Chapter 3, POV: Roark


I left the human's house after she fell asleep, which she did surprisingly quickly. Maybe her fits left her weakened, I could smell blood on her breath. It was easy enough to slip out of the window without waking her, or her cat.

I flew for several miles, until I reached the hills outside the city, far enough from the highway that I would not risking harming anyone. The night was warm for March, and I was perfectly comfortable to sit at the top of a second growth pine tree, watching lights bloom and fade.

When the moon reached the peak of its ark, I dropped to the ground, drawing Broken from the holder on my hip. Other angels lived to train. Other angels could enjoy it, a time when two pieces of their soul fit together in a near perfect harmony. Sometimes I wonder if I would be better off if she fell into the ocean, but Jonathan had sternly instructed me that I was to do no such thing. He had no idea what sorts of things Broken could do without me keeping her chained.

She hummed to life in my hands, glowing white. Her first strike came swiftly, her power like a slap to the face. I winced and tightened my grip.

"I command you to stop," I whispered. The effect was slight, her iridescence dropped by a few shades. "I want to talk to you."

My sword flared, brightness leaking off the metal in papery thin sheets. They swirled, as leaves in autumn, only to draw together a few feet away.

The light dimmed, and I saw a woman. Where her body should have been was only whiteness, insubstantial enough that I could not tell whether or not she was clothed. Her hair ran circles around her head, caught in a wind that was not there. Her eyes were green as jade, the only part of her that seemed entirely material. She smiled, a predatory expression that held no joy, and favored one hip.

"You called, Roark?"

"I mean to train with you; I only wanted to ask if you were ready."

She smirked, then lowered herself onto a rock, spreading out like a cat. One of her feet stabbed into the air, and she affected a yawn. "I don't want to train right now. Why don't you ask later?"

"What would I have to do to earn your respect, Broken?" I asked, nearly growling. Oh, how I loathed her. "Surely we can make some deal, surely there is something you want."

She tilted her head to the side. "No, nothing. I will not bow down to someone weaker than myself. I would have to be a fool to do so, and not even a fool would bow to you."

"I am not weak," I bit out, hands finally clenching. "Nor I have I ever been."

She laughed, teeth glittering like the insides of an oyster shell.

I fisted my hands. "If you were to be returned to Saise, you would find her just as bent and halved as myself," I reminded her, trying to dig a deeper, trying to hurt her.

She shook her head, still amused. "You misunderstand your own nature. You were like a cancer to her body; your removal has only given her time to become stronger. When you are forced back into her, she will use you, as you use me now."

I tilted my head back to the sky, letting the anger drain from me. It was a familiar argument. I had no desire to relive it.

"Let us train, Broken. Return to me. You can't have much time in that form left, anyways."

I turned away from her as she sunk back into her metal host.

My sword stood, buried in the ground. I lifted it slowly, hefting the less than comforting weight.

Power flowed through me like a current, and I shifted slightly into my greatest speed. The world around me slowed, and I pressed through space like a knife. My blade met a bolder, which cracked into a thousand pieces, but before it could fall apart I used it to leap into the air.

The world sped up again as I returned to normal speed, and I enjoyed a brief moment in the air before throwing my arm over my shoulder and plunging my sword's edge into my back. A warm sensation spread through my torso as my wings sprung free of my body. I snapped my wings open seven feet from the ground, buffeting the ground with wind.

Broken bucked in my hand, and I felt a needle sensation race up my arm to my shoulder, forcing my hand into a light spasm.

My wings suddenly felt week, and I landed on the branch of a pine, resting Broken across my knees, overly proud of myself when her edge did not cut my thighs. At least I held that dignity.

The wind blew, and I let my eyes drift shut, leaning against the rough bark. Pine was uncommon beyond the rip, but I liked the sharp mint scent, the roughness of it. It seemed more real in its harshness.

A second gust of wind, and I inhaled as deeply as I could, filling myself with the cleansing quality of air, only to find a new scent polluting my senses. I stilled in the tree, controlling my heart rate, my movement, becoming as stationary as a stone.

