Spirits of Air
They had been called many names. The North Men called them Valkyrie, and believed them to be collectors of souls for Wodan. The desert people believed they were angels of God. The superstitious Achaeans believed they were succubi, who ripped the souls from men. The nomads called them the Spirits of Air, and perhaps that was what they called themselves too, for nomads had an uncanny ability for naming things by their true names. Hence, that is what we shall call them too.
The Spirits of Air are generally invisible to the eyes of mortals, save for special times in special places where conditions in the aether allow brief glimpses of them to be caught. A North Man, lying wounded on an ancient battlefield, saw a luminous being standing beside a slain friend, and named them Valkyrie. He survived, and perpetuated the legend. This was perhaps a bad thing to have happened, for it served to increase the North Men's lust for battle glory.
Whatever their name, they do collect the souls of the departed. Not, as the North Men believed, only the souls of warriors, but all souls. They greeted these souls upon death and returned them to the Source. That was their function in the Universe, though they were also possessed of intelligence and free will. Indeed, they were born into greater awareness of the Way than all mortals, for they had all seen the face of the Creator.
Given their duty, it is natural that the Spirits of Air flocked around battlefields and scenes of natural disasters in greater numbers. Tonight, however, a score of them were gathered silently in the roiling dark clouds above and behind a galley. An unnatural storm was brewing, and the glowing Spirits of Air gazed down upon the men toiling on the ship far below. The sails had all been lowered, and the oars manned by the sailors frantically beat upon the darkened water in a vain attempt to outrun the storm.
The storm, however, would not be denied its victims. The heavy clouds, driven before the howling wind, finally caught up with the ship and, once above it, they swirled together in a mighty maelstrom, building their forces, until they struck down with a bolt of lightning. The Spirits of Air flowed down with the lightning, singing their silent siren song of departure and arrival.
As Hathiel surged down with the lightning bolt that struck the mainmast of the ship, she could already see some of her sisters bearing the souls of departed sailors off to be returned to the Source. Hathiel, landing upon the charred deck of the galley, watched as surviving sailors leapt into the angry sea to escape the doomed ship. One of the sailors, however, stood quite still at the fore of the ship, holding on to the railings and gazing into the storm. You I will take tonight
, Hathiel decided.
The mast of the ship, ruined by the lightning bolt, groaned and finally fell, glancing off the head of the last sailor, who fell to the deck, unconscious. A huge wave raised the doomed galley high, and an opposing wave finally crushed it into more bits and pieces of driftwood to wander the seas, perhaps till the end of time. The sailor was flung into the water by the impact, and Hathiel followed her intended victim. Almost as soon as the sailor sank beneath the surface, the storm started to clear. The howling winds slowed and the clouds broke, allowing shafts of moonlight to illuminate the surface of the calming waters. The mighty storm demon Zu, satisfied that his work was done, left to claim his prize in souls from the wizard who had summoned him.
The sailor sank into the darkened depths, and Hathiel followed. His face started to glow, and then his soul blazed forth from it, brighter than any mortal soul Hathiel had yet claimed. She floated towards it, but suddenly the eyes of the soul opened and, as if he realised his situation, the soul receded back into the body, which twitched as the life force refused to leave it. Hathiel floated before the man, awaiting the inevitable.
The man's features were regular, neither beautiful nor ugly, and a dark tattoo of a stylized eagle's wing arched over his left brow, down his temple, covering his cheek and ending at his chin. As Hathiel studied his face, his dark eyes opened, and Hathiel was shocked, perhaps for the first time in her immortal life, by the power behind them. The man tried to breathe, but choked on the water. Amazingly, he overcame his reflexes and managed to stop himself from gasping again, forcibly swallowing the remnants of the inhaled water instead.
Despite the lack of air, the man showed no panic, contrary to Hathiel's expectations. Instead, his jaw set in a determined line and his brows narrowed. He began to kick towards the dimly lit surface. After what must have been an eternity of torture for the man, his head finally broke the surface, and then he allowed himself to gasp and cough, expelling the water in his lungs. After his coughing had subsided, the man gazed around at the wreckage of the galley. Selecting the largest piece of driftwood, the remnants of the very mast which had robbed him of consciousness when the storm had begun, he began to swim slowly towards it. He embraced the mast, right arm above it and left arm below, rested his head upon his right shoulder, and finally allowed himself to lose consciousness again.
Hathiel gazed around the man. There was no land in sight. Her duty, as dictated by the Law, was to wait until the man died, as was written in the Book, and return him to the Source. And so, Hathiel waited.
Labels: Fiction, Wind God