Their song has lost its perfect timing.
--Indeed. The rhythm feels... off.
--Shall we do anything?
No. We will only observe.
The shadows seemed to move of their own accord as Ariel walked through the hallway, not following the shapes of objects that they were cast from. They followed her, covering her in darkness and rendering her practically invisible, as she descended the stairs into the basement.
The light from the television was faint, but gave the room a distinctive glow. Two couches sat in the middle of the room, angled to make a small triangle with the entertainment center as the third side – in the middle a small coffee table sat, an empty bowl and some pop cans on it.
Christina sat on one of the couches, her hands near her face as she pushed back into the cushion behind her. Ariel had to stifle a laugh as she watched the usually loud girl hide her face in fright with a silent yelp. The movie was one Ariel had seen more than enough times to not be frightened by now, and even better she now knew exactly what was going to happen next – one of the biggest jump-scares of the movie.
The music wound down as the movie’s protagonist hid behind a small counter, the darkness behind them accompanied only by the sound of their breathing.
There was a moment of silence.
The timing on Ariel’s behalf was impeccable, the young woman jumping over the back of the couch – still enshrouded by darkness – as a creature of shadows attacked the movie’s protagonist. Christina let out a scream as she kicked up at Ariel in her panic. She hit Ariel in the thigh with her kick, the protagonist of the movie screaming at the same time as Ariel let out a pained shout herself.
“Ariel! What the hell are you doing? Er... not that I was scared or anything! This movie’s dumb, just like you.”
“Oh, you were, don’t lie to me,” Ariel said with a laugh. The shadows seemed to fall away and soon the dim light of the television covered her as it did the rest of the room.
“How did you manage to be so dark though? I didn’t even see you coming.”
“What are you talking about? I didn’t do anything special, you’re just making excuses.”
“No, really, I didn’t even see you when you were right on me – it was like the light just wasn’t hitting you.”
Ariel got off of the couch, and glanced around. “Are you sure that it wasn’t just from me being between the TV and you? I mean, the side of me facing you is darker than the rest of the room.”
“No, stupid, it was just like you were a shadow.”
“Christina is correct.”
The voice came out of nowhere, as if it surrounded the dark room. The television flickered off, and darkness enshrouded the two girls. A few moments later the TV was on again, this time a man standing in front of them with a smile on his face – he was almost seven foot tall, dressed in a black pinstripe suit and gray tie with a fedora resting on his head.
“Who the hell are you?” Christina snapped, Ariel silent as the man’s dark eyes glanced between the two.
He vanished, and then appeared behind Ariel. She let out a short shout and swung around slap his face – but she hit the back of his hand instead, the man laughing.
“I am Michael – a guardian Angel, if you will. That is to say...” he vanished again, appearing behind the couch and looking down at Christina. The girl watched with a strange fascination, pushing herself into a better position to look at the Angel – he was almost perfectly sculpted, as if a Renaissance artist had crafted his physique from marble. Yet something felt off, alien even...
“I am Ariel’s Angel – I grant her a unique power. Ariel can create and manipulate shadows – or rather, can block light at a very precise level.”
“Wait, you want me to believe it? That I just have some superpower now? I’m calling the cops,” Ariel announced as she pulled out her phone – only to find it dead. The TV went mute, and silence filled the room.
“I am telling the truth.”
Ariel stammered slightly as the lights in the room flickered on for just a moment – the image on the TV froze, and there was a surreal feeling of dread in the room. “If I wanted to hurt either of you, you would have not been given nearly this much time.”
He turned his head towards Christina, an eyebrow raised. And then he vanished, only to appear behind her and the couch, looking down. The blond girl just glared, thoughts racing through her mind that he was trying to toy with them. “What do you want, limpdick?” she snarled at him. Not even a full second later there was the sound of a gunshot, and the two girls flinched.
But no one lay dead, it had been only the sound.
“What the hell was that?!” Ariel asked in a panic, looking around for a source of the gunshot. Michael stood calmly, watching the two slowly regain their composure.
“And it seems you have a power,” he said as he appeared by Christina’s head, looking down at her. “You are aware of your Angel?”
“I have no idea what you’re fucking talking about,” Christina said with a slight growl of agitation in her voice. “This is the first I’ve heard of these damned Angels – don’t go asking me about having one or not.”
Michael frowned slightly, but shrugged after a few moments. “Very well. If they haven’t revealed themselves yet, then so be it.”
“Probably because I don’t have a fuckin’ Angel- I’ve told you that, fuckhead”
Michael didn’t say anything in response, and a voice in Christina’s head nagged at her to not trust the man. And she couldn’t help but agree with the voice’s suggestion – Michael had just appeared from nowhere, after all.
“Wait, so, what do you mean I can control shadows? Like... I can make them move or appear or something?”
“Both, although you can’t get rid of shadows that are already there,” Michael explained with a smile. “Think of your power as more or less just casting a shadow with a cloak you can’t see, I suppose.”
Ariel looked at the floor and pictured a shadow on it – only for, moments later, a shadow to appear on the floor. “That... that’s amazing,” Ariel said. She looked at Michael with her eyes wide, overtaken by the fact that she had just created a shadow at will. “How does that work?”
