REDEMPTION, CHAPTER 8 (the Fallen Angels series)
Enoch and Caleb slowed down to study one of the many fortresses dotted around the valley. Built of huge stone slabs, it soared three-stories high. The bottom wall stood fifteen feet tall and had narrow slits of smoked-glass windows close to its top, guaranteeing that no sunlight would trickle indoors to the first floor. Enoch guessed that floor housed the sleeping quarters of the vampires stationed there.
“Tunnels probably run underground through most of the valley,” Caleb said.
Enoch nodded. Vampires might work together in a seethe, but each one liked his own, private lair.
The second floor was narrower than the first with turrets at each corner. Metal shutters covered a spattering of openings that must house weapons. The third and last floor ended in a flat roof. The vampires could gather there to fight their enemies.
The building wasn’t completely finished, but it was functional. As Enoch tilted his head to study it better, a horde of vampires leaned over the top floor to see him and Caleb. One of them called to him. “So, we finally meet the Dark Angel, the famed vampire killer. We have no business with you. Why have you come?”
They knew exactly why he was there, but Enoch decided to be polite. “Caleb and I want to see Samiel. We’d like a compromise, a truce to avoid war.”
A female warrior laughed. “With Samiel? You’re optimistic.”
“Let’s hope he’s realistic. He knows me.” Enoch nodded to the heavy structure. “How many vampires will each fortress hold?”
The male vampire grinned, exposing his fangs. “Ours alone would keep Caleb’s generals busy, and there are many more scattered around the valley, equally as strong.”
Samiel’s soldiers over-estimated themselves. Bart and his generals would slaughter every one of them in a short time, but how many more were there? Enoch pressed his lips into a tight line. How long had Samiel been working here? Why hadn’t the One warned him that Samiel was building an army? But then, the One had done nothing when Samiel rebelled the first time. Was that part of free will?
Caleb called, “Where can we find Samiel? Can you give us directions?”
“There’s a lodge made of logs, close to the lake. Samiel will be expecting you.”
He and Caleb had seen the lake when they stopped on the ridge. They needed to take the trail that led west. With a nod, they headed off in that direction. The vampires cheered them on their way.
“Odd,” Caleb called over the drone of their engines. “You’re almost a celebrity for them.”
“A macabre one,” Enoch said. “Like the towns that used to greet the executioners.”
Caleb laughed, amused at that comparison.
They bumped over rough terrain for another hour before they saw the lodge in the distance. It took another half hour to reach it. It was four in the morning, but every light was on inside the long, log building. When they parked and started for the stairs that led to the front porch, the doors opened and dozens of vampires flooded outside to greet them. Samiel came last, taller with broad shoulders, his golden beauty like a beacon. He shook his head at his fellow angels.
“You just couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you?”
Enoch raised a dark brow. “I’m not the one who made a big deal out of asking my friends to team with me while I was building an empire. When did you start this? A year before you ever came to visit me?”
Samiel grinned. “Almost to the day, but after I thought about it, I really didn’t want you as an enemy. I thought if we could live and let live, everyone would be happier.”
Caleb climbed out of his vehicle and stretched his long limbs. “So why bother with me? Why come to my casino, asking for an ally?”
Samiel shrugged. “Enoch’s never approved of what you do, but he leaves you alone. I thought if you and I worked together, he might turn a blind eye my way, too. But no, you couldn’t be bothered, didn’t want to have anything to do with me.”
Caleb scanned the lodge and the construction along the lake shore. “Because you never learn. You have tunnel vision, old friend. You can’t break out of the same, old patterns. Who cares if the One rules Home? Who needs power to be happy? Here, on earth, we can meet our own needs, enjoy life on our own terms, and if we don’t push the envelope too hard, no one cares.”
Samiel’s full lips curled downward. “I don’t want anyone setting limits on what I can or can’t do.”
“Fine, then battle about your limits instead of enjoying what you can do.” Caleb started up the steps. “Are you going to invite us in?”
