F Fallen

Editor’s Foreword

“And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” Revelation 6:15-17

In other words, “And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place!” Science Fiction fans will recognize the old gospel song from the Babylon 5 episode of the same name.

Azray could still hear the clash of swords on shields loudly reverberating within her skull. Frantically gripping her ears with her blood-caked hands, she covered them, trying to stop the incessant ringing that engulfed her being. The noise had been deafening. No matter how many days or miles she put behind her, the din of the battle followed. The screams. The blood curdling shouts. The sheer noise of it all. It would not go away. It followed her by day and haunted her by night.

Crouching down by the stream that ran through the lush valley, she washed her gore-encrusted hands, arms, and legs. Cautiously at first–not too deep into the waters. Determining she was safe, she at last entered the water and dunked herself beneath the purity it provided. Then she drank–quenching the thirst that had parched her tongue and split her lips. She had been running for days and it felt good to be clean again. Felt good to wash the filth away that served as a constant reminder of what had happened and what was to come. Until the battle she had never seen blood. Didn’t know what it looked like or that it dried in the air, or spilled from a wound. She had learned too much. Learned things she wished she had remained ignorant of. Protected from.

The sun beamed down in cascading waves of warmth–drying her and relaxing her tense muscles. She slowly and nimbly unbraided her golden hair and let the waves of curls ripple loosely over the breeze. Azray stretched her long, lean legs and arched her tired back. It was so quiet here. So peaceful. If this place had been touched by the carnage above, she could not tell. One of the villages she had traveled through had been bathed in showers of blood–warm and salty–sticking to everything and everybody. Superstition and alarm prevailed and general panic seized the populations. The villagers hid, cowered in their huts as she journeyed through. She hadn’t stopped. She didn’t wish to alarm the innocents or garner attention for herself. She only wanted to fade into the serenity of the countryside–go unnoticed. She wondered if the mortals were aware of what had occurred, wondered if it would alter their lives in any fashion. If Heaven warred, did it spill over to the mortal realms? Or did they just watch and wonder horrified and morbidly curious? So many questions without answers.

Azray lay back in the sweet-smelling grass–her white, feathery wings spread lavishly out around her–drying to a fluffy, downy softness under the warm sun. She could live in the wilds without disturbing the mortals. She didn’t need much. No food–her kind did not require sustenance. She was an immortal being. She did not fear mortal weapons–nothing wrought on this Earth could harm her. She only wanted peace.

The images of death and chaos filled her mind in vivid detail–the heaps of bloody, fallen comrades–broken swords–broken wings. The whiz of shooting arrows whirling past her ears–the orange and yellow flames engulfing walls–the furious shouts–the perpetual agony of the battlefield. Azray heard the blare of blasting trumpets–the clash of swords–one on one–between foes. Once there were no enemies–no separation. Peace reigned. Unification was the only way of life.

Nothing was questioned. Each individual performed his or her duties honorably and efficiently. No one believed they could change. No one thought of any other existence. This was Heaven. What more could a being desire?

Azray shivered from the fear that her memories invoked. Little bumps rose over her blemish-free skin. She remembered a time when she didn’t know what this vile thing called fear was. Had never felt its cold, bony hand squeezing at her throat trying to choke the breath from her–never felt the pain and loathing it delivered. Now she was afraid of her own shadow. Afraid of who or what might be waiting for her beyond the next hill or valley. Afraid of what was to come. She had never known these emotions before. These sad and wretched feelings. He had not promised such agony. He had only promised victory and fabulous rewards.

He said they had free wills, that they should choose how to live their lives. Why should they, immortal as they were, be mandated to serve a master? They should be free to live where they wanted, how they wanted. They should be free to have wives and husbands as mortals did. They should know the pleasures of mortals–were they not higher than mere flesh?

