Interlude 4

Diamond Dog took a hit off his crack pipe. The familiarity of it calmed him — the quickening of his heart calmed him.

He looked down on the pitch black city; no light.

Well, that wasn’t quite true. Standing here, on the highest floor in the tallest building in the city, he felt proud of the darkness.

The Supercomputer had tried to kill them all — these denizens of the future. But then Oreh had come up with the code to destroy it, and Diamond Dog had killed Oreh. After that, taking control of the city had been easy.

He preferred the lack of light. It spoke to the lack of civilization he was fond of. Nothing mattered, not really. For this reason Diamond found it pathetic. It strove for such greatness, spitting in the face of dead and careless dogs.

If he hadn’t wanted to intimidate all the dark-dwelling citizens, he wouldn’t have lit up this building. But he did want to intimidate them.

The fear was what fed him, wasn’t it? Alone, he was little more than empty nihilism. But the destruction gave him purpose. The destruction allowed him to get rid of the civilization — to fulfill the will of the gods by plunging all two-legged creatures into chaos.’’

A horse-headed minion walked into the room.

Turning his eyes from the darkness of the city to the light of the room, Diamond Dog’s eyes burned a bit. Once they adjusted, he noticed the fear on Horse-head’s face.

Good.

“Sir,” Horse-head said. “Val escaped.”

Diamond Dog didn’t explode. He let his rage simmer. It was better that way.

“How,” Diamond Dog said, “and why?”

“We sent fifteen guys after him. He killed them all.”

Diamond said. “That’s the how, vague though it is.”

“Yes.”

“And the why?”

Horse-head stood, pensive. After a few moments, he said, “Val was too strong.”

Diamond Dog shook his head. “It’s never the enemy’s fault. The enemy is never the why. The troubles that one faces are never the why. The why is a lack of will. They died because they didn’t care enough to live.” He chuckled, but the smile that formed on his face quickly faded. “I understand the feeling.”

Horse-head didn’t speak. He didn’t know what to say.

“We killed the gods,” Diamond Dog said. “We killed all the gods, only to create a new omniscient being — a being of science. But it didn’t matter whether the being was one of science of one of myth. It didn’t matter whether it came from or what it’s original purpose was.”

He continued, “Every omniscient being that’s ever existed has tried to destroy two-legged creatures. The gods just wanted to kill us, while the Supercomputer tried turning us into animals. But time and time again, the two-legged creatures weren’t good enough. Were we really broken, or were we just some damn dolls that the all-knowing thought they could play with? Maybe we had a purpose and failed to achieve it. Or maybe we just never mattered at all.”

“Yeah,” Horse-head nodded, more out of fear than understanding. “That’s a lot of thoughts.”

“It’s no matter,” Diamond Dog said, waving the issue aside. “I have a feeling that someone might’ve gotten to him by now. Let’s get the rest of the men together and–”

The lights went out.

The power — his power — shut off.

He didn’t even like the lights. But the power? That he refused to lose.

He looked down at the city, which was now no worse off than he was.

A rage built up in him, and he grabbed Hors-head’s arm.

“Sir,” Horse-head neighed.

Diamond Dog threw him at the window. Glass crashed, and Horse-head fell.

He screamed.

Diamond Dog smiled. That hadn’t been an act of anger, despite how it might’ve looked . No, it had simply been a matter of tactics.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel was down there, somewhere. Surely they were responsible for stealing the battery that powered the tower. Surely they and their friends would see the fall — at the very least, they would hear the screaming. This, Diamond Dog knew, would strike terror into their hearts.

He couldn’t stop smiling.

— — —

The Kaleidoscopic Angel stood with arms akimbo. They looked up at the matinee theater’s sign. It read, “THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH.”

The Kaleidoscopic Angel smiled. They looked over at Val, who had his arms around the Angel of Death’s waist. The Angel of Death had her arm around Val’s shoulder, and the two of them looked content.

