‘You called for me, my lord?’

‘Yes. Gather the others. It is time.’

I pause, staring at his back as he gazes out over the balcony. I don’t need to ask what he means.

He turns to look at me. ‘So quiet.’

I straighten, my wings rustling nervously at my back. ‘Only eager, my lord. We’ve been waiting so long.’

His sharp eyes briefly look me up and down before he nods and turns back to the view, clenching his paws over the thick stone railing. ‘I know. Your patience is endless, and I love you all for it, particularly you, my greatest of my followers. You have been with me from the very beginning and you will be there at the very end. You will know your reward.’

‘My greatest reward is that I’ll be at your side when it all comes to pass, my lord.’

He’s silent a moment. ‘Time is short. We only have three weeks before the window to the Great Reckoning shuts. My vessel will only be useful for that long. I trust you will not fail me.’

As an angel, whom is neither living nor dead, I have no need to breathe, and yet I can’t help but draw one in as I move to his side and rest my hands upon the railing beside his paws. We’re so close we almost touch. It’s been so long since I’ve been near my master.

Too long.

‘I will not fail. She will be yours before the month is out and that which was taken from us will be ours again.’

He nods. ‘Good.’

We both gaze at the view. The balcony gives a shudder and the ground far below groans at a sudden tectonic shift. We both watch as a mountain of flames spews into the air not far from where we’re standing, blackening the already gloomy sky with thick, poisonous smoke.

One by one, into the unseeable distance, more great fires burst into being with a noise like cracking thunder that makes my ears ring. A nearby volcano vomits molten lava over its sides in a billowing cloud of noxious steam. With a rumble we feel under our feet, a mountain to our right loses one of its sides to a massive landslip. Rocks plummet to the ground like falling angels, smashing into the oily rivers beneath, throwing geysers of tainted, black water high into the smoky sky.

The ground gives a smaller shudder, then stills once more. 

Nothing unusual in hell.

It has been my home for millennia, but it’s time for a new home now. With a small bob of my head, I leave my master and walk the halls of his ancient castle. Made from molten rock, the walls are black and smooth and shine like marble against the flames of a myriad of fires that blaze in the hearths and holes and caves where my brethren dwell.

‘Waken!’ I command. ‘Our lord bids you wake. The Reckoning has come. Waken!’

Wings part and heads rise; fanged mouths grin as angels yawn and demons stretch. Growling echoes down the corridors. Something screams. Something else laughs maniacally.

I repeat my command, my voice booming around the endless halls and tunnels and massive chambers.

The ceilings are high and I lift my face, watching as my brothers, both fair and foul, take to the heights, their wings beating hard through the air. Heavy feet thud and claws scrape against the floor as others sprint or crawl or slither past me.

‘Waken!’ I boom. ‘By order of our lord. The time has come! Waken!’

Within minutes the castle is in chaos, the like of which I have never seen before. By the time I reach an exit, figures are already soaring through the poisonous sky or crawling along the tortured land or swimming through the oily lakes. I let myself watch for several moments. It’s been millennia since hell looked so alive.

I cannot watch for long. Precious minutes are ticking by; precious minutes needed to search for you. I race along the landing, and with a leap, throw myself from the precipice. The wind roars through my ears and tears through my hair as I plummet. With a sudden thrust of my wings, I plateau, then swoop upwards at high speed, using gravity’s momentum to fling high into the sky.

At each beat of my wings, I thrust myself higher and higher until I’m lost amid the black smoke and poisonous fumes of hell’s raging fires. Around me, I can sense more than see my brothers as they accompany me. Those who are wingless will find their way through the great tunnels and underground rivers buried deep in the ground. Whether by dirt or air or water, we’re all heading in one direction—Earth.

Where you are.

The stormy black clouds and suffocating heat soon recede into the churning, swirling grey of a world not quite formed—purgatory. The in between. Not quite heaven and not quite hell, it is where the souls of the lost call home. I used to be able to find my way to heaven from here, but its gates have been shut to me for thousands of years.

Purgatory doesn’t last, and soon I’m flying through fresh air. Well, as fresh as Earth’s polluted air can be. Spread out below me I can see man’s so-called civilisation in all its hideous clarity: its towers of metal and concrete; the poison-belching locomotives that add to the ever-growing haze of stink and carbon dioxide; the endless plains of charred and demolished forests. In a vague sort of way, it reminds me of hell. I try to remember what it used to look like from the before time, with all its mountains and forests and clear blue waters, before the time of original sin—before your time. It had been beautiful once. So much for God’s glorious creation.

Man’s end can’t come soon enough.

My brethren will spread far and wide to all corners of the world in search of his vessel; in search of you. Through you my master will be reborn. Through you he will walk the Earth and take back everything that should have been ours.

I alight on the tip of a tall tower, one of many in this realm of glass boxes. Though the moon is bright, the city glitters even more brightly still, like a constellation of stars. I can hear the roar and screech and horn blasts of its congested highways. Out of the distance comes the bang and clatter and hum of construction work. Even in the darkness man’s lives never stop. Their lights never go out.

Busy little bees. Crawling ants. Scurrying rats.

It will be hard. Time is short and there are many possible vessels, but there are many more yet of us. Through light and shadow we will search for you, and nobody will know we’re there. Not until we take you. We’ll creep, we’ll soar, we’ll swim; we’ll trespass into bedrooms in the middle of the night.

Peaceful dreams my sleeping vessel, wherever you are. Enjoy them while you can.

Soon, you’ll know only nightmares.