“I’m afraid that you’re not quite what we’re looking for,” the Choirmaster said regretfully, his wings held tightly behind his shoulders, their great white feathers only visible where the folded wings protruded above his head. Tala had already learnt that this posture meant the speaker was uncomfortable about what he or she was saying. “Perhaps there is a place for you in one of the other choirs.” He turned and began to shepherd his recruits away, his wings relaxing into a more natural position as he went.
Tala watched as he and her cohort-mates moved away, her own wings drooping as she did so. “But you were the last of the Choirmasters,” she murmured sadly, uncertain of what she was going to do. The newly created angels, and they’d been given to understand that angels were not often created so they were all special, had been told that they would be taken into a Choir serving one of the gods. Looking around, she was the last of her cohort still standing in the middle of the sward in this junction of the divine realms. The older angels who’d escorted them here from the place of their creation all seemed to have gone and the few angels who remained were beginning to disperse. She needed to ask someone what she should do and quickly, before she was left alone.
“Why are you still here?” The voice came from behind her and she turned quickly to face the speaker. He was an angel with buff wings almost as large as any of the Choirmasters’ but unlike any of them he was wearing a short tunic and a garment her mind called ‘trousers.’ “If you’re not careful you’ll get left behind.” His wings sat in a natural rest position and she thought he had a kind face.
“I wasn’t accepted into a Choir,” she admitted. “Apparently I’m not what any of them are looking for.”
He ran a hand through his sandy hair. “I thought we’d gotten past this with banded wings,” he said in a slightly annoyed tone. “When the first angels with bands of colour on their wings were created, the Choirmasters were reluctant to take them on because angels had only been self-coloured until then. Now they’re used to that but the younger gods tried something different with you and the Choirmasters have baulked again. Now-. I’m Micorah, by the way. What’s your name?”
“Tala. Are my wings really that different?” She extended the right one forward so she could look more closely at it. Each of her feathers was one of two patterns: a white rachis with white afterfeather and alternate white and black barbs; or a black rachis with black afterfeather and alternate black and white barbs. The two designs leapfrogged each other down her wings, the fine striation and lines complicated by her new-made iridescence.
“I’ve never seen anything like them,” he admitted. “I’m not a member of a Choir myself,” he went on, “more of a general roving task pool but you get selected for that by distinguishing yourself in a god’s Choir.” As her suddenly hopeful face faded again he went on, “What I think you should do is visit the seats of gods who don’t have a Choir and ask for the chance to serve. Start with the younger gods who were involved in your Cohort’s creation.”
“Because they must have wanted angels or they wouldn’t have helped make us?” Her silver-speckled dark eyes lit up again with hope and a touch of curiosity.
“Exactly,” he agreed. “I can give you names and directions. Follow the directions and be polite to anyone you meet and I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
“Thank you,” she clutched the parchment he handed her to her bosom, “thank you so much. I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
“Off you go,” he instructed. “The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be settled.” He watched her enter the demesne of the first god on her list. If this strategy didn’t find her placed then certain gods were going to find themselves being divinely admonished along with Choirmasters who needed to be reminded of their responsibilities. He hoped he wasn’t going to be presenting an unplaced Tala along with his report.
Tala had reached the last name on her list. At least this god’s servitors hadn’t turned her from the door with her plea unmade. The uncanny automatons matched the gloomy architecture, full of shadows and the whispering shades of the dead. The automaton that led her through the building paid the shades no attention and Tala wondered if they were being rewarded or punished by their presence here. Finally the automaton brought her to a chamber lit by torches and braziers. Weapons and other war gear lay around while in the centre of the room, under a ruddy candelabra, a sole figure was sharpening a sword. The automaton indicated the figure in the middle of the room and left.
Tala approached the god enthroned in his demesne and bowed. “Excuse me, Lord Thaladeneth-“
“Which of my sibs sent you?” He kept sharpening the sword as he spoke, the rhythmic sound oddly comforting.
