A fury fell through the air with a crash of grinding steel and crushing metal, halted with a splitting cacophony of furious collapse as the elevator caved in on itself at the bottom of the shaft. The tall chamber settled in attempts to recover from the hard impact, the walls creaking against the remnants of the former lift. A pile of rubble sat at the bottom of the shaft, the broken aluminum door grate components folded beneath the several-ton steel box. I writhed beneath the center of the pile, pushing upwards on the scepter in my hands with my might against the enormous mass of broken metal above me.
I struggled to move the collapsed door beams off of me when a stabbing pain shot up my side. I looked down to see a broken end of an aluminum door beam sticking up from the floor through my back, coming through just above my right hip. I had to find a way to get out and treat the wound as soon as I could, which meant getting out from under the elevator. I needed some ingenuity.
I stared at the floor of the elevator, looking for weak points.
The floor panels are too thick to get straight through. I thought. There must be some other way.
I noted the slant in the floor panel directly above me, the back of it stuck against the corner on one wall, the panel slanting upward to the other side of the chamber, where it was held back by the broken apron beneath the elevator door. The lower floor panel must have separated from the bottom of the elevator in the collapse.
This was just the idea I needed.
I reached out to one side of the shaft, using all my might to hold the scepter and the elevator up with my other hand. My hand flew around the area frantically, until I finally gripped a broken steel cable attached to the counterweight system beneath the shaft. I took the cable in my hand, tying the end to a rectangular holding component on the platform. I opened the service access hatch beneath me, straining against the weight of the elevator above me. I had to do this right. Inside the compartment beneath the panel, I saw an electrical cable attached to an engine, the core component of the lift mechanism. I pulled it hastily from the electrical diodes and drew a scythe into my hands. With a single motion, the circular sigil at the head sparked to an electric life, and I drove it into the diodes, the engine roaring as it pulled back the cable with all the force it could produce. I pushed up on one end of the platform above me with the scepter, and with the help of the cable pulling the lower end, it began to turn sideways, the elevator being pushed up the shaft with a slow, droning groan. I got to my knees as it pushed ever higher, the opening at the first floor becoming visible through the gap between the floor and the rising elevator. The aluminum bar through my stomach burned as my muscles rallied against the enormous steel platform, when finally it stood on its side, holding the elevator as high as it could. I pulled myself up onto the floor of the building’s first level, and as I struggled to wrench my torso through the gap against the bar in my stomach, the platform behind me groaned.
With grit teeth and an explicit interjection, I bent the end of the bar flat against my abdomen, allowing me to roll out into the hallway as the elevator platform buckled. With a thunderous calamity of metallic noise, the elevator car dropped as its only support broke, crashing down into the very bottom of the shaft.
I writhed against the floor as I grit my teeth and closed my eyes tight, pulling the blood-drenched aluminum fragment from my waist with a sickeningly visceral tear. I swore in the agony as I threw it into the elevator box in disdain.
The elevator chimed to indicate it reached the desired floor.
“—you too, buddy.” I cursed.
“Dammit, what happened?” She asked, running her hands up her forehead and through her thick black hair. “I thought this was supposed to be a safe job.”
“Well” I groaned, pressing against the gaping wound in my abdomen as I limped into the door. “Kinda went south.”
“Kinda went south?” She repeated, amazed at how I had simplified the circumstances. “For the love of god, look at yourself! I told you this was going to happen again if you weren’t careful.”
“Hey, hey, you know I only did what I had to do.” I protested. “A woman almost died tonight.”
“So did you.” She said.
“What happened to ‘both of us’? Blood is thicker, remember?” I said.
“Yeah, well maybe I’d believe we could do this together if you stopped trying to do it by yourself.” She said, walking through the archway into the kitchen.
“Iris, come on.” I said, following her into the room.
She sat at the kitchen table, head in her hands. She looked up at me. “You can’t expect me to just blow it off when stuff like this happens. I worry about you.”
