Cassandra Morrison was at the park, waiting for the rest of her friends to arrive. The smell of the freshly clipped grass beneath her feet was thick in the air, almost to the point of being smothering. The sky above was overcast, and the air had that telltale, nearly damp feel to it that meant it was going to rain.
She wasn’t bothered in the slightest.
She didn’t mind that it was chilly out, or that her toes were going numb from the cold. It didn’t matter that her nose was stuffy from the cold she was probably catching. Today was Tuesday, a Game day, and she treasured each moment.
Granted, every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday were Game days, but that didn’t make them any less special. Game days were the only days she ever got to see her friends, and the park was the only place they could ever play the Game without passers by giving them funny looks. Game days were the only days she looked forward to during the week, and every single moment of them was sacred.
At that particular sacred moment, she was trying to beat her friend Cam senseless with the wooden sword she’d made.
“Die, monster!” she shrieked, going for his shoulder. Since Sandra was just under a foot shorter than he was, it was more difficult than she’d imagined.
Cam didn’t even bother moving out of the way. He simply crossed his arms and let the wooden blade bounce off. “Pfft,” he said. “Pathetic. Mine’s way better.”
He pulled out his own sword from its specially made sheath and Sandra had to agree. It was better. She stopped hitting him. “That’s only ’cause your dad got it for you,” she said.
Cam grinned, displaying a row of very bright teeth. “Jealous?”
“No,” she said a tad too defensively, tucking her sword into the belt she’d borrowed from her own father. She looked up at the sky, using her hand as a visor. Despite the lack of sunshine, it was painfully bright out. But thick, gray clouds were moving in over the lighter ones. The rain would start up any minute.
“What time did Matt say he would get here?”
Cam looked up at the clouds too. “I don’t remember.”
They stood there for a few more minutes, staring up at the sky. Just as she was about to suggest they go hide beneath a tree for cover, Matt arrived. He looked like Cam, Sandra thought. They were both tall (by her standards, at least), both had black hair, and had similar facial features. The only real difference she could see was that Matty was a touch on the chubby side.
“Sorry I’m late, guys,” he said, trotting up the hill. “Gabe’s been keeping me busy. Chores. You know.”
They nodded in sympathy. They both knew brothers. They both knew Gabe, specifically, and they all knew chores.
“Oh, hang on a sec.” Matt turned and waved up at the sky. It began to drizzle. “Almost forgot. Sorry. The job, you know? Has Pen shown up yet? Or Azzy?”
“Not yet,” said Sandra. She zipped up her jacket and tried tucking her hands into the sleeves. The rain was light right now, but she knew sooner or later she’d be soaked through and miserable. “I hope they get here soon, though. Mom said I’ve gotta be home by six.” She looked over at the sword still in Cam’s hand. “Won’t the rain ruin that?”
Cam grinned and held the sword up. “Nope. That’s the upside of fancy toys.”
Sandra tried hitting him with her sword again. “Jerk.”
“Wh-who?” stuttered a small voice from behind. “M-m-me?”
She turned. The speaker was a shrimpy looking kid holding a notebook to his chest as though it were a shield. Despite the rain having started less than thirty seconds ago, his mop of black hair was already soaked. He held back from the trio, as though he was afraid they might bite.
“No,” said Sandra gently. “Not you, Pen.”
“Oh-k-kay. J-just ch-ch-checking.”
Matt went over and wrapped an arm around Pen’s shoulders. He was about a head taller than Pen, so he had to slouch a bit to do so. “We were just talkin’ about you and Azzy,” he said, walking Pen over to the group. “D’you know when he’ll get here?”
Pen shook his head. Raindrops dotted his glasses. “N-no. He d-d-didn’t s-sa-ay.”
“Let’s just get started without him,” said Sandra. “Some people here have a curfew. He can join in later.”
The others shrugged or nodded in agreement and Cam started up the meeting.
“Okay,” he said in the best serious voice he could manage. “The Order of the Badassiel will start. . . now. First chair Cam presiding. Scribe,” he pointed to Pen, “where did we leave off in the illustrious fight against evil last time?”
Pen opened his book and flipped through the notes he’d taken. “Uh, P-Prince-ess C-cassamoria von N-nightshade—” Sandra gave a little curtsy, which wound up fairly awkward since she wasn’t wearing a dress “—was a-at the evil Captain Ruberb’s fortress, f-fighting off the undead hordes.”
Pen’s stutter, as always, lightened up a tad when he started talking about the Game. Sandra put it down to nerves or, as the case may be, the lack of nerves.
“You and M-matt,” he went on, “are still on th-that tornado farm w-with the wind walkers. I’m st-still in the dungeon from last T-Tuesday, writing down what you guys are d-doing through psychic visions.”
That bit hadn’t actually been part of the Game. After the third time Cam had to tell Pen to quit writing (“because medieval prisoners don’t get to write”) they wound up putting it in for simplicity’s sake. Pen was one of those people who always wrote no matter what they were doing.
Cam clapped his hands. “Alrighty folks,” he said. “Places.” And the Game began.
The Game wasn’t coherent. At least not to anybody who hadn’t been there from the start. Sandra couldn’t even remember how the little group had come to be, or what the Game had originated as. She was fairly certain it started off as a mixture of hopscotch and monopoly that had gotten out of hand. Now it was a needlessly complicated and circuitous storyline with ten different plots that were only tangentially related with hundreds of characters that everyone took turns playing.
It was quite fun in a senseless, lawless, hit-Cam-with-a-sword sort of way.
