A Bridge Between Worlds - Chapter 11

A Bridge Between Worlds - Chapter 11

Here we are, dear readers.  The grand finale.  This final chapter contains no erotic scenes, but I hope you enjoy the final part of the story nonetheless.  This has been one hell of a fun journey, telling the story of Mike and Melody Braxton.  Fun as it was, this will be the final entry in their saga, as I have ideas for other stories to move on to.  Please feel free to follow my postings to stay updated on these new works as they come out.  Thanks again for all your support!

A Bridge Between Worlds Ch. 11

As the battle raged through the streets of San Francisco, Melody and Salim led their forces brilliantly.  The three beasts had been slain, and all that remained was to mop up the last of Edward’s army before dealing with Edward himself.  Standing back-to-back, the pair found themselves surrounded by the demonic forces, but only grinned at each other and combined their powers of water and fire.  Upon doing so, a thick cloud of smoke covered the battlefield, blinding and disorienting the monsters while allowing Melody and Salim to eliminate them all with their lightning-fast attacks.

“Nadir, status report,” Salim called out.

“Less than a quarter of Edward’s forces remain,” Nadir replied.  “A small troop is attempting to attack city hall, but my men have them contained.  A few minutes more, and this army will no longer be a threat.”

“Excellent,” Melody marveled.  “Salim, look out!”

At her warning, Salim dove out of the way of a brute attempting to crush him with his club.  Though he avoided harm, the shock from the attack sent the King Jinn flying against a nearby building.  Melody leapt into the fray, distracting the monster while Salim recovered.  As she attacked its backside, the monster turned to swat at her, but to no avail, thanks to Melody’s agility.  The brute roared in anger, but Melody confused him further by using one of Selena’s favorite techniques: duplicating herself into a dozen or more clones to surround the creature.

“Impressive,” Salim marveled as he picked himself up.  “I see you have been training.  The mirage attack is a difficult feat.”

Giggling, Melody replied, “Oh, this is far different from the mirage attack.”

The group of Melodies charged for the monster, which soon discovered each and every one of them to be real, and incredibly powerful.  Melody had managed to create physical clones of herself that, thanks to her immense focus, retained overall power of half that of the original Melody.  The brute swung its club and arms as best it could, taking out one or two of the clones and causing them to disappear in a puff of smoke, but was soon overwhelmed, falling dead to the ground from the multiple sword slashes it had to endure.

“And stay down!” Melody shouted, pulling herself together again.

“You, my dear, are nothing short of spectacular,” Salim marveled as he rejoined her.

“Thanks, but no time to celebrate yet,” Melody replied.  “We need to find Edward and put a stop to this.”

“Agreed.”

Mike, have you managed to track down Edward?

Silence.

Mike?  Mike, can you hear me?

Still nothing.  Melody was now worried for her husband.  Reaching out with her mind, she worked to sense his location, managing to pick up a faint signal out over the waters of the San Francisco Bay.  Concentrating with her all, she was able to pinpoint his location as Alcatraz Island.

“There he is!” she exclaimed, taking off at top speed.

“Wait, Melody!” Salim cautioned, but she was already gone.

Melody rocketed over the waters with scimitar at the ready, knowing Mike would need her help in confronting Edward.  Nearing the island, she spied the figures of Mike and Edward, both clad in fearsome-looking battle armor.  But as she was about to make her landing approach, she ran into an invisible barrier, stopping her dead in her tracks just before the shoreline.

“Mike!  Mike, are you ok?” she called to him.

“I’m fine, Melody.  I’m… I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about this, but this is the only way.”

“What are you talking about?” Melody asked, afraid of the answer.

“It’s me and Edward… to the death.  It’s the only way to keep him from hurting any more innocent people.  If I win, we stop the Antichrist.  If he wins… I go straight to Hell.”

“No!  You can’t!”

“It was the only way to get him to agree to the duel,” Mike replied.  “I love you, Melody.”

With tears in her eyes, Melody could barely choke out her reply.  “I love you, Mike.”

“Enough talk!” Edward roared.  “Are we going to do this or not?”

Drawing his sword, Mike replied, “You bet your ass.”

Mike, it’s Jesus.  We’ve begun charging the Armor of God up to full power.  The process should take about ten minutes.  At that time, you will be able to sever the connection between Edward and Lucifer.  Whatever you do, just stay alive until then.  Understand?

Got it.  Give me regular time updates, please.

Will do.

Removing his helmet, Edward tossed it aside, revealing his handsome face and flowing blonde hair once more.  “Take yours off too,” he said.  “I want to watch the life leave your eyes as I kill you.”

After only a moment’s hesitation, Mike tossed his helmet over to where Edward’s laid, the lion and the bull appearing to stare each other down.  Now wearing his typical grin of confidence, Mike pointed his hand towards the sky, summoning up a set of loudspeakers to float over the island.  The speakers soon began to blare the intense sounds of One-Winged Angel, one of Mike’s all-time favorite pieces of video game music.

“What the bloody hell are you doing?” Edward asked in exasperation.

“Just gettin’ psyched up for this,” Mike replied.  “It’s kind of fitting, after all.  You’re the Sephiroth to my Cloud Strife, the Bowser to my Mario, the Ganondorf to my Link.”

“Heheh… maybe so, but this isn’t a fucking video game, boy.”

“Lucky for you,” Mike shot back.  “If it were, you’d already be dead.”

Enraged by Mike’s insult, Edward rocketed forward at top speed, attempting to impale Mike on his Katana.

“Die!”

Mike defended by summoning his Shield of Faith, deflecting Edward’s blow and turning to face him as he passed.  Though he could have counterattacked, Mike was determined to be cautious, knowing that time was his friend in this battle.

“Gotta do better than that,” Mike warned.

“I plan to.”

Edward went on the offense once more, slashing with his katana from every direction.  Mike defended with ease, countering his blows and keeping himself in prime position with his precise footwork.  With their power levels equal, Mike knew that Edward’s rage would have to be his advantage.  Keeping his typical composed demeanor, Mike continued to block his slashes, giving ground where necessary to try and disrupt Edward’s momentum.  Soon, he began to see Edward’s strategy as they approached the large, circular hole in the ground that Edward’s army had emerged from.

Trying to push me to the edge… clever.

Realizing that he would need to go on the offensive to survive, Mike deflected another of Edward’s attacks before somersaulting over his head, attempting to attack his backside.  Edward was ready, using the superior length of his blade to lock Mike’s sword up long enough for Edward to turn to face him once more.  Mike could see the anger building in his eyes as his weapon began to ignite with searing hot flames.

Eight minutes left, Mike, Jesus said in his head.

On cue, the cross on the armor’s breastplate began to emit a faint glow, as well as a radiation-like energy as it powered up.  Mike was certain that this was the collateral damage that Jesus had mentioned before; each combatant’s armor was the only protection they had from the waves of energy.  Still, Edward seemed far too focused on Mike to notice.

“Yah!” Edward roared, swinging his fiery sword at Mike.  Drawing on the armor’s power, Mike evaded his attempts, being extra careful of the flaming trail left behind by the sword with each slash.

