I hasten my pace along the hallway. My knee-length boots are fashionable, the only thing I approve about this tragic military garb, they pound against the tile floor and announce my presence as I enter the room. The numerous officers surrounding the table rush to their feet and bow in greeting, filling me with that fine taste of dominance I’m quite addicted too. How does one repel such a sinful craving for veneration? The sight of powerful men and women with cowed heads, fearing me, honoring me; there is no other desire in the world that can provoke such triumph.
Yet I am Angel. I must be humble.
I have taken my place as Guardian of Earth setting up our preparations for war with Hell. At this military base, Angels flock to my side to learn how to combat Darkness. It is not a normal thing for Angels to fight, hence this teaching center. I hope God’s precious beings are never needed but until then I honor Her, by preparing Her Angels.
My adorable ward, Tessa, bounces toward me like an overgrown pup, grasping my hands in her own. “This is so cool, Isis. Thank you for bringing me here.” Tessa then leans into whisper, hiding her words behind her tiny fingers, “There’s so many hot guys in uniform.” Her brown eyes speedily sweep the room. An innocent flush spreads on her pale white cheeks, slipping down her neck.
My fingers trace her forehead, brushing crudely cut bangs. She recently dyed them a dark red, to match the paint on her fingernails. As my thumb passes under her eyebrow, she laughs, swatting my hand away, noticing quickly my subtle attempt to rub away the thick make-up.
“Not one of them is good enough for you.” I latch onto her forearm, walking with her toward our seats. “Tell me, how is home?”
“It’s lonely without you!”
I listen with envy as Tessa chatters about the Sofitel. In her darling voice, she replays scandals, dramatically recreating love scenes, and sorrowfully revealing plots of betrayal. In a hotel that harbors two hundred of my clan members with fallible human personalities, I can’t expect more. As she revisits such memories, I find myself longing to be home in Manhattan, to deal with these petty fights. How many times have I changed curfew or altered laws on relationships because someone was being hurt or deceived? We may be Angels but we are not without flaw.
I crave for it now. Their trivial grievances may not matter to anyone but it was easy to fix and control. Here, on this base with these lifeless militants, everything is much more difficult.
Matthias whispers and though I wave a hand in dismissal I acknowledge it. I pat Tessa’s hand, quieting her. Adjusting my vest over my bosom, I right my posture and rest my avid attention on the full table in front of me.
“Major Collins.” The stars and stripes upon his uniform are not simply for show. There is gray at the tip of his brown hair and as he stands, the countenance reveals the true warrior inside him. “Will you start us off?”
“An honor, Madam Isis.” With arms solid at his side, he stares straight ahead, reporting speedily. “Fort Dix currently promotes and endorses the first and only Angel Army. In the past two weeks, we managed to gain numerous assets from the United States Military, which includes ammunition, numerous forms of weaponry, Humvees, tanks, airplanes, jets, and a submarine. We are currently working with the Navy in the efforts of gaining three warships. The Air Force is unfortunately completely under Fallen dictatorship. I do not however sense a problem in their cooperation. Kio has always been a very approachable clan and as we are currently fighting the same war, it is imperative we use this as a form of partnership.
“In compliance with the Merci, the Ruling offers its pious assistance. Two days ago, twenty-three Elders arrived to begin training with our military specialist Lieutenant Tee. Six clans entered our base as well, increasing our numbers significantly. Lieutenant Tee,” He gestures to a beastly man beside him. “Will give detail on our soldiers.”
Tee snaps to his feet, “Thank you, Major. We have seven Lieutenants and seven regimens, divided currently on knowledge rather than age. We are learning that several Newborns have military training as many died protecting their country.”
Matthias quietly wonders, “Do you mean to say you pack them all together, Newborns, Asuras, Hikmah, Elder? Without rank?”
“Yes, sir. Even the eldest Hikmah is proven meek against a skilled Newborn in hand-to-hand combat.”
Matthias glances wearily to me. This will surely cause problems that are more traditional and unlikely to alter even with the threat of war.
“Their fighting skills are increasing every day. Net training in the morning, Light pushing in the afternoon, and weaponry and hand-to-hand combat in the evening. We are looking to expand our preparation with fighter jets as soon as they arrive tomorrow. I have a dozen privates fit for the job.”
“Explain why they will need hand-to-hand combat? This is no human battle. They are fighting demons.”
“Yes, sir, however if they are caught in the embrace of a secured Net, the usage of their Light will be obsolete. I want them to at least know how to withhold their own in case of emergency.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant.”
