Inside Drops of Crimson

   
   
   
Foot Soldier by Kenneth McDaniel

“Good evening, Andrew.”

From the dimly illuminated chair near the windowsill, Andrew looked back into the unlit apartment. “Whatever you want, you’ll have to take it to Gabriel.” The unwelcome presence made an already bad Holiday season worse.

The winged Cherubim stepped into the light. Andrew momentarily turned and glanced at the child-like Angel clad in patent leather shoes, black ruffles, and lace.

“What is she doing?” Raphael asked.

Andrew abhorred the idea of serving under a few of the Choir’s more twisted personalities, and this fool in particular. “She’s waiting tables, the same as yesterday, and the day before. If you check with Gabriel—”

"Silence, Nephilim.” Raphael spoke with the pitch of a spoiled child. “Continue your disrespectful tenor, and I’ll have that tongue.”

Andrew turned in his chair and bowed ostentatiously. “How might I serve you, Raphael?” He opened his eyes and met the glacier-blue stare of his Master’s Master with a wry smile.

Raphael smirked, and turned back towards the window. “For a start, you can answer my question.”

Andrew nodded. “Since coming on shift this evening, she’s performed her normal responsibilities of waiting tables. Aside from the seven other employees, she’s had no visitors.”

“That is better, Bastard child of Fallen,” Raphael said. “When did you last hear from your Archangel?”

“Two months,” Andrew replied. “It was you who approved my mission, wasn’t it?”

Raphael chortled and stared out the window. “Has there been any sign of Fallen?”

“None.”

The Cherub crossed his arms and slightly fluttered his small wings. “Do you remember your instructions?”

“Stay here and watch.” These were the tasks given to Heaven’s land-locked soldiers, Angels like Andrew. A descendant of Fallen, Andrew did not possess wings, immortality, or rank. “And when required, report.”

“And, do not interfere,” Raphael added. “No Nephilim has ever stood against a Fallen.”

“I remember.”

Raphael walked around Andrew, his hands held to his back. His hard leather heels clacked loudly against the bare cement floor. He reached and flipped up the back of Andrew’s coat. “Your blade tends to speak otherwise.”

Andrew rose quickly, his chair rattling across the loft. He twisted away from Raphael, reaching around and adjusting the long, curved kukri strapped to his back. Among the Choirs, his reputation for violence always preceded him.

From the back of the apartment came a new voice. “Raphael, you must forgive him. Andy gets a little— enthusiastic, from time to time.”

There was the sound of footsteps and steel dragging across cement. A tall figure with a naked torso and large wings stepped into the light. A monstrous unsheathed sword hung from his side.

Andrew fell to a knee, his head laid low.

“I could only hope to be the cause of such a reaction,” Raphael said, annoyed by the lowest ranking Angel’s genuine reverence.

Andrew grinned. “That’s because you’re not dragging around an eight-foot sword.”

“Good to see you, Andy,” Gabriel said, his hands resting on a worn, leather belt.

“Gabriel,” Andrew said. “It’s great to see you.”

“Some teacher,” the Cherub pouted, his eyes burning with jealousy at the sight of Andrew’s Archangel. “You picked an interesting time to show your face.”

“Well, when a member of the Second Choir shows up to interfere with my Angel, it tends to draw my attention,” Gabriel said. “The Seraph have their purpose here, Raphael. There is no need for you to check up.”

“I’m not checking up,” Raphael sneered, and pointed to Andrew. “I’m here to observe.”

“Gabriel, I don’t need to be observed,” Andrew protested. “I’m overly qualified for your babysitting assignment.”

There, he finally said it. Andrew didn’t want to be here. Why did the Cherub’s plan require him in particular? There were plenty of lesser Nephilim fully capable of sitting in a chair for two months.

“Andrew, I’m sure Raphael has a very legitimate reason to appear and personally supervise this simple task,” Gabriel said. “Don’t you, Raphael?”

Raphael motioned to Gabriel, and they quickly removed their conversation to the shadows, where they could continue in private. Despite his distaste for Raphael, Andrew was still uncomfortable listening to a disagreement between two high-ranking Angels. He felt like a child caught in an argument between parents.

For his part, Andrew sat back in his chair and resumed his surveillance. He looked down and across the street to a small diner tucked into the corner of a large building. Even from four stories up, the tall glass windows gave him an excellent view of the inside.

