Chapter 7

Luke walked down the familiar street, bowing respectfully at the mound where he had buried the bodies in earlier. His feet plodded down the street and he found himself in front of a nearby blacksmith. The blonde haired angel stepped in and stood in the centre of the small smithy, snapping his fingers. Nothing happened. "Bah," Luke told the weapons as he picked up a flint and lit the greasy candle placed on a makeshift iron stand. The little flame danced to life, lighting up the black burnt walls. Weapons, in various stages of completion, hung from the walls. He picked up a long blade and studied it with a practised eye.


What are you doing? A horrified voice asked.


Doing what I should be doing. A new voice answered. Luke paused, remembering suddenly his newfound caution, and suddenly became aware of how deadly the steel in his hands was. The pommel slipped from his suddenly slack fingers, but the angel managed to recover himself in time and tighten his hold. A half-remembered conversation with his Mistress, many moons ago, came into mind. Ailune had told him about where most of her angels came from – many had once been living, and had been exemplary beacons of their race. Becoming luminous beings had pushed that past life deep into the recesses of their minds.


Can it be possible, in light of my severed connection for me to regain my lost memories? What was I then? Luke asked himself. He studied the blade with renewed interest. Blurry figments came upon him. He took a few practised swings, hearing the blade's song as it sliced through the air. It was definitely not a master sword, his memories informed him, but it was more than capable of slicing many a goblin's head off.


A protector of life, a guardian against evil. Came the quiet answer. Luke chuckled to himself. "That sounds like my job now actually," He told the empty smithy. A thought made him stop in mid-swing. What was the Death Angel, before he became one? He thought. He focussed his thoughts on the sword. With their respective auras waning, he didn't feel as repulsed of the Death Angel as he had been before. Is that why I have suddenly taken a liking to teasing him? He asked himself. He pondered the question for a moment, before shaking his head in disgust. Emptying his mind of all questions, which seemed strangely unanswerable, he picked out a few more weapons, another blade, a bow and a crossbow, not being sure what his companion preferred, and exited, but not before uttering a prayer for the owner and his family.


He found his companion's chosen shelter easily enough, for it was the only house with lights piercing out of the settling gloom. "The elder's home." Luke muttered to himself, inferring from the ornate designs and well tended garden. "Now why am I not surprised."


He entered the abode, his weapons clanging loudly against the narrow door frame as he did so.


He stopped at the parlour, taking in its décor. The floor was lacquered wood, and richly brown. A wall mirror was affixed to one of the white washed walls, and beside it, a narrow but long end-table stood. A black vase laden with drooping flowers stood at one end. Luke examined the vase, a note was under it. A terse sentence was spidered on it. "Bear yourself to the dining room." It said.


"If I can find it." Luke murmured as he dropped his weapons on the floor with a loud clatter. He dubiously eyed the shut doors arrayed in front of him. His reflection caught his eye, and informed him how stained his once carefully maintained white robe had become. Luke smoothed down his robe, and rubbed ineffectually at a stain. The stain did not budge. Luke heaved a sigh. His stomach rumbled in agreement. "All right. We'll take care of you first." He stepped out of the parlour and tried each of the doors.


"You took your time," Lyle said the moment Luke opened the door, he had finally gotten it correct after the fifth try. "For our dinner tonight, we'll have bread, bread and bread."


The dining room, made for a large family, felt strange with only the two inside. Luke gazed at the walls, the family portraits adorning them gazed back at him. Swallowing, the blond haired man sat down at the rosewood table, directly opposite his counterpart.


"We are in august company here." Lyle said, holding his arms out, as though to welcome the portraits to dinner. He swept an arm at the table. "Poor fare we have here, but the company more than makes up for it."


Luke speared the Death Angel with a look. His only response was an arched eyebrow, the emerald eyes shining in amusement. Their eyes locked. It held for many moments until a low rumble broke it. Luke slapped a hand over his stomach. He had forgotten that he had bodily requirements, so absorbed was he by the events of today. "Thanks." He murmured as he started to attack his food hungrily. Across him, his companion delicately picked at his food, pausing now and then wipe his long fingers on his napkin.


"We have much to talk about," Lyle said when he noticed his companion's eating place slow. "But I believe you are exhausted, what with your needless exertions of the day..."


"Burying the dead is not a needless exertion."


The Death Angel waved a dismissive hand. "Their souls have long departed, their life force spent. There is no need to bury the discarded husks that remain. You are only making it more difficult for the scavengers. But more of it tomorrow," Lyle said, raising a hand to forestall Luke's reply. "I have set a room for you at the second storey. You may rest there."


