Disclaimer: All characters here are products of my own imagination. None of them have been based on other characters, whether living, dead, and/or are parts of works of fiction. Any resemblance to real or imaginary persons you have met and/or known are purely coincidental.

WARNING: CONTAINS AND DEALS WITH DISTURBING THEMES, CHIEFLY WITH RAPE, DEATH AND VIOLENT REVENGE. IF YOU DO NOT LIKE DARK THEMES, CLICK THE BACK BUTTON. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Author's Note: Here's a shortish story I'd written for a magazine, slightly modified from the original, and is sort of a prequel to my other story, THE PHOENIX WARRIOR. Please read, and enjoy. REVIEWS GREATLY APPRECIATED.


&}-'-,- RED ROSE -,-'-{&


Long, long ago, in a time when the world was young, an angel descended from the heavens onto the Mortal Plane. It was fresh, a newborn being, and was sent by the gods to observe and learn from the virtues and follies of mankind.

Heaven was a silent place of light and air, eternal and unchanging; the Mortal Plane, full of life and vitality, with its constant shifting moods, was a new experience to the angel. Enchanted, it spent much time exploring the land, absorbing its essence into its being, and from it it grew more and more solid, gaining a form that contained the beauty of what it found most beautiful.

As it chanced to happen in those far-off days of yore, whilst the angel was walking through the thick green grass of a meadow, it came across a little girl. Both had thought that they were alone, and thus both were startled to see each other.

For a long moment, immortal angel and mortal girl stared at one another. The angel's wild eyes saw a pretty child dressed in simple wool, with a head of curling hair in an unusual shade of dark red that complimented her milky skin and brilliant green eyes, clutching a half-complete wreath of wildflowers. The little girl's widened eyes saw a beautiful gold-skinned figure, human-shaped but androgynous, with three massive pairs of gold-feathered wings on its back, and the only thing visible on that otherwise featureless face was a pair of solid green eyes that burned with an ethereal light.

Most mortals would have fled at the sight of that terrifyingly beautiful angel, but the child was young and pure, and saw only the otherworldly strength and beauty of this alien being. So, with a smile full of sweet innocence, the girl approached the angel and offered the wreath, asking if the angel would stay to help her.

The angel, puzzled yet curious, agreed to the child's request with a quiet nod, and whilst they gathered and weaved flowers, the girl happily chattered to the silent but attentive angel. The angel learned that the girl's name was Rose, and she was the only child of a goatherd living alone with her in a nearby settlement, and that her mother had passed away when Rose was still a babe.

Rose's kind and gentle nature endeared to the angel, and the angel found herself enjoying the little girl's company. After making the wreath (and a garland to match), Rose announced it was time for her to return home, and asked the angel if they could meet again. So they clasped hands, elegant gold-skinned ones holding tiny human ones, and girl and angel made a promise to meet again on the next day, on the same place on the same meadow.

So it was for the days that followed, the angel and the girl meeting on the meadow every day; sometimes to play, sometimes to talk. Often the angel brought books and paper, quietly stolen from heaven's archives, and taught the otherwise poor girl to read and write as the sun shone its rays on the lush meadow.

As the years went by, Rose blossomed under the angel's watchful eye into a woman of great beauty and exceptional intelligence, with a heart that was still as pure and gentle as when they had first met. She became the object of desire for many young men, in her village and beyond, and her father was repeatedly approached with requests for her hand in marriage. Rose was both flattered and pleased, even as she kept her distance, and she often related tales of their earnest, sometimes amusing attempts to woo her.

The angel, however, was wary of the attention that the men gave to Rose. Knowing how fickle a man's attention can be, it warned its young charge to guard her heart. Rose only laughed and dismissed the angel's fears, and shyly told the angel of the man who had stolen her heart: a rich merchant's son from a neighbouring village. She told the angel of how they had met at the market; how admiring and courteous he was, carrying her market basket and acting as he had never seen a woman as lovely as her. She told the angel of how after he had left for the his home village he would visit her, as often as every two days, to speak with her and to court her.

The angel only listened to Rose's story, and in its soul it felt a great unease, but then it looked into Rose's eyes, saw the joy and love shining in them, and the angel, wishing to not destroy Rose's happiness, simply buried its thoughts deep within its heart.

Then, one fine morning, the angel descended on the field, expecting to see Rose there, waiting with a smile, but the field was empty, quiet. Puzzled, the angel looked around as her feet touched the grass, wondering where Rose could have gone to, then decided to sit and wait.

So she sat, and she waited, and waited and waited until the sun rose up and slowly drifted across the sky, waited until the sun had set and the first stars had begun to shine. Then and only then did the angel leave, confused, and not a little hurt.

The angel returned the next day, determined to see Rose, but Rose never came, and the angel returned again the day after that, and the day after that, but not once did Rose ever appear on the meadow. The angel despaired, thinking that Rose had abandoned it, and not daring to approach the village where Rose lived in fear that its inhuman presense would only endanger Rose...

