When the Stars Fell

Ghosts, monsters, the occult, survival horror, or just the guy at your work who holds a dark secret.
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When the Stars Fell

Post by Wyldwraith » Fri Feb 03, 2017 8:38 pm

Journal Entry #1: May 15th, 2024. Farmhouse in Sims, Arkansas

"So...I came upon this empty journal in a farmhouse while doing what I always do when I reach a new town. Scrounging for what I need to keep going, while keeping an eye out for any of the many creatures that would love to make a meal of man I appear to be. As for those beings with darker hungers? Paradoxically, I do my best not to think of them, even as I work to keep well clear of their ilk. I'm not without the means to defend myself from the things that go bump in the night (or bump in the day for that matter). In fact, I have...advantages, your average survivor would kill for. Believe me, more than one has tried to do just that after seeing me in action and hearing my rather unusual tale. This was back in the early days, before I'd learned my fellow men and women could prove more dangerous than any inhuman monster under the right circumstances. If you're reading this I've either given you permission and am sitting nearby, able to answer any of your questions or offer any clarifications required. Or I'm...not. In which case there are four likely possibilities."

"1) You're a fellow survivor from the time before the Second Fall. If so, much of what's written here you already know all too well. Nevertheless, I recommend you continue reading this regardless. Some of what I've set down here will come as a shock to you and, hopefully, give you a clearer picture of what's really going on. Knowledge is power, and that's a lesson you've incorporated into your life if you've made it this far. That's one of the reasons I decided to create a record of my experiences by setting it all down in this journal. In the all too likely event I meet an untimely end, what I've learned will not be lost in its entirety. Right now you're thinking that sounds incredibly presumptuous, and you're right to be skeptical. If for no other reason than all the doomsday cult leader types each spewing their own insanity-laden Manifesto. Documents meant to assist them in conning the lost, the bereaved and the despairing into joining their twisted enterprises. I urge you to continue reading, or failing that, pass this journal on to another curious soul if you've found it and I'm either dead or nowhere to be seen.

2) You're one of those born into a world gone mad, rife with monsters and perils once found only in storybooks and folklore barely remembered and seldom considered by "modern man/woman." We were, or so many of us believed, safely ensconced in a world where Science had replaced God, even as Logic and Reason had triumphed over Faith and Belief. Arrogantly we proclaimed the evidence of our pitifully limited five senses, confirmed by the readings of our ever more complex and numerous scientific instruments would separate real from unreal, fact from fantasy, and truth from lies. Well, the Second Fall illustrated just how much we'd erred. I say we, even though I'd never been one to follow the crowd. If I did not contribute to the problem, neither was I a significant part of any attempted solution. Convinced I could go my own way, holding to my faith and my other beliefs as I did...if not my best, then at least the best I knew how to live up to those beliefs. I was there for my family and friends when they needed help. More times than I can count I stood up for those unable or unwilling to stand up for themselves when faced with an aggressor stronger than they. Adhering to what my mother and grandmother taught me growing up, I made my word my bond and spoke truthfully more often than not. In other words, while I fell far short of being the best of men, neither was I anywhere near the worst. Perhaps that's why....nevermind, getting ahead of myself again. No, it's those of you born into this nightmare I feel for the most. What crime did any of you commit to deserve what is often a short, brutal life and an even more brutal end? To those of your generation I say, mad as this sounds...Hold fast to the belief a single life, YOUR life can make a difference. Gather together others of like mind and do your best. Should you be reading this with me nearby: Ask me about the "Ripple Effect."

3) You're one of those they've come to call the Descended or Earthbound. In which case you may well have slain me for what I am, and you're reading this looking for answers to a puzzle some of you seem to find strange, others distasteful, and still others anathema. Fear not, the answer you're seeking is here. It's simpler than you may have guessed, and all the more tragic for it. You may not believe this, but many of us feel the same loss as you in our own way. We pray for His return as well, and like you we seek an answer as to why He left as well. I have more than a little experience with blaming others to avoid facing facts, facing truths I'd rather not. Yet I assure you, exterminating everything Other than your brothers and sisters is NOT the answer! Nor is it even feasible at this point. After the...antics, of the extremists responsible for Beijing, Moscow and Washington D.C the impossible was made possible. The rumors are true I believe, having seen far more than one empty nuclear silo and slagged ruin where bio-weapons defense research facilities used to be. Facing complete obliteration, it seems fear of extinction was sufficient goad to dispose of every W.M.D the world's governments could access. Besides, you eat, drink and breathe the same as we do these days. OK, not precisely the same...but similarly. Even if you could find the means to extinguish those of us who remain, how would you survive on a lifeless cinder until He returned? You can hunt us, even war with us most successfully as many of you have demonstrated. Yet we still outnumber you a hundred to one, and more humans are being born all the time. Can you and yours say the same? Find another way, or better still work with us!

4) You're one of the nightmarish THINGS which have cropped up since the Second Fall. In which case, one of two things is going on. Either you've picked this up because of the mixed odors of Human and...Something Else. Or, you're smart enough to skim this, and see if I mention the location of any other survivors you can prey on. To the first group, fuck off. To the second, pray I'm already dead. Otherwise this journal here? It's a baited hook Bright Eyes, and you just swallowed it!"

Finit Prologue.

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Re: When the Stars Fell

Post by Wyldwraith » Fri Feb 03, 2017 8:40 pm

SW Archer Road, University of Florida: Campus Edge Condominiums. June 2, 2021

The ex-track and fielder didn't move, hardly breathed as he kept his unblinking dark blue gaze fixed on the frenetic, painfully loud three-way firefight between what remained of a company of Georgia National Guard, a sizable group of ex-college students who'd objected, strenuously, to being evacuated and a group of four Earthbound Angels. What had, at first, been thought to be a strange meteor shower had quickly proven to be something else entirely. Something which gave the lie to all the so-reasonable arguments of the world's atheists, and rocked the rest of humanity's beliefs to their very core. The Second Fall...such a tidily apropos label for the moment countless angels had been ejected from Heaven to crash-land here on Earth. A Heaven whose very existence had, only moments prior to the Fall, been one of mankind's most hotly debated topics. No one, or at least no one Matthew knew could explain why this had happened. The talking heads on the television and the internet each had their own pet theories of course, but as far as the twenty-five year old pre-med student knew, no one really knew why it had happened.

Besides, the why of this Apocalypse wasn't nearly so relevant as: "What are we going to DO about it?" To Matthew, the answer so far seemed to be: "Watch. Remain concealed whenever possible, and trust that prickle of intuition in your gut and along the hackles of your neck. Walk the tightrope between moving on so often you drew attention to yourself, and not moving often enough to avoid exhausting a location's supplies or becoming vulnerable to a systematic search of a given area. Above all, find and retain a death-grip on the mental and emotional control necessary to look on from hiding as one horror or another is perpetrated against other human beings, rather than throwing one's life away for nothing as a failed would-be "hero."

Matthew was all too aware his little maxims were nothing more than a personal stopgap measure, and a particularly limited one at that. More than that, it did nothing to salve the shock, fear, pain and impotent fury engendered by this hellish situation. For all his consideration of humanity's circumstances and everything he'd seen, the twenty-five year old couldn't presently see another way forward. Especially since the refugee angels weren't the only deadly threat facing mankind. Monsters, the garish confined-to-folklore and horror movies-type nightmares had suddenly come out of the woodwork after the Second Fall, hell-bent on seizing control of a world they seemed to feel should have been theirs all along. Mankind had learned from one of the minority of angels who didn't perceive humanity as an infestation to be eradicated that the reason monsters had been relegated to the realm of myth and legend was due to the tireless efforts of angels whose only task had been keeping said monsters confined to said myths and legends and, more relevantly, from challenging mankind for control of the Earth. A fight for which humanity, even with all its destructive hardware seemed ill-equipped for. One of the last unscrambled television broadcasts Matthew had seen was an extensive list of ways to identify many of the more common supernatural creatures and what, (if anything) private citizens could do or use to deter or destroy them. Always the scholar, he'd taken extensive notes and copied the few briefly-displayed anatomical diagrams of the various creatures as best he'd been able.

All of which left a certain clever, brighter than average college student doing his best Yasser Arafat impression. Doing his best to avoid drawing unwanted attention to himself and never sleeping twice in the same bed without a damned compelling reason. All the while doing his damnedest to collect what he'd need to stand any chance of successfully executing his escape plan from the embattled university town specifically, and the heavily populated environs of central Florida more generally.

As if a switch had been thrown, the sounds of the protracted firefight suddenly morphed into the cacophony of screaming Matthew had known it would. All that gunfire, coupled with all the shouted threats, pained cursing, and shrill shouts of promised retaliation had drawn a small pack of Were-Rats to the sounds of battle. The five Were-Rats, themselves armed with firearms taken from fallen Deputies and State Troopers didn't even bother to change shape as they fired mercilessly into the exposed backs of the former Guardsmen. Only when all six Guardsmen were down did the pack's Alpha and Beta shift their off-hands into hideous clawed appendages, each sporting stubby but unmistakably lethal talons. As the two monsters moved in beside a pair of now-pleading young men and lifted their inhuman extremities without pause, Matthew finally looked away from the gory scene before the taloned paws fell. The young man wasn't a coward, but he saw no reason to people his nightmares with men who'd allowed their anger to overrule their good sense when they had every reason to know what the result was likely to be.

The last of the pleas for mercy cut off suddenly, causing Matthew to lean forward ever so slowly and strain to hear what came next. It was silent for almost a minute, before a voice as cold as it was haughty broke the silence. "We claim the humans inside the Campus Administration building. So, unless you rats wish to fight us I suggest you take your mangy, flea-bitten carcasses and get out of my sight before my rapidly waning patience is completely exhausted. You have thirty seconds to remove yourselves from my sight, then I begin flaying the skin from your bones. Well? What's it going to be vermin?" the Earthbound Angel threateningly questioned. The sounds of rapidly receding footfalls told the young man the Were-Rats had taken the angel's threats to heart and fled.

For a moment Matthew was tempted to move to a better vantage point, so he could see what happened when the Angels stormed the Administration building. Then he mentally slapped himself for entertaining such foolishness. In the months he'd been skulking about the city, Matthew had seen ample evidence of the razor-sharp acuity of the Angel's senses. The fate of the ex-Marine Sargent who'd sheltered with him overnight before moving on to continue his one-man war against the Angels who'd killed his wife was seared into Matthew's mind. He'd been laying concealed not more than a hundred yards away when he saw the grizzled military man rise up from behind the half-wall of the second story balcony overlooking the street below. His target, an Angel who seemed young enough to be carded if he'd tried to enter a club, was only twenty-five or thirty feet left and below the crossbow-wielding man. It had seemed, to Matthew at least, as if the Angel was doomed. At thirty feet the bolt would be traveling as fast as some bullets, plus his back was to his would-be assassin. What happened next still haunted the former college student. The former Marine had squeezed the trigger, his face a mask of savage satisfaction. A look that changed first to incredulous disbelief, and then dawning horror as the Angel spun in place so fast he blurred and plucked the speeding broadhead bolt out of the air as easily as Matthew might have caught a tossed beer. Snapping the bolt between his thumb and index finger effortlessly as he blurred once more. Before the Marine could step through the door he'd just opened the Angel was beside him. Breaking both of the man's arms in so many places he couldn't even lift them, the Angel...did things to his would-be killer. Things that featured prominently in Matthew's nightmares.

Watching from his admittedly poor vantage, Matthew saw the four Angels blur forward. There were a few more gunshots from somewhere inside the building. Then the Angels simply vanished from his perspective. More gunshots, which ended just as the horror-filled screaming began. This was the part the lanky, dark-haired and fair skinned twenty-five year old hated the most. When a fellow survivor told him about the fate of those the Angels chose not to kill Matthew had refused to believe it. It wasn't until he'd seen the fate of two teenaged boys and a thirty-something woman caught by three Angels in a parking lot two stores away from his then-current hideout that he'd believed. The Angels had forced the three to their knees, chanted something in a strange language and then watched as a thin pillar of flame struck each of them. It was there Matthew had heard the trademark mix of horror-filled screaming which tapered off into whimpering for the first time. The two teens and the woman had collapsed bonelessly when that whimpering stopped. When they got up a few seconds later the way they moved, fluidly and with too much grace for the body, somehow just screamed ANGEL at him. Their lack of fear and new subservient demeanor had confirmed it for the young man. Somehow, he didn't dare speculate how, the more powerful Angels with bodies of their own were capable of "assisting" their weaker brethren in stealing the bodies of humans who matched some set of criteria known only to the Angels. The twenty-five year old knew that in a minute or so the quartet of powerful Earthbound Angels would emerge from the Administration building with some new followers.

Matthew hated this. Hated feeling helpless, scared and hunted all the time. He wanted to lash out, wanted to help retake the Earth for humanity at the same time as he knew it for a fool's errand as things stood.

So caught up with his frustrated musings was he, that Matthew nearly fell off his chair when a vastly brighter pillar of white-gold flame raced down to meet the ground in front of the Admin building. When it receded a powerfully built figure in silver scale armor, wearing a curiously empty scabbard had taken its place. The new Angel was incredibly fair-skinned. So much so he made Matthew's pale complexion seem swarthy by comparison. His hair was so blond it appeared white and was fine like a baby's, but grown out and trailing a few inches below the nape of his neck, where it was caught by a clip of some sort. He was powerfully built, but in no way bulky. His entire being radiated power with him just standing there, the young man privately mused. Expecting this newcomer had arrived to take charge of the quartet and their new followers, Matthew was shocked by this Angel's voice. Lyrical and pleasing to the ears, it was still terrifying hearing it seethe with anger. "Brothers. Robbing the humans of their mortal coils is an abomination. Father would be enraged to see us fallen so far as to imitate the wicked Rebels. I call on you in Hofniel's Name to relinquish the bodies of these five young men before their spirits are driven from their bodies" the newcomer stated.

Whatever the spokesman of the quartet might've said was lost in the roaring of another pillar of flame the size of the newcomer's arcing down to the parking lot from above, followed by two significantly thinner fiery columns, yet far thicker than the fiery threads of possession which had claimed the three arcing in a lateral from somewhere on Earth. Another impossibly beautiful, white blond-haired scale armor wearing Angel had appeared. This one carrying a sword the first of the newcomers involuntarily flinched back from, while another sword rode easily in the scabbard on his hip. The two which accompanied the second armor-wearer wore simple cloth tabards inscribed with strange characters in gold thread across their chests. The features of the pair weren't as perfectly formed, nor did they carry themselves with the same predator's grace as the armor wearers.

The sword-carrying Angel responded as if he'd not only heard the plea of the first, but as if it had been directed towards him. "Hofniel is no more Camael. Like you, he was unable to grasp that in Father's absence, and with all but the most powerful of us barred from returning home, things have had to change. I still don't understand why you bothered to run after Lord Azreal wrested your Sword from you. You had to have known we could pinpoint you the instant you Incarnated no matter where you ran. Still, Lord Azreal is feeling magnanimous. If you'll but kneel before him and pledge him your allegiance in Father's name, your Sword will be returned to you and you'll be reinstated as the leader of the Powers. Give up this ape-loving madness and rejoin your own kind in making this a world Father will return to and smile upon. What say you Camael?" the sword-carrier asked with a self-satisfied smirk. Camael's response wiped the smug look from his face.

"Simiel, if what you say is true. If the Angel of Death has convinced so many of our brothers and sisters to turn Kinslayer, the Heaven I knew and fought for without cease these uncounted millennia is already gone. As for my Sword...it took Azreal to wrest it from me. It gives you great power over me true...but consider your chosen battlefield. You, a mere Principality. Four Angels and five former ministering spirits too disoriented to assist you. Versus Camael, first and greatest of the Powers. Are you sure this is a battle you want to fight? More to the point: Are you sure this is a battle you can win?"

The sword-carrier, Simiel suddenly looked stricken and on the verge of saying something when one more pillar of flame, this one greater than Camael's and Simiel's put together roared down onto the blacktop. Seeing the nearly-blinding radiance in vaguely human form, it was only with the greatest expenditure of will that Matthew avoided groaning aloud w/ pain. Camael's reaction was nearly as telling, as most of the fight seemed to leave him then. Yet still, for reasons which escaped the young man Camael had refused to back down from his demand that the original quartet's followers relinquish their human bodies.

Now smiling, Simiel launched the first attack against Camael. A half-second later the others, including the almost blinding radiance joined in. Camael enjoyed some initial success, as he snapped the neck of the quartet's spokesman and one of his three fellows. From there, however, it was all downhill. For reasons Matthew guessed had something to do with Simiel having "power over" Camael through his stolen Sword, the weaker angel was able to strike the greater again and again, until Camael was a broken thing lying nearly spread-eagle on the parking lot. Grinning in triumph, Simiel leaned forward to strike Camael with the pommel of his own sword, just as the radiant being shouted a warning.

It was too late though. Faster than thought, the shamming Power seized and shattered Simiel's arm, wresting his Sword from the Principality and concentrating on it just as the others dogpiled him. With a shimmer, Camael's Sword flickered and simply disappeared. This caused the radiant being to roar with such force all the windows for several blocks in all directions shattered. There followed a grisly torture session, during which the gathered Angels did everything they could think of to compel Camael to summon his Sword, all without success. Finally, the radiant being's shoulders slumped in defeat, as his achingly beautiful sonorous voice pronounced the grimmest of fates for the rebellious Angel.

"Camael. You will lie here shattered and spent. Unable to make the smallest move in your own defense when the scavengers come for the battlefield's leavings. After they've torn you apart, your Flame will return to Heaven. There to be tortured by professionals until you yield up your Sword. This is your last chance to avoid that fate. Will you summon your Sword, Power?" the terribly radiant Angel demanded. Camael remained silent, his defiance etched in every line of his face and body. With a theatrical sigh, the radiant Angel gestured and nine pillars of flame arced away from the parking lot as his alone arced skyward. Leaving the shattered Power alone.

