02|Demon With a Halo
He went to sleep with green eyes, and when he woke at dawn to the howling of wolves, his left eye was golden. His left eye flashed at him in the looking-glass, pale as the wink of a ghost. And he immediately forgot all about the threat of the witches- staring at himself in disgusted awe. His eye was an eerie orange-gold, the shade of fire that always smolders. Gods above!
Dante’s blood quickened as a shock of memories pulsed through him: an emporium of blood and starlight; lost in a shadowed forest of deadly black roses; the quieted bitterness of the kiss of torture; the insatiable craving of blood and a horribly accidental murder; a forlorn romance for a monster once as handsome as he now was ugly; a milky, precious locket framed in bloody garnets.
If every sorrow had its source, then, Dante marveled, whose horrors was he remembering? But of course! It was hers, the angel-witch.
Fuck! He was held prisoner in a hellish coven! Chained atop a tower, like the fairy tales of ancient lore, of all things!
Witches. He shuddered in remembrance of the tales told of the creatures. They could claw out your soul and keep it for a macabre trophy, they could pluck out your eyes and put them in their pockets, or they could cast black magic spells that will turn your glance into a curse to wither beauty and cripple babies!
My body clenched and rippled with tension, eager to escape from this wretched coven, even if I died seeking freedom. No!
I was a demon with a halo, one who fought for the populace, not as a soldier, but as an assassin: only ever killing the evil. Although a debonair killer raised me under his tutelage, though I often did the devil’s work and was a connoisseur of the most sublime heists imaginable, the devil had lost a lot of greedy kings at my blade.
The devil may have trained me, but I mocked him every day with my heroism. I was never scared of hell because I was born and forged in flames.
And so I would survive the Witches’ torture, even if it condemned me to, ever afterward, be tormented by nightmares.
A demon with a halo residing in hell’s coven eternally- how fitting.
“So, you’ve killed Tristella,” her mother said by way of greeting. Ivelisse flicked her wrists, iron nails shooting out like monsters newly emerged from their shadows. She cracked her jaw, and her fangs descended. “You disappoint me, Chimera.”
The High Witch looked at her daughter in the way one might regard an insect. “Don’t forget that the mantra I have taught you is the very key to power: magic abounds only with the ceaseless honing of emotions you grapple with in the deep dark. Remember, the predator that prowls under your skin has a master. Say it, who is your master?” Chimera remained silent. So her mother threw her against the stone wall, watching stoically as her daughter slid down to the dusty wooden floors.
“Who is your master?” Again, Chimera remained silent even as dust clung to her lashes, and one long strand of cobweb anchored her there to the floor and spun away into the shadows.
“WHO?” Maniacal now, Ivelisse’s carefully plotted control broke. In one swift attack, she raked her nails down her daughter’s face, not hard enough to scar but to bleed. “Who?” Trying to console herself by dreaming up grim deaths for her mother come the grand day she mastered the courage to commit matricide, Chimera acquiesced in a bitter whisper, “You.”
The instant she acknowledged her mother’s authority, Ivelisse’s cold black eyes turned flat with a reptilian look of utter disinterest, and she shooed Chimera away.
“Oh, and Chimera?” Chimera refused to allow shame to burn her cheeks and instead stood tense as she turned. “Yes, mother?”
“It was very wicked of you to wear the human. But, you may keep him as your pet if it pleases you, my lovely.” Ivelisse stood grandly in her brocade high-neck leather gown embroidered with raven’s feathers. “Remember this kindness, and do not ever dare to infringe on my authority again. Or I will kill you.”
Evening dawned and supper passed, but just as hunger began to twist my stomach, the barred tower door yawned open. And in swaggered the angel-witch bearing a basket of treats, her hair like living moonlight, her eyes like burnished gold set aflame with an ochrous hue. “Enjoying your cage, my pet,” she drawled, setting the basket just out of the range my metal bindings allowed me to stretch.
Wanting to strangle her, but knowing she held my survival in her hands, I sighed- resigned to play her game of cat and mouse. Little could she fathom that I was not the mouse. “It’s cozy,” I said unconvincingly. My captor snorted, “As a coffin.”
Unclasping her scarlet cloak, she removed her hood, and I saw for the first time the red marks that ran across her temple to her chin. Are those claw marks?!
Her crescent-shaped eyebrows inclined as she saw me staring at her. But her languid eyelashes of velvet-black only blinked once slowly, as if to invite my scrutiny. I coughed, suddenly uncomfortable with the knowledge that she had been tortured by her sistren, possibly because of me. “You’re... hurt.”
The left half of her red lips pulled into an asymmetrical grin, “What, my sweetest, do I not wear pain well?”
Extending my manacles, I ran a hand through my ruffled locks of hair. “Pain, yes. Torture, no,” I replied with a genuine, if a bit worried, smile. What, caring for my warden and kidnapper? How blasphemous!
But slowly, the gorgeous witch spoke in an ironic whisper, and for a second, her hair started to writhe, the ivory tendrils beckoning. “You are not the only prisoner here, Dante. I, too, have a cage, but mine is merely gilded.” Together, cages trap us? As she spoke, she gazed up into my eyes in a way that made me feel as if she was slipping in through them once again, not to wear me, but to flow into my blood and to heat my veins from the inside.
"Dante,” she purred in her saccharine velvet voice, gracing me with a genuine smile, a full and lovely one that dazzled me even as her fangs gleamed. She slid her sculpted, shapely figure atop me, straddling me while she cupped my chin, and I noticed for the first time how elfin her features were. From her ears, whorled like a sea nymph’s over her prominent cheekbones; her eyes, inferno gold, and rhapsody-orange framed by languorous kohl lashes that fluttered as she pressed her lips to mine.
Brushing her platinum hair akin to a loom of molten stars to rest cascading down her ethereal neck, I tasted her blossom soft, sweet as nectar lips. “You are a songbird,” I sighed in delight, my eyelids heavy- my soul light as gossamer. But then, her powers fell across her face like shadows, her teeth lengthening to fangs, her eyes glowing with a supernatural hue.
The reverie shattered, and I saw: she had caught me in a spider’s web crafted of her silky hair, anchoring me with only a single thread- a kiss.
“Get away,” I screamed, seeing the beautiful witch for what she was. Not a songbird, but a bird of prey. A monstrous bird of prey devouring my will after shoving her memories into me for no reason but to inflict and spread her misery. But she only laughed, as if my fear amused her.
“Come now, my pet. We are the story of the curse and the kiss, the demon and the boy. It’s a love story with dancing and death in it, and songbirds and shadows and souls entwined together like lovers.” Her eyes, dark with memories, and canted elvishly upward at the outer corners, sparkled with gallows humor.
“You’ll grow a lonely warrior in this tower, wishing you were a prince so your princess would come to save you.” The ebony tint to her peaches and cream, alabaster complexion darkened, and her face twisted- eclipsed by the shadows she worshiped, that in return, exalted her coven with unearthly powers.
“But you’ll find that the only royalty are us, villains: one daughter of darkness and night cozy in her soft bed of blood, another muse of nightmares afraid of his sins.” Those tilted golden cat-eyes of hers gave me a sly, vulpine look as she arched a brow. “There are no heroes in Kórinthos. Don’t ever strive to be one if you desire to survive the coming war, Dante.”
Using one leather booted foot, she gently pushed the open basket my way until it was a mere inch from my grasp. “Survive, my sweetest pet, and you won’t have to live as a prisoner, isolated in this tower.”