___ CHAPTER 1 ___
Little Angels in the night
"...two people could be seen jumping from one building to another."
Art by Guillermo Costa
Present days, New York City – Manhattan celebrated the New Year arrival with parties from the Financial District to the limits of Harlem. Around the world, this kind of celebration was typical, a way of saying goodbye to all the bad energy and welcome the good one. The streets were still full of people, who were trying to get home and lay in a warm soft bed that could spare them from the freezing wind and the ongoing flurry. Even with that terrible weather and the holiday, the rhythm in the city was constant and several shops worked 24/7.
In the Upper West Side area, two hours after Times Square’s fireworks, the neighborhood was already calm. The usual night owls were off the streets, watching TV and finishing their last cans of beer. However, on West 79th Street, two people could be seen jumping from one building to another. That wasn’t an optical illusion, though. Those youngsters, bundled up in warm black clothes, were really there. And from their looks, they seemed to be really exhausted. Their names: Victor Jones and Christine Khumalo.
Victor and Christine were two non-typical eighteen-year-olds. While most people at their ages were concerned about parties, TV shows and celebrities, Victor and Christine were out in the streets trying to live through the day. They looked around, clearly worried. Central Park was just three blocks away, so, once they were there, it would be far easier to hide. Victor touched the leather bag he was carrying to make sure the package was still there. He would protect that package with his life.
“Let’s have a break”, he said, taking a deep breath, “I think they’ve lost us.”
Definitely he sounded like a leader. And, being chase in the middle of the night didn’t seem to be something uncommon to the black haired American young man. In fact, that seemed to be pretty ordinary.
“How about taking the subway?”, Christine suggested, showing visible signs of tiredness.
“That’s what they expect us to do. Most of them have seen our faces and they must’ve put their people at the stations. We can’t be followed. This is not a risk we can take right now. We don’t know who they are under those hoods. And we saw them killing a man some minutes ago.”
Christine nodded. Too many sleepless nights were making her listen more to her body than her reasoning. She was a beautiful black girl, with pretty honey-colored eyes and a kind of undeniable determination most of the South African girls, like her, had.
“I think it’s better call Selina, Victor. We’ll need help.”
“We won’t, Christine. They have lost us. Trust me.”
It was hard for the girl to trust him when she was seeing a group of seven people on the roof of the building right next to the one where they were.
As if ghosts risen from their tombs, they appeared wearing burnt sienna-colored tunics with their faces hidden by hoods. Ceremonial vestments, both of them knew that. They also knew they were supposed to wear those clothes when on duty. And for those people duty hardly ever meant anything else if not killing.
“The Reapers are here!”
“Let’s split”, said Victor looking at the hooded men.
“Of course not! We can’t be by ourselves with these people... It’s dange...”
“It’s not a suggestion, Christine!”, he didn’t enjoy his own tone, “You need to attract them far from here. I’m going to take the fire escape. After that, we’ll meet at the Natural History Museum, right? Can you do that?”
“Please, be careful.”
He smiled back and hid himself behind a pile of bricks while Christine got next to the building edge so that the Reapers could see her.
“There is one of them!’, shouted one of them, pointing at her.
The young girl drew back and took some distance. She really enjoyed jumping and had always done that with perfection, but not when she was so tired. However, she believed the objective of her efforts was worth the sacrifice.
With a feline style, Christine ran to jump across the night and got safely on the other building. Before starting running again, she looked behind. Victor was right: the Reapers were following her.
Victor watched them leaving. He had enough confidence in his friend to know that she would be fine. He was nervous, though. And he didn’t like to feel like that.
Apprehensively, he left his hideout and found out he wasn’t there alone. One of the Reapers was waiting for him.
“Victor Jones”, said the man, sarcastically, “Have you noticed something different tonight? Lucifer is between us.”
“He’s always around!”
“You’re amazing, you know? Most of us, including me, believed that you were going to take your father’s footsteps. However, instead, what did you do? You joined this interesting ‘little club’ that insists on facing our people.”
“Sooner than you expect your people will get what they deserve. It includes my father.”
“It wasn’t very wise of you intercepting a piece we’ve been searching for centuries. Since the Crusades our society has been looking for it. Far too long, you can’t even imagine, can you? And you also can’t imagine how many codes we had to crack.”
“Actually, I do. And also how many people you had to kill.”
“We’re the Reapers! That’s our job. Besides, all is fair in love and war. Although I don’t really care about love. What you are carrying now is unique and belongs to us. For this reason I’ll give you a chance, also unique, to give me back this artifact and escape alive.”
“Sorry, but I don’t think I will do it.”
“I guess you figured by now I wouldn’t think twice before slashing your throat”, he said walking towards him, “And I love to have a good reason to do so.”