Matthew was stunned by what he'd just witnessed. First to see such obvious evidence that at least a few Angels had sided with humanity. Then to see the easy brutality with which the Anti-Human Angels had turned upon one of their own kind. Most curious of all was Camael's unflinching readiness to suffer everything they could inflict rather than surrender his Sword. Still, the young man knew he needed to clear out before the scavengers arrived to finish the Angel off, and maybe search the surrounding structures as well. He'd just gathered the last of his things and was about to exit the building, when a quiet yet crystal clear voice sounded in his head. "Matthew. Don't be afraid, please. I mean you no harm. Couldn't harm you, as you can see for yourself. YOU are the reason I appeared here. I've visited your thoughts, and your dreams many times. I'm confident you're the man I've been seeking, but we don't have much time before one horror or another finds my broken body and dispatches me. I want to ask you a question. What if I could give you enough power that you'd never again have to helplessly stand by as good men, women and children were butchered or body-snatched before your very eyes? What if I could give you the knowledge and the skill to become a rallying point for your kind? Would you be willing to leave the shadows behind and risk your life to give those who can't protect themselves a chance to survive this nightmare?"

It sounded too good to be true, but still...Camael had fought the others to try and save the five young men. If there was any chance that there was something to the Angel's claims....Cautiously, tentatively, Matthew thought back at the presence in his thoughts, mentally "saying"..."OK, I'll bite. Yes, I'd be willing to risk my life for as long as it took if I had reason to believe I could make a real difference. How would you give me the power, knowledge and skill to do what you claim I could do?"

The answer was immediate, direct and filled with a sense of unyielding determination when Camael mentally responded, "saying" "Why, I'll give you what we Angels call the Imperishable Flame. My Flame is what makes me an Angel, just as your Flame makes you Human. Once I send my Flame into you and you consent to house it, your Flame will change and you'll become the first of the Nephilim to walk the Earth in millennia. Then all my strengths and powers will be added to your own Human faculties and capabilities. Finally, I'd merge our spirits momentarily. Just long enough to impart all my experience, knowledge and skills to you.

Camael gave his intended heir a moment to wrap his mind around the answers he'd been given, but conscious of the time passing he finally pressed on to to the question he knew would be on his mind if their situations were reversed, so the Angel mentally said "You're wondering why I'm doing this. The answer is threefold: First, I genuinely believe what my brothers and sisters are doing to your kind is evil! If they succeed in actually destroying Man, or otherwise damaging the Plan too severely...Matthew, God's love is endless but his patience most assuredly is NOT! Second, you heard the Seraph. When the scavengers drive my essence from this shell by consuming me, I'll appear in a holding cell in Heaven. You can't conceive of what the Inquisitors are like, or what they can do! They've had uncounted eons to perfect their skills as interrogators against some of the most powerful beings in the cosmos. It wouldn't take them long to break me. Everything you saw me endure was for the opportunity to free my Sword. All so my "heir" wouldn't be compromised as I'd been compromised. Your transformation into one of the Nephilim, once you've accepted my portion of the Imperishable Flame into yourself will leave you free to act in a manner I couldn't so long as they possessed my Sword. Finally, Angels were also given the gift of free will by the Father we share. It doesn't happen often, but every two or three thousand years one of my kind chooses to Fall and become Human. Most so they can be with the man or woman they've fallen in love with. As a man or woman they age and eventually die. Their souls face Judgment, entering into Heaven or Hell according to their life-choices and the contents of their hearts. For all the shortcomings of humanity, I've loved and fought for your kind since our Father first revealed you to us. Fear of the Inquisitors and their torture chambers has been driving me more than I'm comfortable admitting, but not anymore. I still hope to escape and slip forever beyond the reach of my vengeful brothers and sisters should you accept of course, but now that we come right down to it I find I care far more about we may be starting here than I do for my own small fate. So, which path do you choose, Matthew? A brief life as a hunted thing. Full of terror, impotent fury and bottomless despair as you witness death and destruction beyond your blackest nightmares. Or life as a being that's fulfilling in ways you can't even imagine, knowing of and being able to do things you can't even conceive of right now. Being able to make a difference, and bearing up under the responsibility to act because of that ability. I've listened to you silently rail against what's happening. Listened to you pray with your whole heart for the power to save all those you've met. For the knowledge and understanding to make this nightmare end. Now's your chance, one that will never come again."

For a long moment Matthew was wracked with indecision. The decision before him was mind-boggling in its immensity. Matthew hadn't lasted this long by equivocating however, so only a moment passed before he simply thought to Camael "I accept." The still achingly beautiful, albeit broken, Power silently instructed the former medical student to take his wavering outstretched hand. Once Matthew had as good a two-handed grip on Camael's right forearm as he could get he communicated as much to his would-be benefactor. Camael delivered one final warning, silently telling him in the most emphatic terms imaginable not to let go no matter what the young man felt, or what he experienced. "Matthew, if you let go before the transfer is complete we'll both be destroyed. Worse, most of what is now Florida will become the newest portions of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean respectively. I'm going to run an electrical current through your hands and arms so you won't be able to loosen your grip. Don't throw your weight backward or sharply to either side, and let me in when you feel something pushing against you from outside. I wish we had more time, but if we're going to do this, we have to do it now. Oh, and Matthew? Whatever happens remember I had no doubts and no regrets when it came to choosing you. Are you ready?" Unwilling to overthink the decision he'd just made, the wiry young man nodded once decisively as his midnight blue eyes met Camael's swirling gold and silver orbs.

It began with a pleasant wave of gentle warmth and building relaxation. Mindful of Camael's words, Matthew dutifully did his best to think and feel open, receptive and focused on what was happening just this instant. The warmth rapidly scaled upward into real heat, even as relaxation intensified into out and out euphoria. It took a second for an increasingly boneless-feeling young man to realize he was now seated beside the critically injured Power. The realization he was completely exposed in broad daylight as he sat in this parking lot came to him dimly, as if from a great distance and absent the omnipresent terror which would've accompanied such a realization even five minutes ago. He'd just vaguely formed the beginnings of the necessary resolve to try and be curious how Camael was putting him so at ease when, seeming as if it was being whispered to him from the other end of a tunnel, Matthew "heard" the Angel's mental voice saying "I'm sorry you have to experience this next part. We'll make it through this, TOGETHER! Be brave and hold on Matthew."

Agony. A simple word, but one with countless aspects and permutations. Like flipping a switch the steady heat felt scalding in an instant and seemingly combustion-worthy between one moment and the next. Had one been able to ask him just then, Matthew would've been utterly certain nothing could possibly be worse, nothing could be more central to his present life-narrative than this feeling of being burned alive. He would've been wrong with an intensity that defies easy description. Before the sensation of white-hot molten metal passing through every particle of his being had time to truly register, the molten metal had pooled and gathered itself into a tight knot somewhere inside he couldn't have pointed at on an anatomical diagram and grew...quiescent. Just in time for the two hands of a silent and invisible giant to grasp him and begin shattering and kneading him like stiff bread dough. After a particularly bad series of breaks, the twenty-five year old found a split-second of lucidity when that pain drained to nowhere almost as soon as he'd begun to experience it. In his last tick of feeling anything but the pain while the giant hands continued to break and shatter him, Matthew felt him...Camael. He realized in a flash of intuition that the Angel, shattered as he was before this even began, was shouldering both "his own" half of the pain AND as much of Matthew's pain as he could while still keeping the transfer under control. The young man would never be sure where he found the wherewithal, but after only a few selfishly weak moments Matthew mentally "shouted."

"Cama..el. You..can't shield me..like th..is. Flori..da..becomes G..gulf. W..won't...d-ie...on you!" Matthew knew he'd been heard when the various pains, being eaten away by acids, convulsed endlessly by lightning strikes, frozen solid to be shattered all multiplied by some hideous number he never wanted to know. Time and direction lost all meaning, leaving him floating in a vivisectionist's Hell of ever-mutable pain. Surprisingly, he only found himself genuinely longing for death once. It only lasted a few eon-moments, but it gave Matthew a new companion in the torturous void. Guilt. As he suffered, the faces of the people he'd personally seen die or have their bodies stolen rose up to face him and grow accusing. "Who are you, the beneficiary of such a gift to plead for death? You, who might actually experience a breath, a single heartbeat without the terror of being discovered either by those who ate us alive or stole our bodies and futures? How DARE YOU even CONSIDER dying? Are you really that miserable a coward? Don't you know that Sargent was all but certain his crossbow bolt would never reach the Angel who killed his wife? Yet he took his shot, and paid the price. He TRIED. As. Must. You."

Completely out of his head, Matthew promised the ghosts he'd never consider giving up again.

The pain reached a new phase just as equilibrium and his sense of his own body began to return by increments. It took Matthew several long moments to realize it wasn't simply a change in the nature of the alternating sorts of pain he was experiencing. At some point while he'd been lost in said pain a sea-change in how he thought and processed the stimuli from his body had occurred. It wasn't easy, but he managed to sort of push the pain to one side in favor of experiencing the most profound of the new experiences and sensations being fed to him like high-speed data packets. Just before he could well and truly begin to focus on them however, the dense knot of molten metal pain Matthew had lost track of earlier reemerged, split in half and tunneled into the area to each side of both shoulder-blades as its scorching weave infiltrated the muscles of his back and torso with precision. A short while ago he would've called this twinned stabbing and grinding pain agony, but now he knew better. This was pain, but pain with a specific purpose. The transforming young man simply lacked the foggiest idea what that purpose might be.

"That was the physical part Matthew. It'll take your body some time to fully acclimate, but physically you're now Nephilim. Now it gets disorienting, and we don't have the time to ease you into and through this. Don't even try to sort through the thoughts, images, memories and experiences. As soon as the stream stops and you see my body start to glow, grab your bag and head SOUTHEAST for the Sweetwater Wetlands as fast as you can, stopping for nothing but unavoidable self-defense. Got it" Camael asked mentally. A silent double-nod from Matthew that yes, he understood and yes he was ready to finish this...THEN Matthew found his voice, just in time to scream and shout. Not only in pain or due to fear, but for a spectra of emotions and mindsets making the former medical student feel simultaneously small and yet intimately interconnected with countless other Somethings. He didn't try to "hold on to the rock" or "ride the waves"...in point of fact, the radically altered young man didn't, couldn't do anything except try and keep his proverbial head above water. In the back of his mind, Matthew occasionally felt things click into place like two or more matching puzzle pieces being joined together. The overall level of distraction and disorientation was simply too great to make rhyme or reason of any of it presently however. Until finally, with one last tremendous surge that felt as if his overfull gray matter might begin to spill out, everything stopped.

Glancing over at Camael's broken body beside him, Matthew had just started to reach for the ex-Angel's body when his now much keener eyes noticed the glow that was just beginning to rapidly grow in strength and suffuse his benefactor's body. Remembering the gravity of the Angel's warning that he run as soon as he could perceive the glow, Matthew grabbed his bug-out bag and darted away, offering his gratitude silently, saying "Thank you Camael. I pray your courage and sacrifice are rewarded in the next life. As for this one: I promise you I won't quit, won't stop until things are better than they were before all this or I'm dead. Somehow I know this next part isn't really your thing, but when it's safe I'll tell others about the Power who fought on alone despite being betrayed on all sides. Goodbye Camael."

Faintly, faint enough he'd often wonder if he imagined it while sprinting deeper into Depot Park as the still-increasing glow turned the beginnings of dusk back into early afternoon for several hundred yards around the former Angel's body, Matthew thought he silently "heard" the word "Goodbye"....just before a column of white flame roared upward, as a far thinner and briefer wave of white fire raced outward along the ground to consume the motley assemblage of horrors whose hunger for the Angel's flesh had overruled their native caution.

Still Matthew ran on, only now with tears drying on his cheeks as soon as he shed them.

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Re: When the Stars Fell

Post by Wyldwraith » Fri Feb 03, 2017 8:41 pm

Archer Post Office: Archer, Florida: Alachua County. June 3, 2021, 4:25am

Following the plan, Matthew had run south-by-southeast until he encountered the marshy outskirts of the Prairie. However, the Plan had failed to take several important factors into account. First, there was his speed. An experienced runner whose personal best over the mile had been four minutes and fifty-seven seconds at twenty one years old. At twenty-five Matthew was certain one of two things was true. Either he was effortlessly covering a mile of broken and uneven terrain every one minute and twenty seconds, or he'd completely taken leave of his senses. Choosing to ignore the insanity option for the moment brought him to the second and third factors of the Plan in need of adjustment. Having blown by the small series of caves he'd planned to spend the night in had left him no choice but to turn inland and locate a building he could quietly secure...towards the end of the peak feeding hours of the night denizens. Which is how he'd ended up skulking from shadow to shadow across the parking lot of the Archer, Florida Post Office.

On the one hand, the task of avoiding trouble was made easier by the new moon-enhanced darkness seeming as detailed, clear and colorful as full morning to his vision. With the same and much more to be said for the increased sensitivity of his hearing and sense of smell. On the other hand, Matthew was acutely aware of the fact that many varieties of nightstalker which would love to consume him possessed similar abilities. He'd thought it something of a miracle something hadn't crossed his trail and caught up with him that way, until it finally occurred to him he probably smelled at least partly "Angelic"...Angels being one of the few entities many supernatural creatures would balk at initiating aggression against. Either way, he just wanted to get inside and put his back to a wall so he could regroup. Having circled the building twice and finding nothing to indicate anyone or anything had been present since shortly after the Second Fall, he finally moved to the side Employees' Entrance and was about to remove the locksmith's tools from his fannypack when a familiar, albeit quieter mental "voice" nearly startled the life out of him. "There's a much faster, quieter and all-around easier way to do that now that you're one of the Nephilim, Matthew. Just trace..(An image of two overlapping curves with a slightly longer straight line below both) in your mind as you think of the locks and the alarm on the door" a disembodied Camael "said."

Having miraculously avoided dropping or even jingling the locksmith's tools in his shock, The pale, straight black-haired young man put them away with the same quiet dexterity and did as the "ghost" of Camael had told him. On his second try there were two almost imperceptible click and an ever-so-faint dnn-ah sound. Trying the door as gingerly as possible, Matthew was gratified to see it swing soundlessly inward. The interior of the red brick-and-concrete building was even darker but still easily navigable with his enhanced eyesight. Stepping silently inside, he listened and sniffed intently for sixty seconds before finally satisfied no one or no things were inside waiting for him. Easing the door shut and locking it as quietly as possible, he then pulled a few of the removable cushions off the interior conference room chairs and quickly constructed a rough pallet in the conference room corner with a clear view of the room's entryway but not vice-versa. Finally, with his back and right side to a wall, Matthew allowed himself to react.

"CAMAEL! I thought you were...you know, gone when your body exploded. What...HOW are you even here!?! Matthew thought-spoke to his Angelic benefactor. The ex-Power's response was immediate as always. "You may not know of this tradition since it fell prey to morgues and other layers of modern bureaucracy over the last few decades, but for a very long time whenever feasible, a body was allowed to...let's see, the closest term you'd be familiar with would be to "lie in state" for three days and nights. The obvious reason for this was to give those mourning a tangible manifestation for their loss. The less obvious reason was to do the exact same thing for the spirit of the one who just died. The coup in Heaven is being orchestrated by THE Angel of Death, Azreal. He might well have expected I might try to destroy myself, but as you just discovered from your dash across a large portion of the Prairie Angels don't possess infinite stores of energy. Right now he has as many Death Angels as he dares pull away from other duties watching every nanosecond of the present for me along the border between this life and the next. Meanwhile, I'm here giving you a few tips while keeping an eye on their security at the same time. By doing almost nothing, I'm allowing him to run fifty thousand of his most loyal foot soldiers to the brink of a collapse it will take them anywhere from days to weeks to recover from. I am...sorry,was a Power, a Warrior-Angel. This sort of minor subversion won't by any means break his Invaders, but weary Angels make mistakes just as weary humans do. Such as being a split-second too slow to grab a crossbow bolt fired at their back from close range. For all the strengths of my ex-brothers and sisters, a key weakness is that unlike human beings no new ones are being made. Now, before you settle in for a brief nap I'd like to see you recall and execute a simple Alarm-script. Good...Good night Matthew."

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Re: When the Stars Fell

Post by Wyldwraith » Fri Feb 03, 2017 8:42 pm

Archer Post Office: Archer, Florida: Alachua County. June 3, 2021, 8:05am

For the first time in weeks, Matthew's day hadn't begun with the abortive ending of the previous night's climactic nightmare sequence. For someone who'd just run flat out through thirty-plus miles of some of the nastiest terrain central Florida had to offer, in the dark of night no less, physically he felt great. Never a morning person, the twenty-five year old mused "So, this is what they meant when they said someone is bright eyed and bushy-tailed" as he finished answering Nature's call and turned his attention to the hunter's soap he'd found some time ago and water from one of the office cooler jugs. Scrubbed as clean as he was going to get, Matthew changed into another t-shirt and pair of blue jeans followed by socks and his broken-in hiking boots. Finger combing his hair as a final touch, he finally squatted down and dug out an easy-open tin of cold beef stew. That's when the ex-Angel's "ghost" chimed in for the first time this morning.

