Lena: I’ll bite, this was actually a piece written for a contest on Gaia centered around Angels. The only requirement was that it feature at least one angel of some description, the rest … let’s just say liberties were taken! I have a large post coming up tomorrow, so I thought I’d break it up a little with a short story. I forgot about this for a while, quite honestly, and it doesn’t entirely seem to be what I would usually write, or what I might have come to write, but the recent Teens Can Write, Too! Blog Chain got me thinking … so here we go. Rather tame by usual standards, possibly a little cursing here and there, and no religious track to speak of. Because of course, it was only a matter of time until I introduced angels to a dystopian future. Enjoy!
“I’ve told you all I know, Vanity. Whether or not you choose to believe me is up to you.” The brim of his hat was cocked over his eyes, but this was nothing unusual. Nothing out of the ordinary. A candle stuttered in the corner of the desk, momentarily diminishing the light that spread out across the photographs, but it was short-lived. Not even a gust of wind. A breath as he leaned backwards in his seat and finally looked directly at Vanity.
“You think there are others in this city like you?” A sharp woman, Vanity was always relentless in her assaults, and this time, she was no different. Her glare had made many weak criminals cower in fear before – if only because she cropped and spiked her hair in a way that gave her a somewhat vicious quality. Elias, however, didn’t much care for how she chose to style and dress herself, nor for the austere persona that she projected. She had been transparent to him from the moment they had first met, and still, she refused to admit it.
“I know for a fact there are,” He tiled his head backwards a little, now, not quite looking up at the rotten ceiling. “I don’t know if you’d say that they’re exactly like me, though.” He had no concerns with looking at the woman, carefully watching her reaction, this time, because he knew that he had only confused her further. It wasn’t entirely possible to interrogate one’s partner, after all. Especially not when, most of the time, they were working towards the same goals; he loved the irony of her calling the city around them a hell hole, and the way in which she tried not to care about anything around her. Yet, when he insulted her, she looked away to disguise her tears. When he threatened her she flinched in spite of the fact that she refused to cower.
“But they’re still like you.” She insisted, arms folded across her chest, her face thrown into sharp relief by the dim lighting. In some ways, this one small endeavor to save money was, at the very least, an attractive one.
“Not necessarily,” He relaxed a little more in his seat, his head fully thrown back now, musing at the darkness above him. Plaster and paint showered down on a regular basis, whenever somebody moved upstairs. “Your kind. Your race. Would you say that you are identical to every last one of them? Of course, your biological make-up is similar. But your thoughts, feelings … anything you have learned since birth is not inherently the same,” He had to look over at her, if only to savor the moment. The glare that preceded a sudden look of surprise, that he had finally denied her of the things she believed to be true. “So, while my brethren and I share the same being and the same abilities, we do not act upon the same impulses. I repeat, whether or not you choose to believe me is up to you. I have told you all that I can.” Elias did not wait around to watch her, this time, knowing that she would soon leave to scream in frustration and disappointment. She had been so painfully close to a lead, and now it was gone.
As he closed the door gently behind himself, Elias looked out at the rest of the city. He knew that they were out there; what he could not say was exactly where they would be, or who they were masquerading as … all aside from one.
“Lena,” He growled underneath his breath. He was not denying that the crumbling giants that had once been office buildings or skyscrapers had a certain kind of beauty that most humans found difficult to understand. He had to find her, though. The damage she had done was irreversible, a fact for which he was thankful when he truly took the time to think about it, but regardless, it was his mission – his very purpose – the hunt for her. It was no mistake that he had come here. There was nothing coincidental about the sense, a feeling rather than a thought that had given him the determination and indeed, the reason to even make his way here. He was not quite done yet, though. He knew well that it was instinct causing him to retrace the steps that he had taken so many times over; the barely running subway, one of the few small luxuries that still existed. It came as no surprise to him that fewer and fewer people chose to use it as time went by, based almost solely upon the fact that mistrust in such machinery had only grown over the past few months. Years. Elias didn’t feel the need to concern himself with it. He had already lived for hundreds.
There had been a time when he had walked the streets of Rome freely. The Vatican had welcomed him … hell, cathedrals the world over had eventually welcomed him at one point or another in time. The Original Fall had had nothing to do with him whatsoever, and for a time, he had kept his head above water, avoided sin no matter what the cost.
He boarded the carriage almost unconsciously, amidst those with the ability to travel in much the same way as he did. His verification came only from his affiliation with Vanity, whose links to the so-called police force granted him an easier pathway throughout the ruin around him. She knew as well as he did that none of his interests truly lay in helping those around him any longer; this would be his one saving grace against the very woman he was traveling to meet with.
