White elderwood pews stretched in neat rows down the cathedral, each positioned in perfect linear position to the one in front. The high, curved beams of the domed ceiling supported billowing woven tapestries depicting the long history of Avalon. Though the hall was full, it may as well have been empty; barely a whistle of breath disrupted the silence.

Lingering in the entrance way, Mydaiel shifted her weight and smoothed the wrinkles of the floor length, white satin robe cloaking her form. It nearly matched her porcelain skin, what little could be seen. The sleeves hung past her hands, which she'd laced together beneath. A hood hung low over her forehead, concealing golden ringlets that normally haloed her angular features. Slanted ice blue orbs stared back at her as she caught sight of her reflection of a polished marble column. She chewed her lip and looked away, eyes closing as she inhaled sharply.

You are afraid. Dumb fool.

She sighed and wrung her fingers. There was no reason to be afraid. Not really. The ceremony was a crucial milestone, but it was far from strenuous. The bleed was far worse. Mydaiel shivered and shook her head, hands rising to readjust the hood. It was best not to think on memories past.

The bleed was the best thing to happen to you.

While she knew it logically, it was still a hard moment to think back on. She'd quaked with nightmares for months. The music began, filling the cathedral with the harmony of piano keys and plucked harp strings. It was time. She lifted her chin and stepped through the archway into the main hall. All eyes were on her, burning like hot pokers into her soul, but she spared none of them a passing glance, knowing if she did, her knees would buckle. Stumbling today would be in very poor form. Her bare toes sunk into the fibers of the scarlet carpet rolled out down the center aisle. Her chest was tight, each breath burned her lungs. As she reached the front, climbed the sharp marble steps onto the platform, she bowed her head. Another breath sucked in and her hands came up to fumble with the ties on her robe. Tugging the knot free, the fabric tumbled to the floor, pooling at her feet, and she shivered as her flesh was exposed to the chilled air. Before her, a deep pool carved into the stone. It was filled with thick ruby fluid. The acrid, metallic tang filled her senses.

"Child of Avalon," the first voice to break the verbal silence was rasped with age. Mydaiel didn't dare raise her head, but she knew the owner well. A tall woman with spindly limbs and the faintest hint of wrinkles to her cheeks. The high priestess was the elder of Avalon, the longest lived of them all. She was strict, firm in their ways, but oversaw everything the closest to perfection any could hope to come. "You have come of age. The time is now for you to join your sisters in the ranks of the hunt. From this morning forth, you will dedicate your life to the service of Avalon, and all the duties of our people," Astarte's voice lingered, hung heavy in Mydaiel's ears. She swallowed the rising lump in her throat.

This is your moment. Quit quivering like a plucked bow string.

"From the first dawn of Earth, Avalon has existed. The two worlds have circled on another. And for a time, there was harmony. Until the rise of man. Humankind has tainted a natural haven. As a species of Earth, they've the right to life. As creatures of greed and spite, they've a sentence for death. We of Avalon are tasked with thinning the herd. Of pulling the weeds to prevent the disease of sin from spreading like wildfire." The atmosphere grew tense. Everyone in the hall knew the tale by heart, could recite this very speech upon request. It was more than a duty, it was a legacy. Their legacy.

Your legacy.

Mydaiel felt her heart flutter within her anxiety riddled chest. She was about to enter the embrace of something ancient, beyond any one of them. The embrace of eternity. Of destiny.

"It is we who keep the flames contained. It has forever been our purpose. Your purpose." At Astarte's words, Mydaiel sunk to her knees. She needed no prompting, it was her place. "You knelt upon this stage once before, Child of Avalon, and bled away the poison in your veins, as many of your kin have done. Now you will rise to join our ranks."

Mydaiel licked her lips. She kept her head bowed. She had been silent now for three cycles, dawn through dusk. A worthy vow of silence to come before the vows she'd speak this day. Those that would bind her heart and soul to Avalon. The chill of the polished stone beneath her seeped into her hunched form like an inkblot across parchment, biting deep into her bones. She welcomed it.

"Will you pledge your life to Avalon? Will you fly in the hunt, take up the mantle of culling those who stain the Earth with greed, manipulation, and pain? Will you spill the blood of sin, and soak your feathers in the aftermath. Will you liberate Earth and Avalon from the poison of humanity, even at the cost of your own blood and breath?"

"I will," Mydaiel agreed. "Until my dying breath, I pledge to serve Avalon, to serve the cause, in any and all ways within my capabilities."

"Then rise, Child of Avalon. Submerge yourself in the lifeblood of sin. Let it seep into you like a vaccine, so you might forever remain impervious to the draw of demon temptation."

Mydaiel rose slowly, finally lifting her chin from where it pressed against her collarbone. Her gaze remained averted, however. She could not yet consider herself among the ranks of her peers. It would show great disrespect to forget that now, in this final moment.

