They call us angels. They have forgotten so much... They stare at us in awe and look to us for protection, but once we were one people. They do not remember, but we do.
"See anything?" The voice shook him from his thoughts.
"No", he said. "It's too early. They will come at dawn. They always come at dawn."
His comrade nodded and squinted into the darkness. Fine, powdery snow was swirling around them, covering the remainders of yesterday's battle with a pristine shroud and preparing the field for the next one. The last one.
They call us angels. They have forgotten even that we once sinned against them. Before the Great Burning we were one people, but we fled. We saved our books and our records, but they, our people, stayed behind. They paid the price for our safety. Our knowledge. Our cowardice?
"What was that?"
His comrade raised his head and stared across the ruins.
"Nothing", he said. "Just the wind."
"Damn", his comrade muttered. "You know, I always hoped I would die somewhere warm. Not out here, in the snow, among the remnants of a fortress we thought impregnable."
"Does it matter?" he asked.
"No", his comrade murmured. "Guess it doesn't."
They call us angels. Winterborn they call us, for we came to them from the north, out of the snow.
For centuries we were separated, and when we found them again, they had forgotten. They are simple people, they do not know what their ancestors could do. When we found them, they were awed by our technology. There was much debate, but it was decided to leave them in ignorance. Perhaps this was our second sin against them.
While we had lived in sheltered seclusion, they had struggled for survival in the open. They had conquered some old enemies and made some new ones, until one day they met one they could not vanquish. They turned to us for aid, and we came.
"This waiting is getting on my nerves", his comrade muttered. "I really wish they'd come and put an end to it."
"They will", he said. "Never fear."
His comrade nodded glumly and continued to stare into the snow, clenching his hands and biting his lips in an attempt to conceal his anxiety.
They call us angels, and by dawn we will die. We swore to protect them, to defend them with our lives to make up for the sins of our ancestors who left them behind. They are fleeing towards the sea, but the enemy is close behind. We will try to stop this army, to buy our people time to get to the ships and to safety. We have given them our books, so they may remember when we are no more. And if they make it across the sea, they will have to learn to live without angels.
"They are coming!"
The hoarse shout broke the silence of the night. A steely light was just beginning to appear in the east. And they came. Thousands of them came and filled the air with their cries.
He drew his weapon and was among the first to rush out and meet the enemies. One, two, three fell before him, and he felt strangely at peace as the fourth one's blade cut deeply into his side.
The last thing he saw were the first red rays of the rising sun, spilling across the horizon like his blood.