“Then maybe…” I began, unsure of where I was going. “I don’t know.” There was a pause. “Look,” I said “this guy who got me, he’s weird. I think he’s the same one who robbed the bank the other night, but whoever he is, he’s not all human, which means we have to stop him. I need to go question the woman he went after before the police detectives get there, which means I have to leave now. Now I can’t do that very well with a somewhat noticeable stab wound, so you mind giving me a hand before the two of us get going?”
She sighed. “Fine.”
I worked a bobby pin into the lock on the front door of Garmana’s apartment as Iris spoke. “You were right about Garmana being supernatural. The way she described his voice makes it sound–”
“Like he’s possessed.” I said. “Makes sense to me. The red eyes, the voice, the weird abilities.”
“What can he do?” She asked.
I turned the doorknob and the door fell slowly open. Iris and I stepped in and began looking for any leads, as I’d already confirmed he wasn’t in the apartment. The television in the front room had been disassembled, the parts now strewn across the floor.
I gestured at the parts on the floor. “This.” I said. “He can disassemble things with his mind, put them back together differently. You should see the stuff he can do. When I fought him outside the hotel, he turned a car into a machine gun.”
“That’s insane.” She said.
“It’s more insane when you have nuts and bolts flying at you like bullets.” I said. “He’s dangerous.”
“So we have to find out where he is.” She said. “Anything catching your interest around here?”
I stepped into the kitchen. “Not particularly…” I said, trailing off as I noticed a pink slip of paper on the table. “What about this?”
She stepped into the kitchen and looked at the page as I continued to look around. “Looks like he lost that job at Kingston.” She said.
I picked up an empty bottle from the floor. “Looks like he was dealing with it the old-fashioned way.” I said. I looked over to the wall opposite the table, glass shards littered across the floor. I gestured with my head. “What do you make of the window?” I asked. “The glass on the floor indicates it was broken from the outside, plus the breakage pattern looks like it was a wide, blunt, forceful impact… like someone broke it with their shoulder.”
“On the second floor?” Iris asked. “Not likely.”
“We are talking about a demon here.” I said. “Anything’s possible.
“True.” She said. “Plus the recent loss of a job, ex-girlfriend, drinking his problems away… fits the usual situation.”
“Julia said Jackson wasn’t a wrathful person, so whatever’s controlling him must have latched into his emotional vulnerability and fed on whatever anger it could find.” I said. “Sounds like a rage demon.”
“The layoff letter says he repaired heavy machinery at Kingston Steel, which means he’d have some experience taking things apart and putting them back together.” Iris inferred.
“If it was a chaos demon, it would extrapolate an aspect of his personality to a supernatural extent. Makes sense to me.” I agreed.
“Now how do we find him?” Iris asked.
“Well,” I began “His first target that we know of was Julia. She claims to have left him, which says to me that he’s probably going after people he feels have wronged him. Who would his net target be?”
“Probably someone involved in him being laid off.” Iris proposed. “The company president, the branch manager, maybe a union rep…”
“Smart.” I agreed, retrieving the computer from the backpack Iris had used to carry our disguises. “We need to find these people before he does. If he’s got somebody inside his head, he’s not going to stop.”
“You’re right.” She agreed. “I’ll see if I can find anything else around here.”
I searched frantically for any information I could get on the people he’d be looking for, when Iris came into the room. “Look at this.” She said, handing me a leather-bound datebook. She moved the laptop closer to her and began to use it as I looked through the book.
“It belongs to a Samantha Johnson. According to this, she’s a union representative that represents the people at Kingston. If her datebook is correct, she made a visit to the facility last week.”
“Where she presumably made the workers some promises she couldn’t keep.” I said. “Doesn’t sound too good to me.” I paged through the book. “And according to this, she’s in for a red-eye at Bastion International Airport in about a half hour.”
“Sounds like we know where Anagram’s headed.” Iris said.