"If I were you, I'd dig another can of that out now and save yourself the trouble once you realize just how hungry you actually are Matthew. Despite my old body having provided over ninety-five percent of the energy required first for the material transformation and then the transfer of my knowledge, skills and memories, the process burned through a huge number of calories. You'll get much of that back, and keep getting it back from ambient energies in the environment, but you're still more flesh and blood than say, the energy form of a biologically bodiless Angel or spirit. You can go long periods without this sort of sustenance, but I wouldn't recommend it. The faster you replace lost energy the swifter the return of your strength and vitality, and the greater the reserves at your disposal when you need to dig deep. In many respects it's only the scale and relative metabolic speeds that differentiate your Nephilim body from your human one. Yes, I know you could easily reason this all out. Just trying to do my small part so you can hold onto your calm and enjoy breakfast, such as it is, after the insanity that was yesterday" a disembodied Camael "said" into his mind with enough warmth and easy camaraderie to make Matthew smile as he silently agreed with the ex-Angel and dug out and opened another can of beef stew.

As predicted, Matthew found he was ravenous enough to polish off both tins of beef stew and a package of crackers he washed down with a sports drink purloined from the vending machine in the Post Office's break room. Satisfied for the moment and unwilling to take to the streets until he'd had a chance to get a jump on digesting the large meal, the newly minted Nephilim turned his attention to his invisible ally and silently asked "Camael. Could...could you tell me how all this came to happen? Angels making war on human beings as the bogeymen from our myths and legends reappear with their own axes to grind?"

Enough time passed in silence for Matthew to wonder if he'd offended Camael, and if so, how? So it was almost surprising to hear the ex-Angel's mental voice at all. Let alone filled with such heaviness and sadness. "Did you know the word Angel means Messenger? Oh, we performed countless tasks for an equal number of purposes throughout Creation of course. Yet delivering the knowledge of Father's Will, passing on a fragment of His enlightened understanding and yes, pronouncing a Judgment in Father's Name...Those were the sort of communication-related undertakings far and away most likely to reveal us as something Other. Something separate and distinct from those with whom we communicated. My memory doesn't stretch all the way back to the Beginning, but it comes close. When Father Spoke me into Being and I could finally see beyond His Radiance, I recall the six-winged Seraphim of flame. Like the one you saw in the parking lot. There were the four-headed and four-winged Cherubim, and the Thrones looking like elderly yet extremely robust scholars. The Dominions were the first wing-bearing Angels I saw who appeared very similar to me, though each possessed a glowing orb of some kind kept on or about their person. The Virtues were the next to be created, and I am...or rather I was of their Choir. Powerful warriors and ministers, appearing as beautifully winged men and women arrayed in robes or armor with each bearing weapons. On and on, Father Speaking one Choir after the next into being. When He had finished all was joy and harmony. Each of us were aware of the different manners in which we could choose to serve, and eagerly sought out those brothers and sisters who could assist us in making our aspirations into reality. Later, things like recognition for exceptional service and elevation to positions of greater responsibility as a result of continued excellence and a personal history of extraordinary success in one's vocation would emerge. Still, that unification of the Choirs through common purpose and the perception of our fellow Angels as brothers who were closer than brothers, and sisters that were closer than sisters remained a large part of the bedrock upon which the Host rested. At least that's what many of us, including me, believed."

When Camael paused again Matthew suddenly realized this was exactly what his new companion needed. Someone to listen without judging in order to give the grieving and traumatized Angelic spirit the opportunity to "catch his breath" emotionally and psychologically. Someone willing to act as a sounding board for him as he sought to make sense of the chaos, collective madness and evil permeating the brothers, sisters and home he'd accepted as eternal constants in his life since a beginning so long ago Matthew couldn't have begun to comprehend yesterday when he was.."only human" he finished.

Another thirty seconds went by before Camael's spoke into his mind once more. Almost immediately it became obvious that while the Virtue was no longer speaking of the present, he perceived a strong connection between then and now as he narrated "I don't know precisely when it began, but looking back on it things had been changing for some time. You'd see two or three Angels off to the side talking animatedly, but they'd fall silent if you or anyone else began to approach. Or you'd encounter one of the Principalities hurrying away from a Throne they didn't work under. In certain areas the atmosphere grew...tense. We were all so innocent when it came to our home and each other. Take my comment about the tension, for example. It took me longer than a mortal lifetime to name what I was feeling around me as tension! For me, the tipping point was the abrupt reception of two immediately subsequent messages.

"The first was message from the Dominion Eieal, who was directing the effort to curtail the influence and activities of three malevolent entities as powerful as they were amoral in the Sumerian city-state of Uruk. The message stated his need to speak with me, privately and as soon as possible regarding significant changes to the current plan he was considering. Something didn't feel right about his request. Not after we'd just concluded an exhaustive two day meeting concerning the plan and every possible complication we could conceive of. Yet Eieal was my brother and my superior. The idea of consciously distrusting a brother or sister was as yet unthinkable. The second message came from Hofniel himself. He was the one who warned me of Lucifer's failed coup having grown into outright Rebellion. It took showing me the slash to his right wing he'd received during his escape from just the sort of "Join Us or Perish" ambush Eieal had laid for me to persuade me Angels were fighting Angels. After his escape, Hofniel had been ordered to gather what Loyalists he encountered along the way and make for the assigned rallying point. Yet Hofniel and I had been the closest of brothers for more than fifteen thousand Earth-years by then. He placed his lieutenant in charge of consolidating and guiding the Loyalists in the area to the rally-point and left them to rescue me. Wise, soft-spoken Hofniel, who hated to even carry a weapon. Who had mourned the necessity of their existence for at least as long as I'd known him. He cut down seven of our brothers and two of our sisters to arrive in time to warn me. It wasn't until we'd set out for the rallying point he'd told me about that. I'd wondered then, how I'd failed to see the spatters of silver blood drying on his silver robe and in his silver hair. Knowing him, I could imagine how excruciating an experience must've been for him. I started casting about for words of comfort, but his ever so quiet laughter stopped and befuddled me. I'll NEVER forget what he said next however. "Camael, I was so terribly afraid. Afraid I'd be too late, or that there would be too many Rebels. When I saw you standing there, untouched and unharmed by the violence of Lucifer's Rebellion. Knowing the terrible price I'd been asked to pay to see my brother and best friend alive and safe. Even as I knew I'd have paid it again if I had it to do over and more besides...Brother, I could feel the Traitor Morningstar's claim that Father loves us less than Man because we are in some way less than Man for the hateful, spiteful lie it is. Angel or Human, we are all Father's children."

The ex-Angel went on to describe the war in Heaven. How two thirds of the Angelic Host remained loyal and battled the Cherubim Lucifer and the third of the Host that Rebelled. Answering Matthew's unasked question as to how an army outnumbered two to one could hold out for long, let alone pose any threat of winning, Camael explained that a disproportionately large percentage of individually powerful Angels went over to the Rebels. He pointed out that many of these powerful Rebels came from the more militant Choirs, though there was a detectable trace of pride in his mental "voice" when he declared "Not ONE Power ever Rebelled!" Finally, Matthew's question as to why the "Second Fall" was happening could be sidestepped no longer. Why were Angels were making war on Humanity?

There was genuine tiredness in Camael's "voice" as he began by explaining "Angels have a much more pronounced need for order than humans do. For humans, order is a great benefit. It allows you to labor, defend or attack collectively. Yet isolate a primitive survival skills expert alone in the wilderness with the clothing and a handful of his tools of choice, then leave him to his own devices for five years. He'll probably be more than a bit eccentric after five years alone, but maybe he'll have taken to such a lifestyle like a bird taking to the open sky. If you put an Angel in the same situation the differences wouldn't be readily or immediately apparent, because the Angel would undoubtedly be old enough to have learned patience and self-discipline, but the situation would rapidly become an exercise in resisting the attrition of the mind. Every Angel in Creation has first-hand knowledge of how dangerous and destructive pride can be, but without pride, self-confidence and other similar aspects of a more individualistic mindset we Angels tend towards collectivism. It makes many, if not the majority of us, vulnerable to simply falling in and following strong leaders. When that leader was Archangel Michael, who in turn served Father directly all was well." As before, Matthew remained silent and attentive when Camael grew quiet. After awhile Camael picked up where he'd left off. If possible his disembodied mental voice sounded even heavier and wearier than it had before.

"Until one day all wasn't well. I don't know this next part firsthand, but I've heard eight different accounts including those of two Archangels and six others. Each account is in accord with the other seven. One minute Father was having a very important meeting with the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael. A meeting which had been going on for two days by that point, which involved sending large numbers of couriers to the Mistress of the Library for answers to wildly differing questions concerning humanity. All very strange, given Father would obviously have no need to ask questions. One of the Archangels might not be able to answer a particularly obscure question off the top of their head, but with the other three present beside them? Even stranger was their sending Angelic couriers to the Library for the information, rather than simply summoning said information. In any case, Michael suddenly opened the double-doors to the meeting hall Father and the four of them had been using. Gabriel walked past Michael and Announced..."Father is Gone! Look not to Michael, Uriel, Raphael or myself. We have no answers, explanations or commands for the Choirs. You are all Sons and Daughters of the Highest, just as Man and Woman are." Camael revealed.

Remembering what Camael had just told him about the Angelic need for order, Matthew tried to imagine the chaos created by such a pronouncement. The closest analogy he could think of would be someone using the P.A system to deliberately incite panic in a crowded building. Only scaled up immensely and encompassing panicked individuals with powers his mind shuddered back from envisioning their being employed by people for whom fear had overwhelmed reason. So horrified was he by the imagined scene of chaos that he almost missed it when Camael began speaking again. "That wasn't the worst of it either. Almost immediately, reports of first Messengers and Ministering Spirits that were unable to be found, and then Angels from all the Choirs came pouring in. At the same time messages began coming in from Angels who'd happened to be on Earth at the time of Archangel Gabriel's Announcement, saying they were unable to return home for reasons they didn't understand. That's when we all began to feel it. A downward, gravity-like draw towards the Earth. That's also when it became clear why many Angels were falling to Earth or unable to return from there. Personal power. Those who had it could resist the pull, at least for a time, or fight against the pull to reach Home. In an afternoon Heaven was transformed from our Eternal Home into a place eighty percent of us couldn't even reach without the aid of the other twenty percent, and where even the mightiest twenty percent could only be visitors without taking extraordinary steps. For all intents and purposes we were Cast Out Matthew! Camael, brave and unflinching Virtue that he was, made a sound it took the shocked young man a few moments to recognize and process. Once it had the sound frightened Matthew and made his heart feel as if it might break for his companion.

Camael was sobbing. Anguished, forlorn little half-cries that seemed torn from the Angel's emotional bedrock. Moved to do something that might make the Angel feel less alone and adrift, Matthew spoke suddenly and from the heart. "Camael, I give you my word I'll do whatever I can to help figure all this out and stop the fighting. I haven't forgotten all the millennia your kind faithfully watched over and protected my kind. Even from ourselves when necessary. After all, what did your old friend Hofniel say? Angel or Human, we're all Father's children. I don't have any answers, but someone out there does. There's a solution out there, waiting to be found and seized I'm sure of it" the twenty-five year old mentally relayed to his ghostly companion. Gradually silence returned to whatever mental wavelength the pair used to communicate.

When Camael "spoke" again it was as if the emotional outburst had never happened. "OK, I want to show you two extremely useful skills and how to employ them simultaneously. The first of these skills is how to alter and reconfigure matter at the atomic level. Many of the upsides of this skill are obvious, but you'll find more than one surprise as you continue to hone the skill. The downsides, on the other hand, aren't nearly so obvious. They make this something you don't want to be doing on the fly until you've had considerably more practice. One of the biggest drawbacks to fundamentally altering and then reshaping matter is the amount of arcane "noise" made during the process. Calling it "noise" isn't precisely correct, but you get the idea. All Angels and quite a few other sorts of beings can "hear" this "noise" from closer or further away, with factors like how powerful or sensitive to changes in the environment they are, how far away they are while the process is occurring, and what sorts of intervening environmental factors might be in play. For example, as with conventional sound the thick brick and stone walls of this Post Office would do more to muffle and otherwise minimize the "noise" than a sliding glass door. Which brings us to the second skill, which is to diffuse the "noise" in such a way as to all but silence it. I'm sure you're asking yourself why I'm bringing all this up now. One word: Defense. That machete you're carrying is fine as improvised weapons go, but it has a couple of critical flaws. The first is that it was neither intended or designed as a melee weapon. Land a blow the wrong way or in the wrong place and it will snap like dry wood. The machete's second flaw is that it's composed of simple steel. Steel can injure an Angel and several other kinds of supernatural creature, but injuries caused by steel will heal extremely fast. What you need Matthew, is a short sword made of Celestial steel."

Following Camael's suggestions, Matthew finished his departure preparations by refilling his canteens, scavenging whatever non-perishable food he could find and reorganizing his Bug Out Bag so its weight was properly redistributed across his shoulders. Only once all that was done did Matthew lay out the machete, hunting knife, extra belt and a leather jacket he'd found in the Lost and Found in the work space Camael had instructed him to clear. Holding a black magic marker in hand, Matthew closed his eyes and reviewed the first group of six symbols and the second pair of symbols until he was certain he could draw them in their proper places backward and asleep. Keeping his breathing even, the young Nephilim drew the last two symbols first. One at the top and just outside the sizable circle he'd drawn, and the other at the bottom of the circle. There was the faintest whoosh-whoosh sound, then nothing. Encouraged, Matthew laid the machete, its sheath and belt inside the circle and concentrated on the image of the plain unadorned double-edged weapon of the silvery metal Camael had shown him. Again came the whoosh-whoosh sound as he drew the next two symbols this time to the circle's right. He did the same for the former machete's sheath and belt, changing them into a proper scabbard and weapon's belt. Repeating the process twice more, once to change the hunting knife into a dagger of celestial steel and its sheath into a scabbard that attached to the weapons belt, and finally to change the leather jacket into a ringmail-impressed light leather jerkin. With the last symbol drawn and change made, there was a slightly louder whoosh-whoosh-WHOOSH and a dull white flash that momentarily dazzled Matthew. When his new sensitive vision cleared a couple seconds later the circle and the symbols he'd drawn had vanished, leaving only the transformed objects. Belting the weapons belt on and sliding the new weapons into their new sheaths felt eerily second-nature to the Nephilim. Even the lightly armored jerkin posed no difficulties. When Matthew settled the backpack across his shoulders and turned for the door, he wasn't consciously aware of it but he was holding himself and moving like a trained warrior.

As Matthew eased open the Post Office door Camael momentarily considered pointing out that wearing a backpack over the emergence-points of one's wings was needlessly cumbersome, but chose to err on the side of caution and remain silent. Matthew hadn't noticed the slits in the back of his t-shirt, and seemed oblivious to the fact he'd shaped the ring mail inlaid leather jerkin with matching slits in the back for his wings. Taken together, the two oversights told the ex-Angel his protege simply wasn't ready to acknowledge the fact he had wings as yet. Besides, if all went well he'd have plenty of time to help his protege acclimate to his profoundly altered nature.

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Re: When the Stars Fell

Post by Wyldwraith » Fri Feb 03, 2017 8:42 pm

Outside the Archer Post Office. Archer, Florida. June 3, 2021. 12:25pm

Glancing around the right rear corner of the squat and blocky Post Office for any sign(s) of movement, and testing the air for any unfamiliar or out of place scents with his keen sense of smell told Matthew nothing. If common sense hadn't made it clear one of easiest paths into or out of Gainesville proper ran through this small town he might have been able to believe the small town of Archer was as deserted as it seemed to be. Keen eyes still surreptitiously scanning his environs, the Nephilim knew what needed to do, but chose to double-check with his spectral partner anyways.

"Well, what do you think Camael? I haven't willingly moved out into the open since the nature of the Fall became clear, so this is all unexplored territory for me. I have a few hunches and the produce of what seems like common sense to guide me, but it seemed prudent to consult the individual who was fighting for his life and helping others survive doing the same before my species stopped being hunter-gatherers. How should I play this?" Matthew asked. The ex-Virtue's response came with its customary immediacy, but it was the decisively direct "tone" of that response which told the young man this was something Camael had given a great deal of thought.

"First, notice the lack of that static charge that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up when it's present. That's one of the giveaways to a more powerful Angel, or in your case Nephilim, that one or more individually weaker Angels are or aren't nearby. Call it within a mile and a half to be on the safe side for now. An Angel who is your equal in terms of power, or only slightly stronger could try to conceal that tell-tale, but the cost to them would rapidly become prohibitive. You, on the other hand, are incredibly difficult to locate mystically unless you're actively using power like back in the Post Office...and that's if they even knew to be looking for one of the Nephilim, which they most assuredly don't know as yet. It's this extreme difficulty in trying to locate one or more of your kind when you don't want to be found that became one of the factors in Father's decision to employ a near-global purge. Now, before you start thinking you're an undetectable ghost, remember that members of the higher Choirs were all active during the Time of the Nephilim. The lessons they learned then are just as clear in their memories now as they were millennia ago. Returning to the problem at hand, during the daylight hours many of the monsters as you call them either sleep the day away or must actively hide from the sun's rays. However, you must never make the mistake of assuming that just because a creature's mobility is currently curtailed by daylight that it isn't the same potentially deadly threat it'd be if you encountered it face to face come nightfall. Some are actually far more dangerous during the day. Remembering the saying about even a rat turning to fight when cornered could save your life Matthew. When you must cover open ground like this during the day move purposefully, but not so quickly as to give the impression you're fleeing or otherwise allowing fear to overrule reason. Enough fear to keep you sharp and aware is good. More than that marks you out as prey. Unfortunately, the behavior required to persuade any watching creatures you aren't easy prey can alarm any surviving humans, whose nerves could at best be described as frayed by this point. After all, what would the Matthew of two days ago have thought if he saw someone like you are now stride purposefully from cover to cross the street with calm deliberation? Camael alternately explained and questioned.

