Flowers that die
A broken promiseAnd a broken sky-
…I remember never knowing anything quite as terrifying as the eyes staring back at me. I had never been more helpless—not in life, not in the afterlife. My wings were immobile and my only weapon was out of reach. I was a fallen angel and this—
This was a demon.
I remember what he said. He grinned. Demons have a lot of sharp teeth, I noticed. They have a lot of teeth and they're all sharp. Uh-huh. "I wouldn't try and reach for that again, Reaper."
"Not Reaper," I said. What I meant, I'm not sure anymore.
The demon's grin, if anything, grew wider. Looking into those red eyes, I knew what it knew—once the Reaper, always the Reaper. I may not have liked it, but I wasn't really in a position to argue. I knew. Once the Reaper, always the Reaper.
It was Daron who spoke next. Daron, sweet Daron, the only one of us who had never done anything worth the fall. He was Creation; he was only a dark angel because he worked so closely with Sidya. He'd chosen the title for himself: dark. Daron struggled to sit up, and I remember being surprised because the demon waited politely for him to sit up. This thing was amused by me, but actually respected Daron. Weird.
His words were carefully chosen. He didn't ask why we'd fallen, what any of us had done to deserve this. "Why," he asked slowly. "Are we here?" Here—why were we here, of all places?
The demon smiled at him. The answer was chilling. "You are here to save demonkind."
Save demonkind? Was this part of God's master plan? Because I'd never thought, before then, that God had in his master plan the angels of Death and Creation saving all demonkind. Or part of demonkind. Or any demonkind.
But hey, I've been wrong before.
I remember that the demon refused to elaborate further on its nefarious plot to enslave Daron and myself into saving demonkind. At the time, I had no idea if Daron and I would be enslaved, or if the demon's plot was indeed nefarious, or if the demon even had a plot. But I was a bit on the panicky side.
The demon disappeared, leaving Daron and me to wonder quietly what in hell was going on. We didn't ask each other. Daron just looked over at me and asked, "How are you feeling?"
I grunted my response, unwilling to put the effort into speaking. He nodded. I think the world was making perfect sense to him, right then. But of course it did. He was Daron, a master of yin and yang, zen, yen, everything. Don't even try to tell me that yen is money. I don't care. I was jealous of him. Jealous! At a time like that. I was jealous that his voice didn't tremble when he spoke, I was jealous that the demon liked him better than it liked me. I was jealous that he understood when I was ready to just give up and die.
I remember that Daron and I were both very quiet when the demon reappeared, with several more demons following behind him. And I remember my smug feelings of triumph as the demons picked the two of us up, and Daron whimpered when I did not.
-watch after the sinking stars
and promise to keep them well
never let them see your scars
or let them know we fell-
…I remember that when we were carried into the demons' big cave, the fuzzy sense of worry I'd had coming in was replaced by a deep, gut-wrenching fear that seemed to replace my throat with a block of lead. It wasn't bad. At least that way I couldn't scream.
We were on a ledge, the kind you see in adventure movies, where they have the hero all tied up and on parade in front of the cult or whatever. Except, I don't know so much about us being heroes, but I guess we were tied up, and on parade, and in front of the…swarm. The demons were either furry or scaly or maybe both; tall and skinny and with wings that looked a lot like mine. "Aida," Daron whispered hoarsely to me. He was sweating. So was I.
One demon held Daron, another held me, and the one we'd spoken to before was speaking to the crowd, my scythe in its hand. "Lucifer upheld his part of the bargain!" The swarm cheered and I spent the better part of the next minute trying to figure out how to get my scythe back. "Meet Creation," the demon said, and Daron was shoved forward. Everything in the cave sort of stood still for a minute.
I remember feeling sick at my own previous jealousy as Daron was shoved, hands still bound, into the waiting crowd below. I saw him trying to flap his wings and that—not before—was when he screamed. Before I could even scream for him, he was borne away by waiting claws.
"And meet the Reaper," the demon finished after I'd lost sight of Daron. I was pushed roughly forward so all the demons could get a bit of a better look at me. He held my scythe up. "We have the scythe!" He turned back to me and sneered, probably figuring himself some perverse genius. "O, death, where is thy sting? Where is thy victory?"
After that, I didn't wait to pushed.
I hate being pushed.
I jumped off of the ledge and spread my wings. Unlike poor, sweet Daron, I could still fly. "Daron!" I called, swinging low over the heads of the demons. I heard the demons laughing behind me as I followed Daron into a dank tunnel. The tunnel wasn't wide enough for me to keep my wings spread, so I hastily refolded them and crashed to the ground, tumbling head over heels and coming to rest against a sharply craggy wall. Everything here was carved from the same deep red rock, lending to a growing sense of vertigo.
Getting up was hard, I remember. I managed to scramble up mostly by leaning hard against the wall and cursing violently. Once up, I ran through the tunnel in search of Daron. I don't really know what I had planned upon finding Daron. Probably I thought I'd just curse the demons to death and run the hell out of there. Probably I've had smarter ideas.
