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    999 Knights Member Matt's Avatar
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    Albino: Chapter 3 (Nov. 22)

    I read through my stories and decided that it might be good to put up some content warnings.

    Angel Hunters contains bloody violence, gore, and mild language.
    Naomi's story contains the same thing as Angel Hunters, but explores content such as assassination and murder.
    Albino contains bloody violence and gore, but only briefly.

    I try not to work on too many projects at a time, but occasionally I'll post something other than the three mentioned above. With said posts, I'll include content warnings if necessary.

    Angel Hunters 1
    SPOILER! :
    They were at the door, knocking. Akiria could hear them from her hiding place under her best friend's bed. They were after her. They wanted to kill her.

    "Who is it?" Elaine called casually.

    The voice from the other side of the thick door was rough and impatient. "I want the girl you have in there. The angel."

    Elaine wisely stayed away from the door when she answered, "I don't support angel hunters. Go away."

    "I have a license. We have a license. Let us in before we make use of the third rule."

    "The rules on an angel hunting license don't apply in the south. You'll have to leave, or I'll call the soldiers. You're poaching on southern territory—be thankful I haven't called them already."

    The door rattled hard as something smashed against it. The frame of the house shook, and Akiria whimpered. "Elaine . . ." she whispered.

    "Shush," Elaine said quietly. "They'll hear you."

    Once again, the door rattled. "If you let us in now, we won't kill you too. We only want the angel."

    "You're threatening a civilian on grounds of an illegal angel hunt. I'm gonna call for the soldiers."

    Elaine waited for the door to crash in before turning and sprinting down the hallway opposite Akiria's hiding spot. The three hunters pursued her, but couldn't stop her from grabbing her horn and blowing it as loudly as she could manage. The sound carried to the village and the soldiers' quarters. Cursing and shouting, the hunters tackled Elaine and smashed her horn against her head.

    Akiria heard it all. Sickening cracks repeatedly shook the air as Elaine's cries weakened. Akiria's only grew more despaired. She realized a little too late that her cries were audible. She closed her mouth. Footsteps approached the room.

    "She's under the bed."

    Akiria lifted the bed and smashed it against the doorway. It made a perfect, moveable barricade. Lifting her fingers, she raised the bed up to the ceiling as the hunters tried to climb over it. Hurriedly, she dropped it again as they went for the opening below it.

    "Stop playing! Blow that thing away!"

    Akiria's loose, almost playful hold on the bed was shattered by a greater force. The bed crashed into her, the posts pinning her wings against the wall. She heard the hunters rush in and knew it was too late to send it back. She did anyway, giving one of them a good concussion. Another grabbed her neck and shoved her against the wall. She raised her hand and aimed her fingers as a similar choke around his neck. Laughing, he pulled a knife. Without a word, Akiria released her magic. The hunter flew backward. His legs banged against the overturned bed as he fell out the door. With two restrained, Akiria looked for the third hunter.

    The soldiers arrived then. There were five of them, all young men fresh from the academy. Two took the restrained hunters away. Two went to Elaine. One came to Akiria's side.

    "Hey, Kiri," he said. "Another hunting party, huh?"

    "Hardly. They didn't even have magic resistances."

    "You're crying."

    "I am?"

    Boriol Pyke reached out and caught a teardrop on his finger. "Magic resistances or not, they scared you to tears."

    A soldier from the hall came into the room. "Boriol, Akiria. We can save Elaine."

    "Good," said Boriol. "Get her to the hospital. Akiria, from today on, don't go anywhere alone. If you do, make sure there are a lot of people around. A lot of non-hunter people."

    "Kay."

    --

    There was the one hunter left. Akiria hadn't overlooked him, and neither had Boriol or the rest of the soldiers. Elaine was promptly taken to the hospital, but after regaining consciousness, she claimed she was fine. Her top priority was Akiria, and Akiria's top priority was Elaine.

    "They're nice girls," a soldier said to Boriol. "Real nice. And Kiri's an angel."

    Boriol nodded. "Not unlike an angel should be. For that matter, not unlike anyone should be. If you're around other people, you're obliged to kindness."

    "Aye. It's just rare to see such qualities in girls of their age. Teenagers."

    Boriol shrugged. "They're not all as bad as people assume. Don't forget, I haven't surpassed that age group either."

    They were standing in front of the hospital, where Elaine and Akiria were talking inside. As the conversation quickly died, Boriol resorted to scanning the city—or at least what he could see of it. Modest houses, larger business buildings, and even huts were scattered around in a fashion that would suggest a child had arranged it. Although the placement was rough, it made sense, and the city of Dakonia was surprisingly easy to get around. The landmarks and popular buildings stood out among the mundane houses, making it easy to identify locations. When Boriol received directions, he was usually told to "look a few houses down from the marketplace," or "my house is the one with the garden to the left of the government offices."

    "Looking for the third hunter?" the soldier asked.

    "Yeah."

    "I didn't see him leave Elaine's house."

    "Elaine said that there were definitely three men. Akiria only saw two. So he didn't go into the room with the other two."

    The sun was beginning to set to the west. The sky and clouds were turning purple and orange.

    "Do you think he might have been leading them into a trap?"

    "The third hunter?"

    "Yeah. He and his fellow murderers claimed to be hunting Akiria, even in the middle of a region where angel hunts are illegal. They beat up an innocent girl—all three of them—and then the third disappeared while the other two, completely unprepared to fight against someone with magic, walked right in and were promptly defeated by a thirteen-year-old angel girl."

    "Nope," Boriol said. "Think about it. Why are angel hunters in business in the east and center regions?"

    "Angels are worth a manure load of coins. A thousand silvers per feather, was it? And their wings are worth a lot more."

    Boriol nodded and continued, "And the entire angel is worth more than any part combined, although most hunters assume it's impossible to capture an angel alive. So that third hunter is probably looking for an opportunity to take Akiria while his cronies take the blame. They may or may not rat him out. Let's hope they do so that we don't have to go looking for him."

    As it turned out, they didn't have to look far. They didn't have to.

    --

    The hunter was complacently seated on the roof of the hospital, waiting for the right moment to drop down and claim his million-silver prize. Or maybe he'd keep this one for himself if he could catch her alive. She was pretty, that was for sure. He thought about keeping her chained up and giving her just enough food to keep her producing feathers. A thousand silvers per hour was many times greater than any naive southerner's wages.

    He could assassinate the two soldiers standing guard. That would make his job easier until someone realized they were dead, and judging by how busy this city was in the evening, that would be many hours. He peered down at them. All he saw was a mess of blond hair on one and a gleaming silver helmet on the other. Both wore a versatile combination of leather and steel armor. The blond soldier's sword was big. Almost too big for a human to wield. That would be incredibly easy to dodge. That aside, he was a teenager. Seventeen or eighteen, by what the hunter could tell. His battle level should be pretty low. He didn't even wear a helmet.

    The other soldier was obviously more battle-ready, but he was just as careless as the blond boy. This was almost too easy. The hunter planned out his actions: first, take out the older one; the more dangerous one. Then, as any teenager would, the blond one would be slow to react. In that moment, he could get in two silent kills. Steadying his breath and readying his weapon, he prepared to jump.

    --

    Boriol felt the premonition long before he heard the horrifying shlat from beside him. Before his friend's body hit the ground, he was moving. He dove to the side and pulled his sword, coming up face to face with a man he knew was the third hunter.

    "So much for two silent kills," the hunter muttered, and charged in before Boriol could say a word. He parried the initial strike and spun around the second. He slashed at the hunter and missed, then brought his sword up to deflect two quick jabs.

    "Hunter!" he shouted. Furious, the hunter threw something. Boriol ducked on reflex and it brushed his cheek. A second throwing knife bounced off his shoulder plate, leaving a scratch.

    "Die now!" the hunter cried, lunging forward. Boriol parried his blade to the side and slammed his knee into his foe's rib cage. He drew it back to attack again, but stopped his knee just short of the edge of a sword.

