The Three Kings was a bar in the East End of London. A godless place even before atheism had become fashionable. It was crowded with the type of people who had nowhere else to be this late on Christmas Eve: the despised and the feared; those for whom hard drinking was a religion on its own. The local pub their temple; the brawling and fornicating and puking in alleys their chosen form of worship.
Quantiaro propped up his section of the bar between a man with a shaved and tattooed head called Snake and another man with a spiky Mohawk, a tattooed face and three gold studs enlarging holes in his right ear called Bazza. Their expressions and the set of their shoulders let the world know that life was a bully that had kicked them in the plums and the first chance they got they were passing the pain on. Next to their muscled bulks and dirty denim clothes, Quantiaro looked very out of place with his immaculate suit, neatly combed hair and unadorned and unmutilated face and body. But he was knocking back red wine as keenly as they were drinking hard liquor and generous when it came to buying rounds. He shared their air of resigned desperation and so he was accepted as one of their own for now. Besides, it was Christmas Eve and even hardened thugs like Snake and Bazza wouldn't dream of throwing a bloke out of a pub on Christmas Eve. Unless he looked at them wrong or something.
The jukebox was belting out punk music at a volume he was surprised the humans could stand. It made his head throb and he hadn't had a headache in two thousand years. Two thousand years to the day actually. When the Heavenly Choir really let loose they could raise the roof and shake the dust from the rafters. It was one of the reasons he chose to be an emissary on Earth; he didn't have to listen to them practicing from down here. Not that they'd have much to sing about now, he thought glumly, and downed his wine in one lengthy swallow.
He signaled for another round for the entire bar and when his arrived he nursed the long stemmed glass, cradling the bowl between both palms, as he had done with all the others, staring into it as if it held the secrets of the universe. It was unnecessary, he already knew most of the universe's secrets, including that it was about to take a major turn for the worse. If humans thought they had it bad now, give them twenty years of the new regime and see how they liked it then. Plus, in his opinion, Greek Choruses were even worse than the Heavenly Choir, all that wailing and lamenting. It was going to be awful! he thought and polished his wine off in one mouthful.
He signaled for another round and was served immediately. No one else needed to be served when he was buying drink after drink for all. He looked blearily around the bar at his new drinking pals, too intoxicated to remember that direct eye contact could turn these men violent, and took in the posters of false idols that papered the walls and images so wicked they made Sodom and Gomorrah look like Eden. He listened to the blasphemy the patrons spoke with no fear of retribution from above as they discussed the pagan rituals they would undertake tomorrow in a sham celebration of their savior's birthday.
They were ripe for the picking now, he knew. Aristiedies had timed his uprising well. One hundred years ago none of these lost souls would have dared turn their back entirely on their Lord. Even with the exciting discovery of evolution to keep them guessing - and Quantiaro had worked long and hard to set that up! It was supposed to show how wondrous their Lord was; so special he could turn fish into birds, lizards into horses and monkeys into men! Boy, had that experiment backfired on them! -most of them would have needed a hard push before changing their faith or losing it altogether. Now though, the door was already halfway open and all Aristiedies had to do was walk in, make the right speeches and his so-called destiny would be at his fingertips.
It made Quantiaro sick that after centuries of hard work to promote peace and love and charity and goodwill, it was all going to go down the drain because of a well-timed hostile takeover.
A hundred years from now Christmas Day would be nothing but a pagan festival - not that it wasn't close to that already - and the world would be celebrating the nineteenth of January as their premiere day of worship. Assuming the baby arrived on his due date, of course. Baby! Quantiaro scoffed and slurped up some more wine. Troy could not even come up with an original plan to oust his Lord. They'd done the miracle baby thing first! Faith Lehane wasn't even a virgin! He should tell people that; they had a right to know!
A voice whispered inside his mind and he bowed his head in humility as he was reminded that smear campaigns on the opposition weren't exactly their style (unless the opposition was Satan, then it was an 'All you can smear' buffet).
