Chapter Eight – Childhood Monster
"Just this once, angel," the demon Yahto drawled. He watched her from the corner of dangerous silvery eyes. "Just once."
And then bam, the last trace of edgy calm and any chance at resistance was wiped away harshly by the orb that cracked into the concrete before them and smashed it to pieces. "Aah!" Leda cried in shock, and in that moment she was stripped of all logic, of all words, pure instinct taking over instead as she hurried quickly away from the torn, smouldering stone by her feet, heart in her throat as the hot-black sparks leapt dangerously through the air towards her. All around them the demons, the hideous, muddy, twisted parasites, were howling and whooping with unrestrained laughter and she hated it.
Through the heavy rain and the darkness their bodies seemed to flicker like shadow-flames, incorporeal but still terrifying like half-formed ghosts that brushed both worlds, features smudged by blackness and rainwater. Swallowing hard, Leda made a slow turn to study them: a scraggly, twisted parody of human bodies, large, black, opaque and unnatural eyes staring back in horrific amusement, mouths grinning at her, deformed and wet and muddied from spending so long trapped beneath the surface trying desperately to writhe and claw their way out.
"Angel," they began to hiss again, sending shivers through Leda's body.
"Stay back," Yahto warned slowly, eyes unblinking beneath wet eyelashes as he stared in turn at each shifting figure of his enemy: his own kind, arms by his side and fingers twitching as though dying for any excuse for action, to rip harshly into throats. They hissed back at him wordlessly like animals with a dangerous hunger, but Yahto remained unaffected, confidently analysing even as they began to slowly creep in through the rain-drenched shadows, eager to pounce.
Leda watched the scene with a desperately pounding heart, adrenaline rushing sickeningly from the sheer primitiveness of the slow dance before her: the hunter and the hunted coiling around each other, both ready to attack and draw blood. How could she trust a demon to help her, and a pleasure demon at that, nothing but a pampered incubus? Only moments before he'd shielded her from attack, she couldn't deny it, but the savage amusement on his face made her heart ache in confusion. He was one of them; moved like one of them, grinned sadistically like one of them in anticipation of blood spill, and he'd done something horrific to Jalen, the angel now painted in his own black-laced skin. In this mad circus it would be beyond foolish to trust a fallen creature, but then . . . Did she really have any choice? Jalen wasn't here to help her.
Cold and saturated, smothered mercilessly by shadows, rock and soil cracked and shattered beneath them and the sky roaring in pained ferocity – this place didn't seem to be Earth anymore. If anything, with the poisonous black energy pumping through its veins, it reflected Hell.
"Scum," Yahto breathed between barred teeth, grinning. "Brainless scum."
And the creatures around them snarled in rage and brutal bloodlust, and lunged forward to attack.
There was doubt and hesitation and fear raging painfully inside of her, muscles twisted into almost unbearable agony, and there were so many of them, too many, but Leda still moved, ready to fight despite the futility of it all just because there was no other way. With their twisted, writhing bodies and their black, bulbous eyes, they were not just dangerous but physically disgusting too, parasitical horrors that lunged and swiped and roared barbarically as they crushed together in their frenzied onslaught.
"Get ready," Yahto breathed to her, now close beside her, and his closeness was strangely exhilarating. Leda simply nodded.
The angel held her breath as though it would stop her heart from leaping out of her mouth and gathered as much of her raw power as she could, felt it sizzling through her veins to collect at her fingertips; ducking and diving and weaving her way between the mass of shadowy bodies, lithe enough to dodge them and smack her palms into exposed legs and backs, sending electric-like shocks of angelic energy through their bodies so powerfully that they screamed. She moved through them quickly, trying hard to draw the demons away from the unconscious Jalen and the mortal child despite the nausea inside, her stomach twisted painfully in overwhelming anxiety as their fingers clawed at her skin and her hair, attempting to grasp her body and pull her down.
From the corner of her eye she saw Yahto fighting with every instinct he had, movements almost impossibly rapid and stunningly deadly as he twisted and turned, delivered a sharp blow to one face, a hard kick to the next that left a howl of pain and a shattered nose in its wake. Eyes and brain assessing every weakness and movement, and he moved with such dangerous precision, delivering blow after blow, hit after hit as though his body had been crafted for this and not simply for blind pleasure. And the hungry, satisfied grin on his face was somehow contagious as another wide eyed demon was sent sprawling across the ground beneath his feet, body flailing as it was pummelled harshly by rain.
But Leda had no time to watch and be impressed when the demons seemed to just keep coming out of the darkness, materialising around her as though the fall of one brought two more to life. She ducked and dodged and threw out her bright power in attack but somehow they followed her like a strange living wave turning in on itself and devouring its beginning. Suddenly she was once again trapped within a ring of immortal and merciless predators yearning for a taste of her. "No," she breathed in horror, her mind racing with too many numb thoughts and none of them connecting, only knowing that she was trapped and terrified and so completely exposed and vulnerable and there was nothing she could do.