It had only been talk at first. Divisive and tantalizing, but still only chatter. The trivial chatter soon grew feverish thoughts. The thoughts took seed and grew quickly. Too quickly. The fervor swept many away that hadn’t really thought things through–hadn’t really analyzed the consequences of their rash and hasty actions.

Azray felt a tear roll down her porcelain white face. She reached up and touched it. What was this water that flowed from her eyes? She had watched mortals do this. What was it called? Was this sorrow? Was this pain inside of her–regret? Azray hung her head. Shame for her role in the conflict, in the army of dissenters, could not forgive her participation. They had almost destroyed Heaven with their carnage. How many had been allowed to perish? How many corpses lay shrouded in blood on a battlefield full of beings that should not have been able to die? They had discovered that when confronted by another immortal–still blessed by God–that they were not so invincible. Swords forged in Heaven’s fires could and did cut one down.

A large, black bird soared overhead, temporarily blocking out the sun. The shadow fell over Azray’s face and she quickly looked around. She felt as though she were being watched. Followed. Hunted. The triumphant army had rounded up the defeated ones–locked them in chains–paraded them through the gold streets in humiliation. Azray had watched from her hiding place beneath a mound of her fallen comrades as her army was led before the Supreme Judge. She did not see what happened next as the two huge doors were swung shut.

She had waited there for a time, waiting to see if the bodies would be moved. No one came. Pushing the dead ones off, she crawled out from beneath the pile and breathed deep, jagged, fear-laden breaths. A storm–loud and violent–rocked the mortal skies and with this distraction, Azray had leapt over the edge of the cloud perimeter and plummeted to mortal Earth–her wings soaked and heavy from the rains–until she found a gust of wind and glided to the ground. That had been many Earth days ago. Azray wondered if anyone else had escaped. Had all of the others been chained and punished? Was she the only one who had gotten free? She shuddered. What would she do on man’s Earth–by herself – alone–unaware of how to exist in a world where disease and age strike down the good and evil alike? How could she live among mortal men standing at least three hands taller than most and laden with her immense, heavenly wings? She could not blend in. She would stand out instantly. What would happen to her?

Azray felt the earth tremble slightly. She touched the grass beneath her. Perking her ears, she listened. It was the sound of horses approaching. Men rode the beasts. Were they hunting her? Panic swept over her. Confused with the new emotions, Azray looked from left to right, not sure of what to do. She only knew she needed to flee. Over the hill she could see a massive forest–dense and dark–shelter! She could hide there. Deep within the foliage she would be safe.

Sprinting up the hill, Azray reached the edge of the forest just as the sun was sliding down over the horizon. She frowned. Never before had she experienced darkness such as what lay before her. The other nights, she had huddled with a lamp in the stables of farmers. Nothing was quite so black as this. Her life had been lived in a world full of light. Fear gripped her once again. Behind her men hunted. Above her, her fellow soldiers were being punished. Somewhere between, the armies of Heaven waited. Did they know she was gone? Had they sent out search parties when her body was unaccounted for? Did the men who hunted her, do so on their own, or were Michael’s soldiers with them? So far, she had escaped them all. Why was she so fearful? Had she not cleverly tricked them all? She was free! The fools were completely unaware of her survival–that must be so. How else could she explain her escape and lack of capture?

Azray thrust her shoulders back proudly and defiantly. She would continue to elude them. She would remain free. She would lose herself in the dense forest and live here until she had a better plan. She would live here for a hundred years or more until she had been forgotten. Until the battle of Heaven became a myth, a legend, a tale told round man’s fires late in the night. She plunged into the thick growth, stepping over fallen trunks, decaying wood–pushed back snapping branches and brushed falling leaves from her golden hair. Dry branches reached out and snagged her glorious feathered wings. Roots tripped her golden shod feet. Her hair was tangled with leaves and more than once she had to stop to jerk her tresses out of the over-zealous branches. Her already torn, and bloodstained gown caught on the sticks and thorns and ripped loudly, exposing more of her to the elements. She had no other clothing but what she wore when she had escaped.

