Chapter One: Depths of Dreams
"If you keep messing around with that, someone's going to get hurt."
The small click echoed through the deep cavern once more. Biting at the ears as if growing agitated with having such an uneducated handler.
"That someone will most likely be you, if you hadn't already guessed."
Another click, this time shorter and harsher than the ones before it. Despite the efforts, still no spark was created.
"Would it kill you to listen to me, just once?"
Dropping the lighter to the stone floor, I pulled my burnt thumb up to my mouth and pressed my lips against the throbbing in an attempt to cool it. My eyebrows were furrowed in frustration, and my toes curled as I realised he'd been right yet again.
"Oh, I wonder what happened there!"
"Shut up, Azrael," I muttered without removing my sore thumb from my mouth. The ground shook beneath me slightly, telling me he was laughing.
Glancing my eyes over at the lighter I hadn't been able to use, I wondered how much longer it would be before Grandpa realised it was missing. I hadn't exactly taken one of the flamons or a slasher, just a single lighter – he had hundreds of those things. Then again, this was my Grandpa we were talking about, so for all I knew he had tracking devices on all his stuff.
"If you're going to spend your time worrying, then why steal it in the first place?"
"Because I need to practice. If I don't I'll never be able to–"
A silence hung between us. My eyes slowly moved from the lighter up to those bright black eyes. They stared back at me with the usual glimmer of amusement lingering on their surface. There was no tension, there never was, just a familiar wall that we could never quite break.
Pulling my thumb out of my mouth, I held it out to Azrael with an expectant look.
"Oh? After you just threatened to kill me?"
"It's never stopped you before."
The ground shook again as he chuckled. Out of the dark corner of the cavern, he began moving forward. As he did, his huge and monstrous body slowly melted away into a beautiful deep blue slime that fell to the floor like some cruel waterfall. The last thing to melt away was his bright black eyes, and then they melted too. The slime continued to slink towards me – moving over the rocks and stones that decorated the ground, until it started to clump together to rise and create a new shape.
The soft padding of bare human feet replaced the bubbling slime, and my held out hand felt the grasp of icy human hands.
Azrael took one last step closer to me, and licked his own pale blue thumb with that strange yellow thing similar to a tongue. He proceeded to rub his thumb against the burn.
I had to keep back the shudder that hit me as the chill hit my body – over the years I'd come to bite my lip in order to keep it back. Any shudder from me was a sign of weakness; I would never look weak in front of him, it was the first thing I'd promised Azrael when I met him. The second, of course, was that I'd kill him.
When he finally finished, he gave me that lopsided smirk. He never had mastered the normal human smile – he claimed it was too 'fake'.
"Would you like me to heal that too?"
He dropped his eyes down to my lip. I snatched my hand back from him and took a step back to make myself feel a little safer.
"Grandpa told you to stop making that joke," I warned.
"I don't understand humans. You ask me to heal you whenever you hurt yourself, but refuse to let me heal your lips just because doing so would resemble a human sign of affection. You forget I'm not human, and therefore such signs are meaningless."
I scoffed. "I'm sure you wouldn't want to show me any sign of affection, human or not."
"On the contrary, I already show you a great deal of affection in my own way. I shouldn't be blamed if you simply can't see it."
"Oh my little Flicker, don't you remember?" He began to melt back into the slime – retreating into his natural form. "My first promise to you was that I never lie, wasn't it?"
Turning around, I looked towards the stone steps that led up towards the real world above. My Grandpa's call still rang down here and shattered the pleasant dream Azrael and I built up whilst we were together like this.
"I know," I muttered.
Without looking back at him, I grabbed the lighter off the ground and stood up – brushing off the dirt from my dress in a futile attempt to make myself look presentable. Of course, no matter what I did to try and hide the fact I'd been down here again, I would still carry that stench of ice that everyone like Grandpa would notice.
"Goodnight, little Flicker."
"Goodnight," As I started towards the steps to lead up to the real world, I paused and stared at the lighter in my hand. "Tomorrow's the first day of Autumn, huh?"
"And tonight is the last night of Summer, yes."
I felt a disgusting fear hit my stomach. I couldn't look back now; he'd see the tears threatening my eyes.
"I won't die."
My fist tightened around the lighter. "Who... said I was worried about that?"
The air turned ever so slightly colder; he was smiling.
"True; there's no need to worry about such things. As you remember my second promise to you, don't you?"
I couldn't stand it anymore; my legs moved of their own will and sent me racing up the steps – I wanted out of there, out of his home, out of where he could touch my thoughts. I didn't want to be in there when he said the words I knew were coming. I didn't want to be in there where he could sense my tears.
But I wasn't fast enough.
"I will only die at your hands."
My younger self always behaved like that at the end of every month; crying herself to sleep as the battle raged on in The Depths, terrified that Azrael would be destroyed this time round. There was nothing to worry about, of course; I'd return the following morning and wade through the fresh blood of that month's Light Bringers, and find him sitting waiting for me as always. Always patient, and always alive – ready to remind me of our promises to one another yet again. As I grew up, and reality threatened to come closer and closer, I stopped worrying.
Azrael, the Demon of the Depths, the monster who murdered forty-eight Light Bringers every year, would always survive.
Or at least, he would until I was ready.