“Alright, try this on for size,” Mike replied.

Focusing his mind, he charged up his sword with the power of lightning, focusing all the power of the element into the blade.  His sword crackled and snapped with the sheer force of the energy it now contained, ready to obliterate anything it made contact with.  Mike now dashed around the island at the speed of sound, building up his momentum in the process.  Edward was more than ready, and turned himself intangible just as Mike attempted to run him through.

“So predictable.”

That’s right, toy with me, you bastard, Mike thought to himself.  You’re only helping me out.

Mike turned to face his rival, his sword still charged with power.  The two champions charged for each other at once, their blades locking into a furious stalemate in the process.  As they clashed, the energy of each of their weapons attempted to discharge into the other, but both men had enough willpower to force the invading energy back.  This energy began to bubble up around the pair, forming an enormous feedback loop of power, until the bubbles burst at the same time in a fantastic explosion, blowing both Mike and Edward back onto their backs.

“Holy… shit…” Mike panted, regaining his composure.

His lip bled a little, but other than that he looked no worse for the wear.  Looking around, he saw that both he and Edward had dropped their swords in the explosion, both weapons having flown to opposite sides of the island.

Six minutes left, Mike heard.  The cross began to glow brighter, continuing its journey towards full power.

“Alright then, let’s see how good he is without his sword.”

Mike launched himself straight for Edward, charging raw spiritual energy in his hands all the while.  Edward had just picked himself up off the ground and barely had time to assume a defensive stance as Mike approached him.  Managing to dodge Mike’s first tackle, he ignited his own fists with flames to counter.  The pair was soon embroiled in a heated bout of fisticuffs, attacking and redirecting at close range at blinding speeds.  Though Edward believed his superior height and reach would be his advantage, he soon discovered that Mike, despite his short stature, was not to be underestimated.  Thanks to his rigorous training under Michael, Mike had developed a unique style of hand-to-hand combat that involved rolling with his opponent’s momentum to redirect their attacks.  As such, he managed to keep Edward off balance, counterattacking with lighter, yet still damaging punches of his own.

Picking up on Mike’s technique, Edward decided to try and use his reach to greater effect, lunging forward and wrapping Mike in a bear hug.  Mike struggled for a few moments, but Edward’s grip was far too strong to break with the armor’s strength alone.  Thinking fast, he channeled the power of wind through the armor itself, spinning both Edward and himself around in a tornado as they rose into the air.  Edward hung on for dear life, but was soon flung off through sheer momentum, just managing to land his feet on the ground.  As Mike came back down, Edward continued his grappling, reaching for Mike’s throat to strangle him.  Mike was ready this time, and slapped his arms away with precision chops to Edward’s elbows.  Edward staggered, but soon recovered, resulting in the two champions’ hands locked together in a struggle of brute strength.

“Yes… yes that’s it,” Edward taunted him.  “Keep pushing, don’t give up.  That’ll make it all the more sweet… when you bow before my master’s throne!”

“That’s where… you’re wrong, Baldwin!  Even if you win… I will NEVER bow before Lucifer!”

Now drawing upon as much power as he was able, Mike’s entire body began to shimmer with a glowing blue light, symbolizing his immense will and spiritual determination.  As he and the armor began to synchronize their greatest energies, Edward started losing ground, being pushed back by Mike’s strength.  Edward responded in kind, trying to draw out the maximum amount of power from Lucifer that he could handle in his pre-Antichrist state.  A sinister black smoke began to envelope him, and his strength was once again on par with that of Mike’s.

Four minutes left!  Don’t give up; you’re more than halfway there!

While before the armor had only emitted a form of radiation, its power was now so great that it couldn’t be contained within the armor.  As such, the cross on Mike’s chest now began to spray sparks and small bolts of lightning every so often, randomly striking around him and scorching the ground with each flash.  This did not go unnoticed by Edward, piecing together Mike’s strategy.

“You sneaky little bugger… you’re trying to delay me, aren’t you?!”

Ah shit… he’s on to me.

Until this point, Mike had avoided allowing the battle to go airborne.  While Mike would have the advantage in aerial combat, the gaping hole in the ground from which Edward’s army had emerged from made this strategy risky; it gave Edward an easy target to try and direct Mike into.  But now that Edward had figured out Mike’s delay tactics, Mike saw little other choice.  Delivering a swift kick to Edward’s groin, Mike disengaged and took flight, summoning his sword back to his hand as he went.  The invisible barrier that he and Edward had erected prevented him from leaving the island, but extended upwards indefinitely, allowing for plenty of room to maneuver.

“Get back here!” Edward shouted, flying after Mike at top speed.

As Edward took off, he also summoned his katana back to his hand, tossing it at Mike as soon as he held it.  Mike weaved through the air, but the sword stayed right on his tail like a homing missile the whole time.  For a moment, Mike thought that he could use this to stall Edward out, but was soon proven wrong when Edward teleported in front of Mike, cutting him off as he was chased by the katana.  Mike tried to slow up, but to no avail, and was hit hard by a double-fisted overhead slam from Edward, who then deftly caught his katana and threw it once again after Mike.

Mike winced in pain from the blow, but had no time to lick his wounds.  Opening his eyes, he saw that he was now hurtling straight down towards the hole in the middle of Alcatraz Island.  Within the hole was not rock or lava as he had expected, but rather a portal resembling a black hole, from which seeped the same dark smoke that now enveloped Edward.  Slowing his descent, Mike could feel an invisible force trying to drag him downward into the portal, as well as an ominous voice.

If thou wilt worship me, all shall be thine…

Snorting, Mike resisted the pull of the vortex and stopped his fall just above ground level.  “Sorry, but it’s a little too hot for me down there.”

Then… thou shall surely perish…

Hearing something approaching him from above, Mike summoned his shield, blocking Edward’s katana in its attempt to skewer him.  Still, the sword flew on, circling around for another pass.  Drawing his own sword, Mike tossed it into the air, causing it to lock with Edward’s blade in a stalemate.

“Enough!” Edward roared, rocketing down from above in an attempt to tackle Mike and send him through the portal below him.

“Argh!” Mike grunted, struggling against Edward’s momentum with all his might.

“Stop trying to resist… this is destiny!  Yours and mine!” Edward growled.

Two minutes, Mike.

“I… don’t… believe in destiny!” Mike shouted, launching himself upward just as he was about to be drawn into the portal, separating him from Edward in midair.  “God gave both of us our lives, Baldwin.  He gave us the power to choose what path we take.”

“Pathetic dribble from an archaic deity!” Edward sneered in defiance.

“Oh, really?” Mike replied.  “Look at yourself.  For all your jawing about destiny and fate, you’re still trying to control something that can’t be controlled.  Sure, Lucifer may be helping you.  Hell, he may even need you, for now.  But what happens when he doesn’t need you any longer?”

“That won’t happen!” Edward shot back.  “I am his prophet, destined to rule this world and bring glory to his name!  All shall know the great Lucifer as their savior!”

Mike defended against an enraged haymaker from Edward, catching his arm and gripping him into a chokehold.  Edward struggled, trying to summon up more power, but was maxed out in his purely mortal form.

