CHAPTER 10: THE SHADE
She lay there in the mud for a few minutes, not quite sure if she had gone mad. After all, she had seen some incredible things when she had had the fever. But the figure in front of her was real. She was seeing it before her eyes, not in her head. Slowly, she clambered to her feet, rivers of muddy water running off her now thoroughly soiled white night-dress. She took five steps, and stood at the right hand side of the figure. From where she was, she could just about see the tip of an elegant chin, the end of a nose, but everything else hidden by the folds of the hood.
“Hello.” said Marie quietly.
The figure started, and Marie realised that she had taken him by surprise. If this person was what she thought he was, then how was that possible?
The figure turned to look at Marie, and as he did he dislodged a lock of long golden hair and Marie realised that he was a she. A very beautiful she, with kind green eyes, long blonde hair, and a pale, delicate face that looked like it was good for smiling. She looked around seventeen, but very tall for her age.
“Ehm…hello.” said the angel, and she looked very confused. Her voice, while certainly pleasant, sounded very human, and not at all angelic.
Marie realised that she was expected to speak, but didn’t know what to say, so the angel spoke again.
“Terrible weather we’re having.” she said brightly.
Marie simply nodded.
“Would you like…aren’t you freezing?”
Marie nodded dumbly. Her teeth were vibrating madly in her head.
The angel smiled piteously.
“Here.” she said and with a flourish a great white wing, five times larger than a swan’s wing, ten times whiter, arched out from under her cloak so suddenly that Marie started but before she knew what was happening it was wrapped around her, the rain had stopped thudding on her head, and she was now very warm. The feathers of the wing felt softer than anything Marie had ever touched.
“Thank you.” she buzzed, as her teeth had still not stopped chattering.
“You’re welcome.” said the angel “It’s a bit stupid, don’t you think? Running around half naked in a thunderstorm?”
“What’s your name?”
“Marie Dashonde. What’s yours?”
Marie stared at her blankly.
“You can call me Sariel.”
They stood like that in silence for a bit. Then the angel asked: “Marie. You do realise I’m an angel?”
Marie instinctively cast her eyes up to the wing that was sheltering her.
“Right, right, of course you do. But…am I the first one you’ve ever seen?”
“Do you ever…Marie, do you ever see things? Strange things? Things that frighten you?”
Marie thought, and tried to remember everything that had scared her, but somehow she instinctively knew that they were not what Sariel was referring to.
“Alright. Have you ever felt that time wasn’t flowing as fast as it should? Or as slow? Did it ever seem strange?”
Suddenly Marie jolted. She told Sariel about the time the rabbit had frozen in the meadow. How hours and hours had passed within a single thirty minute span.
“You…” breathed Sariel “They thought they’d found them all. Where do you live, Marie?”
“In that cottage.”
“Then your father…oh no.”
“What?” Marie asked. The angel did not answer.
“What?!” she almost screamed. And then it hit her.
“He’s going to die, isn’t he? That’s why you’re here.”
“Yes.” said Sariel, and she sounded utterly miserable.
“But…but…if you’re here, that means he’s going to heaven, doesn’t it? You’re to take him to heaven?”
“It’s not that simple Marie.” said Sariel “There is an angel present at every death. And there’s also a shade. We don’t know who actually claims the soul until the last moment.”
“You mean he might go to Hell?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. Your father was a good man in many ways. He loved you very much, he was a good friend and he was a loving husband.”
“But he killed people.” Marie finished, and the words tasted like lead “He killed people.”
Sariel simply nodded.
They stood in the rain, silent as graves.
Then Marie screamed at the black thing coming at her through the rain..
“He’s talking Doctor.”
“I think he’s talking. I think he’s trying to say something.”
“Luke? Can you hear me?”
“Marie? Marie, is that it?”
“Get the girl. She’s in the kitchen”
“No she’s not.”
“She’s gone. She must have gone outside.”
“Oh no, get her! Hurry! Hurry, you ass! He hasn’t…he hasn’t long left.”
She saw it…through the rain…wafting like black smoke…and it…the face…oh God…she couldn’t…she buried her face in Sariel’s side and the angel put a hand around her and held her tight.
“Ssshh.” she whispered “It can’t hurt you, I promise, it can’t hurt you.”
A Thing came through the rain, flying over the sodden ground, a flowing black cloak draped over its body. It stopped, and began to circle the angel and the terrified child she held. Marie could feel it, feel the terrible fear as it moved through the air. She felt sick to her stomach. She was clamped so tightly to Sariel’s body but still she felt vulnerable, alone, and terrified. Then, things became a hundred times worse. The Thing spoke. If your worst nightmare could find a voice, it would be the rasping, slithering tone that the Thing used now.
“Sariel-el-Yoli.” drops of rain shuddered and splintered as that voice violated the air “A pleasure as always.”
“And hello to you, Rashgiel-Chanhees-el-Goli.” said Sariel.
“And what have you got there?” Rashgiel sneered “A little Temporal? Isn’t she just adorable? Come now sweet heart.” he lowered his voice and whispered to Marie “Why don’t you turn around and give me a great big smile?”
At the command, her bones were no longer her own. Slowly, horribly, she felt her neck twisting around to stare the horror in the face. Stop, stop, stop.
She caught a glimpse of a pale face beneath the black hood, golden eyes that stared like a cobra facing a mongoose on a jungle track, grey teeth bared in a hideous snarl-grin, chalk skin stretched over the skull so tightly it looked like it might split. And she recognised the look in its eyes. She had seen that look in Monsieur Nogaret’s face on their first meeting, and here it was again, ten thousand times more terrible, festering on the visage of this thing. Then, mercifully, she felt Sariel’s hand on the back of her head, returning her to the safety of the folds of her robe, the terrible impulse to look at Rashgiel dispelled by the angel’s touch.
The priest solemnly intoned the last rights, the solemn Latin pronounced mechanically and without joy, and then the brown ointment was applied to the Hangman’s forehead. Doctor Toureil was bent over, his ear to Luke’s mouth as he whispered and his one aching lung struggled to expel his wheezing last words.
“That’s not very polite.” Rashgiel hissed to Marie “Your father should have taken the time to raise you better. Oh well. Too late now.”
“Leave her be.” Sariel said quietly.
Suddenly, all perverted mirth fell from the thing’s face and it hissed furiously: “It will command, will it? This half-breed soul, born in muck? It will bark orders to one who faced the armies of Michael, rent heaven’s face to bloody thirds and fell at the Dawning of the Grey? You presume too much, Sariel of the Ninth.”
At the last words Sariel’s wings sprang out from behind her and filled the sky, and the demon recoiled in horror at their fiery brightness. For a terrible second Marie knew they were going to spring on each other, and she would be caught between the two of them and mashed to pulp. Then…
There was a twitch in the air.
Angel and demon suddenly started as if they had been stung. As one, their heads snapped in the direction of the Hangman’s house.
Marie, blind under Sariel’s cloak, heard Rashgiel snarl “He’s mine!”, then a sound like a scythe slicing through the air and then she was alone in the pouring rain. Sariel and the devil were gone, vanished like they had never been, and for a second she wondered if she had simply gone mad. Then she remembered Rashgiel’s threat, and realised what it meant.
Her father was dead.