We stood at the edge—where light escaped the dense tree line. Leo tugged at the leather and bone necklace hanging in the hollow of his throat. My medallion was constructed of black silk cord and silver metal. Henry’s was made of gold chain and clear glass.
Henry stood behind me with his right hand on my shoulder and his left around my arm. Leo stood on my right like he was getting ready to run on to a rugby field.
“Leo,” I cleared my throat. “thank you for every day of my life.” Henry pulled away, but I grabbed his hand and kept him close.
Leo slid his hands on both sides of my face and kissed me quickly. “You go, I go.” I nodded in agreement.
“Henry, you can still turn back. I’ll look for you when I’m done.”
“No, this is where I’m supposed to be.” I grabbed Henry around the waist and squeezed him hard. Taking a deep breath across his chest, the pheromones in his skin ignited all my senses. A magnetic spark leaped from my fingers as I touched his face.
“No way. Is that coming from your skin?” Henry grabbed at my fingers, milking them for answers.
“Are you ready to go inside?” I took a step toward the light.
Leo called out. “Now!” Henry spun me around, dropping me on the ground. I looked up in time to see them both run into the light without me.
I picked myself up from the pine needles and dirt and darted after them. “You sons-of-bitches!”
The first thing I noticed inside the White was the reverent quiet. Silence filled the white-on-white space. Leo stood frozen in time like a statue. Henry was nowhere to be found.
Panic filled my mind.
“Henry!” The sound of an owl flying overhead filled my ears. Then I saw him. “Holy hell, what is this?” Henry turned, showing me the full width of his feathery white wings.
“I can see you, Alerie, I can see everything.” Henry picked a few stray pine needles from my hair and ran his hands over my face wiping away the dirt.
His face, his body, everything about him shifted. He looked too perfect, and it hurt deep in my soul to stare at him.
“This doesn’t make any sense,” I whispered, turning to Leo. “What happened to him?”
“Leo’s fine. He’s in the Yolk waiting for us.”
“But I was only a few seconds behind you?”
“Time is not measured here. Without planets to light the day and cover the night in darkness. Time doesn’t exist as you understand.”
“But you understand here?”
“I’m of this place. No harm will come to you here.” Henry did but didn’t look like himself. His face looked hardened and changed. I panicked.
“Pax! Pax!” I screamed in my mind, but there was no response.
“You don’t need your demon. In fact, you will never need your demon again.” Henry put out his hand and coiled his wings behind him. “Thank you for saving me.” He kissed my hand. His warm lips sizzled on my skin. “I would have missed my chance if I doubted you. I love you too. I should have said these words, but the man that lives beyond this space does not trust love.”
“I haven’t given you any reason to trust me.”
“My life didn’t prepare me for you. The veil of ignorance between life and death is removed for me. Experience gained from prior lives may help my current one.”
“Is Leo fighting on his own?” I looked at the statue standing beside me.
“No, but we should join the others. Follow me.” Henry walked into the white space in front of us. I put my hand out and saw it disappear. I took a deep breath and followed after him.
The space I entered was white but edged by a golden panel. Three angels stood off to my left. Henry walked toward the m with his arms open wide. They greeted him with hugs and praise.
Out of the corner of my eye, a large smear of color flew at my torso. I fell backward onto the ground. Looking up, I found a massive white wolf standing over me. It’s paw barely fit on my chest. The wolf shook its fur vigorously and stood on two legs. Leo stood over me, naked and laughing.
“Oh my God, what is going on? Henry is an angel, and you change into your wolf at will.”
“Seems that way. What do you turn into?” Leo looked me up and down.
“Nothing, so far.”
“Really?” Leo dropped to the ground. Before he hit the dirt, his hands changed to paws, and his body followed after. He ran around the area, buzzing past the group of angels talking to Henry.
The four turned to look at me. Henry waved me over to the group. “Alerie, we need to draw our prayers on your skin.”
I stood in the middle of the gathering and tried not to look at the angels directly. They were beautiful at first glance, but their heads turned 360 degrees, and they all wore four faces. The faces looking at me were smiling and polite, but if I squinted my eyes, I could see snarls and hate on the other three.
“You have the sight.” One angelic form commented. I nodded yes and looked away. “Here, look upon me now. Sorry, we didn’t realize.” Their faces turned even more magnificent than before.
“Thank you, but I don’t want you to hide because of my fear.”
“To be a hunter of vile things changes you into something hideous. I don’t look upon my own image for the fear it would instill. Let me carve my prayer on your soul. It will put you at ease.” The angel waived its hand across my chest. All fear left my mind.
The second and third angelic figures imparted me with strength and wisdom. The last was Henry. He pulled a dagger from his side and cut a line on his hand. He motioned for my hand and did the same. Crushing his blood into mine, he began to speak.
“I impart all that I know of battle to this soul. May your life be eternal, your mind sharp, and your aim true. All that I possess, I share now with you.” Gasps and looks of shock came from the other angels.
“What did you just do?”
