Content warnings for Part 1 of this chapter include brief fantasy violence, including blood.
Chapter 1, Part 1: Angel
The angel fought in the endless chaos of battle. They didn’t know how long the battle had raged, only that they must fight, and continue to fight, until the end. Maybe even until their death. Their only reality was the bloody present and the demons that sought their death.
A growl was the only warning the angel got before pain flashed across their back. They whirled around, celestial blade flashing a brilliant blue as it bit deep into demon flesh. Viscous blood oozed from the wound and the demon howled, the sound like the jagged edges of broken glass. With a final scream, it wrenched itself free and fled, taking the celestial blade with it.
The angel looked around for any of their kin, or anything they could use as a weapon; but there were only demon corpses in sight. A deep, pulsing pain throbbed through their back, and the angel twisted to survey the damage. They moaned when the full extent of the wound became clear: one of their wings had borne the brunt of the attack, and it was shredded. There was no way they were going to be able to fly out of that mess, which made them an easy target for further attack.
Then, to their horror, another demon leapt over the mound of corpses that had once been its companions. The angel saw the moment its sick gaze realized what it had found: a lost and downed enemy, ripe for the taking. Its lips drew back from sharp teeth and it laughed a coughing growl as it prowled forward.
It took its time in the approach, enjoying the hunt now that victory was assured. A long tongue licked sharp teeth already stained the golden color of angelic blood. With a sharp cry, it launched itself at the angel, who drew their arms over their face in preparation for the attack. But the demon wasn’t aiming for their face; its teeth sunk deep into the meat of their injured wing, ripping feathers from flesh and flesh from bone.
The angel screamed, a bone-chilling scream that came from pain like they’d never felt before. The ragged remains of their wing hung at their side, ineffective and immobile. The demon lurched back, pacing around their broken prey with an occasional nip at an exposed limb. It was toying with them, the angel realized. It wouldn’t just fight to kill; it was going to take them apart piece by piece, and feast on their screams as much as their flesh.
Suddenly, another growl sounded from behind the angel. The first demon was back, the angel’s celestial blade still caught in its shoulder. The two demons snarled and snapped at each other, before they came to some sort of agreement. Mirroring each other, they both began to circle the angel, making it clear that there was to be no escape from this painful end.
The angel’s body tingled, courtesy of their injured wing, but the tingle was different then the pain they had felt earlier. It wasn’t painful; at least, not in the physical sense. It felt like their essence was shivering out of their body, no longer comfortable in the confines of their skin. And suddenly, the angel realized what was happening.
There were stories of angels who had lost their wings, the power of flight gifted to them to fight the demons. An angel’s wings were their most precious possession, and they protected that gift more than they protected their lives. If an angel could not protect the gifts of the celestial realm, the celestial realm refused to protect them in return.
The angel stumbled to their feet once more, carefully watching the pattern of the encircling demons. Maybe they couldn’t escape from the demons by flying away, but they could escape by going somewhere the demons couldn’t follow.
The angel lunged forward, not at the demon, but at the celestial weapon lodged in its body. They pulled the weapon from the demon’s back before it realized what was happening; it howled as the wound sprayed fresh black blood. The pair lunged forward in retaliation, and the angel suddenly found themself sandwiched between two angry demons.
One demon sank its teeth into their shoulder, while the other grounded their leg. The wounds brimmed with pain as the infectious saliva of the demons was pushed deep into the angel’s bloodstream. There was only one way out. Quickly, the angel flicked the blade to their off hand and plunged it over their shoulder: not at the demons pinning them, but at their own injured wing.
The celestial blade met with resistance at their feathers, but the angel only pushed harder. With a final grunt of pain, they severed their wing from their back.
Golden ichor sprayed the face of the demon at their back. With a howl, it let go, eyes smoking from the hissing blood.
For a moment, nothing happened, and the angel thought they’d made a terrible mistake. But then the crystalline lines of the celestial plane blurred around them before shattering. The last thing they saw was the snapping jaws of the thwarted demons before silent darkness engulfed them.
The moment hung still and quiet. Peaceful, the angel thought, although the darkness should not have comforted them. Through the dark and blurry surroundings, the angel could see pinpricks of light both far above and far below.
The angel gasped in rapture as they reached toward the lights, hands stretched down, single wing stretched up. The dots twinkled and spiraled as the angel tumbled in empty space. Wind breathed across their face, first a breeze, then a brisk gale. Their stomach swooped, a giddy and terrifyingly new sensation.
Then the wind shifted. Used to a life in the air, the sensation of a free fall was so alien that they didn’t understand what was happening. They stretched their wings out instinctively, only to remember that they only had one wing. With a cry, they plummeted toward a world they’d never seen before.
