By: email@example.com (Redneck Gaijin)
(The following story takes place in Austin, post-Armageddeon, and uses several characters from 'Night Music.' Special thanks to Derek Pearcy for creating this group, used here without permission. While I'm at it, Derek, thanks for the whole thing, to you and CROC, for turning a new viewpoint onto religion.)
(A final note: I attended UT Austin for a year and am familiar with many landmarks and sites around the campus; this, plus the supplement 'Night Music,' is why I chose to set this bit of DV there. Thanks to my friends in Austin who kept me in gaming and opened my mind to new horizons, often with the soft end of a nerf sword. Krystn's still kicking around.))
On the Seventh Day, Eli worked his ass off.
Power flowed through the wires of a quarter of the electrical grid of Austin, Texas; the city power plants along Town Lake could do no more. The wires leading down from the hydroelectric dam at Lake Travis, knocked down by the earthquakes caused by the collapse of Enchanted Rock, were almost reconnected - a miracle worked by people who refused to give up living, even if Armageddeon had come and gone.
Of the handful of Archangels still alive and free after Armageddeon, only Eli, the Archangel of Creation, remained loyal to Heaven's cause. If it was a divine or infernal joke, Eli wasn't laughing. He knew Gabriel was alive - he'd sought her out in the fires at the center of the Earth, begging her help - but she had turned inward, licking her wounds, the crippled Wheel of Fire herself weeping quietly and incoherently in the brilliant darkness at the world's core. Jordi had gone ballistic when the human soldier he'd rescued against his better judgement killed one of his host-bodies; now, the beasts of the farm were as likely to turn on a person as those of the wild. Janus... nobody had -ever- known about Janus, now less so than ever.
Eli sighed and shouted down to the ground for another cable. A worker tied a fresh line of lights onto the pulley rope and hauled it up, letting Eli nail the cord in place in the mortar of the University of Texas' tower. The steel and glass buildings of Downtown had collapsed or shattered, in whole or in parts, during the tremors and sinkings of the Apocalypse, leaving the old brick-and-mortar Tower on top of University Hill as the tallest monument in the city. In the past, its lights could have been seen for a twelve-mile radius in almost every direction; tonight, a thousand lights would shine where a hundred had before, turning the Tower into a great beacon.
The idea had been Eli's. When he'd proposed it to the emergency leaders of Austin, it had taken a lot of Divine cajolery to get them to buy into it. Thankfully, the Symphony was still so jangled from the Last Battle that nobody would've noticed if he'd created a midget T-Rex capable of singing 'Michigan Rag' during the meeting. To the Governor, the Mayor, and the Vice-Chancellor of the University, he'd said that the symbolism of the gleaming Tower would show Texas, and the world, that there was still hope, and that some part of civilization still waited to welcome humanity home.
The truth was a bit different.
Every time Eli tied a cable in a knot around a hook, the knot formed a specific shape, a rune most humans didn't know signified Hope in the Celestial Tongue. Every nail he hammered into the sides of the Tower, as well as all the other workers' nails, had the same rune etched in the head, apparently a forging flaw but in reality a very careful act of Creation. Even with the job half finished, the local Symphony resonated softly with the power building in the old Tower.
Eli hoped that the positive power generated when the Tower lit up would punch a new Tether through into Heaven. He'd been locked out ever since the Day of Persecution, when the Eternal City fell. He'd been in San Francisco at the time, and he'd just barely used Novalis' Tether on Lombard Street to get to Heaven before the earthquakes ripped the California coastline into a new island, with the crater at the southern end forming Los Angeles Bay. An instant later, he'd leaped back down another Tether into Hippie Hollow - just in time for Lake Austin to swallow up the park in one of dozens of sinkholes still forming in the area. An hour later, he lost contact with the last Angelic tether anywhere on Earth.
Eli -needed- to get back into Heaven. He might be alone, but he was still an Archangel, and possibly the most powerful... and if there were to be any hope of regrouping Angels, any sanctuary for Traumatized Celestials, he would have to make one.
"Hey! Hey -you!-"
Eli looked up to see a young redheaded man, a bowtie hanging loose from the unbuttoned collar of his white shirt, horn-rimmed glasses reflecting the light of the angry red clouds overhead. Like Eli, he had a carpenter's apron around his waist and a claw hammer in his hand, and he bounced down playfully from the Tower's observation deck in his harness, moving to a spot about eight feet to the left of Eli. "How's tricks?"
