Chapter 1; POV: Meghan
I had always been able to see them, since I was too small to realize the implications of their presence. Almost always thin, wearing dark glasses and black clothes, and with a bare oval of skin on the blades of their back. And on that skin, they each bore an eerily detailed tattoo: a pair of glittering wings.
It was early spring, and I was sitting in the bleachers of the outside basketball court, eating an orange. Alone, as usual. It was hard to keep up with friends when you couldn't run more than a block without wheezing, couldn't laugh without coughing blood. I wasn't lonely, though, a physics book across my knees and the barren bulk of the distant city were all the company I could want.
I didn't hear the truck approaching behind me, not really. A million years of evolution fueled instincts leapt into action on some signal too subtle for me to be consciously aware of, roaring through my system so that before I could comprehend what was going on, I was slammed into the ground, my side banging against the pavement in a manner that only my boney-ass shoulder could.
It barely hurt, but the scrape of my palms across the tar registered, and I lifted my hands from the ground. Dirt and gravel rimmed the edge of rough wounds, and they burned dully.
At once I was disoriented, my pulse in my throat so that I could barely breath. I clutched my hands together, trying to stop the flow of blood as I watched the metal bench on which I had been sitting being crushed into so many metallic toothpicks through a reddish haze. The screech of metal on metal was deafening, it made the hair along my arms rise.
A bright flash of white, and then I was blind. When I managed to crack my eyes open, there were two of them, framed by the large truck, which was wrapped in fencing, burning…
A shock of nausea leapt up the back of my throat, tasting of citrus and bile, but whether it was because of them or the truck I wasn't sure.
The first one was a short woman with red hair and very white skin, the second a tall, dark man with impressive muscles. They were both wearing black suits which wouldn't have looked out of place in an accounting office, except for the oval shaped cut-outs across the shoulders, and the huge, face-covering sunglasses. They were watching the truck with apparent interest.
I realized there must have still been people in there, people they were watching. I remembered studying what happened to people who where burned at the stake, reading accounts of it in old history books at the library. I imagined skin blackening and turning weirdly wet and sticky, eyes drying out into blindness, hair burning off, filling the air with choking smoke.
That was seriously sick. My stomach was full snakes, and I struggled to keep the convulsions of my throat going down. I could taste bitterness on my tongue.
"Hey!" I yelled desperately. My mouth was too full of air, I could barely get my tongue around words. Oh god, I was going to be sick. "Help those people, will you! Get some help, please!" My voice broke halfway through the last word.
I tried to get to my feet, but my ankle trembled and made a wet popping sound. I gasped in pain and fell back, fingers fumbling at where the bones met crookedly.
"Hey!" I screamed again, and the sound of the roaring fire increased, an animal returning a challenge.
They couldn't hear me, I realized. Tears swam in my eyes, but I could still make out tattoos on their shoulders, inside of the weird wholes in their shirts: pictures of wings which shifted from black to mother pearl sheen.
"Charlie, do you smell something odd?" the woman asked, faint voice slipping through the sound of the fire like a knife passing through butter. She reached out a hand against the giant's arm and turned around on the spot. She started when she saw my eyes focused on her.
"You can see me?" She asked, and I nodded, wiping the tears. Of course I could see her. She stood, far too real, far too close, so close I was getting dizzy, or it could have been the smoke clogging my over sensitive lungs.
"There are still people in that truck," I gasped, then choked hard on air once, unable to close my mouth until I had hacked up a glob of sour tasting spit and spat it onto the ground. By shear force of will, I managed to keep talking. "You have to call 911, call the ambulance. There's a phone in the school down the hill. Tell them what happened, they'll let you use it."
She opened her mouth, and for a moment I thought it was to answer me, but then her mouth kept opening in a silent cry of obvious pain.
A slim, black blade was sticking out of her stomach. She made a gurgling sound and folded over, slipping from the tip of the knife, landing and bouncing once.
I watched her descent, horror gathering in the pit of my stomach.
She took a few ragged, anguish filled breaths before going still. Blood dripped from her torn shirt and onto the asphalt, on her fingers where she had touched them to her stomach… She was dead.
It took me a full ten seconds to look up and meet the black eyes of her murderer.
He was not an impressive man, pale with brown hair, but something about the way he held himself immediately identified him as being one of them. He reminded me, oddly, of the orange I had been eating. Prickling across my lips.