I remember then was when I decided that everything was a big cosmic joke. When I finally found Daron, he was sitting around with a bunch of demons as one, apparently some sort of lady demon, explained to him how demon babies were made. If that doesn't make everything a big cosmic joke, I really don't know what does.
As it turned out, the process of making demon babies was the reason Daron and I were down there.
When I got there, the lady demon stood up and ushered me over next to Daron. She was as tall and skinny as the rest of them, but I knew she was a lady demon. "Hello, Reaper," she said to me as I sat down. The other demons didn't say anything, and Daron looked like he couldn't decide between fascinated and nauseous. "I was just starting to explain to your friend here why you lot are here with us. Rokegar said to get you up to speed."
"I believe you've met him," the demon lady said with a vicious little grin. I realized Rokegar was probably the leader fellow, and the one who had greeted us to boot. By greeted us, I do mean he grinned scarily at us. "We are the Shai demons, Reaper."
Oh. Hell. "You used to be the most powerful demon tribe around," I blurted out before I could stop myself. I often try to stop myself, at times like this. The lady demon glared at me, snorted, and continued.
"And do you know why we're not the most powerful demon tribe around?" she hissed. I shook my head and she laughed a little. "The Fargos demons have cursed us. They have spent thousands of years building up their power and they finally did it."
I kept asking questions. For the life of me, I still don't know why I do that. "Did…what?"
"Cursed us, Reaper," she hissed at me again. Daron had already heard most of this as I'd been struggling to find him. "They've cursed us! Us, the Shai." She stopped for a minute, looking bitter. "We have a season to breed, and two seasons later is the birthing. No mother has come out of the birthing alive in several years, and the children do not often survive without their mothers. Our numbers have been dwindling steadily. It's only a number of years before our numbers are so small that any tribe can overtake us. This will not happen! We are the Shai, Reaper, and we are proud. So when Lucifer announced he was auctioning the Reaper and the fallen Angel of Creation off to the highest bidder—we were really the only bidders."
I started to ask a question. I stopped when I caught her meaning: The Shai had carefully eliminated any competition. There was probably blood involved, maybe guts. They needed us.
"And so, Reaper, your considerable talents will be put to use," she continued. "You will be in the birthing chamber at all times. Shortly before a mother expires, you will be there with the scythe and an hourglass to collect the spirit."
"I can only collect a soul after death," I said. I have to admit, I felt a little cocky. I was right.
"We're not dealing with souls here, Reaper," she snarled, backhanding me across the face. "These are only spirits. The scythe can extract them at any time." I was wrong. She turned to Daron. "The spirit in the hourglasses will then be left with the mother's body. As soon as the child is taken, you will bring the mothers back to life. Do you know what to do, Daron?"
Daron? He was already 'Daron' to them? Not just—
He was going to do what?
Daron nodded miserably. Apparently, he'd figured this out already. "I take the spirit from the hourglass and work it back into the mother." He paused, biting his lip. "I think—It shouldn't be too hard. As long as it's only a few minutes after, it's like planting a flower. Field is still fertile, seed should take." Great. We were stuck in some low part of Hell, and Daron was comparing dead demon ladies' spirits to crop rotations.
The demon lady smiled at him. I remember being absolutely disgusted. Daron didn't look at either the demon lady or me. The demon lady gestured for us to get up and we did, then followed her down through the dark tunnel to a small room. "The next door leads to the birthing chamber. You will be either here or there at all times. Food will be brought to you." The demon lady informed us, and left. That was it.
Our little room was pretty sparse. Two different corners had little piles of blankets for us. Daron stood by the door until I'd chosen a pile and slid down, then he slid down by the other. We must have sat in the heavy silence for a while, but I had no idea how long. Finally, Daron whispered, "I'm sorry, Aida." I knew he was apologizing for the way the demons treated him, versus the way they treated me. But I pretended not to hear.-Reaper, Reaper, my heart betrayed By scythe and brutal wings; My journey to Eden yet delayed By the laughing demon king-
…A few days must have passed. We kept time by meals. We got breakfast and dinner, which was more than we'd expected, and we had a few jugs of water left with us at all times. We didn't talk much. When we did, it was mostly me griping about the demons having my scythe. I felt naked without it. Daron would always quietly listen to me gripe, and, when I was finished, comfort me and reassure me.
But when the birthing started, we didn't have much time for talking anymore. I remember when the lady demon came in, Rokegar behind her. He carried my scythe. "It's time," she snapped. "Get up, you have work to do. And Reaper—I'll be watching you, so don't get any ideas with that scythe." I was handed my scythe and we were ushered through the as yet unopened door before us.
