I'm sorry, this makes no sense, but I skipped a chapter when I uploaded this story. I thought I was so careful! If you can still be bothered reading it, go back to chapter 15, or even 14, if you want the proper lead in. But 15, I skipped chapter 15 somehow, ahhh! You all read it, and damned if it made sense without that chapter... **;
He arrived just as the half-demon declared her renewed intent to kill. He also knew that in her present state, he could stop her. Save the miserable human's life. He simply had no intention to.
Eliana struck with, Granmor thought, a movement of sheer beauty, not even wasted on his poor vision. Her claws found the man's throat, her other hand striking him with a sideways slash intended to gut him… He managed to avoid this second, but he couldn't avoid the first.
And it should have ended there, but it didn't. Or rather, it almost did. A sound of pain shot straight to his nerves, freezing him for an instant, as he realized it wasn't her prey, but Eliana herself. For a moment she stood there, as if too shocked to fall, and then simply, crumpled.
Before the priest, whatever he'd done to her, could deliver the next blow, Granmor was already crossing the distance between them. Instants too late. Amilee had not been too late, and as he watched in helpless horror, she too was struck by the weapon the priest carried, and fell.
"Both damned then…" He heard the priest gloating, only to have his moment of triumph very abruptly cut off.
Granmor's staff caught the man somewhere along his side, with a very solid crack. He'd been too hasty to use the full of his strength, but it still sent Amilee's attacker end over end, before coming to a very still stop amongst the debris of the forest floor.
The near-vampire didn't spare him another thought, dropping next to his wounded charge. Amilee! It was a cry with such desperation that at any other time, it would have surprised him. At the moment, he was far too terrified for the witch-child.
I'm okay, teacher. Indeed, she was already pulling herself back up, but her hand was splayed across her face, and the smell of very human blood was unmistakable, beside those of demon and angel. I think it's just a knife… I don't know why it hurt Eliana so badly. But clearly she herself was hurt, probably cut deeply.
Never mind Eliana… He started to say, only to be struck by a flare of pain in his back so deep that it choked off even his unspoken words. Like the rush of spreading flame, it consumed his body in an instant, and he was falling, half over top of his charge, who caught and cradled him with a sound of fear.
He couldn't breathe. He couldn't think. He couldn't even feel fear, only pain, and yet was horribly aware as the man sliced the blade, with a wrenching motion, through more of the flesh of his back, before jerking it free. Horribly aware of the man's howl of triumph. And suddenly very aware of the weapon he used.
After that, the kicks that the priest landed on him meant very little, but he did so incessantly, repeatedly. His heavy boots smashed into his ancient flesh, bruising, then splitting it, while the bones beneath began to give way as well. Granmor felt nothing but the pain from the stab wound, but heard his body groan and break under the merciless abuse.
"Damned!" The priest was shouting, near mad. "All of you, to hell! To hell!"
It was Amilee's cry, repeated, that made Granmor move again. He didn't care what the fool did to him, his body would heal, but there was no way that he was letting him hurt the witch-child anymore. His lips peeled back in a way that made him seem more a demon than the demon herself, and reached his arm up in one savage motion.
"Leave her be!" He wouldn't have even thought that his voice could raise so loud anymore. There was a solid snap this time, as he threw the priest aside, and then he fell again, his strength exhausted. His lips moved soundlessly for a seemingly endless moment, before he finally managed weakly, "Amilee… run…"
Instead the girl threw herself across him, delicate fingers flying across his terrible wound. Sparks of warmth seem to blossom wherever she touched, as if she didn't even need herbs to heal him now… But he saw, behind her, as the priest approached again, the blessed dagger he'd fought so hard for years before, still clenched dangerously in his hand.
"I meant this for another demon," He whispered, no longer sounding mad, but somehow far more dangerous, "But I have no qualms using it on a creature like you." This time, there was no doubt that he wasn't simply going to rely on the dagger's power against the girl, he was going to strike to kill.
Granmor's fingers tightened on her arm, but this was all he had the strength for. He simply couldn't protect her…
Another figure interposed itself between Amilee and the man however, even as the dagger struck. This figure didn't make so much as a sound of pain as the blade bit into his flesh… If anything, he seemed to draw strength from it. And when he spoke, it was with the angel's voice.
"I won't let you hurt them…"
It was the rescue that Eliana could have never expected, and for the length of a breath, she was certain she must be hearing wrong. Even when she found the strength to lift her head, and see that it was the angel standing between her and her enemy, she still couldn't accept that he was fighting for her. Amilee and Granmor, surely. But not her.
The priest seemed to be struggling to draw the dagger back free, as if it were somehow lodged immutably in the angel's chest. He looked, for the first time, afraid, his precious weapon about to slip from his fingers. She wondered where he'd gotten it, then dismissed it. If it was a holy weapon, then only a fool would use it on an angel.
She watched, her strength moving back into her body little by little, as Sent's body actually seemed to be drawing the weapon further into himself. First it was like the numbness left her fingertips, and then slowly, warmth returned to her body. By the time the dagger was completely encased by the angel's flesh, she even felt ready to stand.