The demon was close, far closer than I thought possible to get without my notice. I cursed quietly. I was a fifth ranking angel, damn it. Broken jumped in my hand as I lost focus.

The smell was peculiar, vaguely familiar in a way that made my hand itch where I held my sword, and perhaps it was because of my curiosity that I dropped from my tree and onto the ground when I felt him or her passing lightly beneath me.

I would have dropped Broken if it were not for the fact that my hand on her hilt had seized up from the constant vibration.

Karreth raised an eyebrow, the corner of his lip tugging up as he recognized me.

I stared at his teeth, so much sharper than my own, his golden hair blowing in the wind. He took a step backwards to better look at me, blue eyes showing every sign delight.

"Karreth," I hissed, placing both of my hands on Broken and stepping into a fighting stance. My body loose, ready to slip into high speed if I needed to.

Karreth, however, did not look like he was anticipating an attack. He ran lazy fingers through his hair, crossed his legs and leaned against a tree, daring me to charge him while he was vulnerable.

"Roark, it's wonderful to see you here," he said, and his voice was just as I remembered it. Honey and iron. To my shame, I shivered. Saise had liked him quite a lot.

"You jest, Karreth," I said.

"I wouldn't dream of it. Saise thought you might be here. I couldn't be happier to prove her correct. And of course, Mardinor. "

I glanced down at my sword, and then quickly back at him. "Mardinor no more, I'm afraid. She goes by Broken, now." Her light flared a little, and his smile grew crueler.

"Broken. What an interesting choice of names." There was a beat of silence, in which I glared and his smile steadily ate away at his handsome face. "So you're not coming back to Saise willingly, am I right?"

I shook my head, and he pushed off the tree with a shrug of one shoulder. I took a step backwards without meaning to.

"What are you doing, Roark? Didn't you know that someone would come for you here, all alone? You already met Porter, the crazy bastard. You should have known someone would come looking for any angels around here."

I remembered the demon from the day before with a stab of trepidation.

"If you have heard about that, then you know I am far from alone," I said carefully.

He snickered, lips quirking again, and this time her looked unhinged. "You mean Charlie and Audrey? They were rank three, it was hardly even fun beating them. I took them both down at the same time, you know."

My blood ran cold. I didn't want to believe what he was saying.

"You smell of blood, by the way," he said, then frowned, flaring his nostrils. "And human, and… another angel. Who else have you dragged out here?" I didn't say anything. He shrugged. "Didn't think you would tell me. Whoever they are, they're weak. I'll take care of them once I've finished with you."

It didn't take me long to figure out what he'd meant by that last part. I barely managed to dodge his black sword in time, and almost collided with a tree when I did so. His downward slice missed me by inches, instead hitting a sapling tree, biting into the wood and leaving a long, clean gash.

I leapt out of the way of the falling branches, launching into the air and picking up my speed. The world dragged into milliseconds.

Karreth shimmered as he matched my speed. He used the falling tree to jump up, and our blades met in the air just as I started to fall again.

The scratch and scream of our blades raised the hair on my arms, and then I was under his body, my hands searing with pain from the force of the collision. I bit my lip and whipped my blade around. When he moved to defend, I spotted a hairline opening.

I twisted, flinging myself sideways and drawing one arm from the hilt so I had a better reach. My slice nearly connected with his waste when he turned to face me, blocking with one hand.

The steal edges bounced away from each other, and we disengaged for a moment. I landed in a crater of dust, thankfully on my feat. Broken to shone brighter in my hands as I drew on her power.

Karreth landed lightly, his scarlet shirt ruffling as he slowed down. "Pretty good, Roark. What are you now, level five?"

Before I could answer, he disappeared. My eyes widened and my heart leapt as a cold blade pressed against the side of my neck. "I am level six, Roark. You cannot beat me. Now: what do you say you come with me like the good little property you are so I can return you to Saise?"

It was over. I had lost. I tried to recount his movements, how he had managed to outdo me so easily. I was almost level six…

Then it struck me. My eyes slid down to Broken. I had increased her power a moment before he had struck. She had betrayed me.

