Chapter One

a dead ringer for an ice sculpture

I suppose I should probably introduce myself before I tell you anything more; I can't have you enduring this whole thing without knowing anything about its illustrious narrator.

Well, first things first, I suppose, my name? Gabriel Sunsmoke. My age? Well to be honest I've been alive so long that I don't even know how old I am anymore. That's usually the way with us immortals; once you've lived a few human life spans birthdays just cease to have any meaning. I do know how old I was when I stopped aging however; I was only 19 and so that's how old I'll look now and forever.

As for my appearance, I'm around six foot in height (which is pretty tall for an immortal actually) and there's not a single ounce of spare fat on me. Not that I'm really skinny or anything mind, I'm just in very good shape. Hardly surprising seeing as I make my living off the back of my ability to fight.

I prefer to keep my hair quite short, with a bit of a side fringe sorta thing going on (I have quite a long face so having it all swept off my forehead just makes me look a bit like a horse) in reality though it's usually pretty long as I tend to forget to cut it. Hair's just not very high on my priority list. It's a kind of dirty blonde colour, some would refer to it as dish water blonde but those people clearly have no poetry in their souls. Not that the phrase 'dirty blonde' really contains much in the way of poetry, but it does make me sound amusingly like a porn star.

My eyes run to various shades of grey, mainly dependent on the light conditions in the room. Though I must admit, I have received several love letters claiming my eyes to be like 'liquid silver'. Romantics clearly have no eye (no pun intended) for colour.

As if I was an actual 19 year old I don't think too much about what I wear, I like to keep it simple. There are plenty of immortals stuck in the old ways, wandering around heaven in robes like they'll be needed by some druids to participate in a ritual any minute. I'm a much more modern creature myself - I wear jeans most of the time, black ones, bootleg cut, none of this too tight or too wide malarkey for me thanks. I also favour shirts with poppers, for reasons I shall elaborate upon later.

All in all, I'm pretty plain looking for an immortal, most of us when we go down to the mortal realm would have to hang about in Camden or the Harajuka district to fit in – all madly coloured hair and eccentric outfits -but I'd fit in in most Western cities. In fact, if you saw me on the street right now I doubt you would even notice me at all.

I knew we had to move fast; they would be coming for us soon, and it was safe to say that I did not want to be there when they did. By they, of course, I mean Kellandria's secret police; there isn't an angel amongst their ranks who doesn't know at least 50 ways to kill you quickly and/or horribly. In short they are all horrendously vicious and I didn't, and still don't, really fancy my odds against a group of them.

Michael had got into this mess all of his own accord, but alas, the important thing to them was that, even though we must have known exactly what he was doing or at least suspected it, we hadn't told anyone about it. In their and Kellandria's eyes that made us just as guilty as him, if not, perhaps, even worse.

If I'm honest, I had thought long and hard about selling him up the river. My oldest and best friend, he wasn't even doing anything I didn't agree with, but in my eyes it was a doomed endeavour and I didn't see why we should all have to take the fall when he inevitably messed up. Despite the fact I was proved right in the end, my own guilt and Raphael's disgust meant I did nothing.

I'd known all along it would come to this and now it was too late to fix a thing.

I grabbed the stuff I deemed to be most important, shoving it all into an off white canvas bag adorned with the brightly coloured logo of some obscure human band. That done, I grabbed Raphael's work bag and started shoving what I thought he'd want into it. In went a jumble of research notes, clothes and items of sentimental value. Then I got ready to leave, I was almost out of the door when I paused to stop by the one photo we kept downstairs.

It'd been taken the last time we'd gone to the mortal realm together. We'd been in London for some research Raphael had been doing; I don't even remember what on anymore. The photo was of me, Raphael and Michael; we had gotten some kind old lady to take it for us. Raphael was in the middle, he was grinning like the little kid he looked like (he had stopped aging at only 14). I was on the left; it had been sunny that day so I had a pair of sunglasses hooked into the neck of my tee shirt. The woman had caught me mid laugh. Michael stood to the right. He looked like a student teacher, with his silver rim glasses and slicked down black hair. He looked like he was trying not to smile and failing, probably at whatever I was laughing at.

The old woman had thought we were brothers, we looked like we were.

I snapped myself out of it; I didn't have time for pointless nostalgia. I took one last sad look around the cluttered entrance of the small but lovely house we had called our home for so long. I couldn't stop thinking about the pawing our things would get when the secret police arrived to ransack the place and how everything that wasn't taken would be burnt. With a sad sigh I hoisted both bags onto my shoulder before walking back to where I'd left Raphael's prone form and adding him to my already pretty large load. I was glad for once that Raphael had stopped aging at such a premature age, as it meant he was nice and light. I grabbed the picture as I walked past, self consciously placing it in the top of my bag.

