The soft rain smoothed away the stark damage done to the stone and iron manor, softening the marks of scorch and brimstone and feeding the remaining blood-drenched trees and grasses with the tears of heaven. Thunder groaned quietly in the background, a bass rumble more felt than heard. Bleak gray light only revealed the smallest fraction of the damage, the twisted gates and the gaping crevasse and crumbled rock, dissolving bodies and fading scales and feathers.
A dark figure sat on the rim of a cracked and warped fountain, part of which had been liquefied by a terrible heat and then hardened once more, like a child’s slide. The figure sat silently, twirling a black feather wrought with white between her thumb and forefinger, her other white hand clenched so hard that pale veins throbbed between bone and flesh. Dark crimson hair, now black with water, formed a veil over a pale and bloodied face that was smooth yet deeply afflicted by some unseen pain. Bloody wings hung from its shoulders, tensed and slick, and rivulets coursed down strange armor. A deep red stain tainted all the figure touched, barely diluted by the thickening drizzle.
The figure leaned foreword, metal cuffs around its wrists rattling like the chains of an abandoned prisoner. The hand relaxed and loosened, dropping a shining vermilion scale that disintegrated before it hit the ground. The last of an ancient, misbegotten evil to hold on the world. So they thought. The feather spun between the soft, delicate fingers, flicking droplets onto the armor, making trails of rust-colored liquid streak slowly across pearly flesh. Dark, opaque eyes cast restlessly around the ruins of the courtyard, touching all but seeing nothing, drawn inward in some deep inspection.
A whisper ran across the staccato silence of falling rain. Time to start again… They would be seriously weakened on their return. The figure stood and shimmered, becoming a tall, handsome man dressed in black, untouched by the rain. He strode across the muddy earth, his footsteps smoking slightly and fading. The gaping crack within the earth shuddered slightly and began to close, slowly, unrelentingly… It creaked as deep bedrock met and were mated once more in a fusion of infernal heat, sealing away the worst of the wound.
Broken corpses strewn about the grounds flashed simultaneously into brief azure flames and died away in mere seconds, leaving not even traces of ash to mark their final passing. Energy of death, despair, and even the platinum gleams of hope washed into the ground, beginning to restore the damage wrought.
The striking rhythm of hooves beat into the deserted sanctum of the devastated yard. “Ho, are you all right, milord? What has happened here?”
The man turned, somewhat startled, and replied in a mournful tone. “It seems that an earth-quake has struck my dear Aunt’s home, man. No one survived- they may have been burned alive. A terrible thing. I am here to take stock of my inheritance.”
It was drizzling rain across the moors, and throughout London, two days after the fateful encounter with Azazel. Old wounds became fresh memories, and the newer fatigue of battle had not worn off, even after all this time. Johnathon looked around at those he was surrounded by – Rishta, Azrael and Raphael… the only members of the highest Heavenly Host left after the battle. The Fallen Belial was also present, he noticed, although there was a much more soothing feeling flowing from him, as opposed to the dark hostility he had sensed during their first encounter, at Moloch’s manor. Autumn had arrived as well, which was a bit of a surprise. He had expected her to try and put this all behind her as soon as possible. He should have known better, though; facing Azazel before both he and Samael could showed a strong will and courage that Johnathon himself hoped to possess one day. She was far stronger than he had given her credit for.
The cold, lonely graveyard caused Johnathon to pause for a moment, as he kept down a cold shiver. He was luckier than he deserved. It should have been him that went on, not Samael. Regardless, he was gone. And he still had one last duty to perform.
“Lord, we ask of You on this terrible day to take into Your arms the lives and souls of your children,” Johnathon began, clasping his Bible close to his heart as he stared down at the empty casket before him. With no body for Samael, a traditional last rites ceremony was the best they could do. He didn’t suppose the angels would be buried in such a filthy place as beneath the ground, either. “The shining beings of hope and prosperity You created, in the image of all that was true and noble: Michael, Gabriel, Raziel, Uriel, Adriel, Tabris, and Beelzebub.” True, the last was once of the Fallen, but they had been an angel, once. They deserved to be listed amongst those he once called allies. “Were it not for the sacrifices of the brave Heavenly Host, the shining world You created would be forever lost. We pray for their souls, wherever they may journey.”