He lifted his hand to strike… and I dropped Broken.

She fell from my fingers, digging several inches into the ground, and I sped away. My wings were already out, and I snapped them open, leaping into the sky.

Karreth's blow struck Broken in a wave of sparks. I saw his face contort and his head snap back. I angled my flight to land on some sort of deciduous tree bleeding green sap.

He took a deep breath, and the blind fury slowly faded from his face. "I am still stronger than you. I can beat you, even without Mardinor helping."

"Address my sword by her name, demon, or next time I'll..." the threat dwindled into nothing. I had no sword. There was nothing I could do but avoid his strikes.

The air around him moved as though with heat, and I sped up at the same time.

He vanished, but this time I saw through his movement, saw him sliding to my left, humming air and light curving around his figure.

I dropped underneath the branch faster than gravity could have pulled me and pushed off to the ground, making a mad brake towards Broken. He followed not a split second after, aiming to land right in front of me.

I stopped, heals digging foot deep gouges in the ground, and the dirt rose as though in slow motion. He broke through the veil, arms raised, and I darted out from underneath them, leaving his sword to bury itself up to the hilt in earth.

I sprinted across the trees, saw my sword, and opened my hand to grab her…

A hard body slammed into mine, and I flew twelve feet, my wings serving only to slow me down.

Karreth stood in front of my weapon, his own sword at his chest.

Beyond the rip, there was no winter, or at least, not cold. Snow, warm to the touch, fell lightly, but there was nothing more substantial than that. His eyes were like ice as he advanced on me: unforgiving.

He had the audacity to still be smiling.

I tried to get up, to aim a spell that might hurt him, but he was upon me so quickly that I couldn't have hoped to block. His sword tip rested at my throat.

I glared at him. "You'll not kill me, Karreth. You're not allowed."

He winked at me, like he was going to tell me some grand, gossipy secret. "I won't kill you," he said, "but I have no problem with hurting you very, very badly."

Without taking his eyes off of me, he lifted one hand off his sword. The tip dipped, digging into my collar. I sucked in a breath, and he laughed, let the blade to slide across my skin, trailing a thin line of fire. The black metal was a poison to my kind, crafted as the mirror opposite of an angel's sword. At least, any one but mine, which was stolen.

His hand came up with a rope. I closed my eyes for a moment, saving the moment of absolute despair. It was a Faerie String. I f he were to get it one me, I would be unable to free myself or access my sword. He would drag me off to hell, where I would be imprisoned within some foreign body.

My breath hitched as I imaged it: being chained in a tiny, black space, at the back of my own mind. Alone, being used to kill my comrades. The idea was repugnant. The corners of my vision pulsed with my heartbeat, too eager in my chest, utterly useless. The ends of my hair pulled towards the rope lazily, drawn by magic.

"Put the girl down, Karreth."

I recognized that voice.

"Audrey," I said. "You came."

My legs shook with relief, but the realization that if I moved I would be subjected to more pain kept me in place. Instead, I watched Karreth's face, the deep furrows of anger over his brow. His lips slid back into a grimace, and a low growl slipped over his teeth.

"Of course, Roark. It is my duty to protect you," she said simply. "Now drop her, or I will not hesitate to make you."

"You just don't give up, do you? I thought I made it clear: I don't like killing pretty things, but good looks don't make up for your being a pain in the ass," he said.

Had he killed Charlie? He couldn't have… Charlie couldn't be dead.

His sword left my neck. Before I could move, his blade whistled around and slammed into my side. I gasped, though I had received far worse, and arched my body into a fetal position. My wings were still out, but I didn't trust myself to be able to fly.

Audrey didn't react. We both knew his actions had not justified an attack, they were merely to keep me from moving while he fought.

Karreth stepped passed me, and I followed him with my eyes as he and Audrey positioned themselves in fighting stances.

The redhead's glasses lit up with the light from a passing car, and I could see through them for a second. Her eyes were only half lidded. She was tired. Acid fear made its way into my core.