“Anagram?” I asked. “Oh, you mean because he takes stuff apart and mixes it up? That’s clever.” I laughed.
“It’s also an anagram of his last name.” She said.
I smiled. “Brilliant.”
“Do you have the heart?” She asked.
I nodded. “I picked it up before we left.”
“Good.” She said. “Now how about we go catch a flight?”
Iris and I had examined the terminals as well as we could, finding no sign of Anagram. I cleared my area and contacted Iris over the headset.
“Nothing on this end, and it looks like his victim’s flight is just about ready to depart.” I said. “Looks like we might be clear for now.”
“I don’t know.” She replied. “It’s the perfect opportunity. I wouldn’t expect him to just miss it.”
“He was pretty banged up after the car crash.” I said. “Maybe he chose to fall back and lick his wounds.”
“Maybe.” She replied. “Let’s keep an eye out for incoming around the perimeter and see if he turns up.”
“Copy.” I said.
I stood at the edge of the roof overlooking the route leading into the airport, keeping a watchful eye out as I considered what Iris had said earlier. Maybe she was right. Maybe I was forcing myself to be alone in this. She’d never made a jump at trying to do what I do in the way I do it, so I guess I had considered her sort of behind-the-scenes in the process.
Maybe this just wasn’t right for her. The things I did every night were demanding, and while I didn’t doubt her capability to rise to the challenge, all she seemed to do lately was worry, plus my having recently let Carolynn in on the secret certainly didn’t alleviate any of her concern.
My thought process was interrupted by the sight of a single black sedan speeding up the road, driven by a familiar face. “Visual. Engaging.” I said quickly over the headset, enormous black wings folding out from my back. I propelled myself toward the vehicle, driving my knee deep into the hood as I landed atop the front of the car. Jackson’s eyes flashed red as he slammed his foot into the accelerator. I wound up a punch prepared to fly straight through the windshield, when the car drifted past me in a storm of pieces like dust in the wind. I hit the pavement rolling as the car reassembled behind me, continuing down the roadway without missing a beat. I rolled onto my feet and took to the air again in pursuit. I had to find a way to stop it without hurting the driver.
“Coming your way, Iris.” I said.
Within an instant, a blur of deep red fury flew across the road, a banner of thick red fabric crossing the street in front of the car.
The vehicle ran into the banner at full speed as the banner folded over the top of the car, locking it to the street like an enormous net. It flapped wildly for a moment before resting. Iris walked around to the side I was on, and lifted the edge slightly, Jackson crawling through the hole and stepping into the street.
“It’s over.” I said. “Step out of Jackson and I might let you live.” Jackson’s eyes turned red, glowing in the late night darkness. “I’ll say it again. Come out of him, now.” He wrenched his jaw open and screamed a guttural hiss, like an urgent whisper louder than a storm. “In my Master’s name, show yourself.” I commanded through my teeth.
Garmana’s shadow rose from the ground, a cloud of thick blackness moving through the air. It shifted into the shape of a woman in a long dress, the detail of her form minimal. Her skin was jet black, a smooth, flat surface like plastic. Her head was smooth and round, with two small, curved horns coming up from the back of her skull. Her face was marked with large, pointed, glowing red lenses that resembled eyes, and a jaw that was smoothed over as if she had no mouth at all. Her delicate shoulders curved up into a series of pointed spikes, and her chest bore a symbol like a closed crimson eye just beneath her collar. She stretched up from the shadow and sat on Garmana’s shoulder like a bird, crossing her legs and looking down to me.
She spoke in a voice like a thousand snakes. “I was hoping you wouldn’t say that.” I wasn’t amused. The dress-shaped figure that was her legs stretched down to touch the ground, and she stood on it after it touched, lowering herself to a standing position on the street. She looked over her shoulder at Iris. “Oh. I’m glad you two are still together after all these year. It’s been a very long time.”
“Not long enough.” I said.
