Cara gave Raph a sideways look and motioned for him to follow her. “Come on, we haven’t got all night. You know how they get if you keep ‘em waiting.”
Raph pushed to his feet and followed her out the back door. “They’ll wait.” He said, staying close behind her as they walked down the dank, dimly-lit alley behind the bar.
Cara snorted. “What do you know, Raph? They’re only waiting because I told them to. You aren’t their leader anymore--I am!”
Raph sighed--he didn’t have the patience left for her posturing. “I don’t care.” He said tiredly, speeding past her at a brisk clip. Cara clattered on her heels behind him, trying to catch up and swearing loudly as her ankles nearly failed her.
Ignoring her, Raph shoved the same pile of debris and bottles that has always been there out of the way and uncovered the grate in the wall. Prying it open deftly, Raph dropped himself into the familiar sewer tunnel that lead to the gang’s hideout, landing on his feet with a splash that soaked his shoes completely. “You coming?” he asked, popping his head out to watch Cara as she stomped over.
“Shut up and get out of my way.” She huffed, slinging herself in beside him. The grate slammed shut with a dull clang behind them. “Let’s just get this over with.” She muttered darkly, skulking away from him further into the cramped tunnel.
Raph followed after her, stepping lightly to avoid any traps or pitfalls. Luckily for him, it didn’t look like Cara had bothered to change them up since his time. An oversight on her part, sure, but it worked out just fine for him.
His dress-shoes squelched in something disgusting and he skidded forward, waving his arms to maintain his balance. Grimacing, he made a mental note to change out of the damn suit as soon as the opportunity presented itself. He probably looked as gross as he felt--falling through an arcane portal to Hell would do that to a guy.
The tunnel stretching out in front of them began to widen, and soon opened up to a large cavern with three more tunnel entrances on the far wall. Cara veered towards the one on the left.
“That’s the wrong way.” Raph said quickly, glancing towards the path he’d always taken.
Cara rolled her eyes and kept walking. “You didn’t think we’d keep everything the same, did you?”
“I guess not,” Raph muttered under his breath.
Cara led him down an unfamiliar, twisting series of tunnels and corridors, stopping in the middle of one and pulling up a grate in the floor. “Watch your step,” she smirked before jumping down into darkness.
Raph followed, cautiously lowering himself down and only letting go of the ledge when his feet touched solid ground. He pulled the grate back in place and wiped his hands off on his suit jacket, looking around at the place he now stood in.
He let out a low whistle, impressed despite himself. “Nice.” He said, taking in the high ceilings of the rough, dark-stone cave. It was much bigger than their old hideout, which had been built into a forgotten section of the old sewer tunnels. There were mismatched sconces lighting up the room with flickering orange flames.
A long wooden table took up half of the room, and was surrounded by young demons sitting in an odd assortment of mismatched chairs. Raph silently wondered how they’d gotten a table that big all the way down here.
The kids began to stand up at their approach. “Raph?” A tall, thin boy with prematurely grey hair walked over. He looked Raph over with an expression of mock-confusion. “Wow, you’re a lot more…alive than I thought you’d be.”
Raph punched him on the shoulder lightly. “Nice to see you too, Allister.” Allister chuckled and rubbed at his shoulder. “Ow. Yeah. Nice isn’t the word I would’ve gone with. The hell did you get yourself into?”
A girl with pointed ears showing through her long dark hair came up behind Allister, draping herself over his shoulder and leaning heavily on him. “You mean what the hell did he get us all into, right, Alli? Hi Raph.”
It took Raph a second to place the girl’s face. He nearly did a double-take as he realized who she was. “Isabelle?!” he said, failing to hide the surprise in his voice. Her full lips pulled into a smirk that showed off a flash of fangs. That was her, alright. When Raph had last seen Isabelle she’d been a tiny, scrappy little thing, all adolescent angles and big, midnight blue eyes. She’d really grown up since he’d left the gang, and wasn’t hiding her hellhound features the way she’d used to.
