Updated: Dec 18, 2021
[Part 1 . . .]
Winter air burned Kalai’s ears as it swept past. His back slammed into the brick wall. Heaving breaths clawed out his throat. His worn, feather-stripped wings rattled, humming with pain and refusing to move. They’d be no help.
As massive fingers squished his neck, Kalai gurgled a gasp. Lightheaded, he gripped his attacker’s arm while his other hand jabbed the enemy’s elbow outward on blind instinct. The demon lost his grip. Kalai kicked, and his plated boot struck the demon squarely on the chin.
The demon stumbled backwards. He covered his face, shuddering. Red dripped through his palm and decorated the snow. It was not blood like the humans had but spiritual energy - the lifeblood of their kind. Without it, any demon would lose his power and collapse.
Kalai wiped the warm, golden drops of energy that bled from his own mouth - golden for he was among God’s loyal. Only the energy of a traitor turned red.
Some of Kalai’s thick brown bangs stuck out from under his headband and hung loose over his bruising eye. He braced himself against the wall. Easing his gasps, he stood taller. “You,” he grunted, “are not . . . getting in.”
Kalai stared down what he considered to be his mirror image. The same handsome features; the same wings; the same soldier’s uniform. Only the red cloth the demon wore had faded. His pallor, long deprived of God’s glory, had paled to a blackened grey, and his crystalline wings had browned with grime. Kalai looked deep into those hateful eyes. In his head, he knew they were the eyes of a mortal enemy, but the similarities between them would not let his heart forget. They were brothers. In another time, in another place, they were family.
Once again, Kalai found his angered heart had room enough to grieve for his sworn enemy. “Leave now,” he warned. “Don’t make me strike you again.”
With a horrible click, the demon shoved his jaw back in place. He leaped with sharpened wings extended.
Kalai raised his hands. Dark razor quills sliced through his leather hand-straps and into his palms as he gripped both wings. He drove them hard into the wall behind. Feathers chipped and snapped off. In one smooth motion, Kalai ducked. He slipped past the demon’s legs and pivoted to a stand. Extending a flattened palm, he then shoved the back of the demon’s head, splitting his forehead open against the brick.
All went still.
Red lines streaked zig-zags down the rough surface. The demon sagged then dropped into the snow.
Solemn, Kalai backed away. The energy spilled thick from the fallen’s head. Kalai’s insides soured. He hugged his abdomen, hoping pressure could force it to settle. He turned to look again at the two other demons he had beaten unconscious. Their comatose forms lay splayed on the powdered white parking lot like carrion. A faintness chilled his brow. Strength seeped from him.
Taking another step back, he fumbled over a soft surface. He looked down and lifted his foot. An imprint of his boot disappeared from another defeated demon’s arm. This one’s hand still clutched a broken dagger. Its splintered edge glistened wet gold.
Reminded of that particular blade, Kalai checked his opened side. The jagged gash was larger than he guessed. His fingers pulled the torn red fabric away. Sudden sharp burns that issued from a hidden cold point took over. The heat of battle had allowed him to ignore pain for a time, but now at rest, it resurged, catching up with him until he cried out and crumbled.
Kalai fell to his knees with one hand pressed against the wound, the other holding the rest of him up. Crouched over the broken knife - the originator of his agony - his mind filled with its gruesome presence. More grisly weapons flashed in his memory, and that sour sensation again stirred in his being.
Kalai gritted his teeth. His fingers searched for the broken point imbedded in his side, but the stings intensified. Biting his lip to keep from screaming, he urged himself to continue. His wounds would regenerate and close on their own soon. He couldn’t afford to leave it in.
A minute passed. Two minutes. More energy seeped out, sliming his fingers until metal and cloth were indiscernible.
Kalai groaned. He wished to bury himself in the snow or for the gentle flakes dancing about him to dump a full blanket. He wanted the freezing wet to soothe the burning, to stave its ravenous hunger for the rest of him, but such wishes were fantasy. The weather wouldn’t change for him. Neither could his metaphysical hands affect the physical elements without hard focus. A cough exploded through his raw throat and worsened his ensuing headache. Lord, help me. Desperate for relief, Kalai lowered himself so his side could at least reach the inviting ice.