“None, my lord. I am Tala, one of the newly created angels and as yet unplaced. As you contributed to my cohort’s creation I thought you might have need of my services.” She waited on his reply. The whetstone continued its work.
“I contributed to your creation as a favour in repayment of a debt.” The god-voice rumbled through her. “However, I do have a need for a messenger.”
“My lord?” She looked up hopefully. “Might I serve?”
He put the whetstone and blade aside. “Let us consider this task a test. Come here and I will tell you what I want you to do. Your ear please.”
She walked up to him and turned so he could whisper into her ear, then listened intently as he did so. The thrum of the god-voice through her body was surprisingly intimate at this range.
When he finished speaking and leaned back in his throne she did not move for a moment, then turned slowly to face him. “Is there anyone, my lord, whom you do not wish to know of this matter?”
He smiled slowly at her. “That is a very good question.” He spoke a little longer before finishing, “And do not return until you believe the matter has reached the completion I desire.”
“Yes, my lord.” She bowed.
“And you may use that exit,” he pointed with the sword at an archway that led to an outside balcony, “and come back that way when you return.”
“Thank you, my lord.” She left him without a backward glance as she made a small run up towards the balcony, but he was not offended. Angels needed that run to get easily airborne. He resumed sharpening his blade. This new one’s wings were really quite extraordinary. He would have to make enquiries.
It was several months before Tala returned, re-entering by the door from which she’d left. Thaladeneth might not have moved during her absence. He was, as when she’d gone, sharpening a sword. He looked up from his task as she presented herself and noted that she had acquired a light tan and a change of clothing, no, her clothing had been remade. The long white robe a newly created angel was given had been resewn into a belted thigh length tunic and trousers. Somewhere she had acquired a pair of soft brown knee-high boots. Confidence glowed off her in happiness.
“You’re back.” He laid aside the sword and whetstone. “I had expected you sooner.”
“I wanted to make sure it all worked, my lord.” She smiled, pleased with herself. “Once I found someone for the task it was easy enough to put the scroll in his hand. It was in with some books he wanted, and he didn’t even notice that I wasn’t one of the librarians. Then all I needed to do was watch him to make sure he actually got it and it got back into circulation. If I hadn’t stayed I wouldn’t have known if anything went wrong.”
“Very true,” he nodded. “You have done well and I am pleased.” Pleasure at his praise rolled off her in waves. “A chamber has been prepared for you with a bath, bed and clothing. There are chambers there for my other few servants of your kind, but they are rarely occupied and it will be some time before you meet your fellows. This servitor will take you there,” he gestured and an automaton moved forward. “I will send for you again when I have another task for you.”
“Yes my lord. Thank you, my lord.” She bowed and then went after the automaton. She had barely left the room before a happy little song in an angelic soprano reached his ears.
The god took up the sword whetstone and resumed his rhythmic sharpening. “What do you think, Dorthiel?”
A dark olive-skinned angel with black wings stepped out from behind a pillar. “She is very young, my lord. Micorah was concerned about her when I spoke to him and he’s right, she should be in a Choir with her fellows.”
“Perhaps,” Thaladeneth allowed the opinion. “She is a thoughtful messenger and certainly a less threatening one than any of you.”
“True, my lord.” Dorthiel did not smile. “Our messages tend to be very final. When will you put her to the work?”
“I won’t.” Thaladeneth regarded the blade in his hand and with a flip of his will swapped the sword with another from a far corner of the room. He resumed sharpening. “I have other tasks for her. You all carry out my will and the will I have the rest of you execute is often dark and grim. Her task is to remind the rest of you that you have not become monsters or demons but remain angels.” Only the whetstone spoke for a moment. “Despite what I have you do.”
“You’d have us sing rounds of hymns with her?” Dorthiel was sardonic.
“Why not?” Thaladeneth looked up at him. “It might be good for you.”