She cried out in pain as one of the demons grabbed her wrist with its long, fleshy talons and dug harshly into her skin, its twisted, gruesome grinning face suddenly only inches from hers, intimidating and frightening, its breath hot and rancid against her skin. "Let go! Let go of me!" she cried, struggling hard to pull away but now that she was caught the others began to quickly close in, eager to share the prey and rip her apart mercilessly, to drink her power down. "No, stop it!" she screamed, but with every struggle and desperate movement the claws dug further into her wrist, shredding her skin, and her body became entangled in other arms, other bodies, a living prison of flesh and hot breath and grotesque bulging eyes for her to drown in.
The more she struggled the more tangled Leda became until the panic was clawing wildly at her brain and clutching painfully at her throat and all she wanted was to furiously shake them away, but she couldn't. The frustration, the terror and the helplessness; a sick rush of emotions gripped her, a blow to the stomach that left her nauseous and dizzy, a strong strike and sudden agony that she couldn't deny and it smothered everything inside of her, wrenched her organs and muscles apart from the sheer power of it and as it pulsed intensely beneath the surface of her skin like a living, writhing creature and she screamed.
And then crack!
Without warning everything around her was instantly lit up, illuminated so intensely that the demons appeared to burn agonisingly against her, their bodies so electrifyingly ablaze with black light that they hissed and moaned in bright agony and quickly scurried away. For just a moment the dark power kissed the air and then it grew, exploded outwards like a dying star, a huge orb of pure energy that burst into the darkness and viciously scalded every demon it brushed against. Their screams echoed horrifically in Leda's ears as she watched the light electrify them, dancing dangerously through the murky gloom with fire-like tendrils of bright purple light, freeing her body from their horrific touches before it stretched too thin and burst into nothingness.
Leda had frozen, arms held up defensively as all around her the twisted demons were scurrying over each other, crawling away and taking flight in their hurry to escape, gliding through the air like huge, impressive but injured birds. She blinked away the grey dots dancing before her eyes as the figures were once again swallowed up by the heavy darkness, heart racing so intensely she thought it might burst.
"Having problems, angel?"
Yahto was watching her with an infuriating smirk on his face, saturated and muddied but triumphant, agonising self-satisfied. Leda opened her mouth to speak but realised through the torrential rain that his chest was rising and falling so quickly and his breaths were so laboured, his body shaking, that it was hard to feel any anger when he was obviously in so much pain. But it didn't make any sense. That power . . . it was him? Him? How could it be him? How could a pleasure demon contain that much energy?
But, "No!" she screamed suddenly, the horror reawakened and ready to rip her apart. Because only feet behind an unsuspecting Yahto there stood one remaining demon, scalded and horrifically wide-eyed, towering above Elisabet and the unconscious angel with a disturbingly maniacal grin on his face. Yahto spun around at the scream but the demon's sword was plunging quickly through the air even as he moved, and it was aimed at Jalen's exposed throat.
Before his very eyes the golden figure seemed to crumple lifelessly as though his bones had simply melted, and the water opened up beneath him and he plummeted down and disappeared beneath the surface in less than seconds, swallowed up entirely.
Kai watched the scene with wide eyes, heart pounding in his throat, the rain still falling heavily onto his scalp and shoulders and the water grasping all around him like an angry, sucking mouth. He tried hard to calm himself but the panic seemed to be pushing at his lips with the water, forcing its way violently inside of him and he couldn't help but choke, gasping for breath, aching for rest, please, please no more.
"There's only one escape."
And then, breathing hard, almost spasmodically, aching and fatigued and unbearably dizzy, hoping against hope that his slow drowning was a nightmare, Kai suddenly knew by some painful intervention what his single chance of survival was. His instincts chose to follow.
With only jumbled, desperate thoughts in his mind he pushed away from the wall and, somehow, allowed himself to sink down heavily beneath the daunting black-shadow surface of the water, hardly knowing what horrors could have been released from Hell's broken gates and be lurking beneath. The thought alone surged fresh adrenaline through his weary body the moment that his mouth and nose and eyes were submerged in the sheer iciness.