“Hey,” He didn’t stir. Nobody in this time would recognize him, and he would have known if they shared his … heritage. “Hey, buddy,” Nothing. People pushed past him stop by stop, and yet for some inexplicable reason, this stranger had chosen to latch onto him for what seemed like the duration of the journey. “You’ve gotta help me, man. These guys–” Elias wasn’t sure of what compelled him to turn at that moment – the note of panic and desperation in the man’s voice, most likely. Recognizing a call for help, and an anguished human, was ingrained. Most of the time, he did not have a choice as to whether or not he reacted. The three of them stood out amongst the staggered passengers, if only because they caused themselves to stand out. He knew their type. While humanity had moved on, nothing about the gang mentality had really changed.
The carriage ground to a halt, the voice on the intercom a whisper, but significant enough to tell him that this was his stop. Perhaps Elias would have thought more heavily about aiding a stranger had he not already given himself the night’s mission. He saw the barrel of the gun, and did not freeze in front of it for knowledge that it would not harm him. Had the doors not been about to close, he would have put himself between the man and the bullet that pushed itself forcefully from the barrel, a pellet with intent. Instead, he watched with a strange curiosity as the blood exploded onto the glass at the exact moment that the doors slid tightly shut.
What was the point in saving them, anyway? He had not been saved. If there was anything he could have done, surely this would have worked in his favor, in the face of Lena’s temptation. Instead, The Order had forsaken him all too quickly.
He took the time to glance around only to better understand where he was. How very typical of Lena. She had always loved being followed by her ‘flock’ … courtesans and call girls, all women in the desperate recesses of their minds, at wits end and desiring more than they could ever hope to gain. Lena offered the solution to them, and while he could see from a distance what it cost them, a captured woman would ignore the brutality of what she had become. Money for pleasure, no matter how thinly it was veiled, was always the same, and yet in this day and age, it was by far the worst of the conditions he had seen.
“Looking for a good time, sugar?” There in little more than a skirt that clung tightly to her thighs and a bandeau that left nothing to the imagination, throwing herself at him because … ah, yes. His jacket was made of leather. Hard to come by and only provided by the force to give off an air of intimidation. He looked rich. Rich men looking for a good time were by far the most valuable of customers. He continued on, fixated only on the bar. Lena herself, of course, did not offer up her services in fear of what men would find upon her. She had relied on Elias because he did, after all, understand her condition.
He continued on. Patrons glared up at him, already associating his clothing with something they both hated and feared. The narrow-eyed elderly and the tattooed youths, women writhing upon the laps of paying customers with more whiskey than they had money. While these mostly kept to themselves, it was undeniable that his presence threatened their comfort, the equilibrium of a life full of deprivation, nothingness … this refuge away from a broken world was all they had left. He was not there to apprehend anyone tonight. Instead, he looked directly at the woman who appeared at the foot of the stairs, behind the bar, shrouded by a nightgown as she always was with a deceptive purity in her face, her flesh.
“Lena,” He muttered as she held out a hand, smiling. Instantly, he was protected from those who would ordinarily have launched an attack upon him, were it not for the fact that killing a supposed cop would lead them all to their deaths. “You know why I’m here.” She bowed her head in silence.
“Who told you to come for me this time, Elias?” She had thrown her gown to the floor as soon as they had entered the room, the bloody stumps attached to her shoulder blades fully visible in an instant. Elias found himself staring intently at them determined not to be tempted this time, instead focusing upon the moment in time that he had felt it, too. The pain of his wings themselves being ripped off had not been so bad. Each individual bone breaking, nerves tugged at, wrenched from his back … no, this paled in comparison to the part of him that had died that day. His virtue had been the very thing causing screams of agony, like a man thrown onto flame; a swift pain that happened over and over until his wings were reduced to nothing but the stumps mirrored on Lena’s back. The burning sensation of bile and vomit rising in his throat; one by one, each limb shattering into a thousand small shards, and yet nobody could have seen it.
“Nobody sent me, Lena.” She turned to him, a smirk on her otherwise angelic face.