“Aww,” She cooed, folding her hands and crossing them up into her chest. “You didn’t miss me? I always thought we had something special.”
“And what would I have to do with something like you?” I taunted.
“You and I both know, Azrael. Goodness, I almost know you better than she does.”
“That’s enough, you harpy.” I insulted. “Leave my city. I won’t ask again.”
“And here you never even give me a proper welcome.” She said. “I’m offended, Azrael.”
“If it’s all the same, I’d be willing to…” My scythes shot into my hands, blades extending to a sinister curve with a menacing clank. “…Accommodate you.”
A shape like a red smile extended across her face, stretching all the way up to where her ears would be. In place of teeth, the crimson shape was decorate with a score of arbitrary lines running across it, sewing her jaws together. “I can feel it inside you.” She hissed. “The rage. The fury. Worse than it’s ever been.” She purred. “But there’s something different about you… Something new.” Her skirt stretched down into a series of tentacles at the bottom of her body, writhing like an octopus and floating her across the ground. She glided to my side, slowly circling around me as I turned to follow her motion. “There’s a different rage inside you now. I can feel it. Fury for this city, fury for this world, fury for yourself… But no, that’s not it. Fury for someone else… Raphael. Interesting. Does he know?” She taunted. “How about your wife? Does she know how you feel about her? Your fury?” She looked at Iris momentarily, as if to insult her not with words, but the essence of what she’d just said still hanging in the air. “Your father, too. But of course, who could forget the most important of all? Your brother, S—”
I threw the edge of the scythe up to her collar, her jet black flesh recoiling from the blade a mere thought from her throat. “Say his name.” I said, feeling the fury build up inside me as I spoke. “I dare you.” I could feel myself changing, my lips stretching at the edges as my teeth shifted inside my twisting maw. “See what happens.”
Her smile turned into a spiteful scowl, attempting fruitlessly to hide her fear. She stepped back while I stepped forward, keeping my blade pointed. “Fine.” She grunted. I lowered the blade, keeping a tight grip on it in my hand.
“Give me Jackson’s life.” I demanded.
She swooped back toward the man, looking him over in detail as he snarled, eyes aflame. “Jackson belongs to his fury now. You can’t save him from what he’s done.”
“I can save the world from you, Droigheann.” I said.
Droigheann smiled, her claw-like fingers gently touching the side of Jackson’s face. “Don’t count on it.” She said, stepping back into him.
Anagram snarled, lifting his hands and causing a street light to wrench itself from the ground. He swung it like an enormous sword as I jumped over it, rolling across the pavement and moving in low for his legs. I had to knock him unconscious while doing as little physical damage as possible. His unconscious body would be worthless to Droigheann, drawing her out, and any hard physical attacks would only hurt Jackson. I shot forward beneath his legs, flipping him onto his back as I flew up to his neck. I wrapped a leg around his neck as he fell, snaring his throat between my thighs and using them to compress his neck. Anagram struggled against me as he choked, the light post swinging through the air. A flourish of red passed in front of me, flipping over Jackson and I and spinning above us. She stuck a two-footed landing and flipped up with all her might, Iris slamming her shield against the approaching light post with a thunderous clang. A car drove on the overpass above us, the noise of the engine an ominous harbinger of the fury Anagram was about to relay.
As the vehicle fell through the air, Iris sprang into action, bounding forward and tying the end of the car to the overpass, leaving the vehicle suspended in the street. She jumped up and broke through the windshield, cutting the driver free and leaping from the vehicle as Anagram drove it into the pavement, the car shattering against the street like glass. The light post swung through the air and caught my shoulder, throwing me from Anagram’s body. He fought to stand up as the components of the car began to shift through the air, forming sinister-looking new machines of unknown purpose. A platform rose up beneath him, an exposed engine in the rear, a wheel at each corner. An overhead sign support wrenched itself from its supports, the components attaching themselves to the sides of Anagram’s makeshift vehicle and forming malicious arms. The exterior panels of the car formed a protective surface around the engine, the car doors capping the claws of his machine. It roared to life like a monster, the wheels rotating the vehicle to face its driver toward me. He raised his hands up in front of him, the twisting arms around the vehicle emulating his motions. He glared at me, baring his teeth.
