Mydaiel had always wondered about Earth, all through her youth. It was always a mysterious notion to all the fledglings who would stay up late into the night chatting in hushed whispers by veiled candlelight as they mused over the toxic land the Nephilim flew to and the beasts they interacted with. Though they were all taught the dangers and the importance of their future tasks, none had them had ever been able to quell a secret excitement to see it and to know what it was like. Mydaiel – like all the fledglings of Avalon – had patiently waited her turn to take part in the hunt. But now that she was here, a lot of the glamour had been stripped away.
Earth had no beauty that she could see – though she hoped perhaps some secluded sections of the world were not quite so corrupted and ugly – and the city reeked of pollutants that hung heavily in her lungs. Humanity was fragile, hiding behind unnatural, brutal weapons that held no honour in a battle or respect for the life being severed. There were no stars. Mydaiel found that perhaps the most tragic of all. The moon glowed dully overhead, and what few flickering lights could be seen were sparse and weak. The harsh sheen of the city lights drowned away the natural decoration of the night sky. She could not imagine living in a world where the stars were shunned and hidden away like they were here. It was no wonder humans were such bitter, vicious creatures. They had lost sight of all that was truly worth living for and had replaced it with meaningless trinkets they had trained themselves to value instead.
Mydaiel stretched her wings and glided along on a gentle updraft. There were plenty of those at least; so much heat rose from the city, from the machines and high concentration of bodies all clustered together, that it saturated the air and made cruising in the air easier. She could circle and scent out her next quarry far more easily this way. She had not taken another life, and she was permitted two this hunt, but many of the city's strongest pulls were already claimed. She wondered if she had the time to fly elsewhere in the world to seek out prey. She glanced up at the sky, which was slowly beginning to lighten away from deep cobalt into softer, grayer shades of blue. Probably not.
She dipped one wing to flip onto her side and stare at her guard. She did not know his name and made a point to ask when the hunt drew to a close. He had been flanking her ever since she and Sarielle had split ways. His slate wings were double her wingspan, and he carried a heavy-looking spear, tipped with a curved, barbed point that glistened in the low light. It was coated in something – though Mydaiel did not know what – and she suspected it was to sharpen the blade further. She shuddered again at the reminder of the creatures that lurked in Earth's darkened skies. Her first encounter had been enough to rock her, and she hoped it would be her last – though she knew better than to truly believe that – and she decided anything that made the brotherhood more formidable against them was perfectly acceptable to her. They may be prey to a bigger predator, but none of the Nephilim would go down without a fight.
Mydaiel was jarred from her thoughts by a new sound drifting up among the chaos of the city. She turned her attention downwards to investigate. She had grown used to the blaring of sirens and car horns, to the shouts and calls of the people milling around in the dark, and even to the groan of the wind racing through the tight tunnels between tall buildings, but there was one human voice that caught her off-guard. She flapped her wings and drifted up over a series of blackened alleyways. There were no lights, it was the back end of the city that gave way to warehouses and water. She narrowed her eyes. One man was running through the maze of streets like a frantic animal. There was a strangle to his voice, a desperation that spoke of something precious lost. She was still hunting a fresh scent, but her curiosity was getting the better of her. She wondered what could be so valuable to the human that he would race alone and unprotected through the night. All the other humans seemed to cluster – there was safety in numbers – and he was as vulnerable as a fawn that had broken from the rest of the herd.
Even with her raptor vision, she could not see him very well from this high up, nothing but slightly oversized garments and a dark, shaggy swath of hair atop his head. But he was running, and he was shouting, and kept craning his head to the sky as though seeking an answer there.
Mydaiel held her breath and listened. She wanted to know what he was calling out. "Connie! Connie!"
Mydaiel pursed her lips. He was looking for someone, but with a cursory glance around, he was entirely alone. She almost pitied him, running in the wrong direction from whoever he had lost. He also would have made an easy kill – secluded as he was – if his scent were darker. There was some there; she had yet to see a human that did not carry even a hint of the foul smell, but it was nothing close to what she required in a quarry.
Her guard bumped her wing with his outstretched primaries, and Mydaiel looked away from the stumbling human. "Unless you mean to slay him, we should move on," he advised. "The night wanes, and Avalon calls."
Mydaiel set her jaw and nodded. She had allowed herself to get unnecessarily distracted by a situation far from her concern. Depending on the time flow, it could be many Earth years before she next returned to hunt; this one feeble human meant nothing in the scheme of her life and would figure out his situation or perish. She shook herself and shoved her wings down hard, climbing higher into the sky and angling back into the thick of the city.
Now that she was throwing her focus into her task once more, Mydaiel found a trail to follow easily enough. It took her in the opposite direction, out towards an open space with strange rails set into the earth and long vehicles all linked together.
"What are they?" she inquired.
"Trains," her companion replied in a disinterested tone. "Humans use them for carrying large numbers of people and cargo long distances. Your prey will not be alone here; you will have to move swiftly. Are you up to it?"
