“Arise creature.” This voice is a new one. It emanated from the utter blackness of the room and echoed from nothing visible. “You shall refer to him as Zadiel and me as Azazel. Nothing more, nothing less. Arise, damn you.” She got to her feet. The apparition to which this voice belonged finally materialized next to the older man Zadiel. Azazel was a mean looking fellow. Not quite as old as Zadiel but not so young looking either. He was a ripe bastard.
“So the champions return to us Zadiel. And much sooner than we desire. What is wrong creature; perhaps our gifts are not enough for you. Have you come to beg for more?”
“Please Azazel. We must be courteous to guests, and to our champions. Enough of this harsh handed greeting. My dear boys, why have you come to us, and why do you bring a demon with you?” Marko turned his head. It was so difficult to see in here. It’s not darkness in a natural sense that permeates the room but the complete absence of light and life that lie between the elderly hosts and their guests. Ian was finally visible. “We didn’t ask to be here,” Ian says. He nods to Marko who greets him with the same gesture.
“It is I, this lowly creature, who has summoned you.” Azazel exploded with rage, giving the demon a start. “Feeble pawn! Have you no idea who stands before you? We are the eternal watchers of Earth; it is we who try this world by descending it into darkness, and we who determine its champions when or if it is saved. How is it then that you see it fit to summon us?!”
“I do not share my comrade’s town. However, I must ask the same of you. Why do you call on us?”
“It is because you have chosen these two as champions.” Again Azazel found no lack of fuel for his anger. “So then you intend to see us wrong do you? Ian, champion, destroy her.” Ian hesitated. Not because he didn’t want to tear the demon out of Rebecca but because Zadiel held him still with the wave of his hand.
“I fear, good Azazel, that you and I might have a listen to her, and in doing so realize we may in fact be at some kind of fault.” Azazel motioned to Rebecca with impatience. She continued.
“You are both wise. Certainly you have to be in order to have seen fit to deem these two your champions. After all they saved the planet and defeated three of the four horsemen themselves.”
“Four out of four.” Corrected Ian.
“No,” said Azazel, doing little to hide his new found vicious grin. “Three marks the number of our lords which fell by your hands. Conquest, defeated by your will. War by your guile, and Pestilence by cunning. However Death, always requires a sacrifice.” Zadiel frowned. “I believe you are at a misunderstanding demon, for I see that which you wish to argue. It was the sacrifice of this human you wear which won the fight against death. I must say it again. The human died for them.”
“Of course Zadiel. However that human did not come by this knowledge alone. For it was I who came to her before the riders besieged the Earth. And it was I that gave her the strength to face Death and save her lover. I am, as you know, not human. Therefor when the champions were selected of human lineage you saw these three. The two boys who fought gallantly for their world, and the woman that sacrificed her life for their sake. This is ultimately why you had not bestowed such a title as champion upon me. For although it was her sacrifice it was only accomplished through me, and unlike her, I still live.”
Marko shot her a glance of disdain. “Only one race can be champion. The humans have the powers. Sorry not negotiable.”
Azazel bellowed, “And is that for you to decide human?” Somehow the discord brought by a demon inspired in Azazel good humor. Looking back at him Marko responded, “These are your rules jack ass. Don’t act like you don’t know them all of the sudden.” Zadiel moved very quickly to stay Azazel’s wrath. “Please, Azazel. The boy is right. We cannot offer the throne of Earth to both man and demon. Let his remark pass.” Now Zadiel turned to Rebecca. “I see you have revived the woman. Since this was not expressly forbidden you may retain her as a possession. However there is little else I can do for you. Earth belongs to Man until such a time when the next challenge arrives.”
“Great Zadiel, surely you must acknowledge the fact that humanity might not have won without the aide provided by my kind, most notably the masters that chose my for this blessing and the efforts which were taken to ensure the human victory.” Ian and Marko followed her words carefully. They weren’t the only ones, but amongst everyone in the room their apprehension was building much faster. They had a pretty good idea of what was coming.
“We try them again Zadiel. Clearly these humans can’t handle their reign effectively so as not to have us bothered by trivial matters.”
“No, Azazel. I ask not for a second rapture. I simply ask that you acknowledge the demon race for their contribution to man’s victory.”
Zadiel and Azazel need not use words to communicate but they choose to when they speak to mortals. They shared a glance indicating these next words were private and then Zadiel turned a disturbed face towards Ian and Marko. “Do the current champions yield to allowing Demons an elevated status in the kingdom of man.” Both answered in unison. “We do not.” Zadiel, looked visibly troubled. “Then, it is the decision of the eternals that a new trial be conducted. It shall come to pass in seven days’ time. Only man and demon will be allowed entry this time. We will settle the status of Earth’s champions then so that one, uncontested, winner might arise.” The words had no mass but they carried a great weight. This was absurd. The world came within the brink of total destruction while the human race at large was unaware. All the creatures that walked the Earth were invited to risk all in order to win the domain of the planet in their name. Humans were never allowed entry until the most recent centuries. In order to make up for this new species the supernatural faded into memory. They hid as myth and legend so as to make us forget. If we were caught unawares we couldn’t threaten the other races. Only, we didn’t forget, not all of us at least and enough recognized the signs when they were at our doorstep. This is how Marko, Ian and all their friends wound up in the middle of Armageddon. They survived, and not just that. They also won. Losing Rebecca and others in the process. Marko was suddenly all too aware of how this information came by their group. About how they bridged the gaps in their abilities to come out on top of this contest. It was always because of Rebecca, at least for Marko she was invaluable. Had all that she had known come from the demons? Had they found a way to win without playing the game? Yes. They did.
“One last thing,” began Azazel. “You shall not kill one another before the competition begins. Champions, I will not have you using your gifts against demons before or during the trials. Hell hound, you shall keep your lot out of their reach as well.”
“As you wish Azazel. No demon will harm these boys.” It didn’t matter that neither Marko nor Ian had anything to add for if they wanted to speak their chances were gone. The room faded and the pendulum ceased. They were kicked out.
Marko looked around him. He was where the demon took him before. The desert clearing. Three scorched marks on the Earth represent the last known whereabouts of Rebecca’s companions. In front of him stood Rebecca. “Well how about that? I have gotta say I was nervous! All that formal talk and blah blah blah. Bet you didn’t see this coming?” Marko said nothing. Whatever happened before he entered that dark room had left him too exhausted for wit. “Rough day huh, sport? Well before I go I just want to say good luck. You’re going to need it because seven days is not enough. And just to be fair because you’ve both been such good sports I’ll give you a message from your girlfriend here. She says ‘It’s not your fault, beloved,’ awww how disgustingly human.”
She was gone. With Earth back in peril, Marko faced the direction of home. He walked. The sun rose.