The rightmost arm flew toward me like an enormous steel punch, the car door on the end serving as a heavy blunt object and generating a devastating amount of force. I dodged the first strike from the car door, when it rotated around the end of its joint, spinning towards me, each side a furious strike. The second arm followed suit, the heavy car door splitting the air at my side. I moved in low, shooting across the ground beneath their reaches as I went directly for Anagram. The wheels of the improvised vehicle shifted to a more regular orientation, driving the machine backwards and out of my reach as the car doors slammed into my back. I rolled across the pavement as they plunged into the street, each crying out in rage with a furious metallic crunching din.
I rolled aside as the vehicle barreled past me, headed away from the airport and back towards the downtown area. I rose up and took to the air. I couldn’t let him get downtown.
Swords flew from each of my hands, each of them blocked by the car door shields Anagram had created on the vehicle.
The vehicle came to an abrupt stop in the fire lane of a hardware store, one of the enormous arms picking up a large metal ring. The ends of the arms rotated to fit the new addition, the panels forming a form of drill, who Anagram promptly used to plow through the store’s front door.
Iris and I landed on the street in front of the store, following the destructive behemoth into the store.
The store was dark, the only sound in the air a faint yet high-pitched burglary alarm. Anagram had left the vehicle, leaving behind a series of bent metal arms and car doors damaged beyond recognition. I reached out with my mind, searching for any people in the store to no avail. Droigheann must have been able to conceal Jackson’s essence. I made a silent hand signal to Iris, indicating a strategic sweep of the location.
I rounded a corner, weapons in hand as I searched for the man and the demon. It took only a few moments of silent searching to find what I was looking for in the form of a circular saw shredding through the shelf next to me. I leaned far back to avoid the blade, recoiling and bounding off the wall to my left, driving both my feet into the possessed man in the other aisle. He adjusted his balance and gazed toward me. His right arm was fitted with an intricate collection of power tool components, a series of battery packs lining his upper arm and leading down to a set of three exposed circular saw atop his hand. His left arm boasted a form of shield constructed from the base of a table saw and a series of various jagged objects.
He lunged forward with the saw as I dodged to one side, immediately swinging the shield toward me in response. I struggled to block it with the solid plate on my forearm, but the weight of the shield bore down relentlessly, pushing me backwards and forcing me down under its sheer force. He swung low with the saw, barely catching the outside of my thigh and tearing through my flesh like paper. The wound burned like hell. He readjusted his stance, raising the triple saw to his shoulder in preparation for the delivery of the killing blow.
Good thing I’m faster than he is.
I drew my scepter from its pocket on my right leg, throwing it forward like a stabbing motion through the air. Anagram flipped through the air, knocking down the score of shelving units behind him as he sailed to the opposite end of the store.
“Sorry, Jackson.” I said.
I limped to the opposite end of the store as Iris returned to my side, helping me to the place Anagram had landed. I pointed the scepter toward the shelving unit on top of him, turning it and lifting it with the scepter’s powers. I moved it to the side, prepared for anything to happen.
To my great surprise, there was no man nor demon to be found.
“Shit.” I said. “We lost him.”
Iris and I sat on the edge of a pathway on the side of the headland’s cliff, looking out over the city. The bright light coming from her hand faded, and I looked at my thigh to see a clean red scar that would probably fade in a few days’ time.
“I expected us to do better.” I sighed. “I really did.”
“It’s not so bad.” Iris said. “We couldn’t have been prepared for what Droigheann is capable of.”
