When I get the chance – which, admittedly, isn’t often, I write the occasional short story set in the BLOOD AND FEATHERS universe. There’s rarely any continuity (they could largely fit anywhere and at any time) and they’re meant more as a snapshot of some of the characters lives than anything else. I can’t guarantee how many there will be, but hopefully I’ll get time to do a few more.
In the meantime, happy reading…
THE PATRON SAINT OF WISHFUL THINKING
“It’s a bit shit, isn’t it?”
Vin and Mallory stood back and looked at the lump of metal on the bench; Vin critically, Mallory with vague dissatisfaction.
“‘Shit‘ is a slightly stronger word than I’d use…” Mallory said with a frown.
Vin just shook his head. “Go on. Say it. You know I’m right.”
“Fine. It’s shit. Happy now?”
“Ecstatic.” Stepping forward, Vin poked at the offending item – yelping as it burned his fingertip. Mallory smirked.
“Might still be hot.”
It was Mallory’s latest thing, the metal-working. He was running low on funds (again) and had decided it was probably time to find some form of gainful employment. Again.
Except, this time, he was serious. The look on his face as he sat on the moth-eaten, louse-ridden sofa in the sacristy told Vin that much. He really did need the money, and from behind his hipflask he had muttered something about ‘transferable skills’ – which in Mallory’s case amounted to miraculous healing powers, flying and a reasonable aim. He did not take kindly to Vin’s (not entirely serious) suggestion of a career as a “flying doctor-assassin”: he had, in fact, thrown a magazine at him. A slice of fossilised pepperoni fell out of it as it sailed across the room. “Scrap the bit about the good aim, yeah?” Vin laughed as he ducked out of the way.
It was an argument they had from time to time. Most Earthbounds managed to keep a job of some description – at least for a couple of years, before they inevitably started to attract attention and needed to move on. Angels didn’t need to be rich, and most of them didn’t want to be – but they still had to eat. A casual job was all they needed and most of them knew the right things to say; knew to turn up on time, pocket their money and keep their heads down until the time came for them to disappear… but Mallory wasn’t most Earthbounds.
The two of them had, after an afternoon’s thought and several bottles of whisky, managed to pin down one vaguely useful skill Mallory possessed which didn’t involve either prodigious amounts of alcohol or shooting anyone. A very long time ago, even by angel standards, Mallory had worked (albeit briefly) for a silversmith. And he’d paid attention. For about a week.
That, however, was a personal best – and it was what they had to work with. So, silversmith it was. Rusty silversmith. Fortunately, Vin knew someone who knew someone who had a friend of a friend who could loan him the right tools. Of course there would be a price, but that’s how it works when it’s a friend-of-a-friend-of-someone-met-in-a-bar, and favours were usually cheaper than money. Usually.
Mallory’s first attempt was… unattractive, and noisy. It involved a lot of swearing – particularly when he hit his thumb with a hammer. Twice. Vin declared the second one to be “catastrophic”. He laughed at the third and threw it out of the window, and he took Mallory’s flask away the fourth.
The fifth might actually have been worse than all the others put together.
The sixth was, as Vin had said, “a bit shit” – and by that point he was ready to call it a night – having surreptitiously pocketed Mallory’s flask and made doubly sure he didn’t have any other bottles hanging around the place. He left the flask in one of the pews in the church on his way out, knowing that Mallory would find it sooner or later: he was in the church a lot lately. Vin had watched his friend prowling the church into the early hours of the morning – sometimes, he was in there with him, his feet resting on the back of a pew as Mallory paced like a caged animal; sometimes he was outside, perched on a high window ledge and watching through the stained glass, seeing Mallory painted in shades of red and blue.
So, yes, Vin thought as he turned his collar up against the chill of the night air, Mallory would find his flask soon enough.
Not long after sunrise the next morning, Vin slipped through the door of the church. It creaked as he nudged it open, complaining at the cold. His footsteps were quiet as he passed the now-empty pew where he’d left the flask and tried the door into the sacristy.
The door was unlocked.
The room was deserted.
Tools were scattered across the floor, the table, the sofa – even heaped in the sink. There was a large lump of blackened metal, twisted beyond all recognition, sitting on top of a pile of Mallory’s notebooks, and scraps of silver sparkled on the floor and even the walls. But on the narrow slice of kitchen counter they had set up as a workbench, there was a small, irregular silver disc, no larger than a thumbnail – and on its uppermost face there was the image of an angel, its wings open in full flight. Long hair tumbled down its back. It was a woman.
Vin picked it up and turned it over in his hand, rubbing it between his fingers. It felt smooth and warm, reflecting the heat of his hand as he traced the lettering stamped on the back of the disc, almost too tiny to read.
And as he read it and smiled to himself, Vin heard the first snore coming from behind the sofa.
Another (very) short story for you… whoever could it be about?
THE NIGHT WATCHMAN
They look oddly innocent while they sleep: stripped of their uniforms, their endless kit, their weapons, and curled into close-eyed crescents beneath thin sheets, the soldiers of the Royal Corps of Signals could almost be children again. Some mutter through their dreams and shift in their beds before settling, the darkness covering all the things that they’ve seen.
And while they sleep, a single soldier walks among them; patrolling the narrow bunks in silence.
Few of them pay any attention to him by day – drafted from another regiment after the last batch of green-on-blue attacks, he keeps himself to himself. They’re friendly enough towards him, of course: it doesn’t pay to be rude to the only man awake while the whole unit’s getting some shut-eye, but they have more important things on their minds than making friends with the new guy. Things like keeping themselves and each other alive.
It suits him just fine, the brown-eyed soldier who moves in his uniform like he was born in it. This way, no-one comments that they’ve never seen him sleep; no-one questions the wisdom of bringing a stranger in to watch them. And if they should hear the sound of feathers rustling just around the corner, they simply shake their heads and put it down to the desert wind.
They’ve watched him strip down his gun in silent awe because his hands move over the parts faster than any of theirs could: twisting, pulling, sliding until they are little more than a blur.
He doesn’t join in the banter, doesn’t wait for the mail drops like they do. They’ve never seen him queue for the satphone, never seen him with a picture of his girl… and if they ask he just looks at them with those sad eyes of his and smiles.
Even if he isn’t one of them, things have been easier since he arrived on the base. No longer afraid to sleep, they’re feeling fresher – better than they have done in months. Morale is higher and even the heat and dust and that quiet fear that each dawn could be the last no longer weigh on them. For the first time since their tour began, they have hope.
They call him their ‘Guardian Angel’ – the one who watches over them while they sleep.
They have no idea…