"Nybbas," Eli whispered. "What are you doing here?"
The Demon Prince of the Media frowned - something he almost never did - and looked at Eli somberly, the reflection on his glasses fading to reveal small, serious dark eyes. "Defecting," he said. "I thought we'd just get to rule humanity when we won... but after watching Saminga...." He shuddered to himself, catching a rising string of lights and planting a hook into a crack in the Tower's masonry. "He destroyed Budapest, Eli. Singlehanded. Took every single soul and stripped them like a human might pluck a chicken. Then he stripped the rats and vultures. He left nothing alive in the city, Eli, nothing even for the afterlife."
Eli couldn't repress a shudder of his own. Budapest, once upon a time, had been a center of art and culture - not on a par with Paris or Vienna, but great in its own right. His horror faded to amazement when Nybbas knotted the cable into the sigil for Peace and added, "If Saminga is what the War was about, I was on the wrong side."
Eli nodded, and added the Loaded Question; "Do you regret what you've done?"
Nybbas dropped a few feed farther down the tower, and Eli mirroed him, both Celestials drawing a nail from their pouches and driving it through the cable into the brick wall. With the last pound of his hammer, Nybbas admitted, "Some. Not all of it, though." He smiled a bit of his old, made-for-TV insincere smile and said, "A lot of it I don't regret at all."
Eli sighed. A Renegade Demon Prince. Not Redeemable. "You know what I'm doing here, don't you?"
Nybbas nodded. "I'll risk if if you will."
Eli nodded and hammered another nail into the wall, accepting what he could get.
"Man, what is -taking- them so long?" Wrenchial muttered, pacing uncomfortably as the Symphony throbbed with an undercurrent of power around him. Night had fallen on Austin, and although the lights on the bookstore side of the Drag lit up the street almost as charmingly as before, the University across the street lay in total darkness.
"Take it easy," Tomas sighed. "It's twenty-five miles, give or take, to the dam, right? Rebuilding every high-tension tower between the dam and the substations isn't an easy job." He worked his hands a bit, remembering the soreness from the past few days. "I know, I helped."
"Man, if what's happenin' is what I think is happenin', I shouldn't even -be- here," Wrenchial sighed. "Or I should be stoppin' it, or somethin'..."
"You wouldn't stop it if you could," Tomas sighed. "I mean, who carved that epitaph on the Treaty Oak? If Billy Bob ever finds out that was you-"
"He'd agree," a gruff voice drawled behind the two. Tomas and Wrenchial both turned around to see Deputy Sheriff Buford, alias Triple-B of the Demonic Inquisition, looking at them. Sweat covered his face and arms, nothing to do with the heat or the press of the Austin crowd around them. Every once in a while, his cheek would jump in a nervous tic, and Wrenchial noticed Billy Bob's hands trembling as he moved.
"Are you all right, Billy?" Wrenchial asked.
"N-no," Triple-B gasped, dry mouthed. "After what they've... we've... done to my city... m-m-MY city... no, not one bit." Wrenchial and Tomas both looked carefully at the youngish Djinn, feeling a bit uncomfortable at his obvious torment. Apparently he'd been attuning himself to Austin in general, and had guilt-tripped himself into some heavy Dissonance, maybe even Discord.
Dude, you need to chill, Wrenchial didn't say. Something deep within him just couldn't make light of what had happened to Billy Bob. There but for very careful living go I....
The crowd parted to admit a tall, stunningly beautiful woman through. She stood inches above virtually everyone in the crowd, her weary eyes and haggard expression not detracting in the least from her Helenesque beauty. In her wake walked a handful of other people - Tomas' eyebrow quirked as he recognized Doc Jo and Nurse Run, followed by Lauren - Lauren! - and Zara, virtually the rest of Austin's remaining 'old guard' Celestials.
She walked past them, whispering, "You Need to follow me." The three Celestials immediately felt the featherheavy touch of a Geas settle onto them, confirming their suspicion.
"Lilith," Billy Bob whispered. "That makes three Superiors here."
"Three?" Tomas didn't even notice his feet moving to follow the string of Celestials working their way through the crowd. "Who else?"
"Nybbas and Eli, that I know about," Billy Bob husked, reaching a shaky hand up to wipe his forehead; a trickle of blood came away on his hand. "Maybe more. I don't know."