Henry smiled. “Now, we are linked. All that I possess is yours.” I pulled myself up to kiss him. It was like pressing my face to a flame, but as he wrapped himself around me, the fire subsided, leaving behind exquisite lust.
“Look down.” The ground was gone. Clouds were all that remained.
“How high are we?”
“Time, space, distances, your physical body is not in this place.”
“That’s right. I trained for this concept.”
“Leave all your beauty and love with me. When I drop you, grab onto your deepest darkest beast and kill everything in your path. Can you do that for me?”
“You won’t remember me ugly and monstrous?” I thought back to my fable and the soft black fur and the shiny silver weapons. I thought to Pax and his ominous black wings and articulated tail.
“No, I won’t. You won’t think of me with four faces and wings of fire?”
“No.” Henry smiled. The heat from his wings burned into my skin. The outcry of metal-on-metal tore through the air as his gaze spun in all directions.
“If you do not commit to this fully, know they will kill us all.” Henry’s voice was deep and menacing, changed by the flames.
I closed my eyes and focused on my wolf.
“When I drop you, the door will open. Demons will pour out from every crevice. Kill them all. Run forward toward the Grove. I will follow behind you.” The hot clutch of his arms released. Cold open-air took my body as I assembled my monster.
Massive weight filled my mind as pitch-black wings filled the air at my sides. The lift caught just as I neared the ground. White-hot flames shot out before me as my wolf let loose a blood-curdling scream.
No beauty or love remained inside me. I surrendered it all in the air above.
White flames from deep inside my chest cleared the middle of the Yolk while the angels flew two by two at my sides. Charred bits of demon flesh rolled in the hot air beneath me. Leo ran the edges picking off stragglers.
My clawed feet moved as gracefully as my fleshy human fingers. My tail moved like a thumb, swiping at the ground, pushing demon material into the center of my path. Leo, covered in black ash, was hard to see on the ground. His bright white eyes looked up at me as we traveled toward the Grove.
A hulking shadow filled the sky. I turned to avoid it and came to an abrupt stop inside an empty space. The image of my body returned to human flesh. I swam in shimmery gelatinous goo.
“There is no air. There is only a flame. A white flame engulfed the shimmery material. It slopped to the ground and burnt the demon horde that gathered below.
My wolf let out another screech as my wings returned.
I could see Leo approaching a thick grove of trees and an army of gigantic wolves waiting to hunt in the distance.
Leo’s hulking wolf reached the tree line releasing the army into the Yolk. I darted ahead, bathing the demon horde gathered at the entrance to the White in flames.
At my sides, the Powers flew between the wolves and picked off the demon stragglers. Their heads swiveled in all directions while they cut down the demons with silver blades and fiery wings. The wolves’ bit through the bodies of the smaller demons like they were made of licorice candy.
A new dark shadow covered half of the battlefield. I traveled up higher to get a good look. Dousing the enormous floating beast with flames proved ineffective.
“Swords,” I yelled.
“Let the beast touch you, Little Worm.” Came from a quiet voice in the back of my mind. “Let it touch you.”
I flew close to the dark shape and thought of the fields of my family home at dusk. The purple sky above and the tall grass blowing in the wind below. The happy sounds of a large group eating dinner—silverware tinkling against the gold-rimmed plates we only use for holidays. Glass goblets of chilled wine kissed by glossy red lips clinking between friends.
And then it grabbed me.
The room it showed me was vast and contained books for as far as my eye could see. A handsome man sat reading by a fireplace—one empty chair beside him. Clothed in a beautiful burgundy silk dress with a long train and high heel shoes. I felt incredibly powerful. The sound the shoes made on the polished black floor was an exact copy of the sound my heels made on Henry’s wood floor.
“Swords,” I whispered.
The image from my bedtime stories came to life. The massive sword appeared in my hand as my dress ripped apart at the seams revealing tufts of deep black fur.
I reached the man at the fireplace, raised my sword, and took off his head in one fluid motion. The books on the shelves behind me began to bleed. I let my wolf scream.
“Fire,” I called. The room ignited in cleansing white-hot flames.
The battlefield was empty of demon life when I returned. Carcasses were pushed to the sides of the field. I made a pass along the right and the left to reduce the piles to white ash.
The angels stood near the White barrier and watched the wolves of the Grove play in the charred remains. I took one last leap into the sky and let my massive wings unfurl in the wind. Dropping down to the battlefield floor, I let my hulking form rest.
Gathering my wolf under my arm and my human skin like a sweater, I cut a slit in the belly of my ugly beast. The bright light of the Yolk dissolved my monster. I raised my hand to block the sun and saw Henry waiting for me.
Leo ran up on all fours and morphed into his human form leaving behind a thin veil of steam. Henry pulled a cloth from the air and flung it at Leo, who quickly wiped off his face and chest before jogging inside the White.
“Do you have another towel for me?” I asked, running my hands down my bare stomach.
Henry smiled, “I prefer you naked. Let me look at you.” I stood in the bright light long enough to make the other angels blush.
I nodded my head toward the White. “Let’s go home.”