Mydaiel shook herself and nodded. The Nephilim had a few gifts afforded to them, and though Mydaiel had never formally trained in wielding them, she could feel instinct bubbling in her. She could do it. "I will return shortly," she answered. Angling her wings toward the ground, Mydaiel slipped through the air and only flared her feathers in time to land delicately on the ground in the shadows of a long, stout building. She flapped them once before settling her wings against her back, pulled in beneath her cloak.
She rested one hand on the hilt of one of her concealed sai and walked forward. There was a large concentration of people flooding into the building – she assumed to get onto one of the long 'trains' that seemed to be pulling around the other side – and Mydaiel slipped into the mass. She got a few strange looks, and she supposed she was dressed far differently from them, but she paid the attention no mind. She would just as easily be forgotten.
Once inside, Mydaiel pressed herself against the wall to survey her surroundings. The scent she was tracking was strong, but it was being tangled up by all the bodies clustered into one place. Mydaiel closed her eyes and took a breath. When she reopened her eyes, she watched a woman enter the larger open space of the building from a small room with a swinging door. The woman had something held up to her ear and was pulling a bag on wheels behind her. She was snapping angrily, though she did not appear to be talking to anyone Mydaiel could see; she was alone.
"Arriving this late at night is ridiculous," she complained as she walked right past Mydaiel. "I suppose they won't have a car waiting either. That will be the last time I go by train, that's for certain."
Mydaiel grimaced at the shrill, nasal pitch to her tone. She would not want to tolerate the woman for long and did not intend to. They were near enough to the entrance that she felt confident in making the kill.
Taking another breath, Mydaiel narrowed her eyes and when she moved, she felt a power surge through her limbs. Everything else slowed and her hunger flared as she charged the woman. She drew her blade and drove the point through the vertebrae of her spine, angling it up into the cavity of her lungs.
By the time the woman had registered the blow and wheezed her pain, Mydaiel had already dragged her back out through the doors and back into the shadows of the building's exterior. There was a sigh of breath fleeing the woman's lungs before she fell limp.
Not wanting to linger, Mydaiel pulled her blade free and sheathed it before spreading her wings and leaping back into the air with the dying female in tow.
It was dead weight by the time Mydaiel was up in the sky and regrouping with the Nephilim brother who had accompanied her. He nodded his approval and together they hovered for a moment to be certain. There was no panic or disturbances among the other humans below, and a train horn blared noisily before beginning to chug along the tracks.
Satisfied, Mydaiel grinned at the brother. "Time to go?" she inquired.
He nodded. "Before we lose the cloak of night," he agreed.
Despite her raging hunger, Mydaiel felt almost restless with excess energy, and she began to push herself – beating her wings faster and faster – until she was practically racing the Nephilim brother across the sky. If he knew what she was doing, he did not comment, but flying was such a rush that Mydaiel could not bring herself to slow her pace. She continued streaking through the night with the howling of the wind rushing in her ear finally drowning out the noise of the city she was rapidly leaving behind. Her heart thudded wildly in her chest as she flew, following an instinctive summons back where she had been dropped into Earth's sky initially. As she climbed higher and higher in the air, she was suddenly surrounded by other Nephilim also hauling in the fruits of their own hunts.
A peal of cackling laughter rose above the sharp whistle of the wind and a wing dropped to whap against her own. Mydaiel craned her head back to find Charmeine grinning down at her. She was carrying a human female who was bleeding profusely but still struggling in her grasp. The woman's gurgling screams were almost lost to the wind, and her eyes were bulging from her skull. Some of the blood from her numerous cuts dripped down onto Mydaiel's forehead, and she shook herself and climbed higher in the air to match her sister's pace.
"Successful first hunt, I see. I was worried you would not find a quarry of your own," Charmeine taunted with a wild smile spread across her features.
Mydaiel shrugged and ducked her head so Charmeine would not see her cheeks enflame. She was still a little embarrassed that she had interrupted her sister's fun earlier. "Seems like you found another quickly enough," she replied as she jutted her chin in the direction of Charmeine's human. "Though you seem to have forgotten the finishing blow."
Charmeine threw her head back and hooted with amusement. "I have forgotten nothing," she refused. "I think I would like to keep this one a little longer. Her screams are quite delightful. Almost musical. I think we could have some great fun with her, little sister."
Mydaiel rolled her eyes. "You are being cruel," she countered. "Live humans are not welcome into Avalon regardless." Even as she spoke, Mydaiel could not completely fault her sister. Her own eyes were watering at the overpowering reek of the human. She had lived a truly vile life and likely did not deserve a merciful death.
Still, she had no desire for such a stench to permeate Avalon's halls. "What would Sarielle think?"
Charmeine pouted and her feathers ruffled as she beat her wings furiously. The human she was carrying was bigger than her, and it was clear the Nephilim was working harder than she might to keep the struggling human aloft. The deadweight was easier in many ways. "Once you were wayward enough a child that you could be talked into mischief," Charmeine sighed. "Now you too seek to spoil my fun. Very well, I suppose this one has outlived her amusement."