The line of Celestials stopped in front of them, and the three of them grew silent as Lilith whispered, "Thirteen bombs. It takes a lot of effort to miracle away the radiation from thirteen nuclear bombs."
"Fourteen," Eli whispered grimly. "Mitrah had her own."
Lilith sighed and nodded. "I'll get to it when I can... I need time to rest and restore Essence..."
Eli looked past Lilith and noticed Tomas, smiling softly. "Hi, guy," he said with a bit of his old whimsy, "haven't seen you or your partner in grime in a while. Still livin' on a prayer?"
Tomas smiled. "Sorry, had my pick-me-up for the day, boss. Thanks, though."
Wrenchial forced himself calm. "Yo," he answered.
"So, how much longer?" Lilith asked.
"The wires have been in place since 5 PM," Eli sighed. "They're argueing over who gets the honor of turning on the switch."
"SSSSSSSSH!!" The hissing sound of humans shushing each other, ignoring each other shushing each other, and shushing each other again, rippled up and down Guadelupe Street, from Tower Records down to Quackenbush's. The Celestials, grouped together in front of the Church of Scientology building at Guadelupe and 22nd Street, couldn't hear the Governor pontificating in his soft, droning voice through the hastily arranged loudspeakers on West Mall, and so eased themselves back behind the crowd under the overhang of the church, leaning against the glass of the dormant Le Fun video arcade.
"Any minute now..." Eli fidgeted anxiously, his fingers crossed, hoping for the best.
"Boss," Tomas asked quietly, "won't Hell notice this?"
"I just need five seconds," Eli replied. "Five seconds in Heaven, and no way can they keep us out any more."
A faint drum roll echoed down the street, and then the cloudy Austin night sky lit up bright as day around them, two thousand high-power bulbs covering the University Tower, shining out to the wild cheers and whoops of Austinites across the city.
"You sent for me?" a voice muttered in the ears of the gathered Celestials. Each looked around at each other, confused, before noticing the form in the stairwell leading down to the basement-level storefront. A grey-haired man, smiling a friendly smile, wearing a suit of the most solid white. Behind him stood a bruised, weak-looking old man with a pair of reading glasses hanging from his nose, a younger man in a dusty brown double-breasted suit, and a horribly scarred, bloody woman in jeans and a tie-dye shirt.
Lucifer's smile faded as he looked from one Celestial to the other. Finally spotting Eli, he stepped forward and knelt, saying, "Eli, Archangel of Creation, I repent my vanity and folly and ask your pardon for my past misdeeds. Where you go, I will follow."
Eli blinked, totally nonplussed at the gesture. Yves limped around Lucifer and whispered in Eli's ear, "Arise..."
"Arise..." Eli echoed.
"Archangel... of Light," Eli finished, recovering and smiling, feeling the link between Lucifer and the cheering crowds, the brilliant light of the Tower, grow stronger and stronger. As he finished the sentence, the link flared into a full-fledged Tether, strong and firmly anchored, to Heaven.
Wrenchial blinked, looking first at Lucifer, then at the Tower, finally whispering, "You?"
Lucifer nodded. "Me."
Wrenchial stepped forward, feeling out the Symphony, looking more and more confused than ever. "It feels different somehow."
Lucifer nodded. "Heaven's still in demon hands. It's been pretty well desecrated... it isn't an angels-only club anymore... which reminds me..." He stepped forward, moving to the back of the group, where Billy Bob shivered and sweated nervously. "Billy Bob Buford," he said, "do you regret what you have done?"
Billy Bob shook as if under interrogation, nodding nervously, forcing the word, "Yes," from his lips.
Lucifer stared into Billy Bob's eyes, grasping the djinn's shoulders, whispering, "Let there be light." A tremendous flash of light flickered around Billy Bob for just a moment, then vanished like the glow from a flashbulb. Billy Bob staggered, gasping, flexing his hands experimentally, wiping the last of the bloody sweat from his brow.
"I sponsor Billy Bob Buford, Cherubim of Light, for the post of Seneschal of the University of Texas Tower. Any objections?" When nobody spoke, he turned to Eli and said, "Do you approve?"
"He does," Yves smiled, not waiting for Eli's jaw to make its way back up into place.
"So let it be done," Lucifer smiled, nodding as the Symphony reset itself around a very changed Billy Bob.
"Now, ladies and gentlemen," the Archangel of Light smiled, "I think we've got a lot of work to do."
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