This piece is set in the world of my upcoming novel “The Walls of Tartarus”. It came into existence during a morning walk with my dogs and was written in less than a day. Not bad for my first ever short story. Enjoy!
The church sat forgotten, barren, empty. The years of abandonment clear in the thick dust coating the pews and altar, the cobwebs in the vaulted ceiling and dirty stained-glass windows. But even through the filth, light shone, blazing from the huge windows to color the scene beyond. Each ray showing the dust suspended in the air. Undisturbed. Unmoved.
Sam liked it this way. The still air and the sealed building surprisingly warm. Living on the street all these years, he knew when he was on to a good thing. The church, its name lost to history, long forgotten and only accessible through a hidden gap in the fence here and a loose window frame there. His own haven. With only pigeons for company, who always got in somehow. But they were no problem.
Plus, the dryness of the old building slowed the coughing and, when he did cough, there was less blood.
Even the city seemed distant. Its sounds muted. Perfect for an old man to get some rest. Settling for an afternoon nap in his own nest. Made up of rags, paper, a sleeping bag, from the outside it looked like a pile of rubbish stacked up in a back corner of the aisles. But here Sam felt safe and hidden. Far from the madding crowd, as they say. Able to take in the majesty of the towering window behind the altar, mercifully undamaged by time, neglect or vandals.
The warmth of the afternoon began to seep into his bones, time to rest before heading out to the soup kitchen again. Hours until then. Time to waste. Time to rest.
The old man’s eyes sprang open. Something felt off. Sitting up, still cocooned in his nest, Sam looked around the cavernous room. Nothing. All was as it should be. Bar the feeling. Being homeless gave you an instinct and that instinct was saying run.
A section of the roof punched through, debris, dust and pigeons scattering as something smashed into the church. Hurtling down to smash through the stone altar, shearing it in two and plunging deep into the floor beneath. Throwing up huge clouds of dust, obscuring the view, as more stone, tiles and wood crashed down from the roof above. Smashing the pews, crushing them to splinters.
Sam froze. Waiting. Hardly daring to breathe. Trying to peer through the swirling dust to see what had come to shatter his solace. Seconds stretched to minutes, nothing.
Then sound, movement, but not from the altar. From behind. The scream of tortured metal hinges, long since rusted, echoed through the church. It could only be the front door, locked and chained last he checked. Not now. With a loud thump Sam heard the chain hit the floor, then the doors being dragged open and with them air. A soft wind flooded in, whipping up more dust but then whirling in the center of the room. Like a gentle hurricane, drawing the dust together and funnelling it out of the hole in the roof. Leaving the room clean and still again once its job was done.
Again, time stretched. Silence once more. And again, punctured. This time by walking. From the door, a confident stride, a woman from the sound of things. Heels clacking on stone.
Striding into view, Sam caught his breath as she paused, looking around the room. Tall and willowy thin, she had an exotic look, unlike any he’d seen before. A thin face, sharp features with almond shaped eyes of an unnatural blue. Glowing, burning with an inner, cold fire. Full lips, slightly pouting as she surveyed the church. Her hair, pure white, not blond, but white, pulled back in a tight pony tail stretching down beyond the base of her back. She looked no more than early twenties, but something told the Sam she’d lived longer than him. A lot longer.
The woman was completely out of place here, he thought, dressed for a lunch date more than a derelict church. Ankle-high boots with high heels, skin tight blue jeans, a deep red leather top and ankle length black rain coat. Totally out of place.
A low groan rose from the crater in the floor by the shattered altar. The woman began moving through the church, her heels once again clicking on the floor. Long confident strides with her coat flowing out behind her.
The sound seeming to rouse the occupant of the hole even more, a hand reaching up over the edge of the pit. Grabbing hold of the altar and trying to pull itself out.
Climbing the steps, she stood next to the altar, looking down, her back to Sam. “Need a hand?” she asked, reaching down, then, in one swift motion, lifting a man clear out of the hole and into the air by his throat.
No. Not a man. Broken and ripped feathered wings hung loosely from his back. White bones poking out from open wounds. Tar-like blood oozed from the wounds, slithering down the pure white plumage staining them a deep red before dripping to the floor. The figure hung, clad in white robes tied loosely at his waist with a gold cord. His body limp and unresisting, making no effort to free himself.
Only one word came to Sam’s mind. Angel.
“Rough landing, huh?” the woman said, “The last step was a killer, right?” laughing cruelly at her own joke, holding the figure easily in one hand. She tilted her head to one side, seeming to consider a moment, the only sound the slow drip of blood from the angel’s wings.