One minute left!

Holding on tight, Mike whispered to Edward, “Listen to me, and listen well.  I think deep down, you know the truth about your master.  Lucifer has, through his entire existence, done nothing but use others as tools to further himself.  There isn’t a single individual he’s worked with that he hasn’t betrayed in some way.  What makes you any different?”

“Shut up… shut up… SHUT UP!”

“I’m not finished!” Mike growled, twisting Edward’s arm tighter.  “Edward, you are standing at the edge of the abyss.  One more step, and it’s oblivion for you… for eternity.  But here’s the crazy thing about God and Jesus… it’s still not to late.  Even you, with all the evil you’ve done, can still have a chance at redemption.  If that’s what you want… I’ll help you.”

Now beginning to laugh, Edward replied, “You’re seriously going to waste your breath with THAT spiel?!”

Thirty seconds!

“It’s who I am… I had to know I at least made an attempt.”

“Pathetic.”

In their exchange, Mike inadvertently loosened his grip a bit, feeling disheartened that Edward had rebuffed his offer.  Edward pounced on this, breaking free and summoning his sword to his hand.  With a pair of punches to the gut, he knocked the wind out of Mike and tackled him to the ground, landing at the edge of the crater.

Fifteen seconds!

Edward straddled Mike, pinning him down with all his strength.  Mike attempted to get Edward off of him with a blast of energy from his hand, but Edward was too quick, swatting his arm down to the ground.  Taking his katana in hand, Edward pressed the blade to Mike’s throat, drawing the first drops of blood from his victim.  Mike struggled with all he had, feeling the intense heat of the sword against his skin, but to no avail; he was at Edward’s mercy.

“So long, Mike.  It’s been fun,” Edward said.

No… no, no, no.  I won’t let it end like this!  There’s got to be something I can do… I just need more time.  Wait… time!  Could that work?  It’s got to; it’s my only chance…

As Edward prepared to slit Mike’s throat, Mike concentrated with every ounce of will he could muster, praying that the Armor of God was powerful enough to affect time, even the smallest bit.  At first, nothing appeared to happen, but as Mike opened his eyes, he saw that Edward’s mouth, curling into a smile, had slowed down to a snail’s pace.

“It worked!” he screamed, still wincing in pain from the sword at his throat.

Mike knew he hadn’t a moment to lose.  Racking his brain, he remembered that the Sword of the Spirit was a part of the armor itself, and had to be under the same rules of time change as the rest of the armor.  Slipping his hand out from Edward’s grip, Mike’s sword flew into his palm as fast as it ever had.  Though the pain at his throat was intense, Mike knew he was in the clear if he could just get Edward off of him.  With every bit of strength he had, Mike slammed the flat, hammer-like pommel of the sword into Edward’s forehead, throwing him backwards as time returned to normal.

“What the fuck?!” Edward screamed in rage and confusion.

“If you thought that was bad, then you’re really gonna hate this,” Mike replied, his voice raspy from the cut on his throat.

NOW!

At that moment, the Armor of God pulsed with a surge of power, the cross on the Breastplate of Righteousness shining as bright as the sun.  Despite the incredible amount of energy, Mike felt in complete control of it all; it was as if he held the power of God Himself in the palm of his hands.  Wasting no time, Mike faced Edward, ready to unleash the full power of God upon Lucifer’s champion.

“AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!” Edward screamed in fury, charging for Mike with his katana raised overhead.

Mike gave no reply, not even in his facial expressions.  Drawing the armor’s full power into the cross on the breastplate, he fired off a beam of white light into Edward’s chest.  The holy power stopped Edward dead in his tracks, coursing through his body and purifying his spirit.  When all was said and done, the Armor of God fell silent, its power level returning to normal as Mike and Edward stared each other down.

“Well?  That the best you got?  Come on then!” Edward jeered.

Mike said nothing, merely sheathing his sword on his back in reply.

“I said COME ON!!!”

“It’s over,” Mike said, ignoring the pain in his throat.

“Over?!  The bloody hell are you talking about?!”

Shaking his head at Edward’s boasting, Mike replied, “I’ve just severed the connection between Lucifer and yourself.  You will never become the Antichrist now.”

At first staring in disbelief, Edward soon cracked his signature grin, saying, “You’re fucking bluffing, mate.”

“Am I?  Your power is decreasing with every breath you take, Baldwin.  By now… you aren’t even a challenge to me anymore.”

“We’ll see about that.”

Edward face curled into a sneer as he charged, attempting to impale Mike on his sword.  But Mike merely grabbed the blade with his hand, twisting it in just the right way to loosen it from Edward’s grip and toss it aside.  Now barehanded, Edward swung a haymaker at Mike, who caught Edward’s fist in his hand, causing Edward’s eyes to widen in shock.  Try as he might, Edward could no longer draw strength from his master.  Having had enough, Mike kept a firm grip on Edward with his left hand while punching him twice in the gut with his right before finishing him with a hook across the jaw.  Edward landed hard on the ground, his face bloodied and bruised.  He coughed and hacked, spewing up a few spurts of blood, along with a couple of teeth.

“Mike!”

Looking up, Mike saw his wife flying towards him, the barrier around the island having dissipated following Edward’s defeat.

“Melody!”

The couple embraced in a tight hug.  They said nothing, simply enjoying the warmth of each other’s touch once more.  After a few minutes, they parted, allowing Melody to see Mike’s injuries.

“Holy shit, you’re hurt!”

“Ah, it was worth it,” Mike replied.

“Here, let me fix that for you.”

Cupping his face in her hands, Melody drew her husband close and kissed his lips, pouring her magic into him in the process.  Mike had never felt more powerful in his entire life, and that included the incredible surge of power he had felt from the Armor of God a moment before.  As they separated, Mike could tell that his injuries had healed.

“How’s that feel?” Melody asked with a wink.

“Which one?  My body or the kiss?”

Laughing, she slapped his chest in reply.

“MURDERER!”

Mike and Melody turned at the voice and found Selena straddling Edward, her scimitar at his throat.

“Selena, don’t!” Mike shouted, rushing forward.

“This is for Farzan!” Selena screamed, tears streaming down her cheeks.  As she raised her sword overhead to strike, her wrist was suddenly caught by Mike’s hand.

“Selena, please don’t do this,” Mike pleaded.

“Stay out of this, Mike,” Selena seethed in anger.  “This piece of garbage must face justice.”

“And he will, Selena.  I can promise you that.  But this isn’t justice, and you know it.”

Selena said nothing, but still struggled against his grip, trying to break free.  Mike knelt down before her and stared her straight in the eyes.

“Selena… do you remember the day we met?”

Stunned by his question, Selena’s arm fell loose by her side, remembering that afternoon so many years ago.

“How… how could I forget?”

“Do you remember what I told you?  The story about my ex?”

Nodding, she replied, “You held such power over her.  She would have done anything to be with you again, and you could have made her.  You controlled her fate… yet chose to do the right thing, acting in the interest of the greatest good possible.”