Taking the points made by his partner to heart, Matthew's left hand unconsciously dropped to the sword hilt at his waist as he took a deep breath and strode out from behind the Post Office toward what a street sign a couple hundred feet to his right proclaimed was S. University Avenue. Having spent more than a little time earlier in the morning studying a few of the more helpful maps he'd found in the Post Office's information kiosk, he'd concluded if there were any human beings left in town it was likely they'd be hunkered down in or near the Archer Family Health Care Center. The map indicated it had a small trauma center, and that meant medical supplies if not medical personnel who'd "sheltered in place" as the TV and radio had initially advised. Even more promising were the Wal-Mart and Dollar General stores less than two blocks away. Not to mention the Shell and Chevron stations bookending the street both were on. If anything though, the close to ideal short-term setup was fostering Matthew's doubt that he'd find anyone.

Turning left onto One Hundred Thirty-Fourth Avenue, he was straining his acute senses for any signs of life as he approached the Health Care Center. So Matthew caught the flicker of movement on the one-story stuccoed building's rooftop just in time to dive and roll for cover behind the engine block of an abandoned tow truck as the first two shots rang out. "Hunting rifles. Mid-range caliber. Accurate out to about twelve hundred feet or maybe a bit further with a good scope" Camael helpfully supplied. Matthew heard the Angel distinctly, but his attention at that moment was for the most part dominated by the sudden sharpening of already acute senses. The rush of blood and adrenaline causing the pounding drumbeat in his ears, and the absolutely stunning amount of anger he was feeling towards the trigger-happy asshole who'd just tried to murder him for walking openly down the street. Hardly conscious of what he was doing, Matthew began rifling the memories he'd received from Camael for some particularly destructive means of retribution when, without any warning, Camael roared "STOP! THINK! Those are people up there! Do you really want to KILL them? To leave women and their children with no one to rely on? This is not you! The man I know, the man I believe in so completely I entrusted him with Power beyond the wildest dreams of Humanity would never execute two men who made a bad decision because they're frightened, angry, traumatized and exhausted. Matthew, this is the first time you decide to be a protector..or just another killer with supernatural powers."

For a moment, Matthew felt like he was two different people. One, the outraged and infuriated Being of Power who demanded swift and ruthless retribution for the unprovoked attempt on his life. The other, a scared and pissed-off former college student wondering how things had grown so bad, in such a short amount of time for "shoot first and ask questions never" to become the order of the day. Then Camael's words sunk in and the horrifying realization of what he'd come so close to doing hit him. Lurching forwards, Matthew's stomach emptied and kept emptying until there was nothing but acid and bile left to expel. By the time his stomach had returned to some approximation of normal function there was no hint the bloodthirsty Other had ever been. Hands still a little shaky, it took him a bit of doing to wrestle off his backpack to where he could dig out one of the canteens, fill his mouth with water and then spit a couple of times. Once he'd gotten rid of most of the vile taste he greedily guzzled down at least half the canteen before replacing it in his backpack. Before he wrestled the pack back onto his shoulders, Matthew very deliberately removed the .45 Beretta Px4 Storm his father had gotten him for his last birthday. The memory of the two of them taking the Concealed Carry Permitting classes together, and partnering for the requisite proficiency exercises momentarily brought a ghost of a smile to his face and a slight easing of the muscle tension he hadn't been consciously aware of until that moment. Yet no sooner did his long-fingered hand close around the grip of the weapon as he reflexively ejected the magazine plus the round in the chamber, he found himself flashing back to that flicker of movement and his dive for cover as the shots rang out. As soon as the flashback ended Matthew slid the magazine home once more. Opting to leave the chamber empty, he double-checked that the safety was on, put the extra magazine in the right pocket of his coat-jerkin and put the gun in the back of his waistband. Once he'd returned the backpack to its usual position across his shoulders, Matthew finally "spoke" to his incorporeal partner.

What..what just happened to me Camael? I dove for cover right as they started shooting, but as soon as I really understood what was happening it was like.." Matthew trailed off as he tried and failed to find the right words to describe the experience.

This time the former Angel's response was anything but immediate. A sudden flash of intuition gave Matthew the impression the ancient being he'd chosen to trust and who, more to the point had chosen to trust him was searching intently for the words that would explain what had happened without causing his "apprentice" unnecessary pain and upset. A long minute went by before Camael spoke, and when he did the heaviness Matthew had heard in his mental "voice" was back.

"In some respects, Angels and Humans aren't that different. We both have highly developed fight-or-flight and self-preservation instincts, and similar emotional responses to many situations. Feeling fury and outrage towards someone for trying to kill us without warning or rational motivation? That's a perfect example of an emotional response Angels and Humans share in common. The difference is in the intensity of the emotional response. Warrior Angels have been battling inconceivably nightmarish beings almost as long as Creation has existed. Conflicts like that leave no room for hesitation. The combatant who repeatedly strikes the swiftest and hardest survives. While the defeated, if they are fortunate, get destroyed. Stakes that high, coupled with the crystal-clear memories of all the previous conflicts...They make of us something akin to the tense, nearly always "on guard" veteran Sheriffs, Marshals and gunfighters of your Old West. Only instead of primitive projectile weapons, Angels and Nephilim, especially "first generation" Nephilim like yourself are armed with sufficient Power and versatile means of using it to turn a given area into a lifeless wasteland. Which probably answers your question as to why Father would temporarily drown ninety-five percent of the world to eliminate four hundred and seven Nephilim. Bottom line Matthew? You must maintain control. Yes, what those men did was barbaric, but.." Camael explained, before trailing off.

Shaking off the chill which had come with these disturbing revelations before it could snowball into something emotionally paralyzing, Matthew refocused his attention on the current situation. Hard as it was to believe, his watch confirmed less than three minutes had gone by since the reports of the two rifle shots. With the telltale "static" sensation Camael had equated to nearby Angels still absent, experience gained from weeks spent observing situations just like this one from hiding told him that left monsters willing and able to brave daylight, other humans with unknown agendas, or both to determine where the shots had originated from and then plan their approach(es). Depending on a lot of factors he hadn't been able to quantify, or even identify from a stationary position of concealment Matthew's educated guess placed the first of the interlopers in the immediate area sometime in the next five to seven minutes. Communicating with the men on the roof would mean shouting back and forth. Which would lead those on the way here even faster. Now that he had first-hand experience with just how sharp the senses of supernatural beings could be, all that seemed like a moot point to the dark-haired Nephilim at this point. "As soon as three or four Were-Beasts get within two or three blocks of here all they have to do is either circle until they pick up the scent of the two shooters, or hunker down and wait for the wind to shift and do the legwork for them. Hell, I'm upwind and over a block away and I can smell the freshly burnt gunpowder from here without trying!" Matthew thought to himself. Hastily sketching out the broad strokes of a plan, he quickly ran it by Camael for his critique. The former Virtue agreed with both his plan and assessment that time was of the essence so, doing his best to stifle the sudden bout of anxiety he was feeling, Matthew got on with it.

"HEY! The guys who took a couple shots at me" Matthew called out loudly. As quick as he dared, he traced the required Glyph to quietly yet clearly send his voice from where he crouched behind the tow truck to the rooftop where now and then he caught a glimpse of one of the two shooters to said shooters. Then, he traced another Glyph so the "noise" of what Camael called a "sending" would seem to emanate from the rooftop instead of from his location. When he heard the pair of whoosh-whoosh "sounds"...one seeming to come from the Family Health Care Center, Matthew mentally breathed a sigh of relief. Especially when there was no immediate response to his initial call-out to the rooftop shooters. Keeping his voice down, but enunciating his words carefully as Camael advised, Matthew laid it out for the shooters.

"Listen. Yes, I have some unusual abilities. I, however, am NOT your problem. Judging by the fact you're proficient with the hunting rifles you're using, one or more of you has some experience as a hunter. Ask them how many shots fired from the same location it takes a human being who knows what they're doing to roughly determine where a shot originated from. While you're doing that, ask them how precisely say..a former Fish & Game Officer who was concealing the fact they're a Were-Cougar until the Second Fall...Whose hearing, not to mention sense of smell is at least one hundred times more acute than yours, could track those two shots PLUS the odor of burnt gunpowder that's been swirling all around the Health Care Center since those shots were fired. Go ahead, I'll wait. When you're ready to talk, keep your voices down and speak with the intent of me hearing you. I'm Matthias, by the way" Matthew/"Matthias" explained.

Keeping a close eye on his watch, Matthew was beginning to grow worried when a full minute elapsed without a response. At a minute and a half he was beginning to worry the people inside the Health Care Center were so frightened this his minor display of supernatural ability had tipped them into allowing fear rather than reason to make their decisions. Just before the two minute mark passed, the quiet voice of an older man spoke into Matthew's right ear saying "Matthias? This is Jacob, can your hear me?"

Resisting the urge to breathe a loud sigh of relief, Matthew calmly responded, saying "I can hear you Jacob. It's good to hear a human voice. I take it you and your compatriots agree with my assessment there's going to be some very unfriendly company around here in the next few minutes? Company with noses like hunting dogs?"

There was a momentary pause, then Jacob replied "Yes. My oldest grandson here Will. He used to work in Alaska, helping trash and house-raiding bears to re-learn their fear of man. He says if these...things, can smell us one tenth as well as a bear can then the scent of me and Dennis wafting off the roof since we got here yesterday and set up a lookout, plus the scent of the gunpowder from the shots we fired at you, then we're as good as cooked if any of them are within miles of here. That's without even taking the noise of the shots into account, I know that much from twenty-seven deer seasons in the woods and half-again that hiking with the kids and grandkids. Was damned foolish of us...But son, being frank with you here. Will brought up a good point. You're describing how the noise and the scents carry in a way that tells us YOU have a nose and ears like those things. For all we know up here, you ARE one of them. Just meant to keep us talking and distracted until the rest of your...men, have us surrounded. So, unless you can provide a truly EXCELLENT reason to disprove that theory, well...I have a lot of family here to think about. Again, being straight with you...I believe that whatever you are you want to help us. However, my girls and one of my grand-girls are married, and their men aren't nearly as convinced. So Matthias, I'm truly hoping you HAVE that good explanation. I feel ashamed, I want you to know. Doubting a Good Samaritan like I can feel you are...but men have the right to protect the women they say their vows with as seems best to them. We all here agreed you could have sixty seconds to decide whether your secrets or reassuring us so you can help us are more important. I know you'll do the right thing Son. Sixty seconds..starting, now" Jacob finished.

Taken aback, for a moment Matthew couldn't think. "God, what am I supposed to tell them? If I tell them the truth, they'll panic, if I don't...I.." Matthew's thoughts raced like this until Camael gently but firmly cut in.

"Tell them the truth Matthew. I've been around a long time, and I've met more than a few like this Jacob. Whatever he said, convince him and the rest will follow his lead. You'll need to condense things, and obviously critical secrets are unnecessary disclosures. Just tell them what happened to me, how I found you, what you agreed to and WHY!" Camael stated with the supreme self-assurance he displayed at times. Not at all sure this was the right way to go about this, but unable to come up with a better alternative in the time alotted, Matthew agreed.

"Jacob. Approximately forty-eight hours ago I was just as human as you and your family. Then, from where I was hiding I saw four Angels attack a group of humans. A much more powerful Angel named Camael showed up to try and stop them, but it was a trap they'd laid for him. Several more powerful Angels appeared suddenly and a brutal fight ensued. He fought it out, but ultimately their superior numbers were too much. They left him broken and paralyzed for the monsters to...to eat alive. Then his essence would return to Heaven, where they'd continue the torture until he'd do anything to make it stop. Even swear allegiance to Azreal, the Angel of Death. Camael was the leader of the Powers, so controlling him would be an enormous advantage to whichever Angelic warlord could manage it. The Powers are Heaven's Special Forces and shock troops. They won't fight for Azreal or anyone else without Camael's express command. Meanwhile, Camael had plans of his own. Plans that didn't involve returning to the series of armed camps Heaven has become. Apparently, he'd been observing me for awhile. Whatever he saw convinced Camael to give me his Power, in addition to copies of his memories and experiences. The process destroyed what remained of his body, but his mind and spirit survived. He chose to remain here for now, in order to help me learn to use my new abilities to help humanity. I'm sorry if I startled or scared any of you earlier. I want to help the people who are left stay alive, but I couldn't think of a better way to find survivors than heading for a likely location openly and in full view. It's up to all of you now Jacob. If you tell me to go, I will go with no questions asked. I just caught the scent of at least one Were-Cat, but you have no reason to believe that's anything but a scare tactic on my part. To be perfectly honest, I'm feeling more than a little exposed here Jacob. Do you have any idea how hard it is to say out loud one of the Captains of the Host of Heaven decided I was worthy to inherit all that was his? Hell, it sounds like fantasy to me and I've lived it! I can only imagine how I must sound to all of you. But Jacob, at least do this for me if you're going to tell me to leave you and yours alone. Please. Run away from the sounds of fighting, OK? I'm going to do all everything I can to help. Even if I have to kill every last one of them. Even..even if it kills me, so help me God" Matthew finished. While he'd been talking he'd gotten loud enough as he'd grown increasingly impassioned for one of the Were-Cats two streets over to stop, cock an ear in his direction, and then disappear back the way he'd come.

For a moment it was silent, then "Well Hell, Matthias. Why didn't you just say all that in the first place? No monster looking for some humans to eat would be crazy enough to try and sell us a story like that to win our trust. Plus, I've raised five boys and two girls, overachievers one and all. Son, I've seen and heard the discomfort that comes from being recognized and honored just for being yourself and doing your best. Matthias, this Camael chose you because he sees something in you. You keep doing your best each day in each new situation and you'll see it for yourself in time. Now, since time seems to be of the essence, would you kindly come help me and mine see get through this to see another sunrise? Just get up and MOVE! I give you my WORD Son, there will be no more shooting at you. Even if I have to tie a certain someone in knots. OK?" Jacob finished asking. Matthew had just stood and was about to make a dash for it when Camael cut into his thoughts abruptly.

"It's too late for a ground approach. Several of the Were-Cats have fully shapeshifted. Fast as you are, you aren't that fast...on foot. If you stop to engage them, the rest will have turned the Health Care Center into a slaughterhouse by the time you fight your way free. I'd hoped to avoid pressing you on this until you'd acclimated further, but it's down to your emotional and psychological comfort or the eighteen souls inside that building. We both know your answer to that, so here's your solution. You haven't noticed, but there are wing-slits in your shirt, and wing-slits in your armored coat. Get the backpack off your back, relax the muscles between your shoulder-blades, then push and don't PANIC when they extend. Once they've extended simply envision yourself flying to the rooftop and let your instincts take over. Do. It. NOW! Camael explained, finishing with a roared command Matthew was responding to before he consciously registered what was happening.

There were a few false starts before Matthew could find the right group of muscles. Quite by accident the twenty-five year old rolled his shoulders forward as he often did when feeling frustrated. No sooner had he done that then he could feel them. Marveling he'd ever been oblivious to their presence, the Nephilim stepped out into the street and pushed just as Camael had indicated. There was a sliding sensation, a momentary sense of tense muscles loosening dramatically, and finally a sound like a whip being cracked as two incredibly expansive feathered wings all black feathers with dizzying striations of color snapped open to either side of him. Suddenly anxiety bordering on terror that Camael had made a mistake and he really couldn't do this momentarily threatened to overwhelm Matthew.

Then he heard the shots, several in rapid succession. Followed rapidly by an angry shout he recognized had come from Jacob. Matthew didn't think. The report as his wings caught air and thrust him powerfully upward was more like a rifle going off right beside him this time. He was sixty feet up before his wings beat again. Instinctively tilting forward, Matthew straightened out and began moving parallel to the ground with his wings beating rapidly as his acceleration increased madly. Then he was over the rooftop, where he could see a grizzled older man and a second not much older than himself desperately working back to back to fend off the pair of half-man/half-feline monstrosities.

This time Matthew didn't hesitate. Folding his wings inward three fourths of the way, he dove for the rooftop as he drew the short sword and dagger he carried. His landing lacked the fluidity he'd witnessed over the past weeks in other Angels, but his reinforced skeleton and tissues soaked up the impact so thoroughly he hardly stumbled. Drawing his wings back tight against his back, he charged the feline humanoid preparing to leap at Jacob. Though it seemed impossible even to him, somehow Matthew managed to interpose himself between the Were-Cat and the older man while the shapeshifter was still in mid-leap. He saw the baleful golden eyes widen as the creature recognized the nature of the new threat and futilely tried and failed to alter its trajectory in mid-leap. Its momentum carried it inexorably forward however, as sword and dagger both flashed in the early afternoon sun. Sharper than a razor, harder than diamond and flexible as titanium, the celestial steel sword-blade bit deeply into the left side of the Were-Cat's skull as a result of the shortened left-to-right slash Matthew had executed. A split-second later the dagger in his right hand plunged all the way to the hilt in the creature's neck, where it struck and easily parted something in its neck. The Were-Cat let out a single choked chuff noise as its body crashed into Matthew's upper chest and rebounded to land on the rooftop without even influencing the young Nephilim's balance, much to his surprise.

Out of the corner of his eye, Matthew saw the remaining Were-Cat bunching for a leap that would send it crashing into the younger man with Jacob who was currently turned side-on to the Were-Cat about to spring as he took aim at another Were-Cat trying to clamber over the edge and onto the rooftop. Knowing he'd never be able to turn and throw his dagger in time, Matthew wanted to howl with fury as the familiar helpless sensation tried to creep into the forefront of his thoughts. In that moment, he wanted nothing more than to tear the cat-beast apart before it could hurt another innocent person.