Then, in a single swift motion, she spun and launched the limp body into the smashed pews and debris from the roof. Although apparently needing little effort, the throw ploughed the body through the wood and stone, scattering more dust. Covering the creature in more rubble as it came to rest again.
Apparently amused, the attacker walked from the altar. Almost skipping her way over to the angel.
“You know what I want,” she said in a friendly tone, picking up stone and wood which covered her victim, tossing them aside without effort. “I will end you, but it doesn’t HAVE to hurt, you know?” Once again, she reached down and lifted the body off the floor.
Running her eyes over the wings, she began to bite her lower lip, “You know who I am, correct?”
Again, tilting her head and lowering the angel to his feet. He stood, weaving slightly, unsteady, ruined wings resting on the floor. Turning her back, she walked a few paces away, bending to pick up a large plank from a shattered pew.
The angel weaved for a moment, coughed, then spoke. “Yes, I know you.”, he managed at last, his voice thick with a Germanic accent.
“So, what’s my name, slave?”
“Valkyre. The Engelsjäger. Corrupted. Whore of the fallen. Liar. Unclean”
Spinning gracefully, Valkyre brought the plank crashing into the side of the angel, launching him across the room to slam hard into the wall opposite. The wall cracking with the impact, before the angel fell to the floor again.
“Now, that… that’s just not nice.” Shaking her head in mock offence, she walked to the angel. “He hates being called ‘Fallen’. The rest? That I’ll almost give you.”
Grabbing a foot, she brought the angel back into the colored light of the main window, dragging him back onto his unsteady feet. Robes now ripped and stained with blood, the broken creature stood before her, head bowed, shoulders slumped.
“You have one chance, slave. Tell me where it is. Tell me where we can find the gate.” Biting her lip again she stepped forward, lifting the angels face to her own. Sudden recognition in her eyes then compassion in her voice, “You know the truth. You were there, Brother. I remember you. From before. Before, this insanity.” Standing to one side, sweeping her arm towards the window. For the first time Sam saw the image on it clearly; Jesus on his throne, surrounded by angels singing at his feet.
“You know what we lost. What he took from us. I won’t save you. I can’t with what you’ve done. All in his name? For that, you must end. But please. Now. Here. Remember who you are. Help us. Grant us peace and freedom, Brother?” Valkyre pleaded.
The angel fell to his knees before her. Raising his face to her, he coughed, inhaled then spat blood on her shoes. “Der Herr ist mein Hirte. Go to Hell, Demon!” he screamed.
Valkyre sighed, “As you wish my friend.” Her form changing as she spoke. Seeming to grow taller, the coat flowing to become to grand, black feathered wings. Her clothes melting into deep red armor.
Now standing nearly twice as tall as she had before and even more beautiful, Valkyre reached between her wings and drew a long, bone-white sword. Leveling it at the angel, wings arching high, she spoke, voice heavy with sadness, “Yes, I am Valkyre. The hunter. But no, not hunter of angels. I am the hunter of traitors. Those who betrayed us must pay. And so, it is for you, Brother.” A single tear rolled down her cheek as flicked the blade across his throat, slitting it wide. A wet burbling noise escaping the angel’s throat, blood bursting from the wound and coating the armor of his executioner. Valkyre looked on, sorrow etched in her face.
The body began to glow as the burbling stopped. First a deep blue, then brightening as the entire creature began to glow pure white, dissolving into brilliant light at Valkyre’s feet. The brilliance dazzled the old man, but he couldn’t take his eyes from the scene.
Sam looked on blinded by the light, frozen in place by what he’d witnessed. Blood cold in his veins. As his vision returned, the angel and his killer were gone. Only the devastation of the church acting as a testament to their passing. The spell passing, he stumbled from his nest, heading to the point where the execution had taken place. The murder.
No body. No blood. Shaking, Sam dropped to his knees in the light of the window, tears streaming down his face at the murder of beauty he’d witnessed, sobbing hard.
A sob caught in his throat as a blade slid around his neck, and fingers wound into his dirty hair.
“You didn’t think I missed you there, did you, old man? I can smell your fear from a mile away,” whispered a familiar voice into his ear.
“Sorry, no witnesses” said Valkyre simply, sliding the blade through his neck, lifting his head from his shoulders cleanly. Sam’s blood joining the Angel’s on her armor.
Sheathing her bloodied blade, she picked up the old man’s body, throwing it over her shoulder, severed head in her spare hand. Turning, she walked from the church as if his body weighed nothing. Leaving the church to the pigeons and silence once more.