No dark glasses for him, though, and he wasn't wearing a shirt at all. He looked at me and smiled, revealing slightly pointed canines, and raised his sword to pick at his teeth. Blood dripped down his chin.
Behind him, smudgy black smoke carried the smell of gasoline and burnt rubber down to the school on gust of wind.
Somebody had to notice. Somebody had to get help. There was a murdered here, not 20 feat away, smiling above his latest victim.
When he spun, he did it so quickly that I didn't see his movement, only the burst of sparks and clang of metal on metal that ensued a split-second later.
The first man stood, a perfectly white blade in his hand, face expressionless. The smaller man growled and disappeared, the dirt on the ground sweeping upwards, as if by his passage.
The dark man turned his head slowly, glasses distorting the reflections of the space around him.
Run, I thought franticly, get some help while that maniac is gone.
Suddenly he grunted and clutched at his stomach. The black blade had buried itself in his back. His fists clenched and unclenched several time.
"You Fucker," he growled, and a burst of laughter cut through the air like electricity between two metal rods.
With a choking noise, the giant fell.
The blade slipped out of his body with a squelching, wet noise, and the brown haired man appeared before those he had just killed, a grin stretched across his face.
I made a second attempt to rise, and hissed when my ankle failed to support my weight. I'd twisted it into a macabre pretzel.
His smile faltered, though, and he whipped around, nose high in the air.
A girl, maybe 12, appeared beside the now barely burning truck. She had a white blade and white hair and white skin, so that she stood out like a daguerreotype against the blue and green of the basket ball court. Five different colored ribbons were in her hair, and they caught my over adrenaline fueled attention so that I couldn't seem to look away.
The man cocked his head to one side, a snarl rippling from his throat. "Roark."
The girl looked up, face filled with bitterness and hate. Not a child's expression at all. Had she come to avenge these people?
Again, I felt a warning scream building in my throat, but my mouth was as dry as sand. I closed my eyes, selfishly wondering how long I had until I was dead, too.
A clang jarred my nerves and I found myself focused once again on the fighting pair.
The man stood, teeth gritted together and both hands on his weapon, visibly shaking, pressing down with all his weight. Roark stood slackly, favoring one hip but still looking fierce. She had one hand on her weapon, which was so long that the even when she held it above her head the tip hovered bellow her knees.
I couldn't believe what I was seeing.
Neither, apparently, could her opponents. His eyes bulged and a furious hiss made its way over his lips. A real hiss, not some clumsy, human imitation.
She shimmered out of view, reappearing twenty feet away, sword darkened and dripping, more redness splattered across her face and chest.
At first, nothing seemed to have happened.
Then, slowly, four deep, red slashes began to grow across the pale man's shoulders and chest, blooming like some sick parody of roses, blood forming spiral patterns across the fabric of his shirt.
He made a rasping noise in the back of his throat, and a line of blood ran parallel to the previous one before her collapsed.
The girl raised one hand. Light burst forth, a gentle, seamless glow above her palm. With a deft flick of her wrist, she sent it flying at the dead man, and it struck him in a shower of spark.
She looked at him in intense concentration for a long moment before turning away.
She shook her head a few times, as if to clear it, and drew a cloth from the baggy pants she wore, running it down her sword. However huge the sword looked for her, she moved it with breathtaking grace.
"What are you?" I asked hoarsely after watching her for a few minutes. Her head jerked back, eyes like sea foam trained on mine.
"You can see me?"
Deja vu overtook me for a moment. I twisted to look at the dead woman, but she was gone.
I blinked a few times at the empty space where her body should have been. No blood. No gore. Nothing. A quick search told me that the other bodies had disappeared as well.
"Yes," I answered finally, emotionlessly. My mind wasn't working right. Thoughts stuck together like my pills when I accidentally dropped them in the sink.
"How interesting," she said, eyes narrowing. I realized that I was afraid of her, or should have been. I couldn't really tell if my fear was focused on her or on any of the other events of the evening.
"Answer my question," I mumbled, not meeting her eyes.
She sighed, messing up her hair. When she spoke, it was with a wariness that I could hardly recognize. "I'm an angel."
