Season of Blood
The crimson ichor rained down in torrents. The Season of Blood was upon us, and all that it portended. Every year, for seven days, the angels go to war, fighting each other across the terrains of Heaven, and every year, for seven days, their cascading tsunamis of blood flood the entire city, submerging the streets in crimson rivers more than ten-feet deep. There must be googolplexes of the haloed bitches and winged bastards up there, dying at a rate of one million per second.
None of us know very much about the geography of Heaven, but the one thing we do know is that it has a lot of holes. The occasional fallen angel with life left in its brain is usually taken to the Tower downtown to visit the Interrogatrix. While being tortured they speak of things like vertical labyrinths, floating mountain ranges, and societies of cliff dwellers whose habitats lie face-to-face with one another over valleys that serve as mass graves. They say the entire realm is honeycombed with bottomless abysses for the blood to drain through. Bottomless to them, that is. Down here we know the truth. We're the bottom.
None of us know why they do it. Some of the fallen angels, while being tortured by the Interrogatrix, tell her it's a ritual. Others say it's a form of sacrifice. One motherfucker said it's God's personal form of entertainment.
In retrospect, it probably wasn't wise to build a city beneath Heaven.
I was perched in the eyrie of a bell tower, surveying the city below in much the same way that its founders had envisioned God would, guarding and protecting the metropolis of Chosen Ones with His omnipotence and His omniscience. Problem is, I'm not omnipotent. I have my superpowers, to be sure, but they have their limitations. Legally speaking, I'm not supposed to use them anymore anyways, but that's another story.
I looked out across our beloved city, with its looming lighthouses and tenebrous alleyways, its skyscraper churches and crippled sewers, its grand palaces and eroded tenements, its vertical labyrinths of ladders and stairways and elevators and balconies, its broken bridges and rusted monorails, its cantilevered bazaars where the blessed walk side-by-side with the damned, and the unfinished, mile-high Tower that serves as the nexus of the entire megalopolis.
Population: over seventeen billion.
Population Status: declining-rapidly.
The Season of Blood is also the Season of Crime, and New Babel's superhero team, the Avatars, are overworked and undermanned. You can literally get away with murder.
I watched the streets metamorphose into canals of gore. You can swim short distances in it, but it's a big city, and unless you've got the lung capacity of a demigod or a hooker you can't get very far. If you're rich, you own a yacht. If you're bourgeois, you own a ferry or a canoe. If you're poor, you're fucked. Some folks are a little more creative than others. One guy walks around on stilts. Another guy imported a submarine and scuba diving gear from Atlantis. Another crazy motherfucker uses the electrical wires like his own personal monorail. Walks 'em like tightropes. Rides 'em like pulleys. Uses 'em for catapults. Has the most uncanny sense of balance in the universe. He's got this aerodynamic cape and these jumping superpowers that let him glide from wire to wire, building to building, street to street. Wears a black rubber costume so he won't get electrocuted and a double-tubed breathing mask to keep the blood out of his face. Runs the wires like a fuckin' monkey all year long, whether it's raining blood or not.
That crazy motherfucker's me.
My supersaviour senses detected a potential crisis in an alleyway to my left. I flipped the dark, mirrored lenses in my giant goggles to a higher magnification, turned the wipers up two levels, and zeroed in on the alley. Stupid kids trying to surf in this shit again. Fuck 'em. I ain't no superhero. I ain't no Avatar. Not anymore.
I clicked my normal lenses back into place and turned around. I needed a fix, and I needed it soon. Gotta find an apothecary.
I adjusted my rubber cape and prepared to glide to a window on the other side of the street. I turned around instinctively to check on the kids. Old habits are hard to break. Sure enough, one of them was drowning. Predictable. Everything becomes predictable after a while. Whoever said history repeats itself was a genius. That's why I believe in reincarnation. I just wish I could believe in redemption.
