The world is a dark place if you make it out to be. The shadows trail behind you, reaching, grasping for that frail figure, and then begin to engulf you. But if you can see the light, the nearly invisible pinprick that remains in front of you, you may be able to escape. It only takes one step, one effort, one struggle to get out, if only you know how to. And he showed me how.
I remember the laughing, pointing, and mocking they directed towards me. It was enough for me to stand those words, to brush them off my thin shoulders as if they were feathers that would float away. Instead, they settled, a lightweight at a time, and slowly grew to the soft walls that welcomed me in, away from the world, the suffering.
The waters of that autumn were cold against my rough skin, a tingling presence not unlike those feathers. That boy had laughed too, as his strong arms threw me down to crash into the frothy surface of the lake's water. I did not have the strength nor will to fight back, but simply let the currents sweep around me and take me in to the depths of their creator. The girls and boys watched, giggling at the sight of my weak body dangling at the disposal of the waves. They did not even notice the faint trail of bubbles rising as I fell deeper and deeper, thinking that I would try to swim back up, clinging desperately to the poor little promise of life. I did not. I had no hope for my life anyway, not with the shadows, the feathers, the waters. But all that was blown away when I caught a glimpse in the glittering reflections of that young man that seemed to come out of nowhere, who ran straight into the lake for me. I didn't even have time to think before his warm hands grasped my wrists, and he pulled me from the water engulfing me, and everything else that had tied me down. When my head broke through the surface of the water and the sunlight filtered into my eyes, I saw locks of mahogany hair crowning a face with the most beautiful crimson eyes I'd ever seen. He gazed into my own golden irises and seemed to see into my soul. It was a strange feeling, the first time I looked into those eyes. He turned away and, grabbing me by my waist, hauled my whole body ashore. I coughed up water from my lungs and then came to a rest, water dripping off my raven hair and disheveled clothing. I clutched my arms tightly, shivering down to my bones from the chill of air brushing past my wet body.
"You alright?" I glanced up and noticed concern in that gorgeous face looking down at me. I could only manage a weak nod, but he understood. I watched as he turned to face the people of the town I never really belonged to, and saw them cower in his presence. I hadn't realized how much I wanted someone to come save me and stop those children in their tracks until it happened. When the very people who had made me suffer for all the years of my life retreated from the still forest, my front shattered into a million pieces and fell to the floor. My eyes welled up with tears and I broke down, hugging my broken body as if it was going to disappear any moment. The young man heard my sniffles immediately, and came up to me, gently as he knew how to. He picked me up, supporting my limp body with all of his weight and helped me walk out of that dark forest that filled me with fear I did not know could exist within my small, blocked mind.
The days that followed were dull, but warm. I couldn't bear to return to the dreary orphanage where I had spent my whole life, and he took me away from that prison as well. He gave me shelter and food from a small cottage lit by candlelight, and wrapped me in a warm, comfy blanket, all that brought tears to my eyes. I was so comfortable there, so at peace, but I was scared. I was afraid that it was just a trap, that I would end up in the same predicament as always again. Contrary to my worries however, the young man simply took care to nurse me back to health, and never showed any signs of wanting anything in return for his help. One night, while we ate hard bread and drank hot stew from a pot, I asked him who he was, where he came from, and why he was helping me.
"The name's Caelestis Anghel. I don't think you want to know who I am. As for helping you…" he stared at my frail, small body and smiled sadly, "any good man in the right mind should want to help you. You need it, lad."
My cheeks flushed with embarrassment. Did I really look that pitiful? I responded meekly, "I'm Tytus Koskeine by the way. Is there…anything I can do for you in return?"
"To be completely honest, I have no idea where this is and how I got here either. If you would, being a companion's more than enough for me."
"…You know I have nowhere to call home. Are you being considerate?"
"No, I told you, I'm serious about this."
"Then," I smiled a little, "I'm more than willing to join you. Really, thank you for saving my life. I'd like a purpose to live for as well."
He returned my smile, his eyes lighting up as if a fire were burning within them. "But if you are going to do this, then I must tell you…" His smile dropped suddenly, and he looked at me, dead serious. "Tytus, I'm not human. I'm a devil from the demon world, and a strange summoning brought me here, to the human realm, to you."