I stared at her, took a steadying breath, then I started to laugh. Deep, hysterical giggles shook my frame. This was unreal. This was a dream. This was seriously not funny but all I could do was laugh and hope. I couldn't speak.
The truck's windows were black with smoke. I couldn't see the people inside.
Roark's brow furrowed with confusion, which only made me cackle more loudly, until I was howling and gasping and clawing at the cramps in my chest.
The boiling laugher dissolved into coughing, the familiar ripping feeling sending me to the ground. I croaked, struggling to drag air into my lungs, each expulsion sending a thrill of pain through my core.
I covered my mouth firmly with one hand to keep from puking.
"What's wrong with you?" she asked, appearing by my side.
Without waiting for an answer, she grasped my shoulders and pressed my face into the pavement, hands on the small of my back.
The spasm of my chest eased into nothing under her touch, and I could breath again. I sighed, melting onto the ground, and wiped the spit from my face. My hand came away pink.
I realized she had asked a question and tried to decide whether or not she really wanted an answer. Unable to tell, I shrugged.
"I have a… big blister-ish thing in my lung." I winced at how lame that sounded, but it was how the doctors had explained it to me when I was 7. When they had told me I was going to die for the first time. "A couple of Pulmonary Embolism, actually, but I guess maybe you wouldn't know what that is…" I shook myself, glancing at the burnt out truck and shuddering.
"Those people- in the truck- we need to do something." The urgency had drained out of me. I didn't have the energy to work myself into a lather again.
"I suppose you're going to die soon." She sounded a little sad but not uncomfortable at all. "The men in the truck, however, will survive with nothing more than a few bruises and burnt hair. Charlie got them out."
She patted my shoulder in an almost maternal fashion. I felt like someone had pumped a good deal of helium into my chest cavity. Where a few seconds before, I had been heavy and empty, suddenly I was light and full.
I didn't really know how to respond, so I pressed onward. I needed to press onward. I had just watched two people get murdered, and I was finding it hard not to be overwhelmed with happiness because two of more had survived.
"Back to you. You say you're an angel?"
She looked at me quizzically and nodded.
"Where are your wings?"
She slipped arms out of the jacket she wore and turned so that I could see the whole in the back of her shirt, two weird tattoos sparkling back at me.
She lifted her white sword over her head and plunged it into her back.
I gaped like a moron, but instead of bleeding like any normal, human back, a bright shaft of light burst through the wound, then another. The ink across her shoulders began to writhe, the wings flapping and shimmering under the skin. They pulled off her shoulders, somehow still only in 2 dimensions, the light condensing into white feathers.
A scrambled backwards awkwardly, noting vaguely that my ankle no longer hurt.
Fourteen foot spanning wings solidified, arching and twitching. Their edges were dusted with crimson, and I squinted to see what it was.
Before I could come to any conclusions, she turned back to me, grinning broadly.
"Okay," I said. "You have wings. But I suppose this is the kind of angel who carries a sword, has tattoos, and can move so fast nobody can see them?"
I glared and she snorted, an aristocratic scoffing noise that seemed entirely inappropriate for the situation.
"First of all, those aren't tattoos. Those are my wings. Second of all, this isn't just a sword, this is Broken. If you mean to address her, do it using her name." I raised an eyebrow. Naming her sword? That was dumb. That was like girls who called their boobs 'the twins.' She continued as if she didn't notice my skepticism. "I suppose by your standards I am moving fast, but then, humans are only the shadows of the divine. Time pulls you down, makes you slow and hollow and frail. As far as you are concerned, yes. All angels and demons can move too fast to follow."
"Whoa," I said, both raising my hands and shifting to sit Indian style. This was getting major sci-fi, and I couldn't help but be a little excited. "Demons?"
"Isn't the logical next step of realization that their must also be demons?" She gritted her teeth together. "You smell a little like one of us, you know." She gave me a sharp look, and I recoiled, tucking my hands against my chest. "Tell me, to whom were you born?"
"Um… first of all, none of your business." I flinched and rushed on, hoping I could get everything out before she left. "Second of all, I'll tell you anyways because I don't want to be impaled." I paused, getting to the most delicate part. "Under one condition."
"What would that be?"
"You come back to my apartment and tell me a few things I want to know."
She considered for a moment, her childlike face frozen into an expression of deepest thought. Finally, she shrugged. "Whatever, human. Let's see this apartment."