Rating: Pg
Disclaimer: Mine.
Blurb: The Angel of Death has come for his souls…

It was raining again; she stuck her tongue out at the clouds and managed to catch a falling raindrop. It splattered and chilled and she raced the pelting drops down the walk, attempting to dodge the tiny pinpricks of water. The pattering of rain on the distant trees reached her ears and she stopped, quirking her head to listen.

Eventually the sprinkle became a trickle, became a downpour and she threw her arms out and spun under the outburst, letting the beads of water collect and run down her face. This is magic, she thought, breathing in the scent that only rain can have. She focused all her energy, all her mind onto the feeling of the rain dancing upon her body. She felt cleansed and renewed and wanted to sing, to dance for all to see.

Across the sky was the slightest hint of a rainbow – she could just see the reds highlighted against the dark clouds. And she wanted that moment to last forever.

"Holly? Holly, are you out here?" A voice reached her across the rain-soaked lawn. The voice belonged to a young man, who looked slightly older than Holly appeared. He was a pale youth, with flashing blue-green eyes and a mess of sandy hair.

And he was her Guardian.

Guardians, by definition, were an ageless lot; some were older than dirt, while others were newly discovered members. They guided those that had discovered the Magic in their veins, those that were Witches.

And Holly was a Witch.

She had discovered it just a month ago, on accident as she uprooted three trees in the forest using nothing but her thoughts. And the village had almost burned her, frightened as they were of the Magic.

But then Oliver, her Guardian, had come for her and taken her away from it all, and brought her to the School. After two others had tried to teach her, she was learning from him what it was to be a Witch; to live with the Magic, to know that life was never going to be the same. She would never be allowed back in her old village; they knew her there and would kill her on the spot. And finding a husband was going to be impossible; no man would marry a Witch, hated as the Magic was.

The Magic was immeasurable. It gave some the power of time, others the power of empathy. Still others could float, while others spoke tongues. It seemed to choose at random what a person could do, but it still held within itself the capacity for an infinite amount of power. It was neither good, nor evil; it just was. And so, those who used the Magic for good, like Holly and the Guardians, fought those who used the Magic for evil; a war both were doomed to fail – the Magic was forever.

Holly had been chosen by it, chosen to have the gift to move things with her mind.

"Holly." Oliver's voice came again, closer this time. She glanced down at herself, realizing what the rain had done to her dress, and slightly panicked. Instead of the neat, smooth lines of flowing violet, she found instead the gentle swoop of her figure. The material, wet, clung to every plane of her body, revealing things she never would.

A thought entered her mind and she clung to it, focusing. Every drop of water in her gown – drawn into one big bubble, right in front of her and then… She opened her eyes to find a glistening orb of water and her gown dry but for the few specks of rain that had just landed.

A footfall behind her made her spin and the orb came with, exploding around Oliver as he stopped. The water drenched his own shirt, making it cling to his chest and Holly immediately looked away, trying to hide her burning face.

And standing next to him was the one person Holly did not want to see. He was a tall, broad man by the name of Leon; the Eldest Guardian and the one entrusted to keep track of all the Witches and Guardians alike.

"You used your Magic, I see," he intoned, voice flat. Holly's face crimsoned even more. It was true; she hadn't been the most cooperative of students. But she didn't want the burden of the Magic; she simply wanted to go home and take her place in the Mater's March and find a husband. She didn't want to spend the rest of her days and nights alone, with only the other Witches to talk to.

"Yes," she muttered to her feet, aware that the rain was drenching her dress again.

"Yes, what?"

"Yes, master." Her voice remained low; quiet. Leon was one who always strictly upheld the rules, never bending to the queries of any Witch, no matter how much Magic she held. He was cruel to all, but more so to the weaker Witches; those, like Holly, who couldn't understand the complexity of it all. It didn't matter that Holly had more Magic, more power than Leon could ever dream of, it only mattered that he was the Eldest Guardian and she a lowly Witch.

His hand connected with her face and sent her flying into the mud at his feet. She didn't dare rise; his hand and possibly his switch would be waiting. Instead, she huddled to herself, feeling the mud leak between her legs and settle on her thighs. When Leon's boot twitched, she flinched, aware what damage his heavy leather footwear could do.

