The wolf pup scrambled out of the hut, his mental squeal ringing around my head. The scroll fell from between his jaws to the floor, and as it came to rest blood started to flow from the crack he had bitten into the seal. It pooled on the floor, but then spread out to form sigils and glyphs that created the worst kind of doorway possible: a one-way path up from the downstairs.
So, to recap my current situation. I’m trussed up in a small wooden hut, where a portal to Hell is opening and the worst of the worst is about to rise up out of it. And there’s nothing I can to, because my hands are tied (literally).
But my feet aren’t.
I check the distances in my head, then shuffle my legs as far forward as my bonds will allow. I can only reach a few of the symbols on the side nearest to me, but with symbols you don’t need to change much to dramatically alter the affect. A dot here, an extra line there – each move burns the skin on my foot, where holy flesh meets unholy blood. It hurts – something to add to the list of things I’m starting to feel since I crash-landed. And so far, pain in 95% of that list.
I yank my feet back as the blood catches fire, casting flickering shadows that dance across the walls. The entire symbol is slowly covered in darkness, and then he rises… or she.
Skip to post-Lucifer…
My wings feel like they are burning. They aren’t – in reality they are slowly disintegrating. Starting with the edge feathers, turning to dust in front of my eyes. The wolves are distracted – the largest are running around trying to catch a scent of where the devil disappeared to (not that they would – don’t these stupid mutts recognize someone teleporting when they see, or can’t smell, it?), while the others are waiting for orders. Apart from one, who still has the smallest wolf by the scruff of his neck in her jaws. She was eyeing me warily, but didn’t seem too concerned.
If anything good had happened in the last five minutes, it was that various commotions had broken the bonds on my left arm. Moving as quickly as I could I set about freeing myself, then slumped down on the floor next to the scroll in exhaustion. The suspicious wolf put down the pup, who came over to sniff around me and exclaim‘Bird-man don’t smell like bird!’before running back towards the bigger wolf. She stood over him protectively, but made no move to stop me.
I reached round and plucked out one of my remaining feathers, wincing as I did. To be honest I had no real idea what I was meant to do, so I picked up the scroll and jammed the pinion of my feather into the crack. It seemed to do the trick, as the wax over the seal melted and reformed, repairing the seal as my feather burnt up.
Before I had even made sure it had worked, I was moving towards my next target. A small wooden box I had spied on a shelf before the devil arrived, the perfect size to hold the scroll. I plucked out another of my feathers (ouch) and started carving glyphs into the wood with it. I’m no calligrapher, but what I came up with wasn’t too bad, considering the circumstances.
Without even spending a moment to appreciate my penmanship, I picked up the scroll and put it into the box, along with as many of my feathers as I could salvage. There was no point pretending now – my wings were ruined beyond repair. I may as well salvage what I can from them.
At which point I passed out.
I must have been out for hours, as the sun was peeking over the horizon as I awoke. As I opened my eyes I caught the full glare, so I screwed them shut and rolled over, pulling my covers up over me before wincing at the bed sheets touching the sore points where my wings had once been.
Slowly becoming aware of my surroundings, I sat up. I was still in one of the hybrid’s dirty ramshackle huts, but not the one I was tied up in earlier. This one was a lot smaller, the only furniture being the bed, a faded leather desk chair which was inhabited by what looked like a large mound of rags – except I could hear shallow breathing coming from within – and a large ornate desk covered in scrolls.
Scrolls! I dashed over to the desk, rapidly searching through the piles of ancient parchment (none of it anywhere as old as I was though), but had to stop when a coughing fit caused by all the dust moving them threw up left me doubled over.
I felt a hand patting my back, and the coughing died down. The hand lingered on my back, softly probing around the edges of my shoulder blades and the stumps my wings had left before leaving them well enough alone. I rose up to thank them, but was left wordless and in shock.
I was facing the oldest person I had ever seen. In heaven you don’t age, so the only time you could see ‘old people’ was on missions or message deliveries – neither of which I had been on in centuries. But this man really took the biscuit. His skin was so wrinkled it seemed to hang off him, and it seemed a miracle his skeletal frame could support him at all. His eyes were slightly shrunk into his skull, but shined with more life than anyone would have expected.
“So, you are alive. You weren’t breathing and we couldn’t feel much of a pulse, but then again we haven’t exactly had much experience with… your kind.”
“My kind?” I asked. Usually we have humans quivering in fear when we appear, but he just seemed curious. And I wasn’t exactly at the top of my awe-inspiring form.
“Yes. We have made our assumptions but I did not want to assume out of politeness. As Tobias so eloquently put it, you could have been a, ‘bird man’ – but you are an angel, are you not?”
I paused for a second and shifted awkwardly before replying. “Yeah.”