As the Reaper of Souls and Angel of Death and all that jazz, I had seen more than a few unpretty sights before. I was totally unprepared for the loud, chaotic sight of dozens of screaming, writhing demon ladies. I was prodded over towards the demon lady who was screaming the loudest. I stood, scythe at ready, watching. Even without her own personalized hourglass, I could tell she had all of a minute to live. I counted down the seconds quietly, while the demon lady behind me shifted nervously. "Get on with it!"
"Not yet, not yet!" My heart was racing. Oh, I just had to get the timing right, plunge the scythe in just as the spirit was gone—who said I had to be slave to demons? I'd be damned if I was an angel anymore, but I was not about to listen to the demons!
It took the lady demon a little bit before she realized I didn't have the spirit tucked away in the hourglass. I turned to her to apologize. "I didn't realize she'd be going so quickly—"
The demon lady was already dragging me to another demoness. "Do not fail again, Reaper," she snarled. She seemed serious. I, on the other hand, was pretty sure this was all a game, and a game I could win. I stood over the screaming demon, concentrating hard. I hoped that I was convincing the demon lady behind me. But she caught on quicker, this time, that I had no intention of saving either the mother or the baby beneath me.
I don't remember exactly what happened. She was on top of me, all of a sudden, my scythe wrestled out of my hands. I do remember being knocked across the face by the flat of the blade, and the scythe handle provided an excellent means for the demon lady to choke me. As I gasped for air, Rokegar and Daron came rushing over from their different places. Rokegar pulled the demon lady off me, and Daron knelt beside me, checking for any very bad injuries.
"I told you this was a bad idea!" the demon lady cried as she strained to pull herself from Rokegar's grasp. I think she was foaming at the mouth, and if I'd been told her head was revolving, I'd have believed it. "Why would we trust angels? Angels! With the fate of the Shai! What have we sunk to, Rokegar? WHAT?"
Rokegar was not having an easy time keeping her back. "They're fallen, Dyiral. Fallen! Like Lucifer!"
"I don't trust him either!" the demon lady, Dyiral I guess, shrieked. "We are demons, Rokegar! We shouldn't be trusting angels!"
Rokegar, either braver than I'll ever be or far more stupid, let Dyiral go. Dyiral stood there, panting, but not lunging at me. A good sign. Rokegar bent down and grabbed me by the collar of my shirt, hoisting me upwards, until my face was not an inch from his. A bad sign. "Do not let me catch you failing again, Reaper," he snarled. "You are ours now. And if you fail again—I will let Dyiral have you. You will be begging for your death long before it comes. Dyiral is not kind when it comes to the fate and pride of the Shai. Now get to work, before I pierce you through with the scythe myself!" I was given my scythe back and pushed in the general direction of the screaming demon mothers.
The next time, I'd given up the game. Scythe went in—scythe came out—and the spirit went into the hourglass. Daron came and stood next to me as I worked. When he spoke, his voice was soft. "Please, Aida," he said to me. "Please, just wait a while. We'll have our chance to escape, but…this isn't it. Please don't make this worse for yourself, Aida."
"Only myself? They won't beat you up too?" I sneered as I went to work on another screaming demon mother.
"I'm not the one making them angry, Aida," he said gently. I snorted and didn't respond. "Aida, they're suffering. These are mothers and babies. Any other time, I wouldn't ask you to just…do what they ask. But this is birth, and birth is something sacred. Please, Aida."
I looked down at the demon lady beneath me as I took her soul away. I didn't see anything sacred—I didn't see anything at all.
-…and I'm back in this dark place, this prison in my mind
freedom another illusion I'm not destined to find
a darkness unending, the sum of my fears
and yet in the darkness I have no more fears-
…I remember that nothing in the caves of Hell ever made me feel quite as small as when Daron gave up on me. We'd been killing and reanimating demons for almost two months and I was unrelenting in all sorts of things. I was unrelenting in my disgust for the demon mothers; unrelenting in my hatred for the demons, particularly Rokegar and Dyiral; unrelenting in belittling Daron for having any sort of pity for the demon mothers and babies; and unrelenting in my vocalized needs for escape and my scythe.
I remember we were picking apathetically at the dinner the demons had provided for us. We never did figure out what was in the food; early on, we'd decided it was better for both stomachs and sanity not to ask.
"I wonder what happened to the others," I said. It had been on my mind ever since waking up and finding only Daron with me.
Daron scratched the back of his neck, a gesture that normally meant thinking. "They mentioned auctions," he said. "Lucifer had us up for auction."
"Which is another mystery unto itself," I sighed.
"Yeah," Daron agreed, cracking a weak, fleeting smile. "So maybe the others got auctioned off separate from us? Maybe Lucifer was selling us in pairs."
"That leaves an odd angel out," I said. "Oh, no. I couldn't even think of going through this alone!"
Daron didn't respond immediately. "I could," he said finally, darkly. I shuddered. "I hope they're all doing better than we are, anyway." We were quiet then for a while. I started up again soon after because I was never one for silences, be they awkward or contemplative.