“Exactly,” Mike said.  “Selena, you called me that day a person of ‘outstanding moral fiber.’  I didn’t know then what you meant by that, but in my years together with Melody, I’ve found the answer.  It doesn’t mean being perfect; that’s impossible.  But it does mean that we have to always act and decide as best we can with the information we have available.  We have to try to do the greatest amount of good possible, based on what we know.  Selena, you know, just as well as I do, that this isn’t justice, it’s revenge.  You know just as well as I do that if you go through with this, you’ll be starting down a path of self-destruction.  Above all, you know that this is not what Farzan would want.”

Selena said nothing in reply, shaking her head in trying to reconcile everything Mike was saying to her.

“Selena,” Mike continued, “There are so many things you know for sure in this situation.  Now, you have to make a choice.  It’s your turn to prove that you also are an individual of outstanding moral fiber.  You know the decision you have to make, and you know what will result in the greatest amount of good.”  Standing, Mike said, “If you’re hell-bent on taking your revenge… I won’t stop you.  But deep down, you know that taking revenge won’t change anything.  It won’t bring Farzan back, and it won’t ease your pain.”

Looking down at the pathetic shell of a man that was Edward Baldwin, Selena saw what he had been reduced to.  He was beaten, bloodied, crying, and helpless, now completely at her mercy.  As much as she despised him for all the pain and suffering he had caused, this was not the man that had killed Farzan.  That man had already been destroyed at Mike’s hand, reduced to this state, his true nature, that of a sniveling coward.  Still, she felt the irresistible urge to strike him down once and for all.  A part of her believed that she would be doing the world a great service in doing so.

Do it, she heard a strange voice say.  He deserves it.  He deserves this and so much more.  You have the power… you are justified… do it.  End it now…

“You are a monster,” she spat at Edward, seething with righteous anger.  “You deserve to suffer for your crimes, not only against me, but against all Mankind.  Nothing would please me more than to choke the life out of you in this very moment.”

Raising her scimitar overhead, Selena’s hand trembled as she gripped her weapon.  As she was about to plunge the blade into Edward’s throat, she took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and threw her sword across the battlefield.

“But I won’t.  I hate what you are.  I despise what you stand for.  For all of the evil you have done, I refuse to become… a monster like you.”

Putting on as brave a face as she could, Selena stood and walked towards Mike and Melody, now joined by the remainder of the Council of Four.  Finally unleashing her anguish, she wept again and again as her friends gathered around her to console her.  At the end of the day, she knew she had done the right thing.

“Oh, Selena… I had such high hopes for you…” came a deep British voice.

The group turned to see a man standing between them and Edward.  He was tall, slender, and would have been considered handsome by any standard, with his medium-length blonde hair and clean-shaven face, were it not for the look of depravity in his eyes.  He wore nothing but black, and was dressed in a Mao suit, giving him a powerful, commanding presence despite his slender frame.  Melody and the Council of Four had no clue as to whom this man was or where he had come from, but Mike and Edward knew all too well.

“M-master…” Edward croaked from the ground.  “You… are here!  I knew you would come!  The time… is now!  We can do it… we can… fulfill our vision!”

My vision, Baldwin,” the man corrected him.  “You have had ample opportunity for it to be our vision, and you have failed me at every turn.  It is true that I needed you.  After all, I had invested far too much time and effort into you to start again from scratch.  Still, one must always know when the battle is lost.  It is basic risk management; salvage what one can, and melt down what one cannot.”

“Master?” Edward said, his voice a mixture of confusion and fear.

“We had a contract, Baldwin.  I upheld my end, gave you nearly unlimited power, even allowed you to command my forces.  Still, your own incompetence did you in, and as such, our agreement is null and void.”

“No… no, no, no Master, we can still do it!  I just need… more time!”

“I’m afraid the time is up.”

With a snap of his fingers, the black portal within the crater began to emit a number of tentacles made smoking black energy.  They crept from the hole in the ground, making their way towards Edward’s broken body.  His eyes grew wide with sheer terror as they approached; in those final moments, he wished that Selena had killed him after all.

“No… no, no it cannot end this way!  No!  NO!  MAAAAAAASTERRRRRR!!!”

His cries were silenced as the tentacles drug him kicking and screaming into the portal, a thick sheet of rock covering the area where the crater once was.  To all who saw it, it appeared that nothing had ever happened on Alcatraz Island that day.

“What a waste…” the man sighed as he turned his attention to Mike.  “Mr. Braxton.”

“Lucifer,” Mike replied.

“I suppose congratulations are in order,” Lucifer said politely.

“Yeah, right,” Mike replied, drawing his sword.

“Oh, relax.  I’m not here to start a full-scale war, boy,” Lucifer replied with a chuckle.  “I must admit that you have caused me a significant amount of grief and annoyance.  Yet oddly enough, I find your efforts to be… quite impressive.  It is such a tragedy that you and I could never see eye-to-eye.”

“That didn’t stop you from trying to flip me there in the end.”

“Oh that?  Yes, that’s standard operating procedure, just as it was for you to offer Edward a chance at redemption.  In truth, I had no expectation that you would accept, but no harm in trying,” Lucifer replied with a shrug.

“You can’t scare us,” Melody said, moving to stand beside her husband.  “We know all about you.  You have no true power here.”

“I’m quite sure you do, young lady,” Lucifer said.  “Yes, Jesus does quite the job of educating His citizens as to my true nature.  This body, powerful as it may be, is merely the shell within which I can interact with the mortal world.  My soul, as it were, remains trapped in Hell, bound in the Ninth Circle to suffer for eternity.  Still, as endless as the torture my soul endures is, my mind cannot be beaten.  Ah, but I digress, I believe I am beginning to ramble.”

Lucifer began to circle around the Braxtons, prowling the area to get a better look at the rest of the group that dared to oppose his will.

“Now, as for you, I must express my extreme disappointment,” Lucifer said, pointing at the Council of Four.  “You are not God’s chosen people, so why side with Him?  He has always forsaken you and your kind.  His children have grown to shun you as demons, creatures that are never to be trusted or spoken of.  Why defend them?  What have they done to deserve such kindness?”

“Nothing,” Salim said.  “But that is not the point.  Humans may fear our kind, or they may think of us as myths, but that did not change the pain and suffering they were faced with.  Humans are imperfect beings, but they do not deserve the fate they would experience under your rule.”

“Ah, compassion… such a useless emotion,” Lucifer mused.  “As for you, my girl,” he continued, standing face-to-face with Selena, “I had hoped for more from you.  After Edward killed your husband, I saw in your heart the potential for ultimate power.  I saw in you a potential Antichrist the likes of which Edward could never dream of becoming.  You came so close.  I only wish you could comprehend the magnitude of power you very nearly attained.”

“Be silent, foul creature.  I have no regrets,” Selena said with defiance.

“Of that I am certain.  Which is why I now have no other choice,” Lucifer said, walking to place distance between him and the Council.  “These humans, pathetic as they may be, are still under God’s protection from my direct power.  You, however, are under no such protection.  You were given an opportunity to pledge your loyalty to the Kingdom of Hell, and you refused.  Such refusal and defiance can be met with only one reply: extinction.”