But a full week passed without a shadow of Rose, and hurt grew into worry. Worry quickly turned into fear, and when 10 days had passed, the angel abandoned its caution and took off, flying swiftly through the air to Rose's village.

It soared effortlessly on its massive wings, flying over the jumbled mess of old houses and twisting roads, instinctively hiding her presense with magic shields, and just as it drifted past a particularly abandoned area...

The pain and hurt engulfed it, struck at its mind like heated needles, and it let out a soundless scream. Then it slowed, hovered, feeling the hurt that did not come from it...and drifted down, down, into a dark alley where the hurt came from.

The alley was dark, quiet, the kind that encouraged the growth of things that sneaked and crept in the dark. There was the chittering of rats, the scrapping of tiny claws on stone. The angel looked around...and saw a bloody female foot just around the corner.

The angel froze, and a new emotion...horror...slid through it. Slowly, it drifted towards the corner, almost fearful of what it might see...

The pain and hurt was strong now, almost unbearable, and it shuddered as the pain lanced through it. It was a while before the angel could stop from shaking enough to look around the corner.

It took another while for it to realize what it was seeing.

A female corpse, covered in tattered and torn clothes, days old and already decomposing. Rats had nibbled at the flesh, leaving holes where bones showed through. Black flies buzzed around the body, and maggots crawled within the open wounds. But even the rotting, half-eaten flesh could not hide the bruised bites across its breasts, or the gaping slit at the throat, or the horrified expression in a too-familiar face framed by lush, dark red hair.

The angel stumbled forward, dropping to kneel beside the body, staring at Rose's dead, accusing eyes.

It felt something within itself crack, and the pain was all it could feel. Slowly, it reached out, and its fingers lightly brushed against Rose's cheek...

...and it saw Rose's last memories.

It saw the letter that Rose had received from the merchant's son, felt her excitement as the words told her to meet him at the back of the warehouse his father owned. Felt her heart skipping as she saw the man at the meeting place, felt her joy when the man smiled at her.

Felt her surprise when more men showed up with the merchant's son.

The angel felt Rose's fear as they closed around her, and her terror when they laughed and grabbed her, dragging her down to the ground, tearing at her clothes. Felt her shame, her pain, as she was raped, over and over, each man taking a turn while the others held her down and laughed. Felt her despair as the merchant's son, her lover, finally did the same brutal savagery to her, felt her pain when she asked why and he only laughed.

The angel saw, through Rose's eyes, heard through Rose's ears, as the man smiled and his lips formed words:

You are nothing.

The angel saw the flash of a steel blade, and felt when pain bloomed anew as the merchant's son's dagger was drawn across Rose's throat. The last image the angel saw was of the merchant's son slaking his lust, even as the slowly-dying body beneath him bled and bled...

The angel's hand dropped, and with the loss of contact the sensations faded. But the memories burned in its mind, and within its heart, new emotions burned as well.

Hatred.

Rage.

Filled with blind rage and burning hatred and a terrible, terrible resolve, the angel spread its great wings and flew.

That night, far away from the alley, in the richest part of the neighbouring town, the merchant's son awoke from his bed.

He sat up, gasping, his throat hoarse from screaming in a nightmare he couldn't remember.

For a long while he sat in his bed, his heart beating a steady thump-thump-thump of fear. The room was lit only by a single candle on the table beside his bed, and the low flame lit only one side of the room, where the door is, leaving the other side as dark as the midnight sky outside.

He stared at the door, then looked at the shadows.

He was suddenly gripped with a chilling certainity that if he remained in his room, he would die.

Letting out an involuntary cry of terror, he jumped out of bed, clad in only his nightclothes, and reached for the door.

He needed to get out.

His hand closed around the handle, and turned it.

He heard the 'snick' of the lock catching.

But the lock was inside his room, and it wasn't locked.

He tried turning the handle again, his sweating palm sliding against the cool metal as the handle resisted his efforts, even when he grabbed it with both hands, and shook the handle, whimpering.

The door wouldn't open.

Crying, he pounded on the door, pounded until the door shook on its hinges.

"Let me out! Help! Let me out!"

No response from the other side of the door. Not even the almost-silent footsteps of a scurring servant.

Then he heard a splat, the sound of something wet hitting the carpeted floor.

He froze. Turned, stared at the shadows.

Then something, large and round-shaped, flew from the shadows at him, and instinctively he caught it with both hands, looked at it.

He found himself staring at a head severed from its body. The slack, dead features were all too familiar to him.

Screaming, he dropped the head that had belonged of one of his closest friends, and it landed with a thump on the floor, bouncing, and finally rolling to a stop at the edge of the shadows that covered the opposite half of the room.

"Does this face look familiar to you?" a soft voice said from out of the darkness, in a gentle sing-song croon that chilled him to the bone.