Johnathon swallowed, and paused a moment before continuing. “Also, Lord, we ask that You take in another, Samael Norse, the man who gave his life and his freedom in order to see to it that the rest of humanity could live in peace. He is a hero, Lord. A true and honest hero. May he find rest, and salvation in Your kingdom.
“Blessed be all those present, and those that are not. Amen,” he finished, slowly crossing himself.
The group of mourners stepped away, and the two groundskeepers slowly lowered the wooden casket into the ground, muttered a quick prayer of their own, and began to slop the wet earth back into the hole it came from. Johnathon tucked his Bible away and exchanged uneasy glances with the others.
“Well. What do we do now?” he asked half-heartedly. “I suppose most of you shall be leaving. I don’t believe we will see each other again, either. For all our sakes, I hope you never have to return under such trying circumstances.”
Rishta had stood there quietly throughout the entire ceremony. She could not cry anymore, even when Michael’s name had been mentioned. There were no more tears left. The past two days, she had been locked in her room, preparing certain plans when not crying her eyes and heart out. She hadn’t left that room, kept the curtain’s drawn, and had stayed silent, not eating or drinking. Finally, only the funeral service had called her out.
Now, here she stood, dressed all in black. Ebony silk and lace fitted her perfectly, as she looked at the grave. It was so cold, so heartless. What was it like to be dead? To not experience the world as it was? To not have sunshine, rain, the wind, the earth, warmth, clothes, discussion, life..? It must be horrible. Or maybe it wasn’t… maybe it was heaven. She hated not knowing.
Hate. It had become a familiar emotion for her recently. Without Azazel, Michael would’ve been alive! ALL of them would’ve lived! But they were dead… everyone had to die… even angels. I thought it was supposed to end differently. The vision… God, if I had seen it, I would have known. I would have been able to stop it. But no, it’s all my fault… only my fault…
Her thoughts were interrupted by Johnathon speaking.
“I don’t know what we must do, but I for one am leaving England. I cannot stay here anymore.” Rishta was quiet as she spoke her first words in two days. She knew it would be somewhat of a shock to many people, but she remained quiet, not giving more information than she had to. She didn’t want to be followed.
Belial stayed away like an outsider, standing in the shade of an ancient tree. A dark, thick shadow covered him, his silver eyes shimmering darkly in his somber face. He was clad in black, elegantly leaning on a walking cane which was the Staff under another shape. He wore two black bands on his shoulder. The Necromancer listened to the service in silence, watching the rites. A comedy, maybe? Belial himself could not tell such. There were elements of use, but those very archangels could already tell what the humans strived to know and to learn. At least, Azrael could.
Belial’s eyes softened slightly. Azrael’s serious, calm face looked almost placid. He wondered what was going through her mind in that instant. Johnathon’s words didn’t move Belial a bit, since the Archdemon did not consider himself included in the question. Rishta spoke; Belial could smell the feelings of hate and questioning from Rishta without effort. Belial could understand the girl’s feelings quite well, but those related him inexorably to the path he had taken as a Fallen. Questioning, despair, hatred… Belial watched her without a word, his eyes suddenly sad. He would have spoken to her, but he’d be far from being opportune and he knew it.
Belial looked down and listened to the rhythmic sound of the shovel filling the grave. He had recovered most of his strength in the past days, yet he still was pale he would be able to follow Azrael to his final destination. The days he spent in a secluded bedroom at Rishta’s manor had been way too long. Belial clasped his hand on the handle of the cane, waiting for Azrael.