"No," I said softly. If I was going to be captured, I didn't want anyone having to go down with me. Not both of them. "Audrey, don't. Go back; tell them I've been caught. You don't need to get yourself hurt." It was a futile attempt. Her head flicked to me and away quickly, but her stance did not lower.

Their blades met in mid air, both having left the ground at the same time. Anyone could see who had the upper hand, even by that first strike. A single tremor passed through the Audrey's entire body, and her mouth opened a little bit to better take breath.

They separated, and when she appeared, balancing precariously on a tree branch, she was already panting.

Karreth was only a dozen feet away, on the tip of the same branch, posed like a cat.

"Why, dearest Audrey, it seems that you have not fully recovered from our last fight." He sauntered closer, each step boastful and sure.

Audrey glared at him through dark glasses, her eyebrows at a steep angle.

"Shut up," she hissed, but the pause between his words and her response made me uneasy.

He leapt at her again, and the sound that followed sent my teeth against each other.

Pain worried into my consciousness, and I closed my eyes, hands curling to fist in the ground as I rode out a wave of burning agony. Concentrate on breathing, Jonathan always said, except breathing hurt, so I concentrated on the back of my eyelids. When the worst of it passed, I let out my breath as slowly as I could. Experimentally, I lifted my hand to the wound.

The cut was neither deep nor wide, only painful. The bottom of the incision met a rib, which was cracked. When I pulled my hand away, it was slick with blood. I shuddered, doing my best not to let my resolve waver.

I heard a cry from behind me, then a solid sound. Gingerly, carefully, I began to crawl forward, towards the white glow ahead of me.

"Broken…" I whispered. "Broken, come to me…" I closed my eyes, weighing my options. "I want to speak with you."

The light in front of me blazed white hot, and I heard the battle slow for a moment. In a matter of seconds, the white woman stood again in front of me.

"You called?" she sneered, and I nodded, closing my eyes. At least she still responded to me, if only a little bit.

"Go help Audrey."

She raised an eyebrow. "Certainly I cannot do that, Roark, not without you to guild me. I need a host. Unless you would offer your body as a vessel?"

I shook my head, focusing on the firefly-lights swimming in my vision to distract from the growing pain in my side, and the horrible situation behind me. I reached out a hand and grasped her ankle. My grip was wet, and she recoiled.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

Forgetting her discomfort, she positively purred. "I mean what I said. I need a host to survive. Maybe I could use your body, no?" She laughed like the braking glass.

That sounded dangerous. That sounded like a trap. That sounded like she was planning to take over my body. "Fine. We'll see who's stronger, then." That sounded like the only way I could possibly save Audrey.

She hesitated, surprised, before kneeling down and placing her hands on my shoulders, eyes slipping closed.

It was strange, like cool water running just under my skin. It wasn't unpleasant, exactly, but uncomfortable. Every part of me felt fuller. I felt weightless, too, my knees no longer pressed into the ground.

When I opened my eyes, the entire world looked different; more red and blue, shadows edgier and light more distant. I blinked a few times and looked down. My hands glowed faintly.

It occurred to me that the struggle behind me had fallen silent. I stood up slowly, though I didn't have to; every part of me was alive. I could feel her consciousness, nestled beside my own, but it fit as though it was meant to be there. Not quite as well as Terpsichore's had, but not painful as I had half expected it to be.

She was surprised, as well, and surprised that I had managed to hold her do well even inside my body.

"What are you waiting for?" Her voice was both in my ears and in my mind, making me shiver from the intimacy of it. "Go get him…"

I raised my hand instinctively, and the light stretched from my palm, forming into an insubstantial looking blade. I knew it would hold.

Both of them were looking at me, blades lowered.

I looked to Audrey first- she was heaving, covering in sweet, coppery hair sticking all over her face. Tears in her clothing were outlines in blood, but she did not look weak enough that he would be able to finish her yet.

