With a whining hiss, the microphone glared into life. Cornicello tapped the equipment twice, and a set of speakers inside the room carried his voice over to their prisoner.
“Welcome to Mosul Dam,” he declared happily. The angel looked up lethargically, and cast its eyes around the room, locating the radio equipment. It stared in confusion for a moment, and then, seeming to realise the nature of the technology, it shifted its gaze back up to the glass window and opened its mouth to speak. Instead its face convulsed in sudden pain, as the electrodes on either side of its harness flared into life, unleashing their payload throughout its body. Its head drooped.
“We have decided,” Cornicello explained. “That it would be unwise to allow you to communicate that way. Please, you know how to speak normally, do you not? There is a microphone inside the room. We will be able to hear you that way.” The angel swallowed, defeated. Its eyes dripped malice, while the muscles within its throat slowly shifted and reformed.
“He...re...tics...” it spoke eventually, its voice rasping and tortured. Its tone rose and fell slowly with each syllable, as if it was learning to speak for the first time. Cornicello smiled.
“Your first words! Well done! Now, I have some questions and I would be inclined to answer them, if I were you. You killed a lot of my people today.”
“Dying…” the angel rasped. “Is what you humans… Do best… Do you even know… What awaits you? You will all die… You will burn In hellfire… For all eternity… And I will still be here.”
“Well, I would not count on that if I were you,” Cornicello responded. “And since you mention hellfire, you should know that we have our own. You know what explosives are, don’t you? If you didn’t before today, you do now. The room you’re currently in is loaded with them. All I have to do is press this button, and if I cannot press it, there are others who will be able to. If you try to escape, you will be destroyed. If you try anything like that ‘scream’ from earlier, you will be destroyed. If you try to communicate through any means other than what we are doing now, you will be destroyed. Do you understand?”
The angel swayed slightly, its features twitching in anguish. Physically, it seemed broken and incapable. But still it found enough strength to smirk defiantly back at him. Cornicello was hardly surprised. The creature, while undoubtedly alien, was strangely relatable. Its expressions, its emotions, they were practically human. And to Cornicello, this one reminded him more than anything of a true believer. A fanatic. The kind of man who would smile loftily and preach his condemnation of his attackers while bound to his stake. His righteousness and surety unwavering, even as the flames began to lick at his ankles.
Pain and threats would not break the creature, Cornicello was becoming certain. But still, he activated the controls, and once more the angel felt the sting of the electrical current, its flesh rippling and its body convulsing. Cornicello let it go on for longer this time, and by the time he deactivated the circuit, scorch marks blackened the angel’s body where the current had contacted it. The angel slumped, its mouth open and smoke wisping from its form.
“If you cannot answer our questions,” Cornicello continued. “We will detonate the explosives. If you truly have nothing to offer, we will destroy you, and we will move on to our other two captives. Now tell me you understand.”
“I… Understand…” Once more the angel’s eyes filled with hatred. At least it had some sense of self preservation, Cornicello reflected. He had half expected it to rebuke him again.
“Good. Then first, what are you? What is your name, your species, your origin?”
“Really?” The creature scoffed. “Do you pretend… That you do not know… I am an angel… the Word of the Lord, and I descended here from His Heaven.”
“And where is God, exactly?” Cornicello probed. The angel shook its head in weary irritation, as though dismayed by the stupidity of the human’s question. It smiled cruelly.
“He is… In every one of you…” It spat the words derisively. “I heard a priest say that once. Hubris. He was a fool... The Lord is not with you… You know nothing of him… Only, you want to believe that you are important… That the Lord resides within you… Because then… You could say that you are God… You are wrong… You have never felt his presence… But I have… I am his envoy… I am a servant of the Almighty… Enactor of His will… To you… I am God…”
“You must be a very weak God,” Cornicello remarked. “To find yourself imprisoned like this, by us.”
“Have you trapped me?” The angel responded with a malicious gleam. “Do you… think that? I am… Merely amusing myself… I could break free and call my followers to free me… At any time I please.”
Arrogance, Cornicello decided. Fanaticism aside, it clearly did not consider itself as some replaceable servant. It thought that it was important. It was clearly a leader of some kind. Perhaps it thought itself a vital part of some greater plan- the angel had a sense of purpose, that much was for sure. Knowing more than a little about such an endeavour. Cornicello investigated his own feelings. If he were to find himself in a similar position -if he thought that there was some chance of escape- how would he act?
It was true that no one person was more important than humanity as a whole. In the end, all parts were expendable, so long as the machine kept running. But then again, some facets of a system were more easily replaced than others. If he were gone, would there really be someone else with the will and ingenuity to save humanity? No one he had ever met had come close, after all.