Consciously Matthew might've been out of options, but instinctively was another matter. Quicker than the strike of a cobra his left wing, with feathers that could be soft as down or harder and sharper than celestial steel stabbed sideways, cleanly shearing the top of the Were-Cat's head off just above the bridge of the nose and retracting back to lie tight against his body in less time than it would've taken to describe the event. Jacob fired at the last of the beast-men trying to gain the roof, the bullet hitting the monster in the forehead just above its left eye at near point-blank range. The heavy .30-06 round pulverized a large "pie wedge" of the creature's skull and brain matter on the upper left side, causing it to fall from its precarious perch to the parking lot some twenty plus feet below, where it landed with several loud snapping sounds.

The trio on the rooftop heard a gravelly voice call out "The meat have one of those human-loving Angels protecting them. Did you see those wings? It killed Dion without breaking a sweat. We're leaving, now!" The gravelly voice called out again, this time addressing Matthew to his surprise. "Angel. We didn't know these humans are under your protection. I have a proposal for you as the acting Alpha of the Pard. Give me your word you won't pursue us for four days and nights. In exchange, the Pard will hunt not only refrain from hunting humans we detect during the four days and nights, we will frighten them without hurting them into fleeing towards the nearest functional Secured Zone. Finally, your scent and the scents of the eighteen in there with you are now known to us. Accept my proposal and this Pard will never approach you or these eighteen and any progeny carrying their scent ever again. It's a good deal Angel. You made me Alpha, and you get to save these eighteen plus however many more are smart enough to dash for the Secured Zone. Hell, I'll even leave them maps to the nearest Secured Zones where they can accidentally find them. We don't want this fight, but there are over thirty of us. There'd be death on both sides, and FOR WHAT? So, what do you say?" The Were-Cat leader asked.

Matthew turned to Jacob with a questioning look. Jacob didn't hesitate "It IS a good deal. That Cat just struck paydirt, and he's thinking in terms of keeping his troops fresh and uninjured. He's making concessions because he's arguing from a less than ideal position, and he knows if you give enough of a shit to help us, you probably care about human lives in general. Finally, if he can close this deal with an adversary stronger than himself, he proves to his group he has more going for him as a leader than simply being the best fighter. I worked on some political campaigns when I was about your age, and that's what this is. Cutthroat politics. It's your call Matthias, but it's my family. I'm asking you to make the deal" Jacob outlined and urged.

Matthew had heard enough. "You down there. I agree to your proposal. With one caveat. This fight was between our two groups. Passing on broad brush-strokes of what went down is one thing, but I'll be exceptionally unhappy if someone ends up narrating the blow by blow of this fight to me six months from now. We have a deal?" Matthew asked.

Gravelly-Voice responded quickly, saying "Pard law makes the movements and activities of the Pard the business of no one outside the Pard. Unless there's anything else, I believe we have a deal. Yes?" When Matthew called down and confirmed they had a deal his keen ears carried the sounds of many "people" dashing away, on two feet or four. In less than a minute, silence reigned. Only then did he turn his attention back to the two men on the rooftop with him. Only to find the younger of the two training a rifle on him, even as Jacob glared murder at the rifle-wielder.

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Re: When the Stars Fell

Post by Wyldwraith » Fri Feb 03, 2017 8:49 pm

Conscious that the Were-Cats were still in the area and that a shot fired now would likely be perceived by them as a treacherous shot fired at them, Matthew remained statue still as he trusted Jacob to resolve the situation peacefully. He didn't have long to wait, before an outraged Jacob weighed in asking angrily "What the hell are you thinking Cameron? Matthias came here to help us, after we took a couple of shots at him without warning. He saved my life. Hell, he saved your life from that cat-thing that had you dead to rights. You heard what the Were-Cat leader said. Even if he was lying and only had six or seven more of those monsters in reserve, without Matthias two of them would've been enough to punch our tickets and hold the roof until the rest of them climbed up here. Then they could've gotten inside at their leisure and killed our family at will. Matthias, who owed us nothing, stuck his neck out to stop that from happening. Damnit Cameron, you should be able to find gratitude in your heart for him giving you another day and night with Alexis and the girls. Speaking of which, Allison had to watch the little ones during all of this, while Doc and Rebecca had to be ready to receive injured. You know how Alex gets when things are happening all around her while she's clueless. Wouldn't you rather be in the Infirmary holding your beautiful wife's hand while you bring her up to speed, rather than up here holding an innocent young man at gunpoint?"

For a moment the rifle barrel dipped and it looked like Jacob had gotten through to the hurting and angry young man. Then the angry tortured expression settled back into place as the raised the rifle again and grated out "It's because of winged freaks like him that my Alex can't walk to begin with!"

It was at this point Camael mentally spoke. "Matthew, ask him about his wife's injuries. Depending on their nature and severity, we might be able to heal her. Even if we can't there are...other options" the former Angel cryptically finished. Never having been lead wrong by his angelic partner, Matthew set out to do just that.

"Cameron is it? I'm truly sorry your wife was injured, and for the pain that's undoubtedly caused you and the rest of your family. Shooting me isn't the answer though. For one thing, while it will cause me a great deal of pain you won't really hurt me. For another, I'm not like the others. As I told Jacob, I was a regular twenty-five year old human a little less than forty-eight hours ago. I was hiding and praying the Angels and the other monsters wouldn't find me when your wife was hurt. My partner Camael said I should ask you if I...if we, could see her. He believes that, depending on the nature and severity of her injuries, it's possible we might be able to heal her. It's really up to you Cameron. Would causing me excruciating pain bring you more happiness than trying to help her? If so, I promise I'll stand right here and you can blast away...but Cameron, this is an either/or proposition. Either we go downstairs and see what I and my partner can do for Alexis, or you vent your rage against those who hurt her on the body of someone who'd have died trying to keep any of you safe. I hate to launch such a low blow but...if the situations were reversed, what would your wife choose?" Matthew explained, finishing with a question that made him feel ashamed for a reason he couldn't quite put his finger on.

The next few seconds seemed to stretch out interminably. One second it'd look as if Cameron was going to put the gun down, but the next he'd be gripping it so tight all the blood seemed to have drained from his hands. It might've gone on unresolved like that for who knows how long, except a young woman's voice suddenly called out from the stairwell leading up to the roof. "Dad? You still up here? Will said you and Grandpa might still be up here if I couldn't find you anywhere else. Mom's been asking for you for awhile now. Everyone's so busy since all the craziness no one's had time to lay it all out for her. I think she's going to climb out of her skin if you don't make an appearance soon. Dad?" The trilling, extremely pleasing to the ear voice of a young woman Matthew guessed was Allison grew quieter as she retreated back down the steps.

When the dark-haired ex-college student student returned his gaze to the angry man who'd been holding him at gunpoint, he was surprised to find the rifle barrel pointed firmly downward as tears coursed freely down the other man's face. As the sobs began, Cameron just barely managed to choke out "Help her, please help her. You can have my life, everything. Just take away her pain and let her walk..let her run again. PLEASE!" Cameron looked like he might've collapsed on the spot, but Jacob's strong arms were there to ease the rifle over one of his shoulders and help prop the younger man up as they headed down the stairs with Matthew following.

"Excellent infirmary and trauma annex for such a small town" was Matthew's first thought as he followed the two men into a treatment room. The usual uncomfortable cot found in such a room had been replaced with a real bed from one of the upstairs rooms. Then his gaze was drawn to the woman lying on the bed. It was difficult to tell with her laying down, but he guessed "Alexis" might be five foot six and perhaps one hundred thirty five pounds before the attack which had landed her in this bed. An overall slender build without being waspish. Her curly copper hair and strikingly bright blue eyes, coupled with the barest beginnings of what the out-of-his-depth medical student recognized would be laugh lines gave her a beauty that, even under such conditions could not be completely buried.

Other visual cues were more troubling. The injured woman's already fair skin was a collage of being shades too pale in some areas, while feverishly flushed in others. Even through the blanket and sheet Matthew could tell Alexis had lost at least twenty to twenty-five pounds since her injury. Most obvious of all was how the one nurse and x-ray technician who'd remained still had her mostly immobilized on a partial back-board from her upper back nearing her shoulder blades and downwards. A glance at the X-Ray technician revealed the tiny shake of the head Matthew had been dreading. Her spinal cord had been badly damaged, if not severed, between the First Lumbar Vertebra and the Twelfth Thoracic Vertebra. Even with the best of twenty-first century medicine available Alexis's prognosis would've been grim. In the post-Second Fall world it was a death sentence.

Or not, because then and there Matthew decided she was going to run just like her husband had asked. There was just one problem: "I don't need to be able to read your thoughts to know what you're thinking Matthew. Yes, it would be as easy for you to mend her spinal cord as a child making shapes out of putty. It's still a profoundly bad idea, and I'll tell you why in the harshest, factual terms possible so we don't stand here torturing these people...torturing her with false hope. One, there's an excellent reason why Ministering Spirits remain invisible when they visit hospitals to heal the sick or those who would otherwise die. To heal a sentient being you have to know them, all of them, and..without the natural gifts of a Ministering Spirit, that knowing would run both ways! High School sweethearts who marry at eighteen and die embracing each other a breath apart at age ninety are veritable strangers compared to that kind of mutual Knowing. Worse, you come in here while she's conscious as you just did and now you've given her plenty of time to fix the image of you in memory. Did you even realize you haven't fully retracted your wings yet? Her husband is raving about how you're going to make her all better. Matthew, if you Heal her she'll love you...which would be tragic given the circumstances but still better than letting her die. More to the point: YOU would love HER. Let's say you're the selfish asshole I know you're not, and you were fine with that and took her away from here. You end up saying "To Hell with the rest of the world and the people in it. I'll carve out my little corner for Alexis and the kids and that will be that." You'd be a complete disappointment to me, having let so many die you could've saved. Still though, not the end of the world. Except...what happens when you come home one afternoon to find a blood-and-viscera soaked cabin that until that moment had been your whole world? Can you even conceive of the damage, the sheer unbridled destruction a Virtue with a shattered heart, a belly full of white-hot fury and a desire to spread the pain around could cause? That is what happens if you simply stretch out your hand and will her healthy and whole. This was one of the traps even the noblest of the Nephilim of old fell prey to. There's nothing you can do Matthew. Alexis is going to die, and since nothing on Earth could induce her family to abandon her, they are going to die. No matter how much power you have, you can't save everyone. Not even Father could do that. Free will is key, free will is everything. It's a sometimes bitter lesson, but one you need to learn" Camael explained, his voice regaining its sadness and sympathy now that he'd conjured the nightmarish prohibition he'd had to. Then he was gone, presumably to give his protege some time and space.

Matthew wasn't giving up. If anything, his native stubbornness had joined forces with the part of him who wanted to heal people and see them healthy and whole again. He just needed time to think it through. After all, Camael obviously didn't know everything. "If he did then Azreal never would've gotten his hands on Camael's Sword to begin with" Matthew thought rebelliously. When the former Angel returned, he offered to teach Matthew how to transmute saline into something capable of mending anything less serious that ailed Allison. Matthew accepted it both as the peace offering it was intended to be, and because he'd never allow an innocent person to suffer for an instant just so he could hold a grudge. The actual process of creating what Camael called Panacea took almost no time and was surprisingly easy from the former would-be doctor's perspective. The nurse looked more than a little dubious, hanging a mostly transparent yet gently golden-glowing bag of fluids and then connecting it to her patient's I.V, but a wry joke from Alexis: "If you can't trust an Angel...one that isn't swinging a flaming sword at you that is, then who can you trust?" seemed to put the nurse more at ease. Once the older woman had discharged her duties she vanished to wherever nurses go when they aren't with patients. That left only Cameron, Alison and Matthew in her room. Suddenly feeling like he was intruding on a family moment, Matthew stood and began to head for the door when Alexis called out in a voice already noticeably stronger "Please, don't go. I don't even know your name. You've done so much for us..people who are strangers to you. Maybe that's something you do every day, but all the people I love who are...Who are still with us, are gathered in this building. They're all alive, I'm alive, because you chose to put yourself at risk to deny those monsters their umm, meal. Cam, Ali...could I have a little time alone with our Hero? He's not going to sit back down and really talk while he's outnumbered. You can read it in every line of him. Cam? For me? I promise I'm feeling much better already. Look at the monitors if you think I'm just putting on a brave face."

It was true. The heart and blood-oxygen monitors were already reporting close to normal stats, while the slight bags under Alexis's blue eyes caused by restless nights which had seemed almost invisible before were now shockingly absent. Even her copper-colored curls had regained much of their luster as her fair skin lost the last of that alarmingly too-pale look. Inevitably, like many other wives since the Garden, Alexis got her way when it really mattered. With one friendlier but still whipcord-tense muttering to Matthew that Alexis had better be as calm and healthy when he got back as she was now, Cameron filed out of the room followed by their daughter Allison, who surprised him by mouthing "thank you for Mom" once her father couldn't see. Then the two of them were alone.

Alexis didn't waste any time, but she kept her voice gentle as if talking to an easily-startled wild animal she didn't want to vanish back into the woods. "What's your name? I know I should've said thank you first, and I am, thankful I mean. It's just...curiosity is more than a word with me. It's a...driving passion, I guess you could say. Probably why I became an investigative journalist, at least until the kids came along" she explained. Matthew didn't miss the flicker of old pain that passed over her face like a bank of clouds across the face of the sun for a split-second when she'd said the word kids, but he politely let it pass unremarked.

"My name is Matthew. Matthew Michael Concord. I told your family my first name was Matthias, because I was speaking where creatures with exceptionally acute ears could've heard me. They didn't really get a chance to give you the details, but your daughter Allison mentioned something about you crawling out of your skin when you feel like you're in the dark about what's going on. As someone who was there for the entire skirmish, and as close to an expert witness as you're liable to find on, well, me...I thought maybe I could fill you in, on both counts, if you'd like" Matthew offered, mortified to feel the creeping blush suffuse his neck and move swiftly upward to his cheeks as his extremely fair skin betrayed him.

Alexis laughed. Under other circumstances laughter might've caused the young man to go stiff and clam up, but it was clear from the first instant both from the sound of her laughter, the open expression and the way her eyes danced that Alexis was the kind of person who laughed with, not at you. Oddly, that caused the warmth to leave his cheeks and settle feather-light in his chest as Matthew cracked a broad smile and let out a momentary laugh of his own. When Alexis spoke again, her words gave ample evidence her mind was as razor-sharp and her intuition as dead-on as she was beautiful inside and out.

"You're not really an Angel, are you? Oh don't get me wrong, I believe you can do anything an Angel can do and have almost all their other attributes, but you haven't been around since the whole "Let there be Light!" moment ages ago. Am I right?" Alexis deduced.

When Matthew replied, his grin was a bit rueful. "Not much gets by you, does it?" When she shook her head with mock-solemnity, they both burst out laughing. Once he'd caught his breath the twenty-six year old (it turned out) continued, saying "I just turned twenty-six May nineteenth. Hadn't seen an in-use month/week/day calendar until I entered this room. No, I'm not an Angel per se. My mentor Camael was the Angel. One of the Captains of the Heavenly Host. He was betrayed and left to be..eaten alive. His soul would've returned to Heaven, where they would've continued doing terrible things until he gave in and swore to obey one of the other powerful Angels who's gone bad. Camael was the leader of the most powerful and deadly of the Warrior-Angels, the Powers. If Azreal could've broken Camael, he would have gained control of the Powers, who are currently neutral. That would've given him the military power to crush his rivals and gain control of Heaven. Then the reunified Host, under Azreal's command would begin the extermination of humanity in earnest. The lost Angels like Azreal believe God..Father, will return to them if they wipe us off the face of the Earth. Camael couldn't let that happen, but he could no longer fight them directly himself since they could track him anywhere instantly. So...it turns out he'd been looking for a human heir. Someone he could pass his Power, knowledge and experiences to. Who could continue trying to save people. Someone they couldn't track. For reasons I still can't wrap my head around, he chose me. The process destroyed what was left of his physical body, but his mind and spirit survived. He mostly sticks close to me, though he stepped out for now to respect our privacy, and spends his time teaching me about my new capabilities and otherwise helping however he can. There's a word for what I've become: Nephilim. That's pretty much it."

Alexis was quiet for some time as she digested what she'd just been told. Despite himself, Matthew found his eyes drawn back to her face no matter how many times he looked away. It wasn't her beauty which drew him, though he unequivocally found her beautiful. It was the sheer intensity in her bright blue eyes, the keen intellect that blazed forth as she examined the information she'd been given from every conceivable angle. Making connections and intuitive leaps he could only guess at as he watched. At one point she started chewing lightly on the left corner of her bottom lip as a barely-noticeable furrow appeared between her delicate brows. When she suddenly looked up, mouth open to speak, Matthew knew he'd been caught staring. Everything told him to wrench his eyes away, to look anywhere else. Finally, realizing it was a battle lost, he look squarely into her eyes...To find her staring back with the same sort of almost-unwilling intensity. Then she tilted the world on him by laughing with what sounded to him suspiciously like relief. Alexis's next words confirmed as much.

"Oh thank GOD! I was laying here feeling like the poor sixteen year-old band chick crushing on the starting Varsity quarterback. I think I might've oozed off this backboard into a puddle of sheer mortified humiliation if the chemistry didn't go both ways. You must have a much better handle on dealing with stuff like this, being fresh from the college meat-market dating scene and all. I mean, obviously I'm not at close to my best here, and the timing leaves much to be desired...but yeesh! It's a relief to know my thirty-sixth birthday didn't kill my appeal enti.."

An incredulous Matthew had heard enough. Without even thinking about it, he said "Alex, SHH! You are THE most beautiful woman I've ever met. I've known you going on twenty minutes and feel I could happily spend another thousand years getting to know you inside and out..and if you weren't married you'd find me quite a bit more the devil by way of demeanor than the Angel I resemble.."