“Iris, we failed.” I stopped her. “That’s all there is to it.” There was a silence for a moment as I reached into my pocket, pulling out a stone wrapped in black cloth. I opened it up to reveal a smooth, flat black stone in the crude shape of a heart. I stared at it for a moment. “I don’t know how we can stop Droigheann and save Jackson, even with this.”
“We have to stop her. We don’t have a choice, Heart of Darkness or not.” She said.
“It’s a shard, Iris.” I said. “I have a whole box of them.”
“Then why do you always carry the one shaped like a heart?”
I looked her armor up and down for a moment, noting the heart-shaped chestplate, the hilt of her sword, and the heart insignia on her shield. I smiled at her. “It reminds me of somebody special.”
We laughed for just a moment, until my smile suddenly faded as I recalled what Droigheann had said. Iris’s smile faded just the same.
“When we saw Droigheann again…” Iris started. “The things she said. What did she mean, about the new fury in you?”
I sighed. “She’s just trying to get into my head.” I said. “You know how she thinks.” Iris knew it was a lie just as well as I did, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell her yet.
“Well,” She continued, “Why did she say you were furious with me? I don’t understand.”
“Iris…” I started, running my hand over my face. She deserved to know. “…I’m not angry, I’m just – frustrated sometimes.”
I looked out over the late night skyline. “It’s just… It doesn’t seem like that long ago when we were marching on the German front toward an army that thought they could rule the world, and when some Nazi prick blew a hole in my shoulder, this beautiful, purple-eyed army nurse sliced his neck open with a bone saw without batting a pretty little lash, telling me to keep fighting, not afraid to die. And I look at everything that’s happening now, and I can’t help but wonder what changed. That nurse wasn’t just anybody, she was a soldier. A hero. And now, when I can make a bigger, better difference than ever before, she’s the only thing that makes me doubt myself. I can’t throw myself at the fight like I used to, because I come home cut up and bruised, and all you can do is ask how I could let it happen.
I just feel like you don’t have my back the way you used to. Like something’s different now. ” I said.
“Things are different now, Azrael.” Iris said. “You know that. We never fought like this every night, plus everything that’s been happening lately… It’s not like anything we’ve done before. This is all just so new. You come home every night looking like you just stepped out of a war zone, you can’t expect me not to worry.”
“Sweetheart, I love that you show as much concern as you do,” I said, “But I need to know we’re together on this. The reality is, I need your help. And not just closing up my wounds, I need you there, on the front lines with me.
Look, you know I’d stop doing this if I could because you want me to, but the world needs me. Right now more than anything. And more importantly, they need you. I need you.”
“I…” She began, unsure of where she was going. “You’re right. There’s more I could be doing, but you need to let me in. Think you can handle that?”
“I think so.” I said.
“Then the next time you suit up, I’ll be there with you.” She said. “Promise.” She leaned forward and kissed me. “Blood is thicker.” She smiled. I put my arm around her and looked down at the shard in my hand. Maybe we could do this. “So what happens now?” She asked.
“I’m not sure.” I said. “Jackson’s body can’t be in great shape, I’d be willing to bet Droigheann has decided to take the night off. Maybe we should do the same.”
“Maybe then you could keep your… other promise.” She said, batting her flawless eyelashes at me.
“Maybe I could.” I said, leaning in to kiss her.
For just a moment, everything seemed right again, the sound of the late night city echoing through the night, the engines of a plane gently drifting through the skies.
“You know,” I began, trailing off as something caught my attention.
“What?” She asked, following my gaze into the skies.
I stood up. “That jet’s engines just stopped.” I said.
“No.” She corrected. “Look.” The engines began to disintegrate, the individual pieces falling to the ground, one by one.
“Oh my god.” I said.
“Time to look alive, handsome.” She said, her purple irises fading to red as wings of flame sprouted from her back. “We have some business to finish.”
I folded up the cloth around the shard, returning it to my coat pocket as the black wings folded out from my back.
We took to the skies.