When the man put the hands inside his vestment, Victor slipped to the ground and overthrew him with a sweep kick. Before the man could react, he stood up quickly and ran for the fire escape in the very moment two other Reapers were getting to the roof.
Christine was an accomplished jumper, but, even though they were not as trained as her, the Reapers, four of them, were able to follow her. When she got to the edge of the roof, she realized it would be impossible to get to the other building for it was a low-rise one. The fall would, at least, break her legs. She took a deep breath and looked at her chasers, analyzing her chances. It was not good for a tired girl to try to fight four men. She didn’t have any choice though. She could be almost out of energy but they would have to struggle if they wanted to get her.
“C’mon... I am waiting for you. I won’t be killed by fanatic’s hands.”
The cruel cold wind attacked her, but only her face was hurting. The jacket she wore was thermal and protected her from the weather. She reached her communicator, trying not to call the attention to it. It was a very small device, placed in her right ear, which enabled her to voice communicate with any of her colleagues at any moment. Thanks to William Mason, the genius in the group, as she called him, the device could be located anywhere in the world. They called it ‘Halo’. All she had to do was gently touch it with her finger and then someone would know they needed help.
“You won’t be needing it”, said the Reaper, “give it to me”
“You don’t scare me!”, she shouted.
“Shut up!”, he got her Halo and stepped on it with violence, crushing the device into pieces, “How come you and your little friend interrupt our business? You know we work for the supreme ruler of this world. You should show some respect”
“I don’t respect creatures that don’t show their faces.”
“You should, young girl. You should. Or you will fear him.”
“I am being taught not to fear your supreme ruler. Nor respect him. It must be faced and defeated.”
“You can’t defeat him.”
“Who said that?”
“The Satanist who gave his soul in exchange for the ‘view of the future’ ... You are too confident on doubtful stories. There’s nothing more uncertain than the future.”
“We know who to trust.”
“Yes, I know that. You are one of the Order of Nostradamus’ people, so you have to believe him. What did he say about tonight?”
“He didn’t focus on the small facts. Only the important ones. For his contributions in this world he will take a place of honor beside our Lord. A place that one day we’ll take as well.”
“I don’t know anything about it, but whatever your plans are, I fear they’re going to fail. About this, I’m sure.”
“You shouldn’t be so sure. Now, give us the artifact!”
“Oh, yeah, the artifact... Well, am I carrying something?”
“You don’t give us any choice”, said the other, “We’ll have to kill you.”
“I was hoping you would say that.”
As fast as she could think, Christine saw herself surrounded by them. She saw that before, that modus operandi. They would go around their victims, no room for them to fight or run, and then they would kill them. Just like that, fast and clean. However, Christine was never a victim and wisely she took the time they talked to recover and be ready for the action. Even though she was still tired, she knew that, besides being older, they were tired as well. That was not an easy night for both parties.
One of them attacked. In a fast movement, Christine held his arm and punched him in the stomach, taking his breath away. The others took three silver daggers from the vestments and walked calmly toward her. The girl stepped back, starting to get nervous. Exhausted as she was, she would be an easy target if she tried to face them. However, before she could think over that, the defeated Reaper spoke with an unnatural voice, which did not belong to him:
“Let this girl be! The girl’s just a distraction while the boy is running with the artifact. Go after him! Now!”
They ignored Christine while they helped the man to stand and, not giving even a gaze at her, they walked over the roof and jumped in the night, being led to the ground by some dark mist.
“They’re going after Victor…”, she muttered.
Taking a deep breath she ran and jumped back to the other building. He couldn’t stay by himself.
Victor ran though the fire escape, which ended in a dark and dirty alley. Walking fast, always looking around, he didn’t notice a light brown-haired man, young like him, coming from behind a trash container, looking distracted. They collided with each other, falling straight to the ground.
“Damn it!”, Victor yelled, “Don’t you look where you’re going?”
“And why didn’t you look, Flash?”
There was noise on the stairs above them. Three angry Reapers were going down.
“Wow”, said the other, ironically, “You must have done something good to these guys. What was it? Robbery?”
“Do I look like your kind?”, Victor said more to catch the boy’s attention, while he was throwing the package under the container, than to be nice.
“What kind?”, he faked a smile, taking a discrete look at Victor’s moves, “The good-looking ones?”
“Oh, it’s not polite to offend strangers”, he showed his hand, “I’m Andy.”
“Charmed”, he replied with a true scorn and stood up as fast as he could.
He needed to take the Reapers far from that alley, before they realized the artifact was not in his hands anymore. So he ran again, followed by two of his chasers. The third one helped Andy to stand.
“How about you?”, he asked emotionless, “Who are you?”