She continued. Deeper into the thick, dark forest. The moon came out at last and shone like a luminous pearl, heavy in the sky. The light was faint through the thick canopy of trees and Azray’s eyes did not adjust well to this all-encompassing blackness. She stumbled along. Finally, she reached a small circular clearing and sat down with a sigh on a hollow trunk. A small animal scurried from the hollowed log and into the bushes. She smiled and laughed. She hadn’t meant to frighten the little thing. Reaching out, she brushed the twigs and leaves from her splendid wings, unfurling them and flapping them around her to free them from the plant debris. The surrounding tornado of loose bark and dust kicked up by her massive wings caused her to choke and she quickly tucked her wings behind her.

Now what?

“Immortal. You are immortal,” she said to herself softly.

“Eternal. You are eternal,” she thought to herself. Men. Mortals. They should bow before her! She was magnificent to behold! Look at her! What did they have in comparison? How dare they hunt her like a stag upon their foul, foaming, sweaty beasts! How dare they chase her down! Azray felt her face flush hot with anger. She hadn’t known the emotion of anger either until the battle had started. Until she saw the red blood of her friends spilt and watched the life drain from them as if they had been mere mortal beings. Until she had to fight and kill to survive. To kill. She had to kill those she had once called friend. Who were they–those once called brother–to kill and imprison their own kind? Though they were equal–those on the winning side believed themselves better than Lucifer’s lot. Believed they were better than she was!

Azray stood up. She would show them she was not defeated! Lucifer’s army had not lost for she had escaped. That was what Lucifer had said. That if even one of them went free then they all had been victorious. Azray stood with her wings majestically displayed. Pride rose within her. She had won the battle! She had escaped! All of Heaven had not found her hiding place.

A rustle in the leaves startled her. Her eyes darted towards the darkness where the noise originated. She tried to see what it was. Perhaps it was the small animal she had frightened earlier? She concentrated on the spot, but then she heard another rustle and another. She jumped this way and that afraid of what she could not see. Her sense of pride melted back into her newfound sense of fear.

Suddenly, a black root burst from the dirt like a gnarled, twisted hand and coiled itself around her muscular, shapely calf.

“What is this?” she gasped, trying to tug her leg from the grasp of the root.

Another root exploded from beneath her–dirt flying through the air in damp clumps. This root reached out and grabbed her above the knee–seizing her tightly.

“What beast is this?” she called out, terrified. The dark twisted trees around her seemed to abruptly move–branches stretched out like long brown arms and clawed at her wrists, her hair, and her wings. The whole forest grew animated right before her eyes. She fought and jerked–struggled and pulled her limbs but the trees held on firmly.

“What gods are these that move the trees?” she shouted into the blanket of darkness.

A large Oak opened a gaping hole and said in a deep, quaking voice, “Thou shalt have no other gods before the Lord thy God!”

Azray looked over her shoulder for God’s soldiers, but saw no one. Only moving, angry trees. “I don’t understand! You are trees!” she wailed in confusion.

“We are the Father’s. The Father is us. We are one with the Father. This is HIS world!” the big tree said calmly, as if that completely explained how they were able to move and speak.

“Release me this instant! Do you not know who I am?”

“Traitor,” the trees hissed.

“Betrayer!” they buzzed.

“Evil one!” they murmured.

“Liar! Murderer! Blasphemer!” the hisses of the trees surrounded her–deafening her.

“No!” she screamed. “I am free!” She fought the trees trying to reclaim her limbs, but the woody roots and branches dug deeper into her immortal flesh. The trees pulled her right. Pulled her left. Forward and back. Jerking her head back by her hair, forcing her to look upwards into the boughs of the trees, into the black slivers of night sky between the green. She thrashed and kicked. Azray screamed and wriggled. For all of her immortal strength, she could not break free from these living vegetated captors. They hissed and murmured and rasped and croaked their insults and disgust. The great branches jarred her and yanked her like a limp, rag doll suspended in the air.