HIkmah Elder Angel Luther presses a cigarette into an ashtray with much force, fouling the room with its smell. The smoke coils up through the illuminate air and I watch him through the white spirals beneath black painted eyelashes. He eases back in his chair, the white fur of mink pooling around him looks like a plush snowball. He feels my gaze and as he toils with the gold ring on his finger, he pops his brown eyes up, “I’ve yet to hear an offer.”
Matthias spares me from replying to such a low insult. “Offer?”
“If I join your brigade, my clan mates will follow. A hundred and twelve of Flemenco at your command. Your army is impressive but it’s obvious what you lack. You speak of jets and a submarine. But who will operate these things? Rumor has it that since this began two weeks ago, only fourteen hundred Angels follow your rule. This is why you come begging.”
Matthias rises suddenly and his chair slaps on the floor “Do you forget, sir, to whom you speak?” He points a black finger in my direction. “This is Erelim Elder Isis! One of five Erelims to walk this Earth and you dare insinuate ’begging’? The Supreme Chancellor of Heaven chose her himself to be the Ruler of Earth. Do not insult her again or you and I shall take this to the surface, sir.” He snaps his chair back in its place and gains composure before he turns to me and bows his baldhead in apology.
I rest my chin on my fist. I am tired of these puerile games. Elders are all the same. They kick and rear, seeking some profit but they all buckle eventually. They all have weaknesses they believe no one knows about. It’s funny how they think I forget.
I’m like a parent. I remember every diaper and every temper tantrum as they grew to be adults. And like some parents, I use it against them when the timing is right and get what I want. I feel no guilt. I’m an Erelim, I don’t feel at all.
My reply is interrupted when Tessa openly inquires, “Why does she have to offer you anything? The Darkness is coming after Earth. Isn’t it your job as an Angel of God to protect it?”
To hide my laughter, I kiss her small hand. Matthias chides her quietly and she pulls away from me, folding her arms to sulk.
Luther isn’t amused. “I didn’t know you kept lion cubs in your den, Madam Isis.”
Any humor dies on my face.
Tessa bites, “I’m not stupid, I know what that means. Erelim Elder Ariel was called God’s Lion. Everyone knows that. I support her beliefs and I’m not ashamed of it.”
“Apparently not.” He’s dragging her in the mud and she’s too innocent she doesn’t even realize it. “Tell me, Madam Isis, is this proof of your leadership? You allow lion Newborns to speak with such blatant witlessness and insolence and they sit at your table as if they have some manner of importance?”
Tessa sits up, “Just because I’m a Newborn doesn’t mean I’m not important. Isis believes in Ariel’s ideals, too, don’t you, Isis?”
The first thing I’ve learned to fake was a smile. After nine thousand years, I’ve perfected the art with grace and dignity. “I don’t like how he’s upsetting you, darling. Matthias. Take her out.” I drop my false visage and glower at the amused Luther.
“Isis?” Tessa beseeches as Matthias latches onto her arm, pulling her out of the chair.
Luther holds up a finger, pausing Tessa. “If Erelim Elder Ariel were leading this sham of an army, child, thousands of Angels would be clawing at the door, if only to be in the same area code as someone so holy. If Isis is such a devoted disciple, why, I ask you, have so few flocked to greet her? Your fondness is cute, but how well do you truly know your own leader?”
“Out.” I bite. “Everyone out.”
Luther reaches into his Armani jacket for a silver case. He removes a cigarette and lights it, taking a long drag, blowing out the smoke ogling me, waiting for the last person to shut the door.
“I’m not going to threaten you.” I begin.
“Oh? I thought that’s how you work, Madam Isis.”
“Not today. I’m feeling elated today.” A smile sweeps across my lips, “It’s a rarity, so enjoy it. What would you like?”
His thick brows knit and he removes the cigarette from his lips, “What do you mean?”
“The offer? What offer would you like?”
The collective calmness of his control slips away. I watch it crumble as he contemplates this sudden turn in the events. The moment adds to my building happiness.
“I want a Sofitel.”
I snort, fiddling with the buttons on my vest, “You want one of the Sofitels? Do you understand anything about the Angel Hierarchy? The Ten Great Houses own the hotels. They distributed the Sofitels based on age, breed, and social rank. I cannot give you a Sofitel.”
“You can give me yours.”
My laughter echoes the empty meeting hall. Luther looks on disregarding my amusement. My fingertips play with my lips, giggling even as I reply, “I doubt, sir, you can handle New York. I’m surrounded by three Kio houses. One of which belongs to the new rising King. What would you do with dozens of Fallen at your walls?”
“I certainly wouldn’t form a partnership.”
“Then, sir, I’m afraid you’d find yourself overrun in a few short weeks. I cannot in good conscious give you my hotel or any for that matter. Such a reply proves you would lose such a precious piece of land within a diminutive amount of time.”