All around him the water was beyond freezing, engulfing his vulnerable body and plucking harshly at his nerves with icy fingers. It seemed to seep into every pore, to slip behind the surface of his skin to chill and tighten every muscle, smashing into lungs, his clothes suddenly so heavy and coiled tightly around his elbows and knees so that he could barely move. The glacial water was infecting like a poison, his heart beating wildly in his throat, panic exploding in his mind as animal instinct fought hard to get his heart and brain and blood away from the extreme coldness, but he couldn't. It was either drowning here alone with nightmare bubbles bursting in his mind, or to sink down and find –
And then despite his stinging eyes he saw that dampened glow burning, drowning quickly but burning. It was beautiful: a light unquenched in the gloomy, murky water around it, ablaze despite the iciness that brushed against its skin, light fading into soft, smudged blurs as the dark water-shadows crept in. Painted into the false shape of a man and Kai watched the figure fall eerily slowly in the distance like a heavy star beaded with bubbles and plummeting to earth in all its glory only to rest alone, still burning but unseen, at the bottom of the ocean.
Kai realised that he couldn't breathe.
Ears aching, lungs burning and heavy as though crammed with their own bloody flesh, and Kai hurriedly forced himself to swim, dragging his fingers through the rainwater, urging sore muscles into movement as he followed the burning man down into the dark ravine below them. And he knew the truth: that he was swimming straight down into Hell, that Hell and its demons really truly existed, that Jalen . . . that Jalen really was an angel despite his apparent insanity, but he still couldn't bring himself to stop swimming. Some strange voice was whispering inside his head that it would be all right.
It was hard, unbearably hard, but Kai forced his way down even as the dots burst before his sore eyes, sending waves of dizziness across his brain. But with each moment the shadowy bottom of the ravine grew closer and suddenly Kai saw what looked like pillars, sunken stone columns reaching up towards him, large slabs of cracked rock appearing to shift through the murkiness of the water. He vaguely realised that they looked ancient, stained and eroded by age and wear and dirty water, half buried by soil and only clawing their way out by sheer resistance. Dilapidated temples with smashed roofs, crumbling piles of stone, eerie and lifeless surrounded by dark water, and his heart was racing in sudden panic as though it knew some secret of what this place meant.
It made no sense that there were remnants of a submerged civilisation beneath him, around him, but nothing was making sense now as something finally exploded agonisingly in his chest and Kai's mouth opened instinctively in some kind of pained scream. His lungs were unbearably burning despite the iciness and the bubbles flooded his eyes in a mad rush to the surface and then it was rushing inside, overcoming his lungs, heart aching and the water was moving around him, dragging him down and it was all so hard to believe. There was something coiled tightly around his wrist; a gripping hand? Wet fingers? But everything was a smudge across his consciousness and his aching body was caught in a strong current and Kai was fiercely pulled down between the ruins and then suddenly the water gave way in an exploding shower and he could breathe again, could taste real air again and he sucked it in more desperately than he had ever breathed before, his lungs pulsing with each new taste of oxygen.
He hit the floor. The sheer crushing weight of water was gone; now Kai was pressed against a hard, solid ground of rock, only water droplets left to splash gently against his aching, frozen body, fingers and toes numb, lips painfully cold and painted ice-blue, his whole body shivering hard as the air plucked achingly raw nerves. Finally he could breathe but Kai couldn't find the energy to move as he coughed hard, water spilling from his mouth as he retched painfully. And he closed his heavy eyes, pressed his face against the ground and simply felt it, aching and heavy but alive, heart and brain racing as he struggled to grasp onto the last threads of consciousness that kept him weaved together. His whole body felt pulverised.
"Does this make me a sinner?"
Alarmed, the words echoing in his head, Kai suddenly jerked back into reality despite how fatigued his body was. It couldn't. Those words, they couldn't . . .
"We're both sinners."
"No," he managed to gasp hoarsely, dead fingers digging painfully into the stone beneath him, body arching slightly as he attempted movement that was almost impossible. He felt so heavy, so heavy . . . had moving always been so arduous? Had breathing always been so achingly difficult? He couldn't . . . he couldn't . . . Panicked, Kai clawed at the ground, but he was so cold, freezing and trembling hard and screaming to curl up and rest because his very blood felt like ice in his veins.
Green eyes widened in nothing less than horror, heart hammering fiercely in his chest as the voice, that dreadfully familiar voice, struck a deep and hidden chord inside that made the panic explode. Kai knew the feelings of fear were instinctive, primitive and illogical, but he still couldn't push them back, not when he heard the soft footfalls behind him, when he knew that those eyes were staring down at him with contempt, knowing that he was at the complete and utter mercy of something that he had seen tearing the world apart two years ago, and now again: too many times.
"Don't speak like this."
He choked, eyes stinging, numbed lips moving wordlessly.
"Do you even know where you are? Who you are?"
"What turned you into this?"
Don't . . .
That name. His body was fatigued, frozen, curled in self-protectively like a child, his mind racing with so many primal forms of panic and terror. But that name: it brushed everything aside somehow, reawakened the fierce anger and denial that Jalen had sparked in him, and it burnt strongly inside his aching chest. Somehow Kai managed to push himself up, icy hands pressed against the stone, muscles laboriously wakening to shift his weight and then he was kneeling as though in blasphemous prayer, heart fluttering madly in his throat.