What did it matter anyway? he supposed. By the time the kid hit twenty-one his kind would be long forgotten by ninety-seven percent of the population. Only a very devout few would hide in dark places from persecution to write his name in new Holy Scripture, as a way of remembering that they had ever existed. It was a horrible way to go, to elapse like that, to cease to be significant in the eyes of the people that had once deemed their faith in you as priceless.
The landlord of the Three Kings placed a fresh glass in front of him and snatched the two fifty pound notes to cover this round from his hand before someone else tried to.
"You'll still know who I am, won't you?" Quantiaro pleaded.
"I don't even know who you are now, mate," the landlord said, failing to give him his twelve pound change.
It had already started; now it was only a matter of time before the ways of his Lord became dust covered relics in abandoned churches, curiosities of fascination only to historians and the occasional pilgrim. A new world order was about to emerge, throwing everything Quantiaro believed in into chaos and shadow, and because they were the good guys there wasn't anything he could do but accept it.
But he still had one more year to celebrate this day as it should be and as the clock behind the bar struck midnight, Quantiaro raised a toast to the glorious birth of their savior, Lord Jesus Christ. Most of the men he had been buying drinks for all night jeered him disrespectfully and those that didn't ignored him altogether, mistaking him for a mad man or a fool and sorrowfully, Quantiaro slipped from his bar stool. He had a birthday party to get to.
Leave the bitter criminals and hardened heathens to their downfall! Why should he care? He'd given his whole existence to raising humanity out of the gutter and they couldn't even raise their glasses in toast on their Lordship's birthday.
He shuffled towards the door, inebriated enough that he seemed to be bounced forward by a series of side-on collisions rather than under his own steam. A number of men eyeballed him, taking special notice of the cut of his suit and the inviting bulge that showed the current location of his bottomless wallet, and tried to decide if they could be bothered to face the bitter cold outside to rob him blind.
Quantiaro shivered as he felt the darkness in the pits of these wretched thugs. He'd known demons with more kindness. In that moment he was happy they had lost - let the old ones return, let them try their luck with these faithless sinners, let them do a better a job with such base raw material, let them take the blame for all the wrongs in the world for once. See how they liked . . .
He stumbled in the middle of the crowd from a combination of a sly push and a low bar stool. Instinctively he did his best to save himself, as anyone would, from falling down. The back of his shirt and his expensive jacket ripped down the sides and bunched up around his collar as his large, feathered wings unfurled to sustain his balance. The red wine had been flowing well however and other than a slight draft on his back that he put down to the opening of the door ahead of him, he was oblivious to what he had done. Until, halfway out of the door, he noticed the sudden silence behind him. Not a complete silence, Sid Vicious or Johnny Rotten were still screaming festive obscenities from the jukebox but Quantiaro knew the sound of a reverential hush when he heard one.
Standing in a pool of golden light from the pub sign above his head, slowly he turned back around. Many of the patrons were staring into their glasses and doing long multiplication in their heads as they tried to count how many they'd had. It was the ones kneeling on the beer-sticky and ash-coated floor that worried him though. They were awe-struck; they reminded him of a bunch of shepherds he'd once met just outside of Bethlehem. Besides, no one would kneel on this floor unless they were caught in the throes of spiritual revelation. Snake was even crying.
Nervously he looked over his shoulder to see a majestic wingtip. Oh . . . sugar; he kept his curse clean with difficulty. This was terrible. One of the men not wholly overcome with religious rapture took a photo of him on his cellular phone. Oh, this was really terrible. He was in so much trouble now! He had to get out of there. Perhaps if he left quickly they would think they had imagined him, or think him a trick or an illusion, or a gay cabaret act . . . anything! He just had to leave quickly and not draw any more attention to himself.
Quantiaro turned again, wincing as his wings made a whooshing sound, and, after bouncing off of both sides of the door frame, finally staggered back into the golden shaft of light. Thinking only of the fastest way to get out of sight, he spread his vast wings and soared upwards from the threshold.
Forty-three of the most feared gang-bosses and career criminals in East London watched in wide-eyed wonder as the angel bathed in gold flew from the Inn into the frosty Christmas night.
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