His assignment was Lisa, a twenty-two year old waitress. Seven days a week, at eleven a.m., she came to work. She put on her apron with its ticket-book in the front pocket, and the usual assortment of straws, loose change, and condiments. For the next eight hours, she made a living providing services to her human customers.

Andrew checked his watch. Lisa’s shift would soon end, and his surveillance would go mobile. Through the restaurant’s windows, he watched her gathering boxes of the kitchen’s leftovers and placing them into a large sack.

As Lisa’s hand reached for the door, Andrew swung open the steel-framed window and allowed the cold December air to blow into the room. He stepped out onto the windowsill and glanced back. The two senior Angles were gone and Andrew didn’t have time to wait for the result of their conversation. He placed his feet into the breeze, allowing gravity to claim his wingless form, and draw him rapidly towards the hard street.

And, from a rooftop several stories above, a small Cherub smiled.

“Post Proelia Praemia.”

There were a few surprised gasps when he landed, but amid the throngs of revelers, he quickly disappeared and made his way across the street. After two years of delivering messages for the Choirs, he discovered he could get away with anything as long as he didn’t stick around for the television interview.

Plus, humans were too quick to discredit the fantastic.

Andrew never lost sight of Lisa. She arrived at the soup kitchen several blocks away, and Andrew assumed his usual position of watching from a shadowed fire escape across the street. After every shift, she came here to deliver the diner’s extras for the city’s less fortunate. From here, she would continue several more blocks across town to her tiny apartment.

Tonight was different. People filled the streets walking to the heart of downtown to celebrate the coming of the New Year. Lisa walked out of the soup kitchen and was immediately engulfed by a large crowd. For a moment, Andrew lost sight of her, causing him to run out to the middle of the street.

He closed his eyes and concentrated. This was one of his talents, a keen awareness of his subject’s location at all times. When he opened his eyes, he watched Lisa’s blonde hair turn into a side alley. Never one to encroach, he slowly worked his way down the sidewalk when he heard a scream.

Lisa’s panicked shriek pulled at him. At the alley’s entrance, Andrew hesitated.

‘And, do not interfere.’

Andrew wasn’t the most steadfast member of the Choirs, but he did follow orders, and his orders were to watch. Another cry for help, and he abandoned his uncertainty, charging into the alley, and quickly discovering the source of Lisa’s terror.

The man’s features and clothes reflected years of hard life amid the city’s indigent environment. Andrew recognized him as a regular from the soup kitchen. This time, instead of holding a fork and tray, the man held a rusty knife.

It didn’t take much to scare him away. A verbal threat and a menacing posture had the assailant running back to the alley’s dark recesses. Not wishing to escalate the confrontation, Andrew followed him only so far as to ensure Lisa’s safety.

Mission accomplished. Already too involved, it was time to disappear. Lisa was on the phone, presumably calling the authorities. Andrew kept his head down and tried to walk passed.

“Whoa, tiger,” Lisa said. Andrew felt a hand grab his wrist. “You’re not getting away that easy.” Again, Andrew tried to leave, and again Lisa responded with a firm tug.

She spoke into her phone. “A man cornered me with a knife.” Their eyes met. Andrew looked down. “He was chased away.” Andrew glanced up again; she met his gaze and smiled. She smiled at him. “We’re at the corner of...”

For thirty minutes, Andrew found himself responding to the questions posed by the city’s Police. This was the reason the Choir needed mixed-blood Angels like Andrew. Born human, he possessed identification, citizenship, and a history. He answered their questions without raising any suspicion. Something Raphael would never be able to do.

Between questions, Andrew stole glimpses of Lisa over the Patrolman’s shoulder. “I heard a scream from the alley.” He tried to look anywhere but at her face. “I was just passing by, and heard her call for help.” But each time, his eyes found their way back.

The Officers finished their report and departed. They offered to escort Lisa home, but she declined.

She turned towards Andrew, “Are you my guardian angel or something?”

Andrew grinned sheepishly. He wanted to say, Yes, I’ve been watching you for two months, but instead he said, “Sorry, nothing like that.”

“Why are you in such a hurry to leave?”

“I was just trying to help out,” he said. “I apologize for any trouble. If you’ll excuse me—” He tried to retreat, and again he failed.

She held his hand firmly. “It’s New Year’s Eve, why don’t you let me thank you with some dessert?” She released his hand and walked back towards the street.

To Andrew’s surprise, he followed.