"Don't call me that," he breathed. "That's not my name."
The glowing man smirked at him, still shining brilliantly as though the sun itself had bathed him in its glory, and all around him the light was dimmed to shadows by comparison. Kai swallowed hard, his sudden defiance almost melting away as his body began to shiver spasmodically again, his eyes fixed onto the figure from his memories who he had followed blindly down here . . . to Hell. And for what reason? To escape the dreadful isolation of dying all alone? He trembled again, wet arms wrapped tightly around his own saturated body as he pushed the thoughts from his mind, scanned the area, hardly questioning just how surreal this all seemed when only the day before he had been living a normal life, if ignorance was normal.
All around them were those same decrepit buildings, no longer submerged in murky water but still ancient, crumbling ruins. Large slabs of weather-beaten rock, columns and pillars cracked and greyed, almost weary, unable to support their load anymore, broken by age. They were carved with strange twisted symbols, a dead language rotted away, shattered and crumbled, stone faces watching him with lifeless but condemning eyes. If this was Hell then it wasn't what Kai had ever imagined, images of fire and brimstone flashing across his mind, not this old and weary half-buried city.
"Disappointed?" the man said with something like amusement in his voice. He slowly ran his hand across one of the huge stone monuments, a tender caress. "This is the oldest level of Hell, but I guess Oriel's dead kingdom isn't that impressive. But let me tell you – it'll drive you just as mad as any other part of this Godforsaken place."
Kai looked away, unable to speak, unable to feel anything but numbness, something merciless clutching at his throat. As pathetic as it seemed, as many times as he'd mistreated the man with angry words, he suddenly wanted Jalen here, protecting him from this thing like he'd protected him from Ulan. A flood of emotions was surging inside of him with every word, memories breaking out from their captivity beneath the surface and threatening to overwhelm him and it all felt like some demented dream where the pieces didn't slot together yet somehow still made sense.
"Who are you?" he said quietly, fiery temper subdued by his own fears. "What were you doing up there, ripping everything apart? Why . . ." and his voice started to break, "why did you bring me here?"
"You know me."
"No I don't, I don't!" Kai cried, almost hysterical.
"And I didn't bring you here. You followed me."
"No, I −"
"Or perhaps," the man interrupted coldly, "it was Mikaili who followed me."
Kai shivered hard, still down on the ground, unable to do anything but submit to this slow torture when inside he felt unbearably nauseous and dizzy. "It wasn't," he said, eyes lowered, teeth clenched, trying and mostly failing to sound bold. He was sick of the name, sick of the troubles it brought with it; sick of the fact that they wanted to scratch away his own life as though it meant nothing, as though his family meant nothing, and find this lost person beneath the façade. "Mikaili's not real, you bastard. He not alive, he doesn't exist, and if he ever did then he's dead now, so just leave me the hell alone!"
"Shut up!" the man suddenly screamed, almost manically, and the unexpected outburst set Kai's heart racing with fresh adrenaline. He saw the wild anger and denial, the way the golden glow around him seemed to explode into violent fire that consumed him with angry flames, burning Kai's eyes mercilessly and his panic turned to sudden fear. "Don't try to trick me! Don't you dare try to trick me you self-righteous whore, you disgusting little traitor. You can't keep hiding in there forever. You're mine, Mikaili, and I'll cut your human throat and bleed you out if that's what it takes!"
"Stop it!" The fear was encompassing, smothering everything inside of Kai except for the overwhelming desire for escape. Eyes locked onto the figure warily, emotions racing sickeningly; somehow he managed to stumble up onto shaky legs and half-move, half-fall backwards away from the dangerous anger. But the blazing demon was faster and his eyes were flashing menacingly and before Kai's brain could even process what was happening there were fingers wrapped around his throat and squeezing harshly, crushing his trachea.
"Come out of there, Mikaili, you coward," the man hissed, hysteria now faded to intense fury and breath hot against the other's face. Kai stumbled back again, mouth twisted in disbelief, his hands desperately clawing at the man's intense grip but he could hardly bend his frozen fingers and for the second time found horrifically that he couldn't breathe.
"No," Kai managed to choke. "Stop . . . stop it." His back connected solidly with a large slab of stone and then he was trapped, pressed against it, grip squeezing all the tighter so that all he could do was choke and gasp for breath. His head was spinning and his pulse throbbed madly in his throat and then those eyes were staring deeply into his in horrific, twisted intimacy and . . .
Intense garnet eyes looked up at him through the darkness, burning into him, through him.