“Me?”, Andy sounded dissolute, “I just realize I don’t know. I think I have that Alzheimer’s disease or whatever.”
“I’m not known for my patience, boy. Are you one of them? An Angel?”
“Do I look like one?”
“Don’t play games with me. Where’s the artifact?”
“Which artifact, Dude?”, so he looked to the trash container and realized what was happening, “So was it? Was I right? He took something precious from you.”
“Pretty precious, boy. It is worth more than your life.”
“I believe so”, he said pointing at somewhere on the Reaper’s back, “And is that guy one of them?”
When he looked back and realized he had been deceived, he tried to get something from his vestments. Andy, though, was faster and disarmed him with a roundhouse kick followed by a punch, which knocked the man out.
As fast as he could, he took the package under the trash container. It was heavy, he noticed. He untied the golden cord and, while doing so, he felt his hair raising. Something shone from inside the package, coming from an odd golden cross that seemed to have its own light.
“Holy fu...! What’s this?”
The Cross was made by a skillful artisan. There were inscriptions written in some unknown language and the top of the artifact seemed in flames, which burnt the object from top to bottom. However, it was not the weirdest thing about that cross. On the place the Catholic Church used to put an image representing a dead Jesus Christ, there was a skeleton, wearing a thorn crown and holding an evil expression on the face. Andy trembled, a little bit scared.
“This may worth a money river.”
“And it does”, said a strong female voice.
Christine was in front of him with a serious face.
“And you must be the Angel, I presume.”
“Right”, she was still serious, “Give me this artifact.”
“Why should I?”
“Because it doesn’t belong to you.”
“Nor to you.”
Christine observed him from his head down to his toes. He didn’t look like someone the Order would recruit to join their society. He was just an ordinary boy, wearing ordinary clothes, with ordinary brown hair. His spoken English was heavy, full of a foreign accent and grammar mistakes, and he wore two little metal rings on his left ear as well as a natural short beard. He was just any street guy, that’s what she thought, and he was not a real menace.
“Don’t create problems for me, boy. Please.”
“I’m not looking for troubles”, he was smiling, “But, may I tell you something? I can see Money here. And loads of it. Because of that I wanna, at least, the half.”
“I’m not trying to get any money from it.”
“What a shame. I am.”
Christine stepped forward, closing her fists, threatening.
“I don’t want to take this from you by force, boy.”
“Andy. My name’s Andy.”
“Whatever. You have a funny accent. Are you from Brazil?”
“Well, Brazilian guy, before you go back to Buenos Aires to dance some salsa, I want you to know that I’m South African. I grew in the Savannah and I’ve learned things from the wild men that even the KGB would think twice before making use of it. If you don’t want to try this, I suggest…”
“Sorry, ma’am, but you speak too fast. I can’t understand a word you’ve…”
“You understood me quite well.”
He smiled again.
“Are you threatening me?”
“Not yet. Just warning.”
“I’m shaking in my boots, you know?”, he showed an even bigger smile and shook the Cross, “Do you want this? Come and get it.”
“Oh, no. And now this!”
Andy ran towards the brick wall. Christine was too furious to think about anything else and followed him, but the young man used the wall as a support and made a spectacular backwards somersault, all over her, and, with the same talent, he hit a powerful kick right on her face.
“Yeah!!!”, he shouted still smiling, “I guess the wild men are disappointed with you. And so are your teachers. Buenos Aires is in Argentina and Brazil is most famous for the samba, not for the salsa. Why don’t you get back to Africa to live with the monkeys? They must know Geography as much as you do. Or more! Maybe they teach you something! Oh, and sorry for hitting you on your cute little face. That wasn’t my intention.”
Christine wasn’t prepared for that strike and it got the best from her. Leaning on the wall, a little bit dizzy, she saw Andy running up the fire escape on a surprising speed.
Summoning all the strength left in her body, she got up and went upstairs as fast as her legs allowed her to. However, there was nothing on the roof but the night’s emptiness. He was gone. She still kept looking around for a few minutes just to be certain that, whoever he was, the boy had faded away taking the artifact with him.
“Damn it”, she shouted, “I don’t believe that!”
Victor was running, trying to figure out where to go, but he was already out of breath. His lungs were burning when he stopped in the middle of the street trying to recover. His face was wet with sweat and his body was asking him to stop because it had enough.
Then they appeared: Twelve Reapers coming from all directions, threatening.
Victor even intended to run, but he was violently pushed on the street.
“You shouldn’t have used all your little toys, my boy”, one of them said with a hint of irony, “Now, how are you going to face us?”
“I d-don’t know...”
“You won’t need to do it if you give us back the artifact.”