    By now, people were starting to appear from their houses. Elaine and Akiria peeked out of the hospital, then stepped out after seeing the hunter occupied. Akiria knelt beside the fallen soldier and checked his wound. Then his pulse.

    Nothing.

    Boriol kicked the hunter back. "Give up, hunter. You can't beat all of us, or even me for that matter."

    The hunter looked around and weighed his options. Behind him was the angel, the reason he was in this situation. She was also a powerful magic user, and on top of that, she was outdoors now. She could fly. In front of him was a young swordsman who he had underestimated and paid the price for it. Surrounding him were multiple able-bodied citizens and soldiers of all ages, both men and women.

    He couldn't beat them all. He couldn't even defeat a careless, inexperienced boy.

    "All right, southerner. I'm overpowered here." The hunter held his arms out and dropped his weapons. "I'll leave peacefully. If you choose to arrest me, you'll regret it."

    "Give us a reason not to arrest you," Boriol demanded. "You assaulted a young girl, tried to kill another, and you just killed my friend."

    "He's right," another soldier said. "You've violated the law in three places. You have no right to walk about freely."

    The hunter smirked. "Then you'll take me to jail, I assume."

    "We will," Boriol confirmed. "Unless you can give us a suitable reason not to."

    The hunter was silent for a moment. He turned and pointed at Akiria. "Guard your angel well," he said. "I won't be the last."

    Boriol and two other guards led him to the city jail as the civilians looked on, some uneasy, some grateful, some triumphant, and some horrified. Akiria watched in silence. She was well aware that she was crying again, her tears dripping down onto the dead soldier's armor. She laid a hand on his neck, wishing more than anything right now that she could heal him, devastated that he had to die for her.

    ******

    Angel Hunters 2
    SPOILER! :
    The east was a very different place from the south. Angel hunting was not only accepted; it was encouraged.

    “Angels are animals,” was a popular line, along with “Get them before they get you,” and “Sell an angel—feed your family for years!”

    Only the last one held true, but most easterners didn’t know that. They didn’t have to. There was a thrill in the act of hunting an angel that was unattainable by any other means. Angels were intelligent creatures, skilled in magic and blessed with the ability to fly. It took an elaborate trap to catch one in good condition, and a genius-level plan to bring one down uninjured.

    Most people aimed high, both in standards and during the hunt. Angels tended to fly upward to avoid arrows. Shooting twice consecutively, with one arrow higher than the other, was a favored technique. Another was to hide in the trees and shoot a crossbow straight up as an angel flew by.

    Morin was an angel hunter, or at least he wanted to be. He had participated in hunts, but his roles were limited to “Bring me the net!” or “Give me the knife!”

    Today, that changed. Morin was going to bring down an angel, all on his own. No friends. No companions. No bossy leaders. No help.

    He hadn’t mentioned it to anyone else. They would laugh at him. He was fifteen, much too young to be counted as an official hunter. He wouldn’t have a reliable source of information at that age. How could he possibly even find an angel?

    “There you go . . . keep going. Closer . . . closer . . .”

    The angel was female, small and light. Easy to damage. She was also nearsighted. Morin had figured her out after seeing her asleep on top of a temple in the forest just west of his village and watching her every day since. The moment he saw her, he knew this was his chance. A few days later, here he was with a loaded crossbow, a thoroughly-sharpened sword, two hunting knives, and more enthusiasm than he knew what to do with. He was donned completely in leather, to reduce the impact of the angel’s arcane magic. It wasn’t the best hunting garb, but it was the best he would get without paying hundreds of silvers for a specialized set.

    She was about two hundred yards up, with a wingspan twice her size and moving faster than Morin could ever run. He poked the crossbow out of the bush he was using for cover. Two hundred yards would test its range, especially straight up, but he was sure he could do it. He waited until the angel had turned around and headed away from the village before aligning his sights and putting his finger on the trigger.

    “Gotcha,” he said under his breath, and pulled the trigger.

    It was a direct hit. Morin couldn’t tell exactly where the arrow had penetrated, but he judged from her cry and the way she fell that it was somewhere in her midsection. She fell faster than he’d ever seen an angel fall, straight into an open lake. Good for her!

    Morin hurried over to the shore, where his angel was dragging herself up toward the brush. Tears streamed down her cheeks and blood stained her beige shirt. The arrow was still in her stomach, but half of it had broken off, probably when she tried to pull it out.

    “Surprised?” he asked. “See, no one thought I could do it. But I did it. I took down an angel without any help.”

    The angel looked up at him, then to his crossbow and the rest of his weapons.

    “You’re a hunter . . .” she said weakly.

    “A wannabe hunter,” Morin answered, surprised at how easily he had adopted his annoying title. “But after this—I’ll be a hero!”

    --

    Iris knew that the boy standing over her was the one who had shot her down. She had known that this area was full of hunters, but she couldn’t just leave. Not until she had found her brother. A lot of good that dedication did her now.

    “Now, let’s get those wings first. They’re worth a lot, y’know. I could be the richest person in the village—see, ‘cause I’m the only one who’s ever hunted an angel alone.”

    So he was completely alone? Iris doubted it. Only the elite were capable of working alone and being successful. This boy was not.

    “Heads up,” she said, and shot a good twenty-pound rock at him. It collided with his chest and sent him sprawling, screaming. Iris couldn’t help feeling a little bit bad for him, but he was planning on killing her for popularity and money. She couldn’t afford to do any less. She tried to stand, but the pain in her stomach pulled her back to the bloody sand. Forced to a crawl, she pulled herself along the beach and into the brush. The lake she had crashed into was surrounded by the stuff. In the direction she was headed, east, there was a doctor she knew. He lived below the temple and stayed there to help people just like her.

    A leather boot appeared in front of her. Iris looked up to see the toe of a quickly-incoming sole. The kick turned her over, onto her back. The hunter boy, bleeding and breathing hard, held a knife backhand. He raised it and went for a killing blow, but a fallen log sent him tumbling into the water like a hopeless ragdoll. It didn’t keep him down. He was up within seconds, but so was Iris.

    She went down again, unable to take the pain of the arrow slicing up her insides every time she moved.

    --

    Morin saw the angel’s pain. The arrow had almost done her in, and slowly, it was finishing what it had begun. He knelt beside her and grabbed her by the hair, intending to shove her face into the ground as revenge for what she had done to him. After seeing her face, he decided against it. She was in enough pain as it was. He was a hunter, not a sadist. She was also pretty, like all angels, with large, sad eyes and dark hair.

    His observations didn’t do him any good. The angel raised one shaking arm and brought down a tree. Morin sidestepped it, but was hit by a branch.

    “That the best you can do? Angels are adept in arcane magic, aren’t they?”

    The water in the lake began to churn. Morin didn’t notice it until the intensity of the noise was deafening. He looked over his shoulder and saw the twenty-foot waves crashing against each other, propelled by nothing but a dying angel’s magic.

    He was still transfixed when the water rose from the lakebed in a tidal wave over a thousand feet high. The angel must have sucked all the water from the lake—all into that single wave. Surely she would die after such an attack. If Morin could dodge this, he would have his angel.

    So he ran. In less than five seconds, the water caught up with him. He screamed to nobody as the wave crashed down on him, slamming his entire body into the ground and dragging him deeper. As if that moment didn’t last long enough, it started pulling him back. Unable to breathe, let alone move, he fell helplessly back to the bottom of the lake. The churning never ended. Even after he was sure the water on the surface had calmed down, wherever he was still raged like it had just begun.

    Somehow, he found air. He gulped in as much as he could, but then he was drowning again. He couldn’t tell up from down, but he knew his head had just been above water. He swam forward and found more air. This time, he also found light, but it wasn’t from the sun. In the time he had been underwater, the sky had clouded over with dark rainclouds. Lightning danced in an impossibly fast circle around the lake, imprisoning him in a deadly cage.

    The angel was doing this. Morin knew it. Fatally wounded, her magic was still at full power—or at least he thought it was. She was giving one final spurt of glorious power before she died. It was a shame. Morin had originally intended to bring her back alive.