The old hybrid smiled. “Ah, it is good to be certain. But I was certainly convinced after I saw this.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the box covered in runes. He held it out for me to take, but as I touched it the runes glowed and the lid opened. The scroll and my feathers lay inside, but the old man did not seem surprised at all.
“That box gave our alpha a headache – he is clever, but watching him try to rip the lid off with his bare hands and fail? Why, that made me chortle.” He chuckled at the memory, then slowly rose out of his chair. His head only came up to my chest.
I closed the box again, the runes fading as a sign it was locked to everyone but me. I smirked – I wasn’t sure they would, but my hastily scratched-on runes were holding.
“So, what did you say your name was?” I asked innocently, my eyes taking in everything about the mysterious figure standing in front of me.
“I didn’t, and neither did you.” Now it was his turn to smirk. “Will my ears bleed if you tell me your name, angel?”
“Only slightly. Your nose is another story.”
“Ah, it does pay to check. As for me, I am the Storyteller, GreyWolf.”
“Sure, but what did they call you when you were born?”
“The same – I’ve been called that all my life. Storyteller, no. But GreyWolf, yes.”
I shook my head slightly. “I can tell when you’re lying.”
The hybrid smiled, teeth showing. “Ha! Another theory proved – just had to check. But damn, I miss my old pelt.”
“So, the truth?”
“I’m afraid my name is my own to know. Names hold power, you know.” He wagged a finger at me, as if this was something I didn’t already know.
“Well, as much as this has been fun, I have to leave. The devil, sealed scrolls, saving the world and all that.” I started to head out of the hut, but the old crone blocked my way with his stick.
“The alpha will want to question you.”
“Sorry, but I’m not hanging around for that. Tell them I overpowered you, or something.”
He held his hands out to his sides, looking down at his frail physique. “I don’t think that will take too much effort to convince them. Even normal shifting is getting more painful, let alone tonight.”
I smiled at him one last time. “Thanks. May the Lord bless you.”
The wind blew through the hut then, rustling the scrolls that lay on the desk. The hybrid breathed in deeply, then let out a sigh of content.
“Thank you, my boy. But please, take this.”
He reached up to a row of hooks and took down a long cream trench coat, which looked like it had never even been worn before. I considered it for a second, and then shook my head.
“Sorry, but cream really isn’t my colour.” I took down the dark brown one from beside it, shrugged it over my shoulders and took off into the dawn.
An hour later, I was starting to consider that leaving the warm hut maybe wasn’t the best idea that I had ever had. And as previously mentioned, that phrase pretty much applies to every idea I ever have. Because now I was experiencing another sensation that only you humans have to deal with, and it was almost as unpleasant as the last one I had encountered: the cold.
So apparently I had arrived during something humans call ‘winter’, in ‘December’. Apparently this is near to Christmas, which I do know about – though I don’t remember it being this *cough* freezing when I was there singing in the sky to the shepherds and their sheep. Of course, I only found this out when I reached civilization, after spending an age running from the hybrids. Lucky I hadn’t been on Earth long enough to have developed a scent yet. Otherwise they would have been all over me in five minutes. Not pretty.
The last thing I remember is slumping down against a wall on a street somewhere, the cold snow turning to slush beneath me and seeping into my clothes. Another new experience – tiredness – had been creeping up on me, and now it was making my vision go black around the edges, and my eyelids droop. Man, you humans really do have it bad. Or maybe heaven just has it good. That’s probably right.
“Hey, fella – are you alright?”
I opened my eyes to a girl standing over me. Initially I thought hybrid, but she didn’t have any of the telltale signs. Just a human.
“It’s a bit cold to be out in that kind of get up, isn’t it? I mean, Halloween was a while back.” She pointed to my clothes under the jacket, and I followed her finger to my chest. I was still wearing the cloth I would have worn under my armor – to her it must have looked like fancy dress, a toga or something.
“I can help you get home, if you like. Do you have a place to stay?”
I shook my head, still slightly confused from my first encounter with a real life person.
“Really? Nowhere you can go?”
Another shake of the head.
“Well, it sucks to be you, in the only city in what must be the world that doesn’t have a homeless shelter. Come on – if yu promise not to steal anything, you can sleep on my sofa.”
I frowned, confused. “Why are you helping me?”
“Ah, so you can talk?” she smiled. “I dunno – you just have that look about you really. Trustworthy. Innocent.”
I swallowed heavily. “I promise I won’t steal your things.”
“Then we have a deal.” Another smile, then she turned and walked away. She was almost round the corner before she turned back to see me still lying there in the snow.
“Well, are you coming or not?” I slowly pulled myself up, then jogged over to her, by some miracle not slipping up on the ice.
She took me by the arm and started leading my forwards. “I’m Annie. You?”
I thought for a moment. “Nathariel – no. Just Nate”.