I didn't understand what he was trying to say, and couldn't really believe it either. For all those years I had been pushed aside, beaten, and thrown away for my strange features. My eyes had always been unnerving for the people around me, with their strange glittering gold, so they all assumed I was bad luck. Having the jet-black hair of a crow did not do me any better, and they said I must be from the devil. And here he was, a devil, straight from the demon realm—the figure whom they so feared and despised. If I just turned him in, they would set me free of the shackles so deeply engrained in my skin. But I couldn't do that to him, because I knew him as Caelestis, the man who saved me, and that only.
"Is that okay with you?"
I nodded. I couldn't let a title or race change my perspective of this man—that would leave me as low as the very people who bullied me. He treated me well, and I knew I must do at least this much for him, so as far as I was concerned, the fact that he was a devil was irrelevant.
For days after we left the warmth of that small cottage that was more like a home to me than anything else I'd ever known, Caelestis told me the story of how he awoke in the human realm. He stated that there was a scroll with a set summoning that accidentally went off and sent him to my world, and that we must find it for him to be able to return. The prospect of a journey was exciting, and the fact that there was a destination and ending to it encouraged me to move forward. I was ignorant then, unknowing of the hatred this world could harbor. We walked miles, from town to town, tracing the steps Caelestis took himself before arriving at my hometown. As the weeks dragged by, his face became more and more grim, and I did not understand the reason for why he was upset. Our journey was far from over, yet he seemed determined to let me off.
"Ty, I need you to go back home." Caelestis stopped me in my tracks, and my heart that seemed to be healing almost cracked and fell apart again.
"…Why? I didn't ever want to return to that dark village again."
"It doesn't matter where you go; I just need you to leave me now." My companion sounded desperate, and I wanted to comply with his wishes, but he just looked so, so sad.
"Cael, please tell me, what brought this up so suddenly?" I searched his eyes for hope, but found emptiness instead. "What's the matter? I'll help you through it, I promise!"
He backed away from me, clutching his head so tightly I feared his trembling fingers would rip off his mahogany locks. "Ty, please…urgh!" His scream pierced my ears, frightening me more than those boys and girls ever did. Without a warning, he turned and sprinted away from me, heading to a dense forest not so unlike the one in which we first met. I was not willing to let him go, at least not yet.
"Cael, wait!" I called out, running after him as fast as my knobby legs could take me.
After what seemed like an eternity of chasing him, I found we were stranded in the damp, cold midst of the forest. Caelestis's groans died down to a whimper, and he fell limply to the ground. Ebony horns sprouted from his head, and his shirt was torn from the leather wings that arched over his crumpled back. His ears and nails grew pointy, and his figure was more of a devil than I could ever have imagined, but it did not make a difference to me—he was still the Caelestis I knew. When I reached in to help him up, he yelled, "Don't touch me!" but it was too late.
As my thin fingers brushed against his arm, a shock of electricity ran through me, burning the inside of my body as if it were fire. In pain I watched as an invisible hand scratched a symbol that I could not understand onto my arm, blistering the skin. I coughed, sweat dripping from my forehead, the temperature so hot I could've sworn I was in the underworld. And then it dawned on me: this was a curse from the demons, a payment for staying around Caelestis. When the pain began to dwindle, I glanced up at him, and found him in the same state as me. "Cael, those wings…"
He spoke through his gritted teeth softly, "I'm sorry, Ty, I really am."
I stood up weakly and patted him on the shoulder; the pain was excruciating, but what could I say? I wasn't any more than what I had gone through in the days of my bitter past. "Don't be. But, may I ask, what is this?"
Caelestis looked at me, guilt framing his entire face, pulling at his features. "'Tis the demon's contract. A forced binding if one stays with a human for too long. I'm sorry, if I had known it'd be so soon, I'd have…I'd have…"
"It's okay, Cael, I'm fine with it. Calm down…" I tried to soothe him, to bring him the peace he gave me. Eventually I was able to get him to settle down. I sat next to him, muttering, "It's alright."
He settled his head on my shoulder and murmured to me, "I'm just a devil, Ty. I can't do anything but bring bad luck."