It was the longest ten blocks of his life. Weaving between throngs of people, Andrew couldn’t shake Lisa’s sweet fragrance. It was the first time he recalled being close enough to smell her.

At the entrance, she held open the door. Andrew paused to look across the street and up towards his perch. He felt more comfortable up there looking down. This setting felt too intimate.

“Let’s get a table,” she said.

He turned and followed her down the path between the long counter and the booths against the window. She looked over her shoulder at him with a half smile. For a moment he forgot all about his mission and was caught spellbound by the rhythm of her movement.

Andrew didn’t notice the bald customer walk into him and knock him into a booth occupied by a couple. He glanced quickly towards the door in time to see a denim-clad man with a shaved head step out in to the cold.

“I’m so sorry.” Andrew reached and picked up the glass of water he’d knocked across the table.

Lisa doubled back to check the commotion. “What happened?”

“One of your customers just shoved him,” the woman said. She tried desperately to corral the water from running off the edge of the table and onto her dress.

“I’ll have someone get that.” Lisa motioned to the table’s server. “Are you okay?”

Andrew found his face inches from Lisa’s, and was unexpectedly flustered. “I’m fine.”

“I can’t leave you alone for a second.” Lisa grabbed Andrew by the cuff of his sleeve and led him to an empty table in the back. She smiled at him, again forcing him to look away. She spun around one of the chairs. “Have a seat.” Lisa left and quickly returned with a glass of water. “What do you want?”

“I’ll have the apple pie with ice cream.” From his observations, it seemed to be the popular choice. As Lisa scooted off, he did his best to get comfortable despite the mind-numbing seasonal music assaulting him from above.

He watched Lisa bounce off to the kitchen. She always had a genuine smile even when dealing with complete strangers. Her smile and the loopy, blonde curls were her best features. She had a glow about her others lacked. Up close she was— intoxicating.

He looked out the window. Hundreds of passersby walked towards the heart of downtown with their ridiculous outfits and silly hats. He didn’t understand their behavior when he was human and now, even less so.

“Here.”

He blinked passed his daydream and found hot apple pie and ice cream materialized in the middle of his place setting. He looked up at Lisa sitting across the table, her blue eyes staring expectantly.

“Well? Are you going to eat it, or admire it?” she teased.

Truth was, Andrew hadn’t picked up a spoon in almost two years. Actually, he hadn’t eaten food in almost two years, a benefit of Awakening.

The smooth vanilla ice cream and glazed Granny Smith apples hit his palate, and conjured a flood of memories. He enjoyed chasing the textures around his mouth with his tongue.

“So, what’s your name?” Lisa asked.

“Andy.” As soon as he said it, the ice cream decided to escape from his mouth and onto his lap. “Ah, sorry.” He couldn’t help but laugh. He’d forgotten how to swallow, and Lisa laughed right along.

“I’m Lisa,” she said between giggles. “Where are you from, Andy?”

Andrew forced down a lump of dessert and discovered the long-lost and uncomfortable sensation of swallowing something too large. He instinctively chased it with the cold water.

Which promptly came back through his nose.

“Oklahoma.” Water dribbled down the front of his chin.

Lisa laughed again. “You’re such a mess.”

“I’m not used to eating with company.”

“Obviously,” she said. “What do you do for a living?”

“I’m in security.” He needed to turn the tables on the conversation. “What about you? Where are you from?”

“Here, I grew up in the city.” Lisa’s eyes tracked along several groups moving past the long windows. “I wanted to leave, but ran out of college money and had to drop out. So, here I am. But I have plenty of time. I’ll finish my degree, then leave town.”

“You always get this personal with your customers?”

“Only the ones who save me from knife-wielding psychos.” She pointed down towards his plate. “How’s the pie?”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve had anything—” Andrew paused and took a moment to swallow another bite. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. “—this good,” he added with a smirk. “You like working here?”

“I do, I like the people. Obviously some are more interesting than others.” She looked out the window. “Like you.”

He choked on another bite of pie, this time miraculously keeping it in his mouth.

“Do you believe in reincarnation?” she asked.

Andrew blinked. Twice. “Where’d that come from?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “The moment I saw you, I felt a kind of déjà vu. Do you know what I mean?”

He paused and slowly chewed another bite. He was sure the saying didn’t originally apply to eating, but it really was just like riding a bike. Andrew was considering how to answer her question without telling the complete truth. He wasn’t the kind of Angel to lie. But then again, with no wings, sometimes he didn’t see himself as much of an Angel at all.