I switched my gaze to Karreth. He was staring at me, eyes wide with confusion. He looked calm and collected, not as though he had been fighting at all, and I realized he had only been playing with us. The thought sickened me, and the light in my hand flared dangerously.

"Such a desperate move, Roark. Mardinor can take you in a second," Karreth drawled, face relaxing back into a smirk.

Suddenly I gagged; water seemed to fill my mouth, my lungs, every part of me. It was then that Broken spoke, using my mouth as a puppet. "You speak with such bigotry, Karreth. Argidor fights you just as I fight Roark."

My mouth was once again my own, and I swallowed a gasp. I wasn't sure what to think of what she had just said, but I resolved to puzzle the matter later, clearing my mind as I bent into a fighting stance.

Karreth looked at me for a moment more before leaping into an attack. My sword- our sword- flickered up, and I blocked him easily, hardly noticing the stinging in my hands.

His eyes narrowed a little, and we both pushed ourselves to full speed. Broken was reluctant, but the thrill of the fight was picking up in her like a current, stirring the blood in my veins.

He retreated, then came at me from behind, but something about his movements looked slower, as though her was moving through slush. I smiled and deflected the blow without much effort, then again when he struck out in a butterfly movement towards my legs.

Everything felt different, cooler; I wondered vaguely if Broken felt that way all the time.

Karreth swung from above, and I ducked his arm. Before he could move to stop me, I drove my blade into his back.

There were several, immeasurable seconds when all three of us where connected, and I marveled at the sensation, trying to document every detail. I felt his shock first, then pain, followed by Broken's anger at my. Oddly, her rage was glazed with satisfaction. She was like a big cat when she fought, I realized. It didn't matter who she was facing, only that she had an opponent.

He looked down slowly, grasped the glowing blade, and began to push it back out. He was having trouble- he kept cutting his hands- so I dragged it the rest of the way from his body soundlessly. He snarled, but the expression falter and converted into one of pain. I winced in sympathy.

Broken was hissing in obvious distress. She thrashed against my mind and a sharp pain drove back from my temples, almost crippling in force. She was getting desperate, which meant I didn't have much time.

I raised my hands to collect what power I would need to destroy him. A quick spell, with all my remaining power, would burn away the last pieces of him easily. My magic drained as quickly as it gathered, however, trickling through my fingers and evaporating. I gasped, snatching at the air like I could catch it, and Broken laughed.

Karreth's expression transformed, and he smiled one last time, a lopsided, cocky grin that had blood at the edges. "Time's up, Roark." He gave a two finger salute. "Till the next."

My eyes widened and I shot a look up at the sky. 1 am. I lunged at him, but was too slow; he burst into a spray of sparks and disappeared before I was anywhere near him.

I stood, panting and angry for several seconds.

"I believe we are done here, Roark," Broken purred, though I could feel her disappointment, twin emotions making my pulse thud.

Forcefully, I pushed her from my body. She slipped away easily, but a slight connection remained, an eerie reminder of what we had just done. She was cool in my hand.

It was a few seconds before I was aware of my own pain. My head ached. My body felt deadened. My fingers were bleeding. I dropped Broken and lifted my hands to my face, examining them in the darkness. Burns covered them thickly, yellowish pus already beginning to ooze from the crevices. I made them into fists, and hissed through my teeth.

"Are you alright?" Audrey spoke softly, but I didn't miss the shaking in her voice.

"Fine. Get back, more could be coming soon."

She hesitated, then nodded. "Very well. Find somewhere safe to spend the night. I will send someone to check on you tomorrow."

"Wait." I spun to look at her, and she paused. "Is Charlie…?" The silence grew in my mouth, choking down my throat.

I noticed a tear on her face, and looked away, shocked.

"Audrey," whispered. I hadn't known Charlie well, but I knew Audrey. I knew she loved him more than anyone else I had ever met. "I hope… you can forgive me."

She nodded in my peripheral vision and disappeared.

Somewhere safe… I looked out towards the city and flapped my wings a few times. I would spend a few more hours at the human girl's house. Just until morning. Then I would leave.

I could promise her that, if nothing else.