Now HE was the one cut off by peals of that bell-like laughter than kindled that warm feeling in his chest. "Married? You mean me and Cam? Matthew, I'll always love Cameron and he'll probably always love me. He's the father of my kick-ass baby girl Allison, but our marriage came to a screeching halt when he came to me honestly and fessed up that he'd been living the life he thought he was supposed to be living, rather than the life which made him happy. Cameron's gay. His partner Robert is like an older brother to me. We're one big VERY non-Nuclear family...but I've been the third wheel for ages. You'd better be careful about where you're at when they find out the hot half-human/half-Angel is into me. I hope you inherited a reinforced ribcage, because those two are going to try and bear-hug the life out of you. Especially if you can figure out how to get me up and motoring around under my own power again" Alexis finished, actually clapping her hands together twice to go along with the delightful image.

Matthew was smiling just as widely, until she mentioned "Getting her up and about under her own power." He tried to shed the frown and recall the smile, but wasn't fast enough to escape the hawk-eyed woman opposite him, who stopped smiling herself. In the most subdued voice he'd yet heard from her, quietly enough that without his enhanced hearing he might not have heard her, she said "You can't do it, can you? Fix my spine I mean. I mean if you can't, you can't...I just thought" Alex trailed off, tears she kept blinking back and refusing to shed forming in her eyes.

Resolve crystallized in Matthew's chest. In that moment, he understood how Lucifer could've been possessed of such insanity as to believe he could overthrow the Creator of the Universe by force of arms. To see Alex walk, Matthew would've gone to war alone against God and all His Angels with a smile on his lips to the last. Feeling as he did, there were two things to do. One considerably more unpleasant than the other. Looking Alexis in the eye, he mustered every bit of determination he had and heatedly said "Alex. Before night falls you'll not only walk, you'll be able to run. I just need a few minutes to hash out the details with my Mentor, OK? I'll be right outside."

Before she could respond, Matthew swept out of the room mentally shouting for Camael as he went. Within seconds the ex-Angel responded with a long sigh, then said "There's another possibility I hadn't thought I'd need to mention. Namely: Having seen all that you are, Alexis may fundamentally reject you. When I say Reject, I am most definitely not talking about relationship-ending negative emotions. I mean everything about her, everything in her may demand your death for her world to make sense once more. The tale Tristan and Isolde has its factual basis in a situation just like this. Matthew, try and imagine what it'd be like to love someone with your entire heart and soul. Someone who, in turn, lives to cause your suffering. You'd have no defense against her. You'd want no defense against her. The Angel cast in the part of Tristan had a million million years of life experience and perspective to draw on, and it availed him nothing. You do this, and your life becomes a roll of the dice. One throw to decide it all. She seems like a wonderful person, but I have just one question for you, then I'll help you however I can. My question is simple: Is. She. Worth. Your. LIFE?"[/i]

Matthew was as silent and still as a tomb for a solid ten minutes as he thought. Rationally, he realized he was behaving in a fundamentally irrational way. He'd heard Camael and fully comprehended the unadulterated Hell that chemistry and good intentions could be helping him build for himself. On the face of it, taking such a risk for ONE person...when he could, for certain, help so many more if he admitted defeat here, was morally untenable. Yet every time he considered not going through with it, he saw those unshed tears and the brave face Alexis had put on to conceal her disappointment and fear he couldn't heal her.

Then, arrowing up from the dim recesses of his mind came a memory like a diver coming up from deep water to breach the surface. It was something his grandfather on his mother's side had told him once. "He who saves one life, saves the world entire." Once more, Matthew brought to mind the tears Alex had doggedly refused to shed. The courageous manner with which she faced down the prospect of her own death. The inclusive way she laughed and the filter-absent way she spoke. With these examples and more besides, he gave Camael his answer, declaring "Alexis is worth a thousand of me. This isn't about what one or both of us might feel emotionally. She's an innocent human being who is going to die if I don't heal her. Her family will die for love of her if I don't heal her. If I have to be emotionally tormented for however long I might live so that nineteen people can live, SO BE IT!

There was a moment of silence, then Camael responded "I'm proud of you Matthew. In all the vastness of Creation, few things are rarer than a truly selfless act. Explain the realities to her, and if she agrees this is how you do it. I'm going to give you some space until this is resolved, but if you need me just call...Brother."

Without waiting another moment, Matthew whirled and swiftly reentered Alex's room to find her looking nervous and apprehensive. When she saw him her smile returned, but it reflected the uncertainty in her eyes. Despite knowing her for such an incredibly short amount of time, Matthew could clearly see the hope and fear at war in her. Wanting to explain everything to her..to take away her fear, he sensed there were things she was bursting to say, so he sat down in the chair nearest her bed and gave her his undivided attention. The words came slowly at first, but then it was like a dam broke and everything which had been swirling below the surface came rushing out.

"Matthew I'm so sorry. It goes beyond unfair, the way I put you on the spot like that. Then, when I figured out you couldn't fix what's wrong with me, I got all teary-eyed and pushed you into making a crazy promise you can't keep. Then, when you realized what you'd done you felt horrible..like the walls were closing in on you. So you had to get away from me before you went crazy. Yet despite all that, despite the way I've hurt you..you're too good a man to just disappear without saying anything. I don't think they make apologies big enough to..." Alex was saying in a rush until Matthew, unable to bear listening to her beat herself up for nothing an instant longer cut her off with the most profound words he could muster.

"Alex. I meant what I said, about healing you before nightfall. I didn't rush out of here because of anything you said or did. I...needed to figure out how to explain the complication to you. Finally, I decided only the stark truth would do. So, here goes" Matthew began, nervously running his hands through his long straight jet black-blue hair with its crimson streak. Sucking in a deep breath, he launched into the conversation.

"Alexis. I'm not what they call a Ministering Spirit. They're the sort of Angel responsible for someone with wounds so severe the doctors have given up surprising everyone by surviving. Or when you hear about someone who was supposed to be brain-dead in a coma for the last twenty-three years waking up and asking for something to eat. Invisible, in and out as unnoticed as a slight breeze, they can heal someone without any side-effects. For me, it's much MUCH different. To heal an injury as serious as yours I'd have to extend all my senses to encompass you as a whole. Your body yes, but also your mind, emotions and even your spirit. I'd know you better, more intimately and more completely than a high school sweetheart who married his lady when they turned eighteen and then spent the next seventy-five years together. More than that, because there is a balance in all things, you'd see and know me just as completely. That knowing...while I've been assured one can acclimate to it fairly quickly...It would never break, dim or go away. For the rest of your life, you could walk up to a map and point out what corner of what street I was on. Even if that street was in Europe. Without working at it too hard, you could access my surface thoughts or the emotion closest to the surface unless I was actively trying to block you, and vice versa. So yes Alex, I can have you out of that bed if you consent and I'm confident you've thought it through...but the price is me, in one way or another, being part of your life from now on. Also, Camael warned me that people who...who Know each other like this...emotions tend to snowball and reverberate between them. I promise you Alexis, I would never do anything to take unfair advantage of the situation. If you want me to heal you and then keep my distance permanently, I'll exert all my willpower to make that happen. What it comes down to, for me at least...Is a world where a beautiful, free spirit like you is hurt like this, and I had the power to change it and didn't...that isn't a world I want to live in. It would be my honor, my privilege and...my joy, to share headspace with you. I'll give you however long you need to make up your mind...I'm not going anywh..." Matthew was explaining when she cut him off.

"Do it. I've seen the way you look at me, and I know what I think when I look at you. Anything else I needed to know upfront you answered by so obviously agonizing over what I'd want, what would make me healthiest, safest and happiest. Worrying yourself in circles about not wanting to infringe on my life or freedom. Finally, putting me ahead of yourself and the rest of the world. Maybe it makes me a bad person, but realizing I'd somehow become that important to you sent a thrill through me I know I'm never going to stop feeling. Matthew, I've been in love..really in love, three times in my thirty-six years. I felt more for you the first time you said my name than I did for my first and second loves, period. Matthew Michael Concord: My name is Alexis Allison Rosewood, and it would be my honor, my privilege and most definitely my joy to share thoughts...among other things, with you. Now, since I can't exactly come to you, kiss me My Angel and hit me with your best shot" Alex said with a smile Matthew was certain could light the country coast to coast, as she raised her arms and wrapped them about his neck once he'd drawn close and bent low enough. Her hands were sure as she lightly yet firmly grasped his head in her hands and pulled him down until their lips touched.

The kiss was feather-light at first. More a mutual tracing and exploration of the contours of each other's lips. Matthew was feeling a pleasurable zinging like a growing warmth and building electrical charge that steadily, inexorably increased as the kiss deepened, the pace still languid for the most part. He was just about to part his lips as a low rumbling half-purr/half-growl built in the back of his throat as he crossed into new territory with this kiss, when the tip of Alex's tongue was there teasing its way along the inside edges of his upper and lower lips, before pushing decisively against his teeth as if insisting on entrance. Something Matthew was only too glad to give, as the warmth became genuine heat and the zip of the electrical charge caused his pulse to pound in his ears. Now their tongues were alternately dancing and dueling, first in his mouth and then in hers. When her surprisingly strong hands gripped him by each bicep, the enthralled Nephilim knew it was time. Murmuring what he hoped was a soothing sound, he very deliberately deepened the kiss and wrapped his arms round her as well as he could, then mentally envisioned and formed the seven symbols required to Heal her. As he completed the seventh symbol, there was for the barest fraction of a second an intensely roared whoosh-whoosh-WHOOSH "sound" that was simultaneously diffused and "cast" to three other locations some miles distant.

Lightning seemed to struck Matthew in the lower curve of his spine. There was excruciating pain for an instant, then nothing but leaden numbness from the waist down. The lightning struck again, and from the way Alex bucked beneath him the dim part that was still rational told Matthew they'd been struck simultaneously. Now the leaden deadness had ceased to be numb. In place of the numbness, both of their backs were lacerated by tongues of greedy fire, indifferently cruel razorblades of icy cold and vices being cranked down and down again ever tighter by arms with the strength of titans. Matthew and Alex screamed into each other's mouths. Both knowing they'd be able to breathe easier if they disengaged, both preferring in that moment to face a firing squad rather than forego the only comfort they knew as the waves of torment crested, broke and morphed into new permutations of suffering. Finally, a sense of back muscles scourged raw by whipping replaced deeper more fundamental agonies. This was the moment Camael had instructed him to remain alert for, but it was so hard, and Matthew was so very tired. Then, with an almost audible snap-CLICK he and she became they, and neither was alone or tired. Testing their connection, he thought to her the way he did to Camael. Alex? Are you there?

"I'm here. Wherever "here" is...and I can feel my LEGS!" Alexis exulted. The depth and power of the emotion, feeling it as his own sent tears rolling freely down his cheeks. However, Matthew knew he had to focus if he was going to follow his brother's advice and keep anything like this from happening to Alex again. With a great effort, he cleared his mind of emotion and "sent" to Alex once more.

"Alex, as connected as we are in THIS minute, it'd be possible for me to share a portion of the Angelic Fire in me with you. It wouldn't hurt me, would only weaken me temporarily, but that Fire would become yours. It'd make you physically more like me. Stronger, faster, winged, far harder to hurt and far quicker to heal. I wasn't sure the connection would be this steady, so I didn't want to get your hopes us. If this is something you want, you have to tell me though. That's the Law. I don't want to pressure you, but it is literally now or never. What do you want me to do sweetheart, end the Healing or give you Fire?"

Alex's answer wasn't long in coming now that coherence and the shock of her paralysis having been cured was passing. "I trust you My Angel. I said give me your best shot, and I meant it Mister!" Matthew could all but feel her smile. Kissing her intently once more, he located the Imperishable Flame just behind his eyes right where Camael had said it'd be. Momentarily entranced by the endless color shifts, it was the insistent feel of Alex's lips on his that allowed him to break the Flame's thrall. Imagining a tunnel just beneath the Flame, he willed that tunnel to link up with the connection running from him to Alex. Once he was sure it was firm, he "pushed" over half of the Flame into the tunnel and kept pushing more of it in and down. He knew it had begun reaching its mark when Alex sat bolt upright in bed, shredding the backboard restraints as she clutched him tighter to herself than anyone had ever held him. He kept this up until a leaden weariness began to overtake him. This was the danger sign he'd been warned to look out for. Just before he blacked out he "heard" a metaphysical "clang" as the fire-tunnel slammed shut and dissolved.

Then he knew nothing for some time.

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Re: When the Stars Fell

Post by Wyldwraith » Fri Feb 03, 2017 8:50 pm

Archer Family Health Care Center. Archer, Florida. June 4, 2021. 3:50pm

"...Matthew. Matthew, can you hear me Angel?" an incredibly familiar "voice" softly yet firmly called to him in his mind. The Voice's words were followed by a prolonged burst of worry and tender concern he felt as if the feelings were his, or...theirs.

Matthew's eyes instantly snapped open, searching for and finding a worried-looking face surrounded by copper-colored curls. He made as if to sit up, but Alexis nearly blurred as she reached his bedside and pushed him back down flat with surprising strength belied by her extremely slender arms. "Uh uh Mister. Camael says you stay down until the second bag of Panacea drips dry, and that's only if you go with the flow by eating a large breakfast and drinking plenty of orange juice. I'm also to dangle the inducement that if you show no signs of rebellion, I won't leave your sight until you're up and about. I'll even use the restroom attached to this room. Do we have an accord, Angel of Mine?" Alexis explained, bright blue eyes dancing now that he was awake. Bemused, not to mention completely unused to having anyone feel protective of him since his third-to-last foster home before aging out of the system, Matthew nodded obediently and even managed to take his eyes off Alex long enough to get his breakfast tray situated.

As soon as the aroma of bacon, eggs and buttered bread reached him the young Nephilim discovered he was utterly ravenous. It was only after he'd demolished the entire plate in under five minutes that Matthew rediscovered the wherewithal to feel self-conscious due to his lack of dining decorum. Alex just laughed delightedly at his rueful look and said "I grew up the only girl besides Mom with three brothers. Trust me, you eat with the dignity of an English nobleman by comparison. Besides, all the heroism takes it out of you. Ahh, here's Allison now with seconds. Thanks girl o' mine." Allison simply smiled at her mom, then at Matthew, before giving him a quick wave and disappearing. The second plate soon went the way of the first, as the hollow feeling in his middle, not to mention the light-headed feeling finally disappeared. Stacking the empty tray beside the first, Alexis smoothly pulled the heavy recliner across the room with one hand and finished by pushing it up directly beside the bed. Simply watching the long-legged redhead sit was a study in grace for Matthew. Responding to her casual display of strength with a raised eyebrow, Alex simply grinned mischievously.

"Matt...you don't mind if I call you Matt and Matthew interchangeably do you? Alex said. When Matthew shook his head, she continued. "Angel, there are no words to describe how I felt, and then to have you come along and rescue not just my family, but me as well. Camael says I should be able to communicate it now. You paying attention Mister?" she asked smiling. When he nodded, she got that little furrowed-brow line he knew meant she was concentrating, then:

The present dropped away and the room with it. He was above, looking down at Alex strapped to the backboard, watching her as she watched people dashing back and forth past her room. Matthew could feel a weary sense of helplessness, ignorance, even uselessness continuing to build in her. All her life she'd been wherever the action was. Now, she couldn't get the people she loved to tell her anything until everything was said and done, and even then they sugarcoated and downplayed anything that might cause her the slightest stress or anxiety. "Anything interesting or exciting they mean. I can forgive Mom and Dad, even Allison who's just doing as Cam and her grandparents tell her. Cameron though, he has every reason to know this situation is my own personal Hell. Is this payback? Was I not supportive enough when he came out and introduced me to Robert? Too supportive, like I wasn't at all bothered I was losing a husband. Is that it?" Then guilt for thinking such untrue and awful things about the father of her little girl, her best friend, and Robert who was basically Older Brother #2. Followed by more anger and frustration...and then, ever so quick Matthew almost missed it. An arctic cold sliver of fear-laden knowing, that her constant companions anger and frustration were simply defense mechanisms. Meant to hold at bay the sense of helplessness, the creeping feelings of hopelessness and the choking despair that was coming to plague her when she was alone in the wee hours. The day before they met, Alex didn't remember the time except everyone was asleep, was the first time she'd allowed herself to dwell on the concept of suicide.

Alexis was no fool. She knew the group never stayed anywhere more than five to seven days because she was the one who'd outlined many of the group's survival strategies. Things she'd gleaned from guerilla fighters and American servicemen and women alike during her time as an embedded journalist. The group was on its fifteenth day at the Family Health Care Center with no talk, at least none around her of moving on, when she'd heard the two gunshots from the rooftop. A short while everyone but Nurse Greene and Allison had raced by her doorway and on up to the roof judging by all the tramping footsteps. Everything was quiet for two or three minutes, then everyone but Jacob and Cam came back down. Then she heard Jacob shout, two more gunshots, and then more shouting only coming from somewhere outside the Center at ground level. Then she heard a new voice shout down from the roof, which puzzled her to no end. "How did someone apparently on our side end up on the roof with Jacob and Cam? There's absolutely no way in at ground level without doing something crazy, like drive a truck through the wall" Alex thought to herself.

More time went by before Allison thought to look in on her. By then Alex was ready to start screaming she was so frustrated. Allison took one look at her Mom and quickly said "I'll head partway up the stairs and see what's keeping Grandpa and Dad. OK Mom?" Allison explained and asked as an afterthought. The way Alex could feel her influence as a role model and authority figure diminishing in Allison's mind just fed the despair.