"Guardian Oliver was calling for you. Next time, answer." And then the feet stepped over her, catching her shoulder on the way by, but leaving her almost entirely intact.

And then the second pair of feet; those encased in soft, supple deer hide, dropped and Oliver was bent over her.

"Holly?" She rolled onto her back, squinting up at the rain clouds still hovering. Oliver's face swung into view and she allowed herself to focus on him. His face was twisted in worry; he was one of the kinder Guardians, and Holly's third so far. He was one of the youngest Guardians, but already had a reputation as one of the best and had been assigned to Holly as a last ditch effort to bring the Witch into the fold.

And it was true; Oliver had changed Holly's attitude immediately. Suddenly she didn't want to become a practicing Witch, she wanted to become the best Witch ever. And she wanted it simply because she had fallen in love with her Guardian.

This happened to be against every rule ever written, and if Leon were to find out, she would be killed and the Magic stamped out of her with his own boots. A Witch and a Guardian? It couldn't be!

It didn't seem to be, either. Oliver was so completely professional with her that she sometimes wished Leon would kill her. But then… Once in a great while, she would catch Oliver's eye, and see something she couldn't explain. And it was those 'once in a while's' that kept her learning about her Magic and how to control it.

As Holly pulled herself to a sitting position, the world swaying around her, she focused a little to hard on Oliver and he was suddenly launched across her lap. She blushed and looked away as he righted himself. Her Magic had always been temperamental and unreliable; something Oliver said, was caused by her emotions. Which she remembered simply because he had taken her hands as he said it and repeated it twice.

"Are you all right?" Oliver's voice punctured her thoughts and she nodded once, aware that there was going to be a spectacular display of colors across her face the next morning. She began to fight to get to her feet, very aware of Oliver's hand along her back as he steadied her.

Her dress was ruined – so coated in mud that she couldn't see even a splash of purple behind the earth color. But than an idea, and she focused again… When she opened her eyes there was a glob of mud in front of her, twisting and withering, attempting to make a ball. Before she could cause any more damage to anyone, she willed it back into the ground; watching it land just at her feet.

She turned, aware that Oliver was still standing right behind her and offered a sheepish smile. He was still looking down at his hands, where the mud had peeled itself off to join Holly's collection.

He didn't speak, only shook his head and started down the walk, head bent in either anger or concentration. Holly followed, her head dipping even lower.

They passed by the buildings that served as the School's training rooms, and Holly shot a confused look over her shoulder at it. Hesitant to speak, she finally found a spurt of courage.

"Oliver? Where…where are we going?"

He paused in his stride but then continued on, motioning to the darkening path in front of him as it became enveloped by the thickening trees of the Forest of Nymar. "I need to see something."

She was almost tempted to ask what, but as his pace increased; she was forced to follow closely. The Forest was filled with darkness and evil; something unexplained as the School lay just at its borders.

Oliver had led them through a number of forks; seemingly going in a winding path. It was when they finally broke through a particularly overgrown bush, that Holly saw where he had brought her. She had heard about this place, from other Witches, from other Guardians…

It was the Abavor Plain, the Plain of Conflict. Witches were brought here to strengthen their powers – but usually after an extended time at the School. A month was thought too little time to have mastered their Magic… It was a dry, broken piece of ground that had been baptized in blood – and the ground was hallowed by both sides of the Magic. It had been mutually agreed that this plot of ground was a neutral land, to be untouched by the forces of good or evil, for the land had Magic of its own.

Oliver spun on her and she shrank away, suddenly worried. "Today you will embrace your Magic." A hint of force was lining his words and Holly wanted to panic, the run. He wasn't going to let her leave until she faced what the Plains had to offer.

His hand slunk about her arm and threw her forward, out of the shelter of trees and onto the flat ground. Standing on this new position, she could see footprints pressed into the Earth, walking here and there. Those long strides looked like running – and where they ended is where the Witch must have fallen. Death? Quite possibly her fate on this bewitched piece of land.

She glanced nervously over her shoulder at Oliver, who was watching her with a serious, somber look engrained into his features. Facing the Plains, she whispered the enchantment to awaken them:

This is Land and Nothing more;

And let the Magic from its core

Awaken and twist and let it be,

What I must see, may it be free.