He swallowed again and smiled, clearing his throat with a drink of water. “I think every human being on this planet is connected in one way or another,” Andrew said. “I think the earth is just a place for mankind to hang out until it’s time to move on.”

“Do you believe in Heaven?” Lisa asked.

“Absolutely,” Andrew replied. I’ve seen it.

“But not everyone gets to go there,” she said. “That’s pretty unfair.”

“Most everyone gets an equal chance.”

“What do you mean, most everyone?” It was Lisa’s turn to throw a funny expression across the table.

“Well, there are some individuals out there who will never get the opportunity.” People like me, he thought. “It’s not fair, and it’s not unfair. It’s just the way it is.

“But you shouldn’t worry about the next life,” he continued. “You have a lot waiting for you in this one.”

Her chin rested on her hands and melancholy touched her voice. “I guess I’m waiting for happiness to find me.”

“It’s not something you wait for,” Andrew said. “It’s something you take.”

“Have you found yours?” she asked.

Andrew replied with a half-smile full of ice cream. “I’m still looking.” Something in her eyes caught his attention. Why didn’t I notice it sooner?

Lisa focused outside the window, staring into the dark night. Her bright, blue eyes made thousands of tiny movements, twitching back and forth, examining each person and car moving past the restaurant. Like a camera’s lens, her pupils dilated and restricted, capturing images at amazing speeds.

Now Andrew understood the reason for the two months of surveillance. Lisa didn’t know it yet, but she was Awakening. Like Andrew, she was Nephilim. The Choirs had discovered her first, but that wouldn’t prevent Fallen from attempting to take her to their side.

He remembered when his Angelic heritage awoke under the watchful eye of Gabriel, and opened his eyes to a much broader existence. Any moment now, she would evolve and be called forward to play her part in the most ancient of wars.

“Am I boring you?” he asked.

“Sorry,” she said. “Lately my life has been getting pretty dull. I think I’m ready for a change.”

“Careful what you wish for.” Just a little longer and it will get a lot more interesting. “But I do appreciate the ice cream. Thanks.”

She let slip a sigh of relief. “For a second there I didn’t think you were going to make it to the table.”

“What do you mean?”

“The guy who knocked into you,” she said. “He was a complete jerk all night. Just sat at the bar giving me crap until he left. I thought he was picking a fight with you, but he didn’t stick around.” She was rambling and fussing with her drink. “Honestly, who tattoos wings on the back of their head?”

“Wings?”

Andrew looked around the restaurant, first at the table where he knocked over the water, then towards the door. His razor-sharp mind latched on to a brief image of a bald man running out the door. He rubbed his eyes, desperately trying to pull more information to the surface.

“Lisa, what did the wings look like?”

“Just a pair of wings pointed up.”

Andrew cursed. There was an Acolyte here, and I missed it.

He casually reached back under his coat and undid the catch on the kukri. He looked outside the window and let his eyes wander. He could process hundreds of distinct images every second, rapidly transitioning from one image to another, searching for anything resembling a threat.

“Your eyes,” she said. “They’re twitching.” Her eyes focused on his and did the same, taking note of every insignificant move. She held her hands up over her face. “It hurts.”

“Your eyes are pulling in more information than you can handle,” he said, still scanning. “You’ll get used to it.” If you survive the night.

“What did...” The rest of her sentence faded as Andrew found the subject of his search. A threat.

His scanning stopped, frozen on the image of a large man standing in the window behind Lisa. In his hands materialized an immensely long sword. He drew it back, poised to strike.

As the blade entered the restaurant, Andrew grabbed Lisa by the wrist and pulled. Her body obeyed and followed his lead. The blade followed a long, smooth arc, cleaving through glass and steel. At first, the large, tempered glass window held. Then, gradually, it vibrated and flexed, as a sea of cracks jumped out towards the edges. Finally, it exploded. Andrew wrapped Lisa under his arm and ran ahead as the glass blew inwards and rained over the remaining customers.

He threw her over the long counter. “Stay here.”

Where’s Gabriel? Andrew looked back. The Fallen smiled and slung the long blade across its shoulders.

Andrew looked towards the entrance for an avenue of escape. As customers rushed out the front door, four men fought against the flow of panicked humanity.

Acolytes were humans who serve the Fallen, enticed by hollow promises of power and immortality. Andrew unsheathed the kukri and charged the front entrance. The Fallen’s Acolytes immediately drew their weapons and opened fire.

