FICTION Pillar of Fire 9 – Egress

It was like standing next to Niagara Falls or at least an underground cylindrical Niagara Falls. A dark, brackish, mud pushed through the upper opening with a wet splop and slapped against the ground and the lower opening. Silty water followed directly behind roaring and blasting from the ceiling above.

The two monstrosities slowed their charge to a hesitant, probing advance. My sight dimmed a little as Shadow reacted and then calmed. Thank God for small favors.

“Now what?” I yelled as loud as I could.

“What?” Gabriel yelled back.

This went on for too long. Comically so. So many questions. How deep did that hole go? Given an unlimited source of water, how long does it take to fill an elaborate, man-made network of tunnels? How far would the water reach? Would it inundate everything below sea level, more or less? How many people were still in the tunnels? Talk about collateral damage. The metro would take forever to recover. Most of all, how was I going to not drown and/or get eaten by hell hounds? That was actually the burning question in my mind at the time.

“Hey look, a fish!”

Gabriel pointed at me and pointed at the hole in the tunnel floor. Aw, hells no. He repeated the gesture emphatically. I crossed my arms in defiance. He shook his head in disappointment, glanced at Lily, and she picked up our unconscious prisoner and threw him into the waterfall and down the hole without a second thought. She looked at Gabriel with a “What?” Shoulder shrug.

Gabriel held his flaming staff up into the gushing, ersatz waterfall and it vaporized before hitting the floor. The resultant steam was definitely about to be a problem. Lily, showing her usual initiative pushed me into the hole. I may or may not have screamed. The details are unimportant. I fell through wet, panicky darkness, figuring I’d get stuck at some point and drown unceremoniously with lungs full of murky stank water.

Darkness.

When I came to I was on the sopping floor in a large, cavernous space. It wasn’t an entirely natural cavern. It looked to be buttressed and braced. It was dark and dank but there were dim lights space along the walls and ceiling. Someone made this or was in the process of making it. Lily was next to me, nudging me with her booted foot. Her prisoner was on the ground next to her looking worse for wear and more crumpled than before but surprisingly it looked like he was still breathing. Other than that, he was definitely not having a good day. Serves him right.  That waterfall sound was there but distant and not as strong as before.

I said, “Where’s Gabriel?”

She gestured upward with a tilt of her head.

It was kind of a glorious sight. From a hole in the ceiling a faint glow grew ever stronger until I had to squint. There was a blaze of fire light, then Gabriel with his glowing, burning blue-white staff held above him. Like a comet or a falling star. Shafts of brilliant light streaked through a halo of steam lighting the tunnel like a rock concert. A torrent of illuminated water like liquid light chased him from above, a reverse geyser, and evaporated before it touched him. Faint rainbows blinked in and out of existence in the cavern.

I said, “Whoa.”

I pulled my phone from deep inside a jacket pocket and held it up to take a shot. Lily gave me side eye. I gave her a “you know you want to, too” shrug in response. She looked away and pulled out her phone, too.

“Don’t say a word,” she said.

Gabriel stuck the landing and rolled. 10.0 for level of difficulty. He ran toward us and without breaking his stride he said, “Let’s move.”

We ran.

Gabriel said, “Lily?”

She answered, “I called it in. It’s taken care of.”

“Beg pardon?” I panted.

Lily, carrying her prisoner once more said, “I called in a plumber to plug that leak.”

I said, “Oh. Good move. I was kind of worried about that.”

All of the questions I had about that were postponed in lieu of running and trying with partial and exponentially decreasing success to breathe. We went on like that until we crossed far beyond the borders of my comfort zone. When we finally did stop I noticed for the first time that the tunnel was no longer the natural man-made hybrid of the cavern we dropped into. It was growing more developed and civilized. The walls ceilings and floor were smooth, pale concrete. There were large steel doors every fifty yards or so with no handles, levers, or knobs on our side of the doors.

“What is this? An unfinished subway tunnel?” I asked.

Lily pointed to a spot on the wall ahead and said, “Something like that.”

It was a Presidential seal. In fact, there were various seals and possibly sigils over each door or bulkhead. I didn’t know what they meant, though. DC is strewn with symbolic imagery, symbology, geometry and geography. It’s as innocent or sinister as you want it to be. Your mileage may vary.

Lily stepped in front of the door and placed a palm flat against it. We heard a soft whisper and a beep. The indented doorway slid back smoothly revealing a much more formidable steel door that you’d see in a futuristic a bank vault fit for a global superpower.

“Damn. Who are you?” I said, trying not to look stunned or impressed.

She ignored the question and said, “We have a few minutes. It only opens from the inside.”

“Is it just me or is it strangely convenient that we fell into a tunnel leading us to this – Scooby Doo-like Hall of mystery?” I said.

“Not a coincidence,” Gabriel said. “A contingency. Besides, they have these all over the city.”

“State secrets,” Lily said.

“So I assume someone saw a cosmic beam of energy shoot from the middle of the Potomac River. There’s probably a kayaker or two paddling for their lives fighting  a whirlpool and freaking the heck out right about now,” I said.

