99 Knights in the Sky #1

First Story: Heresy

 

I will have them fall.

There wasn’t a cloud in the summer sky. The sun was at its peak and bathing the earth in blazing yellow. A host of winged men soared above the sleepy towns on their usual patrol. They fashioned themselves after their own tiers with every rank assigned its own place in the formation, drifting softly away from the mountains..

Those with golden feathers and in radiant armor lead those blessed with lesser metals. The least ones, the backbone of Constantine’s winged cavalry, flew with iron clockwork.

Down below, the mortals peered into the sky, with their hands shading their eyes. The bright blue up above hurt their eyes, but that didn’t stop them from applauding their betters. It wasn’t so often that mere sheep of the flock were be blessed with the sight of angels. A smile and hand waving would greet back.

Here, a father was teaching his son the use of his wings. Both were blessed with radiant feathers. The son would dip, dive, and loop in the air. He was testing the extent of his abilities, and those below clamored for more.

“Icarus, calm yourself.” His father chastised him. “Your wings are for the Emperor’s glory, not yours. You will fly with dignity.”

“Yes, father.” He his voice weakened as he obeyed.

A bronze winged lieutenant, gliding at their leader’s side, chuckled, “Leave him to his fun, old friend. It never hurts to have our young test their wings. I remember when we were as young as he, Warmaster Hadrian.”

“And I would like to keep my son from repeating my mistakes, Perseus, thank you very much.”

Icarus smiled at them both, a beaming exemplar of goodness with his fair face, his golden tresses that dropped to his shoulders, and his sparkling eyes that matched the seas when struck by sunlight.

Noise, a strange noise was suddenly heard—made faint by distance. Icarus turned his head onward, where he thought it was coming from, and saw a far off clump of clouds burst apart.

“Father, what is that?” he asked.

“An eagle, perhaps?” the lieutenant mused.

The warmaster narrowed his eyes and brought his superior vision to bear, one of the gifts the golden winged were bequeathed. He saw a black spot in the distance, speeding towards them.

“Probably nothing,” Hadrian decided, “It’s not like the heretics have finally decided to fly.”

“Right,” Icarus smirked.

The noise, it was a strange noise, akin to the thundering explosions of a waterfall, yet deeper and more violent. The sword came before the boom. Some strange craft shaped liked a shield yet lengthened to an arrow’s point tore through Icarus and left him in a bloody mess of gore, guts, and molting feathers. His eyes were wide open, his eardrums were blown clear off, and his armor was ripped apart. All he had to leave his father was blood splattered all over him.

The entire host cried out for vengeance. Hadrian’s own came from some deep crevice within his soul and echoed off of his men. Their eyes were bloodshot, their limbs rippling with the need to exact pain. They brought all of their arms to bear, swords ablaze with fury, and bludgeons crackling with energy. They struck their shields with their weapons and waited for the warmaster to give his order.

The craft’s pilot looked back to see if they had given chase already, his face hidden behind tinted goggles and a scarf wrapped around his neck and mouth. Pigskin protected the rest of his head, while mufflers kept him safe from wind blast and sonic.

He wanted them on his tail.

He was a boy once, with his glinting eyes set on the skies.

Father,” he would ask, “When I grow up, could I grow wings?”

He was answered with a chuckle, “Of course not, you silly child. Only angels grow wings.”

Even if I built those wings myself?”

Whatever for?”

So we could be angels too, father, closer to the heavens and God.”

The ropes that tied him to the stake gnawed at his skin. He was to be burned here, naked, in this cold November night. At his feet lay a staggering pile of leather bound books, folios, notes, and sketches. One schematic caught his attention, a diagram with measures, his design for a kite meant to test the winds. Unholy shapes, they called it—of so simple geometry.

He wanted them stopped, his eyes searched for a single face that might look him in the eye, but he knew that they would not. They scowled at him, eyes intent on the bonfire; their grip clenched hard around their torches. These were once the boys he used to swim with at the lake, and the dear old women who used to sneak him some salted bread. The women, at least, refused to face him outright, hiding behind the backs of their men or just completely turned away. They were pressed to watch him burn though, and help light the fires.

His father stood before him, clothed in his thick, brown habit and with his head bowed. He could hear his mumbling, the clack of the rosary in his fingers, the crackle of a torch in his other hand held high. They were all waiting for the Inquisitor.

And he descended from the starless skies, this gold-winged man. Warmaster Hadrian, his was the first torch. He landed softly and promptly cast his judgment for the others to follow, his face as hard as stone. His torch deserved a weak whimper from the guilty. Breathing fast and hard, the guilty one’s head shot upward. He searched for another chance, a savior from up above.

“Please,” he whispered through clenched teeth.

It was a very long line. The entire town was expected to bear torches and light the stake, even children. When the last torch had fallen with the rest, the fire was already roaring. They could feel the heat from ten feet away, watching his skin char, his nails melt, and his flesh roast.

He gagged and he coughed from the smoke. The fire had completely taken his legs, he could no longer feel them. He could hardly feel anything; his senses blurred except his eyes. He could still see them watching him die through the violent blaze that ate him. His final act was to scream.

Anger, anger was his only voice and it sent a chill up the villagers’ spines. It echoed off the mountains and filled the air. The winged man was done. He turned his back on the stake and flew away.

No more tears. The guilty could feel no more.

I refused to die.

The Emperor’s Angels had finally reached him, the man who blasphemed God’s laws and had the audacity to fly. The clockwork raptors fell upon him first. They were practiced soldiers, strenuously drilled to fight in groups. Like Vultures, they attacked in droves and from every direction. They, however, had never before faced the enemy in the skies. The rider caught them by surprise.

His craft was his sword. It flew on hellfire and the war cry of ogres. It’s rider swung it about him, delivering blaze and blade against every comer. The craft was agile and of an alloy that met their weapons and broke them. The rider took great care to see their wings cut and their bodies fall.

Then came the esteemed host, at their head flew their Warmaster. The rider smiled at the sight of those golden wings screaming for his blood. He let his craft hover in place, as he stood up high with a smile on his face. The clockwork angels circled him, unsure. They waited for their master; they waited for orders.

“I am Hadrian, Warmaster of the Eagle’s Host, Warrior of his Emperor’s Legion,” Hadrian brought his glowing hammer to bear, as he and his consort hurtled towards the black craft, “By my hand, you shall burn, heretic! For the Emperor!”

The rider unraveled the cloth that hid his face, pulled off the goggles that hid his eyes, and took off the pigskin that hid his head. A charred and grinning skull smiled at the oncoming wings of death. His voice was hollow and grating, calm and eager.

“I am Heresy, Knight of the Sky. I have come to have you fall.”

No man ever forgot that day, for it was the day it rained angels, blood, and golden feathers. It was the day the angels fell; the day the Holy Roman Empire felt an all to human chill creep up its spine.