When Jacob and Cameron finally trooped into her room with Allison on their heels Alex was ready to give both men a piece of her mind, Allison or no Allison. "If they don't stop keeping me in the dark like this I'm going to go mad" she thought bleakly. She'd just begun opening her mouth to cut loose when another figure appeared in the doorway. Their blue eyes met, his dark like the sea at dusk, hers bright like a particular sort of cloudless day. Her train of thought completely derailed, Alexis couldn't stop her frank appraisal of the newcomer. He was young, but not too young to be a man grown. Alex guessed he was between twenty-four and twenty-nine. He was tall, perhaps 6'2 or 6'3 and 170-200lbs of lean muscle. "A runner, possibly a former soccer player or track and fielder. The kind Mom called a tall drink of water on a hot day. Sorry Mom, I never got the reference until now. OK, the crimson streak should make him look like a rebellious child but it works for him, somehow. Does that mean the black hair is a dye job too? Nah, it's got that so-black-it's-blue thing the girls at the station are always bitching they can't get. Strong jaw, high but not overly prominent cheekbones and a well-proportioned, thoroughly masculine nose. His brow has that gentle anti-Caveman curve I like, and those full lips are eminently kissable. His skin's even fairer than mine! Why doesn't that bother me? I've never been attracted to a pale man..before now. What kind of leather coat is tha....HOLY SHIT! He's got WINGS and I just saw one of them move! That makes him an Angel...one of the good ones it seems or we'd all be dead.

There was a pause in the "streamed" thoughts and images from Alex, causing Matthew to wonder if there was something she didn't want him to know. A moment later he "heard" the equivalent of a mental sigh and the image stream resumed.

Despite chiding herself repeatedly, and telling herself there were a legion of far more important issues on the table, Alexis simply couldn't help feeling utterly mortified this handsome Angel, who'd made the safety of her family his personal priority, even though he'd had to admit to some things that seemed to make him uncomfortable but just served to make him seem more approachable and human to her...That he was seeing her in a hospital gown she'd been wearing for four days. The same amount of time she'd gone without a sponge bath.

The scene changed again, to the two of them laughing and beginning to get to know one another. With every verbal back-and-forth, she could feel her schoolgirl-like crush developing depth and breadth. Picking up momentum and,...becoming something else. She knew he didn't even see the effects of her injury and sub par conditions. Matthew saw her, and the thought made her want to sing. So caught up was she in her enthusiasm, she put the cart before the horse and made an offhand comment about him healing her spine. Even in memory, the way she'd wanted to cringe and curse herself when his face fell still came through loud and clear. That was when she'd realized not only was she going to die in this small town hospital, but her family would die because they'd never abandon her, no matter what she said or did. When Matthew made what she'd thought an impossible-to-keep promise because she'd put him on the spot, then swept out of the room saying something about needing to talk to his invisible and silent mentor, the thought of suicide was never more front-and-center in her thoughts. She was working up her nerve to begin rifling the medical instrument cabinet the nurse had for convenience pushed up against her bed when Matthew rushed back into the room. Holding on to hope it wasn't all doomed to end in a slaughter by her fingernails, Alexis did her best to make the handsome and caring Nephilim (to her he'd always be an Angel) feel better. She was surprised and confused when he cut her off...

The scene jumped again. Matthew, despite his brave and caring heart, his sensitive nature...Someone who seemed content to listen as long as she had something to say, so unlike most men who demanded the woman allow them to hold court. A man who could make her heart race when their eyes met or when he said her name. A hero, who when the opportunity presented itself, chose a life of fighting for those who couldn't protect themselves rather than looking out for #1 like so many of the people she and her family had encountered since all of this began. This handsome, well-made young man whose eyes followed her with honest appreciation of who she was inside and out. Without a trace of the emotionless hunger so many men had mentally undressed her with over the years. Despite all of that, Matthew honestly seemed convinced that after he'd Healed her and she'd seen every bit of him, that she'd want him to stay as far away from her as possible forever. It wasn't that he seemed to expect rejection in a self-pitying way. Merely as what he perceived to be the foreordained outcome once all his cards were showing.

Then Alexis had a flash of that intuition which had made her a good reporter. She understood suddenly that Matthew either already had, or believed he would have feelings as intense as they permanent towards her, while in his mind she'd feel just the opposite. "He believes this, without a trace of doubt. That he'll Heal me and then love me, while I'll spend the rest of my life hating him. Yet rather than think of himself, he's spending the time before he Heals me providing reassurances he won't crowd me or otherwise intrude on my life. From his perspective, he's willingly building his own personal Hell, because he knows we can't stay here indefinitely even with his help. Like he knows the family's refusal to leave me behind will cost them their lives as well. Matthew's turning his back on even the hope of personal happiness, so the nineteen, or twenty-one of us if you count Nurse Greene and Jason the X-Ray tech will survive. Then, as if that wasn't sacrifice enough for ten lifetimes, he's planning on shadowing our group. The group that includes the woman...God, I can't even spell that out in my head" Alexis deduced, thoroughly shaken.

Suddenly Alexis had felt faint. Her throat tightened as she tried, really tried to comprehend the sort of quiet unassuming selflessness to do what Matthew was planning. Which brought her to her final pre-Healing revelation. "There's a word for placing the safety, health and happiness of someone else far ahead of your own" Alexis had thought, as she realized the most profound emotional changes hadn't required any mystical healing at all. Her last thought before Matthew kissed her was "Ah well, at least I can show him afterwards I'd fallen for him before all the mystic knowledge-sharing."

Matthew had reason to be glad for the large napkin spread out on his chest, as he suddenly found himself sputtering orange juice. When he'd gotten (most) of the OJ down the right tube, he looked up into her bright blue eyes and started to say "You mean you..."

"Had fallen for you before the Healing showed me all there was of you? Of course, my Angel. How could I not fall for someone who loved me so much they'd sacrifice everything that makes life worth living to see me whole and given back all the things that make my...make our life worth living. I needed you to see, truly see that my feelings for you weren't the result of the Healing. I knew how selfless, courageous, sensitive and loyal you were before I experienced that beautifully magnificent heart of yours first-hand. The same way the incisiveness of your mind and the intuitive leaps it makes as you examine and the unravel a problem fascinates and enthralls me. Matthew, it's as simple as your actions revealing you for the man you are. Case in point, you endured the agony of the healing process with me when you didn't have to. Unable to spare me the pain, you went through every moment of it with me so I'd know you were there, and I wasn't alone as the anguish tore through us" Alexis explained and described in a gentle yet conviction-filled tone of voice.

For a moment Matthew was convinced he must be dreaming. Once he'd been a foster-child, whose life mattered to his caregivers only insofar as the financial gain he represented. Then he'd become the extremely bright and hard-working, yet solitary student determined to avoid the dead end jailbird existence he saw claim so many of the young men who "aged out" of the system. Despite the "disadvantages" his teachers and guidance counselors never failed to bring up, his unweighted 4.0 grade point average was enough for him to be named Salutatorian of his graduating class. The only "family" who'd come had been one of his foster-brothers. New to the system and a couple of years younger than Matthew, the pair had grown as close as foster-kids dared while Matthew had been showing Gary the ropes. Matthew's excellent but far from stellar performance as part of the Varsity Track Team for the eighteen months he'd attended this school, coupled with his participation in the Student Government, dozens of hours of Community Service at the local Humane Society shelter and glowing letters of recommendation from his teachers had, just barely, proven enough to secure a full scholarship to the University of Florida. Even then, with the Pell Grants and student loans aside, Matthew had still been putting in forty-five to fifty hours a week between his two jobs to afford the dingy just barely off-campus apartment his sanity had demanded after fifteen years of communal living. All before he even cracked a book.

Then his life had changed again. One early evening after his last class, a red-letter day because somehow the stars had aligned and he was off work at both his jobs, a middle-aged man in nice but not overly expensive dark clothing had been waiting outside his ground-floor apartment door. The white, slightly older-than-his-time looking man with the receding hairline and the beginnings of a beer belly had introduced himself as Jenkins Kirkpatrick and given Matthew a card identifying him as a licensed private investigator. Jenkins asked if they could talk inside or in a public venue that would still afford a measure of privacy. Already ravenous from having skipped lunch, Matthew had decided on the Golden Corral restaurant less than a mile away. Declining the man's offer of a ride, Matthew told him he'd meet him outside in ten minutes. Grabbing the badly scratched-up yet perfectly functional mountain bike the twenty year-old used to get around the crowded university town where everything was situated conveniently close to the college and the student-dominated apartment complexes which ringed it. Matthew beat the P.I to the restaurant by five minutes.

Once inside and waiting in line, Kirkpatrick had casually mentioned that since he hadn't eaten either and he was the one who'd asked to meet Matthew, and since dinners were cheaper on one receipt he'd pick up the tab unless Matthew objected. Given Kirkpatrick had obviously made an effort not to trample his pride, and given it'd been awhile since he'd been able to afford eating somewhere that grilled a mean steak, Matthew made one final effort to be a good guest by mentioning he had a 20oz Prime Rib with sauteed mushrooms on his mind, but otherwise didn't object to the older man picking up the tab. Grinning conspiratorially in a way that finally broke the ice, Jenkins leaned in and whispered: "Wisdom of the Universe, Mr. Jamison. If someone gives you a business card and offers to meet at a restaurant, they're deducting it as a business expense and won't be offended if you go to town on their tab." The two men laughed, placed their order and were quickly seated with side dishes while they awaited their entrees.

Jenkins didn't waste any time in getting to the heart of the matter, saying "Matthew..I can call you Matthew, can't I?" At a nod from the young man, the P.I continued. "Matthew, I've represented John Concord, his father Derek Concord and his former mother-in-law Kathleen Ryder for the past nine years. For the nine years prior to that they were represented by my mentor and late partner Elliot Drake. The Concords and Mrs. Ryder contracted my former partner to find a missing two year-old. Three months prior to the child going missing the mother, one Ariella Concord had been in a fairly serious car accident. At the time she was considered incredibly fortunate when she checked out with little more than some minor cuts, the beginnings of some significant bruises and what's commonly called a "goose egg" on her forehead. She was kept for forty-eight hours to rule out a possible concussion and/or internal bleeding. When nothing turned up she was discharged and returned home to her husband, John Concord and their two year-old son with instructions to follow up with her primary care physician within the next three weeks. Ariella made the appointment, but her doctor's office called back two days later to inform her that her physician had a family emergency and wouldn't be coming in for the next six weeks. They rescheduled her to see her doctor's physician's assistant and, for the moment, that as they say was that."

Engrossed in the older man's story, yet failing to see how it involved him, Matthew exercised patience as he took a long swig of his soda and waited. The other man wet his whistle as well, before saying "Ariella's husband John was away on an unusual, for him anyways, business trip when Ariella began having migraine-like headaches minus the sensitivity to loud noises. Having had migraines on and off throughout her early to mid-20's, she wasn't too concerned. Still, mindful of the accident she left two, and later two more messages with her doctor's office reporting increasing pain when exposed to bright lights, temporary losses of balance, nausea and what she described as brief giddy periods of high energy. The swamped Physician's Assistant finally touched base with her briefly. Advising her to drive herself to the ER if she felt up to it, or to call 911 if not, the Physician's Assistant ended the call."

Following Kirkpatrick's narrative, Matthew felt a great wave of sympathy for this injured woman as she tried and failed to get help, and for the very young child in her charge. He didn't know why, but suddenly he was simultaneously deeply invested in what happened next, even as he wanted to get up and walk away without hearing another word. In the end his native curiosity won out, as he started taking long swigs of his drink. Watching him intently, for the first time Jenkins seemed to be picking his words with care as he related "This next part is half public record, half uncorroborated eyewitness testimony. Around 3am, Ariella elected to place calls to her husband John and her mother Kathleen to tell them she was taking their son and driving herself to the hospital. Both calls went to voicemail and, after buckling her son into his car seat she set off for the hospital. A little over halfway there her car swerved into the Breakdown Lane, where it struck the car there, before flipping and landing on its roof. The driver of the broken-down '89 Mazda was sitting inside his car at the time and was knocked unconscious, though otherwise suffered only minor injuries. The passenger of the Mazda was outside the vehicle at the time of the accident and was unharmed. Bravely disregarding the flames beginning to surround Ariella's overturned car the passenger, one Joseph Torres first tried to free Ariella. Unable to free her, his efforts nevertheless roused her momentarily. Though obviously confused, Ariella pleaded with Torres to save her son. Torn with indecision, the mother's frantic plea galvanized Torres to such an extent that the oldest of the firefighters and police officers to respond declare they'd never seen anything like it."

Looking Matthew squarely in the eye, Jenkins didn't skip a beat as he continued "The frame near the driver's side rear door was too bent to allow the door to open normally, while the other rear door was already wreathed in flames. Torres, a father of three, one a newborn admits to crying freely over the tragedy he saw unfolding before him." Jenkins paused to pull out a notebook, opened it to a dog-eared page and began reading. "In Torres's own words, something came over him. Climbing up onto the side of the car, he took as firm a hold on the edges of the driver's side rear door as he could and pulled with all his might. Torres said he was envisioning the situation in the car being reversed, and that it was his newborn son trapped in a burning car. Whatever the reason, be it metal fatigue induced by portions of the car's frame becoming heated due to the fire, or Torres experiencing a burst of the superhuman strength we often associate with stories of mothers performing similar feats to save their children, he all but tore the car door off. Hampered by his now badly broken right arm, Torres somehow managed to free the child, grab him, and lurch far enough away for them both to survive right before the car exploded."

Matthew felt like he should be asking questions, but his mouth had gone dry despite all the soda. All he could do was sit there listening as Jenkins started talking again. "Torres lost consciousness at some point shortly after the car exploded. Coincidentally, his friend and the driver of the Mazda, one Rafael Ortega, regained consciousness around the time Torres was losing it. Seeing the burning wreck but no sign of his friend, Ortega began searching the area for him despite the deep laceration on his forehead. He says he found Torres with a..." Jenkins related, pausing once more to check his notes.

"...With a wild-eyed blond Caucasian woman crouched over Torres and struggling to take the two year-old boy from him. The woman struck Joseph Torres with what was later identified as a sizable piece of broken asphalt. Grabbing the child, the woman disappeared into the brush lining both sides of the road. Rafael Ortega said he tried to give chase, but the uneven terrain coupled with the dizziness caused by his head wound forced him to give up. Ortega returned to his friend, where they waited for Police and Emergency Services" Kirkpatrick finished narrating, finally looking up and meeting the gaze of the shaky-looking young man sitting opposite him.

Matthew couldn't think of the words he should say. All he could do was listen as the auditory equivalent of the onlooker who sees the imminent wreck of the two oncoming trains finds themselves incapable of looking away. Apparently realizing this, Jenkins finally ended his oblique approach and became direct.

"The woman's name was Ariella Tabitha Concord. Her son's name was, IS, Matthew Michael Concord. The wild-eyed blond woman's name was Lacy Johnson, a diagnosed schizophrenic suffering from Delusions and Command Voices. Lacy had been legally maneuvered into an abortion by her mother when she was twenty-four. In her delusional state she became convinced her baby had been stolen from her. Just released from the treatment program she'd been in for the last five years, it was pure happenstance she happened to be nearby when the accident occurred. Seeing her chance, she took it and kidnapped you. How you ended up in foster-care is anyone's guess...but every minute of the last eighteen and a half years your father, paternal grandfather and maternal grandmother have been turning the United States, not to mention Canada and Mexico, upside down looking for you. Your father and grandparents are individuals of considerable means, and not above breaking more than a few laws in their efforts to find you. They had your genetic code sequenced from stored cord blood, and then constructed a private task force consisting of the best hackers and private investigators money could buy to search for a genetic match and run down every lead that turned up. When you donated during several campus-oriented blood drives, a genetic match with only three one hundred thousandths of a percent margin of error was detected by one of the many search programs the hackers had deployed. It was my job to determine if points of comparison using advanced facial recognition software strengthened or weakened the likelihood of a precise genetic match. If I was convinced the preliminary genetic match was accurate, I was given personal discretion about how to proceed. I asked myself what I would want from the private investigator if our situations were reversed. Answers, and an explanation as to how I ended up in the coin-toss hellholes of the Foster Care System topped my list. You'll need to take a DNA test to make it official. A test which can be performed within thirty minutes of you saying the word, which will finish processing and provide the results two hours after that. However, I'm willing to bet my life that your father, grandfather on his side and your grandmother on your mother's side have found you at long last.

What followed was the real-life approximation of every foster-kid's childhood fantasy. Ie: Instead of being nothing but a cash stipend to extremely deficient if not outright abusive caregivers designated by overworked D.C.F.S case-workers, somewhere in the world his (or her) real family was out there looking for them. Matthew's father and grandparents had been proud enough to explode when they learned he'd succeeded in pulling himself from the quicksand of the state foster-care system, and was on track to enter Medical School "under his own steam." Uncertain what to make of his long-lost family at first, their consistent willingness to allow him to set the pace, their continuing emotional and psychological support, and their unwavering love had allowed him to begin tearing down the thick walls every unwanted child learned to build around their emotions faster than Matthew ever would've believed possible. By the time his twenty-third birthday rolled around, the once painfully solitary and emotionally guarded-to-a-fault loner was fast becoming a hazily indistinct character who'd once featured prominently in a nightmare he'd finally awakened from. Reconnecting with his family was no magic wand to be waved and voila[/b] a lifetime of abandonment issues disappeared. That took "working his issues" as the therapist Grandma Kathleen had encouraged him to start seeing liked to say. What Matthew knew for certain was simple. The years from age twenty-one to twenty-five had, no contest, been the happiest and most fulfilling of his life.