"You are so kind," Luke said coldly. "I do not let favours go unreturned." He was silent for a moment, thinking of what to repay Death with. He suddenly remembered seeing gossamer threads hanging tenaciously onto the long black strands when they had parted. "Did you manage to completely rid your tresses of those webs?"


The Death Angel gave him a haughty look. "I do not require the aid of anyone from the Temple of Ailune."


"I beg your pardon! Did not someone require my aid in getting himself free from his nest?"


The pale cheeks of his companion flushed. "I bid you good night." Lyle said, as he rose, gathering the plates as he did so.


"Let me help you get them all off."


"You do not need to trouble yourself." Came the terse reply.


"I said it just now. I do not let favours go unreturned." Luke shot back, his patience fraying. "There will be more inconvenience for you if you refuse my help." He gave the Death Angel one of his own glares. His friends at Empyrean would be surprised at the knowledge that Luke had the capacity to do thus.


The glare's recipient flushed again. "Take a look at it then." He hissed as he sat down again stiffly.


Luke gazed heavenward. "Do not be to tense," he exclaimed. "Do you not trust me?" He plucked at the remnants of the web. "The task will go easier if you were to free your hair from its bonds." He suggested.


"I do not trust you, Child of Ailune." Lyle confirmed, but he reached behind and loosened the tie holding his braid together and tossed his head, freeing his long black hair.


Luke reached out, aiming to grasp the nearest trace of web, but found his hand missing and stroking the black silken strands lightly instead. He snatched his hand back, mortified.


"Well." Lyle demanded, his voice tighter than usual.


Luke coughed behind his fist. "All right. I'll try not to make it hurt." He forced his eyes to focus on the stiffening white strands marring the perfectness of the black and started to pluck them out carefully. He found himself wincing as he came across an unruly lock, a result of his efforts to free the Death Angel.


"It's done." Luke declared, after nearly half an hour of careful plucking. He poked about the long black strands, telling himself sternly that this was required, that he needed to check if the job was indeed done, but nonetheless he found himself unconsciously taking note of their softness. He stepped away a little reluctantly.


"Return to your room. I will clean up the place." Lyle said the moment Luke backed away. He pushed the chair back, nearly hitting Luke and stalked off.


"That's gratitude!" Luke exclaimed, jumping out of the way. He took the other exit and found himself in the main hallway again. He climbed up the stairs, hearing the solid thumps he made on the wood. His alloted room was found easily, for it was the only one in the second storey which was lit. Luke turned the solid wood doorknob and entered the room, and was confronted with another mirror. "I need a bath," Luke said to his reflection. Angels were not supposed to get hot and sweaty. And smelly too. He added mentally. Losing his connection with Ailune had its quirks, but it definitely had its drawbacks. I wonder what Lyle thinks of his newfound freedom.


"Not that he will answer me though," he told his reflection again. Still, he found himself feeling curious about Lyle, the first (and he hoped the last) Death Angel he had ever met personally. He dug in the wardrobe and found some suitable clothes. As he took them out, he wondered what the dark angels of the Abyss did when they weren't out and about collecting souls. Did they compose songs and poems like his friends? Or did they sit around boasting about their exploits in reaping souls? Luke padded out of the room, looking for the bathroom. He hadn't studied furnishings of other houses closely, but felt that the elder's house was slightly too well furnished. No doubt a close relationship with the King. Luke decided as he studied the lush carpets covering the lacquered wood panels in the corridor.


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Lyle entered the parlour, his chores finally done. He would have preferred to retire, but wanted to investigate his companion's less than stealthy entrance an hour ago. Lo! Weapons? A brow lifted in amusement. I wonder what happened to our holier-than-thou white angel. He bent and picked a blade. Shabby. He decided, as he heard the blade's song. I suppose we do not have much of a choice. He tried the other blade. It was decidedly worse. The quality of village smithys. Lyle sniffed. He nudged the crossbow with his foot. Who in the world is going to use that? Definitely not me. He missed his long sword and gauntlets. The Abyss had never seemed so distant and unreachable. He suppressed a shiver and fingered the bow thoughtfully. His death aura was diminishing fast. A cold but protective shell, it held him fast against the pains of the world, and he didn't know how long he could last without it. He heard a door click behind him. Good. He has finally finished his bath. He'll most likely be turning in soon then. Lyle was looking forward to solitude. After all, it had been his most constant and true companion, both in the Abyss and the world.