"That's not true," I argued, stroking the strong wings on his weary back, "You've only done good for me. Don't hate what you are; even in this form, you are magnificent."
He sighed. "But this means there's no turning back. You can't leave my side until I return to the demon world…I don't want you to be chained like this."
I realized then why he was so against the contract—he was worried that I'd be tied down, just like before. I couldn't help but chuckle a little at his kindness and consideration. "You don't need to worry. This is different from before; I chose this path by myself."
Caelestis wasn't fully convinced, but he figured that until we found the scroll, there was nothing we could do about it anyway. I watched in awe as he slowly returned to his human form, his horns and wings ebbing into stubs until they were no longer visible, and then we continued on our way. However, there was a bigger problem that arose from this that we did not even know at the time. From that moment onwards, we were hunted by none other than the Church, which kept its eyes wide and open to find and capture us.
A few weeks later, we arrived at the last village Caelestis held within his memory of his temporary stay in the human realm. It was a small, almost deserted town, with several houses and a central library. We searched the outskirts for any hidden places, but found nothing of interest, save a small opening in the ground that seemed to be a pipe.
"What's this? Could it be—" Caelestis bent down to peek inside it, and an arrow shot clean out of it, searing the side of his face, leaving a line through his scalp where his hair was severed. Beads of blood formed on his wound, and trickled down his hair.
"Cael!" I screamed, "What—"
"Halt!" A deep voice yelled, from a few yards away, "Stop this instant, you feisty little monster!"
I saw Caelestis's face darken in dread as he muttered in a low voice I could barely hear, "The Church…"
I, too, turned to face the source of the voice, and found a middle-aged man, donned in white. He carried a cross in his hand, trembling in anger. Behind him were several similarly dressed men, all which bore the same grim expression on their faces. I did not understand how they found us, or how they even knew that Caelestis was a devil. The man front and center pointed a shaking finger at him.
"Take him!" he roared, and I watched as the men rushed to tackle the only person I ever knew to be a friend.
"No!" I shrieked, trying to stop them from hurting him.
"Don't butt in, you filthy little boy," one of the men drawled. "You must be cleansed of this sin, but if you do any more, I fear there is no hope for you." He stalked in my direction, his footsteps loud, but not enough to drown out the sound of my fiercely beating heart. Caelestis blocked him from me, and my confidence dwindled a little. I couldn't even protect the one who saved my life from everything I feared.
"Ty, I need you to help me," he said under his breath. I didn't know what he was implying. How could my weak body possibly help him in this fight? "I remember now. Go to the library, fast as you can. Once past the doors, turn right. At the corner, on the ground, should be where I dropped the scroll. Get it for me, please, and come ba—"
The man slammed his fist down on Caelestis, but he managed to dodge just on time. I barely caught a glimpse of him getting punched in the face before I was out of there, sprinting as fast as I possibly could towards the library. I slammed the door open, and rushed to the right corner, my breath coming out in ragged pants. I panicked for a split second when I found no scroll on the ground, but quickly turned my attention and energy to scanning the shelves. Among the modern books was an ancient-looking piece of paper, and I yanked it out forcefully, almost ripping it to pieces. Dust spilled from the gap it made, and I took a good look at the parchment. It was barely rolled, and tied messily with a scarlet ribbon. I figured that it must have been done by Caelestis himself when he arrived, and giggled a little despite myself, before coming back to the urgency of the situation.
I clenched the scroll in my fist, and hurried back outside to spot a young man in black arise from the bushes. I heard a faint rustle, and my small beating heart almost broke out of my rib cage. I cried out in fear as I watched him draw an arrow from the sack on his back, and position his bow to aim at Caelestis, who was oblivious to this. I drove my feet into the ground, pushing my feet to limits I knew it wouldn't have managed normally. In that moment I tripped, my foot sliding in the loose dirt. The situation was dire; I wasn't going to reach them on time. But just as I thought there might be no hope, Caelestis turned around at the sound of my fall, and I threw the scroll as hard as I could towards him. Struggling to break free of the arms that pulled at his body, he reached out to grasp the pitifully wrinkled piece of paper to which our lives depended on. From the ground, I just barely saw from my half-closed lids the man in black pulling his string, arching his bow, and releasing the arrow. His accuracy was terrifying; the arrow shot straight at Caelestis as he pulled off the ribbon and unrolled the scroll. I couldn't tell if it ever hit him, as a blindingly bright light shot out from the scroll, and my senses lost their proper orientation.
