I’m running toward the Demons with my gun out in front of me. I smack into an invisible wall of tar, completely destabilized by its thick sledge melting into my skin sinking into my bones and sinew. It fills my lungs with its bile, clogging my heartbeat, poisoning my brain matter. I drop to my knees. My hands keep me from collapsing but my arms brutally shake as the pressure builds. I can hardly breathe, incapable of withstanding the force as their Net barrels its weight upon me.
I look up between my bangs.
Two demons stand twenty feet before me. Each face is arranged differently from the other. The left one has a single eye protruding from the center of its face. Red and white skin blotch the makeup of its hide, sewn together with thick black stitches.
The other has a triangle for a head with only black teeth for a mouth. There is an abundance of muscle and might beneath its opaque skin.
“You stupid little man.” Commander chides me in a harsh whisper as she comes up beside me. She taps her staff on the floor and the weight of the Net shoves off me. I can finally breathe and I nearly collapse.
I look up the length of her navy robe and as I am now connected to the Source, I can make out her weakened Soul. I shake my head, “Commander, you can’t fight them.”
“And your little gun can?” She nods her head toward them. “They are aware of us now.”
They stare at us, expressionless and silent. But it isn’t long until they turn from us and in unison, lower to their knees.
Coming down the lane of cars, an enormously sized man calmly struts toward us. With his hands in the pockets of tan linen pants and a white open silk shirt, he grins wolfishly.
“Erelim Fallen Elder Dion.” Commander greets. “I should have known. Ned betrayed us by your doing.”
“Now why would you presume such a thing, Rystar?”
The detestation between the two is more palpable than an underpaid hooker. Not that I’ve ever underpaid. Or used a hooker.
“He used a private number on the plane. Secrets do not exist in my cabal.”
Dion shrugs with a wild smile.
Commander points her staff, “You will not take her from me, Dion. My forces are moving in and they will be here momentarily.”
“Who are you speaking to?” He inquires humorously. “I will not harm you, in honor of Tymician but do not make me subdue you and injure your pride. We both know no matter your numbers, if I desire to take this girl, she will be mine.”
He points to his Demon warriors and with the simple decree, they move as puppets. The triangle shaped head lifts Kyla into its bulbous arms. I lurch forward but Commander latches onto my shoulder.
Flapping wings and a shadow blocking the ray of the sun intercede for only a moment before a body slams into the one-eyed dolt. Vaul spins with the Demon, his brown and gold wings tucked up behind him as they roll with the speed of his assault. His sword delves into the skin of the creature’s back but it does little damage. Their skin is thick like ice. He snaps to his feet, flapping his wings and gaining some distance, spitting on the ground, holding out his long sword. “Dion. It’s been awhile.”
Dion doesn’t appear to be happy, leaning against the back end of a car, “Not long enough, old man. How have you survived?”
Commander leaves the staff standing tall beside me as she steps forward. Triangle Head puts Kyla back upon the ground to face her. He pulls back a high-powered fist but Commander is about tact and speed. As long as she doesn’t get hit by his weight, she will be able to last a round or two but still, it’s pushing it. Her Light is so close to the edge that the simplest spark can end it.
It happens then. The hit. So powerful, it strikes her in the face. I watch as she rolls across the ground and lies several feet from her opponent. She doesn’t move at first. I step toward her, willing to heal what little I can but the moment I’m three steps away from the staff the weight of the Net consumes me and I struggle to get back to safety. “Commander!”
She shifts. Blood soaks her elbow, her brow, and her lips.
Fallen only bleed when the wound is intentional and when they are dying, both of which applies to her.
As an Angel, I never took the time to contemplate Fallen problems or theorize their genetic makeup. But living with the Gatekeepers over the course of two weeks I’ve come to realize the reason that God made them so different from us. It wasn’t out of cruelty as so many believe. It wasn’t out of spite or retribution.
God must have known that Fallen would be fighting some dangerous beasts. So he took away their heartbeats so they wouldn’t know fear. He took away their blood, so they wouldn’t know pain. And he took away their breath so they wouldn’t know fatigue or hunger.
He made them the perfect warrior.
Commander struggles to get to her feet. She makes no sound, no cry of pain. Her braid comes undone and her waist length hair unfurls around her. She is truly beautiful. I wonder how I’ve never noticed it.