"No, put me down, please," the human begged. She was clawing and clutching at Charmeine's arm, and her voice was strangled. As she spoke, blood began to drizzle from the corner of her mouth.
Charmeine's smile widened and she faked a dramatic sigh. "As you wish," she agreed. A moment later, she flung her arms open wide and allowed the injured woman to plummet back down through the clouds.
Mydaiel watched her fall and frowned. She had no doubts that Charmeine would retrieve her released catch, but it seemed like a bitter waste if the human splattered on the ground like a bowl of dropped pastry filling.
Charmeine winked at her. "Think she has had enough of flying lessons?"
"I am not certain she desired them in the first place," Mydaiel replied. "You should try to catch her before she makes a bigger mess upon the planet's surface. Falling bodies are not likely to go unnoticed."
Charmeine nodded, but before she could dip more than a few meters down, Sarielle broke through the cloud cover with a scowl marring her lips and Charmeine's – now dead – female in tow. She was dangling by the wrist Sarielle held with one hand, while she carried another – a male – under her other arm.
"Lose something?" she growled as she shoved the body into Charmeine's arms. "You should know better than to play with your food like this, Charmeine. I tolerate your games upon the surface of Earth, but deal with the fallout there, not in the air on the return home."
Charmeine rolled her eyes and poked her tongue out between her teeth. "As you say, Sarielle." She flashed Mydaiel one more cheeky wink before throwing her weight back and beating her wings furiously to climb even higher into the cloud cover. They were nearing the portal.
Sarielle settled into Charmeine's place and – as they flew side by side – her wing settled over one of Mydaiel's. "I am proud of you," Sarielle stated. "You have done exceptionally well this night, Mydaiel. You have rightfully earned your place among the Nephilim."
Mydaiel's heart swelled and she nearly forgot to flap. She stumbled in the air for a moment before evening out her strokes. "Thank you."
Sarielle swerved so their wings brushed over one another. "Have pride in yourself, Mydaiel. You do not need anyone's approval or disapproval to know you have or have not done well. You should have the confidence in yourself to know, and instead of hinging on the approval of others, garner your own respect through confidence and trust."
"I know," Mydaiel mumbled as her shoulders sagged. She was too passive, and her oldest sister was noticing. It turned her gut.
Sarielle clucked her tongue and her wing grazed over Mydaiel's head. "You are young and you have been through many trials, Mydaiel. I am not disappointed in you, I merely wish for you to see your own worth. Do you know why we are so hard on fledglings?"
"Because there are many duties to Avalon that we must-"
Sarielle cut her off with a cough. "Spare me the regurgitated lecture Mydaiel, I sat through the same once. No. We are firm with fledglings because of what we are. Nephilim are the harbingers of death for the worst of humanity. We are strong and fast, expertly trained and well-armed, and very difficult to kill. We are highly skilled predators. But we tread a fine line between serving to cleanse and becoming infected with the very same disease. There is no place for arrogance in our duty, so humility is beaten into our young so that there will always be that respect for balance. But you are no longer a fledgling, Mydaiel. You have mastered the lessons of your teachers or you would not be here now. Your wings are more than a mark of your age and acceptance into our ranks, they are a sign of your accomplishments and skill, and you should be proud of that. You are not a child anymore. You must remember all that you have been taught, but you must also learn to carry yourself with confidence in your being and your tasks, otherwise, you will never be seen as anything more than a fledgling. You have lived among many being trained exactly alike, but you are now your own person, and it is time that you discover your sense of self and take pride in it."
Mydaiel nodded and a smile pulled at her lips. "Thank you, Sarielle; for always supporting me."
A wide grin split Sarielle's features and her eyes shone. "Always, little sister. It is my pride to help you flourish. And you have made me incredibly proud. Now if I might only get Charmeine to wisen a little."
"I thought you felt her games were harmless."
"Until nearly being struck by the falling projectile of human flesh she felt the need to drop," Sarielle replied dryly. She shook her head. "Charmeine has been excellent training for me as a clutch leader. She tests my patience every day, and I love her for it, but I must also be firm with her."
Mydaiel chuckled and angled her wings up to begin the final climb. Above them, the shimmering fog layer that separated Earth and Avalon glistened brightly, but it would begin to wane as the sun rose. It was time to go home. Mydaiel almost pitied Charmeine; Sarielle being firm could be rather brutal from what she had witnessed. Her middle sister was going to be in for a ride.
"Brace yourself," Sarielle warned. She flapped her wings hard and shot up through the barrier. Mydaiel tensed in anticipation and began flapping her wings furiously. Hitting the barrier was like striking the hide stretched over a large drum, and Mydaiel nearly bounced up, but she hissed and pressed forward until the friction snapped and she rocketed up into Avalon once more. She nearly crashed into another Nephilim who was hovering in the air.
Mydaiel hastily apologized and folded her wings to land on the soft grass surrounding the portal. All around her, many other Nephilim were doing the same, as others came to greet them after the hunt and help collect the haul. Mydaiel took a moment to breathe deeply and sigh. Avalon tasted so much better than Earth's atmosphere. It was good to be home.