"What I really don't understand is why we're still…us, you know?" I sighed and leaned my head against the dark rock wall, pushing my food away from me with my foot. "Why you're still Creation and I'm still the Reaper if we're fallen. I mean…Lucifer isn't the Morningstar anymore, you know? I thought things changed when you're fallen. You join the ranks of Hell and stuff."
"Aida, we did join the ranks of Hell."
"Feh," I said.. "But I'm still the Reaper. I'm not just another fallen angel, doing generally evil things for Lucifer. I'm fallen, but I'm still the Reaper! I have still have my scythe and everything—well, um, sort of? You know what I mean. Gah, the Reaper. Why did I ever, ever let God talk me into that? No one likes the Angel of Death. No one is ever happy to see me! You had it easy. No one liked me then, no one likes me now…but even the demons like you!"
I knew I'd messed up when it took Daron so long to respond. And when he did, I could have sunk into the floor. "Easy? You think being the Angel of Creation is—was easy? You never saw half the things I saw. Murder? Disease? I had those in spades wherever I started. Let's not forget…what do they call those in court? Acts of God. And I had to rebuild! I had to give people hope, and I don't think you know how hard that was. How hard it is? Do you know? What have I been doing down here but trying to give you hope? And you never take it. You are so at home in your misery that you can't even see me trying to help—and for what? Because you're the Reaper? Oh, what an excuse. You were given a gift, Aida. Wings! A purpose even in death. Most people can't ever claim that. But you're the Reaper—you'll fade away tragically young for an angel—but do you know how many people never live as long as you lived, much less how much you're living after death?"
I thought it would end there. As I'd come to expect, though, I was wrong. "And you think you're alone. We're all screwed, Aida, do you get it? You weren't the only dark angel who did terrible things. And you're not the only dark angel who fell for…for…God knows what reason! And—my God, Aida—I'm done trying to help! I can't help you anymore! I more than anyone should know that you can't plant a seed in concrete! I've tried holding you up, Aida, but I can't. My wings are broken, Aida. I can't take care of you anymore. I can't." He turned away from me and we didn't speak another word for the rest of the night.
I remember the sinking feeling in my stomach as he turned away. I was horrified by what he said. I was so hopeless that even Creation had given up on me! But the feeling gave way to disgust, this time at myself. I was doing exactly what he said I did: I was wallowing in my self-pity. I had enough self-pity for a pretty good wallow, you know.
I didn't want to be that anymore. I wanted to help Daron through this the way he'd tried so hard to help me. But I remember not knowing how, and so I said nothing to him.
-See the Reaper's frightened eyes
Scythe goes in, scythe goes out
She knows she'll scream before she dies
Scythe goes in, scythe goes out-
…It took me some very long amount of time of demon-saving to have reality hit me in the face. It started when Daron turned wordlessly away from me and manifested itself into everything I saw the next few days. It was more than the fact that I was fallen, more than that demons were using me to stay powerful, more than that Daron no longer believed in me. It was more than that I was alone. It was that I was incomplete, shattered and stretched and broken with a gaping hole where large bits of me had once been.
I remember once, when I was both alive and very little, I heard something in the dark. I was terrified that a monster would come, and I felt vulnerable, lonely and afraid and with no way to protect myself. The feeling never really went away; it was strongest again when I died and always sat in the back of my mind. But when I was with the other dark angels—when I was with Lesetan—I could forget that feeling. Lesetan especially was everything I've never been: strong, serene, wise. He could protect me when everything seemed to closing in around me.
Daron had given up on me; Sidya, who could always bully me into a smile, was missing; Lesetan, the only one who could protect me, was missing; and Red, the one who held us all together, was missing. There were monsters in the shadows and I was just some lonely little kid. I didn't even have my scythe to hide behind.
And it was when everyone had given up on me that the demons decided our job was done. With all the demon mothers Daron and I had seen screaming beneath us, I wasn't sure I believed that the Shai's numbers were dwindling. Or maybe they just had a disproportionate amount of lady demons. I really didn't know. But Rokegar came to get us one day, and everything changed.
Instead of herding us into the birthing room, Rokegar said, "You've done your jobs."
"What now?" Daron asked quietly. If I had asked, I'd have gotten slapped across the face. No one seems to slap Daron across the face.
Rokegar regarded us for a moment. The expression on his face was not a hopeful sign. "There are…other uses for the fallen. Dyiral will teach you to heal those of us who have fallen in battle. The Reaper will be retrained for battle."
"What do you mean, retrained?" Rokegar looked like he was going to slap me, but I was across the room and sitting down and apparently not worth the effort. I still can't decide which way is worse.
"Get up," Rokegar snarled. I think maybe it wasn't a particularly malicious statement, but that everything Rokegar said involved snarling. Maybe all those teeth. But we got up and followed Rokegar out of our cell and into the long stone corridor we'd come down months before. Had it been months? Days had begun to lose meaning.