Triangle Head comes up to her, lifting a powerful fist ready to finish her.
Dion straightens, “Enough.” He barks an order and the Demon instantly shuts down like a switch has been flipped. “Return to Sheol, Rystar. Your Soul has had enough.”
She sits up, licking the blood from her lip. “My mission is not through.”
He struts toward her, looking down his nose as he stops at her feet. “Is this how you wish to die?”
“My will is stronger than this.” Blood smears her face and hands. The cloak she wears is torn and mutilated. She holds out her hand and her staff flies to her palm.
I drop to my knees, gasping for air.
“I know your purpose, Dion. I have seen it since the first day I met you. The reason you and Lucius never got along is because you are too much alike. I will not hand her over to you.” She grasps ahold of his ankle with her free hand and looks up at him with a malicious grin. “Even if I must kill us all.”
My eyes widen and the fear I had felt before escalates.
That was it, wasn’t it, Kyla? That was why you needed to go. Did you see this? The lingering suspicion that if Commander failed to save you, she would kill you?
Panic makes Dion rash as he fastens a massive hand around her neck, grasping hard, “Release me, Desna. Stop this curse!”
“It’s too late.” She whimpers and she lifts her hand away. Black markings appear on his clothes and they only grow. They twist and turn, exposing a writing long since forgotten. It travels up his thigh, slowly as it reaches his belly. He gaps at it, unable to form words and I know without a doubt, if he fears it, I should fear it.
My eyes slip to find Kyla. I’m surprised she hasn’t done anything. She usually reacts by now but she is calm, quiet and lays still on the ground, unperturbed by the actions around her. The Triangle creature stands not a few feet from her. Vaul and the one eyed Demon continue to do battle upon the other cars in the parking lot, ignorant to the death that is inevitably about to come. This is the end of my life and Kyla is peaceful, thus making my heart slow and tranquil. I smile at her.
What a confusing girl.
The Demons begin to scream. Their black teeth expose as their mouth pulls back to let out a piercing wail and incredibly painful. The creature grips his head, his snow-white hands digging into the points of his triangle shaped skull attempting to claw out the terrible agony that dwells inside.
Vaul flaps his wings and drops to the floor aside Kyla as his opponent falls to the ground. The demon rolls on his side, curling into a tight ball, unable to withstand the horrible distress that is building inside of him.
Dion and Commander, who I think I’ve finally learned is named Desna, turn to look at their misery. It’s within that moment their bodies disintegrate, starting from the legs and rising up till their screams fade and their ashes gather to the floor only to blow away in an unfelt breeze.
The thick wall of tar that settled upon my chest vanishes. I feel instead a warmth, a fire breathing inside me, as if it is rekindling the Light I’ve lost. I close my eyes, loving and admiring the sensation, desiring only more. Such a feeling is like entering Heaven’s doors, or sitting before God.
It’s a perfect sunrise.
When I open my eyes again, I’m not too sure the sight before me is real. It feels like a dream. Like all my prayers have come true. I cannot speak. I cannot move. I stare dumbfounded and do not dare to blink.
Transcending Erelim Elder Ariel stands in front of me.
Bare feet, white silk pajamas, and straight blond hair; to any stranger she is simply a pretty woman lost in the parking lot. But for me, my whole world comes to a screeching halt and all I can do is observe every single part of her. From the tips of her perfectly trimmed nails to the rosy color of her cheeks, every inch is wondrous.
The rust color of her chapped lips, smiles. It’s the smile that makes me believe I’m in my daydream. Ariel never looked at me like that. She’s laughed, yes, I’ve been able to make her happy but I’ve never been able to make her look at me with love shining in her sea-green eyes.
“Erelim Ariel.” Vaul whispers enchanted and he drops to his knee, folding his fists tight and pressing them to the ground.
Desna hollers, “Please get away from here! I’m going to--”
Ariel turns to her slowly. “Do not fret further, Desna. Your Soul is secure.”
We all turn to Dion. The writing on his body has vanished, like it never was. And Dion who should be pleased by her life saving appearance, seems only bothered by it.
Ariel holds out her thin pale hand toward Desna, “Won’t you greet me? It’s been so long since I’ve seen a friend.”