I had toyed with the idea of trying to make a stealthy escape through the back door, then making my way via less crowded streets until I reached the city limits. It wouldn't work though; I mean lugging around an unconscious body was hardly inconspicuous. Plus everyone knew who we were, and probably knew before we did that Michael had been charged with treason. We were marked men.

As soon as I got outside, I put Raphael down and braced my self to unfurl my wings. It's a very painful process unfurling ones wings; you see when you're not using them they merge back into your body, and the body heals itself around them. Which means every single time you want to use your wings they have to literally force their way out through the flesh covering your shoulder blades with this horrible ripping sound. It's a necessary evil, I mean I have a 6 foot wingspan, needless to say if I couldn't store them somewhere I'd break a lot of ornaments. Still though, it is not particularly a fun sensation and no matter how many times you go through it, it never hurts any less. I don't understand how werewolves can stand to have that agony throughout their entire body once a month, I really don't.

It's customary to have a small rest after getting your wings out, to recover and all but I didn't really have the luxury of waiting around to catch my breath. I could see a startled looking secret policeman at the end of the street, he looked like he was a bit green - I could probably take him simple as, but still, others would soon follow. It was time to leave.

I was a bit slow to start, I needed to shake all the gore off my wings before I could go full speed, but my feathers were soon dry and I sped off.

Where was I was heading you ask? Well, I was going where all Angels who have fallen out of favour go. I was making my way to Hell.

Your planet, and those that surround it, may be round, but the place where we live is completely flat. Supposedly it goes on forever but, for obvious reasons, that has never been proved. Oddly enough there is no universal name for it, people call it whatever they think is best. Personally I think of it as the Plain.

It's not only flat, but it's also almost entirely barren, if there's not a city or a forest there, there's nothing. Well nothing except layers of this grey stuff that if it isn't ash is something very much like it. The ash like substance does raise the disconcerting question of what was here before we were and what happened to them? Every creature on the plain shares the same nagging worry that what was here before somehow angered the Gods and as a consequence everything was razed to the ground and that maybe someday we'd make the same mistake.

Some Angels are of the opinion that the ash is meant as a warning to us to not forget there are limitations to our immortality; fire being one of the few things that can permanently kill one of the Immortals. I think that's a bit of an ethnocentric view though, I mean we're not the only race that lives on the Plain, true Vampires certainly share our aversion to fire but not everything on the plain does.

Anyway, I'm sure you're wondering about my reference to Gods. There's more than one? What are they like? Well they'd probably be a grave disappointment to you. The Greeks got the closest with their pantheon of petulant and debauched Gods and Goddesses. The real Gods are a lot like that, they're a very hedonistic group; like spoiled rich kids it's all drugs, sex and violence. Though they can't get sick or die of old age, they can't regenerate like we can either so they have an appalling life expectancy, there are always murders and overdoses and horrible accidents. With all this going on, most of them never even bother to use their powers for anything as trivial as meddling in human affairs. Of course, that's not true of all of them; some of them have this horrible tendency to cause far more trouble than they're worth, but more on that later.

So where were we? Ah yes, I was zooming across the barren wasteland, Raphael cradled in my arms like he was my bride and the Plain was our threshold. There was a very long way to go before we reached hell, for obvious reasons they were a long, long, long way apart. We'd have to stop and rest soon but there was a colony of banshees not too far from where we were and for some reason they always seem to be pretty enamoured with me. Don't ask me why.

I could actually see the forest that led into the banshee town when I heard the distinctive sound of wings flapping somewhere behind me. I must admit, for the second time that day I found myself swearing. Anyone would if they had a day like mine!

I darted a quick look behind me, and there they were, less than a mile behind and slightly to the right of me, two members of Heaven's illustrious secret police, with their weapons in hand.

One had a spear, but I wasn't too worried about him it was the one from earlier, the one I thought looked a bit green; I think it was fair to say that he'd probably only been sent on this mission because he had a wingspan almost equal to mine, a rare thing as like I said I'm tall, and a wider wingspan means a quicker flight. There was no point sending someone with all the power but not enough speed to actually catch me.

It was the other one that really concerned me. She was clutching some kind of lethal looking halberd; the large flat blade was adorned with Kellandria's personal crest, a serpent eating its own tail. She likes that it symbolises eternity because she likes to think that's how long she'll rule for. The egotistical nature of the crest aside, it was certainly worrying that she was wearing it, the crest was a sign of someone very important. I had a great many things adorned with her crest myself in fact, I made a mental note to burn those as soon as possible.

