It took a couple of hours to return to the cabin, and it was admittedly out of the way, but Gwen felt compelled to make the extra trip. They would stop in and check on the cabin so she could shake the strange twirl of foreboding that dangled in her ribcage. Archer was not one for arguing with her, so it hadn’t even been a discussion; had she felt the need to ask him, he would not have been the Archer she knew and their business would have come to a sudden conclusion. Their histories stretched for lifetimes, their paths were entwined long before her memory could trace back; over eons and lifetimes and galaxies, they danced a mercurial dance.
When they found nothing of concern at the cabin, she had hoped the feeling would go away. It did not, and she found herself chewing over the possible situations for something that had real merit, something she could actually voice to Archer to see if she was simply being paranoid. Gwen wasn’t above admitting that her lifestyle had its side-effects, and there was no benefit in ignoring symptoms.
She found herself standing at the bar in the den, a fire already lit to her side and the cork for the porrón already in her fist, her gaze locked ahead – staring out at the stormy twilight as it gobbled up what remained of the sunlight. Archer, stepping behind her to reach for two red wine glasses from the shelf, was silent; it wasn’t until she saw him choose between glasses that she realized she’d pulled out the Creators wine.
She supposed one glass wouldn’t hurt. It might give her time to think, to find the minute detail that she was only halfway picking up on. Time slowed incrementally as she poured the wine – she could feel the sluggishness in her muscles, she watched the dilatory motion of the liquid as it filled the glass. In the instants between moments, she could breathe – but more importantly, she could see. She had felt the lag in time before, in the car as she’d twisted the steering wheel with every iota of her strength, desperate not to hit him in an effort to save him. There was a flutter of movement in her peripheral vision. It could have been a curtain, a flash of firelight against a window pane, a trick of perception.
Her fingers released the porrón and it rattled distantly against the tabletop. She had already spun around, her extendable nunchakus gripped in her right hand, the chains stretching forward, the hooked blade at the edge latching into the demon’s shoulder.
It took one dedicated yank on the nunchaku for the demon to come flying toward them, its oil-black blood staining the wood floor. Without a word between them, with nothing but the whispers of movement as their communication, they timed the execution flawlessly. It was all simultaneous for her – one thought that enacted all of it.
Archer swung his machete, Gwen effortlessly ducked backward – her hair flying in golden arcs as his blade glittered silver in the dim light. They were pristine in that instant, Gwen could see it as if she were standing on the other side of the room. So clear, so concise. They moved symbiotically.
With a last burst of piceous blood, the demons’ head was severed from its body with a wet shink. The pieces crumpled to the ground, glittering onyx. The heap of flesh leaked a soot-colored puddle. A dead silence encompassed them. Archer was already observing her when she turned her eyes to him and for a long time they simply looked at each other.
There had always been rumors amongst the angelic community; whispers of kismet and favor and adventure. It was nothing more than a story she’d heard while traveling, over a fire pit that sparked and sizzled under a navy sky. But there, held under the weight of his gaze and with the rush of the unexpected hot in her veins, she almost believed the story.
She almost believed she was looking at one of the Chosen. The notion was difficult to shake off; it clung to her like cobwebs in the dark. Still, there was something so unlikely darting behind the crystal grey of his irises – something she was certain had always been there, but had never belonged.
She would figure that out later, she decided, and broke their eye contact to seek out the nearest cleansing grenade. First, she needed to get rid of the body, then she would address the new flood of questions. Everything was a process, she just needed to follow it and things would make sense in time. Clamping her teeth down on the pin to tug it out, she gently tossed the grenade to land beside the messy corpse. The timer flashed once, twice, three times, before the blinding whiteness exploded outward to encompass the entire room for a succession of heartbeats.
It stung a little, but she was used to it.