It was quiet for awhile. Ray couldn’t figure out how long or how much of it he was conscious for. It was dark, cramped and silent, save for the dry sound of detritus sliding through crevices and sprinkling around him. He heard a feeble grumble emerge from under him. He remembered he was draped across Cletus and Abby when the rubble began to fall.
“Wensleydale, Abigayle?” he coughed, slid aside and sat down.
“Aye,” said Cletus sitting up.
“Here,” said Abby.
“Everybody okay?” Ray asked.
“You took the brunt of it, I dare say,” Cletus replied, “Seraph are as hearty as they are long lived.”
“What?” Abby asked.
“It would take a bit to explain,” Ray said. “Right now, we seem to be entombed.”
“Grandpa, can I have one of your vials of Greek Fire?”
Cletus audibly shuffled within his coat. “Here. What are your plans for it?”
“One second,” the sound of cork being pulled could be heard, followed by another. Light filled the space in the rubble. A blinding flash receded to a torch light. Cletus and Ray squinted, still dazzled by the initial burst, adjusting to the new illumination. Abby sat holding a small flame in her palm, like she had found a mouse, “It’s a start.”
Ray rocked back and laughed, “If Mike were here to see this!”
“What would he do?” asked Abby.
“Probably? Act like he was pissed,then laugh when you left the room.”
Cletus sat examining the nooks and cracks of the cave in, tapping on the solid looking blocks and helping the loose scree fall to the floor. He came across a sizable gap. He could see nothing in the blackness on the other side.
“Abby,” he said, “Could you bring the light this way?”
Abby slid toward Cletus and held her hand near the hole. Cletus peered through and could see the corridor and the elevator shaft.
“It’s a mess,” Cletus muttered, “But it’s mostly clear.”
“Got any more of that napalm, Wensleydale?” Ray asked.
“Greek Fire,” Ray obliged.
“No, I’m afraid. That’s all for that batch.”
“Anything that explodes?”
Abby and Cletus shook their heads. Ray stared at the flame in Abby’s hand.
“It’s a long shot, but…” Ray rubbed his face, “Abby can you project that flame?”
“Yes,” she answered, “But there’s not much left of it.”
“That’s fine. When I tell you, project the flame into the gap. Then be prepared to duck under my wings.”
“What’s going to happen?” she asked.
“Hopefully, an explosion.”
They slid as far away from the hole as they could in such a tight space. Cletus and Abby sat under each of Ray’s wings. He began wiggling his finger in the air.
“It’s going to get pretty stifling in here,” said Ray.
The space began to feel warm and close. Cletus and Abby’s breathing became laborious. Ray continued his subtle gesticulation, like a lazy conductor.
“Okay, Abby,” Ray wheezed.
The flame leapt from Abby’s palm and passed through the hole like a glowing spear. Ray pulled them in and wrapped his wings around them, then ducked his head under. A piercing crack sounded and searing light snuck in under Ray’s wings. The rubble around the hole launched in all directions and the hole became a portal just wide enough for them to shimmy through. Once on the other side they shook the dust off and stretched.
“Feels great to able to stand,” Abby said, “Who thought I’d miss standing?”
“How did you create that explosion?” Cletus asked.
“I filled the gap with the available oxygen in the room and Abby lit it on fire,” Ray placed his palm against the reader on the elevator to no avail, “Elevator’s out.”
“Are we going to have to climb up there?” Cletus lamented.
“No, just give me a second,” Ray said slumping against the wall, “Peacetime has made me soft. Need to catch my breath,” he laughed.
“Does it wear you out?” asked Abby.
“Depends on what I’m using it for. And I’m out of practice. How about you?”
“A little,” Abby sighed and sat on large stone, “I could use a nap.”
“I imagine a bit more than a little. You two are the first non-Seraph to discover your own version of Seraph technology. In any practical kind of way. And we need a little genetic re-calibrating so it doesn’t burn us out. And you guys are doing this cold with some pretty fragmented guidelines. I don’t envy you.”
“Maybe, you can give us a practicum,” Cletus laughed.
“Well, if you want I can see if they’ll let you come to Parthus. To study there. I wouldn’t hold your breath, to be honest, though. Only one other human was ever brought to Parthus. A weird, little dude. Enoch. They’ve been pretty strict about interacting with precivilized species with what happened here. Though, with your extraordinary case…I’ll discuss it with Metatron.”
“I still can’t get my head around there being whole worlds up there,” Cletus muttered, stretched out on the floor, leaning back on his hands.
“And here all this time I thought Seraphim came from heaven,” said Abby.
“Your stories are brimming with things you shouldn’t have been made aware of. Like my home for instance, Parthus. Whisper that name a few times around the Mediterranean, wait a few centuries, Parthus, Pardes, Pardis, Paradise. And it’s not in the clouds, it just snows all the time. These wings aren’t for flying, we evolved on an arctic world, we can hide from the snow under them, then shake them off when they get too laden.”
“Do you have harps?” Abby laughed.
“Yeah, but so do you,” Ray replied.
“What about halos?”
“Catholics have to add gold to everything. And now, class dismissed. I’m feeling much better,” Ray leapt to his feet and brushed his hands off.
He stood in the empty elevator shaft and looked up.
“I think I can do it,” he said, bobbing his head and rubbing his hands, “You guys look light enough. Come here.”
