The Avenging Angels by Charlotte Williams (Winner of the Halloween Contest, October 2019)
Remember, remember the end of October, Britain’s consumed by a rot.
We crouched behind a pile of rubble as a swarm of soldiers scurried past, metal armour glistening like a scorpion’s exoskeleton, bullets laced with a deadly poison. A cloud of smoke hung over the city, buildings engulfed in flames. Gunshots echoed in the distance.
My lieutenant adjusted her disguise. “I hope I don’t see my brother,” Asha said. “I…I won’t be able to do it.”
The folds of my black cape swirled around me. “Even if I commanded it?”
She turned away, picking at a loose thread on her trousers.
“He won’t hesitate to kill you,” I reminded her, pointing at the Guy Fawkes masks concealing our features. “His training will take over. You’re both fighting for your country. You’re just fighting for a different future.”
He’d enlisted at eighteen. We no longer had a choice in such matters.
By taking away our freedom, they thought we’d submit.
Protests turned to riots. Riots turned to civil war.
Oppression made us bold. They thought they could snuff us out like candles, but the fire burned brighter than ever, consuming our souls. The Avenging Angels were born from the chaos.
If we were angels, then they were demons.
“Could you do it, Eve?” Asha’s piercing gaze searched the deepest chambers of my heart. “Could you aim your gun at your own family? Could you pull the trigger?”
I shrugged. “It’s not a decision I’ll ever have to make.” I placed a hand on her shoulder. “I won’t command you to kill him.”
At sixteen, Asha was unable to vote, yet able to make a difference.
I checked my watch. “It’s time.”
Big Ben chimed twelve times, marking mid-day. We couldn’t see the sun through the smoke.
I held my breath as we waited for the signal.
A thirteenth bell vibrated across the city.
Twenty-eight members of the resistance’s council emerged from London’s ruins, a chosen lieutenant shadowing their movements. Guy Fawkes’s features concealed our identity. Stakes of ash wood soaked in holy water hung from the holsters around our waists, each engraved with twenty-eight stars.
We stalked through the streets, burrowing deeper towards the city’s heart. Bodies littered the tarmac. A child ran across the road, dust smeared across her cheeks, holding a stuffed rabbit, its fur speckled crimson. She cried out for her mother.
There was no response.
We converged with the other Angels at the end of Westminster Bridge, our target looming on the other side of the Thames, jagged spires reflected on the surface.
Silence engulfed us.
The river ran red with blood, corpses floating face-down in the water. People wearing military attire hung from the railings, white bags tightened around their heads. A T was painted on the fabric, marking them as traitors.
Soldiers littered the bridge. There was nothing human about them. Their empty eyes fell on us, skin as pale as curdled milk, their flesh rotting off the bone. They hurried forwards. Their limbs dislocated, maws hanging open, saliva dripping from sharp fangs.
“The veil between our worlds has fallen,” I said to the others. “Today, we see them as they really are. Today, Satan is at his weakest. Today, they are most vulnerable.”
“We have one chance.” I recognised Yvette’s French accent. “We stand united until the end.”
We charged across the bridge like a battering ram. An invisible shield surrounded us, protecting us from harm, a divine entity backing our cause. My gun vibrated in my hands. Bullets soared through the air. The enemy fell one by one.
The Palace of Westminster consumed the banks on our left. We kept to the shadows, dispersing down the nearby alleyways.
“Give the signal,” I told Asha.
She raised the radio to her mouth. “Squadron twenty-eight is in position, over.”
It crackled. “Received, over.”
“Is…that my brother?” Asha lifted her gaze to mine. Tears threatened to spill down her cheeks.
I nodded. “He’s with us, lieutenant.”
The radio hissed. “Detonating in five…four…three…”
“Take cover!” I screamed, my lungs burning.
We threw ourselves against the ground as the north side of Parliament exploded, chunks of stone blasting through the air, plumes of smoke and debris consuming the bridge.
Fifty-six wraiths stormed the complex like a virus surging through the body.