A cold, shivering Luke rushed back to his room, accidentally slamming the door in the process. The bath water had been extremely cold. In fact, Luke suspected it was just half a degree from solidifying. "Brrr." He hissed through clenched teeth as he hugged himself tightly. Another drawback of losing my powers. Luke thought as he jumped into the bed, burying himself under the blankets. He felt his aching muscles unwind as he lay snug in his bed. "Aches didn't matter in the Empyrean." He told himself. But it felt strangely good. Back in the Empyrean, he and his peers could have a cross continent run in a day and still feel fresh and fine. "Such strange sensations." He mused as he wriggled his toes. "I could really get used to this." He felt a pang of guilt at occupying the private chambers of someone, who was most likely dead, but forced it aside. "It is necessary. It would be difficult for us to last the night outside" He reminded himself, yawning. He paused to savour the sensation. The sensation of exhaustion. Another feeling came over him, and it took him some time to identify it. "Sleepiness..." He murmured, finally identifying it as his heavy eyelids closed.


I do not believe it. Lyle thought indignantly as he rummaged through the lady of the house's toilette. No, I cannot believe it. How can a civilised house not have decent shampoo? He sat on the floor, depressed. Fire had been carrying his supplies. He idly picked up a delicate glass bottle. "Wild berry extract with lime." He read aloud. "Who in the world could come up with such a flavour?" He put the bottle back with disgust. He searched through again, deciding to lower his standards this time. He picked up another bottle, somewhat plainer than the first. "Honey Lemon." He read. He hefted the bottle in his left hand. "I suppose you'll have to do." With that, he rose gracefully and made his way to the bathroom.


Lyle had always taken a pleasure in baths unlike his colleagues, and had travelled far and wide into the world during his spare time in the quest for the most exotic scented oils and lotions. But the bottle sitting at the edge of the tub was hardly exotic. The Death Angel took a cautious sniff. Barely passable. He decided. He sank deeper into the tub, revelling in the warmth as the heated water melted the day's exertions. He hid a smirk as he lathered the shampoo onto his long black hair. He had 'accidentally' neglected to inform his companion about this bathroom. The only one with heated water. He sighed in bliss as he massaged his head. The weakening of his death aura made the sensations all the more acute. He was beginning to wash off the lather when something pinged in his senses. While Luke had lost all of his heightened senses, Lyle found that his senses (in all areas except death) had instead grown stronger with the weakening of his aura.


He sat straight up from the tub, the sudden motion causing some of the water to slosh out. There was danger, and it was near. Too near. He was out of the tub before he realised it, grabbing a robe and pulling it about him, tying the ceinture hastily about his waist.


He whipped open Luke's door. "Luke! Enemies!" He yelled. Without waiting for a reply, he ran into the parlour, where he had placed the weapons neatly on the end-table. There was a loud scratching sound at the door. A terrified whinny came from behind the house. Lyle backed away from the door, sword in hand, and bumped into something warm.


"Hey!" Luke said. He peered from behind Lyle's shoulder. "What's going on?" He paused. "Nice scent though. Hmm... smells like honey. Attracting bees?"


In the heat of the moment, Lyle forgot to throw Luke another of his death glares. There was a bang, and the door shuddered from the impact. Luke reached forward, brushing past the Death Angel, and picked up a sword. He spared a glance at Lyle. "Midnight bath?"


"None of your business." Lyle snapped through gritted teeth. He shivered a little. He was starting to feel cold.


Luke spared another sidelong glance at his companion, taking more of his companion in. Both eyebrows went up. "Had a change of heart?"


Lyle blinked at the smirking blonde man, and looked down at himself. He was wearing a pristine white bathing robe. The blade almost fell from his hands. Lyle opened his mouth, but found himself rendered speechless. A whinny from within distracted Luke from firing off another barb.


Luke arched an eyebrow. "You brought the horse in?"


"The elder had a nice stable. I believe it secure enough to hold for the moment." Lyle hissed angrily.


The door shuddered again. Luke spread out his feet, falling easily into a combat stance. He was glad that he had been too tired to change before falling asleep. The tunic gave him a larger range of movement than any sleeping robe could. He twirled his sword expertly about his hand and waited.


"I do not think we're dealing with normal enemies here," Lyle cautioned as he took his place beside Luke, holding his sword before him.