A shiver ran along the ground underneath her feet and she longed to throw herself off this awakening… The Magic would kill her before she could blink. And she would just be another to embrace the Earth with her blood.

But before the Plains could awaken fully, something swept her off her feet and threw her backwards. She collided with Oliver, knocking him to the ground even as she struggled to find her feet.

Glancing into the sky from her perch sprawled against Oliver's chest, she found one of the most frightening things her young eyes had ever seen.

What looked like bird wings sprung from his back, erupting in a huge display of ebony feathers. A hooded face glared down at them, the Witch and her Guardian, and clouds of smoke spilt from underneath the hood, chilling the air. Long, flowing robes wrapped themselves like second skins around his body. It was what he held in his hand that told her who this threat was; it was a long list of names, stretching on forever and forever in the one thing that everyone, even Guardians, feared.

This was the Angel of Death.

He was the collector of souls. And everyone had a soul to loose, even the Guardians. And without a soul, you were dead to the world.

This Angel was the darkest, evilest thing known to the world; he did not even discriminate between good Witches and those who were evil; he simply took and left nothing behind but a shell.

Oliver shifted suddenly crouching over her body, now splayed on the ground, shielding her from the Angel's eye. But if her name was on that list, even Oliver couldn't save her from the Angel…

"I have come," a rasping, grating voice spoke, filling the Plains, which writhed and trembled at the Angel's voice. It was at that moment that Holly closed her eyes, praying that he came for her, and not for the man in front of her. "For the Guardian, Oliver."

A building fury erupted inside of her as she watched Oliver stand, accepting his fate without so much as a quake. Willing her Magic not to fail her, she focused on Oliver and sent him tumbling across the ground, off to the side where the Angel could not find him.

And Holly stood, dress bunched in either hand, taking Oliver's place in front of the Angel.

"I will trade you for him." Her words stopped the Angel, who had begun searching for Oliver among the shadows. He turned back towards her, smoke thickening the air between them.

"You will trade what?" His voice tore the air, shredding it into so many pieces that finding breath was an arduous task.

But what would she trade? She had nothing to her name save a chest filled with linens and a silver spoon she'd rescued from the trash heaps. And the Angel of Death wasn't one to care about the riches of the world.

"My soul." The words flung themselves out of her throat before she even knew they were there. And from the depths where Oliver was lying came a startled cry.

The hooded head seemed to contemplate her proposal, and with a glance at his list, he agreed. "Your soul for his, Witch. I will be back in one cycle of the daylight star. Be here or I will take both your souls." And then his wings gave a heaving jerk and he was lost among the overhanging clouds, smoke still drifting in his wake.

Oliver appeared suddenly, running into her with the force of a man possessed. Seizing her shoulders, he shook her, sputtering at her as she struggled to release herself. "How could you? How could you do something so stupid? You are a Witch and you've sold your soul to the Angel of Death!"

Again, Holly willed him away from her and his body complied, tumbling like a rag doll into a lump of unorganized limbs at the edge of the Plains. "You don't understand," she gasped, breathe coming in heaving pants. "It was either you or me; and I wasn't going to watch you die. You are a Guardian! And I am nothing but a Witch. There will be thousands more; but there will never be another Guardian to take your place!"

Oliver arranged himself in a sitting position, still glaring, chest moving quickly in time to his breathing. Both were breathless from their encounter with the Angel; both were wondering what was to come of it.

"You are a Witch." He said it again, low and gentle.

"And there are dozens of Witches already, and more to be called! I am nothing. But there are only a certain number of Guardians; they cannot afford to loose you." She would not admit to him that she had traded for his soul because she loved him. She couldn't; it was something she would have to carry to her fast-approaching grave.

"And what will become of you?" His voice was strained and something surged within her as she listened to his smooth tone.

"I will die. It is the way of things." Without warning, her breath caught in her throat and she struggled to swallow the choking sobs.

Something gave in that field, the rules and laws forgotten as they watched one another, trying not to display their emotions openly. Holly did not want to die and Oliver did not want to admit that he cared for his Witch more than he should have.

She found herself in his arms; comforted without words by the gentle pressure his embrace surrounded her with. Time was nothing to either one as they simply lived. The Forest moved around them, the Plains drifted back into peaceful bliss, and nothing could shatter what was fast becoming the only thing her life had to offer.