I remember not even trying to run away, which was confusing even at the time. We weren't bound and Rokegar was the only demon around. Granted, we had no weapons, and the corridor wasn't wide enough for flying, but I didn't even try. Before getting the chance to further analyze my noticeable absence of escape plans, the corridor opened up into the huge main cave where we'd been displayed to all the Shai. A group of demons was waiting there for us.
Rokegar gestured to one as he held Daron's arm tightly. "Take him to Dyiral." The demon nodded and grabbed Daron like he was a baton in a race. I remember a sharp pain behind one of my eyes as claws dug into skin and Daron said nothing, only allowed himself to be led off. He turned his head to look at me as he was led off, and…he was so scared. The rest of my head started hurting, like when you're holding back tears and feel like your eyes are going to burst. I might have been doing that, actually. I don't know so much.
And then Rokegar's claws were on my arm.
"We are going to make you into some semblance of a warrior, Reaper," he sneered at me. I remember looking around the cave at the knot of demons he was dragging me towards. I was cracking my knuckles anxiously now, the headache intensifying. I wanted Daron. I wanted to be away from there.
I wanted my scythe.
I was standing in the middle of a circle of demons. I remember the way they grinned as they flexed long, lazy claws in my direction. Rokegar had grinned at me like that, so long ago that I wasn't sure anymore if it was real, when he first denied me my scythe. My scythe is mine! It was not his to take from me!
"Fight us, Reaper," Rokegar was saying as he grinned at me. Demons have so many teeth…
I felt my knees buckle and lock in quick succession, watching the demons inch their way closer, claws out and grins wide. My world had come down to five things: demons advancing on me—my blinding headache—my buckling knees—my heart lodged in my throat—and my scythe. The absence of my scythe.
I am no warrior angel. Unlike Lesetan, unlike Red, unlike Sidya, my purpose was never to fight. All I was ever supposed to do was take the souls away. When the demons fell on me, they fell hard. I remember every place the claws tore. I remember demons grabbing at the tender places of my wings and the way I screamed so loudly I thought the screaming would kill me.
I remember how careful the demons were not to break me. How they pushed me to the edge and left me there, screaming, then pushed me away and stood back. I remember the red dust of the ground rushing up my nostrils and choking me as I sobbed and screamed. My right hand curled around a scythe that was not there; my left clutched a long chain of a dreamed-up hourglass. My head felt no better for all the tears I cried.
The demons let me sob for a little more, laughing at me. Then Rokegar knelt down and grabbed the collar of my shirt, pulling me into an awkward half-sitting position. He curled his claws through the fabric, pulling me higher. "Reaper, you are weak," he spat. He stood up quickly, pulling me up with him. I had to struggle to get my feet under me. I let him hold me up there as I stood limply. He held me with one hand and slapped me across the face with his other, claws raking across my cheek. My head snapped to one side with his blow—
And there it was.
There was no miracle, no Divine Intervention, no nothing. It's just—there it was. My head snapped to one side and I was looking at a demon, leaning lazily on my scythe.
I guess I must have stared for a while, because Rokegar turned to look at what I was seeing. He laughed and said, "The scythe is in good hands, Reaper. No need to cry again." He let go of my shirt and grabbed my chin instead, forcing me to look at him. Demons are ugly. Really very ugly. "I will make you into a fighter, Reaper, if I have to flay the skin off your pathetic back to do so."
I didn't answer. I remember pulling back my head so he would let go of my chin and turning to look at my scythe again. The demon was holding my scythe like…like it was his.
I turned back to look at Rokegar. "Give me back my scythe," I said.
Rokegar laughed. "You're not touching the scythe again until we have broken you thoroughly, Reaper."
"No," I said, taking a step back from him. "Give me back my scythe."
He narrowed his eyes like he thought I might be joking, but he didn't get the punch line. I took another step back. "I won't ask again," I said quietly. "Give me back my scythe."
I remember the way Rokegar watched me watching the demon with my scythe. "Reaper, make one move towards the scythe—" he began, growling.
Too late. Too late. I was already in the air, wings wide around me, lunging at the demon holding my scythe. I remember Rokegar and the other demons spread their wings to move and intercept me. Demons are fast…but I was fallen, and I had nothing left to lose.
I reached the demon before any of the other demons could stop me. He rose into the air to get away, but I already had my hands on my scythe. The demon pulled it back savagely and I kicked him; he sunk a little in the air and I pulled a little harder on my scythe. By this time the other demons were clawing at me, trying to pull me down and away from my scythe. I don't remember the feel of their claws at all. The demon and I were wrestling in the air, tumbling over one another as we kicked and pulled.
I remember never feeling so proud as the moment I pulled my scythe away and kicked the demon to the ground. For the shortest second, I remember a surge of hope, thinking I would be getting out of the caves, but the demons, the ones clawing at me, were now gouging and grabbing, pulling at my scythe. I remember screaming and screaming and pulling my scythe until my fingers were raw.