The door shuddered again. It was on the verge of imploding. A panel cracked open, and an arm came through and slapped about the door, dirty nails scratching the painted wood. The owner of the arm groaned.


The undead! A voice in Luke's head exclaimed.


There was a loud crack as the door broke away from its hinges. The zombie stood before the two, groaning as he lolled his head, listless eyes studying the two living beings in front of him. Another head appeared behind the lead zombie, and another, and another.


Luke did not wait. Howling a battle cry, one which he could swear he had never heard of before, he charged the zombies.


They are not your normal foe. The strange voice started even before Luke had begun his swing. How can you kill something which is already dead? Luke asked the voice. He brought his sword down hard, the blade cleaved through rotting flesh and struck bone. Luke hacked at the arm, and severed it at the fourth chop. Without magic, the voice continued, the only way to stop an undead is to cut it down. Cut it to shreds. Until it can no longer pose a threat. Images from the bakery flowed into Luke's mind as he slashed at the zombies. The narrow parlour did not allow him to fully extend his sword, but it also did not allow the zombies to attack him all at once. There was a smash as one of the windows shattered. More groans filled the air. "What are you doing?" Luke yelled at the Death Angel as he parried a blow with his blade.


Lyle stood where he was, rooted to the spot. Strange disturbing memories tugged at him, and he unconsciously tightened his grip on the pommel. He saw a well-dressed merchant approach from the corner of his eye, arms outstretched. He felt, more than saw, the raised arm, sensing the sharp nails bent to scratch and tear, and whirled around, bringing his sword up. Rotting flesh collided with the hard blade, the former splattering to the ground. The arm dangled, its humerus bone partially severed. The force from the impact caused the Death Angel to stagger a little, but he recovered fast and dived to the right. The zombie moaned. Not due to pain, but due to its failure of laying low its prey. It brought up its remaining arm, but it was already falling to the floor. The Death Angel had neatly slicing the rotting torso in the middle. Coagulated blood oozed slowly out, but the zombie was far from finished. It dragged its body after the Death Angel, pausing occasionally to raise its arm, as though in askance. Lyle ignored it and started after the next zombie. A quick snap of the wrist, and the decapitated body wandered aimlessly about, having lost its control centre. Its head, once belonging to a pretty lady, rolled about, mouth wide in a soundless groan.


There was another crash to the side. Lyle turned, and saw more zombies fighting their way in, pushing each other out of the way in their eagerness to get at the two. Thumps from the back of the house informed him that more were trying to get in through the kitchen. "We cannot hold them!" He shouted over to Luke, who was busy holding the main door.


"Any suggestions then?" Luke shouted breathlessly back. He narrowly missed being scratched by a female's long nails. He swung his sword, and a hand fell to the floor. He felt tugs at his pants, and knew the zombies he had brought down before were trying to get at him. He jumped back a step, barely missing being bitten on his toe.


"The stable! We need to get Sora out too!" Lyle shouted back as he hacked at the femur of an approaching zombie, his blade slicing her stained yellow dress into shreds. The zombie went down, but continued crawling towards him on her elbows. Persistent, aren't you? Lyle thought. He ran his blade across her back, slicing through the spinal column. He jumped over the wriggling form and ran off towards the stable.


Sora? Luke would have asked, but the Death Angel was already heading out, cutting down a few zombies on the way. Luke disengaged as best as he could, grabbing the crossbow and bow from the end table as he ran. Dismembered hands and fingers seized at his pants, forcing Luke to pause for a moment to pry as many off as he could.


The Death Angel was already beside the stricken horse by the time Luke arrived, stroking the beast in an effort to calm it.


"Can we ride it?" Luke asked, bending down to pry off a particularly stubborn hand.


"I don't think..." Lyle began, but the crashing of stable doors stopped him. "It appears that we do not have much of a choice." He said stiffly. Patting the horse's mane, he was about to mount the horse when Luke stopped him.


"Don't you think I should be in front?"


Lyle stared at him. "Why?" He snapped.


"Well... I can protect you better if I were in front."


Lyle bristled. "I do not need, nor require, your protection, great Child of Ailune. Besides, I daresay that you do not know the way."


Luke blinked. The Death Angel was correct. Fenris had always been his navigator. "Oh..." He stepped back, letting Lyle swing himself up with ease. Luke came up behind him, a little less gracefully. "I've never rode bareback on a horse before." He murmured. The groans of the zombies were getting louder. Shuffling sounds behind him told him that the ones in the house had followed them in.