Val would mumble every once in a while. He chose to do so at that very moment.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel looked over at the Angel of Death. “Care to translate?”

“He wants to know what this has to do with going back to his own time.”

The Kaleidoscopic Angel sighed. “As I’ve previously explained, he really doesn’t want to do that.”

Val mumbled.

“He does,” The Angel of Death explained.

“Assuming that’s truly the case, I’ll take him back as soon as this is all over.”

“And when will that be?”

The Kaleidoscopic Angel smiled. “A minute past midnight.”

The Angel of Death looked around at the city block: no lights were on. Only off in the distance could light be seen, glowing from the tallest building in the city.

“Why here?” she asked.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel slipped a hand into the pocket of his white pants. He pulled out a single key, which slid into the lock on the theater’s front door. He opened the door, then bowed a little, indicating the way for Val and the Angel of Death. “Walk this way.”

The Angel of Death walked; Val followed.

“It’s dark,” she said.

“Quite astute,” they replied.

“If you weren’t an angel of death, I’d kill you,” she said.

“Surely,” the Kaleidoscopic Angel said, walking further into the darkness.

The Angel of Death followed him, making her way carefully through the darkness. Val hung on, his hand still at her side.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel pushed a big door open. Val held onto it, so that he and the Angel of Death could pass through.

“Are you going to explain all this?” she asked.

“In a moment,” the Kaleidoscopic Angel said. “For now, I’m content with leaving you in the dark.”

Val mumbled something.

“What’d he say?” the Kaleidoscopic Angel said.

“He insulted you, because of the pun.”

“That’s fair,” the Kaleidoscopic Angel said. “But we’re here. This is your answer.”

The Angel of Death looked at the pitch black room. It wasn’t much to look at, since the place was pitch black.

Val mumbled something.

“What?” the Kaleidoscopic Angel said.

“Another insult,” the Angel of Death explained. “But really, neither Val nor I have any idea what it is we’re supposed to be looking at.”

“Something,” the Kaleidoscopic Angel said. “You’re supposed to see something, but you can’t, because the room’s dark.”

“Astute,” the Angel of Death said.

“The theater needs power. But to get that power, we’re going to need to steal it.”

“And why should we do that?”

“Because if you do, I’ll be able to power the time machine that’ll take you home, among other things.”

“Among other things,” the Angel of Death repeated.

“Trust me,” the Kaleidoscopic Angel said. “You’ll like the end result.”

“Trust you?” the Angel of Death asked, half-laughing. “Why would we ever trust you?”

“Since I’m the guy with the time machine,” the Kaleidoscopic Angel said, “and it’s not like you have all that many better options.”

— — —

“Diamond Dog’s tower is the only place in this borough that gets any power,” the Kaleidoscopic Angel explained, walking down the sidewalk. Val and the Angel of Death walked with him, hands linked.

“Why?” the Angel of Death asked.

“He has a battery,” the Kaleidoscopic Angel said.

“No,” the Angel of Death said, “What I mean to ask is, why doesn’t anyone else have power in this part of town?”

“Government,” the Kaleidoscopic Angel said. “This part of town had a lot of crime, so…”

“So the government just shut the power down?”

“Sure,” the Kaleidoscopic Angel said. “Whatever works.”

“Sounds like you’re living in a dystopia,” the Angel of Death said.

“A lot of things can seem horrifying, when you’re not living them,” the Kaleidoscopic Angel said. “But then you do start living them, and you see that they’re not so bad after all.”

The Angel of Death wasn’t impressed with the philosophy. “How exactly do you plan on getting past the guards?” she asked. “Val’s too hurt, and he’s lost his sword. He won’t be able to take them all down.”

“I’m this era’s Angel of Death,” the Kaleidoscopic Angel said. They smiled; that was answer enough.

— — —

The Kaleidoscopic Angel strode towards the tower, in the direction of two guards. One had a horse’s head; the other, a gorilla’s.

