Word Count: 1,107
He'd only taken a few feathers out, but he could feel their absence like gaps in his armor, even with his wings buried along his spinal column. He could smell himself every time he caught a whiff of her; his nerves were a conflicted mess because of it.
Still, with all of his mild discomforts, they were nearly to the isolated colony he'd been able to detect. Monitoring the colony and Tara hadn't been a simple task - he was overly paranoid on both counts and wanted to devote the whole of his vast attention to one - but he hadn't caught scent or whisper of any demon on either count.
It was that strangeness that had his stomach twisting. Their new tech had him on high-alert, every tendril of his Grace stretching out as far as it could. The extra effort did no good - as far as he could tell, there were no demons for miles in any direction.
Every sense and awareness he could tap into said absolute safety.
Darkness was beginning to creep up behind them. Their shadows were rolling out farther and farther ahead of them. Twilight began peeking through the mist of the once-blue sky. Between where they stood and the colony was an open valley that rose up to meet the dense-woodland ridge.
For the first time in days, Judah could feel the cool rush of a real lungful of air; as if, for a moment, he was not on Earth but had been returned to the celestial hallways of the After. As if the Holy One himself were right beside him, and Judah was not breathing in oxygen any longer, but real sustenance - real life.
He knew what it was, then. The Forgiving Moment; all of the Father's warriors received them - dozens, sometimes hundreds, in their time on Earth. Unlike Humans, Angels never had a sin to pay for - and for those that remained above, they never would. But the Angels that had to descend were forced to bear the weight of their new sins; a burden that could kill if it wasn't dealt with.
So it had been arranged that the Father would provide his angelic warriors with Forgiving Moments - when the sins were getting harder to bear, when they were clouding the Angel's judgment. And, so, they all would know his protection.
Already his tense muscles were loosening, his mind worked faster, his senses were re-invigorated. He felt hungry and freshly rested. Another open cargo box sat only a few meters to their East, and Tara followed him without question. Once inside he dropped the two duffle bags to the floor and let himself sit down.
Tara grabbed two water bottles and a fistful of granola bars and sat down across from him, offering him half of the food. In a comfortable silence, they ate and drank; the only sounds the occasional glug of air bubbles in the water bottle or crinkle of granola bar wrapper.
Only halfway full, but content, he leaned back and stared at the darkening outlines of metal ridges along the walls of the cargo box. He'd left the door open but the sun had gone down and the moonlight pooled onto the gravel in pale waves.
Her voice shattered the silence, even though it was barely above a whisper. "Are we staying here for the night?"
"It would be prudent to rest before heading into an open valley, but I cannot say we will be safer in the morning. Right now, the coast is clear for miles. By dawn that could change."
"So what do you think we should do?" She stretched her legs out and leaned against the wall, her eyes watching his expression.
"I think it would benefit us more to cross the valley now."
She rose and dusted off her clothes. "Then let's go."
He didn't motion to get up as his eyes followed her, curiosity plain on his face. "You are not fatigued?"
She quirked a brow at him, pausing as she gathered her trash, and said, "Of course I am, but I'd rather stop when it isn't going to screw us over in the morning."
Fair enough, he thought, and rose to his feet. They gathered their things and stepped out into the evening. The sky overhead was pitch black and littered with bright constellations; the moon was full and glowed almost as furiously as the sun.
Tara was at his back as they made their way into the valley, and at his side as they began to climb the ridge on the other side. At first, the ridge had not been a challenge, but the higher they rose the steeper it became, until two-thirds of the way up, they stood on a narrow ledge facing a sheer cliff.
Huffing, bent over with her palms on her knees, Tara wheezed, "Now what?"
Judah was already working on the solution. From the duffle bag with his clothing, he removed a few sturdy leather belts; from the weapons bag he swapped his gun holsters with knife sheaths. Looping the belts around all three duffle bags to wrap them together, he fastened everything tightly and lengthened the straps on the end bags.
With the arrangement propped up against the cliff edge, he turned to her and said, "Sit with your back against the middle bag, and loop your arms and legs through the wider straps."
He was met with a strange expression, a cross between trust and suspicion, but Tara did as she was instructed. Once she was settled, Judah crouched with his back to her and lifted the straps over his shoulders in a single heave - then she was on his back, locked in with the duffle bags pressing her securely against him, and her legs beneath his arms.
He checked his access to his knives and re-arranged until he was satisfied. Unsheathing two of his serrated blades, he said, "Are you comfortable?"
He could feel her hesitation but she mastered it and said, "As comfortable as I can be."
With one jab, he embedded the blade a few feet above his head and began pulling them up the cliff, one arms length at a time. Her extra weight did not bother him, neither did the weight of the duffle bags, or the exhaustion in his body. With every upward pull, he was closer to the real battle. Closer to the filthy glory of a war he'd been built for. He was eager to reach the colony, eager to leave her with a group that could protect her so he could ascend to the blood-soaked soldier he'd dreampt of his entire life.