    He waited for the lightning to stop striking around the lake. It didn’t. It was getting closer to the water with every bolt. Ten came down consecutively, followed in less than a second by ten or twenty more.

    “Just die already, you stupid angel!” Morin shouted. It was getting hard to stay afloat. His armor didn’t weigh him down too much. He was used to swimming with a burden. It was the fear of being electrocuted that kept him still.

    The lightning stopped suddenly, and the waves shrank to a much safer size. The dark clouds remained, and a stab of lightning would occasionally strike way off-target. Taking this as his victory, Morin climbed out of the lake and searched for the angel. He found her lying far away from the lake, face-up, her eyes half-open. Her breathing was shallow and labored. When he stepped into her field of view, he saw no reaction. Had she fallen into a coma? It didn’t matter. Morin had won.

    “These are mine now,” he said, turning her over with his foot and grabbing her wings near the base. He pulled, but didn’t even strain them. Of course not. He was the town weakling. Reluctantly accepting the fact, he drew his sword and began sawing at the base of the angel’s right wing. Her body went rigid, and she gasped once.

    “One down.”

    The left wing was easier to get off. Morin held them both up and shook them around a bit. They were light. Much lighter than Morin had expected for their size. Their span was about twelve feet on full extent.

    “You took my wings . . .” the angel girl said quietly. “My wings . . .”

    Morin turned his back to her and marched back toward the village before he could see her tears, leaving her to die by the lake.

    --

    Iris considered getting one final blast in at the hunter, but she knew it was useless. He might come back and take something else if she did. That aside, she pitied him a bit. She felt bad even thinking about attacking his back. She moved her wings, or what remained of them. Blood spurted out as it was sent to something that was no longer there.

    She couldn’t heal herself. She laid her hands on her stomach and tried to at least get the sharp half of the arrow out. She could feel its tip on her spine. Not good. She couldn’t see the tip, but she could feel it. She knew where it was, but didn’t know what would happen if she tried to take it out.

    She would die anyway if she didn’t at least try. Closing her eyes and gripping the loose end of her shirt in a ball, she reached in with magic and tore the arrow out. Something was cut. Something inside her was slit open by the arrowhead. It had probably already been cut when it went in, but it hurt even more coming out.

    The arrow was warm, and it smelled like metal and blood. Iris tried to throw it away, but what strength she had left only allowed her to get it two yards from her.

    “I’m not gonna die . . .” she told herself. “I’m not gonna die. I’m not gonna die.”

    She still had to find her brother. He was still in this place—he could very well be next. The hunters would find him.

    “I’m not gonna die. I can’t die . . .”

    Angel Hunters 3
    SPOILER! :
    Boriol had fallen into a strange daydream while standing—sitting—watch over the newly-imprisoned angel hunter. His nonsensical insults and verbal jabs at angels, soldiers, southerners, and various other things had gotten boring after two hours, though he did say some relatively interesting things from time to time.

    Presently, he was babbling about some kid called Morin, who he made out to be quite a loser.

    Elaine walked in then. She carried a tray of homemade and handpicked food: two honey and butter sandwiches, a few carrots, and two apples. She set them on the table in front of Boriol and pulled up a chair for herself. They hunter finally quieted down, probably to hear if his guard would say anything useful for his escape.

    “Honey and butter? Sure you shouldn’t be giving these to Kiri?”
    Elaine rolled her eyes. “Well, I originally had five of them. She’s a sneaky little angel.”

    “That or your observation could use some improvement,” Boriol teased.

    “True. It is pretty hard not to notice a girl with wings sneaking around.”

    Boriol took a sandwich and peeked inside. “Huh. She stole the honey off this one. How’d she do that?”
    Elaine inspected the other sandwich. “Same here. I guess we’re having butter sandwiches. I’ll chew her out for this when I get back.”

    “Naw, she’s fine. When I was her age, I stole all sorts of food from off my parents’ plates.”

    “Ha. You? Steal?”

    Boriol corrected himself. “Well, with permission, of course.”

    Elaine looked satisfied, so Boriol remained silent until they finished eating. On cue, three soldiers walked in the door. One carried a black angel feather. Boriol stood up. Elaine looked back at them in surprise.

    “Relax, kid,” the lead soldier said. “We found this near the edge of the forest.”

    Elaine stared, open-mouthed. Boriol looked closer at the feather.

    “Yeah, it’s from a dark angel. We’re gonna get a few men and check for it.”

    Elaine thought of Akiria picked up on the situation. “Oh! Angels losing their feathers is a really bad sign, isn’t it?”

    “Usually,” said Boriol. “But this is the first I’ve heard of a dark angel losing a feather.”

    “You sure it’s not from a bird?”

    Boriol took the feather and showed it to Elaine. It was the length and width of her forearm. “There are no birds in the southern region with feathers like this. Feel it. It’s as hard as a shield and light as . . . well, as a feather.”

    For a moment, all five of them stared at the feather. A soldier blew out a long breath and said, “We don’t have time to stare at this thing. Let’s go find the creature.”

    Elaine followed the soldiers out the door. Boriol turned to her. “Sorry to make you do this, Elaine. Could you go get Akiria for us? It’s gonna take an angel—at least—to kill a dark angel if we find it.”

    “Yeah. Can I come too?”

    Boriol shook his head, then reconsidered. “Yes. But you’ll have to stay back. If something goes wrong, we’ll need you to run back and get help. Follow us from about a hundred yards and stay covered if you can.”

    Elaine thanked him and ran off to find Akiria.

    “That was some good judgment,” a female soldier said, nudging Boriol. “I would have just refused her without considering our backup plan when I was your age.”

    “I’m not that much younger than you. And Elaine’s seventeen. She knows what she’s doing.” Remembering that she had failed to detect Akiria stealing the honey off their sandwiches, he added, “Maybe.”

    --

    Akiria’s initial reaction to the idea of fighting a dark angel was to feel Elaine’s forehead. “Are you sick?” she asked.

    “No!” Elaine went to remove Akiria’s hand, but then realized that it was warm, and felt comfortable. It was hard to imagine that a girl like this was the key to defeating a dark angel.

    Akiria sighed. “Elaine, do you remember when I told you about dark angels?”

    Elaine confessed that she didn’t.

    “They’re strong. Really strong. But the reason they’re dark angels is because they used their magic for evil. Not only that, but they used it for a purpose other than defense or healing. I’ve never done that—at least I hope I haven’t. I think I haven’t. My wings are still white.”

    “Can’t they change back?”

    “Yeah,” Akiria said. “That’s why dark angels are so scary. It’s because they keep on doing bad things without repenting that their wings stay black.”

    After a moment of silence, Akiria stood up.

    “I’m going. I might have to become a bit of a dark angel myself if I wanna survive this, though.”

    --

    Boriol drew his sword when he heard the steady beat of wings overhead, but let it drop to his side when Akiria landed softly beside him. It drew a nervous chuckle from the other three soldiers. Ironically, this golden-haired angel girl was their most powerful fighter, and they would be obeying her commands from here on out.

    “I’m gonna put barriers around you guys,” she said. “I doubt even a dark angel would go after you if I’m there. But still.”

    “That and your fight’s probably gonna blow out half the forest,” Boriol pointed out. “Unless you take it to the air.”

    “I’ll do my best.”

    They walked in silence. Precautious, Boriol kept his sword drawn. The forest was just ahead of them. A light wind had pushed at their backs all the way here, but now it pushed against them. The trees lining the forest were still. The sky was grey with clouds, but they weren’t moving. The wind, as natural as it seemed, was only a barrier.

    The moment they passed through it, Akiria jumped forward and took flight. A black-winged angel met her in midair. Two attacks of inhuman force collided, and Akiria was blasted backward. Unable to recover, she crashed into a soldier. They rolled a few yards before she managed to get to her feet. The dark angel was already on top of her, thrusting a pulsating blade down at her throat. She dodged to the side and sent the dark angel literally flying with a magic-infused kick to the stomach.