Hands in pocket, the Angel kept their eyes glued to the sidewalk. The guards watched closely, but didn’t move. There were many reasons why an Angel of Death might be out at this hour, and the last thing the guards wanted was to start a fight with Death Incarnate.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel kept their cool, pretending to walk by until they were right in front of the tower door, in-between the two guards.

As soon as their foot hit the ground, they whipped out their gun. Kicked gorilla-head’s gun while shooting horse-head in the face.

*BANG*

Horse-head crumpled.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel slammed their foot into gorilla-head’s face. They grabbed gorilla-head’s neck and pulled him close.

Shot gorilla-head in the stomach three times.

*BANG* *BANG* *BANG*

They dragged gorilla-head’s corpse just to the left of where the doors opened, opposite the hinges. Propped it up so that when the door opened, the cheetah-head that answered didn’t attack the Kaleidoscopic Angel right away.

*BANG* *BANG*

His mistake.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel dropped gorilla-head, pulling the creature to the side. Reached over and picked up cheetah-head’s gun.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel heard footsteps, two more creatures approaching the door.

One hand stuck out and the Kaleidoscopic Angel pulled on it. They grabbed the door and slammed it onto the trapped arm.

Once. Twice. Third time’s the charm. The hand dropped the gun.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel opened the door. Twisted the man’s arm, using him as a body shield. The second assailant hesitated for a moment, not wanting to shoot his partner. The Kaleidoscopic Angel used this moment, slamming their foot against the second man’s face.

The second man crumpled.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel shot the first assailant in the face.

The first assailant crumpled.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel entered the hallway, stepping over the two corpses, ignoring their souls.

There would be time enough for that later. But by then, it probably wouldn’t be the Kaleidoscopic Angel’s job.

They made their way through the long narrow hallway, fighting every animal-headed creature that came their way.

It was all about throwing the enemy off balance — trapping them in tight spaces, making numbers a non-issue. The caution wasn’t entirely necessary, since most of their weapons wouldn’t work against an Angel of Death, anyway.

But a couple of them? Well, life had weapons that could hurt the Angel of Death. It just didn’t know which weapons they were, yet.

And so the Kaleidoscopic Angel made their way down the concrete steps, kicking and punching and twisting their way through the army. Eventually they reached the basement. At this point no one was there, presumably because they’d all joined the fight upstairs.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel ran, colors swirling across their face, struggling to be seen under the blood.

In truth, the battery didn’t look like much. It was the size of a pinkie finger. It was surrounded by a small plastic box.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel shot the box, breaking it. They took the battery, slipping it into their pocket.

With the battery gone, the lights went out.

*BLAM*

A laser shot through the dark air, ripping through the Kaleidoscopic Angel’s left shoulder.

They screamed.

This was one of the weapons that hurt.

Laying on the garage floor, their white pants now dirtied with both blood and grime, the Kaleidoscopic Angel panted, taking in deep breaths of air, trying to hiss the pain out.

The laser gun could be heard, its systems recharging.

The Kaleidoscopic Angel felt dizzy, but they managed to pull themselves up.

They didn’t want to get hit with another laser. If they could just reach the assailant in time…

The weight of their body was part of what allowed them to charge forward, but they felt off-balance. The laser gun was re-charging, but if they could just reach it in time…

*BLAM*

That was the end of the Kaleidoscopic Angel.

— — —

The Angel of Death sat in the alleyway, back against the wall, wings stretching across the wall while her arms were wrapped around Val. She’d heard the Kaleidoscopic Angel fighting two blocks away. She hadn’t intervened.

Val needed her here. Val needed to be protected. Though she couldn’t tell what, something was very wrong.

He shivered. He sobbed.

“What is it?” she asked, voice soft. “What’s got you like this?”

Val mumbled one word: “Evan.” It took everything she had to understand just that.

In the heat of the moment, when he’d found out about Evan, his son’s death had propelled him forward. It gave him power. It made him angry, which made him strong.