“I think that if you could escape,” he asserted. “You would have done so already. I think that you know that you are trapped. I think that you are scared. That this is the first time you’ve been so vulnerable. It can’t be pleasant. But you… You want to survive. If you were such a loyal servant, wouldn’t it make sense for you to accept your own death, rather than risk supplying us with information?” The angel continued to gaze back in malice. “It’s not too late,” Cornicello continued. “Why, all you need to do, really, is scream. Use your power again, and we would be forced to activate the explosives. We wouldn’t be able to get a shred more out of you.”
Cornicello chuckled suddenly. “Really! It’s all in your hands! Or what’s left of them, anyway! I suppose we were relying on you wanting to live. Not once did it occur to us that you might be prepared to die!” He glanced at the worried, confused faces in the control room, and laughed again. “Very foolish of us! So will you? Will you do it?”
If the angel’s expression had been terrible before, it was filled with such venom now that Cornicello could practically feel the hatred radiating outwards from it. Its gaze was fixed, its teeth clenched, and for a moment, he wondered whether he had taken his bluff a little too far. It wanted to do it, he could see, desperately. If only to prove a point. To deny him, defeat him, to prove that he had no power over it. It tensed rigidly, the thought rolling over and over in its head. Its mouth opened suddenly, its face contorted in pain.
“Cornicello!” The general exclaimed urgently. “Do we follow through?”
“It won’t do it,” Cornicello hushed, and hoped he was right. For a moment the angel continued to grimace, and then the strength was gone from it. It sagged visibly, its head sinking down to its chest, and its shoulders slumped. Deflated. Defeated.
“I have failed,” the angel whispered ashamedly. “I deserve… To be destroyed…”
“Then why are you still here?” Cornicello asked.
“Because…” the angel answered. “If I die now… I will always have failed… I can never rectify my mistake… That would be… Too easy… Better to suffer, if there is even a chance… That I can make amends.”
Ah, Cornicello thought. In the end, it was duty that drove the creature.
“And what did you fail at?” He asked. The angel did not respond. It continued to stare downwards. “Please. You came to take David. That much is clear, so we may as well be honest now. There has been much death. Both your kind and mine. At least, you could tell us your reasons for such an attack?”
“We came for the void walker,” the angel stated. “The antichrist… We must destroy him.”
“Because he is an abomination. Because he has touched the void. He has stolen its power. He knows things… Things that none but God can know… But you humans…” the angel spat in disgust. “You were always so eager…. to raise yourself above Him…”
“Knowledge is power,” Cornicello stated.
“And now you have reached too far,” the angel rasped mockingly. “You have seized knowledge that is forbidden to you. Greed has defeated you… And now the Dark One has him…”
“The Dark One,” Cornicello repeated. “Was that the creature that attacked you? What was it?”
“To you… He is the devil… The first abomination… The leader of the fallen. He has taken the void walker now. It is too late… I have failed. But you too… If you had only allowed me to annihilate him, then perhaps you could linger on and live out the rest of your brief lives… But now… You have only ensured your own ruin…”
“How so? These fallen, I have seen them mentioned before…”
“They are the ones who betrayed God,” the angel replied. “They followed the Firstborn… They corrupted your race… They unleashed the marked upon you. They are your enemies… We are the Lord’s loyal. We seek only to serve! To maintain the balance!”
“You attacked us, did you not?” Cornicello replied.
“It does… Not matter…” the angel rasped dismissively. “Do you know… What you have done? You have… Destroyed yourselves... They are going to use this abomination to raise the Firstborn… And then… This world will fall… You cannot withstand them… Only Ruin awaits…”
Cornicello considered things for a moment. He had read the names in Howard’s diary, and committed them to memory. The Firstborn, the Fallen. They fitted with what the angel had said, but whether it told the truth or not was another matter entirely. He decided to compare this new information within his own head with what he already knew. David had a power, that was certain. The attention these creatures had put into destroying him proved that much, at least.
David had also been taken by an entity opposed to these other angels. That proved that there were multiple factions of the creatures. The Firstborn had been mentioned in Howard’s journal as a vastly powerful angel, but there was little information to go on there. What these ‘fallen’ planned to do with David was pure theory, but they had certainly taken him for a purpose of some kind. He considered his own position. They needed David back. It was that simple, really. He decided to narrow down his goals for now.
“Do you know where they have taken him?” Cornicello asked the angel.
“I know where the fallen have made their nest,” the angel answered. “He will likely be there…”
“And whatever happens, you want David kept out of their hands?”
“Then what if I told you there was a way to fulfil that duty?” Cornicello asked. “To strike at the fallen and recover David?”
“Heaven…” the angel stated. “Has not the strength to stop them now.”
“Not Heaven,” Cornicello corrected it. “Us. I have thousands of men at my command, trained and equipped for just this purpose.”