Eventually the sound of wings beating the air drew them apart and they fled through the woods; Holly's skirt bunched in either hand, Oliver leading her like a gazelle bounding through the underbrush.

When they finally encountered the end of the Forest, it was to find another torrent of rain pouring on the small cluster that was the School. Oliver bounded along the path, avoiding the puddles with a grace that was born out of living for eternity. Holly followed, stumbling over her feet on occasion, willing some puddles out of her way as she tripped into them.

They flew into the training room that had been reserved for Holly that day, water following them as it drove in through the fabric covering the door. She focused, her Magic sharpened as she utilized it more and more often. She and Oliver were dry in the span of half an instant, and she banished the water outside.

She didn't want to turn away from the window – Oliver, now being back amongst the School and the power of Leon would not react as he had in the Forest. He would harden himself against her. She would just have to make due until the Angel came for her, and then everything would cease to be. Holly, the Witch, would be nothing more than a soul in the Angel's hold.

The rain continued to blanket the Earth, and she watched it, fascinated. Something about the steady motion of the droplets soothed what remained of her rational train of thought. Oliver was making busy noises across the room, sounds that were made simply to be doing something.

"What are we going to do?" Her voice cut the air like a blade, splintering the oppressive silence like shards of glass.

"What?" He was confused and angry and there was a hint of an almost sadness tagging to his words.

"I have less than a day to be alive. What are we going to do? I'm not going to sleep; and there's no way you could justify a lesson under these conditions."

She turned to find him bent over the desk, shoulders tense and tight with retained stress. "I don't know," he finally said. Papers fluttered to the desk unheeded, and Oliver slowly collapsed upon himself. Holly hurried to his side, hands following the familiar paths of his arms, his back, learning him through touch instead of by sight.

He was crouched over the ground, face buried in his hands. "I can't loose you," he said and Holly allowed a trilling question to race through her head. She didn't know what he meant.

Hesitantly, she slipped to the floor next to him, sliding her arms around his shoulders, reveling in the feel of human contact. For, ever since she had been discovered as having the Magic, people would not touch her. Even other Witches were distant; Guardians were forbidden from touching their Witches in anything but punishment.

Their fugitive embrace in the Forest and these gentle caresses were being stored away to be poured over before she faced the Angel, before she lost her life. It was all she had; that and the futile knowledge that she was a Witch.

Oliver shifted under her hands, and she watched with an innocent sort of concentration as muscles bunched and stretched under her exploring fingers. Even before she discovered she had the Magic, she had not touched a man, even a boy. That was to come after the Mater's March, where she would have found a prospective match, one to live with until the Angel came at the end of their days.

She had been preparing, that day, in the clutch of trees outside the village for her final step into womanhood. She needed to gather needles of pine for satchels burned on her wedding night. But then she had focused too hard on a luscious apple tree; it had flown into two others, uprooting the whole mess. Villagers had swarmed the thicket, thinking of animal attacks and angry mobs, not of a scared girl clutching a basket of pine, staring at the destruction in front of her.

And they had panicked; her father demanding that she be burned to destroy the evil; her mother wanting her death by drowning to cleanse the body for burial. Neither had happened, of course, for a gentle faced man on a dark stallion had come for her and taken her away.

And now she was staring at his back as he muttered to himself, a concoction of prayers and chants used to speak to the Magic. It was believed that contact could be attained with enough meditation. Holly thought it useless; even if you could channel the Magic, what good would it do? You would still be tainted to the world if they caught the smallest hint of Magic around you.

Without words, they sat until the glow globes ignited, signaling the ending of daylight. Holly rose, sweeping out her skirts. Something about the School was bringing back too many memories and she was upset to realize that not all of them were bad. Some reminded her of the other Witches she'd encountered, and one dealt with the strength of her power as she shifted a building under Oliver's tutorage.

Every time that her mind rebelled against the thought of death, she simply had to glance at Oliver's form to know that she'd done the right thing. She watched the clouds part through the door, silent as they separated to reveal the glowing blue-gold night star, surrounded by its children in the inky blackness of night. The rain was still dripping from the trees in the distance and she felt soothed by the familiar noise.