    “Akiria, take our barriers off!” Boriol shouted. “They’re sapping your magic!”

    Akiria removed the barriers without hesitation, but put up a different kind. She only hoped she wouldn’t have to see it used. Before she could do anything else, her opponent was in front of her again. He didn’t attack. Instead, he looked Akiria over. She took the opportunity to size him up. He was roughly ten years older than her and ten years more powerful. He was handsome, as all angels were, but the look in his eyes was anything but attractive.

    “Akiria Syara?” he said. “You’ve grown up. I didn’t recognize you when you first got in here.”

    “Who the heck are you?”

    “My name is Tempus. I became a dark angel a few days ago, and I don’t regret it!”

    The dark angel lashed out with his pulsating blade again. Akiria spun around the side of it and caught his wrists. His sword wasn’t made of steel, but with magic, as she had thought.

    “I’m a sword master,” he said. “But almost all angels have some kind of combat forte. What’s yours?”

    He was playing around with her. The nerve! Akiria elbowed him in the ribs and pushed off him with her feet. She felt a tiny prick at the bottom of her foot as his sword cut the sole of her shoe in half. Turning around, she twisted over a thin blade of magic. The tree behind her was cut in half and fell toward her. She flew around it and landed on top of it as it hit the ground. Tempus stood in front of it, inches from where the last branch had fallen.

    “You asked what my forte was,” Akiria said. She held out her hand. A white bow grew out of the air in front of her in less than a second. When she pulled back on the string, an arrow formed between her fingers. She let it fly. It split in two mid-flight and came at Tempus from two directions. He blocked them both and was assaulted with a second wave. Three came from above and two from the sides.

    “Ha! You call archery your best skill at that pathetic level?”

    Tempus threw out three more of the same magic blades that had cut down the tree. Akiria jumped over them and flew upward to avoid a fireball that set an entire tree on fire. Three more came down from the cutters.

    --

    The fight was getting more and more intense, but it was still relatively one-sided. Boriol wondered if Akiria had really taken the shields off them.

    “Let’s get out of the barrier,” the female soldier said. “We’re useless. Against that sort of monster, we can’t do anything.”

    The rest of them agreed, but before they could get out, the dark angel swooped down and blocked them off.

    “I see your angel’s got a shield on all of you. No wonder she’s so weak.”

    From the air, Akiria yelled, “Boriol, dodge it!”

    He couldn’t dodge it. He couldn’t even see the incoming blade. He opened his mouth to scream when he heard the hilt of the sword clink against his armor. It wasn’t him who screamed. He didn’t feel anything. The sword hadn’t actually cut him.

    Above him, a cry of agony pierced the air. Akiria fell from the air and landed hard on her side, but she clutched her neck instead.

    “Akiria!”

    “Run, Boriol!” a soldier shouted, dragging him through the wind barrier. Desperate, he threw his sword back at the evil angel. If nothing else, it would distract him long enough for Akiria to recover, at least a little bit.

    --

    Akiria had never felt so much pain in her life. Her right collarbone was sliced in half and the back of her shoulder blade was broken. Blood seeped from a wound caused by a sword that had never even touched her.

    “Your antics are amusing,” said Tempus, stepping on her wound. She screamed again, writhing around in pain and desperation. “Nothing more. Not useful, not smart. What if I had tried to cut that kid’s head off? It might use the least magic, but redirection is the worst kind of shield. If you were going to live beyond today, you might have been able to heed those words.”

    He slashed at Akiria’s neck just as two arrows sank into the base of his wings. Distracted, he let go of his sword. Akiria rolled onto her side. It still cut her, but missed anything vital. Her injury burned, and she fell back again. Tempus was howling in agony, trying to get the arrows out. It was impossible. He must have realized this, for he turned on Akiria and kicked her over and over again. She withstood them all, but let down all her defense when he stomped on her collarbone.

    “Stop it!!”

    Tempus stopped. Cringing in pain, he turned around. Akiria looked at the source of the voice.

    “Stop it . . . Tempus.”

    A little girl with long black hair stood ten yards away. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. She wore a plain, dirty white dress. A small dog stood at her side, all seven of its tails curled around her ankles.

    “Illyana. Don’t get in my way. I agreed to protect you, but I have my needs as well.”

    “Don’t kill her,” Illyana said. “Please.”

    Tempus turned around. Now on her knees, Akiria tried to move, but she was thrown against a tree. She sat up with her back against it. She couldn’t fly. Not with such a serious injury. She moved a hand to it and began the painfully slow healing process, but knew she wouldn’t make it in time. The blue light of healing under her hand wavered.

    “Tempus! If you kill her, I’ll never even look at you again!”

    To Akiria’s surprise, Tempus stopped. He turned on the little girl.

    “So,” he said, talking through gritted teeth. “I save your worthless hide and this is how you repay me?”

    Surprising Akiria again, the seemingly bold little girl broke down and started crying. “I’m so sorry!” she sobbed.

    “You’re pathetic!” Tempus shouted. But he didn’t hit her, or even touch her. Instead, he walked past her, past the burning result of their battle, and disappeared into the forest. The little girl kept crying, hugging the dog and trembling all over.

    Boriol and the other soldiers arrived a minute later. Elaine jogged up behind them. She went to Akiria immediately, while Boriol went to the dark-haired girl.

    “Kiri, that looks terrible!” she cried, kneeling beside her friend. She looked back to the soldiers. “We need medical supplies! Do you have any?”

    “It’s all right,” Akiria said, feigning strength. “I’ll have this healed in about an hour.”

    The little girl, Illyana, came to her next. She knelt beside her and rested her hand on top of Akiria’s. The blue light intensified. Akiria’s eyes widened.

    “You’re a magic user?”

    “I can heal people,” Illyana said. “I’m really sorry he did that . . . he’s not really bad . . . I don’t think. He saved my life.”

    “And in turn, you saved mine,” Akiria said. “Thanks so much.”

    --

    Boriol was worried about Akiria, but saw that she was in good hands. He looked down at the strange seven-tailed dog. Its fur was gold like Akiria’s hair; its sapphire eyes also the same as hers. He wondered how Illyana had come across such a beautiful animal. Now wasn’t the time to ask, though. There was just one thing he needed to know, and he had his suspicions as to the answer.

    “Illyana,” he said. “Do you have a home?”

    She shook her head. “It burned down. Tempus traveled with me, but he left . . .”

    “You can stay with us,” Elaine offered. “Akiria and I, that is.”

    “Thank you,” Illyana said quietly. “I promise I won’t cause much trouble.”

    “I’ll hold you to that one,” Elaine said, “and hope a certain little angel follows your example.”

    So she was still thinking about the honey incident, Boriol thought. Or did she do something else?

    --

    It looked like the whole village was waiting when the party returned. Apparently, they had seen and heard parts of the angels’ fight. Adventurous young boys and girls questioned Akiria about her “epic battle.” She told them, quite honestly, that she had lost miserably and that Illyana had saved her.

    “I feel useless,” Boriol said when he, Elaine, Akiria, and Illyana arrived at their house. Akiria went gave Illyana a tour while Boriol and Elaine sat down and talked.

    “At least you did something,” Elaine said sullenly.

    “What?”

    “Got me on that one.” Elaine looked over at Akiria and Illyana, who were going through every last book on their shelves. “Look. They are so cute.”

    Boriol laughed. “I think someone deserves a good meal. Wanna help me cook?”

    “Gladly. Whoever makes the best dish wins.”

    Angel Hunters 4 (this one sucks)
    SPOILER! :
    Morin loved his new life. Everywhere he went, people greeted him with a smile. Everyone recognized him. People who’d used to bully him now respected him—at least a little bit. His troubles were by no means over, but they sure had calmed down.

    Presently, he walked through the town of Chaldin with his head held high. The crisp, cool air felt good to breathe in. Leaves from various types of trees fell and littered the ground. The houses and shops around him were made of logs and hard clay. The road he walked on was a two-track meant for horses and carts.
    He thought about visiting his favorite shops now, as he had a lot of money to spare. He had given some feathers to his friends and kept some for himself, but sold most of them. The bones from the wings had made the most money, though.