Two soldiers approached. They slammed their fists against their breasts, a sign of their allegiance to the resistance.
Asha gave us a strangled cry, running forwards, throwing her arms around the younger of the two. His irises were as blue as a tropical ocean.
“It’s me, Aiden,” Asha sobbed onto his shoulder.
“I never thought I’d see you again,” he whispered, stroking her hair.
The other leader cleared his throat. “They’re oblivious to what’s happening,” he said. His weathered face was as hard as titanium. Grey stubble covered his jaw. “If we move quickly, we can catch them by surprise and trap them in the only place they believe is safe.”
“We’ll split into two groups.” Aiden broke away from his sister. “I’ll take the lieutenants to the Commons Chamber, while Robert leads the commanders to where he is.”
An eerie silence filled the halls, curtains pulled across the windows. The portraits on the walls watched it unfold, unable to cry out warnings to their successors. Flickering lights contorted their appearances. I stared at one as I passed.
He blinked at me.
Outside the Commons Chamber, the lieutenants lined up, pulling free their stakes. Aiden raised a finger to his lips. The double doors trembled. Robert signalled for the rest of us to continue down the hallway, but I waited to see what was concealed within.
The entrance flew open.
It was a bloodbath.
Demonic figures occupied the left side of the room. They were hunched over bodies scattered across the benches, blood smeared around their mouths. They leeched the life from them, consuming their souls. Their kin lay massacred to the right. Pools of black ink seeped over the floor.
Our lieutenants unleashed hell.
A chorus of screams shuddered through the chamber. Aiden slammed the doors behind them, containing the evil within.
“Eve,” Yvette called. “Don’t fall behind.”
“Are we close?”
She nodded. “Oui.”
The doors to Westminster Hall were thrown open, golden pillars falling over the threshold. Exposed wooden beams stretched across the ceiling, glittering chandeliers swinging above us, the arched glass window at the end of the room shattered into a thousand shards.
A mountain of corpses was piled in the centre, a throne of bones balanced on its summit. Their leader lounged in the chair. A smile spread across his face.
“Here you are at last.” His eyes were as black and empty as the darkest night, with no stars to disperse the shadows.
“It was only a matter of time,” I said. Bile stung the back of my throat.
“Yet your time’s run out.” He scratched his chin with a bony finger. “It isn’t too late to join me. We can make our country greater than ever.”
“Then you don’t see what your country’s become.” I pointed behind me. “There’s only a broken nation left to rule.”
He leaned forward. “Good. I thrive off of it.”
“Your reign of terror ends today.”
“It never ends.” Raising a hand towards us, he opened his mouth, a guttural echo churning in his core.
Our souls began to unstitch themselves from our bodies, cells itching as they broke down. We started turning into soldiers in his army.
“Now!” Yvette said.
We brandished our stakes, fingertips brushing the circle of stars. “United in diversity. United in adversity,” we chanted in our native tongues.
A hand locked around his throat, choking his summons, pinning him into place. He thrashed about, gurgling on his own blood.
“I’m… the desire… for power, for complete… control,” he spluttered. “It lives… inside each of you. I live inside you all.”
The Avenging Angels repeated their words over and over, until a high-pitched hum quivered through the air.
As the last British representative on the council, the responsibility fell to me. As I hurtled up the mountain of bodies, images flashed through my mind, each one driving me forwards. My friends, who’d been deported back to their war-torn countries. I hadn’t heard from them since. My family, who’d died in the struggle. I’d never see them again. My life, once filled with hope, prosperity, and potential. It no longer existed.
I drove the stake into his rotten, demonic heart, sending him back to the depths of hell.
Black blood bubbled from the corners of his mouth. “This position is cursed,” he said. “You cannot break it; it’ll break you.”
“United in diversity,” I whispered. “United in adversity.”
His body crumbled to ashes.
His minions perished across the country. Big Ben uttered a single chime.
Our world was shrouded in darkness. We had to be the light now.
We see no reason why Parliament’s treason should ever be forgot.