Lucifer’s body began to glow bright red as he burst into flames, summoning up an enormous amount of power.  Taking a deep breath, his eyes ignited, scorching the entire area with the fires of Hell itself.  Finally, Lucifer took aim at the Council of Four, opening his mouth to unleash a stream of intense fire, enough to completely engulf all four of them.

“NO!” Melody cried.

Mike attempted to leap between his friends and the stream of fire, but the sheer force of the blast knocked him backwards, landing him on his ass.  As he opened his eyes, the heat had dissipated, leaving nothing but a smoldering cloud before him.  But as the smoke cleared, he was stunned to see not four figures, but five figures still standing.  In front of the Council of Four, a man stood tall, shielding the group with a pair of enormous wings.  Once the flames had stopped, the wings parted to reveal their owner.

“Michael,” Lucifer marveled.  “It is pleasant to see you again, my old friend.”

“Verily, the feeling is not mutual, Lucifer,” Michael replied.

“Of course, of course.  That whole Fall From Grace thing, right?  I assume your presence here means that God has altered the terms of our agreement?”

“Indeed,” Michael replied.  “These magical creatures have chosen of their own accord to assist God’s children in their most desperate hour of need.  They were under no compulsion to do so, yet aided them all the same.  Some of their members even gave up their very existences in the name of protecting Mankind.  Such an act of selflessness has not gone unnoticed by the Father.”

“Oh, posh,” Lucifer scoffed.  “These creatures have no loyalty to God.”

“In His eyes, it matters not,” Michael answered.  “You shall do them no harm, for if you do, you will face my full and complete wrath.  These words are direct from the lips of God the Almighty Himself.  As mighty as thou were once, thou knowest precisely the outcome of any quarrel that may be between us.”

“Yes… you always were stronger,” Lucifer conceded.  Turning to Mike, he said, “You and your friends are exceedingly lucky.  You do realize that, yes?”

“You call it luck.  We call it determined,” Mike replied.

“Be that as it may, celebrate your little victory.  You and I both know the truth, of course, Mr. Braxton.  You have only bought Mankind a temporary respite.  The End of Days will come, sooner or later.  It is only a matter of when.  I am patient.  And on that glorious day, my patience will be rewarded at long last.  I shall rule over God’s Creation, and all God’s people will know me… as their savior.”

Shaking his head, Mike said, “You’re right… the End of Days will come, sooner or later.  It’s only a matter of time.  But your mistake is thinking that the End of Days means victory for you.  If Melody and I had failed to stop Edward, I know exactly what would have happened next.  Sure, you would have had control over Earth for a little while, many people would die, but in the end… you would still have failed.  God never gives up on His children, and if it comes down to it, He will fight for them.  And I think we both know who would win that fight.  Lucifer, the End of Days doesn’t mean the end of Mankind’s days.  It means the end of yours.  As you said, it’s only a matter of time.”

Snorting at his words, Lucifer turned on his heel and walked away from the group, disappearing in a burst of flame as he went.  Mike relaxed and knew that it was finally over.  He collapsed to his knees, thanking God, and happy to feel his wife’s soft fingers stroking his hair.  Kissing her hand, he gazed up into her beautiful emerald eyes.

“You ready to go?” she asked.

“More than ever.”

*****

“Chloe… Chloe, are you alright?”

“I… think so…”

Sam and Chloe Bradley held each other in a tight embrace, unsure of what they had just witnessed.  San Francisco had been crumbling around them, being attacked by a trio of monstrous creatures.  Sam could also have sworn he had seen two different armies battling it out in the city streets below him.  To top it all off, he and his wife had just been threatened and were almost killed by a mysterious man in black armor, claiming he was destined to rule the world.  Still, Sam couldn’t be sure that any of this was real at all.

“Hello, Mr. President.”

Sam spun around, his adrenaline pumping, and attempted to shield his wife from the unknown person speaking to him.  Opening his eyes, he was stunned to see a pair of men standing before him, one a young man clad in silver armor, the other an exceedingly handsome man in a dark suit.

“Who… who are you?”

“My name is Mike.  This is Michael, my friend and associate,” the man in silver armor said.  “Mr. President, everything you’ve seen today has been real, though I doubt you know what any of it means.”

Sighing, he replied, “At this point, all I care about is my wife’s safety.”

“And she is safe now; you both are,” Mike said.  “Mr. President, I have a story to tell you.  You will find it fantastic, maybe unbelievable, but I want you to hear me out all the way to the end.  Can you do that for me?”

“Of course.”

Mike began to relate to Sam the recent events and actions of Edward Baldwin and his attempts to become the Antichrist.  He told Sam of the existence of magical creatures, the efforts of the Council of Four, and their struggle to resist Edward’s power and influence, throwing everything they had against him.  Through it all, Sam sat quietly, taking in everything Mike was telling him.

“Wow… that’s pretty incredible if true,” Sam said once he had finished.

“And it is true, sir.  That I promise you.”

“So, why are you telling me all of this?”

“You see,” Mike continued, “the Council of Four was only one player in the battle to stop the Antichrist.  Michael and I represent the other player involved in all of this.  You know what that means, don’t you?”

“Well, I know what the logical answer is… but wouldn’t that mean…”

Nodding, Mike said, “We are representative of God’s Kingdom in Heaven.”

Sam sat back in the desk chair in shock, working to comprehend everything he had learned in the last few minutes.  A part of him doubted that this was real, but he knew what he had experienced earlier that day; in his heart, Sam knew that these events were all too real.

“Mr. President, we have a specific reason for telling you these things,” Mike said.  “As you have seen, the world has been through such a difficult time.  Thousands of innocents have died, and their families are in mourning.  To make matters worse, many believe that the world is coming to an end, having seen the monsters attacking San Francisco.  God has informed me that He does have it within His power to erase or alter the memories of the world in regards to these events, sparing them from the painful memories of this battle today.  If their memories are altered, the world will only remember this tragedy as the worst earthquake San Francisco has ever seen, rather than an event that almost ended the world.  Still, I have enormous reservations about altering memories and messing with free will, which is why I want to ask your opinion.  At least in regards to the American public, you know the people better than anyone.  What do you think they would want, Mr. President?”

Sam considered Mike’s proposal for several minutes.  He knew that many might want to forget the events of the last twenty-four hours, but a small part of him told him that this wasn’t the best thing to do.

“I… can’t in good conscience recommend that you erase anyone’s memories.  As good as the intentions may be, it’s too dangerous.  I think we have to keep things as they are, and Mankind has to deal with the repercussions of the events of today.  I want to thank the magical creatures you told me about for taking on the biggest threat we have ever faced.  Now that I know of their existence, it seems only right that I reach out to them in a gesture of peace and gratitude.”

Grinning, Mike replied, “Thank you.  You’ve confirmed everything I was already thinking.  We will not erase anyone’s memories.  I would caution you against making it public knowledge that the End of Days did almost happen, though.  We don’t want to incite mass hysteria.  There will be conspiracies, of course, but long-term, humans are resilient.  They’ll bounce back from this.  As to wanting to thank the tribes of the Jinn, I’d be happy to introduce you, though I would again recommend keeping the knowledge their existence between only yourself and perhaps your most trusted Cabinet member.  Something akin to Area 51, if you catch my drift.”

