’s heart beat a moment ago.
Prziel blinked several more times in disbelief before his head slumped forward for the last time.
Cypriel tossed the fresh corpse aside and knelt next to Labbiel.
“I know what you want,” Labbiel said, blood pouring from his mouth. Each breath was increasingly more labored than the last.
Cypriel grinned. “You know nothing.” He began chanting, his hand emitting a brilliant light.
Labbiel’s eyes widened. He scooted back, scraping the floor with his backside scrambling to get away. Cypriel had no intention of entering the gateway. He wanted Labbiel’s halo and the knowledge it contained. That couldn’t happen. Through the pain, Labbiel struggled to his feet.
“You always were the sensible one, Labbiel. Use that good sense now and give me what you know I’ll take anyways.”
Labbiel looked for his sword one more time in vain. A sharp, tugging sensation pulsed through his mid-section every time he moved. Looking down revealed his intestines had unraveled at some point and tangled around his foot. He kicked free of his innards. Pain threatened to thwart his final efforts. He quickly dismissed it. “You won’t lay a finger on her.” Thinking of the girl brought him clarity.
With a snarl, Cypriel caught Labbiel by the arm and wrenched him down to a knee. They sloshed around the expanding crimson pool jockeying for position. Labbiel caught sight of a dagger looped through Cypriel’s belt and grabbed it.
“That blade won’t save you.”
“I’m not the one who needs saving,” Labbiel said, flatly.
A look of realization washed over Cypriel. He lunged for the dagger. When Cypriel grabbed the hilt, Labbiel pulled himself onto the blade. An intense golden light enveloped the tunnel followed by the overpowering aroma of nutmeg.
Labbiel crumpled on the ground, his chest and abdomen wrecked beyond repair. Blood poured from him in steady streams.
“Clever.” Cypriel eased Labbiel up to a sitting position. “I’ve always wondered if seers could see their own deaths.” He grunted. “I can’t imagine our Father allowing that. It’s like Him to grant you foresight without the free will needed to properly use it.”
Ignoring the fallen angel’s words, Labbiel closed his eyes. The girl would remain safe. Labbiel even kept his halo from the enemy by ensuring his death. If only he could get word to the others.
Cypriel sat next to his fading brother. “Tell me about her.”
Labbiel opened his eyes and managed a weak smile, taking comfort in the shallow victory. “She’s amazing, the best of both angels and humans.” With great effort, Labbiel looked over. His bloody smile widened. Their eyes locked. “You’re right to fear her.”
Cypriel shook him. “Where is she?”
A tear rolled down his cheek. Labbiel saw her long, slender frame, muscles taut, and the grace with which she handled a blade. He would miss the way her silky black hair fluttered behind her as she trained. He’d seen it many times from afar. After him, she was the last of the seers. The ancient art of seeing would come to an end with her. His heart ached for the loneliness he knew she would feel.
Cypriel shook Labbiel more violently. “Tell me,” he shouted, frustration leaking through his words.
A sense of serenity washed over Labbiel banishing the tendrils of fear from his mind. His pupils dilated. Images of the last seer fighting before a black gate, her flaming sword slicing through a sea of pale skinned creatures with deadly grace, flooded his mind. Dim light caught in her purple streaked hair. Purple had always been her favorite color. He was grateful for his Father’s final gift. The last of his visions passed and he knew the young woman would be ready. His Father had chosen well. He always had.
“Child of light,” Labbiel whispered.
Cypriel lifted him by the shirt and smashed him against the wall. “What did you say?”
Labbiel struggled to take a breath. He had been alive since the beginning, and for thousands of years fought against the Fallen. He was tired, so very tired.
“Death holds no peace for you,” Cypriel said, raising his broadsword. With a single blow Labbiel’s head took to the air, freed from his body.