I remember when Rokegar pushed the other demons aside, grabbing the long handle of my scythe and almost pulling it away from me right then. It occurred to me, I think, that demons probably didn't elect their leaders. There was probably fighting involved. He yelled at me, but I wasn't listening so much. All I needed was my scythe…
Rokegar wrestled my scythe out of my grip then. He kicked me in the chest and I fell to the ground. Immediately, he had my scythe delicately scraping across my throat. I felt the weight of his body on my legs and the heat of his body and fur. He leered at me, hot breath hitting my face, and growled, "Death, where is thy sting? Grave, thy victory?"
And I remember, then—exactly then, as the leader of the Shai demons was pressing my own scythe into my throat and quoting Corinthians at me—was when I snapped. It was my scythe! My name was not Reaper! I snarled low in my throat and pushed Rokegar away, my hands gripping my scythe before I think he even realized what I was doing. In a few seconds I had him pinned under me much the same way as he'd had me, scythe tickling his throat.
"Here," I whispered. "Is my sting. Here is my victory."
I stabbed him in the chest, dragging my scythe downwards before ripping it out. I took his spirit with the blade as I tore through for the sheer perverted pleasure of it. I remember the demons all stopped for a minute as Rokegar died, watching me.
I don't remember who moved first. There were at least a dozen demons in the cave, all of them better skilled with their weapons than I was. But I remember laughing as the demons came closer and ripped into me again.
I don't remember the battle that well. Oh, I remember the way I laughed, the comfortable weight of my scythe in my hands as I swung. But I don't remember which demons hit me, or even where; I don't remember the screams of the demons as they died. I don't remember if they screamed at all.
Maybe it was only ever me who screamed.
I don't even remember how it ended, only that I was left on my knees, dead demons littered around me. The blade of my scythe was drenched in blood, and I was leaning over, throwing up.
And when Daron found me, his wings set and healing rapidly from the work of the Shai healers, I remember being unable to look him in the eye.
-air never did taste so sweet
nor even taste so free
as that last ambrosia night
by the ever-changing sea-
…I remember that Daron was pulling me out of the cave before I could even realize what was happening. He was tugging my arm, begging me. "Aida, come on, fly! Just up to that ledge—Dyiral will be here any second and I swear we'll be done for…"
I quickly came to. The threat of Dyiral somehow seemed realer to me than everything that had just happened. But before he'd even spread his wings to fly, Dyiral and a few other demons came out of a tunnel.
Time may have stood still. It does that sometimes. For a moment, as Dyiral surveyed the carnage and the blood, my heart stopped. But time returned to normal and Daron and I, clutching each other's hands, were winging upwards to the cavern that would lead us outside once more. Dyiral beat us to the ledge, though, and snarled savagely as she blocked our way.
"Where do you think you're going?" she demanded.
"Away!" Daron answered, and I hooked the scythe around her form and managed to push her out of the way. We moved fast, after that, straining newly reformed and still-cramped wings to the point of numbness. We didn't look behind us. We were too scared.
We tore out of the cavern that we'd once been lain in, months before, without pause. We could hear Dyiral and the other demons close behind us. I didn't even register that we'd fled into the sunlight, into a forest, until we stopped, much later. For a long while, we just flew, each clutching the other, audaciously hoping that we could get the hell away. We stopped suddenly—Daron stopped suddenly—when Daron realized that he could no longer hear Dyiral behind us. We'd covered a large amount of ground, and perhaps Dyiral, who had never wanted us in her tribe in the first place, couldn't justify following us.
We didn't care much.
So we stopped, and I remember one panic fading to the next as I realized we were lost, with nowhere to go. We sat on loamy ground, just looking around in the sunlight. Sunlight. I remember being dazzled with the light—it had been months since we'd seen sunlight! Months since we'd smelled fresh air!
We were free, with nowhere to go.
I remember spending all the rest of the day just sitting, resting, trying hard not to think of what would become of us. I remember deciding that most of my fears seemed groundless when we heard something behind us.
"Well, if it isn't a couple of fallen."
-The call comes far, but to my ears
The only thing to
I cry from salt, sweet bitter tears
That siren I cannot find-
…I remember at least a dozen thoughts burst into my mind and that none of them were quite as strong as the fear. The fear we'd felt leaving the caves was nothing compared to this. This—we'd been free, we'd been ours, we'd been in the sun and now, before it was even night we'd be taken away—this was—
"Sidya," Daron whispered.
I remember whirling around and good sweet Jesus there was Sidya, all blue hair and raggedy little red wings and about to die laughing. I was still trembling a little and have been told by reliable sources that I looked pale. It might have been the months without sunlight, but hey, I'd also gotten the crap scared out of me right then.
Sometimes I hate Sidya.
I must have started speaking, because Sidya started laughing again. "Something the matter, Aida?"
"Oh, no, I just thought you were a psychotic demon lady sneaking up on us," I said. "Now that I see that you are not, in fact, a demon lady—"
We all paused. Then Daron said softly, "You're not a demon lady…right?"