“Then you’ve returned.” She threw her arms open, moving towards him at what seemed to be a stride, not quite throwing herself at him but instead jubilant at the fact that he had supposedly ‘returned’. She did not need to know about Vanity; they did not need to discuss the woman any further, because Lena did not trust her, because then she would know that he had an ulterior motive. In spite of it all, he did not want to mention Vanity because he knew that Lena was at the root of it all, regardless of how she protected herself from the outside and insisted that she was not one of the Fallen. Even as she embraced him and pressed her lips to his, he knew why her hands were tugging at his jacket, forcing the item down, over his shoulders and onto the floor; her fingertips shook as she slipped them under his shirt, gently pressing at the bloody stumps that had once been his wings.
“You know why I’m here.” He breathed as she withdrew. Another smirk, a fallen smile, her eyes scanning him for any sign of this new person, this man she barely knew. She had tried so hard to take everything from him, and yet here he was, standing tall, refusing to become a quivering wreck that would sooner fall into bed with her than remain in control of the situation. She turned away from him again, cold this time; this was the Lena he knew, not the one overwhelmed by hunger, but the one who knew both herself and her surroundings.
“You’re still trying to force your way back into The Order, then?” His lip curled and he shook his head, relieved, but worn by his attempts.
“To desire that would ensure my defeat. I’m here to ask you why, Lena.” She cocked her head to the side.
“It was as much your doing as it was mine.” She paced about the room carefully, now, never taking her eyes off him. Elias, instead, remained with his hands in his pockets, the fingers of his right hand drumming gently on the metal. Shooting her would not stop her … it would feel damn good, though. Her eyes fixated themselves upon the gun as he withdrew it and aimed, not yet pulling the trigger … not yet shooting.
“Do you really think that’s going to work, Elias? My, you have been spending too much time with the woman.” A grin on his face, this time, more manic and more cruel than one he had ever given. He was not a born bloodsucker, and he was only in this state now because she had made him so. Caught up in the passion of those around him, he had turned to the only woman who seemed to understand him … he had not known, then. A shape shifter, a Fallen Angel masquerading as a member of The Order.
“I wasn’t going to ask about that. I was just going to ask why you’re still coveting corrupt souls. Was mine not enough for you? Was turning a member of The Order not fulfilling? Or are there … others?” Of all the things he could have considered, the final idea was by far the most chilling. If all of the men who had been found were like him, then he knew that pointing a gun at her forehead was likely the last thing he wanted to be doing. Still, he insisted. He seemed to have hit upon something, however. Her eyes flared as he finished speaking, aware, at least, that he had worked her out.
Elias wanted to pull the trigger there and then. He could get out through the open window. He could escape this part of town easily and never return; he had no time for whores, after all. He had no time for Lena’s following. Yet, he could not quite bring himself to squeeze the trigger … his hand shook violently.
“You can’t do it.” Her voice was suddenly quiet. Childlike and remorseful, her form danced in front of him. Elias’ knees buckled, but he did not quite go under.
“Are there others?” He repeated through gritted teeth. Eyes wide, she shook her head.
“If they were here, you would have known it.”
“A Fallen doesn’t know. Not if they’re of a higher rank … they wouldn’t want me to know.” Again, his knees buckled, a searing pain in his gut. Whatever she was doing, she was doing well. He almost doubled over … she continued to stare.
“I knew, though. Your kind are so … arrogant. Like you, they didn’t realize it was me until it was too late.” Elias retched; that same burning as when he had lost his wings, although this time, he watched as crimson leaked from his lips onto the carpet. At long last, he was doubled over, still refusing to let go of his gun, supporting himself with just one hand as he retched, twice, three times, a fourth before finally gleaning the courage to look up at her. Vanity had no doubt guessed that he was gone by now. He considered her as his insides wretched, acknowledging that she did not need any kind of power to cause a criminal to feel this way. Vanity, of course, had always been the one snatch of reality he had been allowed, from the moment he had met her on.
He tried to squeeze the trigger, truly. He tried to force the bullet through Lena’ forehead, a single gunshot that would blow out the back of her head. Instead, his hand continued to shake feebly, and even as he did grasp the gun tightly, he slipped, the bullet instead making for her chest, knocking her backwards onto the bed. He slumped, a heap, on the carpet, not quite dead, but no longer his former self; Lena’s form swam in front of him again, light … he could have sworn he saw light. Even if not, he was a pitiful, useless thing now.
Elias heard the door open, saw a flash of navy boots as he drifted between realities. The Order would not take him, and neither would the Fallen. It didn’t matter. Vanity was cradling him … his nonexistence did not matter. A grin as his insides ceased to writhe and his blood trickled down his chin like an infant unable to suppress its saliva through a lack of self control. Embryonic, he lay there for a while while Vanity, his reality, ordered her men about the musty room.