The child stumbled along the dried grass, tiny feet barely grasping the mastery of walking, but she moved with determine steps toward her destination. The flower patch bobbed in the gentle breeze and the child dropped onto her plump rear before them, a hand with tiny fingers grasped at them. Large dark eyes stared at the white petals with innocent curiosity even as her small hand crushed them.
From a stone, in the shade of a tree, a shadow moved. If the child had cause to turn her face, she would have seen the outline of wings that spanned wider than the village huts and an exotic woman with raven hair that hung down her body. The woman sat with elbow on knee and cheek in hand. Charcoal eyes watched the girl child as she continued to play with the flowers. Then she was gone.
The mother, who had watched her child, but did not see the woman, collected her daughter and returned with her to the collected huts. The sun was waning and night would come. The night did come and with it came men on horseback with torches and swords.
The morning came soon. The village was no more. Cinders, charred bodies, and blood left a round mark on the earth. The woman, wings spread, walked among the remains, sandaled feet barely touching the refuse. Her eyes looked at the remains with no apparent emotion. Humans twisted jointed actions of agony, raped women with slit throats, and parents with bashed heads who fought to protect their children. She came to the edge of the burned village.
At the edge was rocks on which a small body had been bash upon. The girl child's head was crushed as she had crushed the white petals from before. The woman knelt, her wings folding behind her, ebony feathers as dark as a crows drifted to the earth torn by horse hooves. She touched the tiny hand curled on in the dirt.
"This is how you hold a flower." The woman's voice was soft, smooth as a black opal.
The tiny hand was now holding a white flower by the stem.
Death, eldest of the Four Horsemen and one of the most feared and hated beings in Creation approached the Angelic outpost. His steed carried him on powerful legs with wisps of ethereal flame flowing behind him.
The Charred Council had sent him to meet with a certain angel in the library archives. All that Death understood was that this order was due to a missing angel. Missing persons wasn't something that Death felt needed his attentions, however, he was predispose to carry out the Council's will due to angering them so during the Grand Abomination incident. And they deemed that this was a mission that needed his attention.
The library was like any angelic archives. Tall tower with walls lined with shelves packed side to side with tomes, scrolls, and even tablets. Angel Scribes flew to and fro researching, recording, and reading. Death was ignored and Death was more than happy to be ignored. He ascended to the third level where his contact was waiting.
He recognized the wide wings with arcane runes glowing blue on long feathers. The Archangel Azrael stood at a balcony wearing robes of blues and greens with a semi-circle of gold atop his shoulders. And he wasn't alone. Beside him, a young angel girl in a simple tunic dress with ivory hair tied back into a gold headdress stood with him. They spoke quietly, but hushed when Death approached them.
"Death, the Charred Council sent you?" Azrael didn't look pleased to see him.
"Ah, it's nice to see you again." Death's graveled voice replied in a mockery of charmed.
"My apologies, but I requested that Fury take on this mission." Azrael glanced at the young angel beside him and she looked back with a worry written in her silver eyes. "She would take a . . . gentle approach."
"Alas, but you get me instead." Death waved a hand wrapped in leather straps. "You know how I like to store my patience. Tell me what the matter is that you would prefer my sister to me?"
Azrael closed his eyes, as if he was sending a small prayer to the Creator, then spoke, "One of our angels has abandoned her post."
Death stared at him for five heartbeats before replying, "Is that all? Well, let me find the scrapper and I'll send her back to her post with a boot in her ass. Surely this is something an angelic superior should handle. Why involve the Charred Council?"
"Because this angel is the Angel of Death for the Third Kingdom." Azrael tucked his hands into the deep sleeves of his robe. "And without her, the souls of the dead will wander the Earth and never go to the Well of Souls."
Behind the mask, an eyebrow arched. "Surely, she could be replaced."
"Have some faith in me, Horsemen." Azrael scoffed and the young angel beside him looked indignant. "If it was that simple, you'd think I would not have already done that and not involved the Council?"
"Being an Angel of Death isn't like guard duty. Darissa has been attuned to the Earth in its infancy." The young angel spoke up for the first time. "The human race is in turned attuned to her. Only she can summon them to her side and she takes them to the Well of Souls. Replacing her will take thousands of years and by that time the Earth will be full of lost spirits and ghosts."
"And this is?" Death stared at the young angel.
"This is Leriel, one of my young acolytes. She was the last person to see Darissa before she disappeared. I brought her here so she can share her story with you that she shared with me. Speak, child."
For a moment, the angel looked as if she would declare that she was no child, but she wisely began her story, "I saw Darissa in the Spiral Temple, where the acolytes are trained. She was standing at the glass mirrors of Grenoa. I asked her if she wanted to speak with Master Azrael, but she said no. She didn't look at me at all. She just kept staring at her reflection in the mirror. I asked her if there was something wrong with the Third Kingdom that would require her to come to the temple. She stated, and I'm quoting her, 'There is always something wrong with the Third Kingdom. It's the Third Kingdom.'"
The angel paused in her story and reached into a small satchel at her belt. She drew a simple white bruised flower and held it on the palm of her hand. "She had this and was twirling it between her fingers. I asked her if she wanted to be to take a message to our master. Darissa finally looked at me and . . . smiled!" At this the angel looked disturbed.
"The horror of a smile." Death rolled his eyes.
"If you knew Darissa as we do, then her smiling is as rare as one of demon lords of Hell performing a selfless deed," Azrael commented, "Leriel, continue your story, please."
"Well, she looked at me and . . .smiled . . .then she tucked the flower behind my ear and said, 'Tell Azrael I quit.' Then she left. I quickly found our master and told him this story."
"Thank you, Leriel, you are dismissed. You are free to return to the temple, but alert me if Darissa should return or if you hear any news."
The young angel kicked off the floor with a gentle bend of the knees and disappeared over the balcony railing. Azrael looked graved, "We have to locate Darissa and convince her to return to her duties as soon as possible."
"And you have no way of knowing where she has gone?" Death was already soured to this mission.
"I have sent others to seek her out within the Angelic Realms. She's unique among our kind having black wings and hair so she isn't hard to find, but she's not in the Angelic Realms. She could be anywhere among the countless worlds."
"Surely you have some lead." Death didn't fancy the idea of combing world by world to find a misbegotten angel.
"She's likes snow." Azrael murmured thoughtfully. "She said in one of the few conversations we had. I would suggest that we look for her in a realm of snow and ice."
"We?" Death raised an eyebrow again. "I would travel faster alone."
"Death, I believe that if I could speak to her, I can convince her to retake her mantle or at least discover why she has abandoned it. You still don't understand what a shock this is to us all when she left her post. Darissa has always been dutiful in her role as an Angel of Death and has never uttered any complaint about it."
"Or I can do it the old fashion way of dragging her kicking and screaming back to Earth." The look that crossed through Azrael's eyes caught his curiosity. "What is it?"
"There is something you should know about Darissa. You see, she has a unique ability, a rare power that she calls Ghosting." Azrael shifted his shoulders as if in deep discomfort. "She can . . . go through solid objects at will."
"Any solid object?" Death did not like the sound of this. Not one bit.
"Any and all. Walls, floors, people, and," Azrael glanced at Harvester at Death's back, "weapons. If Darissa doesn't want you to touch her, then you cannot touch her at all."