The lights below grew brighter and larger as the ones above grew more distant, and the angel realized the approaching lights weren’t stars: these were lights from the human world. They stretched their one good wing out as wide as they could, but it afforded little resistance to their fall. Instead, the uneven drag sent them into a spiral. The lights and the stars spun in a dizzying dance as they tumbled through the air, desperate to regain control.
They couldn’t afford to panic, they thought to themself through the fog of sensations. Panicking would only lead to further injury. The angel wrapped their wing around their body so they could control the angle of their fall. Like a comet, they plunged downward, counting silently as the lights surged up to meet them. At the last moment, they snapped their wing open with a single powerful beat.
The maneuver should have changed their momentum from a vertical dive to a horizontal rush, but without a second wing, the angel was unbalanced. Instead, they spun again, flipping sideways. Their back slammed into the ground and they skidded against the dirty cobblestones before coming to a complete stop.
The angel ached in ways they had never felt before. They fought to rise, but their head swam and they collapsed again. They landed on their wing, sending a fresh wave of agony through their body that caused their vision to go dark.
The angel quickly regained consciousness, but they wished they could have remained in that blissful darkness for just a few moments longer. Trying to move again felt like a mistake, so the angel instead looked around while remaining as still as possible.
The first thing that hit the angel was the scent of filth and decay, lacking in the celestial plane, followed closely by the sounds of a thousand humans living too close together- crying children, desperate pleading, brutal fights, and the deadly silence of those who no longer had anything else left to lose.
“Look at that poor soul,” someone muttered, and it was only then that the angel realized that a small crowd had started to gather, despite the dark streets.
Not a soul, the angel though desperately. I don’t have one of those. Not like you do.
“Do you think we should try to help him?” Another voice asked quietly.
“Why? There’s no point. He won’t last the night.”
“Did he fall?”
“Or he jumped…. God’s house has no room for those who take the coward’s way out.”
A door slammed and the voices faded. The angel tried to move then, slower than before, and this time managed to raise their head. The damage was severe, but the fall hadn’t killed them. Then, as they looked down at their broken body, they realized that the blood oozing from their wounds was red, not golden.
The angel would have laughed, if they could find the breath to do so. It didn’t matter if they had survived the fall or not, because the celestial realm had abandoned them. If they were going to die either way, they should have just stayed and let the demons eat them. It would have been a more honorable death.
The angel let themself collapse again, curling up against the chill of the night. They tried to look up and see the stars, but the gloomy streetlamps blocked their light.
Even that final pleasure is denied me, the angel thought as they closed their eyes once more.
Every so often, someone else came down the street, but their steps all quickened when they spotted the broken and bloody angel. As the minutes dragged on, the angel began to slip in and out of consciousness. Each time the darkness came, the angel welcomed it as a respite from the pain.
Some time later, a pair of footsteps came down the street, one heavy, one light. The smaller human hummed and skipped, then suddenly stopped with a gasp.
“Papa! Papa! Look, there’s a child over there!”
“Leave him alone, Detta.”
“But, Papa, I think she’s a girl… and she’s hurt! Look, she’s bleeding!”
“Head down, Detta, remember? She could just be playing hurt to lure us in. Don’t look and keep walking.”
“She’s not playing, Papa! She really is hurt! Can’t you see?”
The angel cracked their eyes open to the most beautiful sight they had ever seen. A young human stood over the angel, her eyes a kind and piercing blue. This entire city of terrified and beaten humans, and the only one capable of kindness was this child. In their breast, the angel felt something start to stir to life and beat helplessly against the cage that bound it.
“Are you alright?” the girl asked, her face narrowed in concern. “Here, give me your hand. Can you stand up?”
Trembling, the angel reached for the hand the young girl had extended. Her grip was as painful as it was ecstatic, too tight and too warm. The angel couldn’t stand, not without blacking out again, but willpower and those strong blue eyes kept them awake as they pushed onto their bruised knees.
A man appeared behind the girl and tried to pull her away. “Detta, I said no! Get away- Dear God.”
Instinctively, the angel had flared their wings to keep their balance, although just the one remained. It had been hidden when they were laying on it, but now it was on full display.
Those blue eyes widened, not in fear, but in amazement. “An Angel…” the girl whispered.
The angel tried to stand, but that finally was too much. The girl’s father caught the angel just before their knees buckled. Quickly, he wrapped the angel in his coat and lifted them from the ground.
“Quickly, Detta!” He barked. “Run and fetch the Doctor… and Father Hampton while you’re at it.”
The girl quickly scampered away, but paused at the edge of the street to look back. The last thing the angel saw was the young girl’s piercing blue eyes.