They had played for nearly an hour before Azzy finally arrived. Princess Cassamoria was just about to execute the dragon lord (a role Cam had taken on since the other Cass couldn’t be there that day) when a blackbird in a tree near Pen dropped to the ground, dead.
“Hey, guys,” said Azzy a second later. He was leaning against the tree, the dead bird at his feet. “Sorry I’m late.”
“What happened?” asked Matt. He stopped fighting the invisible skeletal pirates.
Azzy shrugged. “The usual. Pretty nasty earthquake, though. I had to get Michael to cover for me. So where are we at?” Azzy put his stuff near the tree while the others filled him in, making sure not to disturb the dead bird. After that was done, he took up his role as the dark lord Mondream, ruler of the zombie horde and the Game continued.
Another hour passed. People died (though death didn’t mean much in a game where anyone could be resurrected “’cause Azzy said so”), battles waged, and somehow they had moved from the soccer field to the picnic area of the park (the tables, Cam said, made for great mountains). Just as Pen was starting to get bored of being in prison and was asking for a shot at killing zombies, there was a brilliant flash of light.
The Game came to an abrupt halt and everyone went very silent.
The light faded, leaving a tall, stern looking man standing in the damp grass. Sandra, on the whole, did not like Gabriel. She considered him to be a show off and she disliked the way he treated Pen and Azzy.
For one thing, he was taller than any of the players, intentionally so. The others always made sure to keep themselves around a more play-friendly size so as not to cause a fuss. Gabe never bothered. His pale blond hair floated around his head like a halo, and his clothes—as always—were much cleaner than any of the players’ were. Cam had confided to Sandra once that just standing next to Gabe was enough to make you feel dirty by comparison. Even his wings were a radiant shade of white that was very nearly glowing. Privately, Sandra thought this was rather too much, even for him. Especially considering that she knew for a fact he could put them away like Cam and the rest did.
He was also one of those people with a personality so strong that anyone else close by suddenly felt very meek and ashamed. Gabriel looked at the players coolly, his arms crossed, his iris free eyes glowing white.
“Camael,” he said in a voice that put Sandra in the mind of volcanoes and earthquakes and positively reeked of grown-up disdain. “Matriel. Our father requests the presence of his sons immediately.” He glanced at Pen and Azzy, who both looked like they were trying to shrink themselves out of sight. “Most of his sons, that is.”
If she hadn’t been so busy being emotionally squashed by Gabriel’s dislike, Sandra would have been outraged. He didn’t have to be so rude about it. Heck, Azrael wasn’t even fallen, technically. He was just a freelancer who made people nervous.
Matt sneezed. It might have been her imagination, but Sandra could’ve sworn the rain around Gabriel got a little thicker. He ruffled his feathers, scattering drops of water. “Matriel,” he said in a much more normal sounding voice, “turn off this blasted weather, will you?”
“Can’t,” Matt muttered. “It’s gotta make it to three inches by Thursday.”
“Bye, guys,” said Cam. He tucked his sword into its fireproof sheath, making sure not to look at anyone. The flames extinguished on contact.
“See you Thursday?” Sandra whispered when he passed by.
“I’ll bring Castiel,” he whispered back, still keeping his head down.
Once Matt and Cam were standing beside him, Gabriel lifted up his hand and a brilliant white light engulfed the trio. It was gone in less than a second, as were they. Absently, Sandra wondered why angels even had wings if they never really got to use them, then put it down to a vanity thing. Wings were pretty neat, after all.
Penemue and Azrael were looking a little sick. They were always nervous after seeing one of their favored brothers who wasn’t in on the Game. Sandra tried to be cheerful, for their sake.
“Ah well, there’s always Thursday,” she said. “Cam says he’s bringing the other Cass along too. We can take up where we left off on the space adventure one. That okay with you guys?”
They nodded, still looking at the spot where Cam and Matt had been only a few seconds ago. For a while, nobody said anything.
Azrael was the first to break the silence. “Well, guys, I really have to go now. I don’t want Michael getting into trouble for covering me.”
He gave Pen a quick hug, then went over to the tree where he’d left his scythe and duffel bag. He gave a little wave goodbye, and then, without moving in any way Sandra could see, disappeared. One second he was there, the next, he’d just fallen out of existence. She wasn’t surprised in the least: death was always there-and-gone like that.
It was still raining.
“Hey, Pen,” she said. “You gonna be alright?”
Penemue nodded. He was looking at the dead bird Azzy had left behind. Sandra patted him on the shoulder. She knew how much he missed his brothers. Not all of the favored were as open minded as Cam and Matt when it came to being true-blue fallen like he was.
“Look,” she said. “I’ll see you on Thursday, okay? You can be Commander Zorg, if you want. With the ray gun and everything.” It didn’t work. Pen still looked depressed. She tried again. “Mom says she’s gonna make cookies for us.”
He perked up a bit at that, but still looked rather downhearted.
“She said they’ll be chocolate and peanut butter.”
That got him.
“Ch-ch-chunky?” he said. She could tell he was trying not to smile.
“Extra chunky,” she promised.
Pen grinned and, for a split-second, the world went fuzzy. With a sound very much like the shuffling of pages, Penemue vanished.
Sandra smiled and looked up at the sky. Despite the rain, it was still fairly bright out. The sun shone through the clouds and two rainbows, nearly on top of each other, spread across the sky. She took it to be a good sign. She tucked her toy sword into the belt loop, tucked her hands into her jacket pockets, then started off towards home.
Cassandra was not like the others. She was one hundred percent human, all the way through. As such, she had to make do with walking home in the rain.
It didn’t bother her in the slightest.