This is something I wrote for @blackburden's birthday! (go wish her a happy one c:) It uh... ended up longer than I expected, and this is only the first installment (expect more of this au in the future, but not often. Blood and Gold is still taking priority). Also I'm breaking the first part that I've written up into two, as it's so long.
This is also very different from anything I've ever written - it's a much more modern au. I'd call it urban fantasy...
Autumn, year 20
Everyone said not to go to the grim parts of town. The outer edges of the city Carling crumbled into ruin and waste, dark houses and abandoned shops rife with rats and crime. People had been killed there, some said.
Blame went anyway, despite the warnings. Not that he wanted to – hell no, that part of town scared him as much it did anyone else – but because he thought he’d seen an Angel.
Blame had his hoodie over his head, hands firmly shoved in the pockets as he walked swiftly through the crowded city centre away towards the place he knew he might find a connection to that other realm. He hadn’t told anyone where he was going – mere mention of the Angels tended to inspire mocking laughter from other people, if they thought you actually believed such fairytales.
The industrial district of Carling preceded the very outer edges, so as Blame walked the air became heavy with smog and the smell of factories. Carling was dark even at its heart, although the upscale districts were less so, with their shiny glass skyscrapers and well-kept streets. Still, there was a sense that clouds always covered the city, and the days were never quite as bright as they could be. Blame didn’t know if the rest of the world of Heithrun was as dim as the city; he’d never ventured further than this before.
This is madness, Blame thought as he walked. Even if it was an Angel, I don’t know if the stories are true. I don’t know if I’ll find a ring.
“Guess I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it,” Blame said aloud, for he was well out of the crowds by now. Coughing a little, he continued on until he saw the crumbling buildings of the old abandoned district.
Well, here he was. All that was left to do was find a ring. Blame started down a main street and ducked into the first graffiti laden laneway he saw, scanning the walls for anything that resembled what he’d heard rings looked like.
It took a while for Blame to spot one, and even then he wasn’t sure. Among the layers of tagging and obscenities that adorned the end of a laneway, there was a nondescript red oval, about the height of a human. Blame strode forward but hesitated as he reached it.
He put out a hand and felt some sort of energy buzzing from the defaced wall. It had to be the ring. Blame took in a breath of cold air and put his hand against the wall, right in the center of the oval.
“What the hell?” Nebris asked of his companion, frowning as a loud blip pulsed through the club. All the Angels felt it, and turned towards the centre of the room as a man appeared there.
“Oh man,” Vechs replied. “A human.”
“What is he doing here?” Nebris questioned again, setting his drink down and moving forward with the rest of the throng to inspect the new arrival. The loud dance music playing over the speakers didn’t cease, staying just as loud as the voices of the Angels began to rise.
Nebris was one of the first to reach the human, and some surge of kindness made him stop to pull the man away from the surging crowd. The poor guy was wearing a black hoodie and Nebris put his arms around his shoulders, raising his wings to create a shield from the other Angels as he pulled him from the centre of the dance floor and sat him on a stool by the bar.
“How the fuck did you get here?” Nebris asked as Vechs stood by with an amused grin on his face.
“What? You found a ring? I thought they were all gone. And I though humans didn’t look for those anymore.”
“Would you like a drink, sir?” Vechs asked, taking a sip of his own. Nebris shot him a look, his purple eyes glowing against the dim green glow of the club.
“I saw you,” Blame said suddenly, looking straight at Nebris.
“You saw me?” Nebris almost faltered but held his tongue. “Don’t be ridiculous, you’d have never seen me before.” To Vechs he said, “Go get the guy a drink.”
Vechs giggled and went off to the bar.
“What’s your name?” Nebris asked.
“Blame,” Blame said. “You?”
“Nebris. It’s nice to meet you, it’s not often we have fresh blood here,” Nebris replied. “And by not often, I mean it never happens. We thought all the old symbols had been scrubbed out or forgotten. Apparently not…”
“I went looking,” Blame said. “Because a few days ago, I thought I saw an Angel. I saw a guy with glowing eyes wearing a long coat walking fast through town. I could’ve sworn I saw the tips of wings peeking out from the edge of the coat. I think it was you.”
“So you went looking for me?” Nebris asked.
“Yes. I’d heard the fairytales; can you blame me for believing them? I went looking for a ring. And I found one. And I found,” Blame gestured around the pulsing bar, “this.”
Nebris nodded tightly as Vechs returned. He pushed a sinister red drink into Blame’s hand and smiled. Blame looked at the drink for a second before sipping it. It tasted spicy and warm, yet there was an edge to it Blame couldn’t quite place.
“Got him,” Vechs said smiling, before fake coughing. “I mean, what?”
Nebris shot him another look then turned back to Blame. “I’m sorry. But you have to stay here now.”
“Oh, because I…” Blame looked at the cup in his hand.
“Yep!” Vechs grinned. “You’re well versed in folklore I see.” He fluttered his wings gleefully. “Drink in Club Empyrean and you’re practically stuck here.”
“This is a club?”
“Well, this is,” Vechs explained, sweeping an arm around. “This is the entrance, so to speak, to the rest of Carling’s much better sister – Offstreet. The Club is just where we all spend most our time.” He winked, then sat on a stool beside Blame, leaning against the bar. “So what’s your name? I’m Vechs.”
“Blame.” He took another sip of his drink, quite enjoying its elusive taste despite the effect he was sure it was having on him.
“You must feel smug,” Nebris said, his gravelly voice lowering. “Finding Offstreet and all. Shame you’ll never get to tell anyone you were right all along.”
“What am I supposed to do here?” Blame wondered aloud. “What do you do to humans here?”
“Oh you’ll find out all right,” Nebris said, a playful smirk winding its way onto his face as his tone turned flirtatious.
“Nebris, don’t tease him,” Vechs said, his voice rising into a giggle.
“Oh that comes later,” Nebris replied. “But fine. If you really want to know. But you won’t like it…”
“I want to know.”
“You seem quite alright with the prospect of, you know, being stuck here forever.”
Blame stared down at his drink. “Yeah, it’s fine.” He paused. “I mean, obviously not everything is fine. But trust me, I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t want to.”
Nebris looked at the human, trying to read the expression on his face. His eyes were still shadowed by the black hoodie, but he definitely didn’t seem happy. He wanted to ask further questions, feeling strangely protective of Blame.
“Well,” he said. “You have two choices now. You can stay here, and become an Angel - but your old life is dead and gone. Going back is allowed but strongly warned against, and you belong with us now. The other choice is to go back, but you will never be able to find us again. You won’t even remember this, you won’t remember any of it.”
Blame hadn’t expected the world of the Angels to look anything like it did.
Whoever had decided on the entrance to Offstreet clearly hadn’t been thinking much about first impressions. Club Empyrean was as seedy as nightclubs got, dark enough that only the silhouettes of dancing bodies could be seen under the eerie green lights. An Angel dj crouched in the corner at his station, playing repetitive tracks. I could have had this exact same experience at home, was the first thing Blame thought when he appeared in the middle of the place. Screw me for trying to escape my shitty life, I guess.
But then again, this was just one club. He hadn’t even been outside yet, and if the fairytales were anything to believe, Offstreet was a wonderful place. Just like the regular world but better, with less hardships. Blame had always chosen to believe this because he needed something to believe in. Maybe it was folly that he’d always imagine something like a paradise, with green and trees and open spaces.
Sitting in this club sipping at some ungodly cocktail beside these two remarkably normal (if slightly too flirtatious) Angels did not feel like any sort of paradise.
Despite everything, Blame had a plan, and was determined to stick to it. If he was stuck here, he was going to make the most of it, and that’s why he gave the answer he did.
Nebris was surprised at the conviction in Blame’s voice when he said,
“Yes, I want to stay. I’ll become an Angel.”
Nebris’ eyes widened for a second. “You sure about that?”
“Well okay. You realise you could be making the biggest mistake of your life?” Nebris said, leaning on the bar.
“I could be.”
“You should know,” Vechs said, “and you’ve probably already figured, that this isn’t paradise.”
“Carling is a hellhole,” Blame said, raising his voice as the music became louder. “I’d be happy never going back there again.”
“Well if you’re sure,” Nebris said, “I’d be happy to let you stay with us.”
“That’s fine by me,” Vechs added, shooting Nebris a half-irritated smile. “Since I was asked.”
“C’mon, it’s late. Let’s go,” Nebris said. “Whenever you’re finished nursing that drink, Blame.”
Blame stepped with his new companions out onto the street from the narrow door squashed between a couple of shops, and Offstreet was like nothing he ever expected.
He was still in Carling’s outer district it seemed, but it was bustling with people and it was like the place was never abandoned. There were Angels everywhere, milling by glowing shops and the main street was a mall populated by stalls selling street food, buskers and their audiences. Blame could faintly smell cigarette smoke around him as Nebris and Vechs hurried him down the street. It seemed as if they didn’t want him to be seen.
The most miraculous thing to Blame was the sky. It was early evening and beginning to darken, and unlike the grey smog he expected to see blocking the sky, there were pink and blue clouds streaking it instead.
“I know, I know,” Vechs said, his wing tip brushing against Blame’s back, “It’s not much to look at.”
“Are you kidding? This is a hundred times better than Carling.”
“Any place is better than Carling,” Nebris said. “Trust me, I’ve seen it. ‘Hellhole’ is no exaggeration.”
In the evening light Blame could see both his new friends better, and out of curiosity, spent some time inspecting their wings.
Like huge bird wings, Vechs’ wings were feathered and black, but looked battered in places from use. Additionally, the feathers at the bottom of the wings from the tip to a little way up were faded into a patchy grey-brown. Vechs couldn’t seem to keep them still, always fluttering and stretching them to the point that it irritated Blame a little.
Nebris’ were better kept, a pair of sleek dark grey wings he kept folded at his back as the three strode through the street.
Eventually Nebris stopped at a door at the base of an apartment block. Inside was a tiny lobby, adorned only by a plastic-looking potted plant and a flight of stairs. Nebris and Vechs started up the stairs and Blame followed, only taking a second to consider the situation. A realisation nearly made him laugh.
“Why do you need stairs? Can’t you just?” Blame gestured to Nebris’ wings.
“Oh, no,” Nebris said, laughing a little. “I mean yes, I could have just flown up. But none of us really use our wings much anymore. They’re practically just decoration, and we’re so used to walking.” He grinned. “That doesn’t mean we never use them though.”
Something bothered Blame about that answer, but he didn’t press further as they walked up to the eighth floor of the building where Nebris unlocked a door and ushered Blame into the apartment.
The apartment was surprisingly large, the main room’s outer wall largely made up of tall glass windows that offered a modest view of the street below, as well as a little way into the city itself. The sky itself brought a warm pink glow into the apartment.
Vechs instantly headed for one of the worn leather couches in the centre of the room, flopping on it and stretching his arms and his wings to their full length across the back. Nebris followed, lying across the length of the couch with his legs over Vechs’ lap.
“Pizza?” he mumbled.
“Sure,” Vechs replied. “I’m assuming that’s fine, Blame.”
Once again, Blame was struck by the absurd normality of it all. Perhaps it was better than landing in some foreign, unfamiliar fantasy land, but Offstreet seemed almost boring in its similarity to Blame’s home.
Agreeing on a pizza, Blame sat on another worn couch, watching the other two. They seemed intimately comfortable with one another, and he couldn’t help but wonder just how close they were.
“So what were you doing down in that club, anyway?” he asked. “Seems like you were in a hurry to leave.”
“Would’ve stayed there all night,” Vechs said, “but it’s not every day a human shows up here.”
“Getting you out of there was the best thing to do,” Nebris said. “A lot of Angels don’t really like humans. I wanted to keep you safe.”
“Thanks,” Blame said. He swung his legs up over the arm of the couch and studied the two Angels again. Without the conspicuous wings and the otherworldly glow to their eyes, they would have looked human.
“Hang on,” Blame said, remembering. “Didn’t you say I could become an Angel?”
“Yep,” Vechs replied. “Don’t worry, it’ll happen.”
“Happen?” Vechs’ tone of voice worried Blame.
Nebris laughed lazily. “It’s not a fast process, Blame,” he said. “But in your choice to stay here, you’ve kickstarted the process. Your wings should start growing in, in a few days at least.”
Blame lifted a hand instinctively to reach over to his shoulder blade. It felt completely normal, and he wondered if it would hurt to grow wings. He wondered what his would look like, and a weird mix of fear and excitement bubbled up in his stomach.
“It hurts,” Nebris said, like he could read Blame’s mind. “And yeah, I know. I was human once.”
“Yeah. I was younger then - it was about ten, eleven years ago at least - and a curious little fucker. Always looking for something better, and when I heard about Offstreet I began to pay more attention to the red rings on the walls around the laneways I used to loiter when I skipped school. I decided to try and get here. It actually took me a few tries… but finally, it worked. Was kind of afraid when I landed in that club, and due to… unfortunate circumstances, almost got into a fight with an Angel. Luckily, Vechs found me and pulled me out of that situation before I could get hurt. He was so, ah, persuasive that he convinced me to stay here.”
There was an uneasy silence before Nebris added, “But enough about me. What’s your story?”
“Before I came here?” Blame played with the edge of his hoodie. “My life was so boring. Office job, I lived alone. Seeing the Angel - seeing Nebris - and being sure of Angels’ existence just made up my mind. I quit my job on Friday and went to the outskirts of town where rings were rumoured to be.”
“You really believed in this place, huh.” Vechs sounded surprised. “Makes sense then.”
“‘Makes sense’? What does?”
“That you got here,” Vechs said. “You see, the way Offstreet works is that only people who really believe in this place’s existence, and their ability to even get here, are able to pass through the rings.”
“That’s why I couldn’t get through on my first try,” Nebris said. “I thought I could do it, but I was too half-hearted about it. But feeling something as I approached the ring - it really made me believe I could do it. I tried a couple more times and eventually it worked.”
The pizza arrived and Nebris paid, and as they ate around the small coffee table Blame was struck by another thought.
“Do you have jobs then?” He asked, leaning back against the couch.
“Yeah. It’s only casual, and it doesn’t pay much,” Nebris said.
“It’s not a fun job either,” Vechs said. “Unlike Nebris’ previous job.” He said this with a giggle, which planted even more curiosity into Blame’s mind.
“He was kicked from that job for unprofessionalism,” Vechs continued. “But it’s good, because now we work at the same place. It’s dirty work, a clean up job, but someone has to do it. We’ll take you down on Monday and see if we can get you a job there too.”
“Then you can pay rent,” Nebris added. “Seeing as you wouldn’t have anywhere else to live, I’ll offer you a place here.”
“Oh,” Blame said, surprised at the generosity. “Thank you. So what’s the job?”
“The middle of the city is completely trashed. We’re part of a clean-up crew that has been going on for several years. It’s hard work due to our lack of proper equipment.” Vechs said. “There was… a pretty destructive event there. Most of the centre’s in ruins.” His voice went quiet as he finished his sentence, and he sounded tense. Blame didn’t ask further. He would have to see what the damage was like when he got there.
The three stayed up chatting until it grew late, the open windows displaying the navy blue sky sprinkled with a few bright stars as the city lit with yellow light. Blame felt his eyelids grow heavy and slowly Vechs and Nebris’ voices faded out of his awareness.