She didn't. She just watched. The priest stumbled back, staring, afraid and angry. "You are holy!" He cried, as if this somehow made the act of defying him all the more unforgivable. "Why do you defend the already damned?"
"You are no one to decide who is damned." Sent denied softly, coldly, with a loathing he usually reserved for her. It made her shudder, just once, hearing it again. But the priest was not a demon, so surely the angel wouldn't…
Eliana watched with wide eyes as the angel's arm shot out, and he caught the man by the throat, lifting him into the air. "Hear the words of the gods' Sent," He hissed, sounding less like an angel all the time, "There is no sin in being a witch, only in burning them. There is no sin in being a demon's child, only in following their legacy. And there is no sin to being a near-vampire, only to striking a man in the back!"
And with this, he threw him, hard. The priest fell with a solid sound, but wasted little time in getting back to his feet, looking in nearly as bad a shape as the others who'd fought there that day. "Now," Sent advised, his tone no longer with any trace of mercy, "You who claim to know the will of the gods… Run."
It seemed, at first, as if the priest would defy him. Certainly there was enough hate in his gaze, certainly enough desire for blood, that it seemed even a warrior of heaven could not stop him… But then he turned, almost faster than she would have thought he could, and ran off into the trees, saving himself.
Eliana let her breath out slowly, she didn't know how long she'd been holding it. Her head bowed, for an instant, before she lifted it to meet the angel's gaze. Yes, yes, he was watching her. She found no will to smile, facing that unreadable look in his eyes. Instead, she bowed her head again. "Thank you," She whispered, still very beaten, "For saving Amilee." She held little doubt though, that he would still kill her.
It seemed she wasn't the only one, because Amilee herself was on her feet, and throwing herself between them, arms stretched wide. "Don't hurt her!" She cried, a note of desperation to her voice that hadn't been there before. Blood streamed down her face, her throat, and fell to the forest floor by her feet. She'd be scarred for life, without question, and still all she could think of was Eliana.
"Let him pass…" Eliana begged softly, unwilling to let the girl be hurt any more, only to see the angel utterly ignore her, simply watching the child instead.
After a moment, he knelt, and as Eliana watched, took the girl into his arms, cradling her as if she were his own. His good wing draped her, shielding her from the world, while his other still lay twisted behind him. "You are like no other I have met, witch-child." He whispered, his voice just barely audible from where Eliana knelt. "For whatever worth a fallen angel's blessing may hold for you, you have mine."
Then, drawing back just a little, he ran his touch across her face, across whatever wounds the priest had incurred, and she sighed, falling to her knees as well. She suddenly looked very tired, but no longer afraid. "Now, I have something for you…" The angel murmured, then knelt close to her ear, and whispered something so softly that even the half-demon couldn't hear.
When he drew away again, Amilee now held something grasped tightly in her fist, and looked absolutely glowing. The wound had stopped bleeding, but Eliana knew that even Sent's magic could only be so strong, as beaten as he was. She would still carry the marks of this battle for the rest of her life.
Only now did Eliana spare a thought for Granmor, and was surprised at the look of deep bitterness in the man's eyes. He watched the angel as if he hated him, and yet the gratitude there was unmistakable as well. He owed the angel his life, and more importantly Eliana suspected, he owed the angel Amilee's life. She'd never realized before, how much that girl meant to him… And now he had to share her affection with an angel. How could he ever compete with that?
Eliana shook her head, dismissing this too in turn. She had enough of her own worries to trouble her, she didn't need his. She got haltingly to her feet, not certain why the angel waited so long to strike, and turned her eyes to him sadly. Again, he was watching her. Still she couldn't read his eyes.
"Will you kill me?" She asked at last, unable to bear the tense silence any longer. "You know now, I won't kill you."
His eyes flicked away, just for an instant, as if in thought. Maybe as if he was trying to avoid answering. "I came to kill a demon." He said at last, not quite looking back at her. "I see no demon here. Merely a woman with demon blood."
He turned, having said this, clearly intending to leave… But then didn't. Instead, just when it seemed that he must, he spoke again. "I will watch you woman, to make certain that you are never overwhelmed by that demon blood. That is my duty."
"The duty given to you by the gods?" Eliana asked softly, not believing this.
Again, the moment before he answered. The moment before he even turned, and regarded her again. But he did, and this time, something in his gaze was different. Gentler. "No," He denied, quietly, "Not the duty given to me by them."
He turned all the way now, and faced her… With something like the longing he'd seen her with that first night. "Will that make you turn away my hand?" And saying, he held it out to her, an offer to let her cross the distance between them.
Eliana let out a small sound of longing herself, and flew into his arms without hesitation. All she'd ever needed was permission… She buried her face in his blood-soaked robes, and laughed quietly, happily, and still self-mockingly. "What does a demon need with the blessings of the gods?" She whispered, tears falling again, this time of joy.
"No more, I would suppose," Sent answered quietly, "Than a fallen angel."