"Come out!" the man hissed again, and Kai dug his fingers into the pale burning skin, losing himself in the blurry light, the sudden memory of his dream somehow strengthening his desire for escape. He couldn't do this to him. Not him. Not after the promises, not again. And even though the jumbled thoughts didn't make any sense and his brain and eyes felt like they were slowly exploding he managed to somehow entwine their hands, bruising his own skin but able to squeeze those fingers reassuringly even as they squeezed his own vulnerable flesh and stopped him from breathing.
"D-don't," he managed to gasp, wanting only to fight back but knowing it was futile, that this burning creature was the one monster from his childhood that had never faded from his fears. But he gripped onto the fingers for what seemed a slow, painful eternity, unconsciousness painting black shadows around his vision and his lungs screaming as they were viciously starved.
And then moments later his attacker realised what Kai had done and hesitated, looked into Kai's face and despite the agony that coursed through him the boy tried hard to recall the words he had said that had put that tangible pain into Jalen, struggling to bring the ghost of Mikaili up into his eyes.
"I don't have anything to give you."
It worked. Only seconds later the hands were gone from his throat and Kai was once again gasping desperately for breath, unbearably light-headed and shaking and weak and wanting only to collapse. Instead he was held up against the rock by a forehead pressed lightly against his chest, heart racing madly, hands fiercely clutching his forearms in a strange submissive embrace. "What you do to me, Mikaili," the man choked wearily, his brightness almost blinding Kai as he fought hard to stop his abused lungs from collapsing. "All these years and I can't even smother you from my mind, and you lock it all away so easily."
"What . . . what are you −"
"He's waiting for you. He's always been waiting for you."
Kai tensed, and those fingers dug tighter into his arms as though they knew what he was thinking and punishing him for only just realising it, but he couldn't quite grasp the truth. This was . . . This was . . .
"You don't recognise me?" the man said with a small laugh. And then he held up his hands, releasing Kai, and circled them slowly before him as though displaying them for the first time, bright sparks of light leaping through the air like liquid gold dripping from his fingertips. "But then, I guess I do look a little different from before. What do you think of my new body, hmm? Does it tempt you?"
And despite the fact that they had faced each other, that they had been pressed together, that his very life had been wrapped up in the other's hands, for the first time Kai realised that through the dazzling light he recognised the face. The slow, slow recollection was more than horrific, his numbed brain finally waking, his eyes unbearably watering as he squinted against the overwhelming brightness. The face was a little darker, the eyes reflecting so much more torture, and the light almost smudged out all features, but beneath the glowing shroud he suddenly knew the face and the truth tore his heart.
"Hey, are you . . . are you all right?"
It was Olin.
Drenched black curls plastered to her forehead, eyes hauntingly blank, Elisabet sank down onto her knees beside the fallen angel almost instinctively. All around her were clumps of grey, rotting feathers, sodden and detached from the great pair of half-formed wings that were darkened by shadows and the sin growing inside of him, feeding on his purity.
Elisabet sighed gently and reached out, carefully ran her fingers across the wings despite the fact that they had no real solid form, felt the faint sparks of life brushing against her skin like weak pulses of electricity. It was pitiful to see something so tainted, to have putrid black feathers come away in her hands despite how carefully she caressed them, to see the angel's bloodless face sketched with black veins, like a spider's web trapping him within his own decaying body. And then she realised that despite the fact that the angel was still alive, that his heart was still slowly pumping black blood, his eyes were open, glassy and unblinking, vacant and almost dead like her own.
She was vaguely aware of the movement around her, of the demons and their predatory snarling, their movements, even their bloodlust that burnt beneath their skin, but the truth of what that meant didn't touch her. She didn't realise the danger she was in, or chose to ignore it; it all washed over her as though it didn't concern her, as though there was a bubble wrapped around her that stopped the demons from infiltrating any more than her vaguest senses, like some kind of hazy dream. They didn't disturb her; instead she shuffled closer to the unconscious figure, looked down on him, sprawled and shattered like a fallen Icarus, skin slowly becoming frozen from the rain, and could only feel pity and sympathy.
"Don't worry," she murmured to him, running her fingers through wet gold-peach hair, pushing it back lightly from the man's forehead. "Don't worry, you'll be okay. Everyone's okay." It was a strange knowledge that ran through her, almost instinctual but not buzzing painfully like adrenaline, more like a deeply hidden doorway opening for all the feelings to come pouring calmly out into every part of her. She knew what this man was, she knew what her brother was, she truly knew what was happening even as she clasped long, pale fingers in her own, she knew. But the truth wouldn't escape her lips, couldn't be formed into existence by mere flesh, by simple words. The truth was incorporeal and it was trapped within her body, behind her blank eyes.
"Don't worry," Elisabet soothed again, and she leant even closer to him, bent down so that her lips were against his ear and her hair fell around their faces like a dark veil. "He's okay. He's alive."