Chuckling, Sam nodded in understanding.

These are strange times… but it looks like things are going to work out for the best.

*****

“Are you sure you will not stay longer?” Ardashir asked.

“As much as we would love to, our job is done,” Melody replied.

“What will you do now?” Nadir asked Mike.

“Me?  Oh, I’m hanging up the armor… I’ve had enough of war.  Besides, its power is immense, too much to be left in the hands of a human.  Once we get home, the Armor of God is going right back where it belongs; locked up in the armory, under heavy guard,” Mike answered.

“I understand,” Ardashir sighed.  “Still, you will at least stay for our victory feast, won’t you?  We must thank you for everything you have done.”

“Well… I guess we can stick around.  I’m never one to turn down free food,” Mike said with a smirk.

“Splendid!  I am given to understand that the American President will also be attending,” Ardashir replied.  “I have met with him a couple of times, brilliant man, that one is.  He has some fantastic ideas on how our nations can share information in the future to ensure the safety of all our peoples.  We are even considering appointing an emissary to work with the President, under the guise of being an intern, of course.”

“Are you sure that’s wise?  Gifting a servant genie to an office of rotating individuals?” Melody asked.

“It would be quite unwise, were it a servant genie,” Ardashir replied with a grin.  “No, our emissary would be a Major Genie, able to be trusted with the deepest secrets of our tribes as well as of the Americans, with their ultimate loyalty to the Council of Four.  Such an emissary would not be beholden to any foreign government in any way.  Perhaps one day… our existence can be made public knowledge once more, but for now, this is the best method of collaboration, I believe.  Ah, but enough talk of business.  We have a celebration to prepare for!”

With excited agreement, the group began making their way towards the banquet hall to assist with the preparations.

*****

Selena paced around her quarters, still conflicted, but more at peace than she had been at any time since Farzan’s death.  Walking over to the window, she gazed out of the northern tower that she had relocated the royal chambers to upon being named Queen of the Water Jinn.  She had a perfect view of the statue of Farzan, his warm smile always of comfort to her.

“We did it, my love,” she whispered.  “I only wish… the cost had not been so high…”

As she stood there in deep thought, a soft knock came at her door.

“Come,” she replied, composing herself.

“Good evening, Queen Selena,” Salim said, stepping through the door.

“King Salim, good evening.  To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“We have finished executing the last will and testament of King Farzan,” he replied.  “Most of it was quite standard, his wealth and treasures to be donated to the general treasury and so forth.  However, there were a few individual items with rather specific instructions attached to them.  This, for example.”

Taking her hand gently, Salim handed Selena an object wrapped in a silk drawstring bag.

“What is this?” Selena inquired.

“I do not know, but I do know that I have received one as well,” Salim replied, pulling his out of his pants pocket.  “These two had specific instructions to be given to you and me, and for us to open them together.”

Giggling, Selena said, “It sounds as if my beloved Farzan is playing some sort of game with us.”

“Perhaps so!” Salim agreed with a laugh.  “In any case, shall we?”

“Of course.”

Sitting on a nearby sofa, Selena gently opened her bag, withdrawing from it a beautiful blue sapphire.  The stone was smooth and polished, yet had a jagged cut on one side, indicating that half of the stone was missing.

“Interesting… why would he leave me half of a sapphire?” Selena wondered.

“Perhaps because… he left the other half for me,” Salim replied, removing the second half from his bag.

Taking both pieces in her hands, Selena began to inspect them.  “These are the precise halves of the same stone.  Look, you can tell by the shape of the cut.”

“Well then, let us try rejoining them together.”

As they drew the two halves close, they felt a magnetic attraction between the two pieces.  The stones flew out of their hands and latched together, forming a beautiful round sapphire the size of a tangerine.  The stone fell to the cushion between them and began to shine with a brilliant blue light.  A tiny blue flame soon appeared above the sapphire, leaping from the stone and to the center of the room.  The fire soon began to grow, forming itself into an image of King Farzan the Wise.

“What is this?” Selena wondered in awe as the image began to speak.

“My beloved Selena.  Salim, my best friend.  If you are seeing this message, it is because our efforts to stop Edward Baldwin have resulted in my demise.  I am very sorry for the pain that I am sure this has caused you.  However, the words that I must now speak to you are far too important to not be conveyed, even in death.

“Selena, know that my love for you is boundless, but also know that there is none more suited to lead our people into the future than yourself.  I know that you have had doubts as to your place in this world, but believe me when I say that I trust you with the lives of all our people.  You were born to lead; you need only have faith in yourself.  My only wish for you… is for you to know the love that this world still has to give, even in my passing.  I love you, and it is because I love you that I do not want my death to tear you apart… as Ahmad’s did.  Never forget either of us… but also, never surrender to fear and depression.

“Salim, not a day has gone by that I have not felt enormous pride in being able to call you my best friend.  A poor boy, thrust into leadership well before he was ready, taking over for King Mohammed, the most powerful Jinn of all time… it seemed that the odds were forever stacked against you.  Yet you still managed to rise to the occasion.  I must admit that I did feel a responsibility to mentor you as you adjusted to the power that had been placed upon your shoulders, but not because I felt sorry for you.  No, I took you under my wing because I saw in you the same spirit of dedication and resolve that was present within your father.  All you needed was the proper conduit to bring that potential out to its fullest.  And now, you have the chance to do the same.  To pay it forward, as the humans often say.

“Selena, if there is anyone who can understand the pain and loss you have felt not once, but twice in your life, it is Salim.  Lean on him, for he will be able to guide you through these dark times.  Salim, there is not a being in all the tribes that cares for our people more than Selena does.  She will make mistakes as she learns to anticipate their needs, but she will never give up on them.  If the two of you trust me… then trust in each other.  The future is in your hands.  Where it leads in the end is up to you.”

The pair sat in stunned silence as Farzan’s message ended.  Salim sat breathless from his friend’s words of wisdom, and Selena could no longer hold back her tears.  Now, she did not cry tears of sorrow, but tears of thankfulness and hope.  After several minutes, she managed to dry her eyes and turned to Salim.

“So… where do we go from here?  I have no clue.”

“I do,” Salim replied with a grin.  Walking over to the corner of her chambers, Salim waved his hands, projecting a point of red light onto the wall, which eventually sustained itself in a concentrated spot of magical energy.  “When Farzan began to mentor me, he created a portal between our two homes, ensuring that we could commune with each other anytime we needed.  I have done the same for you today.  You now have a standing invitation to my quarters anytime you wish.  Whatever you need, be it council, motivation, or a friend to listen, that is what I will be for you, as Farzan was for me.”

“Salim… I don’t know what to say.”

“Then say nothing.  You needn’t know how I can help you here and now; that will come in time,” Salim said.  “I have no doubts in your leadership, and I will in no way force myself upon you.  This gesture today is a simple reminder that I will always be there to lend any aid I can, anytime, anywhere.”

“Thank you,” Selena said with a smile.

“You are welcome.  I will leave you in peace now.  I am sure that you have much on your mind.  Until next time, Queen Selena.”