“You have lost your weapon…” The angel sighed in realisation. “That is why… You need me… If you destroy me… You will all die…” It smiled mockingly, but in its eyes, Cornicello recognised an eager, calculating glimmer. That’s it, he thought. I can see that the idea is firmly in your head now. A means to complete your mission, to play your enemies against one another. This was now a negotiation between two eager parties, and that was a game he knew well enough. He considered once more what he might do in its place. Surely it would seek its freedom too. It would serve him well to get out in front of the idea.
“So what you’re saying,” he said suddenly, filling his voice with all the mock desperation he could. “Is that you’re on our side? That this was all some kind of misunderstanding?”
“Indeed,” the creature rasped, eagerly pouncing upon the bait that had been offered. Cornicello gave a sigh of indecision, making sure it was loud enough to carry over on the speaker system.
“Well… I…” Cornicello began. “I mean… Would you be willing to make a deal? Could you help us? If we… If we agreed to let you go… Could you tell us where they’ve taken David?”
“Cornicello!” The General hissed anxiously. “What are you doing? We can’t let him go!” Cornicello had been holding the button down on the microphone, and grinned as he heard the sound relayed through the speakers in the cell. The angel smiled pleasantly towards the window, but there was a slight tension to its movements now. An eagerness. It had sensed not only a sudden and unexpected avenue to complete its mission, but the chance to escape.
“I’m in charge here!” Cornicello exclaimed. “Not you! Just think what a powerful ally he could be! We need this -what are we going to do without David?” He turned back to Kristoff, saw the general’s face fixed in outrage, and winked. Perhaps the deal sounded too sweet, he reflected. It wouldn’t do to make the angel suspicious. “But you have to promise not to harm David,” he stated assuredly. “Do you accept that?”
“Of course…” the angel lied. Cornicello waved his hand excitedly at the general, gesturing for more. Kristoff frowned deeply, and then eventually, seemed to understand.
“But how do we know we can trust it?” he said.
“Our goals… Interline…” The angel rasped. “We want the same thing, human.”
“We need David back,” Cornicello retorted. “We can hardly achieve that on our own.” He took his finger off the intercom, and leant back against the desk, silent.
“What are you doing?” The general asked.
“Just wait a moment,” Cornicello responded. He brushed back his hair, and sat perfectly still. The General glared at him, fidgeting in impatience. After a few moments, Cornicello turned, and moved his finger back to the intercom with exaggerated care. “What would prevent them from simply retreating away from us?” he asked. “If they can just fly away, this is all a moot point.”
“They cannot… Abandon their project…” the angel attested urgently. “Pieces are in place… They must stay… Until the Firstborn wakes…”
“Then will you help us fight them?” Cornicello transmitted his voice back into the room.
“That is… My mission.”
“And we can trust you?” Cornicello asked.
“Then do we have a deal?” The angel shifted expectantly, more relaxed now.
“You have… My word,” it declared.
“Excellent,” Cornicello sighed loudly in relief. “But how do I know for sure? Maybe… What about a gesture of trust? I can send my men in to free you. We’ll have to unweld you from your harness, of course, but first, we need to know David’s location. Tell us where they’ve taken him, and then we’ll know you’re on our side.”
“His location?” The angel hissed suspiciously.
“Yes. We can’t just let you go, if you give us nothing. We are not powerful creatures. For all we know, you were lying about knowing it. But if you tell us, then we’ll know you’re on our side. That you can help us with bigger things -like coordinating with us to rescue David. Besides, there’s no loss for you. Without your help, what hope do we have of possibly winning? We are on… Even footing, wouldn’t you say? So tell us, and I promise we will let you go.”
“We… Do not have time for this… Every moment we delay… The risk increases… We have days at most… If they succeed… If the Firstborn wakes… There will be nothing left but ruin… We must act now…”
“Then please, tell us quickly…”
For a few minutes, the angel hesitated. But it was so close now, to getting what it wanted. Eventually, it relented.
“The fallen… Have built a city…” It broke. “In the East… At the feet of Tartarus... A river leads there from the sea... You call it… Sin-du... Halfway between its mouth and the great mountains… That is where your weapon will be… Despatch your forces now. I am the Word of the Lord. I tell no lie.”
“I believe you,” Cornicello responded quietly.
“Now… Free me…”
“Why?” The angel croaked, its voice rasping surprise and anger.
“You’re our prize specimen,” Cornicello replied. “And you are our enemy. Did you really think we would let you go?” He laughed suddenly. “Would you really trust a human? You really must know nothing about us!” Below him, the angel seethed in rage, its black eyes fixed in fury.
Around the control room, the equipment began to spark into action. Stereographs scratched across their pages, and the radio speakers began to hiss. The angel opened its mouth, and then it shuddered in agony as the electricity once more began to flow through its body. Cornicello watched it collapse down onto the steel harness that contained it, smoke and evaporated matter rising in coiling plumes from its body.
“Excellent!” He exclaimed, slapping his hands together and turning away from the window. “Doctor Ortega, you may start your experiments immediately.”