Indiscriminate bullets cut through air and panicked customer alike. Against Andrew, the human firearms were a complete waste. Forged on Earth and scribed in Heaven, his Nepalese knife sang through the air. He used its flat edge to deflect the copper projectiles into the ceiling, each impact resonated a tone worthy only of an Angelic blade.

Lisa’s inhuman eyes followed Andrew’s blurred movements as he darted between bystanders and swatted bullets out of midair. The faster he moved, the more everything around her stood still. She watched with morbid fascination as he seemed to magically appear in the middle of his enemies and artfully dismantle them with his long blade.

Against the backdrop of the chaos, carnage, and panic, Andrew glowed. Like an Angel, she thought.

With the blood of the Acolytes still hanging in midair, Andrew heard a scream and turned to see the Fallen pulling Lisa by her hair from behind the counter.

Andrew shook off the fear permeating his soul and charged, crashing his body against the foe. Fallen were ancient creatures, bound to the Earth by their hatred for the Creator.

Andrew felt every inch of their hatred as the Fallen flung him through the window. He crashed through the glass, then bounced and skidded across the cold, damp asphalt to the other side of the street. Only a wall of hard concrete brought him to a stop.

The Fallen pulled Lisa through the window and dropped her into the middle of the street. He pointed his obscenely large sword at her.

Andrew picked himself up off the pavement. His razor sharp eyes searched desperately for a crack in the armor of a creature whose existence predated time.

The Fallen knows, Andrew realized. He knows Lisa is already Awakened. Andrew walked into the street and circled his brazen enemy until he stood over Lisa.

“Can you stand?” Andrew asked.

“Yes.”

“I want you to run,” Andrew said, removing his eyes from the Fallen, and looking at her. “I want you to run until you find your happiness.”

She slowly rose to her feet, a puzzled look on her face. For a quiet eternity, she watched the two men stare at each other.

When Andrew moved, she understood.

Her eyes followed as Andrew danced around the strange man with the large sword. They moved so fast it defied reality. As the air filled with the sounds of clashing steel, it became clear the larger man’s sword overpowered Andrew’s small blade. Then Andrew made his desperate and final attack.

Lisa watched as the Fallen’s sword pierced through her hero.

The Fallen smiled, pleased with himself at having skewered his prey. The young Nephilim staggered and stared down at the sword running through the middle of his chest. The Fallen looked into Andrew’s eyes, searching for panic and despair. Instead, he found—

Courage.

Determination.

Purpose.

Andrew clenched his teeth, reached up, and gripped the hilt of the attacker’s sword. The Fallen faltered. Its confidence and satisfaction quickly dissipated as Andrew pulled the sword further into himself.

The Fallen held out a hand, but Andrew drove against him, the asphalt crumbling beneath the pressure of his feet. When Andrew could draw himself up the sword no further, he looked to Lisa.

But she was gone.

Andrew turned his face back to the Fallen and grinned.

“No Nephilim has ever stood against a Fallen.” He coughed. Looking at the silver finish of the sword’s hilt, he saw it covered in his own blood.

The Fallen was puzzled. He did not understand the futile struggles of such a useless creature. Why was the Nephilim happy? The Fallen relaxed his grip.

“I stood.”

Andrew raised his hands and in an instant, pushed them forward. The Fallen staggered and Andrew was free. Andrew reached down and pulled the long sword from his body. It clattered to the ground, and Andrew fell to his knees.

The Fallen crashed to the ground and lay motionless. Locked between the monster's teeth was the brass and wooden handle of the kukri. The steel blade protruded from the back of its skull.

In the distance, Andrew listened to throngs of people counting down in unison and culminating in a wave of cheers. He looked up as brilliant red fireworks ignited the Heavens.

Then he collapsed.

His eyes focused on the corner of the restaurant where just moments ago he shared a table with a young waitress. In the dim light, Andrew read aloud the inscription etched into the back of his blade’s handle.

“Post Proelia Praemia.”

After the battles come the rewards.

He smiled and as his vision faded, he thought of apple pie and ice cream.

Lisa, find your happiness.

Andrew, God’s Foot Soldier, had earned his wings.

About the Author

Kenneth McDaniel is in the US Army and spent the last year as a combat advisor to the Iraqi army. During his deployment, he started writing as a means to entertain his wife back home. He is now stationed in Texas and this is his first published story.
Copyright (c) 2008 Drops of Crimson. All rights reserved.