There was a sudden flicker of life in those eyes, but then, "No!" someone screamed, shattering the stillness, the horror and anguish in the voice tearing mercilessly through Elisabet's blankness so that the panic came flooding in without warning. Shaking, her head shot up and the fear twisted her mouth as she saw him: towering above her was a demon, scalded and horrifically wide-eyed with a disturbingly hysterical grin on his face, chest heaving, trembling, and mouth forming words that she could barely understand. Then somehow there was a sword and everything inside of Elisabet burst into a shower of overwhelming fear as she held up her hands defensively and through the darkness the blade came plunging down –
The blow never came. Blinking, mouth dry and chest aching, Elisabet looked up slowly in disbelief, half expecting to suddenly feel the explosion of agonizing pain, to realise that her body had been hacked into. Instead her eyes met with a dark figure crouched beside her, a pair of hands gripping both sides of the sword with shaky strength just inches above the angel's throat. She froze. The blue-haired demon was kneeling there, sword blade wrapped desperately in his hands, silent and strained. Time stretched, and the moment that the horrific crack echoed in her head again she saw the blood blossoming from between fingers, tracing red patterns down his skin, dripping slowly onto the angel's face.
Yahto grunted, gripped the blade with slippery fingers and rammed the hilt hard into the other demon's stomach, knocking him back. Elisabet watched the violence unfold with wide eyes, breaths ragged, white-knuckled fingers clinging onto Jalen's frozen form as the demons stumbled away from her, fists connecting harshly with flesh, blood streaked, the sword hacking into bone. She stared for only a moment before the eerie calmness descended again, her eyes frosting over, and her attention was drawn away from the vicious fight and back onto the broken angel.
His face was burning.
Beneath his left eye, still glassy and vacant, the pale angel skin was smouldering and Elisabet watched in something like fascination. The rain was still relentlessly falling, smothering the burns and hissing as the water touched hot skin, two red smooth plastic-like scars forming beneath pale eyelashes –
Where Yahto's blood had fallen.
Elisabet smiled slowly in understanding, leant forward over the angel even as the sounds of brutal violence continued behind her, laced her small hands in drenched peach-gold hair and brought their faces together so that she was staring straight into the glassy orbs. "Wake up," she breathed, looking past the silvery surface, past the pupils and iris, past the muscle and nerves, past flesh. "Wake up."
The angel's fear suddenly exploded inside her chest, his anxiety, his anger and his pain. They clutched at her throat and squeezed hard, seemed to crush her lungs with his sheer despair, the knowledge that echoed inside of him: how easy to fall. So, so impossibly easy to let everything slip away and stop the suffering, to surrender the self-righteousness and bathe in sin, to let go of foolish hopes and dreams and to kill . . . love? To kill love? She frowned, reached out and soothed the pain, cradled the agony in her own chest as she calmed his racing unease, washed it away with the warm reassurance that had blossomed inside the moment that Leda had come for her.
She reached down, further down, wrapped around his unconscious, his soul, and moving further down. Unable to stop, and she was entwined with him, brushed her fingers against the ground, connected, touched rock and soil and entwined it into her very being. She tied them all together with invisible string, moved further down until there was water and stone there, and through the angel she knitted them together, connected their souls with the agelessness around them, interweaving their very beings into the elements that had been ruthlessly hacked apart by the glowing figure.
Elisabet could sense his panic, the sudden burst of adrenaline within his comatose body, but she pummelled it away with warmth. "No," she breathed to him, rotten feathers pressed against her skin. "Don't fall. Don't fall. Wake up."
And then she gathered up all her strength, and pulled hard.
Behind dead eyes, Jalen screamed.
It was Olin.
"What do you think of my new body, hmm?"
Kai felt sick, the nausea crashing painfully into his stomach. Beneath the fiery glow, beneath the darkened features, he recognised the messy black hair, the large dark-rimmed eyes, and the familiar youthful face. Only days ago he had been unable to put a name to that same face: now it was burnt eternally into his mind, into his nightmares, tearing strangely at his heart.
"No," he murmured, trembling hard, frozen, exhausted.
The creature before him grinned eerily, somehow aging the body it was in, stripping away the awkward innocence and poisoning those bright, inquisitive eyes with something dreadful. "You know him?" It wasn't really a question.
"Does it please you?"
"Stop it!" Kai cried between clenched teeth, suddenly feeling unbearably trapped, wondering why he hadn't before. All around him were the ancient ruins of some dead Kingdom of Hell, above him was a lake of rainwater that had nearly frozen him to death, and the torn remains of his home, mercilessly shattered, his family slaughtered for all he knew, and only now . . . Only now, knowing that the monster from his nightmares was within the body of someone he knew, that a demon had forced its way inside to hide behind a familiar face, knowing that his nightmares could not only be relived, but that they could come for him behind a mask of blushing friendliness . . . He choked, fighting back a sob of desperation, fingers clawing at stone behind him, searching for some kind of support.
