Her hands clasped tightly together in supplication and she whispered his name.
“Azrael, please, I need your help,” she sobbed.
Deeply buried underneath her escalating grief, Elyse felt something akin to relief seeing dark smoke gather from the corners of the dim chamber and suddenly coalesce in front of her. After Sister Ann’s banishment, a fortnight ago, it was Azrael’s first physical apparition. Not for a lack of trying on his side of course – the creature had doggedly haunted her sleep. She had ignored his attempts so far. Now, she feared her lack of response to his calls would be enough for the demon to return the favour and ignore her as well.
Yet, there he was. He towered over her when he finally emerged from the shadows, the top of his red mane nearly bumping into the material of the low hanging tent. “Mistress.” his voice grave and cold. She could not help but notice that his trademark smirk was gone.
With a trembling hand, she rapidly rubbed the tears drying on her face and squared her shoulders. She could not be at her weakest when talking to a demon. Especially after knowing his true intentions. Before she had the chance to speak, Azrael abruptly crowded her. A puff of burnt cinnamon filled her nostrils at his proximity.
“Little bird, who hurt you?“he adamantly asked, his aloof demeanour forgotten, green eyes glinting dangerously as he finally noticed the distress marring her features. Tired, red-rimmed eyed and sniffling, she must have looked like a mess. “Tell me,” a rumble filled the room when she remained speechless in her stupor. Elyse wondered how Alora did not hear it.
His dark claws reached towards her. She stepped back before he could make contact. He growled lowly.
“No o-one, no one! This is not about me,” she pointed to the limp figure lying lifelessly on the bed behind them. “My friend, he is dying, the physician says there is no hope.” Elyse forced herself to gingerly take Azrael’s hand. His skin was so warm. Human emotions might be lost on him, but she had to make him understand.
“Please, I know you can help him,” desperation dripped from her voice.
The demon narrowed his eyes. Something flashed across his face. His hand tightened on hers and roughly jerked her closer. She yelped as he curled his lips, sharp teeth on display.
The aromatic candles scattered around the room were suddenly extinguished as coldness sipped into the tent. Elyse risked a concerned glance to Samuel. Her friend was still there, his form as still as ever. Noticing her fleeting look, the demon growled menacingly.
“You mistake me for some benevolent angel, Mistress,” his tone was mocking. “You have forgotten I am a creature of destruction, an aberration of nature as you Sister liked to call me,” Elyse flinched at his biting words. He continued “Yet, here you are, asking your demon for aid, to help a friend.”
The way Azrael glared at Samuel when he uttered the last word was utterly terrifying. Anger seeped from every pore of his skin. What is the cause of all this fury? Confused and slightly afraid, she wondered at his unusually biting attitude. Elyse was starting to regret her choice of summoning the demon. But, he was her only hope.
Without him, Samuel would die. A sob escaped her mouth. Cautiously, she replaced the hand trapped in his fingers on his chest and clutched his robes. “I beg you, I will do anything you ask” the girl hiccuped, not looking up.
Imperceptibly, Azrael’s breath hitched. The bond between them could finally be completed, once and for all. No mad nuns to banish him away from his Mistress this time. He would steal her pure soul for his keeping, possess her body and chain her by his side for all eons to come. His darkness relished in the endless possibilities.
It would be so very easy.
Yet, as he watched another pearl tear run down her chin, bitterness filled the demon’s green gaze, hardening his harsh features even more. It all felt wrong though. He wanted her to come to him, but not like this. Not when the world had beaten her down to the ground, leaving him as the executioner for its final blow.
He had seen others of his kinds fall to the dark side. Seen their females grow to hate them for it. Azrael hoped desperation would not ever push him so far. Already, his emotions were chaotic enough when it came to his little bird.
Something in him revolted at seeing her cry. Only sunny smiles and pleasure-laden eyes suited his fair Mistress. Certainly not these mournful sobs and tears that chipped at his husk of a heart. He tightened his lips as he considered the human fledging lying on the bed. His soul was barely tethered to the mortal realm. It would be easy to say it was too late for the boy, and that is exactly what the demon would have normally done. Eliminate competition.
She was meant for him, no others. Especially no undeserving mortals.
However, her touch on him burnt – Azrael both loved it and despised it in equal measure. Her dreams had barely offered him what he needed, forced to watch her from the shadows, eager for a slip on her part, for a mistake so he can tie them closer. It made him contemplate actually saving this Samuel. Incredible how with one innocent caress of her hand he was ready to do her bidding. He tried to look at the dainty fingers covering his skin with disgust.
Hell be damned.
Elyse stumbled lightly when Azrael moved away and advanced toward the bed. Frustration was pulling the demon’s lips in a sneer. It was not possible to predict what he was up to.“Azrael?” she asked, a timid hope growing in her. Was he going to? Actually going to?
She held her breath when the red-headed demon kneeled in front of Samuel. Even crouched, his brawny figure looked out of place in the fortune-teller’s modest tent. Then, Azrael looked over his shoulder, not sparing her glance, but head inclined in her direction.
“Is he your lover?”
Flabbergasted, her mouth gaped open. Was her mind playing tricks on her? Of all the questions a demonic creature could ask. Eyes wide as saucers, she sputtered “Samuel is only fourteen years old. How–”
He interrupted, this time pinning her in place with his fiery gaze. “That does not answer my question.” The demon had the nerve to raise one red eyebrow, angry scowl still in place.
“Of course not! Heavens, do not be ridiculous!” she snapped back.
The creature harrumphed, slightly mollified. At least he was not as pathetic as he had thought to save a possible rival. Azrael removed the shawl that smelled like his little bird from the undeserving human and arranged it on his lap instead. That was better. Inhaling deeply and keeping his Mistress’ tear stained face in mind, he gathered his concentration and called his magic forth.
Elyse inched closer.
Something heavy had just settled in the cold room. The air seemed full to bursting with promises of the unknown and the forbidden. Is that how sin felt? Transfixed, the young woman watched the ritual taking in place in front of her very eyes.
Unlike the loud summoning Rosanna and her minions had performed, with their strident words and pleas sent into the void for a miracle, Azrael’s magic was much more elegant in comparison. His power did not even compare to Aunt Ann’s esoteric latin incantations. The demon’s strength enveloped her and felt as natural as a summer storm. It was part of him and flowed silently and beautifully as he crouched over her friend. Would his magic flow so even if his intent was to destroy? Elyse wished she would never find out.
Had she not known Azrael’s intent was to heal, Elyse would have been concerned for Samuel. She prayed Alora would not come check on her nephew anytime soon. The way the powerful demon loomed over her friend’s lanky frame and exerted his power was as bone-chilling as it was enthralling.
After heavy moments, Azrael finally stopped. The ritual was done. Movements as fluid as a feline’s, he rose to his imposing stature and nodded at the fidgeting Elyse. “He is healed.”
He had done it. Samuel was indeed breathing again. And the rosy colour in his cheeks had returned. Her friend looked better by each passing second.
Elated, she crossed the distance to the brooding demon and thew her arms around his waist. Probably later, regret would come at her enthusiastic response. But for now, she would think nothing about it.
“My sincerest gratitude, Azrael,” she mumbled into his torso. Caught by surprise, the demon faltered in his footing. He was finally moving to wrap her tightly in his embrace when a voice rang out on the other side of the veiled entrance.
“Elyse, what is happening?”
The young woman could swear her heart had stopped beating in that moment. Turning around guiltily, her brain tried to find a sensible explanation to what Alora was surely seeing. While Elyse was sure that the jovial woman would be more sympathetic to her demonic cause than Sister Ann would ever be, she doubted the fortune-teller would welcome with open arms a demon in her own home.
“Alora, I ...,” she started.
Necklaces clanking together as she ran from the entrance, Elyse was surprised to see Alora pass her and embrace her now awake nephew. Behind her, Azrael was gone. A quick glance across the room showed no sign of the red-headed demon.
Hiding an unwanted flash of regret at his abrupt departure, the girl joined the familial reunion near the bed. Samuel was upright seated and already talking endlessly like he had not been gracing death’s door only moments before. Typical of him.
“Welcome back, Samuel,” she embraced her friend with one arm, rubbing his shoulder.
“Amazing, it takes almost dying to get an embrace from you. I shall keep that in mind from now on,” the boy grinned, earning himself a glare from both Elyse and Alora, the latter whom knocked him on his head.
“You gave us quite a stare back there, young boy. Did I not repeatedly tell you to be mindful of carriages on the road?” Alora fluffed his pillows behind him, continuing her scolding. “What I say enters one ear only to go as quickly out of the other.”
Catching her gaze, the boy mischievously rolled his eyes while his aunt arranged yet another cushion behind his back, continuing her reprimand. Elyse did not need to be a seer to know Samuel was going to play the convalescent card as long as possible. Just like a tomcat, the boy loved to be pampered and spoiled.
“Well, in my defence, I do have big ears, auntie. I inherited them from you, after all.” His eyes twinkled, trying in vain to look innocent. Oh, no, you did not just go there.
“You raise them from infanthood and look how they repay you, Elyse,” Alora tsked, sighing dramatically. “Are you implying my ears are too big, young man?” The fortune-teller’s tone was deceptively soft.
Deciding wisely not to intervene, Elyse sat back and watched the two bicker. Alora could certainly talk for both of them – besides the admitted slightly big ears, Samuel had earned his big mouth from her as well.
Hearing Samuel tease his aunt brought a smile on Elyse’ face. For now, she was content to see her friend alive and well.
And for that, she was well aware she only had one to thank for.
Pulling the curtain back in place, Elyse left Samuel and his Aunt alone. Seeing those two together always awakened a bitter sweet sensation in her heart. No matter how much they would squabble, at the end of the day it was clear to see they loved each other.
Almost her entire life she had been an orphan. Yet, there was no getting used to this empty feeling in her. It was times like these the girl would search deep within her mind, hoping against hope to remember a memory, a glimpse not matter how insignificant of her own family. The incursion always ended with a headache and no result.
She could only remember a brief flash of crow’s feet blue eyes and a kind, but urgent caress on her cheek of a faceless man she knew to be her grandfather. Without even the comforting weigh of the pendant around her neck, Elyse felt a bit lost.
She wondered how it was like to have someone love you unconditionally and stand by your side no matter what. The girl feared she would never truly know.
Then, before she had any chance to scream, she was pushed to the shelves where Alora kept some of the strange paraphernalia used to impress her customers. A few objects fell to the ground, breaking. Cinnamon perfumed the air. Elyse turned to glare at the culprit.
That was not her heart skipping a beat when Azrael winked back at her. Was that her blue shawl wrapped around his neck? Opening her mouth to object, his lips descended on hers in a hungry kiss. Out of reflex, she pushed at his chest. Was it to stop him or urge him on? Heavens, she had no idea.
It did not matter. Her arms were soon grasped in one of his hands and raised above her head. The shelves moved precariously and more shattering followed. But, her mind was too busy to care. Especially now that the demon had successfully pinned her body with his, all the while not breaking contact with her lips.
Elyse felt his tongue enter her mouth and caress her own. She moaned at the spike pleasure, but panicked at the intrusion. What was his tongue doing there? No one had told her this happened in a kiss! The older girls always scoffed at the stupid questions she had asked them regarding this particular topic.
Well, who needed that lesson now? Azrael was devouring her mouth with a skill only a creature of sin could, sucking on her tongue and pressing her ever closer to his hard body. Thoughts scattered in her mind the moment he touched his pulsing mark on the nape of her neck. It felt like being splashed by a bucket of ice cold water.
The mark Sister Ann warned he had used to brand her as one does cattle. Elyse stopped the escalating kiss, a conflicting touch of shame and pleasure reddening her cheeks while she caught her breath.
At least she was not the only one. Resting his forehead on the top of her head, she could literally feel the cinnamon puffs of air from his quick pants. It was so warm by his side. So warm and nice. Before she had a chance to overanalyse her feelings, Azrael took a step back and leaned down to peck her nose.
The gentle look in the demon’s green eyes was most unsettling. Was he not supposed to establish the terms of his reward now that Samuel was well?
“I did not get to offer my goodbye last time,” he murmured, slipping into one of her hands the crutch she had dropped when he had kissed her. He moved as if to leave.
“Wait,” she stopped him from disappearing by grabbing his wrist. The demon looked down at her fingers, an intrigued spark in his green orbs. She was growing awfully familiar to touching him like this. Her fingers quickly retracted, now fiddling awkwardly by her side.
Elyse steeled herself. “What was the price?” she finally asked. There had to be one, right? The proverbial deal with the devil was never for free.
Some undefinable expression crossed his face. The temperature in the tent dropped as a hollow laugh echoed in the air. “Ah, of course, every act of kindness needs to be preceded by an ulterior motive, does it not Mistress?” The girl tried to extinguish the burst of fright upon seeing the sudden change in his demeanour, the way he let his eyes lazily move over her body, from head to toes and then back again as if she were an auctioned object which he needed to determine the worth of.
In a perverse way, it was easier to deal with this Azrael. His rare moments of tenderness never failed to leave her conflicted, a confused mass of broken loyalties and scattered emotions.
Elyse resisted the urge to cover her bossom, despite it being covered by her unflattering uniform. His intensity made her feel like she were stark naked. The demon certainly did not make it easier on her, letting his eyes linger most inappropriately.
“So?” she insisted aggravated. She tried not to tap her shoe on the ground, like Madame Tildi did so often in moments of frustration.
Azrael smirked, revealing sharp teeth. “We shall discuss it in your dreams tonight, my Mistress”. He leaned down to tuck a lock of blonde hair behind her ear. Goosebumps rose on her skin. His deceptively sugar sweet tone turned threatening: “And do not dare avoid me yet again by not sleeping, you would not like the consequences.” The next moment, he vanished as inexplicably as he had arrived, wisps of dark smoke where he once stood.
And Elyse was left to wonder why she felt guilty or why despite his cruel laugh, his eyes had held the tiniest glimmer of hurt.