Word Count: 1,180
Judah walked through the open doorways of the main building. Around him, other angels moved about their own business; their motions paced and steady, calculated and predicted and expected and executed. Everything, just so.
He left a trail of garish red blood spatters on the gleaming white tile as he walked. They glowed like an unholy trail of breadcrumbs. He turned left to make his way down the hallway toward the Upper Angels’ offices. He needed to report in; he needed to rinse the blood from his hands. He was beginning to feel sick with the weight of it, the heat that never left the stains on his flesh, the pulse of life that he carried as evidence of his deeds.
It was his role. He had done as his purpose demanded, and he wished to retire for the evening into the blissful emptiness of sleep.
There were no doors in the main building, and he entered the office of Uriel. The golden placard sitting on his desk read, in smooth, flowing calligraphy as delicate as breath, the bringer of destiny.
Uriel was waiting, in silence, patient as a statue as he held out the tablet for Judah to press his blood-soaked fingers to. His prints seeped into the paper; and as he watched, the blood slid down his hands and into the paper, never spreading or growing – only darkening the intricate pattern of his fingerprint.
When he lifted his hands from the tablet, they were clean, and he was tired. He pulled a cigarette from his pocket and lit it, blowing a lungful of smoke up to the high, pristine white ceilings of Uriel’s office.
The first words out of Uriel’s mouth, inflectionless and mechanical as could be, were, “You know he hates when you smoke.”
Judah shrugged and studied the paintings that lined the office walls. They were more beautiful than anything Judah had ever seen; the pastures of wheat and grain glowed with a holy light that brought tears to his eyes, the forests were dense and brilliant and enchanting – full of mystery and allure so strong he could almost smell the sweet pines. He took another drag and examined a painting of a nebula in the fortieth quadrant of space.
“He smokes,” Judah replied, his tone equally empty and depthless.
Uriel leaned against his desk, propping his upper body up with the palms of his hands. He was a tall man, over six-foot-five inches tall, with honey blonde hair that reached mid-way down his back. He did not show emotion in his features but there was something akin to disapproval lurking behind his olive eyes. Judah had been working under his command for over seven thousand years and never once did the symptoms of emotion reach Uriel’s face.
He waited for his superior to reprimand him, but no scolding came.
Finishing his cigarette, Judah stubbed the filter out in the ashtray on Uriel’s desk; reaching around the man to do so.
“You were late this time, Judah,” Uriel said slowly as Judah pulled himself away to rest his weight on the arm of a comfortable chair positioned in front of the desk.
“I know,” he said, and crossed his arms over his chest. “It could not be helped.”
“You have always managed to avoid it before,” Uriel countered, shifting his posture to imitate Judah’s.
“It could not be helped, Uriel,” Judah reiterated, his words firm and cold.
“Why is that?”
Judah felt the first hint of anger at the question. Uriel was no fool, and Judah even less of one – it insulted the both of them that the question had been presented at all. Judah turned his black eyes to meet Uriel’s gaze and the silence was frigid and merciless between them.
“Because the Rapture is at hand, Uriel,” he snapped, “I should not have to tell the bringer of destiny that the Daemons have crossed the threshold and now walk among men. As we speak, the Eighth is filling the golden censer with flames from the heavenly fire.”
Uriel frowned but it was not the gesture of a man who was saddened or discouraged; it was practiced and meticulous and perfect. It was empty. He said, “What about this distresses you, Judah?”
“Everything!” Judah’s outburst was abnormal; he never spoke so bluntly to Uriel, he had always made certain he was in and out of the angel’s office as soon as their business was concluded. He took a steadying breath in and gathered his thoughts around it. “There is no one to protect them,” he said, finally, his tone low and filled with a sorrowful mercy.
“Go,” Uriel said.
There was no clarification between them; Judah met his eyes for a brief instant – only long enough to acknowledge that he had heard the command.
He rose and followed the trail of blood spots out of the main building. He took the path to the realm gate, never looking back.
The gateway between realms was nothing more than a doorway that seemed to hold nothing at all. Through it, he could see the valley and the rise of the heavenly mountains. He picked up the travel bag he had left beside the gateway, and stepped into the doorway. A breeze tugged at his hair and the feathers of his wings.
When he opened his eyes, he was standing on a city street on earth. The signs nearby indicated it had been New York City.
He could not help the roar of agony that broke free from the confines of his throat as his wings drew in on themselves. Curling and constricting, condensing and compacting, they folded in on themselves until they nestled into his spine. He did not pause before pulling on a simple black crew shirt from his travel bag; he hoped the blood would not stain it too badly. His torn and bleeding flesh healed within moments, stitching itself together as he shrugged on a well-worn, brown leather aviator jacket.
With his feet on earth once more, he felt a new sense of direction. He was no longer tired. He felt rested and alive; light with the weightlessness of purpose. He travelled through the city streets, the rumbles of earthquakes shuddering all the way up his tender spinal column to rattle at the base of his skull.
He stumbled upon a woman. Sprawled out on the sidewalk, her face pinched in pain, one delicate hand clasping at the bloody wound in her side.
Judah stepped closer to her and extended his hand, offering to help her up. What struck him was not that he was helping an injured woman; but that he was doing it automatically, without thought or consideration or concern. Simply doing, because it was his purpose – though it was a subliminal, instinctual purpose. The deep, core purpose of all angels – even dark angels, such as he, who performed the dirtier, messier, morally skewed duties shunned by other angels.
He carried the woman until he found a functioning hospital.
It did not occur to him that the task took him twelve hours.