Of course, I had never seen this woman before, and I could be sure of that as I certainly would have recognised such a striking woman. Unfortunately Kellandria liked to keep all the different factions who kept her rule running smoothly completely separate. Considering the circumstances I suppose that was wise, I mean who would have been sent to chase us down otherwise? The most worrying aspect of the whole scenario though was the fact her weapon was crackling with magic, it ran up and down the handle, caressing the blade like a lover.

It was obvious I needed to land straight away.

Normally I would have been fine with an aerial fight, but not whilst carrying Raphael, not to mention the bags of stuff I was having trouble keeping hold of just flying normally. So I took another quick glance back at my pursuers; upon the discovery that they were quickly gaining on me I tucked my wings in and plummeted suddenly to the ground. Normally I would have rolled when I hit the ground to minimise the impact, but I didn't want to throw our belongings everywhere so I had to land feet first. I bent my knees but it still killed. My left knee made an alarming cracking sound that probably heralded bone damage; I hoped my body would sort it out by itself as quickly as possible.

I knew I didn't have long before I had to face my adversaries so I quickly laid Raphael on the ground and placed the bags next to him. Then with a resigned sigh, I knew how painful this was going to be, I ripped open the shirt I was wearing (now you see why I wear shirts with poppers instead of buttons whenever possible) and plunged my hand in to the centre of my chest. Yeah actually into my chest, believe me it takes nerves of steel.

Just like unfurling my wings, this was a pain that never grew any less agonising no matter how many times I subjected myself to it. Breathing raggedly in and out I grasped the hilt of my sword, the arcane patterns swirling as if they were alive, and slowly dragged it from my body.

I wiped the blood and splatters of gore off it and onto the corner of my formerly pale grey shirt. It wouldn't be long before my chest began to knit itself back together but I didn't have time to wait around for it to do so, I mean my blood was replenishing itself as quickly as I could lose it. I should tell you most immortals would die and then have to revive from such a wound but I have much faster healing than the average Immortal. Yeah I'm basically the Wolverine of the Immortal world.

I moved a bit farther away from Raphael and our things and waited for the woman to descend. She was spiralling lazily downwards; she was obviously trying to show me just how unfazed by me she was. Her less experienced companion wisely decided to follow her cue.

I moved into a fighting stance, watching her the whole time I did so, there was no way I was going to let her know I was worried. I had to look away for a minute though to enchant my sword. To do it you have to take two fingers, the index and its nearest neighbour work best and place them either side of the blade right down by the hilt. Then, and this has to be done as fast as possible, you pull your fingers upwards all the way up the blade. If your magic's strong enough this should be enough for it to manifest itself on your weapon in a physical form, like the electricity on my adversary's halberd.

The form my magic takes is fire, but not just any run of the mill fire, but blue flames. With my sword successfully enchanted I turned back to look at the woman. My chest had already almost fully healed; I felt like I was ready for a fight.

After what felt like an age, but was in reality only a few seconds, the woman landed gracefully in front of me, a feline smirk playing across her features. The magical electricity playing up and down her weapon flickered in the reflections in her cold lake eyes.

Though my main focus was always going to be her, I knew better than to just ignore the rookie. I could see him out of the corner of my eye; he was sidling towards where I'd left Raphael. I decided I better get rid of him before I got too wrapped up in fighting his companion.

I had yet to recoil my wings and so all it took was a jump to get airborne. I launched myself forwards, she was obviously expecting me to attack her so she braced herself for a collision but instead I flung myself straight past her. With my arm fully extended I swung and took the unfortunate guy's head clean off his neck, my flaming sword cleaving through his flesh like a hot knife through butter. I left the lifeless body to crumple to the floor and turned to parry the inevitable counter attack that was coming my way.

I wasn't disappointed as no sooner had I turned I had to thrust my sword up to block, there was so much power behind her attack that I was actually thrown backwards. I used my wings to halt my trajectory before launching an attack of my own. My blocking her attack had forced her weapon up so it was now above head height, so I took the opportunity to get a body shot in. I used my wings to get some force behind me and launched myself straight forward kicking her with both feet in her now unprotected mid section. She went flying backwards and it took her a moment to stop, so I took the opportunity to land and get my breath back. I left my wings out in case I needed them again.

It wasn't long before she was back up, thrusting her halberd at me. I was mainly on the defensive, using my quick reflexes to make sure the lethal looking blade never touched me. It was hard for me to get a hit in now she was expecting me to use my feet, there wasn't much else I could do. If I went in for a hit over her head I'd end up skewered by her much longer weapon before I could even touch her. This fight was really a waiting game. I would just have to hope I could wear her down enough that she'd start making mistakes, but if her stamina was more than mine, well I was screwed. Another worry that was quickly building in urgency was the fact that I had no idea how long it would be before the other guy revived and then I'd have both of them to deal with and no chance of another sneak attack.