Samiel blocked his way. “No, I’m not.”
They were the same height, the same strength. Samiel’s vampires spread out behind him. Enoch came to stand next to Caleb. “If you’d rather, we can talk here.”
Samiel frowned, aggravated. “What do you want? What do I have to do to make you go away and stay away?”
There was no reason to mince words. “Make an angel’s promise that no one in Three Rivers will be harmed because of you.”
“Impossible! Even if I made a promise like that, what if someone broke my rules and harmed someone there just so that I’d be thrown back in the pit?”
“The One knows the Truth, whether you were involved or not. He can read your intentions.”
“My fate isn’t resting in the One’s hands.”
“Then go Home. I either get a promise from you, or we battle now.”
“Damn you!” Samiel slammed his fist on the porch railing. “Can’t you just leave me alone?”
“No, I don’t trust you, never have.”
“And here I thought you were the gullible one. I should have asked you to join me and my followers instead of Caleb.”
Enoch rolled his eyes. “Wouldn’t have happened. I like Home.”
“But the One banned you from there, didn’t he? You can’t return until Caleb does.”
“There are rules.”
Samiel barked a harsh laugh. “Yes, there are always rules. New Testament, my foot! The One’s the same rule-driven, punish the sinner god He’s always been.”
“That’s not because of the One. That’s simple cause-and-effect.”
Samiel hissed his displeasure. “Spoken as the true goodie-goodie you are. Nothing’s ever the One’s fault. We’ve always failed him.” More vampires gathered behind him. They bulked up for action. Their fangs dropped into place and their nails grew into razor-sharp claws.
Enoch grinned. “Is that the best you can do? Call me a goodie-goodie? It’s like this. Give me an angel’s promise, or I don’t leave until I get one.”
Samiel whistled one piercing note, and more vampires flew to him. “No one tells me what to do anymore.”
Caleb’s eyebrows rose at the sheer volume of enemies they faced. “I didn’t know there were this many unhappy vampires in the world.”
One of them stepped forward. “It’s not that we’re unhappy, it’s that Samiel offers us so much more.”
“More what?” Caleb asked.
“Without your rules, we can take all the mortals we want. We can sip, drain, herd, rape, and enjoy.”
Enoch’s hands balled into fists. “You never intended on following our rules. You said that you would.”
Samiel glanced around the meadow. “I didn’t make an angel’s promise, did I? I wasn’t ready to challenge you yet. I am now, and I have to say, even with your Light, I think you and Caleb are outnumbered. You might want to consider a compromise.”
“No.” Caleb bulked up, too. As the first, original vampire, he was rather terrifying.
“Think, old friend.” Samiel gestured to the army behind him. “You don’t have the Light. You can suffer pain. If you’d join with us, I’d protect you.”
“For how long? Until I don’t please you anymore?” Caleb shook his head. “I might have hurt mortals because I was thoughtless and desperate, but I’m not purposely cruel. I can’t be a part of your plan.”
Samiel sighed. “Too bad, I didn’t want to see you hurt.” He gestured, and the vampires sprang forward.
Enoch raised his hands, and Light blasted from them. The first row burst into dust. Four vampires dropped onto him, so he pulled Light from his core and let it gush through his body. The vampires howled and tried to yank their fangs out of him, but not fast enough. Light filled them, then they exploded. A half dozen vampires landed on Caleb. He slashed and bit and whirled. Soon, they were disposed of, too.
Samiel waved for the next onslaught of vampires to attack, but the sky rumbled ominously. Hooves pounded the air, and a bank of clouds rolled toward them. Everyone stopped to look up. The clouds parted, and a dozen dark angels on horseback hovered overhead. They raised their palms, and a wave of Light flooded the vampires behind Samiel, destroying them.
Gabriel, darker and more menacing than all of them, grinned when he saw Enoch. “Looks like you’ve gotten yourself in trouble again.”