They walked to Ray and he positioned them one on either side. He wrapped an arm around each of their waists.
“Hang on,” Ray said.
“I thought you said you couldn’t fly,” said Abby.
“I can glide around on gusts of air for short bursts. I just have to create a strong enough current.”
“Can you?” Abby gave Ray a sidelong look.
Air began rushing up the elevator shaft and Ray opened his wings. They seemed to operate more like a parachute, but rigid and inflexible. Bone protrusions covered in a thick layer of white fur, that over millennia grew and twisted into spatulate, concave outcroppings. The control he could exert over them was limited to holding them in different positions, provided he didn’t have to rapidly move between them. Although occasionally, usually during piqued emotions, they would involuntarily flap, twitch or spasm. When he moved them his face would take on the look of a shallow trance, like when someone wiggles their ears. And now, he was conjuring a gale wind which like adding patting his head and rubbing his stomach to the ear wiggling. His wings lurched upward and their feet began to lift. They slowly rose through the elevator shaft. At about halfway, Ray gasped, the gust weakened and they began to sink. Ray winced and the wind picked up.
“I need you to help,” Ray wheezed, “I’m fading.”
“How?” Cletus yelped.
“Abby, if you could raise the temperature at the bottom it might give us more lift.”
“I can’t do it without already having some fire handy.”
“Well, that’s all the ideas I have,” Ray said with labored breaths.
Cletus started to slide his leather gloved palms down the smooth, metallic walls of the shaft. Abby followed suit.
“Better,” said Ray and they continued their ascension.
Once on the surface, inside the Tower of St. Michael, Ray returned the overturned tile to its place covering the shaft opening.
“So what do we do now?” Abby asked.
“What’s this ‘we,’ young lady?” Cletus bellowed.
“‘We’ are not going anywhere.”
“Where are we going to go? That maniac knocked our house down.”
“Well we can’t go running off on some chase. And that maniac tried to crush us with a hammer. Does he even want us tagging along?” Cletus gestured to Ray.
“It would be nice to have some humans along who know the land,” Ray replied.
“Wrong answer,” Cletus yelled, closing in on Ray.
“Come on, Grandpa,” Abby said, “You said we were going on an adventure. You even got dressed up for it, packed your gadgets and everything.”
“We were on an adventure and almost died. Do you like almost dying?”
“Almost dying is fine, because it’s not dying.”
Ray nodded in agreement.
“You sound like me when I was your age,” Cletus fought back a grin.
“Then you understand,” said Abby.
“But I also made a promise. I made a promise to your mother while she was on her deathbed to never let any harm come to you and do whatever it takes to protect you. This is me protecting you.”
“Grandpa, I can manipulate fire, at this point I think it’s more about me protecting you.”
Ray nodded again.
“Don’t you get too big for your britches,” Cletus said to Abby, then turned to Ray, “And stop encouraging this.”
“Grandpa, Ray needs our help and I want to go, but I won’t leave you behind. I want you to come. We didn’t die because we were all there. If one of us wasn’t the others would have. Besides, do you really want to wither away in a laboratory lying to your latest patron promising gold for lead?”
Cletus squinted at Abby and Ray and kicked a stone aside.
“Fine,” Cletus muttered, “Where are we going?”
“Avignon,” replied Ray.
Cardinal Martell entered the audience chamber of Pope Benedict XIII, known to the faithful as Papa Luna, who was snoring on his throne. Martell stood before him and cleared his throat. Benedict snorted awake.
“Who is it?” Benedict bellowed, slurping the drool from his spitty lip, “Martell.”
“I have returned from, my errand, Your Holiness,” Martell growled.
“Where’s the body?” Benedict grunted.
“Entombed under Glastonbury Tor.”
“Go back and get it.”
“Your Holiness, the angel’s corpse is buried beneath tons of rock and earth.”
“Then dig it up,” Benedict bellowed, “Our master demands to see the corpse. Now go get it. And don’t let me see your face until you have it.”
“Yes, Your Holiness,” Martell seethed, “At once.”
Martell made a point to snap his cloak as he turned on his heel and left the chamber. When he arrived at his study he found a grey, grizzly bear masquerading as a man slouched in a chair in front of the fire. He was holding a bottle in his lap.
“Bernard,” Martell said to the man.
“What was he on about this time?” Bernard croaked through a throatful of gravel.
“Now I have to retrieve the corpse of an angel from under Glastonbury Tor,” Martell said, sitting, “There is very little keeping me from crushing his head like a fleshy egg.”
“Why? So you can be the errand boy for the bloody Demiurge, instead? You would be his puppet instead. You would just be switching hands.”
“I’d be a step closer to destroying him as well.”
“What makes you think he would give you the Papacy? And not just kill you outright.”
“I think he trusts me. He did give me that,” Martell gestured toward his hammer.
“I don’t cotton to that hammer,” Bernard grumbled, “I taught you swordplay. You were the best around. Now you just swing that around,” Bernard brushed his hands together, “Job’s done. Besides, the Demiurge doesn’t give gifts or rewards.”
“Maybe it’s a subtle suggestion to live out my fleshy egg fantasy.”
“Unlikely, he put the buffoon in charge for a reason. No, boy. It’s like I taught you, be patient, wait for an opening. In the meantime, go get your angel corpse.”