    In truth, he felt bad for the angel he’d killed for this. She had looked so human. She was scared. That was why she had fought back. Of course she would hit him with all she had, a twenty-pound rock included. Morin’s ribs still hurt. What hurt him most wasn’t a physical wound, though. It was the angel’s final resignation as he cut her wings off. He knew very well now that she could have killed him when he turned his back. If he was in her place, he would have.

    “Morin!”

    A well-known hunter in Chaldin named Dave beckoned him to a shop that resembled a bar of sorts. It was mostly empty except for Dave, the shop owner, and two non-descript bums. Changing course, Morin headed over to it.

    “So, you got yourself an angel,” Dave said, slapping him on the back. “Good job, kid. Didn’t kill her, though.”

    “No,” Morin said, surprised that Dave knew. “How’d you know?”

    “It shows all over you, man. Angels are pretty. You’re going through puberty. There’s no way you could kill a cute girl, human, angel, demon, or even a pure bloodangel.”

    “Bloodangel?”

    “Ah, don’t worry,” Dave said, waving it off. “There’s angels, dark angels, archangels, and bloodangels—in that order of intensity. Angels are the only ones it’s possible to survive against in a fight.”

    “But you can kill angels without a problem,” Morin pointed out. He shivered at the idea that there could be a creature with more power than the angel he’d fought. “Do you just get used to it after awhile?”

    “There’s that. When I was fifteen, I couldn’t kill any girl angels either. But now, killing is my business. And business is good.”

    “Very good,” Morin agreed. “I could live for ten years off what I have now.”

    Dave laughed heartily. “That’s part of the beauty of angel hunting! Only bad part is, if everyone starts hunting, prices are gonna skyrocket. Then what happens when we run out of angels?”

    Morin had a sarcastic comment prepared to go along with the joke, but then he realized that it might not be a joking matter. What would happen when angels went extinct? He laughed along with Dave, but walked home lost in thought. He took a hundred silver note from his pocket and stared at it. This sheet—this piece of paper—could buy him a top-quality sword, maybe even a magically imbued weapon or piece of armor. And this was just one feather.

    One feather could set him off for a long time.

    He had taken all of them. He had cut a girl’s wings off and left her to die while he went and became rich. She was just an angel, though. It was perfectly acceptable to kill angels.

    Why?

    Angels were humans with wings. Beautiful humans with wings. Morin could accept taking their feathers, but was it totally necessary to kill them? Most hunters assumed it was naïve to believe you could capture one alive. And yet, Morin had done just that. He could have hauled her back to the village . . . and then what?

    He reached his house. His parents were out, as usual. They were the first people he’d forgotten on his list of people to brag to. He flopped down on his bed and pulled a feather from under his pillow. He held it up to the light. Beams shined around it, and brightened it. It was a pure, bright white that not a single other living thing had. Its radiance transfixed him. He didn’t know how long he stared at it, but when he snapped out of his trance, there was someone else in the house.

    “Mom? Dad?”

    Morin stood up. Nobody answered him, but he knew someone was there. He considered the possibility of it being a thief after the angel feathers. He held the feather out in front of him as he rounded the corner to check on his chest, as if it would protect him.

    “You bastard!”

    Morin had never seen something so fast, or felt something so powerful. His already-bruised ribs screamed as he crashed into the door. He shook it off as best he could and tried to stand up. He didn’t know who his opponent was, and he didn’t care. He just wanted to get out.

    A hand closed around his neck and threw him back into the house as he tried to escape. One more pound of force and it would have broken.

    “Morin was your name, right?”

    Morin looked up. His attacker was roughly two or three years older than him, about six inches taller, much more muscular, and to top it off, he was unarmed. Pure white wings grew from his back, but unlike the girl angel from before, this angel had another set of wings, plenty smaller, just behind and below the first.

    He was an archangel.

    The next thing he knew, he was pinned against the wall. One of the angel’s hands was around his neck. The other was by his side, completely relaxed. The strength in one of his arms could lift all of Morin’s hundred fifty pounds. He wasn’t even straining.

    “Give me that feather.”

    An angel, after an angel’s feather? Were angels nowadays also becoming angel hunters? Regardless of what the case was, Morin handed it over. The angel didn’t release him. Dragging Morin behind him, he threw open the door, got a firm hold around his captive’s waist, and took flight.

    “He—!”

    “Shut up, hunter. If you call for help I’ll drop you.”

    Morin shut up. They were about a hundred yards up. The angel was flying without any difficulty, unfortunately. Morin looked down, but only caught a glimpse of the passing scenery before they took a sharp dive. They were headed straight for a very familiar lake. Morin prepared to land in the water, but the angel pulled up at the last moment, dousing him with water, then dropped him on the shore.

    “Hunter. Stand up. Now.”

    Morin obeyed. He looked around nervously. This was definitely the spot where he’d taken out the first angel. Where was she?

    He noticed a small brown-haired bundle of blankets on the ground.

    “Arion?” the bundle said quietly. It turned to reveal a familiar face. When the angel girl saw Morin, she closed her eyes.

    “I didn’t kill him,” the angel said. “Although it was against my better judgment. Why would you want to spare this trash?”

    The girl answered with a question. “Why’d you bring him here?”

    The male angel, Arion, knelt beside the girl and gently turned her over. He pulled down the blanket to a point just below her shoulder blades. There was about an inch left of her wings. The blood had dried, but the area around them was swollen and looked painful.

    “When you cut off her wings, you left her to die,” Arion said. Morin hesitated, but nodded.

    “I didn’t really want to . . .”

    “Then why did you? That’s not the point, though. What happens to you humans when you leave a wound open and don’t treat it?”

    “It gets infected?”

    “Good. What happens when you get your arms cut off and don’t treat it?”

    “Well . . . you die.”

    Arion seemed to want to slap him, but didn’t. “If I hadn’t found her, she would have died. And then you would be responsible for my little sister’s death. I would have killed you. Instantly.”

    It was no joke. Arion was powerful. Morin could tell that much already. His ribs ached even more now. He looked at the wingless angel girl. She was extremely pretty. Morin now wondered what it was that had driven him to hurt someone like this. She couldn’t be more than a year older than him, but she had definitely seen more than he had. She had been on the other end of the angel hunts. Where he saw triumphant hunters returning to the village as heroes, this girl—and the young man—saw murder. Cruel, savage, heartless murder.

    He almost cried. He didn’t want to believe that he had condoned this sort of thing. Worse yet, he was responsible for part of it. This girl who lay dying on the ground in front of him was dying only because of him. She needed medical treatment, and she wasn’t getting it.

    “Can’t we heal her?” Morin asked, almost afraid to say a word. He was definitely not on Arion’s good side.

    Arion shook his head. “We need to get to a doctor. She lost too much blood—needs a transfusion. On top of that, only a few angels are blessed with healing abilities as their primaries. Iris is one. But she can only seal her wounds. She can’t replace what she lost. Wings. Blood. And she can’t get that arrow out.”

    Any other time, Morin would have been mad at Arion for calling him out on so many charges. But they were all true.

    “You can’t replace her wings,” he said. “Morin, you’ve stolen her flight forever. And sold it. But you can help me get her to a doctor.”

    “Where?”

    “Chaldin. Your village.”

    Morin gaped. “No! Do you know how many hunters there are in my village? If you walked in, you’d be shot on sight.”

    Arion smirked. “Worry about yourself. How are your hunter buddies gonna like you after you walk in with an angel and say he’s with you?”

    The dirty blackmailer!

    Arion collected his sister in his arms. She buried her face in his shoulder and wrapped her arms around his neck. She didn’t say a word. It was then that Morin realized he could easily hide Iris’s race in the village. Angels had wings. Iris didn’t. All he had to do was bribe a single doctor to say he never saw anything on her back, or never felt how inhumanly light she was.