“Take a look”, he opened his arms, “It’s not with me.”
“And where is it?”
“It fell while I was running...”
“Are you sure about that?”
“So”, he took a gun from his vestment, “Start praying, little angel.”
The gun was pointed at Victor’s head and cocked. Victor closed his eyes, waiting for the shot. And the silence before it was terrible.
“That’s so unfair, boys”, a girlie voice full of French accent broke the silence, “Twelve of you against one little boy.”
Everybody, including Victor, turned their faces to that voice, whose owner was the most beautiful girl they ever saw. The stranger was a pretty blond young lady with radiant blue eyes and a face of what could be a real angel. She was wearing a gray overcoat, black boots and holding a whip with her delicate hand.
“Who the hell are you?!”, one of them asked her after the initial surprise.
“Who do I seem to be?”
“Forget it!”, the one with the gun pointed at Victor’s head shouted, “She is one of the Angels!”
“I wish, but she’s not”, Victor said, mesmerized.
“Doesn’t matter. Kill her too!”
The girl then let the overcoat slip off of her body, revealing the long-sleeved black leotards she was wearing, and hit the ground with her whip.
“Kill me? Oh, I’d love to see you try.”
One of the Reapers came closer, holding a gun.
“Throw the whip, little girl.”
She saw the gun in his hand and started to weep.
“Sorry”, she said handing the whip over, “I shouldn’t have entered in someone else’s fight.”
“You’re totally right.”
However, when he held the whip’s cape, she pulled it back suddenly and hit a strong punch on his nose. Then she turned and threw him against two others who were getting closer.
“Calm down, boys! Take it easy. I’m just a lady.”
So there was a shot. The girl threw herself onto ground and narrowly escaped from being killed. She then overthrew the Reaper and got his gun, pointing it at the one threatening Victor.
“Drop your gun, man”, she said, very sweet.
“Well, let’s see who has the faster shot”, he replied, “I don’t mind dying for my cause.”
“Are you a freaking kind of terrorist?”
A Reaper came quiet from behind the girl and hit her in the head, making the gun fall from her hand.
“No!”, Victor screamed. He had got his strength back.
Moving fast, he stood up and punched his foe, breaking his arm as well while the girl punched the Reaper who had attacked her.
“I’ll teach you guys how to treat a woman.”
She took back her whip and, with a ballerina’s grace, as if she danced a number written specially for her, the girl disarmed and knocked all the Reapers out. She had loads of style. She could punch a guy on the face or kick another one on his parts and they would love her anyway. Victor just couldn’t stop looking at her, how amazing she was. Definitely, there was something special about the girl who just saved his life.
“My God”, he said after she had finished, “Who are you?”
“Does it matter?”
“Of course it does. You’ve just saved my life remarkably...”
“What have you done to these people?”, she asked, not a note of judgment in her voice.
“To these men! When I punched one of them, I realized he could be my grandfather. They’re not fighters.”
“They’re a group of fanatics, killers! I stole something from them.”
“Did you really?”
“Actually, the thing I got from them was supposed to be with me in the first place. But they got it from the man who was going to give it to me and…”
“You are telling me more than I need to know.”
“Ok…”, he smiled, embarrassed, and showed his hand “I am Victor Jones”
“Alice Guiet”, she replied, taking his’.
“Are you French?”
“Why? Is that a crime?”
“No, no. It is just because you have a beautiful accent.”
She drew back her hand, blushed.
“Well, Monsieur Jones, it seems that you’re safe now and I gotta go.”
“Wait! How can I meet you again?”
“In your dreams, who knows... In the flesh, never.”
“Never say never… Isn’t that what people say?”
As a reply, she smiled as she wore her overcoat again and ran. Her pretty long blonde hair dangling with the night wind while she disappeared around the corner. Victor was mesmerized; he just couldn’t stop thinking of her. He just realized the situation he was in when Christine put her hand on his shoulder, scaring him.
“Christine”, he smiled, “let’s get the artifact and get away from here. Now I’m feeling everything is going to be all right.”
“I’m sorry, Victor... We lost the Cross.”
“What do you mean? I hid it in an alley right next...”
“I saw it! But I was not the only one.”
“Him. I came back and saw the boy striking one of the Order’s members. So he took the artifact. Then I went to him, claiming the Cross but... He is smarter than I thought. He’s gone.”
“Wait a minute. You said you saw him attacking one of them?”
“So, what side is he?”
“His own, I’m afraid. He’s only a street thief.”
“That’s the problem. He can sell the Cross for any money. Or, change it into drugs.”
Christine sighed, unhappy.
“What will Selina think about it?”
Victor closed his eyes as if he could foresee what the Angel’s mentor would say when they got back without the artifact.