Screaming, he backed up, pressed his back against the door. "Wh-who are you?"

"Do these faces look familiar to you?"

More shapes rolled out of the shadows. More heads, all severed from bodies, all stopping just beyond the edge of it.

All of them known to him.

He screamed again, turned, banged even harder on the door.

"Help! Somebody! Open the door! Please!"

"They can't hear you," the voice said again. His terrified mind finally recognized it as a female. It was strangely familiar. "They won't help you."

He turned towards the voice coming from the darkness. "Someone will come here, there's always servants in the halls."

There was the rustle of cloth, and something moved from beyond the shadows. Then a figure appeared on the edge of the dark side of the room.

A woman. Clad in a black dress that hugged her curves, and a hooded cape of dark red velvet that hid her hair and most of her face from view. The lower half of her face that was visible hinted at exquisite beauty, with milk-white skin and lush red lips.

Those lips moved, whispered. "They can't get here. The doors lead to other rooms, the halls do not end. We are alone tonight, my love, as we should be."

Then his mind registered the fact that her hands were red with blood.

His legs weakened, and he slumped back, stunned. The blood was fresh, and still dripping.

Splat, splat, splat as thick drops fell.

"Who are you?" he cried.

The woman smiled. Her hands rose, blood running from her fingers and down her slender wrists, and she pushed the hood back. Lush hair of an unusual dark red spilled around the woman's shoulders, framing a face that was as beautiful as it promised to be. The lips smiled, and the brilliant green eyes glowed with an unearthy light.

"Does this face look familiar to you?" she whispered.

He stared at the lovely, heart-shaped face, then shook his head.

"No....no, not possible! You're dead!"

"Rose is dead." The woman—Rose—smiled a malovently gentle smile. "Because of you."

He was still shaking his head. "She's nothing. Nothing! Just a peasant woman, just a wh—"

"Just a woman who loved you." Rose, or whoever was this person who wore Rose's face, spoke with Rose's voice, stepped towards him. "Just a woman who trusted you. You betrayed that trust, twisted that love, and now she is dead."

"She was just a game!" he cried. "It was just a game!"

The woman froze. Her face went blank. The eyes gained a terrible chill.

"A game," she whispered. "It's always a game to you, isn't it? Just a game, a fun, harmless game. But it isn't a game, never was, and it brought harm, brought death. You killed her, laughed as you killed her, and used this body"—bloody hands clutched at the bodice of the dress—"as it bled, as she drowned in her own blood." The hands—gripping the material of the dress so hard that the knuckles turned white—suddenly released the dress and swept over the severed heads. "It was a game for them too. Lure women, rape them, kill them, and leave the bodies where no one would think to find until it's too late."

"We—"

"Shut up." The woman said quietly, and the anger in the softly spoken words froze his tongue. "You played the game. But there is a price."

"What do you want?" he shouted at her.

She stared at him, her bright green eyes cold and fierce. Then she smiled, coldly, viciously, and in the eyes he saw a terrible rage that had turned into madness.

"Retribution," she whispered. "It is time to pay the price."

When dawn arrived, it was bright and clear. With its arrival servants finally reached the wing where the merchant's son slept in. The door opened easily enough to a servant's hand, despite the struggle of the merchant's son last night.

The first servant to enter the room ran from it screaming.

The screams woke the household, and more people poured into that wing, into that room. More screams, more cries of terror, and soon the whole street was awake.

The merchant's son lay in his bed, the mattress soaked with blood. His body had been ripped apart, the torso torn open and the ribs pulled and snapped until they spread out like a gaping maw. His heart was impaled on one of the shattered ribs. Part of his face was torn out so thoughly the bones of his skull showed. What's left of his face was frozen in pure horror.

Arranged in a ring around him are the heads of several men, known to be the merchant's son's closest friends.

Left inside his ribs, where his heart should be, was a single red rose.

Far away, in the meadows, the angel stood over Rose's grave, still wearing Rose's face. The body was buried in the ground, and above the grave a rose bush grew, its rich red blooms nodding in the gentle breeze.

"I had loved you like you were my daughter," the angel whispered, using its strange, ethereal voice now. "I don't know if I had told you that." It reached out, brushed fingers against an overblown bloom, watched the petals spill down and scatter on the grass. "The debt has been paid, Rose. May you rest in peace."

Then the angel tilted her head back, looking at the sky, and with a burst of flame the false body and face of Rose burned away, revealing the angel's golden form. Brilliant wings spread out as the angel glowed, bathing the meadow in the golden radiance of its power. A howling wind rose, tearing into the meadow, but despite the wind the bush only shook gently, as if blown only by a gentle morning breeze.

A flash of golden light, a clap of thunder that shook the ground.

When the wind died, the angel was gone. Leaving behind a rose bush, heavy with blooms, standing over a silent grave, in a lush green meadow, amongs scattered rose petals as red as blood.

&}-'-,- End -,-'-{&