A sudden force knocked him on his wounded side. Kalai hollered, as the hidden piece of broken dagger plunged deeper. His numbed wings tingled from the sudden jolt. He heard a cracking only to realize it was his left hand being ground under the heel of a boot. He bit his lip.
The demon above knelt over him. Red drops from his split head plopped directly into Kalai’s bruised eye. “Who’s threatening who now?” the demon spat. He gripped Kalai’s ear as though to tear it right off. He aimed an armored fist, ready to crush Kalai’s temple.
Kalai sucked in a breath but refused to cower by looking away. He widened his half-shut eyelid despite its throbbing.
The plated fist descended.
A white light pierced right through the attacker’s chest.
The demon’s punch stopped short. His quivering head drooped, and he examined the glowing shaft.
Kalai blinked. The light’s point stuck out far enough to hover inches from his cheek, but its heat didn’t scorch the angel. It felt comforting, like embers from a hearth, yet its exit smelted the fallen’s clothes. Faint whiffs of smoke drifted from the edges, as it soldered the demon.
The spear slid back out. The demon’s head flopped on a limp neck before he fell over, revealing a bright figure just behind. The other angel’s knuckles tightened around the spear he pressed close to his side. He twisted the golden shaft’s center, and its glowing point dissipated. The rest of it collapsed into a small, sizable tube that the angel strapped to his belt.
Recognizing his superior officer and friend, Kalai sighed and let his cheek lay in the cold’s welcome caress.
“Sergeant, you’ve got some explaining to do.” Captain Mati folded his illuminated wings, hardening the feathers into golden armor across his chest.
Too pained to move and too weary to be serious, Kalai smiled and closed his eyes as if settling for a leisure nap. “Sure thing. Just five more minutes,” he croaked.
“No.” Mati knelt and took Kalai by the elbow. “Now.”
Kalai swallowed down a weak cry as his arm was pulled over broad shoulders. Exhaling, he braced himself for more jostling, but a mass of pillowed downy feathers wrapped around his side, careful not to hit the wound. The wing hugged him close to his supervisor’s side and supported him as Mati hoisted him up.
Another wave of pain accosted Kalai. His torso tried to crunch inward, but the other angel pulled his shoulder up, preventing the motion.
“Come on, soldier.” Mati began walking him toward the road.
“No,” Kalai rasped. He motioned toward the building. “Take me inside.”
Mati gave a rueful smile and shook his head. “Hate to break it to you, but they don’t service your type.”
A panicked urgency burst out of Kalai. “Please!”
Caught off guard, Mati frowned. He pondered in silence. “Okay,” He nodded. “Okay.”
Kalai let the tension in his jaw relax. Reflecting on his former demanding tone, he lowered it to a ragged whisper. “Sorry. Sorry, I shouldn’t shout.”
Mati sighed, but Kalai couldn’t tell if it was out of weariness or pity. “Just come on.”
Kalai dragged his feet, forcing them to bear as much weight as they could. His boots became like weighted rocks with each step. He watched his feet move right and left and right and left, imagining how the compacted snowflakes would crunch under his soles if they could actually touch. Snow changed to salted cement. Salted cement ran into a glass door framed in grey metal.
Mati halted. “Can you manage this?”
Kalai raised his head. He stared into the thick blue letters on the door. He needed to phase past it. In truth, he hadn’t yet convinced himself he could do it yet, but he hadn’t time for hesitance. “Oh. Yeah. Totally.” Searching deep for what remnants of energy he had left, Kalai concentrated. His entire being tingled as it disassembled. Blinding gold dust filled his vision, but he kept his mind set on one thing: moving forward. He passed through the door along with Mati and soon regained form on the other side. Opening his regained eyes and pleased with himself, Kalai grinned. “See?” His knees buckled. He gasped, as he suddenly dropped.
Mati gripped his shoulders hard, saving him from the fall and the tile floor.