I opened my eyes to a tiny slit, dazed, and found everything around me white. Confused, I widened them and looked around. It was an empty place, white and shadowless. I heard someone huffing behind me, and turned to see Caelestis in his devil form again, safe and in one piece. He was quite cruelly beaten, but still there, still alive. I rushed to him, embracing him tightly. "Thank God you're okay!" I whispered.
He laughed silently. "What irony to hear those words at such a moment."
I let go. "…Sorry. Aside from that, where are we? What happened?"
The both of us glanced around at our peculiar surroundings. "This must be the limbo world," Caelestis stated.
"Are we safe?" I asked.
"Yes, for now," he muttered.
The scroll in his hand began pulsing, a red glow illuminating the parchment. We looked at it, and he opened it to reveal a symbol drawn on the paper that matched those on our arms exactly. It surprised me a little, as if it were a quirk of fate. Caelestis chuckled again. "Well, I must go then. It's telling me to return." He pointed at the scroll, which promptly transformed itself into a little demon. It screeched a few words I could not comprehend, but it seemed to me that Caelestis did. "Ty, it's time to undo this seal," he stated, extending his arm towards me.
I nodded, and did the same. As the demon swooped in to commence the process, I suddenly dropped my arm. "Wait," I told him, "does this mean I'll never see you again?" I looked up and was once again mesmerized by those crimson eyes.
He seemed slightly surprised at my question. "Yes," he smiled bitterly, "Yes it does, Ty."
"So the journey is over," I replied.
He mused over this. "I'm returning home. And you, I hope you'll find a place to call home, too."
I nodded, tears threatening to fall from my eyes.
"Our journey may seem to end, but it will continue forever in your heart," he said, gazing at me with an expression more gentle and fragile than I have ever seen on him before, or anyone else for that matter.
I smiled. "Okay Cael, okay. I understand." I lifted my arm again to match his. The demon then bit into my skin, making me wince a little. He took a drop of blood from each of us, and then transformed back into a scroll, which Caelestis caught. Atop the drawing was a beautiful crimson seal, the color of his eyes. I took one last look at the devil who had saved my life, my one and only lifetime friend, taking in everything from the horns that shone atop his head to his smooth mahogany hair, his shimmering crimson eyes, and the powerful maroon wings that beat on his back.
As Caelestis began to fade away into the blood red haze that surrounded him, he looked at me and said, "Ty, you have the most beautiful golden eyes I've ever seen," and it broke my heart to know we thought so similarly. When he finally disappeared, my sight began to waver, and then I fainted.
I awoke to the morning sun, in the soft, woven sheets of a bed. I was in the cottage that Caelestis brought me to once again, and I sank a little into the down pillow I rested on. It was over; he was gone. At least I could know that he was safe, wherever he was sent to. Through wet eyes I stared at the low wooden ceiling, waiting for the tears to subside. Suddenly I remembered the broken contract, and pulled my arm from the blankets to get a good look at it. The symbol that was painfully carved into my flesh was gone, replaced by two tiny incisions where the demon's fangs had sunk into my skin. I smiled sadly, and got up to bandage the wound from infection.
As I looked out the window, a chill ran down my spine, and I shrunk a bit in fear. Was I safe? Was the church still after me? I was too scared to think of the possible consequences of associating with a devil. Peeking out through the glass, I saw a still city, with no movement, no surveillance. Snow fell steadily from the dark skies, landing on my windowsill. It had been months since I was first thrown into that lake, and the temperatures of my small, sad village had grown cold. As the snowflakes filtered to the ground, the soft white covered the entire landscape, wiping out everything that was previously there. It felt to me like it was purifying the land, setting everything to the very beginning. Strangely, I knew then, that I was forgiven, and that the Church would not come after me. The world felt cleansed in that moment, as if all the sins I had ever known were expelled, and I felt pure. I walked to the door and turned the knob with cold hands. Taking a step out into the crisp white snow, I breathed in the fresh air, which brought a sense of tranquility over me. The world was at peace, and I could start anew.