I Heard You Just Got Back Today
Ray took a piece of long, stiff wire and bent it into a hoop. He gathered a bundle of loose twine and wove them together in a crossing pattern, making them into a grid of knotted squares. He attached the twine lattice to the circle of wire, so it hung loose like a drape. He affixed it over his wastepaper basket, flopped down in his chair and began lobbing wadded up balls of his paperwork; requisition forms, employee reviews, budget assessments at his creation. The crushed little balls of paper bounced off the wall and through the wire and twine, landing in the basket. He gave himself a quiet cheer whenever the paper went through the hoop, only disturbing the twine net.
“I’m a damned genius,” he said after an hour of this.
“Hey, boss,” Stovall said as he traipsed in and flopped in the chair beside Ray’s office door.
“Go away, I’m bored,” Ray said, tossing the paper through his net.
Stovall began to whistle a quiet tune. It grew louder and more raucous and he began slapping his legs in an arrhythmic beat. Ray took one his paper balls and threw it at him.
“Don’t you have strange humans to find,” Ray yelled. “Beside yourself.”
“How long have you been down here?”
“I don’t know. I have no concept of days anymore.”
“Maybe you should go for a walk or something.”
“I have too much work to do.”
“It really looks like you’re getting it done too.”
“C’mon. Let’s go outside. Take in the English countryside. Maybe we’ll see a gnome or a kobold or some such.”
“Kobolds live in the northern mainland.”
“Just a gnome them. C’mon, it’ll be cute. You can pet it.”
Ray leaned back in his chair and drug his talons across his desk. He let out an aggravated sigh.
“Fine. I’ll pet a stupid gnome. Will you leave me alone and get back to work if I pet stupid gnomes with you?”
“Fifteen minutes. Get some air. It’ll be good for you.”
Cletus hunched over a table of sundry mechanical gadgets in various states of completion and repair. He ran his hand back and forth over them, wiggling his fingers and mumbling.
“This one,” he said out loud.
He picked one up and unrolled a leather sheath filled with fine tools. He placed a loup over his eye and picked up a tiny screwdriver. He poked at the device. A jet of fire ejected from the doorway of his bedroom and flew over his head. It left a black singe on the wall behind his work table.
“We just got the house back in order, Abigayle,” he grumbled. “Please, don’t burn it down.”
“It was an accident, honest,” Abby called from the other room.
“Why don’t you go outside and do that? Burn the forest down. We can sip tea and watch the Glastonbury brigade run around putting it out.”
Stovall strolled along a wooded path, with Ray loping behind him, grumbling about budget spreadsheets and pivot tables. Stovall took deep, theatrical breath.
“Isn’t it grand, Raymond?” Stovall said.
“Raphael,” Ray replied.
“You admit that to people?”
“It’s Director to you.”
“Can’t you just be for five minutes? Take a deep breath. Relax.”
“Relax. That’s hilarious, Stovall. I have Lucifer up my cloaca 37/9…”
Stovall cocked his head and frowned.
“What’s the Earth time divisions? 24/7. Barking about budgets and biannual goal statements and pivot tables. Do you know what a pivot table is?”
“Neither do I.”
“So you’re going to bark at me in turn?”
“I’m barking because you’re supposed to be working.”
“Six of one.”
“Six of one what?”
“Half dozen of the other.”
“I don’t get your voodoo Earth measurements. Why can’t you people do things in tens?”
“Look. There’s a little cottage about a furlong up the path. Isn’t that where your human friend, the Rosenkreuz girl, lives.”
Stovall jogged up the path and Ray lurched behind calling for Stovall to return. Stovall ran up and knocked on the door.
“Come in,” Cletus said from within.
“Announcing the arrival of the illustrious Director Raphael. Master of Spreadsheets, Databases and Budgetary Manipulations,” Stovall called.
The door opened and Cletus poked his head out, “I said you could come in. Oh, you’re that Stovall chap, yes?”