“Safe travels, King Salim.”

Salim bowed as he departed, closing the door behind him.  Alone once more, Selena again began to pace around her chambers.  Now, however, she felt somewhat excited at the possibilities her future held.  Picking up the sapphire from the sofa, she placed it on her dresser next to her jewelry box.  Staring at the beautiful stone, she grasped the necklace around her neck, her wedding gift from Farzan.  She had not had the strength to remove it since his passing, but now felt at ease with everything that had happened.  Lifting the chain over her head, she cradled the pendant in her hand, gazing into the small yet brilliant sapphire.

“Never will I forget you, my love.”

Selena laid the necklace on her dresser as well, encircling the large sapphire with it.  Feeling courageous, she opened her jewelry box and withdrew a pair of half-moon earrings, her favorite gift from Ahmad all those many years ago.  Ever since his death, she had not been able to look at them without welling up with tears, yet today, they gave her more hope than she had ever felt in her life.  Deciding to display them with pride, she placed them along either side of Farzan’s pendant, adorning her dresser in the most wonderful way she could have ever imagined.  She strolled around her chambers once more, deep in thought, before arriving at the window overlooking the central courtyard.  With a deep sigh, Selena began to wonder what her fate would be in the end.  The answers managed to escape her, as it seemed they always would.  Gazing out the window, she wondered if perhaps only Farzan, with his warm, radiant smile, knew for sure.

*****

“Ok, I’m off!  See you tonight, Melody!”

“Bye, baby!  Have a great day!”

Melody kissed her husband, embracing him for no less than thirty seconds before releasing him to leave for work.  After a final pat on his ass, she sent him on his way, closing the door to their mansion behind him.  Mike took a few steps before leaping into the air, flying at high speeds across the Kingdom of Heaven.  In the distance, he could see the various buildings and landmarks of the center of the kingdom: the Gardens of Peace, the River of Growth, and the Armory, just to name a few.  All led inward towards the high central tower, the eternal home of the Father and Son.  Nearing his destination, Mike landed outside of the office building named “Guardian Angels.”  Entering the large building, Mike strolled through the vast lobby, greeting his coworkers as he went.  Arriving at the transportation pad, he was teleported to the top floor of the building.  Now inside the main work area of the Observation Division, he checked in with several workers shutting down their workstations and about to go off the clock.

“Anything exciting for me?” Mike asked.

“Well, we did pick up on a potential target of Lucifer’s.  Thought you’d want to look into it, boss,” one person said.

“Thanks.  I’ll check it out,” Mike replied, taking the sheet of paper with him.  He then took a seat at his desk, powered up his workstation, and waited for it to establish full connection with Earth.  Once it was finished, a hologram of the planet appeared before him.

“Did the night shift give you the info?” a sweet female voice asked from behind him.

Turning, Mike answered, “Sure did, Darcy.  They said it was someone being targeted by Lucifer.  How far along are we talking?”

“Not long,” Darcy replied.  “First contact has been made, but nothing more.  I doubt this individual even knows who it is that’s been contacting them yet.”

Turning back to his desk, Mike entered the information and pulled up the profile of the person in question.  “Well, whadaya know… Satoshi Watanabe.  Tell ya what, Lucifer’s got balls tryin’ to go after Hiro’s own son.  Shouldn’t be an issue though.  I’ll plant a message into Selena’s subconscious; she’ll take care of the rest.”

“So, you aren’t worried?” Darcy asked.

“Not in the least,” Mike said with a grin.  “Satoshi may be going through a rebellious phase right now, but there’s no way he’d do the things Lucifer wants him to do, not with the way the world has changed after the San Francisco Tragedy.”

“True,” Darcy agreed, taking a seat at her desk next to Mike’s.  “President Bradley did one hell of a job making sure the world understood the gravity of those events.  I mean, for every belief system on Earth, religious, philosophical, and scientific alike to unanimously agree that there was a Hell and its ruler was responsible for the San Francisco Tragedy, nobody could have predicted that Mankind would unite like that.  Score one for the conspiracy theorists.”

“Oh, that reminds me!” Mike said, snapping his fingers.  “President Bradley just got nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.  I mean, it took them long enough, he’s only been out of office for fifteen years.”

Giggling, Darcy replied, “Yeah, but you know how they like to drag their feet.”

Turning his attention back to his workstation, Mike rotated the globe before him and zoomed in on the Rub’ al Khali, eventually finding Selena’s location.  Dawn was just beginning to break in that part of the world, and she was still fast asleep in bed.  After entering his security clearance code, Mike began the uplink to connect to Selena’s subconscious mind.  As with all matters of a person’s subliminal thoughts, a simple message was always best.  After a moment’s thought, Mike placed the information within the recesses of her mind.

Help Satoshi Watanabe.

Watching her for a few minutes, her continued peaceful sleep indicated that the message had been delivered.  Soon, she began to stir, until she was snapped awake by a startling event of some sort.  His curiosity now peaked, Mike expanded the scope of his observations to watch the scene unfold.

“SURPRISE!!!” three boys shouted, bursting into Selena’s bedroom.

Selena replied, “Oh my, what is all this?”

“Happy Anniversary Mommy and Daddy!” the boys cheered, piling on the bed to hug their mother.

“You remembered?!  My love, can you believe it?!” Selena marveled with a radiant smile.

“Well of course they remembered!” Salim remarked, sitting up in bed.  “After all, what do you take them for?  Human?”

“Here you go,” the oldest boy said.  “We made this ourselves.  We’ve been working really hard on this spell.”

Looking at the tag on the wrapping paper, Selena read aloud, “‘To the most loving mother and father in the world, from Farzan, Ahmad, and Mohammed’.  Oh, you boys are going to make your mother cry!”

Tearing off the wrapping paper, Selena and Salim inspected the triangular piece of brass they now held.

“We made it using our magic,” Ahmad, the middle child said.  “Metalworking is hard, but we’ve been practicing.”

“I can see,” Salim said, rumpling his son’s hair.  “You boys did a wonderful job!”

The triangular piece of artwork was quite large, about eighteen inches on each side.  In the very center of the picture stood Selena and Salim, wrapped in each other’s arms.  Surrounding the pair, about halfway between the center and the points of the triangle, were their three sons.  Finally, at the points of the triangles were the faces of the namesakes of each of the sons, King Farzan, General Ahmad, and King Mohammed.

“This… is the most wonderful gift you could have ever given us,” Selena said breathlessly.  “Thank you so much.”

“We love you, Mommy,” said Mohammed, the youngest of the trio.  “And like Daddy always says: ‘We can’t forget our history, because history doesn’t forget us’.  Is that right, Daddy?”

“That is exactly right, my boy!” Salim replied, beaming with pride.  “Now then, as special as today is, what say the five of us eat a special grand breakfast?”

As the boys cheered their reply, Mike ended his viewing of their morning, blown away by the life Selena had managed to live since the loss of Farzan.  She had first developed trust with Salim as friends and compatriots, only beginning to fall in love once that relationship was unbreakable, and even then allowing love to blossom naturally, rather than with uncontrollable passion.  Through this, she ended up being happier and more fulfilled in the last twenty-three years of her life than in all the millennia preceding.  Mike soon rotated the globe once more, coming to rest in San Francisco and zooming in on Satoshi Watanabe.