As I watched the kid struggling against the vermilion tide I reminded myself I wasn't a superhero anymore. I was an ex-superhero. As in ex-communicated. Ex-iled. Ex-tinct. And one who needed a fix, at that. Still, my conscience was gnawing a hole in my fuckin' brain.
I used the tensile strength of the electric wire to catapult myself over two buildings, let the wind and my aerodynamic cape do the rest, and landed on a far-off rooftop. Two leaps and two windowsills later, I was almost down to street-level. The blood rushed through the street like redwater rapids, carrying the kid along like a piece of detritus. I reined him in with my lasso, pulled him onto the windowsill beside me, and removed the mouthpiece from my mask. A couple of minutes of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, maybe a little CPR and a touch of my healing superpowers, and the kid would be fine.
The thing about mouth-to-mouth during the Season of Blood is that it's a little gory. Under normal circumstances the kid would be coughing up water, now he was coughing up blood. With the blood shooting out of his mouth like a jet stream, it looked like he was vomiting the contents of his entire circulatory system.
The kid mumbled his thanks for saving his life, peering at me apprehensively.
"The next time you pull a stunt like that, I won't save you," I said. "Even if I'm on a balcony right above you, I'll spark a joint and watch your ass fuckin' drown."
"Thanks, man," he said, and then followed with the oldest cliché in history, superhero history at least. "How can I ever repay you?"
"You can't." It was cold, but it was the truth.
"Hey, aren't you...." he started.
"No. Not anymore."
The kid's friends sailed by in their canoe and dropped anchor. They were all looking at me like I was some kind of deity. Like I was an Avatar.
"Hey kid," I said. "You got any heroin?"
I laid back on my bed as the smack hit my veins. The syringe clattered to the floor. I closed the hidden patch in the left sleeve of my costume, then reached up and clicked my darkest lenses over my constricted eyes, sunglasses so black they made you blind. I slowly relaxed as the heroin coursed through my veins. The opium-visions started coming fast and hard, and I welcomed the hallucinations like they were old friends. I had a lot of shit to sort out, and all night to do it. So what if there was a robbery, an assault, a murder somewhere in the city? That wasn't my problem anymore. Let someone else handle it. My ass is retired.
I drifted into peaceful, dreamless, pleasant sleep. It was the most pleasant sleep I've ever had in my entire life.
I woke up in a hospital bed.
The first thing I noticed was that the blood was still raining outside. I just lay there for several minutes before I even opened my eyes, listening to the hypnotic tympani. The blood was coming down hard this year, harder than I could ever remember. It had started on Sunday the seventh. I'd o.d.ed on Wednesday the tenth, so the weeklong Season of Blood should be just about over. Too bad I missed most of it. I pried my eyelids apart and looked at the digital calendar on the wall.
It was the sixteenth.
What the fuck?
Thankfully, the doctors had allowed me to retain what shred of dignity I have left and "neglected" to remove my mask and costume. Superhero status-even ex-superhero status-has its advantages. The med-charts next to the hospital bed showed that I had been declared clinically dead on two separate occasions during my coma. Coming back from the dead is one of my superpowers.
After detaching myself from the various tubes stuck in my arms and down my throat, I used my superpowers of echolocation to find the hospital's pharmaceutical level, my superpowers of mass hypnosis to distract the guards and nurses, my superpowers of stealth to steal a shitload of morphine, my superpowers of burden-bearing to carry that shitload of morphine on my back, and my superpowers of ricochet to bounce around the windowless storage rooms until I broke through one of the solid steel walls.
I landed on a balcony, climbed a telephone pole, and navigated the electric wires to my tenement in the slums. It was a far cry from the fifteen thousand square-foot luxury suite I had in the Tower, but you gotta sleep somewhere. After a brief conversation with my landlord, during the course of which I learned it was him who had taken me to the hospital in his canoe, I headed straight for bed and shot up again. Some people never learn.