"No," Kai murmured. "Stop it. I don't . . . I can't . . . My God," he breathed, looking up at the glowing man, the demon, with sheer horror in his eyes. "Why are you doing this to me? I haven't hurt you, I don't know you. Stop torturing me!" he screamed, suddenly losing self-control, hysteria bubbling up for only a second before fading again. The man was watching him carefully, eyes darkened and unblinking beneath the glow, somehow horrific and inhuman, like huge gaping smudges staring straight through him. Kai wanted to push it all away but he couldn't, something agonising gnawing away inside of him. And then, "What did he do to you? What on earth did Mikaili do to make you hate him so much?"
A slow grin spread across the other's face, but there was something eerily unnatural about it, the dread exploding in the pit of Kai's stomach. "As self-protective as always, I see. You're so disgraceful," he spat.
Kai flinched at the words, but the adrenaline inside was rushing, roaring, heartbeat deafening, and with little logic he stepped forward and took a swipe. His fist connected heavily with flesh but there was no triumph, not when the man with Olin's face managed to grasp his arm to stop another attack, knocked Kai's body away from him harshly while digging long fingers into Kai's wrist, the pressure increasing until it felt like the bone was going to snap beneath the skin. "Stop it," Kai managed to gasp, the hot agony shooting through his nerves.
"I'll break the hand that hurts me."
"That's not −"
"You coward," he hissed. "You stupid fool. You locked yourself away in there to escape me, didn't you? But you wrapped yourself up in glass!" Grasping Kai's wrist all the tighter, he revelled in the slow shattering of the bone, the human body, the weak, weak shell. It was everything that he hated.
"No," Kai moaned lowly, struggling hard to get away, confusion and panic clutching at his insides and twisting. The light was still overwhelming but he lashed out again, smacked his left fist into a cheekbone once, and then again, but there was no visible reaction. Instead the man twisted away and grasped Kai's second wrist, both now encased mercilessly, and Kai was suddenly tugged forward, almost tripping, stumbling, his wrists yanked up hard until he was forced into a hard stare. Inches from the other's face, breathing hard, head rushing and entrapped, Kai suddenly felt everything inside of him freeze in some kind of hateful epiphany. Those eyes –
Garnet eyes looked up at him through the darkness.
The touch –
It was warm and solid and real, fingers and skin and lips.
The pain –
The unfamiliar human need grew all the stronger, reaching its roots down, deep, deep down.
He couldn't describe it. Part of him didn't want to, needed to smother it all away, to fiercely shut the door on the dream that had somehow been brought back into his consciousness, that had exploded inside his brain, that even now was gnawing away at him until he wanted to scream. This . . . this moment . . . this connection, it was familiar, it was . . . it had happened before. He knew this, he couldn't push it away; it was resting on his tongue, enwrapping his heart, shining on the surface of wide eyes, gripping his throat. His heart was racing so fiercely he thought it might burst, some horrendous sound roaring in his ears, but those fingers were still breaking his bones and his mouth was moving before he even remembered that it still existed.
Suddenly the strange, fragile realisation was smashed, the name left unformed as everything around them began to shudder. They fell apart, and Kai looked up quickly, realised that the demolished buildings around them were shaking, trembling, crumbling before his eyes, the air polluted with a thick layer of dust that stung his eyes. He coughed hard, found that the ground was no longer steady, that the walls around him were roaring as they ground together, huge chunks of soil being smashed together as the earth appeared to realign itself with just as much agonised movement as it had taken to be ripped apart.
It was like something had exploded and he looked up quickly through the rain, lips parted, heart hammering, and watched in horror as the earth began to move apart again, faster this time, crumbling and groaning and shaking, rock and soil rising and folding and cracking, crushing everything.
The Gateway had been ripped apart, the earth itself had been shattered beyond recognition, leaving a huge gaping chasm in the centre that led straight down into Hell, and suddenly Kai realised the truth. Somehow the tear was being closed. Somehow enough power had been channelled into the golden seal and was bringing both sides of it together again, dragging huge chunks of soil and stone across the rift, and the shaking was almost unbearable, wrenching at his weak stomach, everything spinning before his eyes, smashing mercilessly into his head. But the most horrific realisation was the fact that, unless he somehow got to the surface before the Gateway was closed, he would be trapped in Hell.
Desperation washed over aching muscles, the sounds around him thunderous, the groaning of strained earth digging into his skull, but he moved. For a long moment as Kai's eyes wildly looked around for an answer, an escape, hands pressed frantically against the straining walls as though to hold them back, the presence of his captor was forgotten. But then he heard, "Don't. You belong here. All angels belong here, in the end. Come to me."