Fluffing his mink, he snarls, “Why is that?”
“In your theory, you would own your estate and trust no one. Why not dig a hole and bury yourself in such a lonely world? You see partnerships build bridges. It’s up to you how you design each bridge, whether you place flowers and cotton candy trees or barbed wire and hidden grenades it matters little so long as you construct these passages.”
“And then what do you do, may I ask?”
“Once you get what you want, you blow them up of course.” I smile lovingly, “But don’t ever stop building.”
Out of the window of this exclusive office, I overlook the campus of Fort Dix. The expanse of the land is only a fraction of its entirety. The Angels encompass this private section of the base allowing the humans to continue their military drudgery. It took only a few hours to overrun this department and gain the government’s approval. When Angels intermix in politics, it aids us when we suddenly need to infest an army base.
I’ve lost Luther’s interest. It doesn’t matter to me personally if he stays or goes, he will regret his course of action but each failed addition highlights my inability to gather a mass of Angels to stand up against the army building in Sheol. My numbers are pathetic, Luther wasn’t wrong in that aspect. If it were Ariel, or Dane Monte, there would be thousands. Angels would come from Heaven if only to be a part of it. Why is it so different for me? I have devoted my whole life to God. I am just as saintly, just as humble as those two beings. I shouldn’t be judged and hated. I’ve done the best I can with what I’ve been given. The life I experienced has made me who I am. Who are they to say they would have done anything different?
A knock sounds at my door. This loft used to belong to some human general but I’ve taken over and added some female touches. Curtains hang along the sill and fake orchids replace photo frames. I’ve even changed the droll furniture to cream leather and maroon velvet.
Matthias charges in pinning his chestnut gaze on me. A year ago, a simple entrance made me swoon. Sinful fantasies roamed freely and I became a slave at his feet, willing to do anything he bid me. Now I can easily disregard the erotic thrill he poses and pass it off as a misinterpretation of youth. As my Second-in-Command, I cannot simply dismiss him. I will have to wait till he screws up.
Mario sneaks in behind him, slumped and nervous, twittering with his fingers as he bows. He is my Clan Liason and works on building alliances and cutting adversaries. He does the boring political things.
“Is she here?”
Mario licks his lips, darting his eyes around the room, “She landed in Newark ten minutes ago. She should be here within the hour, Madam.”
I pound my fist on the table and nearly shout. “Let’s go talk to our prisoner. Tell him the good news.”
Matthias is close on my heels, “Isis, this isn’t a good idea.”
His words are as raindrops and they dry up before they soak through. “Do not ruin this for me. I’ve won the day, can’t you see that?”
He snatches my elbow so suddenly I stumble. He latches on my other arm to keep me from falling, forcing me to face him. “Isis--”
“Release me.” I snap my arms away with a brutal yank. “You lost your right to touch me when you began to think I wanted anything more from you than what you could offer me in bed.”
Mario bows his head, attempting to give us privacy but it’s a lost cause. This hallway echoes. I want everyone to hear that I’m ending this farce of a liaison. I want him to be the laughing stock of the entire clan. Perhaps if his pride is demolished, he’ll end his futile attempts to fix the broken love between us.
“You are my Second, Matthias, but you are far from my second lover so do not believe I don’t know what it is you are thinking. I’ve rejected you. Get over it. Or step down and I will find someone to do your job.”
Even though I turn from him and continue my hurried pace, he follows demanding, “If you listen to no one else, listen to me. If the Ruling finds out we are detaining a fugitive Angel, how do you think that’s going to look, Isis? With your reputation?”
“No one is going to find out.” We enter the main quarters and Tessa spots me from afar. She waves sweetly but continues talking to the multiple boys that encircle her. The boys however notice me and scatter leaving her to sulk.
“And this girl you’re bringing here. You think no one is going to find out about her either? She’s a ward of Kio’s new king. Felix has made blatant attempts to find her. She is a missing person sought after by nearly every powerful entity on this planet.” We pause at a locked door waiting for the soldier on duty to let us through. “If Felix realizes you have her, our plans for partnership will be over. He’ll have just cause to form a campaign against us.”
“She’ll be gone before the wind blows.” I pass through the entrance looking back to him, “If you believe for one instant Kio will follow that Newborn to battle against me, you haven’t been keeping up with politics, Matthias. Felix’s Elders despise him. They wouldn’t obey him if I took an army right now to his doorstep. They’d let him die.” The thought brings a maniacal smile to my face. “And I have no desire for a partnership.” Entering the final room, my happiness is the fullest it’s been in a long while. “Now, let’s have some fun.”
Through a thick one-way glass, I spot him.