“You suck, Dad!” the boy shouted in anger.  “You’re always too busy with all these random people you don’t even know, throwing away all your money on them!  That’s my inheritance!”

“Hush, Satoshi,” Hiro replied calmly.  “You don’t understand why these people need my help so.”

“Enough with the lectures, old man!  I’m outta here!”

Mike watched as Satoshi slammed the door behind him as he stormed out, running down the street of their neighborhood.  Despite his protests of his father’s charitable donations, Satoshi had never wanted for anything, being well set up for his future thanks to Hiro’s wise investments.  However, such distinctions went way over the head of the immature nineteen year old.  As he walked the streets of San Francisco, he continued to wallow in self-pity, furious that his dad would decrease his own son’s future inheritance, all in the name of helping a bunch of people who were hurt by something Satoshi wasn’t even alive for.  Arriving at a large park, the boy stopped in front of the large bronze statue in the center, depicting three hideous monsters being beaten back by the San Francisco Police Department.  On the base were inscribed the words “NEVER FORGET.”

It is meaningless… a forgotten relic.

Looking around, Satoshi could have sworn he had heard a person whisper those words to him, but the area he stood in was empty.  Dismissing it as his imagination, he soon felt the presence of another whisper, softer than the one from before.

Trust in your father…

Snorting, Satoshi mumbled to himself, “Trust in my father… what the hell has Hiro Watanabe done for anyone anyway?”

“More than you could ever realize,” came a raspy voice.

Looking around, Satoshi was surprised to see a man of around sixty years of age standing a few feet behind him.

“I’m… I’m sorry, I thought I was alone,” Satoshi stuttered.

“Ah, don’t worry about it.  I’ve seen you around.  You’re Hiro’s boy, aren’t you?”

Satoshi sighed in frustration.  “Apparently ‘Hiro’s boy’ is all I’ll ever be known as.”

“I think we both know that’s not true,” the man replied with a smirk.  “But even if it were, would that really be such a bad thing?  Hiro is one of the greatest men on the planet, after all.”

“That’s just what the media says,” Satoshi shot back.  “You have no idea what it’s like being in his shadow.  You don’t live with him.”

“No, I don’t live with him.  I live because of him.”

“W-what do you mean?”

“I lost my wife and both my sons in the San Francisco Tragedy.  I was almost killed myself, laid trapped under a pile of rubble for two days before they dug me out,” the man said.  “Hiro saved me.  No, he didn’t dig me out, but by the time I was out, my ribs had been broken so bad that the doctor gave me only a week to live.  But your father, he refused to give up on me or anyone else who was hurt in those events.  I don’t pretend to understand exactly what he did, but I know that he used his expertise in robotics to craft a new ribcage for me, building it just in time for the doctors to save my life.”

“That’s good, I suppose,” Satoshi replied, still unsure of where this man was going with his story.

“I didn’t think so at the time,” he sighed.  “A part of me wished I had died in that pile of rubble, so that I could be with my wife and sons again.  I hated your father for quite a long time after that, but that all changed about thirteen years ago.  On the tenth anniversary of the San Francisco Tragedy, President Bradley hosted a gathering of all those who had lost loved ones from it.  I went, mainly because of the food.  While the party was going on, the President’s daughter, Cassie, went into her first asthma attack ever; no doctors had detected it within her first ten years.  Nobody knew what was happening at that time, but I knew all too well; my boy had a similar scare when he was seven.  Since that day, I always kept a rescue inhaler on me… even after my son died.  Turns out, the poor girl’s lungs were damn close to failing that night.  Doctor said she’d have been dead if it weren’t for me.”

Satoshi listened in silent awe of the man’s story.  “What… what are you trying to say?”

“My point is that I had wished for years that your father hadn’t saved me.  That I had died along with my family.  I blamed him for years for my loneliness.  For all I know, Hiro was supposed to save me, all so that I could save the President’s daughter one day.  Son, this life don’t always deal us a fair hand; ask anyone, they’ll tell you the same.  Still, everyone has something going for them, and your father is a hell of a good thing for you, whether you realize it or not.  I’m sure he can be a pain, but every decision that man has made in his life has been with a purpose.  I see no reason to think he’d be any different with his own son.”

Nodding, Satoshi began to realize that the stranger was right.  “I guess… I’ve been a real brat,” he said with a sigh.

“It’s part of growing up,” the stranger said with a laugh.  “But now, you recognize it.  Your father loves you kid.  There ain’t much in this life you can take for granted, but that’s one of ‘em.”

“Thanks,” Satoshi said with a smile.

Mike zoomed out, ending his observations of Satoshi.  Relaxing back in his desk chair, he smiled with a contented sigh, feeling comforted by the images he had witnessed that day.  Selena had come through just as he thought she would, sending a competing subliminal message to Satoshi and nudging the man in the park in his direction, allowing him to tell Satoshi his story.  Noticing his relaxation, Darcy turned with an inquisitive look on her face.

“Any trouble on the Lucifer front?” she asked.

Chuckling, Mike replied, “Nope.  No way in hell is he gettin’ his hooks in that boy.”

After watching a quick recap of the events Mike had witnessed, Darcy saw exactly what he meant.  “Wow… he grew up really fast in a short amount of time,” she marveled.  “Why would Lucifer target him?  I mean I know he’s a rebellious teenager, but seriously?”

“Pride,” Mike said.  “He’s still butthurt over losing with Edward, and thought he could prove a point by seducing Hiro’s son.  Would have been a helluva notch in his belt.  He’ll keep getting more and more desperate, but it won’t work.  The way the world has turned in the last couple of decades, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s thousands of years before he could come anywhere close to finding another Antichrist.”

“Sounds about right,” Darcy mused.

So it went for the rest of the day.  Expected work for the most part, checking on people in particular emotional distress or pain, nudging families on the verge of breaking in a healing direction, pretty normal occurrences.  Finally, as the day came to an end, Mike shut down his workstation and waved goodbye to Darcy for the evening.  As he exited the building, he decided to walk for a bit, passing by the training fields as he went.

“Mike!”

Turning towards the voice, Mike replied, “Michael!  How goes it?”

“It goes very well, my friend.  Still, I feel it would be going much better if you had accepted the position of Chief Drill Instructor for our forces,” the Archangel said.

“As I said before, I’m flattered, but I’m content with my quiet office job,” Mike answered.

“Of course.  Still, if you ever change your mind…”

“I’ll know right where to find you.  Take care!”

Taking to the air for his journey home, Mike checked in with his wife.

I’m heading home, Melody.  Gonna be a bit late, though.  It’s Granddaddy’s birthday, so I want to stop in and say hi.  Keep dinner warm for me!

Will do.  Just don’t be too late.  I may have a little… surprise… waiting for you tonight.

You naughty girl…

Always, and only for you.

Chuckling at his wife’s insatiable creativity, Mike adjusted course towards his Granddaddy’s house and accelerated to top speed, flying towards the setting sun in the distance.

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