I kept feeding my vein every few hours until the twenty- first. It had been fourteen days since the Season of Blood began, and still the vermilion rainfall had not ceased. In fact, it was intensifying. Even in my near-catatonic state of stoned bliss and opium-visions, I was starting to get concerned. My own conscience pussy-whipped me again, like the bitch it was, and I eventually sobered up and emerged from my opium den to try and find out what the fuck was going on.
A few hours later, as I was walking the wires, my supersaviour senses started going crazy. I followed a stream of psychic vibrations to a vacant lot, or, more accurately, a lake of blood that had been a vacant lot, and spied a strange golden glow in the air. I slid my telescopic lenses over my eyes and zeroed in. It was a blonde man in a tattered white robe stuck to the gargantuan crimson web of a morae spider.
If you're thinking the spider web caught him like a safety net, think again. It caught him like a trawl of barbed wire. He was a bloody, broken-boned mess. His golden halo was still circling his head though, which meant he was still alive. He was a fallen angel, but there was something different about him, something familiar. I'd seen his face before in a long out-of-print book called The Bible. I read it once. The authors were complete hacks, but the pictures were pretty cool. One of them even reminded me of myself. I wondered if there'd ever be a sequel...
I sifted through my memories, trying to figure out who this busted-up motherfucker was. It took a couple of minutes, but when it hit me, it hit me like a sack of rocks.
Gabriel. The angel in the crimson spider web was Gabriel. And not just an angel. An archangel. No one had ever seen one of them before, and this one was still breathing.
I dropped into one of the balconies overlooking the lake of blood. A family of blood red, skull-sized morae spiders had spun crimson webs across the vacant lot, from building to building, and a pair of morae spiders converged on Gabriel from either side. I couldn't use my jumping superpowers to rescue him because I'd get caught in the webs. I did, however, possess another superpower that would do the trick.
Just as I was about to make my heroic rescue of the archangel, I heard a hiss from the corner of the balcony. In my exuberance, I had failed to notice the morae spider lurking in the shadows before me. It was squatting on the face of a still-living woman and pulling her jugular vein from her throat, inch-by-bloody-inch, like a scarlet thread. In seconds it had unraveled her circulatory system like a tapestry and swallowed it.
I heard another hiss and turned my head just in time to catch a morae spider with my face. It wrapped its legs around my head while I tried to pull it off. Its fangs punctured my rubber suit, trying to pierce my jugular vein.
I channeled the electricity stored in my suit through my hands and electrocuted the spider. It fell from my face to the floor of the balcony, sizzling like a freshly cooked steak. The other spider was already weaving a web from the veins and arteries it had pulled from the woman's body. I turned and spat a bolt of lightning from my mouth. The spider exploded like a bladder hit with a sledgehammer.
The dying angel was still suspended cruciform in the web. The other two morae spiders were within a few feet of him now and fixing to have themselves some dinner.
My superpowers of funambulation and equilibrium give me the ability to skim the surfaces of small bodies of water for short distances like a basilisk lizard. I used these superpowers and damn near glided across the lake of blood. Damn near got myself tangled up in the web when I came to a halt. The morae spiders were pulling Gabriel's blood vessels from his neck, preparing to cocoon him in his own circulatory system.
I grabbed Gabriel by the feet and pulled him from the spider web. His wings chose not to accompany him. The spiders smelled blood and converged upon his reflexively beating pinions, oblivious to the fact that the rest of their meal had been stolen. I skimmed back to the balcony and lowered Gabriel to the floor.
The unconscious archangel lay supine atop the gaping wounds where his wings had been torn from his back. Most people would have seen a tragedy of cosmic proportions. All I saw was a ticket back into the Avatars.
"He's a fucking archangel, and I killed eighty morae spiders to save his life," I shouted into the portable phone. I exaggerated a bit, but I'd do anything to get back into the Avatars. "How does this not redeem my ass? We have to get him into the Interrogatrix so she can make him sing before he dies. He knows why the blood isn't stopping; I can smell it. I'm tellin' you, Pete, the bastard is ready to God-damn sing, and when he does they'll have no choice but to reinstate me."
