I landed easily on the roof. The whole building shifted, sliding a few inches to the right. I held out a hand to stop the others from following and waited for it to settle. This was the way I’d picked, it felt like a bad idea to change direction.
“Okay, Ash next,” I called to them.
He jumped up and his body blocked out the sun’s blinding light for a moment. He landed with no impact as he usually did and stepped aside.
Her landing was soft, her bob of blond hair blowing in her face as the wind followed her. She brushed it away and nodded, assuring she was good.
“Your turn, Odessa.”
She took her sword in both hands and jumped the distance. For a single moment, she traveled through the air. But quickly she hit with a loud thud and groan from the building. Her weight caused a shifting in the structure, a grinding suddenly sounded.
No one spoke as the stone roof beneath our feet swayed with the entire house. We breathlessly waited for it to settle as shudders ran up our legs.
There was a crack and snap from somewhere below me. I realized something.
Ash and Anna land softly, Odessa is tough. I can’t survive a fall.
As if in response, the ground dropped a foot, almost knocking me over. Odessa lost her footing and started sliding with the angle of the roof. Ash watched her go and Anna wasn’t willing to jump after her. Odessa slung her sword into the building, biting down to stop her descent. I almost ran to help, but I knew there was little I could do.
That was the last straw. Her sword tore free with the entire side of the structure. I bolted in the opposite direction as it began to rapidly fall. I dove over the edge of the upturning building. I flew, but there was nothing close enough. Gravity pulled my swiftly down, killing my momentum.
I crashed through a window several stories down, bouncing off a desk and tumbling through the weakened floor and another level down.
I laid there, unable to rise.
The stones placed on the street crackled when Ash hit them. He landed in a crouch with debris raining down around him. He gazed up to the building top, hundreds of feet up. He couldn’t see the Sinner or the Child. Odessa and Anna had to of fallen out of sight.
He listened closely, hearing the rasping breath of a few Damned in the nearby buildings. The shallow breath of Doran higher up. He was alive. Good. He wouldn’t be able to hear the Sinner, but he thought Anna was in the building.
The one which crumpled to the ground before his eyes, setting a wave of dust onto him, clouding the streets.
Ash put his hands behind his back and stalked down the road, keeping his ears attentive. He would find the others, they would regroup, and they would continue on. No surprises. No mysteries.
Doran was a priority. The Child and Sinner were expendable, sadly.
Here I come, friendo.
Breaking swift against the earth, Odessa landed. She cast her sight back to the tumbling building, its ruin bathing her. A heavy cloud birthing.
She used her sword to cut through it best she could, running to a side street and out of the choking dust. There, she could see and listen. When the roaring of destruction had settled, the deathly quiet of hell would allow her to hear.
Nothing. No single sound.
“Gods damn this place,” she cursed to herself.
How are we to regroup? She wondered.
They would have to find her, she reasoned. There was not much she could do.
The thought of being lost in hell, again, sent a shiver through her.
Mustn’t wander. As she took in her surroundings she saw she had walked into the opening of a courtyard. A vision appeared before her. Beyond the courtyard, heavenly mountains arose. The light of day was setting behind them, turning the pastures and pine forests dark beneath fiery light. Her eye immediately left the glimpse of beauty that struck her, resting on the center of the courtyard. There, she saw something.
It was a sight she had never dreamed but always hoped to see. But it was wrong, it was horrible. She slipped to her knees.
There before her was a man. His physique was perfect, his body strewn in a patch of light falling through the buildings to illuminate him. His head was that of an eagle, his body adorned in armor rent open, silver shining and running with blood. His wings were splaid open facing skyward. His own sword, its metal white hot, was plunged into his chest. Aleone, the god of glorious honor, reached a hand out towards her.
Odessa slid quickly to his side and desperately clutched his hand. Her legs rested in a pool of blood. His face fell into her lap.
She couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
“My god,” she said. “Beloved.“
He let out a sigh and his voice whispered in her mind. “Warrior.”
“Please tell me, how did this happen?” she begged. “Your reign was eternal? None could pull you from your holiest throne. You can’t be here.”
Aleone was unkillable. Son of the highest holy, he couldn’t possibly be here in the depths of hell. She had to be dreaming this nightmare.
“Why?” the god asked, his black eyes empty. “Why would I answer to one so disgraced as you?”
Odessa screwed her eyes shut. His words lingered and the pain was unbearable. She’d not been reminded in so long of why she had been denied paradise.
Before she could speak, Aleone did. “A Darkness came upon our world. And it could not be fought. My brothers and children were devoured.” He reached a bloodied hand to touch her face. “I alone fled. I, god of honor.”
She opened her eyes, searching her god’s. His dark gaze was saddened. “No,” she protested. “You would not flee.”