Thankfully, that worry at least was quickly resolved, as not long after I'd thought of it the body went up in flames. I could only spare a second to look after I felt the sudden rush of heat a magical fire produces but it was enough. Raphael was brushing the remains of the magical powder he had just used to combust the unfortunate rookie off his hands. A few minutes later he interrupted the brawl.

"Do you see this gun?" He asked conversationally - me and my opponent both snatched quick glances at the gun in question, it was pointed directly at us.

"The bullets in this gun will combust you instantly as soon as they touch you." He gave us a moment to take this information in. I had to throw myself bodily to the right to avoid a particularly vicious attack.

"Now put down your weapon and leave and I won't have to use it." I jumped back to my feet and got a clear shot at her arm whilst she was distracted. She didn't even wince as her bicep was rent asunder.

"Do you think I'm stupid? I don't believe you've got any such bullet" She hissed through gritted teeth, her voice was husky. She took another extremely violent swing at me; if I hadn't ducked it would have surely caved my skull in.

"Do you really want to risk it?" He tilted the gun so that it was aimed straight at her head. I could see that she didn't want to risk it. She threw her weapon at me and took off. I jumped into the air to avoid the discharge of magic from the discarded weapon. I landed and walked over to Raphael.

"Why did you let her go? We could have bought ourselves some time if Kellandria thought we'd been dealt with." I asked him, a bit annoyed. She definitely seemed the recurring villain type.

"Don't be thick, Kellandria will have been tracking her, she'd know if she was dead all right. Which reminds me, don't forget anything with Kellandria's crest on carries her magical signature so she can track anything with it on." I had in fact forgotten but I tried not to let it show, now I had an even more pressing reason to burn all the stuff tainted with her mark.

"I wanted to make sure Kellandria knew we were a threat so she'd think twice before sending anyone else after us." I didn't think that would really work, Kellandria would just be hoping each new attacker would be the straw that broke the camels back, to her everyone was expendable, but I kept that observation to myself.

"Anyway. She was right, you really don't have any such bullet." I pointed out, careful not to sound accusatory, I didn't want to aggravate him anymore than I already had.

"She didn't know that, and neither would Kellandria." He shrugged. I had to give him that, the woman would have been briefed all about us and it was certainly plausible that Raphael would have been carrying something like that. There was a moment's awkward pause.

"Is that mine?" He asked pointing to the larger of the two bags I had brought. I nodded and just stood there silently watching as he rummaged through the bag checking what I'd seen fit to bring.

"We can't stay here long, they'll send more people." I remarked casually after a while as Raphael didn't seem particularly inclined to address the issue of what we did now. I was still steadfastly ignoring the spectre of Michael which was hanging between us like the smell of yesterdays cooking. The worst part was he could very well really be a spectre by now.

Raphael just looked at me coldly, before turning away to stare off into the never ending grey distance. I just wanted him to yell or hit me; that was what Raphael did, he threw tantrums. He didn't stand there a dead ringer for an ice sculpture damning you with his eyes.

"I think we should split up." He said it offhandedly, as if remarking that we had run out of milk and reminding me to get some more in. I could almost pretend that was what he really had said, until he turned his head around to look me straight in the eyes. I could see hatred scrawled all over his gaze.

"If you really thought I'd done the wrong thing you'd have gone back." I said quietly. He had turned to face away again.

"It's too fucking late now." He replied angrily.

"It was too late from the moment Michael decided he was going to fix all of Heaven's wrongs. It was always going to end this way." I shrugged resignedly, even though he couldn't see me. "You knew I couldn't just let you kill yourself on a suicide mission."

A horrible thought occurred to me.

"You did know that didn't you?" A horrible realisation dawned on me.

"You're too smart to have not known how I would react... You always have every contingency neatly mapped out in that head of yours. You never thought you were going to stay did you." I laughed bitterly.

"Did you even want to?"

The question just hung there, a flood of fire slowly engulfing hundreds of years of friendship. I just stood by as the ashes of the bridge flew away in the wind.

I wasn't sorry. I'm still not.

"Fuck you." Though the voice was abnormally quiet you could still hear the slide into hysteria Raphael's voice was always threatening to make. "Why don't you just go? There's nothing here for you to wait for."

"And if I need to find you?"

"You won't."

And that was that. He still had his back to me as I picked up the small bag containing all the possessions I had left to my name and unfurled my wings.

Though it took all my strength I didn't look back once, not even once. I wish I had; now I'll always wonder if he watched me go.