Heart in his throat, Kai spun around but all words were lost as he watched the glowing man tumble down to the ground, his light extinguished the moment that consciousness crept away. "Shit," Kai groaned, eyes wide as he took in the sight: it was Olin, undeniably Olin. The bright burning light, the horrific shadowy eyes, the menacing presence, the intimidating aura were all extinguished so suddenly that it seemed impossible, its very existence wiped away as though Kai had been jerked out of an imagined dream and now left with reality. The man who had torn the world apart above him, who had dragged him down into Hell and mentally tortured him, who had mottled his wrists with undeniable bruises . . . He didn't know what to do. The walls around him were booming, soil and stone and dust peppering the ground like unnatural rain, staining the air, but . . .
Slowly, hesitantly, Kai approached.
He expected the brightness to suddenly reignite, for the pale body to be flooded with the same golden light, for those eyes to snap open and reveal all their hatred. Instead he stood for countless moments, shivering, achingly aware of the jerky convulsions beneath him, finding it hard to keep standing, heart racing, watching. Olin was motionless, dark shadows beneath his eyes, but definitely unconscious, another victim like him, and despite the obvious logic that it was probably a trap, Kai's mind was suddenly made up.
"Olin!" he called, finally stumbling over as a violent shock tore through the ground, knocking him down. Gasping, Kai pushed himself up and tried to focus, but everything was dangerously spinning, blurry before his eyes, an ominous grey creeping in around his vision. "Olin, wake up!" he cried, grasping Olin's shoulders and unceremoniously shaking him until the nausea welled up again. A large piece of soil broke off from the ceiling and smashed into the ground beside them, shattering, and Kai looked up in dismay as he realised that the ceiling was bulging inwards between the closing walls, the pressure of so many tonnes of water weighing down above it, and it was going to give way.
He only had a second.
Somehow Kai managed to grasp onto Olin, half burying himself in the other's chest, shoulders and back hunched over Olin and his arms clutched desperately around the limp body. For a moment he was simply relieved for the comfort of another person, wondering if this was the end finally, but the thought was cut short by the ceiling suddenly caving in. He braced himself, but only a moment later a great wall of heavy water came crashing down, roaring, tumbling, smashing into the soil, breaking against their bodies, engulfing them completely and quickly filling the cavern with a roaring waterfall of rainwater.
It seemed impossible to hold on, but somehow Kai managed it. Arms still entwined around Olin, their bodies pressed together, clothes drenched and stuck to skin, he managed to kick weary legs and break the surface. The water was rushing around them in a frenzied current as it once again smothered the dilapidated ruins, battering their bodies, and it was freezing, numbing Kai's skin again, plucking harshly at his nerves, lungs aching as he struggled to draw breath. And he had to breathe, because the water was filling up the room and Olin's weight was dragging him down and he knew that it would be almost impossible but that he had to kick his way to the surface of the lake if there was any chance of escape.
A sudden vicious downpour pushed them under again, and Kai's senses were drowned by blues and greens, shadowy images and explosions of bright silvery bubbles. He struggled hard not to instinctively open his mouth and swallow the water down, instead kicking hard, suddenly aware that the walls were still closing in, the groaning of soil and rock horrifically echoing dully through the water as it pressed in on them. Unable to breathe, Kai kicked hard, one arm free to cut a hazy pathway, the other wrapped around Olin's chest, fingers digging into material that kept slipping away from his grasp, eyes stinging from the salt, but everything inside of him was focussed on getting away, swimming up, up towards the blessed dim brightness.
He could hear the chasm closing up, could see the shadowy walls horrifically approaching through the murkiness, and his heart was pounding in his throat and his body was aching and he could still hear the rain pouring down onto the surface of the lake and it all seemed inescapable. He kicked hard but his body was aching and Olin was a deadweight and his lungs were suddenly agonisingly burning and he couldn't breathe, felt that he was suffocating, that he was being swallowed back down into Hell where –
"All angels belong here, in the end."
He shivered hard, head swimming, fingers loosening, unable to keep his consciousness from slipping away despite the instinctual rush to survive. His body felt removed from him, battered and exhausted, willing to slip away into the chasm and to forget everything that had happened, needing to be soothed.
But from somewhere above Kai heard a loud splash, wet movement, and the last thing he felt before the darkness washed over his eyes was a hand wrapping tightly around his bruised wrist.
"Don't fall. Don't fall. Wake up."
A/N: I'm alive, believe it or not! So sorry for my long delay, but hopefully now that I have the summer free I should be able to update more. I have really abandoned my writing unfortunately. But thanks to everyone who read and reviewed the last chapter!