The blood was thick, and still warm as it seeped between her toes. There was a small step ringing the interior of the pool, and only her ankles were swallowed in the substance as she stood on it. There was not a scrap of fabric to taint the process. The blood would cloak her flesh better than any garment today. The feathers, long white stems which ended in a widened curve, that sprouted from her body in a half ring from hip to hip across her back, brushed the backs of her knees as she moved. Smaller, downy feathers spread up her back, rippled over her shoulder blades. Little feathers decorated her heels, now plastered to her skin within the basin. Mydaiel inhaled slowly, then stepped off into the center of the pool.

She sunk easily up past her waist, until the ends of her hair nearly brushed the surface of the ruby liquid. One more breath, and she tipped her weight back, allowing the blood to envelope her form completely. The viscous fluid dragged her down, cocooning her as she floated neither near surface nor bottom. Around her, silence and darkness reigned. Her senses flowed away downstream one by one. She saw, heard, smelt, and tasted nothing. The burn began as an itch, the prickle of a thousand little insects crawling her body. Steadily it sharpened into heated needles piercing her flesh.

Mydaiel opened her eyes, allowed the uncomfortable sensation to wash over her vision, though there was nothing to witness save dark wreathed in a reddened tinge. The metallic tang of the blood, cloying and thick, flooded her mouth as lips parted to accept it. She allowed the blood, spilled from numerous kills, to gradually invade each of her senses.

A bubble broke from one nostril, fluttered to pop open on the surface. It was followed by another as Mydaiel exhaled slowly, siphoning the air from her tightening chest out into her surroundings. Though her lungs constricted, her throat closing as her brain pleaded for the life-granting gas, Mydaiel ignored every instinct and desire for breath. She would not need it here. Perhaps if she'd been able to move, primal instinct would have overtaken her and she'd have surged to the surface in a fit of rasping coughs. She could picture the way her cheeks might suck in like a fish and blood would spatter from her lips. As it was, she could not cave to such desires even if she wanted to. Her limbs hung heavily, a numb tingle spread through them, as if she were carved from rock instead of flesh and feather. Her body was too great a weight for her to move, suspended in the silence as the discomfort grew.

A taut knot twisted in her gut and fire flickered within her chest as though the cavity were filled with dry, cracked kindling. As her thoughts grew hazy and sensations began to once more die away, Mydaiel closed her eyes once more. She knew very little about what occurred within this pool, what her kin experienced. It was rarely discussed in detail, a private moment of terror and pride so tightly woven they could not be differentiated. She felt those emotions rising in her, an ever expanding balloon. Fear of death, fear of the discomfort, of never rising from these depths, perishing surrounded by the sin she was destined to cleanse from the world. But also pride. Immense self pride for making it this far, for not having quit or stumbled. Once or twice, those of lesser will and fortitude had panicked, backed out at the last moment. Those individuals needed to be dragged into the pool, held down by their sisters in arms until the flailing stopped. Those ones rarely lived.

When her breath could be held no longer, Mydaiel gave in. The blood, which felt like it had come to a boil, scalded down her throat and invaded her nostrils as she inhaled. She did not choke, did not cough or sputter or claw for the surface as something far more clogging than air filled her lungs. She did not even twitch, though it burned with all the flames of hell.

Her body felt lighter suddenly, the pain that had ignited her nerves moments prior faded to a dull ache, barely noticeable. Mydaiel opened her eyes, squinting as she adjusted to the harsh beauty of a high noon sun. Grass, soft and springy beneath her bare toes, stretched over rolling hills for miles. Before her, a twisted, gnarled trunk stretched from the ground, splitting into a wild tangle of branches that cast a cooling shade over her. The trunk was solid, formed of jade rather than bark. Topaz leaves and ruby blossoms shone brilliantly as the rays of light caught the fractals of the gems at just the right angles.

There were more of the trees dotting the landscape, some bore leaves of emerald or flowers of dark sapphire. Each was as glorious as the last, and Mydaiel could have stared at them for days. She knew of this place, though she had never stepped foot on the grassy slopes beyond the gates of Avalon. As she turned, she saw the radiant city in the distance. It shimmered like a mirage, the pure white stone almost seeming to waver in the light as though it were a leaf fluttering in a breeze. Spiraling towers of various libraries and keeps, as well as the domed top of the cathedral poked above the wall that ringed the kingdom in.

Their city was constructed at the edge of their world, bordering the drop, the bridge between Earth and Avalon. Her kin rarely ventured beyond the keep, save to gather occasional resources or see to any conflict that may affect the land. For the most part, they kept to what they needed, and allowed the beauty of their world to remain untouched. They were guardians of the drop, warriors of a haven, cleansers of the disease of destruction that rampaged Earth. Their task was as much about salvaging what remained of Earth's glory as it was about containing the flames lest they spread to infect Avalon as well.

Within the blink of an eye, Mydaiel stood in fields of gem trees no longer, but instead looked over a lake. The waters were still, undisturbed, not a ripple breaking the illusion of crystal. But it was not stone, as the trees, simply water so pure, nothing could taint its surface. The sparkle off the lake caused her heart to constrict. She took a deep breath and bowed her head, allowing the tears to burn in her eyes. She understood the meaning of the visions, the landscape flashing behind closed lids. It was to show her, to further her understanding, of what she was truly protecting.

Until my dying breath.