But now? Now that he’d fought and bled and had time to really think about it? It made him feel weak, weaker than he’d ever felt. He drowned in sadness, an inability to know what he wanted to do next. Why, if the Angel of Death hadn’t been there–

He didn’t dare think about it.

“What?” she asked him, her voice unsure. “What about Evan?”

Val didn’t say anything. He merely tilted his head upwards, looking her straight in the eye. He took his pointer finger and dragged it across his throat.

“Dead?” she asked.

He shook his head.

It felt like she’d been punched in the gut: her own son, dead. And she hadn’t even been there to collect his soul.

Of course, she’d never seen him, after the birth. It hadn’t feel right, for her to go see him. And she’d always been so busy.

She wished he hadn’t known. She wished she hadn’t known he was the son of the Angel of Death, because what would that do to a person? She knew he was better off for not knowing her — an Angel of Death certainly couldn’t raise a baby. He probably would have been better off never being born.

But she couldn’t even take his soul.

She always thought she’d meet him then. Explain how she didn’t want to be a mother — how she didn’t feel like she could ever be good to a son.

No explanations would be made. Her son was dead, and she couldn’t even do for him the one thing she’d done for so many others.

“And his soul?”

Val looked at her — lost, confused. Even with all the dead she’d seen, she didn’t remember seeing anyone so broken.

There wasn’t time to think about it, though. Because suddenly, she felt something tug at the pit of her stomach. The tug was awful, but there was also a sense of rejuvenation.

She knew the feeling. It was unmistakable.

She wasn’t just the Angel of Death, anymore. She was this era’s Angel of Death. Her powers had returned, which meant that the Kaleidoscopic Angel must be dead.

She stood up. “I have to go, Val. Stay here.”

He looked up at her, forlorn. Still, he didn’t beg her to stay. He didn’t grab onto her leg or whimper at her. She appreciated that. Taking one last look at him, she let out a small, loving smile.

Then she turned, walking towards the tower.

She stopped, as she stood outside the door. She had no idea what had killed the Kaleidoscopic Angel, or how. This meant she had to be careful — cautious.

She looked down at the corpses that lay in front of the door. Pushing them aside, she cracked the door open. It was dark. Unable to see anything, she walked through the door.

She moved quickly but quietly through the hallway of corpses, groping the wall, looking for any sign of trouble. At the very least, the Kaleidoscopic Angel had thinned the herd a little.

She made her way down the stairs, stepping over more corpses. Maybe he’d just gotten too many wounds after all this. Maybe no individual did him in — maybe it was just the whole herd.

The garage, like everywhere else, was quiet. The air conditioning hummed.

Her own breath was loud enough to be heard.

*BLAM*

A laser shot through her wing. She screamed.

Intense pain.

Coming from where?

She heard the sound of the laser blaster firing up again. She charged towards it, keeping her head low, her whole body less able to be shot at — or even seen, in the dark.

But her wings were too big.

*BLAM*

Another beam shot through her left wing. It was useless for flying, now.

Still, she was close enough to tackle the assailant, slamming him into the ground. The two of them wrestled.

The first thing she did was rip the gun from his hands. Tossing it aside, she placed her hand on his throat.

*ZING*

She noticed the laser blade too late.

The assailant jerked an arm away from her grip. He stabbed her in the eye. He moved his arm back to stab her again, but he wouldn’t be successful.

The pain shocked her system — so thoroughly, that she didn’t even think to scream. Instead, she ripped his throat out.

The laser blade *clack*ed against the floor

He lay there, dead.

She sat there for several moments, feeling woozy from the pain — from all the loss of blood.

She turned the laser blade off. Placing her palm on her eye didn’t do much good, but it was something. She stood up and stumbled towards the door. She stumbled up the steps, and through the hallway.

Once outside the tower, she collapsed.

Twenty feet away, the Horse-head that Diamond Dog had thrown out the window splattered on the asphalt. No one noticed.

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