A scrape of boots behind her and she turned to find Oliver leaning against the leg of the desk behind him, staring at her with too-bright eyes. "They won't save you."

Confusion took hold. "Who? Who won't save me?"

"The Spirits of Magic. They say that you made your decision and they must honor it. The power of the Angel of Death is too much, and… And they won't help you. You'll be gone by this time tomorrow and they don't care."

His voice seemed to have lost its emotion; it was flat like unmoving pond water. It tasted to her of pain and sorrow and anger. She wanted it feel what he was feeling; but instead only calm overtook her. Oliver was going to be saved for another day and that's all she wanted of the world.

"It's the way of things," she heard her voice say, its inflections familiar to her ears. She couldn't remember forming the words, and they felt like strangers in the enclosed space. "I saved the one thing in my world that was ever good and my duty has been finished. I am content."

He didn't seem to be content, however, as he kicked to his feet, pacing towards her with a mad gleam in his eye. "How can you be content with death? I am losing a Witch, the fight is losing a Witch, and you care nothing what this means? What about those you leave behind?"

Holly felt her face twist into a mask of confusion. "Who am I leaving behind that hasn't been left behind before? The Witches have all seen death; even I in my time here have seen death! And you – you have lost Witches as well! Were you not just teaching me the legends of those who have come before and fallen to the fight? You blame me for the decisions that cannot be changed."

He was standing in front of her now, the windowsill digging into the backs of her knees. Even with the look of anger pressed into his face, she was not frightened. She could toss him away like a rind of fruit. And with her coming death, she would suffer none of the punishments.

"You have potential and you're throwing it away to save someone who will fall to the Angel in the future, despite what you have done today."

"How do you know? You are a Guardian; you could last forever. And potential? I barely call myself a Witch. What you are failing to see is what I have saved."

The daylight star was beginning to crack the looming darkness and she felt panic rise in her throat as it lighted the plains and contours of Oliver's face, still bedecked in worry. "What you have saved isn't worth what you have sacrificed!" He was yelling now, and Holly felt surprise and curiosity overtake her calm exterior. Never, not even when she willed another Witch into the pond, had Oliver raised his voice to her.

"Why are you so angry? What about my death is causing you so much anguish?"

He didn't seem to be able to answer, his jaw working but no sound spilling forth. Tired of his ranting, she stepped away, sliding out the door and into the awakening daylight.

Its gentle warmth, so different from the cold gray skies of yester-light, was comforting in it's own way. She felt the dew crunch under her feet in the crisp grasses that grew tenfold in the School's bounds. The sound of footfalls behind her made her pause and she watched the dancing sunlight scatter itself through the trees on the edges of the Forest.

"I don't want you to fall now; not to this. Not for me." Oliver stopped just behind her, his voice suddenly calm. There was the hint of unshed tears; something that would always be that way. Guardians, as immortals, were unable to shed tears.

"I made this decision. And I fall without pain; can't you simply support the choice I have made? There are so many other Witches to come that could not become all that they may without you to guide them. I am one among many, while you are one among few. Someone will come, in the passing days, with an unexplored amount of Magic at her fingertips and you will train her as you trained me. And she will not let you down; she will bring glory to her Guardian's name. And you'll help the fight more than I ever could. There will be others, another someday soon, with my gift."

He stepped in front of her and Holly focused on meeting his eyes.

"My life was nothing special; not for this fight, not for you, not for anyone. But I used that to save yours – and that made it special. Just…just…"

His face looked like he had lost his path in the world. "What do you mean you are nothing? You are everything. Even before you sacrificed yourself, you meant more – " He stopped himself, and if Guardians had the power, there would have been a rose-red glow along his chiseled cheek. His hand came up to trace her jaw, following it to her chin, skirting upwards to press his fingertips against her lips.

A swirl of emotion – something new for the Witch – shot down her spine, burrowing into her gut. And she knew then that he did love her, in his way. But she would never hear the words from his lips. There was too much at stake, not just rules and laws, but facts of life that included the emotions of a human heart.

"And even so, I have made the decision and nothing short of my passing before I meet the Angel will change it. Let me go; whatever you think; just let it go. I am dead to you now."

