As we flew, a storm was gathering over Raventide. The ominous black and grey clouds formed before our eyes, like watching hours of weather in mere seconds. Unsecured shutters banged against the houses, and snatches of fearful conversations were ripped away by the heavy gusts. The air was weighed down with moisture, and the potential for the worst deluge the city had seen in decades. Everyone was taking shelter, and the streets cleared as we made our way to the shrine.
My head spun. Kairon’s.
“Why is she at Kairon’s?”
Hood didn’t answer, and I blew out a breath. He wouldn’t relay any information about the current situation, unless we would discover it soon, anyway. So I tried something else.
“How can you take Bash there without it hurting us worse?”
He ignored me for a few wing beats, then sighed. “Thou ask many questions,” Hood grumbled.
“I’m modeled after a kid. What did you expect?” I countered.
This time the rumble from Hood wasn’t words, it was laughter. “True enough.” Then he added; “Soon you will find out how it is possible.”
This time I grumbled, but my heart beat wildly when Kairon’s shrine came into view. If the number of guards the previous evening were enough to raise eyebrows, the number now would have shot them clear from my forehead. Dozens upon dozens of them ranged the grounds, and at least ten stood in front of the gate.
Yet none of them turned an eye toward us.
“They can’t see you,” I observed.
He landed on a rooftop just beyond the shrine’s perimeter, and away from the front gate.
“This is as far as I can take thee.”
“Why?” Bash asked.
Hood motioned toward the shrine. “Kairon has erected a barrier.”
I cut my eyes toward the outside wall, tall and foreboding. When I jumped lightly from the rooftop to the street, Bash and Dare protested, but I continued forward. About five feet from the wall, it started: a warm and buzzing sensation. Like being almost too close to a fire, filled with bees that weren’t stinging you.
Yet, it was also familiar. When I reached out a hand and tried to place it on the barrier, my hand slid through instead, like sticking my hand in the pudding Dare snitched for the kids one time. Then it hit me in the gut.
“The barrier feels like Haven, and…Mother,” I said, breathless.
“What?” Dare’s fury sizzled through the connection. He leapt from the building and joined me, my hand still in the barrier. When Dare placed his hand with mine, the connection to the false Haven deepened, and I could just detect Mother on the outer edge of my awareness.
She was dying.
“Let’s go, Bash!” Dare barked.
I turned to look back at Bash, still with Hood. Bash nodded, and moved to leave, but Hood held onto his hand.
“Take this,” Hood said. He pulled out one of his smaller, flaming feathers from where the wings connected near his back. “This will aid you in being away from Haven.”
Bash hesitated. Then Hood’s head jerked back toward the entrance of the shrine.
“Take it,” Hood boomed, brooking no argument.
Bash jumped, but took the feather and tucked it in his waistband. If you didn’t know what to look for, the glow wasn’t noticeable. Then Bash released Hood’s hand, and jumped from the roof. Nothing happened. No crippling pain like when Mother was taken.
Hood nodded. “Be off.”
Though Bash was the biggest stick in the mud, he still glanced around with barely contained curiosity as he made his way toward us. Being outside Haven, something I took for granted, was something he’d never experienced. He caught me watching him, and he pursed his lips: Bash couldn’t blush. He would have, though, if it were possible. I nodded, understanding, though I didn’t say anything out loud. Dare never would have let him hear the end of it.
I glanced back at Hood. “Thank y–”
“Go!” he yelled, just as a Devourer leapt from one of the alleys below and attacked.
I let out a startled cry, and reached toward Hood with the hand not stuck in the barrier.
“He said go!” Bash said.
He grabbed my outstretched hand, and pushed the both of us into the barrier, with Dare close behind. After an eternity of struggling, though it was likely only seconds, we fell through between the barrier and the wall.
I scrambled to my feet, and turned to check on Hood. He’d thrown the Devourer to the roof next to his, and it crouched, growling.
“It’s been a long time, Zadkiel.” It was the lifeless tone of the silver-haired Demon.
He materialized behind his Devourer, Shinkuma. The wind died down, and barely stirred the Demon’s clothing, which hadn’t changed since I’d seen him on Lady Wept Hill. This time, though, a ghost of a smile graced his lips.
“Be off, gods,” Hood said, with measured patience. Then he put his right hand to his left hip, and the golden light there brightened, turning white and blinding. There was a flash, and as I blinked against the light, thunder rumbled overhead.
When the light surrounding Hood cleared, he held the hilt of a sword, nearly as big as him. The crossguard was gold, with delicate, interwoven vine patterns. The hilt itself was as crimson as a rose, and the flat of the straight, razor-sharp blade had a blood groove.
The Demon’s smile widened, to the point of crazed. He, too, placed his hand on the battered hilt of his old, chipped sword. When the curved blade slid through the wide belt at his waist, however, it transformed. The chips smoothed out, and the edges sharpened. The blade itself darkened to a black to match that of the Devourer, as though the Demon wielded a slice of the night sky.
Then something was pushing its way out of his back. Unlike the golden, fire feathers of Hood, these were locust wings, opaque and black, like murky water. They slowly fanned the air behind him.
The Demon spared a glance for the three of us standing, watching. “Once I finish with the Angel, godlings, you’re next.”
When the Demon said the word, ‘Angel’, something itched at the back of my mind the way it had when we’d first heard the word ‘Demon’. We should know about them, too.
Kairon had much to pay for.
“Let’s go, Jolly,” Bash urged, and tugged on my arm.
The Angel and the Demon took their fighting stances, and the Devourer growled.
I pulled my arm out of Bash’s grip, and cupped my hands around my mouth to project my voice. “You better beat the pants off him, Hood!” Then I glared at the Demon.
Even though I couldn’t see it, the warmth that pulsed from glow surrounding Hood was that of a smile. The first patter of rain hit the cobblestones of the street in front of us, and then, quicker than lightning, Hood charged forward with his left hand supporting the blade by the ricasso. The Demon rushed forward to meet him, and when their blades met, the resulting collision sent a concussive force through the city. It rattled shingles loose, shook dust and dirt from everything, and crumpled some of the less than sound structures nearby.
My eyes were wide as I tried to watch the exchange between the two, but they were too fast.
“Move, Jolly,” Bash’s voice, breathless with awe, said from near my ear.
I jumped in response, but nodded. I tore my gaze away from their fight just long enough to climb the wall. The rain was falling in sheets, making it impossible to see more than ten to fifteen feet in front of us. Still, I ran away from the wall once I was on the other side, to try and find an angle to catch sight of Hood. The last thing I saw was the two of them taking to the air, fighting across the sky in streaks of gold and black.