    If the doctor saw Iris in the same light as Morin did, it would be no problem. The only flaw in his plan was Arion. As if on cue, the angel said:

    “I lied before. I’m staying out of sight, but I’ll be watching you. If anything happens to Iris, you know what happens. Once you get her set in the hospital for the night, tell me what’s going on. I’ll wait in your house.”

    “But my parents—”

    “Are never home,” Arion finished, cutting him off. Morin didn’t say one more word until they got to the border of the village. A few people on horseback or on foot passed, but every time one did, Morin would look around and not see Arion or Iris anywhere. When the people passed out of sight, he was there, carrying Iris, walking along as if nothing had happened.

    “I think I realize just what angel hunting is now,” said Morin, a little hesitant.

    “Continue.”

    “Paid murder. Paid child abuse. Paid rape. Paid genocide. I just can’t look at it the same way anymore.”

    “Good. Looks like at least one hunter can gain sense.”

    They approached the village. Arion gently handed Iris to Morin. “Protect her with your life,” he said, and flew away. Iris didn’t cling to him, as she had to her brother. Of course not. Who would feel safe around a paid murderer?

    He walked briskly into the village. People turned and looked. He passed marketplace stalls, shops, houses, popular hangouts, and even an angel shop that sold angel blood, bones, hair, and wings. Morin made sure Iris didn’t see it. The shopkeepers saw her, though. One of them left the store and fell in pace beside him.

    “Morin!” he said cheerfully. Too cheerfully. Morin suspected that he already knew what Iris was. “That’s a very pretty girl you’ve got there. Is she human?”

    “She got shot,” Morin said curtly. “I need to get her to a doctor.”

    “Shot where? By who?”

    “Stomach. By me.”

    The shopkeeper stalled for a moment, and Morin used the opportunity to rush over to the hospital. It wasn’t a big place. There were three stories, two reserved for patients. It smelled like medicine on this floor, and Morin knew it would only get worse on the different levels. Upon seeing Iris, a doctor came to them. Morin trusted this one—more or less.

    “She got shot. Needs blood, and needs the arrow outta her gut. Can you help her?”

    The doctor looked hastily around the floor. Two people sat in chairs on the other side of the room. They didn’t look sick.

    “Follow me,” the doctor said. He led Morin behind the desk and into the main office—the one that no one ever saw. He pushed a chair back from a desk piled with papers. He pulled a rug out of the way to reveal a trapdoor. He pulled on the old brass ring and descended a dark staircase.

    Morin followed, angling Iris to fit through the small opening. Her foot banged against the floor. Someone must have heard it, but no one came. The doctor took Iris and told Morin to close the trap door. He did as instructed and followed the doctor into a dark, dusty old basement. There was zero visibility until the doctor lit a torch on the wall, followed by a second and a third. Medical supplies of every type were down here, scattered around on tables, hooks, and on the floor. An operating table sat in the middle of the room. The doctor laid Iris down on it and removed her blankets.

    “You brought me an angel,” he said. “Morin, do you have any idea what’ll happen if anyone finds out about this? I mean, us helping an angel instead of killing her?”

    “Look at her, Kyle!” Morin exclaimed. “She’s beautiful. She could have killed me at any point while I was taking her here, and she didn’t! Besides . . .” he hesitated, then blurted it out, “I’m the one who did this to her.”

    Quietly, the doctor asked Iris, “Can you roll over for me?”

    Iris rolled onto her side without a sound. Her shirt was cut low enough to reveal her shoulder blades, and with them, full proof that she was an angel. Morin and the doctor stared at the bloody stumps that used to be her wings.

    “I can’t heal them,” she said. “I can’t replace anything I lose. I can only fix tissue.”

    “That makes my job easier,” the doctor said, sounding relieved. “I’ll have to get these stumps off. Sorry, it’ll hurt. But it’ll let you walk around without someone trying to murder you in the street.”

    Murder. Morin liked that the doctor used that word. He saw angel hunting for what it was. Or at least he pretended to. Morin didn’t know for sure at this point.

    “Wings aside,” the doctor continued, “you need blood. What type are you?”

    “Angels all the same type,” Iris stated. “I just need blood from another angel.” She went silent for a moment, then said, “You’ve killed enough here. You’re bound to have blood somewhere.”

    --

    Arion sat in Morin’s house, reading a book. Tales Of Angels was the title. It intrigued him that a hunter would own a book that uplifted the very race he hunted. Maybe he really wasn’t a bad person. He had all sorts of books, but they were all dusty and probably never used. At least not for a long time.

    Arion was a fast reader. He finished Tales Of Angels within the hour he picked it up and moved on to the next one. He ran his finger along the rows of books on the single shelf in the house, drawing a line in the dust. Eventually, he reached one that wasn’t dusty. This one had been read recently. He pulled it out and read the title:

    'Angel Hunters: A Starter’s Guide'

    Arion’s hate for Morin flared up again. He flipped the book open to see what kind of lies the human had been reading.

    'Many angel hunters do not enjoy the act of killing an angel. Many feel regret after every kill. Angels are beautiful animals, and deserve respect as everything else does.

    If you have reservations about beginning to hunt, see page 67.'

    Arion turned to page 67, which was bookmarked.

    'Hunting isn’t a necessity. Do not feel that you have to just because it is popular. Remember, though: angels are wild animals. They will do anything to kill you should you fail to do so first. If you happen to meet an angel, do not be deceived by its appearance. There are numerous reports of people, mostly teenagers and children, turning up dead when they were drawn in to the beautiful exterior of an angel.

    Hunting angels may seem cruel at first, but it is necessary to protect those you love.'

    “Bullshit!” Arion almost shouted. He covered his mouth. He didn’t usually swear, and yet, he had done so twice after finding that moron, Morin. Who was writing this crap?

    “Arion?”

    Arion looked behind him. He tossed the book to Morin. “This is a load of crap,” he said. “Why would you actually believe in such blatant lies?”

    “Nobody’s actually given the angels a chance to talk,” Morin said, tossing the book into a trash can. “Iris was the first angel I’ve ever seen survive a hunt. Of course, that’s because I suck at it. Forever will. I’m done.”

    “You’d better be. How’s Iris doing?”

    Morin recounted the story. “He made go out and buy angel blood from that one place. The shopkeeper’s an ass, you know that?”

    “How can you sell angel parts and not be some sort of deviant?”

    “It’s not so deviant in this society. Wherever you and Iris go after this, take me with you.”

    Arion pulled a book from the shelf and flopped down on a soft leather chair. Without looking at Morin, he said, “Do you think Iris would welcome such an idea? After what you did to her?”

    “What I did was minor compared to what most hunters do. I know what you mean, though. I’ll leave on my own if I have to. Meanwhile, I wanna make up to Iris somehow.”

    “Can you give her her wings back?”

    “No. I can’t.”

    “Leave Iris to me. I know you mean well, but after she gets out of the hospital, I’ll take care of her.”

    Arion knew that he was cutting deep. Morin wanted nothing more than to make amends. He considered apologizing, but decided against it. No matter how he behaved now, this kid had cut his little sister’s wings off not too long ago.

    “Morin, are your parents ever home?”

    “Nope. I think they’re both cross-border hunters. It might do them some good to meet you or Iris. Well, Iris anyway.”

    “There’s an idea,” Arion said, grinning. “You could introduce Iris to a hunter and not tell them she was an angel till a month or so later.”

    “Might work,” Morin said. “One flaw, though. There’s no human girl I’ve ever seen as pretty as Iris. Besides, don’t you have some other defining features?”

    Arion nodded. “Nothing you can see on the surface, though. Iris can sing and make a troll cry. I can lift ten times my body weight. I know an angel from the south who could manipulate fire magic without draining his energy. I think he’s a dark angel now, though.”

    “Iris used some pretty powerful magic when she fought against me,” Morin pointed out. “Is that another ability, or can all angels do that?”

    “I’ve only ever seen three angels able to use magic without losing themselves and falling to darkness. The sense of power that comes with it consumes most of them. Me included. Last time I used magic, I was ten. I never tried it again. I felt like I wanted to test it out on people I loved. It’s scary stuff. I’m not sure how Iris can handle it.”

