July 10, 2012
Most angels not fighting in the war were messengers or medics, and Anton Hallow was both. Presently, he glided far above what seemed like an endless stretch of eastern farmland and forest. His destination was familiar to him: an eastern town, Cerra, known before the democratic revolution for a wise king and known both then and now for an excellent school. He had two tasks to carry out once he reached his destination: hand over an unopened letter to the governor and heal the local medical clinic’s occupants.
Anton was in his mid one hundreds, middle-aged among the fay and unreachably old among humans and fiends. The tiny pops and audible creaks when he thrust his wings downward reminded him of his age, though he couldn’t believe flight was starting to become a hassle already. In his younger days, he took to the sky without a second’s thought. Now, he had to stretch in the morning, be well-rested, drink plenty of water, and eat enough that he had enough energy to make it to his destination.
All the same, he loved flying as much as he had as a younger man. It was a terrible tragedy that only angels had such a privilege. For most angels, the joy of flight became almost as ordinary and boring as walking, but not for Anton. He wanted to share it. He carried younger, lighter children with him on short flights when their parents allowed it, but he wished for some sort of machine that allowed non-angels to fly. Yes, it would put him out of his main job, but it would never stop him from flying. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the mind for design to create such a contraption, nor did he have the funds to create such a thing.
As he approached Cerra’s first watchtower, just west of its nearest outcast town, the first bolt swished through his feathers. Anton heard the guards from the watchtower shout something, but he focused on the attack for now. Should he fly lower or higher? If he flew higher, he’d be harder to hit, but he’d die if he was hit and fell. If he flew lower, he’d be easier to hit, but would easily survive a resulting fall. He took a few seconds to decide, then let his wings rise over his body. His forward momentum held while anything keeping him in the air vanished. He plummeted toward the path between two large forests. He fell faster than he flew, slipping his first eyelids, thin and mostly transparent, over his eyes. The wind still stung them a bit, but he needed to see. Angel hunters, now, of all times? After a peaceful revolution? And why so close to a Cerran watch tower?
“Fly here!” Anton heard a guard shout, his ears now pointed directly at the tower. “Fly to us!”
Anton slowly spread his wings. He caught the wind and gradually stopped falling and started moving forward again. He banked left and pushed himself through the air, gaining speed and gaining speed until the tower suddenly appeared no more than ten meters in front of him. He made a point to remember if he was using his first eyelids then. They obstructed his vision more than he’d initially thought. He rotated his wings at the shoulder joints and forced them forward, nearly halting his flight. He thrust them down and vaulted onto the top of the watchtower, the tip of his folding wing scraping the ceiling three meters above. A crossbow bolt bounced off the stone wall behind him.
“Is that an attack on Cerran land?” Anton asked the guards, looking behind him and crouching. The guards did as well, both of them armed with crossbows.
“Just a foolish angel hunter or two,” one of them replied. He lifted his helmet with one hand and stretched out the other. “Jame Shiin.”
Anton shook his hand. “Anton Hallow.”
The guard replaced his helmet and peered over the edge of the watchtower. “Stand down!” he shouted to the attacker or attackers, resting his weapon on the stone, aiming it around, searching. Anton peeked over as well. He hadn’t located the archers on his first search, and now, an angel’s eyes were no more powerful than a human’s.
“I’ll fly out,” said Anton.
“Fly safe,” said the other guard, his crossbow now scanning the ground. Anton nodded and tucked in his wings to dive out of the tower. He opened them and swung around and up. Two bolts came at him at once, one skimming so close below his ear that had he been fifty years younger, he’d have lost it. The other was a long way off. Anton looked down to see bolts fly as silver streaks from the guard tower toward two bushes at the edge of the forest beside the path. He’d have been in clear view if he’d kept falling as he intended.
One bolt fired at the guards this time. Anton heard a sharp clang and dropped toward the guard tower. The first guard, Jame, was missing his helmet. He sat with his back to the wall, staring at his helmet against the other wall with a bolt pierced through the top of it.
“I’d be dead if I’d worn that differently,” he said, his voice quavering.
“Stand your ground,” said the other guard. “He aimed for the glint of your helmet, and you hit his companion. I have no doubt he’s doing the same thing as you are if he’s not dead. Be the stronger man.”
Jame nodded and retook his position at the wall. His companion said, “Anton, one more distraction?”
Anton flew up, briefly touching down on the roof of the tower to shove himself skyward with his legs. No more bolts came, though. Anton drew a light short sword from the sheath on his belt and dropped to ground level, softening his landing with a few beats of his wings. Almost immediately, an unarmed man came running from the woods.
“Spare me!” he cried. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry! Don’t shoot me. Please.”
Anton turned aside to let him pass. When he did, a bolt shot after him. Not Anton. The other man. It missed, but the other hunter’s intent had shown. The first one shouted something and bolted for the guard tower. Anton braced his legs and held his sword out toward the still-hidden attacker. The fingers on his free hand clenched together and pointed toward the woods, ready to fight with inergy if he needed it. He waited for any sign of movement or any sound. No rustles of the bushes or grass. No metallic metal on wood sound of a crossbow being reloaded or cranked back. He stepped forward once to no sound. And again. He braced his legs and flapped both wings toward the bush in front of him. Only then did he hear running footsteps–running and fading. He listened until he couldn’t hear them anymore. Then, satisfied with his work, he returned to the guard tower. Jame and his companion had the other hunter under close watch. They waved him in, and he once again ducked into the tower.
“Thank you for the help,” said the other guard. “Here, some compensation money for your time and risk.”
“Thank you,” said Anton. He took the notes handed to him, flipping through them for a moment before pocketing them. “Has this man told you why they were shooting so close to Cerran land?” He motioned toward the man in the corner of the watchtower, unbound, but with two crossbows aimed at him.
“No,” said Jame. “And it was a strange attack.” He moved closer to the hunter, seeming to enjoy making him sink further into the wall than he already was. “This hunter has quite a few questions to answer.”