“The actual method of it working is... complicated to say the least, even by my standards,” Michael said after a short pause. “The important thing is to know that it draws on both of our energy – particularly your emotional energy.”
Christina threw the blanket off of her and stood up, glaring at Michael for a moment – the nagging voice that told her not to trust him was practically screaming at her now, and she was all too willing to listen to it.
“You don’t believe this shady fucker do you, Ariel?”
“I do, I mean... you saw it yourself, how can you doubt it?”
“How can you be such an idiot?”
And in a moment she was gone, walking out of the room – something about how easily Ariel trusted Michael bothered her, but she couldn’t think of a way to articulate her disgust. Ariel started to turn to go after her, but Michael coughed.
“There are more important things afoot than her temper.”
“But she’s my friend – I have to at least talk to her.”
“That can wait,” Michael said as he sat on the couch where Christina had been laying down moments ago. He took the remote and turned off the TV and looked at Ariel. “What you need to understand is that there are many other Angels – some are... not as beneficial as others.”
“Yeah, but what about them?”
“Some like to hunt down other Angels, using their hosts as pawns. And it seems that Christina’s Angel is one of them. He hasn’t revealed himself to her, for instance, and her behavior-”
“She’s always aggressive like that, though.”
“Then that only means that her Angel has been manipulating her longer. I can sense his presence, and his communication with her as well.” Michael paused to give Ariel a few moments to come up with a response. When she didn’t say anything, he continued. “More importantly, there’s something bigger going on to the west – over the great inland sea.”
“What, over the Ogallala Sea? Are you sure?”
“Angels are able to detect the flow of energy that we use to manipulate reality – even when it is channeled through a human. And there is a massive amount of energy being channeled across the Ogallala Sea – more than I have ever detected from a normal Angel in fact.”
There was silence, and Michael shook his head with a sigh. “What do you mean?” Ariel asked quietly, looking down at the floor for a moment.
“I don’t know myself. It might be an Archangel, but...” Michael shook his head again. He put his right hand on his forehead and exhaled, eyes closed in thought. “That’s not possible, though. An Archangel, here, it would...”
“Hold up, what’s an Archangel? Forgive me for not knowing what you’re going on, but you can’t expect me to understand what you’re saying,” Ariel said, staring at the Angel. One of her eyebrows rose to give her an utterly confused expression, and Michael paused for a few moments in thought.
“Archangels are... well, it’s hard to explain. An Angel, with enough power, can turn themselves into what is referred to as... I believe the closest to your language would be arch? That is what my understanding is of how you’d refer to them.”
“So what is an Archangel? What makes it so different from a normal Angel, is it just stronger?”
“Essentially, yes – although they also carry authority. An apt similarity would be between a normal human and a superhuman with legal authority in one of your comic books, actually,” Michael explained. He paused for a moment before Ariel nodded.
“So what would happen if an Archangel was there?”
“It would... it would essentially be as if a nuclear bomb was going off where the Archangel was, continuously, as long as they were there. I can’t imagine an Archangel safely channeling their power through a human, either,” Michael said, as much to Ariel as to himself. “I’ll check it out on my time, if it’s something that will involve you I’ll let you know.” Michael pushed himself off of the couch, sighing as if he was just getting ready for work.
“Wait, you’re just going to go check it out? Aren’t you supposed to do something suitable for a guardian angel, like stick around and help me out?” Michael glanced with slight irritation at Ariel before the girl let out a short laugh. “You look like I’m accusing you of a crime.”
“It’s not important,” Michael said after a short pause. “I need to investigate though. Knowing what is happening around you is a prerequisite to having power.”
“I think that you mean to say knowledge is power,” Ariel replied with another laugh.
“Yes,” Michael said after a short pause, “I think that would be easier to say. I did not know your people had such a saying.”
Michael paused and gave her a short nod, placing his hands in the front pockets of his pants. He began to walk into the hallway that Christina had disappeared into earlier. In moments he vanished into the darkness, leaving Ariel utterly alone.
She looked at the dark television for a few moments before letting out a sigh. She was still having some trouble understanding what had just happened – she knew what had happened, yes, but understanding was another story. How was it possible that what Michael said was true? And he had said Christina had an Angel...
“Hey, is that freak gone?”
Ariel turned to find Christina walking in from the hallway. Christina glanced around the dark room before her eyes locked on Ariel. Ariel nodded, and Christina smiled slightly.
“Good,” Christina said as she walked towards the couch. Her hand rested on her temple as she moved, her eyes shutting for a few seconds as she grimaced in pain. Without a word she flopped onto the couch, and looked up at Ariel. “His bullshit was giving me a headache.”
“I don’t think he was lying, Christina. If he wasn’t what he claimed to be...”
“I don’t doubt that he’s some sort of fuckin’ alien, stupid. I don’t believe that he’s here for helping either of us,” Christina said, eyes shooting towards Ariel in a short glare. The redhead looked down, blushing slightly – of course it made sense that was what Christina doubted, not the powers.
