Flutter of wings, a great whoosh and I feel Ariel settling down next to me.
“Nihael, my friend, how is she?” he asks, tilting his head to one side to get a good look at his new charge.
My eyes move off the girl for a moment to look at Ariel, then immediately back on her. “This assignment was supposed to be easy, but I won’t say the same; she has been very difficult to keep alive.”
Ariel shifts to a more ready position atop our perch on a old crumbing building, as we both peer down at a brown-haired girl sitting on a park bench about ten feet below us. She was busily writing down something in a notebook, and would occasionally look up dreamily across the park, then eyes would light up and she would be back to writing.
“She seems to be harmless enough, and somewhat unremarkable,” says the Newcomer, wondering how difficult one young girl could be. Ariel was a huge Being, even for a Protector, standing almost nine feet tall with the bravado and build of an battle hardened gladiator.
“You know she’s been a Participant for almost a year now, even though she still acts like an Observer. What you see before you is calm within a continuous storm. I’ve had so many fights to the death, so many near misses, so many close calls, that I sliced through her curtains last night because they made a noise.”
Now Ariel titled his head to look at me. He was starting to remind me of a curious puppy but with a massive wingspan and equally massive sword. “Please debrief me; I need to know everything before you leave.”
Without taking eyes off my human, I give a brief history about her incessantly grim life.
“Birth to high school was easy enough, Hannah listened to her mother back then, but college…college was a dangerous time. She put herself into so many bad situations, and would never ask for help until the very last second. I spent a lot of time sprinting into the Dark, stabbing through blood and smoke so I could pull her out. Both of us barely survived the last fight, but as you can see we’re still alive. Post-college is when the real war started, literarily and figuratively.”
Ariel sighs and says, “Wish we were allowed to just jump in, that’d probably save us a lot of ripped wings and bloodshed.” He unsheathes his sword and grips it in his fighting hand, feeling less laid back about his new charge.
I nod in agreement, and continue, “If Earth wasn’t a place of blood and hate already, she joined her country’s military, and entered active warzones multiple times. To say that I was fighting for both of our lives constantly was an understatement. The Land of First Beginnings hasn’t been the same since the Roman days. Prince Jazre’el still rules that place, and when he learned about her possible change in status, we were attacked almost everyday. Roaniel was sent to assist me until we left, but she didn’t make it til the end, Jazre’el himself butchered her. So you understand that I was very happy when we finally left and came back, since we still have strongholds here.”
“So that’s what happened to Roaniel, I thought she was just on another assignment. Is Hannah heading back any time soon?”
“No, not that I can see,” I say, “but the fighting heightened even more the day she finally became a Participant. One improvement is that she’s so much better at asking for help before she needs it, freeing me up to do some preemptive damage to the Dark before they damage us again. And I know we’re not supposed to take pleasure in destruction, but I can’t lie: I really enjoy sending them back to Arroyo.”
Ariel nods, and starts surveying the scene, “Is she Weaponized?”
It’s my turn to nod, “Oh yeah, even though she still has no idea what she can really do, but she’s trying to learn.”
“Maybe I’m being a coward, but you should stay. Consider me a reinforcement instead of a replacement,” says Ariel, looking just a tad bit nervous now, bravado slowly leaking out of him like a deflating balloon.
I consider this for a moment: I probably should have asked for permanent reinforcements after that Incident her Freshman year in college and during her last deployment, but pride and her lack of Participation had held me back. Could I really leave Hannah now, after all we’ve been through? I’ve grown to love her very deeply, and things will only get worse. When she had chosen to become Weaponized earlier this year, the Dark must have felt the change, because their efforts had increased. They delight in tormenting Participants, Weaponized or not, knowing that if they’re successful in keeping them from reaching full potential, Participants can dissipate and die a tormented death full of regret and should-have-beens. But if the Participants realize their purpose, they can dispel the Dark at the flick of a wrist; in a single word they can decimate an entire room full of Dark. A whole city full of Dark will flee before a fully Weaponized Participant that has come into their own.