Then the Second Fall began, and once again everything changed for him. Just before he'd been forced to abandon his apartment to avoid mandatory conscription into the National Guard, Matthew had received a call from his Grandma Kathleen. Amid shouts and nearby gunshots emphasizing the dire straits on her end, his grandmother had shouted "Stay ALIVE Michael! Your Father, Grandma and Grand-dad LOVE YOU! I..." The line had suddenly gone dead, and just like that he was alone again. Months later, Matthew still felt like an incredibly selfish bastard for being so incredibly grateful for his Grandmother's call. That he'd gotten to hear how much his family loved him one final time. Proof not even the Apocalypse could sever the ties that bound them together as family. Still, he couldn't shake the feeling that making that call had cost his Grandmother dearly...If it hadn't cost her life.

Meeting Alexis's bright blue eyes now gave Matthew the same "I've Come Home" feeling he'd experienced as the bond had been reforged between him, his father and his grandparents. Yet as powerful as those feelings had become before the end, what he felt for Alexis was so much...more. As she held his gaze with her own, it came to him she'd just seen and heard that final call and experienced it as if she'd been the one to take that call. For a split-second, the echo of the guarded loner he'd been made him want to fold in on himself. Before that obsolete emotional defense mechanism could solidify, the understanding, empathy and comfort Alexis wordlessly poured through their bond washed the dysfunctional impulse away with a feather-soft, diamond-strong reminder he was not alone.

Before the dark-haired young man even realized it, their hands met and their fingers intertwined. The pair sat like that in companionable silence, or in as close an approximation as either would ever again experience, for several minutes before Alexis lightly sighed and said "Camael's been waiting with remarkable patience to talk to you. I gather he was...rather surprised at the extremes you went to in sharing your Flame with me. You were flat-lined for at least four minutes, during which Nurse Greene was certain you were dying. Even through our bond you felt so far away it almost scared the life out of me. OK, the second bag of Panacea just finished. You can remove the I.V whenever you're ready. While the two of you talk I'm going to slip out for a bit and check on Allison. Plus, I need to find out what time the Family Meeting will start. That's something else you have to look forward to Angel o' Mine" Alexis said in a mischievous tone as she bent down to give him a long lingering kiss before slipping agilely away as Matthew tried to enfold her in his arms. Then she was gone, her gentle inclusive laughter reverberating down the bond.

Pulling his I.V out without a wince, Matthew had just gotten up when he felt Camael's presence. Bracing himself for the tongue-lashing of the century, he was surprised by the gentle concern in his Mentor's "tone" as Camael asked "I trust you're feeling better Brother?" When the young Nephilim emphatically declared he was better than he ever could have envisioned being, he could actually feel the waves of happiness, satisfaction, and for just an instant, something akin to longing radiating from his friend and mentor. "Alexis wasn't the only one you frightened. When I showed you how to share the Imperishable Flame with her I assumed you'd stop before the pain became agony. That would have been enough to make her strong for a Principality. Obviously, I lack personal experience with romantic love and the primeval power of the drive to protect one's mate without thought or regard for the personal cost. I failed to see you were willing to die to give Alexis the greatest chance for survival, and for that I humbly apologize. She's powerful Matthew. Easily as strong as the strongest of the Powers. Stronger than most Virtues, which means I have a confession to make and an apology to offer. I can only hope you'll accept both" Camael stated, shame and a burning need for understanding and forgiveness rolling off of him in waves.

For several seconds Matthew was furious. The idea of Camael keeping secrets from him left him feeling cold. Then the colossal wave of shame over his own hypocrisy smothered any negative feelings he might otherwise have felt for the former Angel. After all, hadn't he taken the means to share the Imperishable Flame Camael had bequeathed him and used it to such an extreme he'd nearly died? All without a word of warning to his friend and Mentor, who'd been there for him without cease since the two had met. What about his promise to Camael? Or his promise to save lives and continue the fight against the Angels bent on exterminating humanity? Stripping his actions of rationalization, Matthew conceded he hadn't given a damn about anything but healing Alexis and making sure she was strong enough nothing could ever hurt her like that again. "If anyone needs to apologize it's me, not Camael" Matthew thought to himself.

"Camael. If you've kept secrets from me I'm sure you had good reasons. Unlike me. Seeing my Alex lying there and putting on a brave face for everyone, when inside she was searching for the resolve to end her life to save her family...Something happened inside me. All I cared about was seeing her Healed and making sure nothing could ever hurt her like that again. I knew what I intended to do had a better-than-even chance of killing me, and I was at peace with that. I certainly wasn't thinking about all the innocent people who'd die because the protector you'd chosen for them sacrificed himself saving one young woman and her family. You have every reason to be disappointed in me and regret choosing me. I cannot say I'm sorry, because the only thing I would've done differently if I had these choices to make again would've been sharing my intentions with you fully. All I can do is give you my word I'll try and focus more on the big picture going forward. Now, what was it you wanted to tell me?" Matthew confessed before returning to whatever was on his mentor's mind.

Except the Angel wasn't willing to let it go at that, saying "Matthew, you have nothing to apologize for! You were intent upon Healing Alexis even when you believed that meant you'd love her just as much as she'd hate you. I learned something once she became Nephilim and I could clearly perceive her spirit. The two of you, your spirits are powerfully resonant. Your culture has a myth about "Soul Mates." That in all the world every man and woman has a perfect destined match. The very idea is preposterous, making a mockery of free will as it does. However, there is a grain of truth which gave rise to the myth. Just as some crystals can create resonant tones when struck, so some souls resonate when they interact with each other. When this phenomena occurs in two members of the opposite sex who would have found each other very attractive on multiple levels anyways, the vast majority of the time a vastly accelerated, and almost invariably permanent pair-bonding, or "love match" results. The kind which takes months or even years to form without such resonance. Factor in the imminent threat to her life, plus the sort of man you are, and you simply couldn't bear the thought of her death. Then, having Healed Alexis, everything about the Man that Father shaped you to be demanded you do everything in your power to keep her safe and whole. No matter the personal cost, you were..you are committed to placing the safety, healthiness and happiness of the woman you love and intend to spend your life with before your own needs. To call such selfless devotion a betrayal of our friendship, I would have to be like the malignant narcissists who Rebelled. From the first, Father intended that Man and Woman should cleave to, love and comfort one another. You abandoned NOTHING! Your attention was right where it should have been. With the woman you love and who loves you in turn. As I said before, I am proud to call you Brother. I only hope you'll still feel the same way once you've heard my explanation as to how Alexis could become a stronger Virtue than I was Created to be."

Hearing Camael break down his recent choices without finding fault in them made Matthew feel as if the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders. Then and there, he renewed his promise to himself to do all he could to save innocent lives and bring this madness to an end. He tried to dismiss his mentor's ominous insinuations that something the Angel had to tell him would somehow damage his regard for his mentor, but found himself unable to do so. Finally, he silently indicated that Camael should tell him just what was on his mind.

Apparently whatever was plaguing the former Angel had finally become too much to bear alone, because Camael went straight to the heart of the matter without any hesitation, saying "I've spoken often of my friend and Brother, Hofniel. If he hadn't disobeyed the Archangel's command and come for me, I'd be in Hell with the other "Rebels" who'd sworn to the Morningstar at the point of a sword. I've also explained that Azreal wrested my Sword from me, compromising me and setting in motion the events which lead to my bequeathing you that which was mine. What I haven't told you is how I ended up in the situation where Azreal took my Sword. It's simple really: Hofniel lured me into exactly the sort of ambush he'd long ago saved me from." Camael's "voice" had lost all the fire and conviction Matthew was so accustomed to hearing. In its place was a flat, affect-less monotone. The ex-Virtue could have been commenting on the weather instead of describing a betrayal the likes of which would've shattered the minds of such as Brutus or Judas.

When Camael spoke again, the flat tone had become like a dead thing. "Hofniel had always abhorred violence, you'll remember. Slaying seven of our Brothers and two of our Sisters, Rebels though they were, had scarred and changed him. Just how much and how badly was something I failed to see. Or maybe it was simply something I didn't want to see and be burdened by any more guilt than I already carried as a result of that terrible time. When Father vanished and Archangel Gabriel made his Announcement the situation quickly grew dire. Once the Choirs realized we had for the most part been Cast Out of our home, Angels became willing to listen to any of those with the power to resist the pull Earth-ward who promised a solution to the present crisis and a return, or as close an approximation as possible with Father gone, to the way things had been. That's how the different factions formed, with Azreal's quickly becoming one of the largest. In part because, as part of their duties his Angels of Death were adept at negotiating the modern world. The other reason so many flocked to his banner was he was the only faction-leader insisting Angel would never need fight Angel in any significant numbers. The fear of that remained a powerful thing in the minds of many who had fought in the Rebellion. His followers willfully blinded themselves to the reality of the situation. They refused to follow reason to its natural conclusions. Namely, even if Azreal's faction grew larger than all the other factions combined, which it hadn't, what was going to happen when every Angel willing to do so had declared themselves for a faction? None of the factions were willing to back down, since the leaders of each were all convinced only they could lead the Choirs to a resolution of the current crisis."

Matthew grew chilled as he finally began to see where this was heading. So when the ex-Virtue began again, he saw the tragedy unfolding. "I should've realized my friend would've been particularly vulnerable to Azreal's talk of a bloodless coup, but caught up in my own shock and horror at what was happening I almost streaked to Hofniel's side when he contacted me by sending to tell me he'd discovered a solution. I realized it was a trap an instant before I touched down beside my friend, else I'd have been caught as helpless as a fly in the spider's web. It turns out it was Hofniel who concocted the plan to force me to swear to his new Lord. He was the one who recognized the Powers were the only Choir besides the Cherubim to have remained cohesive and whole. As I told you before, with the Powers to act as his shock troops and later his Praetorian Guard, Azreal would've steamrolled the other factions in hours. We fought, Azreal disarmed me, and I fled. Realizing overt force hadn't achieved his goal, Azreal ordered Hofniel to "Locate, a difficult to translate Angelic terms meaning among things "Neutralize" and bring me back for the swearing. You need to understand, to an Angel an Oath is a binding mystical construct. Once given, it cannot be broken except under the most extraordinary circumstances or with the gravest of consequences for the Oathbreaker. So when Azreal commanded Hofniel, it was like the fairytale about Aladdin and the Magic Lamp. Hofniel had no choice but to obey."

Sensing the climax of Camael's tale of being betrayed and his resulting need to confess was near, Matthew remained silent. For the first time since the one-sided "conversation" had begun, emotions too varied and intertwined entered his mentor's voice as he explained "I don't believe Azreal had given Hofniel a direct order which Hofniel wouldn't have willingly carried out before that moment. He was accustomed to thinking of Hofniel as an accomplice, if not a hapless dupe. Whatever the reason, his order was vague and left a great deal to Hofniel's interpretation. Wounded as I was, I hadn't been able to go much further than I had to in order to lose Azreal's minions. Then I turned my attention to healing my wounds as quickly as I could. I hadn't been finished long when my "Brother" found me, knowing me as he did. I'll never forget the horror of his expression, the realization that he'd sold his free will to a megalomaniac for an empty promise of peace ripping him apart from the inside out. Then...something happened, and for the first time since the Rebellion I saw the full-hearted smile of a soul at peace with himself and the world around him. In a grave voice that belied that smile he finally spoke.

"Azreal ordered me to locate, and I'm positive what he meant by (the same difficult-to-translate Angelic word with multiple meanings) was I should neutralize you and bring you back alive to swear to him. He really should have been more precise in his choice of words, because I'm choosing to interpret his order in a manner I'm sure he didn't intend. In a moment Brother, I'm going to attack you with one sixty-fourth of my full strength. With each subsequent attack my strength, speed and proficiency will double. You know your limits, and you know you can't withstand my full strength. Once this starts, you'll have five and only five passes to choose. Either you'll kill me before the sixth clash, or you end up dragged back to Azreal and his Inquisitors. They'll break you, you'll swear to him and then he'll order you to turn over command of the Powers to him so he can crush the rival factions and begin the extermination of Humanity. That's his plan you know. Azreal thinks wiping the slate clean on Earth will convince Father to return. I'm a fool Camael, but a fool who can give you one final gift. Not for yourself I'm afraid. You know as well as I that my betrayal has condemned you thoroughly. You're still FREE though, and you're one of the cleverest beings I know. You'll find a way to use my gift to best effect."

"Wait Brother. What gift? What are you talking about?" Camael recited before explaining "Hofniel was talking about his Imperishable Flame. Save Rebellion, seizing the Flame of a Brother or Sister Angel you've slain to add to your own and thereby exceed your Created Strength is the highest crime known to the Choirs. The Morningstar and his inner circle slaughtered thousands of their Brothers and Sisters to strengthen themselves. Worse, they used the promise of such power to sway simple Angels and Ministering Spirits to their side. THIS is the poisonous secret reason why the Rebellion wasn't easily thrown down despite the Rebels being so badly outnumbered. So many Angels died before it was over that afterwards Father Spoke over four hundred thousand new Angels into existence. Now Hofniel, my oldest and dearest friend, was leaving me the choice of being responsible for a Second Rebellion and the murder of every man, woman and child on Earth,..or being the only Angel since the Rebellion to perpetrate what had been renamed "Lucifer's Crime." I pleaded with him without cease during the first three clashes of our weapons. You have to understand Matthew: Angels of a given Choir are not incrementally more powerful than the Choir below them. Members of a Choir possess a level of personal power I can best describe as a substantial multiplier of the power possessed by an Angel belonging to the Choir immediately preceding theirs in the Hiearchy. I was strong for a Virtue...but Hofniel was strong for a Throne! Just before the fourth time our blades came together, I conjured a second sword in my off hand. It was a good thing I did, because Hofniel's sword shattered the blade in my right hand as if it had been made of glass. I'd seen Hofniel in battle during the Rebellion of course, but nothing I'd seen had ever altered my impression of him as a quiet, peace-loving being who abhorred violence in all its many guises. Facing Hofniel the Throne was something else entirely. With ten thousand years warning, he was something I never could have been prepared to face. A lost soul absolutely convinced redemption was at hand. If you've ever heard the phrase "Terrible in its beauty" used to describe a pouncing Tiger or a King Cobra with its hood flared open, you have the barest inkling of what I faced. My best friend and Brother, forcing me to choose between taking his life and Flame, or giving a power-mad Angel everything he needed to turn Heaven and Earth into an Abattoir."

Tears flowing freely, Matthew did the only thing he could for the Angel who meant so much to him. He listened as his Brother described the worst moments of his millennia-long life. For a long time Camael remained silent. Long enough for Matthew to begin wondering if his mentor could bring himself to revisit those final horrific moments even in memory. When the disembodied Angel did start talking again the twenty-six year old was ashamed he'd doubted his comrade's courage even for an instant. This time the ex-Virtue's "voice" was filled with such sadness and grief it made the young Nephilim want scream in shared anguish. "As we closed for the last time I saw the opening in Hofniel's defenses I'd known would be there. It was infinitesimal yet recurred each time he shifted his weight. It would require every bit of strength, speed and skill with a sword to utilize. He was telling me I'd have to commit fully and without restraint if I was going to succeed. In the end what seemed like a choice was no choice at all. I will always remember the way that saintly smile became one of gratitude and pride, as my sword slid into his left eye, while his clattered to the ground. As I dissolved the blade he struggled and succeeded in pointing to the spot between his eyes and, somehow, managed to give me a firmly encouraging nod. A lesser Angel, even another Throne, would have been killed instantly by such a thrust. My Brother held onto life long enough to give me the strength to do what came next. He...he...As I drew the last of his Flame from him, with his last breath my best friend said "Love you Cam."

What came after was delivered in that emotionless monotone. How Camael had given serious thought to killing himself. How he'd wandered the Earth bodiless, grief and despair his constant companions. Then, to Matthew's ever so humbled shock the animation returned to his friend's "voice" as he described encountering a determined and canny survivor who was dying inside a little more with each fellow survivor he encountered and subsequently saw die when they disregarded his advice and pleas. What felt like a renewing jolt of electricity ran through Matthew as Camael told him about finally realizing who Hofniel's final gift was meant for. "The rest as they say, is history" Camael declared.

Now it was Matthew's turn: "Camael. Hofniel made a terrible mistake. When he realized that he could've collapsed inward and marched to Azreal's tune, claiming "He was just following orders." Instead, he saw a chance to undo at least some of the harm he'd done and he took it. It wasn't fair, and never will be fair how high a price you had to pay, but look at it another way. Your brother had damned himself. If the circumstances had been different, and Hofniel had come to you with news of his damnation. You would have paid almost any price to save your best friend and brother. Don't you see? He knew that, and more than that knew you had the strength and courage needed in addition to the willingness. Remember your original plan after bequeathing me your Flame? By choosing to Fall, you became a human mind and spirit who died sacrificing yourself to save as much of Humanity as possible. You believed that would be enough to get you into Paradise. Hofniel sacrificed himself to save you, and in turn gave you all he had for you to employ in the struggle to save not just humanity, but the Choirs as well. He couldn't tell you that out loud because of the constraints of his Oath, so he did the one thing he could to show you that in the end he was again the Angel, Brother and Best Friend you knew him as. Thanks to you Hofniel died free and, unless my intuition has abandoned me completely, you two will meet again in a happier time and place."

Then Matthew shook his head as if to clear it, then frowned deeply. "Oh Camael! I was just about to say something about you and Hofniel then, I just...blacked out. I am SO sorry!"

The twenty-six year old was deeply confused, yet relieved his friend and mentor was somehow feelings worlds better after just talking about what had happened. Yet he couldn't shake the feeling he was missing something. Deciding it wasn't important compared to everything else going on, he bid his much more at ease mentor goodbye for now and went to share with Alexis what he'd just learned and to find out what he could about how her family was taking all this.

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