Ray dragged his feet behind Stovall.
“Well, Raphael,” Cletus smiled, “what a lovely surprise. Abby will be happy to see you. Come in. Make yourself comfortable.”
“You’re asking for miracles, old man,” Stovall said.
“Stovall, go find your partner and get back to work. There’s an old woman who lives among the Slavs that walks on chicken legs and eats children. Go keep tabs on her,” Ray pointed a ridged talon out the door.
“Yessir,” Stovall said tipping his hat and striding out of the door.
Ray closed the door behind him.
“Abigayle,” Cletus called, “we have a visitor.”
Abby emerged from her room dressed in a blouse, trousers, and three foxes. The parents perched on each shoulder and the tiny kit, splayed out prone, draped over her head, nestled in her hair.
“Why is your granddaughter wearing animals?” Ray asked Cletus.
Cletus shrugged and returned to his gadgets. Ray approached and bent down over Abby, getting a closer look at Fang on the top of her head. Fang followed him out of the corner of her eye and when he got close she snapped at his face. Ray recoiled.
“Live animals,” Ray said.
“They’re my bodyguards,” Abby said, holding a strip of bread crust over her head.
Fang snatched the crust, it’s tiny head bobbing as it munched it down.
“Don’t reward it for that,” Ray protested.
Abby put her finger under Fang’s chin and made her head bob. “Just doing my job, Agent Raphael,” she said in a creaky falsetto.
“And don’t make them talk,” Ray said. “It’s Director now, by the way.”
Abby shook her right shoulder making Siegfried bounce, “Congratulations Director Raphael,” she said in an absurd basso.
“How long had she been like this?” Ray asked Cletus.
“As long as I can remember,” he replied, “She’s just no longer on her ‘we have guests’ behavior around you.”
Yaldabaoth landing his ship in the clearing in the forest outside of Glastonbury. The gangway lowered and he stepped out. Adriel followed with her arms crossed and Shiva descended behind her.
“Alright, hon,” Yalda said, grinning at Shiva, “you’re on.”
“What am I supposed to be doing?” Shiva grunted.
“There’s a little human mud farm about a klick that way,” he tapped his watch and the image of a red dragon appeared in the air. “This is a dragon.”
“I know a fucking dragon is,” she sneered.
“Just making sure,” he pinched her cheek and she swatted his hand away. “Turn into one of these and burn the settlement to the ground. Then you’re free. No prison, no me.”
Shiva shook her head and signed. She walked to the center of the clearing. She stretched her arms and they began to lengthen. Webbing spread from under her arms and attached to her side, thickening to leather wings. Her body widened and elongated, bristling with emerging black scales. Her face stretched to a toothy maw and tail unwound from behind her. She stood before Yalda and Adriel as a colossal black dragon.
“Make it red,” Yalda yelled up to her.
“Why?” she growled in a thunderous voice.
“Human blood is red. It has a more visceral effect.”
“For fuck sake,” a red wave started at her head and rippled down her body to the tip of her tail.
“Thank’s baby. Make sure you roar a lot. Make ‘em scatter all over the place,” he patted her on the hindquarter.
She wiped her head at him and blew tufts of steam at his face.
“Alright, now shoo,” waved his hands at her.
Adriel flapped her wings and the gale winds blew the loose pine needles at Yalda and Adriel. He watched her fly away, giggling.
“You’re just doing this to piss Ray off,” Adriel said.
“Not just,” Yalda protested. “My plans are multifaceted. I’m taking this little ball of resources back. Jabbing Ray where it hurts is the delicious icing on that cake.”
“I can’t believe I idolized you.”
“Chicks can’t resist power,” he shrugged.
Adriel extended her middle talon.
Ray squeezed into a chair, too small for his Seraphim form, tapping his talons on his knees.
“I don’t know how you could possibly be adjusting to cleric work,” Abby said.
“I’m not. I’m bored senseless,” Ray said. “I'm used to being in the field.”