“You must be punished. Cast out! Banished!” the big tree roared before her with anger. Two branches reached out and grasped her wings with incredible strength and together they began to stretch her wings out on either side.

“What are you doing? Stop!” she shouted as she saw her wings spread wider and wider behind her until they had reached their full span–but the trees continued to pull. Feathers shook loose and fluttered around her. Her flesh stung where it met the root of her wings. Something else that was new to her, this sensation, this bodily agony.

Pain seized her. She screamed.

“No!” her words echoed through the dark woods. She struggled, but each movement brought more pain. It seized her. She wept as she pleaded. “Please!”

Blood spurted from her shoulders–flesh tore and red–splattered white feathers drifted through the forest blown on the wind. Feathers heaped into piles and stuck to her body with blood. Her head hung in agony. The wood arms pulled until her wings ripped from her back. Remnants of her glorious wings hung high in the trees and the roots and branches suddenly let her drop–fall–into the dirt, as blood puddled at her feet.

She collapsed, blood pouring from her open wounds. Crippled. Clipped. Disgraced and disfigured. Azray reached out and weakly scooped the crimson feathers into a little pile beside her–then brought a single feather to her tear-streaked cheek and stroked it there. The wind churned the feathers up causing them to fly away in a windy spiral. She was too weak to chase them. Instead she watched them go–on the winds, free and unfettered, flying as they had done for all eternity. Lying in a huddled, bloody heap, she waited. Waited for Michael’s soldiers to come for her. Waited to hear the trumpet blasts that would signal the others to her hiding spot. Ultimately announcing their triumphant return to Heaven with the fallen captured warrior.

She wept. Painful, emotion-laden tears. Summoning courage she thought she had lost, she staggered to her feet. She could not let them win! Weakly she began to walk–blood pouring from the gashed and mangled flesh behind her. Her golden hair plastered to her face with gore. Dizzy, head swimming, colors blurring, she fell against a rough tree–too weak to stand.

Then she saw him standing there, bathed in golden light. And she fell at his feet.

When he reached for her, she tried to crawl away, defiant to the end.

Michael stomped his sandaled foot down solidly on her bloody back. The foot slipped around in the pulp of shredded flesh and oozing blood, and he shook it in disgust. Droplets of scarlet blood flew across Azray’s face–sprinkling her white cheek.

“AH!” she screamed in torment. The pain engulfed her and she writhed pathetically in the dirt. Grimacing, and with a slight show of mercy, he planted his foot on her upper arm instead in a symbolic gesture of dominance.

He peered down at her in righteous anger, eyes cold and harsh–and raising it to his pink hued, full lips, blasted his golden trumpet. His sapphire-blue eyes met hers in a steady glare and he smiled, triumphantly, and stated cruelly, “You seem to have fallen.”

Azray gasped out, pain making her words incoherent, making the world around her foggy and dim–and she grew suddenly aware of the gusty beating of powerful wings surrounding her and the grasp of strong hands holding her and dragging her limply through the sky–back to her maker.


About the Author

[photo] Angeline Hawkes received a B.A. in Composite English Language Arts in 1991 from Texas A&M-Commerce and was named 2007 Alumni Ambassador for the Literature Department. She has publication credits dating from 1981. Angeline's collection, The Commandments, received a 2006 Bram Stoker Award nomination. Her newest fantasy series is entitled: Tales of the Barbarian Kabar of El Hazzar [various publishers]. Dead Letter Press published Blood Coven, co-written with Christopher Fulbright. Her story, “In Waters Black the Lost Ones Sleep”, appears in Chaosium’s anthology, Frontier Cthulhu. Angeline has seen the publication of her novels, novellas, fiction in 30+ anthologies, several collections, and short fiction in various publications. She is a member of HWA and REHupa. Visit her websites at www.angelinehawkes.com and www.fulbrightandhawkes.com.


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