With the vow, awoke a hunger the likes she'd never experienced. It dug its claws deep into her gut. A hunger, a thirst. This she knew of. The desire to hunt, to feed, to cleanse. Awakening it within each Avalon Angel was the purpose of this ritual. Drowning in the sin of mankind brought it to the surface, and would stay with her throughout every hunt. This was her life's purpose. The task to which she'd been groomed from childhood. It was time now to take her place in the hunt. She was finally ready. She could feel it deep within her soul.

"Mydaiel? Mydaiel, it is time. Awaken." As a voice cut through the illusion, it wavered. Mydaiel groaned. When her eyes opened next, she staring up at the high, vaulted ceiling of the cathedral. She licked her lips and swallowed the mouthful of blood still pooling in the back of her throat. Her mouth felt rather slimy, but it was not unpleasant. If anything, she craved another taste. Her chest expanded as she fed air to starved lungs for the first time in several minutes. She felt a little woozy, but otherwise unharmed.

The moment she began to breathe again, several sets of hands were there, pushing her upright, then lifting her to her feet.

Her skin was still dyed red from the basin, and her legs shook as she put her weight back on them. She turned and found a smiling face staring at her. Hazelnut eyes stood out against ashen skin framed in black, wavy tresses. A few wisps hugged an angular jawline, while the rest were tugged back into an elaborate braid perched atop her head. "You have done well, Mydaiel," the woman praised. Her voice was rich and velvety, and rumbled in her chest as she spoke. She dipped her head until their foreheads met. Mydaiel closed her eyes and smiled. The gesture had always been one of quiet affection and she appreciated it.

"Thank you, Sarielle," Mydaiel purred. Her feathers ruffled as she preened under the older angel's attention.

A weight dropped down across Mydaiel's shoulders as another practically draped herself over her side. The same pale skin and dark hair greeted her, though these locks where slashed short over the angel's shoulders, and her eyes were a bright hazelnut. She grinned openly, ruby lips spreading to reveal pearly teeth. "How do you feel?" Charmeine inquired. Unlike Sarielle's deeper pitch, Charmeine's voice had a higher lilt, sweet as a flute's tone.

Mydaiel pondered the question and smacked her lips. "Hungry," she admitted.

Sarielle chuckled. "Fear not, sister. That will be sated soon enough."

"Yes, the hunt is nearly upon us. I too am famished," Charmeine sighed, throwing an arm against her forehead. Mydaiel smiled. Despite being nearly two decades her elder, Charmeine had a refreshingly youthful flare for dramatics. Mydaiel loved the two as deeply as possible. Sarielle had long since been initiated, Charmeine on the cusp, but both had treated her with tender attentions from the day she was adopted into their care. Though not linked through blood, they treated her as part of their clutch all the same.

She was jerked from her thoughts as Sarielle shook her discarded satin cloak out over her shoulders once more, tying it off. "Come. Avalon will celebrate its newest warrior and it will not do to have you show up looking part of the banquet."

Mydaiel blushed. She was well aware of her feathers still pasted to her body, of the blood beginning to dry and flake along her skin. She lifted an arm for a closer examination. The smell alone was enough to drive her wild, lingering in her sinuses like the cling of rotten eggs.

Delectable rotten eggs.

She licked her lips. The hunger was raking at her gut like a caged predator. Her stomach felt shrunken, gripped by unrelenting briars. Perhaps she could get away with just a lick or two.

It would be a shame to waste.

Sarielle caught her wrist and Mydaiel nearly leapt from her own flesh. "Each of us is familiar with your hunger. It is always most intense when it first awakens. But you must learn the discipline to control your appetite. You are permitted to feed during the hunt, Mydaiel, but duty comes first."

"Duty comes first," she agreed with a dip of her head. "Avalon comes first. I-oof-" Mydaiel broke off, winded, as Charmeine's open palm landed firmly between her shoulder blades and knocked her recently reclaimed breath from her lungs. A few gentler pats followed.

"It gets easier," Charmeine cut in. "Wait until your first flight." There was a moment where her heart stalled in her chest at Charmeine's comment. She glanced up at Sarielle, tilting her head to meet the gaze of the older angel, a full head taller. Her eldest sister blinked slowly and nodded. The two were vastly different. One was stoic and stern, and took her obligations very seriously, while the other was more laid back and playful. Though there wasn't a soul in the cathedral that would question Charmeine's loyalties. They did not speak with her often in detail about the hunt. She knew very little about it, aside from the duties she was expected to perform. It was a sacred tradition, a legacy, and the merits of it were not described to the uninitiated. Children of Avalon were left to wonder.

But Mydaiel was no longer a child, not after today, and her first flight was something she had been dreaming and imagining about from a very young age. Now that it loomed, her heart was a fluttering butterfly within her chest.

"Come," Sarielle repeated with an incline of her head. "Let us get you cleaned up. There is a feast to attend."

The first chapter in something new I'm working on. It's going to be a lot darker and more intense than anything I've done before. Chapter two is already up on Patreon for anyone who is interested. Hope you all enjoyed the first installment.
-Fantasy Ocean