“Which field?” Cletus asked.
“It’s an expression. Working outside, in the world.”
“I guess it’s safer,” Abby said.
“I’m not ready for safe.”
“I know what you mean,” she glared at Cletus.
“Are you two at odds about something?” Ray asked.
“Grandpa wants me to play it safe and practice,” Abby replied.
“Not a bad idea. I wasn’t just thrown into the thick of battle. I trained for a while to learn to use my power.”
“How much practice do I need,” Abby made little fireworks displays go off in her palms.
“Little tricks are one thing, young lady,” Cletus said, “but…”
“But what? You saw me go against real danger.”
“And it looked like you were hanging on for dear life.”
“Not to contradict you, Wensleydale, but it’s never not like that,” Ray said.
Cletus grunted and folded his arms.
“But that being said,” Ray looked at Abby, “you can't run around half cocked looking for trouble. You need focus, goals, proper motivations. Do you even know why you want to do it?”
“I’m tired of being cooped up in this house not knowing where my life is going,” she said. “I just want to get out there and find something.”
“You’re young. I understand the call of adventure, but there should be a point to it. You need to…”
As Ray spoke bells rang and voices cried in terror. The clamor wafted from the direction of Glastonbury. Cletus sniffed the air.
“Brimstone,” he shot from his seat. “Do smell that?”
Roars tore through the air overhead and a gust of wind blew through the open windows. Ray and Abby raced through the door. Through the trees, a raging inferno rose from the town. A dragon wheeled in the sky above them ready for another pass.
“This looks like a point,” Abby said.
“I’d say so,” Ray said. “You think you’re ready?”
She looked back at Cletus.
“Like I could stop you,” and gave a wistful grin. “At least give me a ride.”
Ray knelt down and Cletus climbed on his back and clung to his wings. Ray grabbed Abby’s collar.
“No, I can do it,” Abby said.
Ray let go and Abby lifted herself off the ground with jets of flame from her hands and feet. She darted off after the dragon.
“Cool trick,” Ray said to Cletus and lifted off on a gust of wind.
He flitted in the air, catching up to Abby. She stopped stabilizing herself and waited.
“Catch up, slowpoke,” she called back.
Ray smirked and a hurricane of focused wind whipped against his back and he shot past Abby. Cletus closed his eyes tight. Abby flew alongside Ray.
The dragon was wheeling over Glastonbury shooting fireballs from its mouth. The edges of the city were surrounded in walls a flame, trapping the residents inside. The dragon buffeted the flames with its wings. Ray and Abby glided over to meet it. The dragon stopped and hovered, regarding them with narrow, yellow eyes. It screamed and a column of flame erupted toward them. Ray held out his hands and a wall of wind held the fire back. Abby threw fireballs that slapped against its scales.
“Nothing is going get through its hide,” Ray said. “Get under it where it’s vulnerable.”
Abby flew under the dragon but it adjusted its course to keep Abby above it. It maneuvered and gave her chase. Abby darted around the sky in an effort to shake it. She ducked under and above the flames.
“We need to distract it,” Ray said.
“Give me a moment,” Cletus rummage through his satchel and produced a handful of small clockwork hummingbirds with needles for beaks. He wound them up one by one and released them. They darted toward the dragon, stabbing its belly and fluttering around its eyes. It rolled around the sky in loops swatting at the tiny nuisances. It rolled on its back and slapping its wings against its belly. Abby fired a volley of fireballs. They impacted against the dragon’s belly and burned it. It roared. It shrank into a winged humanoid and fell from the sky, landing in the soft loam outside of town. Abby landed beside it.
“It’s a Seraph,” she called to Ray.
Ray landed beside Abby and Cletus slid off to his feet. Ray kneeled by the downed Seraph, shaking her.
“Selkie,” he yelled.
“You know her?” Abby asked.
“A long time ago.” Ray knelt in silence. He looked up at Abby, “Yaldabaoth is back.”