Gabriel said, “Well, that’s kind of the problem. That little fireworks display I put on back there makes a big noise. It’s unique. This staff is one of a kind.”

I said, “So? Isn’t that good? Display of raw power. Shock and awe. Gabriel’s in town. Back the eff off.”

“It’s not exactly mine,” Gabriel said, almost sheepishly. “I borrowed it.”

Lily laughed out loud. “Oh my God! You stole it.”

Gabriel made a noncommittal gesture of assent. Lily’s laughter ceased and changed into a grim expression.

She said, “And that fireworks display is like a beacon. And if the Home Office is open for business again.”

I said, “Somebody’s going to want their fire stick back.”

“Pretty much,” Gabriel said. “Another reason why I restrain myself. But I guess that cat’s out of the bag. Things are about to get – complicated.”

I said, “Okay. So now what?”

Lily said, “I’ve got to get this sack of garbage back to HQ. He has some ‘splainin’ to do.”

Her God Killer Squad prisoner was still limp as that proverbial sack of garbage. He hadn’t stirred or made a peep since Rosslyn.

I said, “Are you sure he’s still alive? I’m no medical professional but he’s looking extra-unconscious.”

She said, “Doesn’t really matter. We’ll get what we need.”

She actually winked at me when she said it, sending a shiver through me. That might’ve been the creepiest thing that happened that day. And sexiest. Hey, you would agree if you had been there. I didn’t even want to know more at that point. I was done. I just wanted sleep. And a burger. In the opposite order.

Gabriel said, “Let’s get them both back there. Maybe your people can figure out something.”

“Then what?” Lily said.

“Then I find the sisters and get some answers. They said something big was coming. I think they know more than they’ve told us.”

We settled into an expectant silence, nursing our wounds, and regrouping; digesting the insanity the day fed us and anxious about what’s to come.

A metallic hiss broke the silence. A few digital beeps later the massive door began its opening sequence.

Interlude: Eighteen Months Later

There are times I’m disappointed with humanity. You’d think with all of the technological, medical, and social advances we’d learn. Man’s inhumanity against – well, everything, really. We’re better than we were in so many ways. We’re worse than we were in too many others.

We hope that humankind would evolve into something better.

The world’s gotten harder, more bitter, more fearful, more tense. There are pockets of light; oases of peace, harmony and altruism. There are givers. They are outnumbered.

Then one day it hit me. Which is the height of canine evolution? Is it the domesticated dog or the untamed wolf?

Who is better at surviving adversity? The pacifists or the warmongers? The diplomatic mediators or the ambitious, opportunistic brutes? The cooperative collective or the marauding hordes?

As long as humans flourish domestic dogs will flourish. Domestic dogs have never been on the cusp of extinction. But when humans fall, our beloved gentle, understanding companions will seek their inner wolves until only wolves are left.

The Home Office is reopening. Or to put it another way, the heavens are opening. The wait is excruciating. A year and a half ago the sound of the lock being turned changed the world. Now the creak of the gates is an omnipresent countdown in the background of our daily lives and every day something slips through the crack. Things we can’t perceive. Things we barely comprehend. A day, a week, ten more years, a thousand years? No one knows but I guarantee it’s much sooner than later.

There’s no mistaking the signs. There’s no going back. The world has changed. Secrets and knowledge lost and buried in the darkness of our archetypal collective conscious are bubbling to the surface. Emissaries and envoys sit in rooms with brokers of power and world leaders negotiating, dealing, compromising, sacrificing, lying.

Humanity is on the verge of going feral and the timing couldn’t be worse. When the time comes, when I have to choose, I’ll be a wolf. Not a lapdog.

That is something these assholes don’t understand. I don’t even know what they want. My wallet and smartphone probably. I don’t mess with the smart contacts and implants. Not my style. Maybe they want my fingers or retina for bio fraud. I don’t care. Maybe they saw the slight limp and thought I’d be easy taking.

They’re too young but not too young to be vicious. Not too young to pillage. Young predators are the worst. While I’m regretting whatever circumstances and poor life choices brought us all to this moment, this nexus of fates, the alpha pulls a gun and sticks it in my face like he wants to put the barrel in my mouth like he saw in a movie once. He even manages to pull the trigger.

Blink.

I didn’t hear the shot. He’s screaming. His crew is running. His gun hits the ground to my left letting off a shot that ricochets off something and whines about it. His hand hits the ground to my right. His stump is bloody and ragged. He’s a tough one, though. He curses at me and I think he actually tries to curse me. Dangerous game. My skin feels prickly then hot. Interesting. He got his hands on something real or opened himself to something real and whatever it is recognizes me.

The thug passes out from shock and even though he’s unconscious the thing he invited into himself hisses my name with his mouth.

“Shadow.”

PREVIOUS EPISODES OF PILLAR OF FIRE:
PART 1 – GATHERING OF ANGELS
PART 2 – SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING HALOS
PART 3 – LILY
PART 4 – HOMELESS JOE
PART 5 – INFECTED
PART 6 – UNDEAD EXODUS
PART 7 – INTO THE UNDERWORLD
PART 8 – BAPTISM
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