"Leave him on the steps of the Tower anonymously and go home. You've got twenty-eight charges of vigilantism against you. If you go back to the Tower, they might not let you out again. You know the policy on vigilantism."
"What the fuck do I care about policies anymore?"
"Because you're going to find yourself imprisoned if you don't stop."
"My ass is already imprisoned."
I slammed the phone against the wall of the bell tower I was perched in. It shattered into a million pieces. Just like my heart, I thought. Just like my soul.
I left his limp body on the stairs in front of the Tower. I started walking home, paused, and then pivoted on the electric wire.
I picked Gabriel back up, climbed the walls of the Tower, kicked in a bulletproof window, marched down the hallway, and burst into the Interrogatrix's room.
My ex-wife looked up from the naked man she was grilling. She hadn't changed a bit. Same steely eyes, same imperious lips, same austere face. Same skin-tight leather, same whip, and same chains as well.
"Messiah Man," she gasped. I thought I saw pain in her eyes, but the scars on my mind, body and soul told me otherwise. She only liked inflicting pain. She didn't go both ways.
"Mistress Magdalene," I replied coldly. I gazed over the familiar torture chamber. Some of the bloodstains on the floor, walls, ceiling and torture devices were my own. The man in the chair was one of my ex-partners, a renowned superhero in his own right: Red Judas. I wondered what he was suspected of. Looked like I was going to have a brother in excommunication soon. Maybe we could form an antihero team.
The Interrogatrix's eyelids narrowed as she spied the unconscious native of Heaven in my arms.
"It's an archangel," I told her. "Gabriel. He's almost dead. We need to grill him now."
The Interrogatrix freed Red Judas from the torture chair. He donned mask, cape and costume, and four guards escorted him from the room. I assumed he was headed for the penitentiary level. I'd probably be joining him shortly. Poor bastard was probably as innocent as I was. Probably got framed by the same son of a bitch, too, whoever that was. Maybe our first mission as an antihero team would be to find the traitor, cut off his genitals, and shove them up his ass.
The Interrogatrix stripped Gabriel, strapped him to the torture chair, and switched on the electricity. His eyes fluttered open.
There was an explosion down the hall in the direction Red Judas had been taken. The motherfucker had used his pyrokinetic powers to blow himself up, like a suicide bomber. He'd taken a couple of guards along with him.
After the medics swarmed to the scene and the commotion died down, the Interrogatrix began questioning the archangel, using her superpowers of persuasion to coax the truth from his bloody mouth.
"When is it going to end?" the Interrogatrix demanded. Her sonic and hypnotic superpowers echoed and ricocheted from the soundproof walls. She was a siren dominatrix and she could shatter glass, eardrums and bones with her voice.
"Never," Gabriel answered.
"Don't fuck with me," the Interrogatrix shouted, cracking her whip and placing her stiletto heel between his legs. The room was rapidly filling with the perfumes of her Delphic pheromones, subtle truth drugs that she emitted from her glands during interrogations. "Tell me when it's going to end."
"Never," Gabriel said again, flinching in anticipation of another lashing and adding, "It's not just the blood of angels now. It's flowing from an infinite source. It's going to rain blood for all eternity."
Gabriel didn't respond
I knew that what I saw and heard next would haunt me for the rest of my life.
"Because," the fallen angel cried, sobbing as golden tears ran down his face and his halo went cold and slowed to a stop.
"God committed suicide."
So, on account of the fact that the Season of Blood is now an eternity, and the blood of God is going to rain down on New Babel until the end of time, we need all the superheroes we can get to enforce justice and maintain the peace. The Tower is literally hiring people off the streets. Needless to say, considering the circumstances, I've been reinstated as an Avatar and exonerated of all charges, false, bullshit, or otherwise. I've got my old luxury suite back, and all the opium I can eat. It's a grotesque irony, but it took the death of God for my prayers to be answered. I'm Messiah Man again, and it's the dawn of a new age for the Avatars. The Era of Blood is upon is, and all that it portends.