Azrael had again taken a human shape; a beautiful yet distant, solemn dark-haired woman with the night sky in her eyes. She kept a contemplative attitude, which was rather her usual; Azrael knew the path the souls follow and she herself was to deliver them to the next step in their existence: life, death; grave and womb. Azrael however had a different notion for that of Samael Norse but it was not the time to reveal… It was not the Time.
“I shall again go back to my duties”, she said in response to Johnathon’s words. “Eventually you will meet me again.” Rather ominous words coming from the Archangel of Death and Destruction, those could still hold a soothing meaning. “From those who’ll be judged, only Belial remains and I shall take him back with me.”
Azrael tilted her head, looking at Rishta. “The road for those who flee has but a bitter end”, she murmured. “You must allow yourself to heal, then face your sorrows and turn the memories of dear ones who accompanied you in the dark hours into cherished treasures.”
“I believe, for once, I agree with the Lady Rishta…” Autumn spoke softly, her hands clasped tightly together. Her feelings were much the same as Rishta’s, that deep feeling of despair and wonderment of why it all had to be this way. Though unlike the angel, she had no hatred… not even for her husband. Despite all the horrors he put her through, demon or no, she only felt a cold detachment.
At her neck, laced with a gold chain was the ring. By Raziel’s wishes she took the ring and hadn’t let it go. Until the day Azrael came to take her own soul, she wouldn’t give it up. It along with the story would be passed to her children, along with a warning of dangers that may pass…
“I will be traveling to America. There is much to offer a modern woman in the states.” she smiled half heartedly. What Azrael spoke had much truth to it. She herself wasn’t sure if she was running away or not. Autumn just couldn’t stand the thought of staying in the Riktophen house, she had no memories there worth treasuring.
Raphael was standing alone by one side, a lone figure in the shadows. He leaned against the bare tree and was keeping unusually quiet, holding his golden cross in his hand. He listened to what everyone was saying and he became a little more sad. Everyone was leaving. Even Rishta and Autumn. Rishta had gotten a heavy blow after Michael’s death, but Raphael was quite sure he would see Michael again, soon.
Raphael tilted his head aside and said nothing. His words were all used two days ago.
Johnathon gave Azrael a half-hearted smile. “Only a short while ago, that would have worried me,” he said, looking up at the angel. “But now, after everything I’ve seen and done, your return signals nothing to me but the last great adventure. I have no fear of death, now. But don’t expect me to come quietly,” he added, flashing a quick grin.
His attention turned back to Autumn when she mentioned America. Perhaps it was best, that she move away from this place as soon as possible. And the farther away, the better. “With your permission, Miss R… ah… Autumn… I would like very much to come with you,” he said, smiling at her. “Of course, there’s still a bit of cleaning up to do here, but afterwards, I should like to join you. The worst is over, but I would feel better if I was to accompany you, just in case.”
Rishta stood there, silent – no more words to say after stating her position. She listened to Azrael’s words, but they did not affect her. Azrael did not understand – she had to leave! This place, London… it was filled with miseries. Miseries from ages past, and ages to follow. Besides, the plans have been made, and she was stubborn enough to follow them. Looking once more at the grave, Rishta’s face showed no expression. Blankly, she stared, wondering once again: why? Why did Michael die? Why did Azazel rise? Why did the rebirth ceremony work? Why? Why… why?
Sighing to herself, Rishta turned and saw both Raphael and Belial standing to the side, away from the rest. Raphael had lost Adriel – his sweetheart. Just like she had lost Michael. Her Michael. Quietly, she stepped away from the group.
Autumn gave a weak smile at Johnathon Morris. The foolish man that faced hell itself against the devil’s son with an army of angel’s at his side. Could she wish for any better friend or protector? Perhaps my guardian angel… In another life, Raziel… maybe in a another life. “Let us go then Mr. Morris.” Taking his arm, she gave one look back at the cemetery and the grave faces of those she had come to trust. Yes, In another life…