"Just hang on tight." Lyle snapped as he urged the draft horse to move faster. He directed the horse in the direction of the stable doors. A trio of zombies greeted them. Luke readied his sword.


I should have sat in front. Luke thought as he swung the blade at the zombies as they passed. A zombie stretched its arms out and raked its nails at the horse. The beast gave a shrill whinny, and suddenly bolted. Luke locked his hands around his companion's waist tightly, feeling his heart jump. He had nearly fallen off.


The horse thundered down the street, jumping over the overturned carts. A few zombies were on the street, and started hungrily towards them, but the horse was moving too fast, and quickly whipped past them.


The houses flashed past them, and they were out of the village before long. It left the main road and ran into the forest. Trees flew past, their branches stiff and hard, and seemed to be reaching out for them like how the zombies had. Luke felt them tear at his tunic and hunkered, trying to make himself smaller. Adrenaline soon wore off and his tiredness caught up with him. In a moment, Luke was lost in the rhythmic beating of hooves.


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"Easy, easy," Lyle was saying when Luke raised his head up. He had unconsciously buried his head into his companion's back, soapsuds notwithstanding.


"Where are we?" Luke asked as he sat straight up. It was dark all about them, but he could hear the soft bubbling of a nearby stream.


"Near the Karen Brook, I would hazard," Lyle answered. He was speaking softly, and Luke felt compelled to follow in tone.


"Do you think we have escaped them?"


"Not likely, but Sora will not bring us further."


It was then that Luke discovered that the horse was breathing raggedly. He leant a little to the side and noticed foam on the horse's mouth. Lyle slid off the horse just a second before it collapsed.


"Oof." Luke cried. He jumped off the horse immediately.


The dark angel knelt down beside it, running a finger gently along the latest scratch. Blood flowed out profusely from the long and wicked scratch.


"How is it?" Luke asked, straining to see. The trees strangled the moonlight. He glanced at Lyle, wondering how the Death Angel could see in such poor light.


"She will not last the night." Lyle proclaimed. He rose and walked to the brook, hugging his arms as he did so, feeling hollow. Luke unstrapped the ranged weapons from his back and sat down heavily beside the dying horse. He looked about him, expecting to see both a Death Angel and an Angel of Life appear.


"We should get her some medicine," Luke was saying when Lyle interrupted him.


Lyle turned slightly. "Take her as you will, Narati. Life must give way to death, as it always should."


Luke blinked. A Death Angel? He looked around, but did not see any dark form. "Where..." He started.


"You cannot see them?" Lyle asked, his voice cold and dead.


"No." Luke felt surprised when he heard the bitterness in his tone.


The draft horse gave a sigh, shuddered, and lay still.


Lyle sank into the grass, feeling their chill on his legs. "They should not smell us out here." He said, studying the eddies in the brook, feeling his damp hair heavy on his back.


"Lyle..." Luke started.


The Death Angel whirled on him. "I'm Death's chief Inquisitor." He snarled.


"Lyle..." Luke said again. He took a few hesitant steps towards his companion, but stopped. He felt the wind, cold against his chest, he looked down, and found his tunic wet. "The cold will be the death of you." He muttered. It'll probably be the death of me too. Luke mentally added as he suppressed a shiver. He sat down beside the Death Angel. The wind howled through the trees, causing their leaves to rustle loudly. Luke shivered, and felt the slender form beside him do the same. He cleared his throat. "Lyle..." He started. He nudged the prone form when Lyle didn't answer. "We need to..." Luke trailed off. He had no idea how he was going to broach his idea. He felt Lyle shiver again. "Look here," he began again, somewhat lamely. "The night is cold." He stopped again. "Ungh!" He cried finally, and reached out with an arm, pulling the slender form close to him.


"What are you doing?" The surprised Death Angel snapped, pulling away.


"I don't want you falling sick," Luke said, tightening his grip. "Pneumonia. Have you heard of it? It'll be the death of you."


"Do not be so presumptuous as to think that you can protect me, Child of Ailune," the Death Angel hissed. He put out his hands and tried to shove Luke away. "What do you think you are? Some kind of knight? A paladin perhaps?" Lyle snapped when the stronger being refused to relinquish his hold.


Luke gritted his teeth. "Do this as a favour to yourself. I'm enjoying this as much as you." He held the Death Angel tight against his chest.


Lyle did not move. He felt his companion's warmth flowing into him, and shivered a little. He felt the strong arms tighten about him in response. He lay stiffly within the warm cocoon the blonde angel had created with his arms.