Kalai winced, but grateful and wishing to put Mati at ease, he chose to lightly laugh. He gave a thumbs up in thanks.
Mati’s grave countenance remained unchanged, but a repressed glint flickered in his eye. He lifted Kalai back to his feet and lugged him along. “You’re trouble. You know that?”
“Yep. You remind me every day.”
“Then why do I have to keep repeating myself?”
Kalai answered in a drawn-out tone. “Because you don’t like that I might ‘like’ being trouble?” He chuckled at his own joke.
Mati huffed and shook his head. “Always laughing off the pain, aren’t you.”
Kalai rolled his eyes with a slight smile. For as long as he’s worked under Mati, his brother seemed incapable of being anything but serious. He managed a shrug. “I try.”
The small hall opened to a wider space. A single desk and a single door occupied the far left corner. A medium-sized tree, covered in glittering tinsel, filled the right corner with its star topper almost piercing the ceiling panel. The walls were lined with cushioned, wood-armed chairs. They could seat twenty all together, but only one was used.
A young woman, bags under her eyes, fiddled with her braid. Her fingers stroked through its frayed end again and again in a nervous cycle. Clear beads dotted then trickled down her brow. The blankness in her expression stared into nothing, and she hunched as far as her slight belly would allow.
Kalai went rigid at the sight of her. Half of him thanked God that she hadn’t reached the operating room, yet his heart remained sick. For she hadn’t chosen to leave.
Mati looked back and forth between her and Kalai. The severity in his face softened. “You’re going to have to tell me what’s going on, Sergeant.”
The door creaked open, and a man in a white coat stepped out. “Miss Kathy?”
Her face snapped to attention. “Yes?”
He nodded. “You’re up. Come with me, please.”
Kathy’s feet shuffled. She braced herself to rise from her seat; then she hesitated.
Kalai lurched. Her chest did not yet bear the Mark of the Trinity. She did not possess the resulting insignia of all humans who housed God’s Spirit, yet the Lord’s secret influence pressed upon her. Kalai saw his chance. “Get me closer, Mati.”
“Get me closer! Hurry!” A part of Kalai cursed himself for failing to use the proper address for his superior. They were on duty after all, yet at that moment, urgency reduced rank to secondary importance. Life was at stake. Pretentious formality mattered little.
Mati didn’t seem bothered enough by it anyway. Whether because he read the tone in Kalai’s voice or not, his brother skipped the impending lecture that no doubt burned his tongue to rush him forward.
Kalai gritted his teeth against the white-hot burning in his side.
Mati set him in the chair next to hers.
Kalai pushed out sharp breaths. His vision narrowed, but desperation helped him cling to his fading senses, forcing them to stay awake just long enough. He leaned close to her ear. “You don’t have to do this.” He pleaded God would let her hear him. “Your family will be understanding. Just walk away.”
Kathy leaned back. Her glossy eyes glistened. She squeezed them shut, as she swallowed hard. Her white pallor went green.
“It’s perfectly safe, miss,” the man stated in a matter-of-fact way. It almost sounded robotic - like something rehearsed but not felt.
Kalai growled. He’d shut that man up if he could. “Don’t do it,” he rasped harder. His raw throat, now pushed to its breaking point, convulsed wet coughs. The darkness that lined Kalai’s sight squeezed tighter. His chin dropped, hitting his chest.
Mati’s concerned tone stirred Kalai’s senses again. Kalai stopped himself from slipping right off the barest edge of his seat. “You have a choice, Kathy.” He planted a firm hand over her belly. Though the cut in his palm burned to the pressure, it resonated to the presence of another tiny soul inside. “Can’t you feel her? My Lord counts her as precious. So would have your father. Please, don’t spurn this gift.”
Glancing at his watch, the man’s eyes darkened. “Miss, if you’re not coming in, we’re gonna close for Christmas Eve.”
Kathy shot up. “No. No, I’m coming.”
Kalai reached out to stop her, but his hand passed right through hers. He didn’t have the strength to take physical hold . . . nor to keep himself propped up.
“Kalai!” Mati yelled.
A thud banged in Kalai’s head.
To be continued . . .
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