“We were doing all right until you let Samiel drop by for a visit. How boring are you guys that no one wants to stay Home anymore?”
Michael laughed. “We’ve missed you. Thought we’d stop in to say hi.”
Samiel howled in rage. He turned to shake his fist at them. “This is none of your business. Go Home!”
“Not quite yet.” The angels turned on their steeds and galloped across the valley. They blasted Light at each and every fortress they passed, blowing them to pieces and turning their occupants to dust. Then they returned.
Samiel stared at them, openly stunned. “You had no right! What about free will? Angels have visited Earth before. Why punish me for it?”
Gabriel didn’t bother to hide his disgust. “The first angels came to bed women. Consenting adults. Nothing good came from it. Caleb was tossed here as punishment, and Enoch to clean up after him. But you—you came to take advantage of those who are weaker than you. Not allowed. We were sent to bring you Home.”
“I’m not going.”
Michael shrugged. “It’s that or the pit.”
Samiel’s blue eyes blazed. “I choose door number two.”
“So be it.” Gabriel waved a hand, and the earth yawned wide, swallowed Samiel, then closed again. Gabriel turned to Caleb, and Enoch braced himself. What did Gabriel have in mind?
“You, friend, created a mess here, but you’ve also tried to control it. You created generals and vampire rules to help maintain some sort of order. Your generals are heroes, risking their undead lives to protect mortals and discourage rogues. We admire them. You love your earthly pleasures too much to return Home, but the One has decided to give you back the Light when you need it for defense. That’s the only time you can use it, but you won’t have to worry about pain and torture again. You can help Enoch when he battles.”
Caleb’s jaw dropped open in surprise. “You mean it?”
Michael slapped him on the shoulder. “You’re not the brightest lightbulb in the celestial box, but you’ve tried to make up for your mistakes.”
Gabriel turned to Enoch. “And you, friend, have stuck it out with honor and integrity. The One has invited you to return Home.”
Enoch had waited eons to hear those words, but now, he was torn. He’d be miserable whichever way he chose.
Michael smiled at him. “We know you love Voronika and your adopted daughter. The One’s letting you come and go as you please. We’ve missed you. You’re welcome in both worlds.”
Enoch didn’t know what to say. He opened his mouth, then had to look away, his emotions in turmoil. Finally, he swallowed hard. “Thank you.”
The entire group of angels came to greet him. They visited, laughing and catching up with each other, until Gabriel glanced at the hint of daybreak on the horizon. “It’s time we return Home, but come to visit us soon, friend.”
“I still have a job to do here.” Enoch gestured to the meadow. “You destroyed all of the rogues who joined Samiel, but there are always more. Always.”
“If you need us, we’ll take turns coming to take your place. We’ll give you a break. You’re not alone anymore.” Then Gabriel pointed to Caleb. “And when we come, we’ll drop by to see you, Earth lover. Take care.”
Then the angels mounted their horses. Dark clouds settled around them, and they rode skyward and out of sight.
Caleb turned to Enoch. He looked as stunned as Enoch felt. “The One helped us. He’s forgiven us. I didn’t think it would ever happen.”
Enoch was beginning to feel that way, too. He thought he was as banished as Caleb had been. “I can return Home.”
Caleb’s deep blue gaze settled on him, suddenly serious. “What will you do?”
Enoch shook his head, struggling to accept his new options. They still felt surreal, a dream come true. “I’ll go Home to visit, but I have a home and family here, and friends. And I still have a job to do.”
Caleb sighed. “I’m happy for you, brother. I know what I’ve cost you. And I’m sorry.”
For a second time, Enoch was speechless. Caleb? Admitting his flaws? Finally, he said, “You’ve found your heaven here. And I’ve found happiness. We’ve both done okay.”
Caleb nodded, then laughed. “Good, because I’m not good at contrition. Let’s get out of here. Let’s jump on the plane and go home.”
Home. Enoch had two of them now, and he felt doubly blessed.
They revved up their buggies’ engines and raced toward the airplane.