Sidya laughed again, but it was a strangled sound and died quickly. She sighed and slung her arm around Daron's skinny shoulders, kissing him sloppily on the cheek. "No, I'm not a demon lady. I've heard that you are though, Pinky-Pants." She looked at both of us. I still don't know who she was talking to. Daron and I both had our share of exciting pants.
I laughed, suddenly so happy. "Pinky-Pants! Oh, Sidya, Sidya! You're here and we're here and none of us are demons!" She and Daron both laughed hesitantly at first, but I kept laughing and we were all laughing, long and loud and hard. I laughed so hard I couldn't breathe, and felt my heart lifting so fast it was painful.
…We'd been sold off in pairs.
Who was with who and who was alone?
"Come with me," Sidya said, one arm still slung around Daron's shoulders, offering the other hand to me. "You guys smell funny and you look tired." We didn't argue. We did smell funny. We followed Sidya through the sinking afternoon into a bright city. Daron kept looking over his shoulder, but Sidya would give him a little shove every time he did.
Once upon a time, because they may have been drunk and because they found it funny, Sidya and Redemption bought an apartment. A large apartment in New York City that had a park next to it. When they were no longer drunk and it was no longer funny, we had an apartment. They're still not clear as to quite how they managed to buy it, and constantly mumble something about God-credit, but…we had an apartment. It had always been a convenient place to hole up with a bottle of liquor for a few days until the urge to strangle anything with a halo passed.
It shouldn't have been too much of a surprise to us that Sidya was leading us there, but being smelly and cold and shell-shocked, it was. Sidya led us in, laughing about someone she'd met, but I wasn't listening as she opened the door and ushered us home.
Two large swords were hung carefully over the television. "Great conversation pieces, those," Sidya said absently when she caught me staring. I'd forgotten about the swords. Sidya had a sword. Someone else had a sword. But there were beers in the fridge and I got my choice between beer or shower—I took the first shower, drinks are nice but damn if I didn't smell—so I stopped wondering about swords for a while.
I was stepping out of the shower and towards the beers when the door opened and Lesetan stepped in. I remember it took a great amount of finesse to run over and hug him without the towel falling down, but I am nothing if not resourceful. He didn't let me go for a very long time, and I was grateful that I'd chosen to have beers later. He probably would not have hugged me if I still smelled the way Daron did.
It was only later, while Lesetan held me in the glow of late-night television, that I realized this meant Redemption wouldn't be coming.-The rain is falling And the flowers are dying The Eternal is calling For his lost child crying-
…As the weeks went by, they got blurrier. Lesetan and Sidya would never let Daron and I leave the apartment alone. I resented it a little at first, but I got the feeling that it comforted Daron, and I saw the reasoning in that. We were new to the world of the free fallen angels and we were vulnerable. Who knew what the Shai—or any other demons, for that matter—were up to? We didn't know. Sidya had made friends with some shady characters—a half-angel and a half-demon, some sort of detectives, she claimed—and spent a lot of her time with them searching for information. Lesetan was working at some health-food store that sold bean sprouts and things, because he said our mysterious 'God-credit' didn't last once we'd fallen. With a good few months of rent due and four fallen angels to feed, Lesetan was working hard. Daron eventually joined him.
I stayed home.
Despite the money that was pouring—trickling, it was trickling—in, and Sidya's near-constant contact with her supernatural detectives, we never came any closer to finding anything out. Our list of contacts was short: we weren't going to chance going down to Hell and find ourselves at the mercy of any tribe of shades, and devils and lilin were quiet. No one could tell us why we'd fallen or why we'd been divided up the way we had. All anyone really ever offered us was surprise that the demons who had bought Sidya and Lesetan had bought them together—who would take Destruction and War, complete with their swords, together? It was no wonder Sidya and Lesetan had escaped their demon captors within a matter of hours. But that didn't help us find answers…or Red.
I remember one day better than any of the rest. We'd been free from the Shai demons for almost three months. I was cold, sort of hungry, and there was nothing good to watch. Being alone made me antsy, but I couldn't take the bean sprout place and the thought of actually searching out contacts with Sidya made me sick. My wings ached from disuse and I swear my scythe was looking rusty.
I'd been tuning out the soap operas and infomercials for a solid month at that point, and while the pictures still flickered in front of my eyes, I was thinking other things. Sidya and Lesetan's swords, my scythe—they were Heavenly weapons, really. God had given to us when He had given us jobs. When we were angels, they could only do their single appointed task—destroy for God, make war for God, collect a soul for God—but down here, with our broken hearts and wings, they killed. Were they still the same weapons we'd had in Heaven? I didn't even know if it mattered. They had fallen with us.
I was in the middle of pondering just why scythes are so scary—you start war with a sword, you destroy with a sword, but your soul is ripped from you with a scythe? It looks like a hockey stick, honestly—when the knock came on the door. Since the TV made me sad, with all manners of daytime uselessness, I was more than happy to jump up so fast I fell back down, jump up again, and race to the door to open it. Not that I was lonely or anything. I looked out the little peephole. Never can be too sure if a demon, or the mafia, or scary people, would be standing just outside.