    “She lifted the water out of the entire lake and made a lightning storm around it.”

    Arion looked up from his book, eyes narrowed. “She did?”

    “Yeah. What’s that mean?”

    Arion set the book down. “Man. And she stayed the same, too. Even without her wings and an arrow wound.”

    “So . . . that level is uncommon?”

    “Naw, it’s common,” Arion said. “Most angels turn to darkness if they do something like that, though.”

    “Iris seemed to have no desire for power,” Morin put in. “She could have killed me extremely easily. When I was in that lake, all she had to do was move a lightning bolt about an inch. It was more like she was trying not to kill me.”

    “Angels weren’t designed with murder in mind.”

    “Contrary to what the books say.”

    “Get rid of every book you have about angel hunting.”

    “Already done. I just had that one.”

    Arion motioned over to the dusty bookcase. “And it was the only one you’d read in . . . how long?”

    “Too long. I hunted so much with other people that I didn’t get the chance to do anything at home.”

    Arion wanted to ask about the other angels. Morin had been hunting for a long time, apparently, but Iris had been his first solo hunt. He must have remembered some of them.

    “Morin, how many hunts have you been on?”

    “Seventeen, not including Iris.”

    “Of those seventeen, was one of the angels a black-haired guy? Around thirty. My height.”

    “Not that I can recall. All but one of our hunts was on girl angels. Dave says they’re easier to bring down.”

    “Liar,” Arion scoffed. “He must enjoy killing girls or something.”

    “Their hair sells for a lot, and sometimes they take the wings, break the fingers, and sell the girl as a slave.”

    “Who does that?” Arion asked through clenched teeth. “Whoever they are, they deserve to be killed.”

    “I agree,” Morin said. “But I sat back and watched it happen. I’ve seen girls even younger than Iris sold like that. The youngest was about ten. She killed half the hunting party, but no one wanted to kill her. They cut her hands off, though. So she couldn’t use magic.”

    “Where was she sold to?”

    “Some rich guy from nobility over in Hanton, I think. He didn’t treat her very well, from what I saw. I think the lowest rate of hunting we’ve ever had was after she was sold. No one went out for about three weeks.”

    Arion stood up and stretched his wings out. They brushed the walls on either side of him. Pulling them back in, he walked toward the door.

    “Where are you going?”

    “You stay here and make sure nothing happens to Iris. I’m gonna go save that girl.”

    Angel Hunters 5
    SPOILER! :
    It wasn’t a rarity to see an angel flying around in Dakonia, and yet, Boriol never got tired of it. Akiria flew so easily it looked like she was built for it. She was. Even with the addition of light chain armor and a blunt sword, she bounced around the training grounds like a spring with wings.

    Illyana seemed unsuitably relaxed. She didn’t seem like the type to be content in a combat situation, but her expression wasn’t the least bit anxious as she watched Boriol and Akiria spar.

    “You play around a lot,” she called to Akiria. “Tempus taught me never to take any battle lightly.”

    “He would,” Akiria muttered, and landed in front of Boriol. He made a quick lunge with his blade, but as she ducked to dodge, he stopped his momentum and gently tapped her on the head.

    “If that was Tempus, you wouldn’t have a head,” he pointed out, lowering his sword. “Illy’s right. If you play around during a battle, you’ll end up dead.”

    “I was pretty serious against Tempus.”

    Boriol recounted the battle. “Yeah. But he’s a dark angel. Not much you can do. Not much any of us could do.”

    They resumed their sparring. They both pulled their blows, but didn’t hold anything else back. Illyana had offered to act as a healer in case there were any accidents. So far, she had pointed out flaws on both of their parts, given them combat advice, and not had to heal either of them.

    “Why don’t you use magic?” Boriol asked when the idea struck him. Akiria stopped in mid-strike. Unable to resist the opportunity, Boriol tapped her forehead with his fist. “Let your guard down.”

    “Ah, not fair! You asked a question.”

    “What’s the answer?”

    “I can’t use magic quite like some angels can. I can heal. That aside, I can’t do anything but put up shields and use a bow. Tempus could blow up trees and stuff. I can’t use anything destructive like that.”

    “Why not?”

    “I just can’t. Maybe I don’t have that type of magic. Maybe God doesn’t want me to. Maybe I actually can, but haven’t. Or won’t.”

    “Confusing,” Boriol said. “So you’ve got unlimited magic power, but only in certain areas.”

    “In healing, it’s unlimited.” Akiria lifted her arm and showed Boriol a small cut near her elbow. Had he done that? Within a second, it was gone. “But whenever I use shields or have my bow out, my energy gets sapped. It’s like being sucked on by a giant leech—one for each shield and one for the bow. I would have lost that battle against Tempus no matter what I did. I kept the shields and bow out to make him think I was stronger than I was.”

    Akiria was adorable. Boriol had realized this the moment her met her about ten years ago. Hearing—and seeing—her talk about things like this was just a little bit strange and somewhat scary, and didn’t suit her. He regretted bringing the topic up, but figured Akiria was the one who had brought up the fight. Her eyes right now suggested a soul much older than thirteen. Boriol wondered if fighting was doing this to her. Looking into her eyes once more, he sheathed his sword.

    “Akiria,” he said, kneeling down to her eye level. He wasn’t sure what it was he did, but Akiria’s face quickly turned red. “You and Illyana should go up to the woods and pick some apples for Elaine and me. We’ll cook up some honey applesauce for you in return.”

    Her face brightened. It didn’t stop there. As she turned to leave, Boriol could swear her entire body was glowing. Illyana got up to follow her, but turned to Boriol.

    “You noticed it too?” she asked.

    “Of course I did. I hate seeing her like that. Make her laugh as much as you can while you’re out.”

    Illyana’s return smile imprinted itself in Boriol’s mind. Pure, warm, beautiful happiness. She turned and followed Akiria toward the hilltop wood. Akiria didn’t fly. She walked beside Illyana until they disappeared from Boriol’s view.

    Elaine came from nowhere. From beside Boriol, she said, “Illyana’s beyond her years.”

    Boriol pretended not to be surprised. “Yeah. Just eleven and she’s giving emotional support to an angel. Though I suppose her age has nothing to do with that.”

    “It doesn’t,” Elaine confirmed. Turning to Boriol and looking sideways at him, she asked, “Now how do you propose we make honey applesauce?”

    --

    “How’s Boriol gonna make honey applesauce?” Illyana asked. She and Akiria were perched on a tree branch twenty yards from the leaf-covered ground. Akiria was happily munching on an apple, swinging her legs off the edge of the branch. Illyana held the trunk of the tree for support.

    “Dunno,” she answered, and took another bite. “But maybe we shoulda thought to bring a bucket?”

    “Use the armor.”

    Akiria ran a hand down her torso. “Ah, yeah. I forgot to give this back to Boriol. Wonder why the guardhouses had my size.”

    “They’ve got soldiers your size,” Illyana said. “Did you see that guy with the gray hair yesterday?”

    “That was Boriol’s uncle. Incredible how they’re so different. Boriol’s over six foot.” Akiria reached around and unclipped the bindings on the back of the armor. She lifted it off and held it out in front of her just in time to catch a ripe apple falling from the branch above.

    “Nice catch.”

    Another apple fell into the makeshift bag. And then another. Akiria glanced over at Illyana, grinning mischievously.

    “You have to channel magic through your hands, right?”

    Akiria nodded. Her feet kept swinging and apples kept falling. Her hands were both covered with chain armor and a layer of apples.

    “How are you making the apples fall?”

    Illyana looked from Akiria’s covered hands to her feet. She was manipulating magic with her toes!

    “Ah. Now I see why you always run around barefoot.”

    Akiria let her legs stop swinging. The apples quit falling. About ten or fifteen were piled in the armor, which she pulled around like a sack. She then slung it over her shoulder and flew Illyana down from the tree. They landed softly and started the hike back home. As they trod through the light brush and foliage, small animals scattered and ran east, away from Dakonia. It was insignificant, but somewhat ominous. Illyana noticed a change in Akiria’s walk. She was slowing down, contemplating something. She confirmed a detached state of mind when the angel walked straight into a tree.