“You totally didn’t recognize her!” Cara called accusatorily from her seat at the head of the table. Of course the chaise lounge was her seat.
Isabelle laughed and shook her head. “It’s okay, I almost didn’t recognize him. What are you even wearing, the Ralph Lauren Hot Mess collection?”
Raph scowled and grumbled something about portals made of angel flesh.
Isabelle raised both eyebrows and cocked her head to the side. “You know what? I don’t want to know.” She stated, walking back to the table and taking her seat.
“Come on!!” Cara cried impatiently. “Some of us were in the middle of looting, remember?”
“All of us were in the middle of looting, boss.” A boy sitting near her pointed out.
“That’s exactly why I need your help.” Raph said as he strode towards the table. He sunk into the seat at Cara’s right hand, a battered leather armchair that had seen better centuries. “You all know your way around Hades; you know the back alleys and the places that people have forgotten on both sides of the river. You’ve forgotten more about the nobility and their palaces than most demons ever learn.”
Allister nodded. “Know your enemy. You taught us that.”
“Right,” Raph said, inhaling shakily before he continued. He had to do this, even if it was crazy. He’d promised. “I need your help to break into the dungeons and rescue an angel.”
The room exploded into noise as a dozen voices began talking all at once.
“An angel? What--“
“HOW DO YOU EXPECT--“
“---all gonna die--“
A sharp, piercing whistle tore through the air, echoing shrilly off the cavern walls. Cara glared at her crew, then turned her gaze to Raph. “Explain. Tell them what you told Judah and Horace. Guys, I know this sounds crazy, but my stupid big brother has gotten involved in some end-of-the-world shit and we need to help him.”
Raph explained the situation, all of it, reliving details he’d almost forgotten and telling them why Abby, and therefore Gabe’s soul, were so ridiculously important to their continued survival. He finished and looked at the stunned faces surrounding him, feeling once again like this was all a huge mistake.
It was Isabelle who broke the silence. “I’ll help you, Raph. I owe you one, right?” She winked at him, offering a smaller smile than before. “But if we pull this off, you’ll owe me.”
Allister stared Raph in the eyes. “You’re crazy and this whole thing is suicide. But I’m in.” He grinned at Raph, who glanced at Cara.
She rolled her eyes. “You already know I’m going to help, idiot. I’d have led you into the death tunnel if I wasn’t.”
Raph blinked. Death tunnel? He didn’t have time to dwell on that as everyone else around the table grudgingly chimed in their acceptance.
“Okay, so we’re doing this,” Cara said, looking over the gang like a queen holding court. “Any ideas?”
A short kid near the end of the table spoke up in a surprisingly deep voice. “Getting in is the easy part. The palace is ancient. There are passageways and corridors that have been abandoned for years, entire wings that no one remembers. Getting in isn’t the problem. Getting out is.”
A girl with short spiky blonde hair nodded in agreement beside him. “You’ll need to escape quickly once you grab the angel--Gabe, right?-- but you can’t. Mirrors won’t work in the dungeons, not for demons like us. Ever heard of anyone escaping the dungeons?” she asked, looking around at her companions. “Yeah. You haven’t. Because only an Original Fallen’s power works in the dungeons. And unless one of us is secretly a General who’s been slumming it, we aren’t getting that angel out any time soon.”
Raph took a moment to digest this new information. The girl was right; without a quick way to escape, they had no chance. If he couldn’t just warp Gabe and himself to the surface, they’d both end up imprisoned, and Abby wouldn’t be far behind.
“Well that settles it then,” Allister said, like he already knew the answer. Raph shot him a questioning glance. Allister shrugged. “All we have to do is blackmail an Original Fallen. How hard could it be?”
Raph stared at Allister unblinkingly as he turned the idea over in his head. “That…might actually work. How good are you guys at stalking people?”