“Yes, my daughter. It was a fate I chose. I would not be taken.”
There he laid, pierced by his own sword, by his own hand. It was his nature. He could not live in such complete failure. This was his redemption. What was demanded. Just like hell had been demanded of her.
My home, my people, my gods, Odessa thought. They’re gone.
“I should have been by your side, lord. I’m so sorry.”
He wiped a tear from her cheek. “I… am sorry…. as well.”
Aleone’s hand fell limp. His body began to sink slowly deeper into the ground. Odessa let him go as hell stole him away into its depths.
Her god had been the only hope she had. She had dreamed of seeing him one day. Even in her damnation, she dreamed of returning home. It was a fool’s hope, but she had cherished it.
Now there was nothing. Nothing to return to, nothing to cherish. She didn’t know why she was here anymore.
I am profane.
She sat there in a pool of burning hot blood, weeping.
Anna awoke groggily to a smell she hated. Every time she healed, it assaulted her as the pain came. Burning.
When she’d brushed the dirt from her eyes, with much difficulty, she had regained blurry sight.
She was pinned. Beneath piles of boards and rock. Dappled sunlight came down through the roof of debris. This cave of rubble she was trapped within was thankfully close to the surface. Close enough that that she could see, and that she could find her way out.
Theoretically, her doubt nagged.
Working her way out from beneath the pile of crap, she could see where she was trapped. The cavern that had formed around her in the ruin of the building was separated into two rooms. A second chamber awaited around the corner of an upturned bed.
Carefully she stepped over the moldy mattress and around the corner. Immediately she saw a beam of light falling from a wide opening to freedom.
Her mind blanked. A memory played.
“Do you know when mom will be home?” Anna asked. Her father sat across from her at the table. He was staring out the window, out on the beautiful grey cityscape doused in rain. The table sat against the window and it stretched the entire wall. It was early in the morning, and the house was quiet and dim. Only the sleepy cloud-filtered illumination was on them.
“Hmm?” he was pulled from thought. “Her planetary art exhibit goes through the weekend.” His face was obscured, hard to focus on.
Mom was constantly away.
She didn’t care, Anna thought, only to regret thinking it.
Dad smiled, spreading his greying whiskers. “You know how she is.”
Anna changed the subject. “How’s your project going?”
“Gloriously,” he replied. “I can’t wait to show it to you.”
“But you won’t tell me about it?”
He put a finger quickly to his lips. “Mum’s the word.”
Anna actually smiled.
The vision vanished, leaving her grinning at rubble.
“Fuck!” she swore. She put a hand to her head.
I can’t be seeing things.
She had started to approach the exit, but in the alcove just beyond the light something moved. She dead stopped in her tracks.
Having no weapon, Anna lamely held her hands out. It had never come naturally to her. Her powers were inherently alien, she felt.
It stepped out of the darkness. Too thickly scarred to tell gender, the nude human stepped into the light. It was slight in build and hunched. Deathly thin.
I’ll knock it back and jump up and out.
As easily as she’d raised her arms, she sent out a blast of wind. Air drafted past her ears in a rush to form the attack which rippled over the Damned thing. It simply slid off, or went through, settling with the dust it’d kicked up. That wasn’t supposed to happen.
The thing whispered, “it’s getting worse.”
Anna’s eyes widened, her heart plummeting, breath hitching.
God no. No. Don’t do this.
It was her own voice with which the thing spoke. “You know it is.“
She stumbled back, tripping. She fell on the mattress behind her and stared speechless and helpless. The nightmare visage came closer.
“You are what you choose to be,” the monstrous girl said, her voice breaking. Anna could see herself so cleary in its eyes. In its reflected horror. In the sadness of seeing her own self. Anna felt sick, looking into those perfectly grey-blue eyes.
“N-” Anna couldn’t speak.
Anna watched as the vision faded, dispersing on the air. When it was gone she let out a ragged exhalation; her heart was pounding.
None of it was real, she told herself. But she’d seen it.
She’d seen what she would become. Her scars were getting worse, spreading. She was falling apart. Her dad had done this to her. She was broken, dying. Her mom hadn’t loved her enough to stay. She wasn’t even human anymore.
Everyone, her people, her family, had betrayed her.
She was dealt a goddamn fucking tragedy and it wasn’t fair.
She couldn’t hold her rage, though. She couldn’t even muster self-pity. Anna followed the dust particles floating in the sun’s beams. Realized idly that she was literally in hell, beyond any escape on her own. Just like her body.
What could she do?
Trapped, the thought came. Since before all this had started, a year ago when she’d waved at Elroy and she could feel the rain and the wind. Before this nightmare. Everything she’d done, none of it could change this.
Trapped, the idea repeated.