    “Akiria, are you okay?”

    “Yeah. Thanks. Something doesn’t seem right. We should hurry back.”

    They started running. When they came to the crest of the hill overlooking Dakonia, Akiria spread her wings. “I’m gonna talk to Boriol. Can you take the apples to Elaine and have some food for us when I get back?”

    Illyana nodded and took the apples. She watched her friend fly down into the city. She didn’t know what was going on, and she hadn’t known Akiria long enough to make a clear judgment, but her intuition told her that the angel had already entered her “battle mode.”

    Boriol had told her to make Akiria laugh. So much for that. Neglecting her own safety, Illyana dropped off the apples at the doorstep of Elaine’s house and ran off after Akiria.

    --

    “So much for honey applesauce?” Akiria asked as she touched down beside Boriol, standing just outside the main city gate. He was the last in a line of soldiers, all tense and ready to act at the first sign of . . . of whatever they were looking out for. Akiria didn’t know yet.

    “About that,” Boriol replied with a smirk. “We figured out we needed apples first. Sorry to ask this of you, but can you fly down the road and tell the visitors that we won’t see them?”

    “Visitors? What’s going on?”

    A guard beside Boriol said, “Angels. Your kind. They’ve come to kill the hunters we arrested awhile back. Our scouts in Midlan reported them talking about it just a few minutes ago.”

    “Can you talk them out of it?” Boriol inquired.

    “Dunno. I’ve heard of these kinds of angels before. They’re the ones who burned Illy’s hometown. Extremists.”

    Without another word, Akiria pushed off the ground and took to the sky. She gained about a hundred yards before leveling out and flying straight up the road leading away from Dakonia toward Midlan. There was nothing flying in the area, herself excluded. Angels, at least the ones she’d known, didn’t travel on foot. She looked around. For such a short distance, she doubted they’d much higher than she was, and there was no sign of them below or on level with her. Maybe they hadn’t left Midlan yet. She set her course toward Midlan, hoping to intercept the angels—the angels who surely would become dark angels.

    Wouldn’t they?

    How come they weren’t already? Did they not use their magic to destroy Illyana’s city? Or were they, in fact, already turned dark? No. The scouts had reported angels. The soldier had said, “Your kind.”

    “Your kind” was slightly insulting. Akiria wondered if that soldier had something against her. She tried to be friends with as many people as possible. It sure didn’t look good, however, that she was the same race as a group of murderers who used that race to commit atrocities. She understood the soldier, at least a little.

    She nearly flew into a tree. Veering off to the side, she spotted her objective and landed just outside the gates of Midlan, and just in front of six armed angels about to take flight. The group seemed surprised except for their leader, a woman with shoulder-length red hair and white wings. They were tainted, though. This woman had used her magic improperly. If she was responsible for the destruction of Illyana’s hometown, she would have already turned dark.

    “Akiria Syara,” the woman said with a soft smile. “You’re Dakonia’s angel?”

    “Yes,” Akiria replied. “I need to talk with you.”

    “Is it about the hunters you have held prisoner?”

    “Yes. And also, about your earlier actions against a certain hunting village.”

    Akiria sensed the change in atmosphere between them. Five angels shifted their sheathed weapons, ready to defend themselves—or attack Akiria—if necessary. Their wings were still white. All of them. How?

    “A village of hunters ceased to exist. Is that not a good thing? Does that not also benefit you?”

    Akiria hated hunters as much as these people, but there were certain things she couldn’t condone, no matter how much pseudo-satisfaction it gave her to see their downfall. “It does,” she confirmed with a nod. “I hate hunters. But you killed everyone in that village, whether or not they supported hunting. A girl survived. A girl younger than me. A dark angel protected her from you.”

    The leading angel shook her head. “We didn’t kill any children. If a dark angel was present, I’d assume that was the cause of it. I don’t see why one would protect anyone, though.”

    Illyana had told her that everyone was dead. Tempus had told her that the angels did it. Akiria felt no annoyance toward Illyana, though. Only to Tempus. Tempus was a liar and a killer, but at the very least, he had spared Illyana.

    “You only killed the hunters?” Akiria asked. The angels nodded in unison. She had no reason to trust them, but she felt it would be best if she did. Angels wouldn’t kill children, no matter how close they were with hunters.

    “We’re not dark angels, Akiria.”

    “Good.” Akiria smiled for the first time in their encounter. “As long as it was only the hunters, it’s fine with me. But I came here to talk about our prisoners.”

    “You don’t want us to kill them, correct?”

    “Yeah. Dakonia’s not a hunting town, but we don’t kill any prisoners who haven’t killed any of us. One hunter was put to death, on charge of murder and assault. The other two are still being held, and we’d prefer them alive. We don’t need any more deaths than necessary.”

    The angels stood in place, contemplating. After a moment, the leader stepped up to Akiria and put a hand on her head. She sensed no hostility from the gesture, but she was being treated like a child. She felt comfortable and annoyed at the same time.

    “You’re a good girl, Akiria. Don’t ever change.”

    Three angels behind her took flight.

    “Wait!” the woman called. Akiria took a step back and jumped into the air. The remaining three angels didn’t move.

    “Stop!” Akiria called. She caught up with them a few hundred feet in the air. “What are you doing!?”

    “Only what we should be doing,” a man said. He and his companions surrounded her. She rolled off to the side and came in fast. Two of them saw her intentions and dropped back. As she swooped down in front of the remaining one, they shot forward again and knocked her aside. Their weapons were drawn, but they hadn’t used them. This was Akiria’s only advantage, and she made use of it. She flew upward, drew her bow from the air in front of her, and fired down at her opponents. One arrow made contact, sending one of the angels spiraling down with a glowing arrow in her back. One of the remaining two flew down to save his friend while the other turned and faced Akiria.

    “Are those hunters so important to you that you shoot down your own kind to protect them?”

    “Of course not! I hate them as much as you do. But they haven’t killed anyone whereas you’re going to kill them!”

    “How do you know they haven’t? They’re hunters. Their lives are led by murder!”

    “Not these! If they were guilty of any murder without repentance, I’d go with you to kill them! I was the first angel they tried to hunt, and they failed. Back home, they have families, just like us. Those families would be pained by their death, just as ours would.”

    Akiria tried to dodge the incoming slap, but she only made it hurt worse. “How can you say that when you just shot down a woman with a family—just like your hunter friends!”

    Akiria’s knuckles were white. If her bow was made of wood, it would have broken in her grip. “You three were about to kill two men who had no blood on their hands. What would that make you?”

    Akiria guessed from the next slap that this man was just as ticked off as she was. Her cheek stung from repeated hits, but she ignored it. She had built up adrenaline just from talking, and the longer the argument went on, the more she was tempted to turn it into another fight.

    “You’re taking this too far,” the man said, anger seething through a false calm. “We’re going to destroy evil men, and you’re obstructing us. If you keep it up, I’ll eliminate you as well.”

    “If you wanna eliminate evil, start with yourself!”

    The man raised his sword, feigned a slash, and kicked Akiria in the head. Thrown off balance, she fell a few yards before steadying herself. There were trees no more than a hundred yards below, but they wouldn’t do much to cushion a fall.

    “I’ll take these.”

    He was behind her! Akiria beat her wings harder, but she couldn’t shake him off. With a loud snap, he broke both her wings at the elbow joints. In that moment, she knew what was going to happen. Screaming, she fell from the sky as the angel above her turned and flew away toward Dakonia. She had no way of controlling her fall. She was in too much pain to control anything. She would hit the ground at terminal velocity and probably die on impact, if not before.

    She would never know. She blacked out long before she hit the ground.


    So that's it for Angel Hunters for now. I think I'm leaving Boriol and Elaine out a bit too much. Boriol's a really major character, so he should be getting more screen time.
    Last edited by Matt; 11-22-2011 at 05:26 PM.

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