And good sweet goddamn if it wasn't Redemption wasn't standing there.
She was smiling softly, her eyes tired. I noticed a few new scars, faded and nearly gone, tracing her face and arms. I also noticed a few new swords, two long, silver-blue things that she had certainly not had the last time I'd seen her.
I squealed. I do that. "Red!" And I had my arms around her neck, laughing and holding her tight. She was hugging me back, and I felt tears on my shoulder before we pulled away.
"You," she said quietly when she finally stopped crying and I had her settled on the couch. "Have been no end of worry to me." She glanced around the living room, noting Sidya and Lesetan's swords. Everything in order, the old gang about to fall back into place. "Imagine my reaction when I woke up back in Heaven and none of you were there."
That was a surprise. "What? You're…you're not fallen anymore?"
She shrugged. "I'd be killing you about now if I was," she said. She tossed her head towards the swords she'd brought in. "Meet Gishon and Pichon." She told me a little bit about her own adventure in Hell. "I got so damn used to my hell-swords Phlegethon and Cocytus that the first thing I asked for, after a blunt object to bludgeon a few archangels with, was swords of my own."
Sidya came home first, slamming the door shut and hollering about a useless city filled with useless people. "Not a damn word on Redemption! The lilin aren't saying a thing." She paused and squinted at Redemption, starting to speak and then stopping. "Hey, Red." Sidya came over to the couch and leaned over to poke Redemption's swords. Redemption nodded and waved at her. Boy Meets World was on and Red was enthralled.
Lesetan and Daron came in, saw Red, and walked back out. They came back in, Daron nodding. "See, I told you she wouldn't disappear if we left. The door is not magical, Lesetan." Lesetan shrugged and Redemption stuck her tongue out at them, only to have all the air knocked out of her as all of us piled on top of her. When we got off, Red was laughing and crying again.
We swapped stories for a while; Red told hers first, then Lesetan and Sidya filled her in about their escape and the apartment, and Daron I told our story. I let Daron do most of the talking, only chipping in substantially when he'd reached my demon massacre. We sat in a sort of smush on the floor, with pillows, couch cushions, and blankets all around us. Sidya had brought beer over eventually.
"I'm glad that's one less thing I have to ask unhelpful demons about," Sidya said. "And Lilith…helping you. That sort of explains the weirdness I got from the lilin when I went to them."
"So," Lesetan said thoughtfully. "Red, you've been back up to Heaven, and you're all redeemed. Do you—"
"Know why we fell?" Redemption finished for him. She nodded, tilting her head back to finish off her beer. "I…think I do. I got as much information as I could. Things upstairs are a little tight-lipped right now."
"Why?" I asked.
Red smiled grimly. "Because the archangels screwed up, and they screwed up bad," she said. Jokes and beer forgotten, I know we all leaned in to listen, but I was paying attention to nothing else but Redemption. She knew, when none of us had been able to find out why. She'd been alone in Hell and she still knew. "Lucifer fell from Heaven because he had some interesting ideas about supplanting God."
"Because obviously we were going to do that too," Sidya said.
"We weren't. The archangels were." Redemption glanced at her empty bottle sadly. "Our four dearest archangels were apparently whispering some bad things among themselves. Apparently all this suffering and sinning down here on Earth had got them down, and they began to ask themselves—was God really sure of what He's doing? Worse sins have been committed, but the last time people whispered that sort of thing in Heaven—Lucifer fell, the earth shook, like that. I'm not saying God didn't hear them too, but…Lucifer found out."
"What?" Daron sputtered. "How?"
Redemption shrugged. "Dunno. But he did. Had this delightful bit of leverage over Gabriel and the others now, too." We all exchanged glances, muttering and cursing. "So Lucifer says to them, hey, why don't we make a deal? Send the dark angels crashing down to Hell, and my lips stay sealed. Now, God hadn't said anything to them, so they figured…maybe He doesn't know. And they agreed. And we fell."
I thought I was going to be sick. "So we got sold off then," Sidya muttered.
"We'd been auctioned off some time before, actually," Redemption corrected. "But we got split up and…well. Deals with the devil never work the way they're supposed to, right? Because we're all here now."
"We're all here," Daron said. "Are we—are we going to be redeemed?"
"Wait, but I don't care," Sidya said. "Archangels are the reason we fell? And now they don't expect me to go back up there and kill them?"
"You can't," Redemption said. "You're fallen. But not for long. There's a few things to take care of, then yeah. I've been sent to redeem you."
"What could we possibly need to take care of?" I asked. "Lesetan and Daron need to quit their jobs at the stupid bean-sprout place?"
"Not exactly," Redemption said, taking Lesetan's drink and peering at it curiously. "Did you know there's a tribe of demons outside? They wanted a word with you, Aida. Something about massacres."