Densa is uncertain and keeps searching Dion’s body for any form of the curse. She slowly gets to her feet, but she’s weak and her Light flickers. Limping, she makes her way over but does not take Ariel’s outstretched hand. She lowers to her knees, bowing. Ariel smiles adoringly. She places her hand upon Desna’s head.
Desna takes a shocking breath in. I watch as every wound upon Desna’s face closes and heals. The swelling dissipates and within moments, Desna’s Soul rekindles and begins to shine whole. Within such little time, Ariel heals what takes normal doctor hours and refreshing Light that would normally take days. I’d forgotten how amazing Ariel was.
Tears spring to my eyes. I’m positive she’ll be able to save Kyla now.
Desna latches onto Ariel’s hand and kisses her palm, “Thank you, Siyadtak.”
Ariel lifts her gaze. “Dion, my lord.”
Dion stiffens upon her attention and with slight difficulty, he bows his head with fingertips pressed to his forehead. “It is good to see you, Ariel. You are more beautiful than I remember. I have faith now, Earth will survive this coming war. I must be off.” He glances longingly at Kyla but does nothing else and disappears into the Dust.
Ariel giggles slightly. “He must be up to something. I have never scared him so.”
My brows knit watching her. She’s so different from what I remember. Everything about her is off. She’s enjoyable and pleasing. There isn’t a callus bone in her body. What happened while she was away? Why is she acting like she cares?
Ariel steps in front of Vaul touching his face lovingly. “You have survived so long. You are blessed, good sir.”
Why won’t she rest her fingertips on my face? Don’t I mean anything? Or am I still far beneath her? I won’t reach out; I won’t whisper her name. I have gone beyond my pride and prayed for her help and now that she’s here, she ignores me. I’m a cockroach at her feet. I recall her last set of words to me, the reproach and abhorrence in her face and I’m disgusted with myself.
Her footsteps come before me. I stare at the ground with my fists clenched tight. I can feel her gaze rest on top of my head but I will not look up and meet her orbs. I bow, as the others bowed before her. Lowering my head to the ground and pressing my tight knit fists to the cement. It’s the first time I’ve ever given her the respect she’s deserved and it’s perhaps the only time I’ve not felt it.
She scoffs but I hear the smile upon her lips, “Since when does my protégé bow to anyone?”
I struggle to withhold emotion from my throat. I’m angry, happy, sad, desperate. None of these I want her to know. “I know my place, your grace.”
For so long I believed I was better than everyone around me. I was a gifted healer, a far cry than the Angels that followed Ariel with their speeches on loyalty and dedication. They could do nothing when war broke out into the human clans. They do mundane and worthless strides to help ease human suffering but they were no different than the human class. I was the only one capable of reducing Ariel’s load. So many came to her to help, expecting miracles and marvels: the line was endless. She was careless to their woes but forced to aid them by the will of God. I took on the responsibilities. I was only four hundred and fifty years old but I was capable of assisting an Erelim.
I didn’t realize that I was doing so very little in the scheme of things. Traveling as I have been, running from the Darkness, from Angels and Fallen alike, what was life like for a creature as incredible as her? I never thought of life outside the guild. I did not think much of the Fallen or of the Angels that lived nearby. All that existed to me was the humans we protected and her.
Ariel kneels down before me. I stiffen in fear, keeping my eyes down. What words could she say? After so many years?
Her hand lifts and the touch on my cheek forces my gaze to finally meet her own. “I never wanted you to know your place, Alexander. I loved you just the way you were.” She strokes the thin hairs on my chin, a thumb traveling the length of my scar.
I can feel her Soul slip into mine as gentle as a lover climbs into bed. She caresses and soothes, repairing the damage of the last two weeks, running for my life. She is healing me. So swiftly and powerfully, it’s like a drug lapping at my veins filling me to the brink of wonderful insanity.
I grip her hand pulling her away, ending the process abruptly, shocking her. “No. Please, save your healing for Kyla.” I gesture to the motionless woman lying thirty feet from where we sit. She lays forgotten on the concrete in the center lane of the parking lot, quiet, protesting none.
Ariel glances toward her, “Kyla? This is the woman you’ve been beseeching me to save?” She meets my gaze, confused how she could know such a thing. She tightens her fingers around my hand. “I heard your prayers. You woke me and so the least I can do is answer it. Let me meet her.”