“Oh...” Ariel said, and then looked back up at the blond. “I suppose that makes sense. I guess I just trusted him a bit more than I should have.”
“Obviously,” Christina said with a roll of her eyes. She grabbed the remote and turned the TV back on. Light filled the room and Ariel shielded her vision for a few seconds before lowering her hands again. “I don’t know what he actually wants, but I don’t trust him. You shouldn’t either.”
“Why do you think he said you have an Angel if you don’t though?”
“I don’t know, Ariel, maybe because he’s trying to fuck with us? Just stop thinking about it. What channel was the movie on again?”
“I’ll find it,” Ariel said after a short pause. She sat on the couch besides Christina and took the remote, flipping through channels until finding the one that had a gruesome murder scene on it – even if it wasn’t the movie they were watching earlier, it seemed similar.
Christina had a grin on her face as the screaming played from the speakers. She glanced towards Ariel and saw the redhead looking at her before her grin vanished, and coughed.
“I didn’t need you to find it for me. I could have done it.”
“I know, I know. I just thought I’d be nice.”
There was a pause, and the movie went to commercial.
“I...” Christina paused for a few seconds. She heard the voices that had told her to not trust Michael go off in her head again, They screamed at her to be silent, and she closed her eyes for a few more seconds, trying to drive them out – no, not them. Her. How she had heard multiple voices before was a mystery, but as she focused on driving the voices out it became clear that it was a feminine voice that led the symphony.
Her conscience? How cliché. Although, then again, consciences didn’t usually scream at you to not be honest. Of course, I have a demon in my head and she has an Angel. A tragic travesty, isn’t it?
“Oh, well, alright.” Ariel nodded and turned away from Christina, looking at the TV instead. Christina sighed softly and relaxed as she felt the voice fall silent. “I’m glad you’re not mad at me or anything, though.”
“Why would I be? You aren’t the creep that got in.”
“You did storm out, so I thought-”
“Shut up, idiot. I’m trying to watch this movie.”
Ariel just smiled slightly and looked at the TV. Christina’s foot brushed against her, the blond leaning into the armrest as she watched in silence. She was slightly afraid, yes – what was going to happen now that Ariel had an Angel was a mystery, but from how Michael talked there were going to be more dangers than she had expected, even if she had no trust in the Angel’s intentions.
But it didn’t matter if it was dangerous or not to Christina.
She would make sure that the life she liked continued on, no matter what.
10 years prior
In every life there is a time that everything begins to go horribly wrong. For many, this is later in life – a series of bills that don’t get delivered on time, being laid off of work, and so forth.
For others it all begins on a day just like any other, during the idyllic days between school years, when warm summer winds blow through the city streets. The unsuspecting youth of the world, their dreams and ambitions still so full of hope and ambition; little do they know what lies in store, that the world they truly live in is one far more complicated than the world they believe they reside in.
It was such for two adolescents, only fourteen years-old, walked down the sidewalk in conversation. The one on the right was an Asian youth, his hair was spiked with gel and his dark eyes glistened with excitement as he gestured wildly at the girl.
The girl he was talking with had blond hair that flowed behind her, hands resting on her black book bag as she laughed at what he said. Her bag had, on the straps and back, a black-and-green superhero mask. Her shirt had a the same image against a black background, the words “EMERALD KNIGHT” printed beneath the mask.
“You’re too funny, Ky.”
“I should be a comedian,” he joked with a shrug. The girl giggled, hand over her mouth. “You could be my assistant, Aly”
“Oh shush, I doubt it – what would a comedian’s assistant do anyway?”
“I dunno, probably just keep the hecklers away.”
“Sounds more like a bodyguard.”
“Then you’ll be my bodyguard.”
“I can do that!” Aly smiled and nodded as she said it, the two coming to a stop at an intersection. “I’ve always looked out for you anyways.”
“Oh please, no you haven’t – it’s been me looking out for you!” Ky responded with a gentle push.
It was then and there that things went totally wrong. The gentle push was just enough for her to lose her balance. With a yelp her foot landed on the edge of the curb, momentum carrying her upper body forward. The horn of the oncoming car bleated as the braking tires squealed, and there was nothing to be done as each visceral moment dragged on.
Ky, realizing too late that she was falling into traffic, lunged forward to grab her. His hand took a hold of her backpack, and for a single moment he felt the tug of her weight against it.
And then to his horror, he felt the weight vanish – her momentum carried her arms through the straps, and with a silent scream she fell to the hot asphalt.
The car hit.
Ky stood there, silent, her backpack in his hand. The car’s driver got out and rushed towards the bloodied girl on the ground, bystanders pulled out their phones – some took pictures, others began dialing 911.
The bag hit the warm, sticky pooling blood; the blood splashed onto his new shoes. He fell to his knees, no words escaped his trembling lip. His hands went to his face as tears poured down.
Her face was so beautiful despite her injuries.
“I’m sorry,” he finally managed to sputter.
“Don’t cry,” she whispered – at least that was how he would remember it happening. Those last words escaping her lips as her eyes fluttered shut.