“I have to check with HQ, and if they give the ok, I will stay. Who needs to retire anyways in this day and age? Seven thousand years is the new four thousand years right?”
Ariel smiles, and pounds me on the back, “Get your permission and come back so we can keep our girl safe.”
We went through a few other minor debriefing points, and I take off for HQ. I arrive and check in, and moments later, I express my desire to return to Hannah, my human, and I get pulled into an office by my supervisor.
“Good, because you’re going back regardless. Hannah needs both you and Ariel. NOW,” says Myriel shoving a folder into my hands and pushing me back out the door.
Perplexed, I walk and read at the same time, I start to run and take off, flying as fast as possible as the realization and panic of what I just read is building to a breaking point in my chest.
I hope I’m not too late.
Moments later I’m back in the park and land in the middle of a vicious battle. Ariel is in the middle of a sea of Dark, hacking and slashing away with his sword, and using his wings to clothesline the them with every swing of his torso.
“Welcome back!” Please, jump in whenever you feel so inclined!” he bellows as he slices off a horned head that spurts black smoke and smells like rotten eggs and rage.
I jump in the skirmish and start my own hacking and slashing, working my way towards Ariel who is standing over Hannah. She can’t actually see what’s going on all around her, but she looks distraught nonetheless, still sitting on the park bench with her arms wrapped around herself, rocking back and forth. “Please, please help me, I don’t know what to do,” she’s praying over and over again. Her phone was laying on top of her forgotten notebook, pulled open to an email. Whatever the message was, it had sent her spiraling into an abysmal mental pit of despair and agony, which had attracted the Dark to her in the first place, and they weren’t taking any chances, all the Dark in the city had come to torment and torture her.
Hack scring…went the sounds of the battle, Ariel maintaining his position in front of Hannah, and I stand behind her. We are surrounded, and the Dark are closing in fast, as more and more of them poured into the park.
“What do we do?” shouts Ariel, as he gets splattered in oily black blood and starts bleeding himself, getting weaker by the minute.
“We fight, we never stop. Hannah depends on us!” I shout back.
And that’s when it happened.
Hannah stops rocking and violently grabs her notebook and reads something she wrote down on the back page. After reading the notebook, she drops it and stands up, with hands clenched to her chest, head bowed eyes closed, determination written across her face. She begins to murmur in a strange language, so quiet that we couldn’t hear her above the screeching and flapping from the Dark.
But the Dark could hear Hannah.
As soon as her lips start moving, otherworldly screams sound off. But not their battle cries: they were in pain. They started floating around listlessly, trying to go towards Hannah, but Ariel and I were cutting them down easily now.
Hannah takes a step away from the bench, head up eyes open, extending her palms out and downward towards the ground, and fiercely says “Leave. NOW.”
It looked like the Dark were getting sucked up by a giant vacuum and getting deposited on the far side of the horizon. Vicious cries of agony and fury echo in our ears as we stand silently and watch as all the Dark are violently expelled from the park and from the city.
The silence is deafening, so loud that it rings in our ears as we both turn at the same time towards Hannah.
She now has a smile of her face, and sits back down to her writing as if nothing had happened. Ariel and I take turns binding up our wounds, and then I hand him the folder that Myriel had given to me before my departure.
He looked through it, and lets out a low whistle when he gets to the end, looking over the top of the folder to admire Hannah.
“If I had known this, I would’ve brought more warriors with me from the get go!” he chuckled, handing me back the folder, “Our girl has decided to be a heavy hitter now huh?”
Now it’s my turn to chuckle, “Yeah you know humans and that free will nonsense.”
Together, we sit down next to Hannah, one facing the East, one facing the West, and start watching the skies. We know that was not the last battle, but we now know that we were going to win Hannah’s War.