His fingers disappeared from her lips, only to be replaced by his own lips, pressed to hers in a quick motion that froze her to the spot. As he pulled away, his hands found hers, entwining the fingers into a mess of digits. Having never been courted, his actions were new to her. The kiss still burned along her lips and she tried to taste them, to savor whatever souvenirs Oliver had left behind. "I can't…"

"You can. Just…just promise me that you won't…you won't forget me. I don't want to be forgotten."

"I promise. Every Witch that I ever meet will learn your name and you shall become a beacon to all." His hands tugged at hers and she fell into his embrace, feeling the morning chill replaced with something deeper, something warmer. "I don't want to lose you…but I know nothing could stop the Angel; not even…" He stopped, arms tightening. Holly became aware of footsteps behind her, heavy ones made of leather and anger and cruelty.

"What is this?" Leon's voice broke the serenity of the dawn and Holly tore herself away from Oliver, spinning on the tall Guardian. Fear slipped down her throat like a block of ice, coating her thoughts in the hazy fog that comes from being frightened. "My most trusted Guardian and a Witch? This is impossible! I have never seen such a disgusting display in…ever!"

Holly felt a slip of courage blossom in her stomach, awakened by the knowledge that whatever was to come from Leon's wrath could not match the promise she had made to the Angel. "It is not his fault, Guardian Leon. It was I who…" She trailed off, not sure how to describe what had happened between herself and her Guardian.

"Has she bewitched you, Oliver?" His voice was mocking, so filled with anger that Holly shook off her fear of him. She would not stand for Oliver to have to face his fury, when it was her death that had put him in so much trouble.

"I…I… She hasn't." Oliver sputtered under Leon's gaze, heavy and filled with the heat of anger.

"Then you admit to touching a Witch voluntarily?" Holly felt boiling hatred burn away the final traces of dread concerning Leon's rage.

"It was not him. It was I. Do not blame Oli – Guardian Oliver – for something that I am responsible for."

Leon turned his gaze to her. "You dare to speak without being spoken to?" he asked, his arm coiling back to strike. But she was tired of it, and she willed him perched in the tree behind him. And there he flew, settling into the crook of the tree with a squeaking gasp.

The enormity of what she had done hit her and she had the urge to laugh – but then the sound of wings reached her ears and she felt the swooping settling of morbid curiosity settle over her emotions like a well-worn glove, worn so close to the surface that she couldn't make out where it stopped and she began. She wondered, for a brief and unsettling second, what it was like to die.

Oliver was still frozen behind her, watching Leon as he tried to free himself from the tree's picker branches that were caught in his robes. Wondering if her Magic could do it, she willed him to freeze there and not move until she was dead. She felt a smirk overtake her face as the Guardian halted his frantic motions.

Her Guardian spun on her, eyes wide. "What was that for? When he is free, you will never hear the end of it. He'll beat you until the Magic is draining from your body!"

Her eyes turned to meet his, and she saw the shallow haze reflected in his stare. "Not if I'm not alive." She turned away, eyeing the Forest with a renewed sense of panic. "How am I to find the Plains again?"

"I shall lead you." She heard the familiar set of stubbornness stitch themselves into his words and she gave a nod.

"If you are willing. But I want you to leave me then. Will you promise?"

He didn't answer as he led her towards the Forest. Their progress, passed in silence, jumped so quickly that Holly found herself facing the Plains before she'd even realized that she was following her Guardian.

"Here. I – " He began, but the Witch held up a finger to silence him. She wanted to tell him how she felt, but her tongue felt as though it had passed into the outer realm as she faced the man she loved.

"Just…just know that you are the best Guardian a Witch could ever wish for. And I… No; just go." Her tone was dismissive and harsh even to her ears. But she willed him to know what she was feeling and for an instant she thought she had succeeded, for his face lit itself from within, a grin tugging at his mouth. But then the emotion disappeared in a wave of sober, mind-numbing pain that overtook his handsome features.

"Good-bye, Holly. May your Magic grow strong." She felt her heart halt at his farewell, for it was the normal parting between those who knew of the Magic. He was sending her off as though he was sure he was going to see her again.

And then he filtered back amongst the trees. And she turned to face the sound of beating wings, eyes closed against the arrival of her Angel.

:fin chapter un: