Strange and fearful noises in the night. Daroom! Daroom! Daroom!—a deep-down thunder like an endless drum. Then a sharp splitting sound like the crack of a whip: Kratt! Kratt! Kratt! The noises throbbed through the earth and echoed across the sky.
There were voices too. Eeeeeeeyah! A high-pitched scream passed over from horizon to horizon. Then laughter broke out in hoots and whoops. And away in the distance, grave booming words of incomprehensible giant speech:
“Mors et maleficii!”
It was the worst night in a long time. The People lay close together intheir Dwelling Place. The walls of the derelict building protected them at the sides, but there was no roof overhead. They had only their blanket, a single waterproof blanket big enough to cover the whole tribe. They huddled on the floor of the Dwelling Place with the blanket over their heads.
As leader of the tribe, old Neath lay in the middle with the others around him. Closest in were the older partnered males and females. They were all wide awake, scarcely daring to breathe, staring up at the underside of the blanket. They had been through many bad nights before, but the fear never eased.
Squeezing in around them were the nursing mothers with infants. The infants whimpered pitifully at every louder Kratt! of the whip. When the laughter and booming voices started up, they burst into tears.
“Hush!” “Shush!” “Shush now!” their mothers whispered, and drew them in closer to the muffling warmth of their bodies.
Next around lay the unpartnered adult males and females. The males had been drinking heavily, and most of them were asleep and snoring. But still they tossed and turned and thrashed out suddenly with their arms as if to keep something at bay. Even in sleep the terrors of the night had invaded their dreams.
As for the older adolescent children, they had been pushed out to the furthest corners of the huddle. They lay curled up in small defensive balls, trying to keep away from the night air which seeped in under the edges of the blanket. They had their eyes tightly closed and their hands clamped desperately over their ears.
But still the terrors of the night intensified. Now there were lights outside too. The blanket was no protection. Unearthly illuminations pierced through the weave of the rough fibre. Flashes and flickers, colours and shadows…
The People shuddered and prayed for it all to pass.
Only one of the People was different. Ferren lay with the other adolescents in the outer ring of bodies under the blanket. But he was not curled up into a ball. He had lifted the edge of the blanket and was peering out into the night.
He could see movement all over the sky. Vague multitudes of shapes like wings swam slowly behind the clouds. One side of the sky was glowing bright, where distant tongues of red fire stabbed upwards from below. The tips of the tongues showed just above the wall of the Dwelling Place.
There were pale oval globes too, swarms and swarms of them. At first they were high in the sky, but as Ferren watched, they descended lower and lower. They moved with a looping, spiralling motion, in a kind of aerial dance. They seemed to be moving towards the red tongues of fire.
He knew what to expect. It wasn’t the first time he had watched Heaven attacking the Earth. Suddenly the globes began to shoot forth flashes of blinding light. On—off! On—off! On—off! On—off!
He was momentarily dazzled. By the time he had blinked away the dazzle, the globes were ascending once more. They were like wafting sparks borne up on a draught of air.
But one globe wasn’t ascending. It was hurtling across the sky, very low down. It seemed to be coming straight towards the Home Ground.
He stared and wriggled forward for a better look.
Still the globe came hurtling onwards. It was completely out of control. It bobbled and wobbled, struggling to rise but always losing height. The pale oval shape was rimmed with an ominous red glow.
He began to draw back under the blanket again. The thing was getting too close for comfort. Surely it wasn’t going to crash on top of the Dwelling Place?
Larger and larger it loomed. Now he could see some sort of figure inside, with wings and yellow robes. Some sort of Celestial! Perhaps it was an angel? The figure twisted and turned inside its globe, and there came a sound like a thin silvery wail:
He pulled the blanket sharply over his head and buried his nose in the ground.
The globe whistled over the top of the Dwelling Place and hit the ground somewhere nearby.
A dull hollow-sounding explosion. Then nothing. Silence. He breathed a sigh of relief. He lifted the edge of the blanket and peered out once more.
There was no smoke or light visible above the Dwelling Place wall. He traced the course of the globe’s final plunge, trying to work out where it must have come down. Somewhere near the Beaumont Street ruins, he calculated. Probably out on the open Plain in the grass beyond the ruins.
Up above, the war in the sky continued unabated. The ascending globes had formed in a line and were streaming off on another trajectory. The strange booming voices grew louder, the red tongues of fire shifted direction.
But Ferren had something else to think about. He grinned to himself. A Celestial from Heaven’s army! Crashing so close to the tribe’s Home Ground! And he had watched it all! Would there be anything left to see after the crash? What an opportunity…if he dared…
She was Miriael the Fourteenth Angel of Observance. She lay on her side, stretched full length on the ground. Her yellow robe was in tatters, her wings were twisted beneath her, her shining golden hair was spread across the ground. The protective envelope of her globe had ruptured, and her aura drifted away, dissolving into the air like a mist of light.
She was still conscious but incapable of movement. She felt utterly, horribly exposed. As her aura dissolved, the materiality of the terrestrial world began to invade her senses.
First it was smell—the smell of the earth. Thick and heavy, with the darkness of soil and the bitterness of crushed grass. Disgustingly physical! To her, it was the very smell of corruption.
Then it was touch—the touch of cool night air on her skin. Pinprick by pinprick, it crept across her shoulders, fingered down her back, delved around her legs. The tiny sensations were agony to her pure spiritual senses. She winced as if burned by fire or stabbed by knives.
Never before had she experienced anything so gross and crude. Her enveloping globe had always kept her apart from the terrestrial atmosphere. This physical contact was too much to endure! Why hadn’t she died of the shock? Why hadn’t she winked instantly out of existence? Wasn’t that what was supposed to happen?
She was a junior warrior angel, so not on the lofty level of the higher orders and archangels. But still, her being was immaterial spirit—it was impossible for her to survive unprotected on the Earth. She didn’t seekextinction, some small part of her resisted. But if it had to happen, let it come quickly!
The invasion continued. Now the grass was touching her too. She could distinguish every separate blade of it, unbearably rough and rasping. And under the grass, the humps of pebbles, the gritty grainy soil. It was like a whole landscape imprinting itself on her skin.
Worst of all, the cold night air had begun to go down into her throat. She choked and coughed and gasped. Deeper and deeper it penetrated, right inside her chest. Unbelievable! She wanted to scream with the sheer intensity of it. Too much! Too much!
It was filth, it was foulness, it was degradation! She was being defiled! She prayed for unconsciousness, she prayed for it all to be over! She tried to crush the small unworthy part of her that resisted.
Yet the hours went past, and still she hadn’t winked out of existence.