“S’far s’I know, I ain’t a’body’s prized progeny. Least, none’s bothered to let me know, yet.” Ellis covered his surprise with a calloused and self-depreciating riposte, suddenly uncomfortable under the woman’s green-eyed gaze. He lifted his hand from the anvil to rub the back of his neck, smirk faltering for a few heartbeats once he put together all that she was implying in his presence. He blinked slowly, watching her critically examine his knife while she spoke.
It was obviously not pure silver, more like a careful blend of the precious metal and tempered steel, folded together with the appearance of marbeled ink found on the pages of the most expensive of books. The edge, however, was definitely just the softer metal, carefully sharpened. She was handing it back to him before he could say anything else, leaving him to return it to his boot almost by reflex even as his dark eyes followed her hands to the sword at her hip, unwiling to continue staring at her face lest she suddenly decide his existence in the moment was, indeed, actually offensive. It wouldn’t have been the first time in his life.
The blacksmith fell into a less intimidated sort of quiet once her weapon was in his educated grip, utterly distracted by the naked blade in a way that had no carnal comparison in all the sordid streets of the city of sin. He weighed the balance of the thing with equally practiced ease, spending more than a few quiet moments studying every detail, feeling the wear of her grip, visualizing how she wielded the thing, obviously unable to find fault in its craftsmanship. He went so far as to run his thumb over the well-honed edge, willing to leave behind his own inhuman stain to feel the sharpness. He was obviously not the only one to do so. Ellis chewed at the inside of his cheek as he did so, however, the heat in his chest growing cold as it tightened, air in his lungs reluctant to flow properly with the realization that this wasn’t some blade that cut down mere mortals, but to murder those he’d reluctantly been forced to call kin by the demonic origins of his birth.
Exhaling through his teeth, sharp features drawn into a much more serious expression than before, he handed the sword back with only a hint of reluctance. His humor dampened, coals smouldering somewhere under his skin, if he had anything to say about her presence or her weapon, he refused to give them a voice. There was little he had to say on eternal matters: he was a finite creature, an accident as far as he was concerned had anyone cared to ask his deep, most honest, darkest sort of opinions of himself. He was convinced he was little more than the wasted potential of hellfire bound up in all the failings of human flesh, especially in comparison to true demons. Not a chosen vessel, but just a burning piece of shrapnel left behind in the wake of something more powerful and more purposeful than himself. No one had yet to direct him otherwise, not in over three quarters of a century. He’d been left to simply wonder just how many decades he’d watch pass by, though he’d rather end his life staring at the hilt of a blade like the one he’d just returned to its owner from the wrong end than waste away as an old man who stubbornly refused to look his true age.
That was for damn sure.
She was removing her cloak while he struggled with his mortality under her gaze, and yet he couldn’t help himself but to look. Nearly half a century in Leeds hadn’t entirely desensitized the darkling to the kinds of thoughts aroused by the exposing of flesh in front of his person for any reason, not hardly, but the woman’s wounds were enough of a different sort of sight that his black eyes widened and he lingered without any hint of lewdness,
“Kill ‘em, eh?” He finally exhaled, shoving his hands into the pockets of his apron for lack of knowing what to do with them. Did he take her cloak? Did he offer for her to sit down? Did he touch anything else? Dragging himself back to her face, he added quietly, aware that killing werewolves was no simple matter, “In that case, I think I may be able t’make ye somethin’ that’ll ‘elp ye. What yer lookin’ for don’ ‘ave t’be pure silver, y’know that, right? I mean, there’s ways of makin’ a stronger blade by mixin’ steel, an’ there’s few, if not none, who can work with metals at ‘eats I can.”
It was true. His fiery birthright had that single advantage, if none other.
“Options for ye depend on size, lass. Y’ain’t lookin’ for somethin’ large, are ye? Even for a dagger? Perhaps ye’d rather somethin’ as small as I got, ‘cause there’s little worse than onna ‘em mutts feelin’ it on ye at th’wrong damn time.”
Belle needed little time to consider her options. Soon as they were presented, her mind was made up. The wolf she intended to slay would never allow her close enough if she openly wore silver at her hip or across her back; the blade would need to be small, similar to what Ellis himself carried. Similar, she realized, to the blade Shiloh kept on his person at nearly all times. She felt a small pang of guilt for leaving him out of this, but quickly pushed it aside. That she could, would, deal with later.
"I would prefer something easily slipped into a boot or hidden up a sleeve. The making and metal I leave to you. I confess I am not as knowledgable in those areas as perhaps I should be. My first weapons were … not fire-forged and those I carry now I have had for many years."
Her expression softened, then, into something kinder, warmer, less business-like and distant. This man would be providing a greatly needed service, granting her a boon; no doubt he came across enough adversity in his life, he did not need her misplaced rudeness. After all, she had counted a lover and a brother amongst Hell’s infernal ranks, could she not also count one as a friend or associate?
"I apologize for my harsh words earlier, Mr Callaghan. I am afraid pain and a single-mindedness has seen civility leave my tongue and mind. I meant no insult; you can no more help the nature of your birth than I can help the nature of my creation. I would say, too, that were I still what I once was, we would not be having this conversation. Indeed, this wolf would not have gotten so close so as to touch a solitary hair on my head." Her smile turned rueful at that, perhaps as she thought on what gifts she had once held that were now lost forever. Whatever the cause, it was soon gone, replaced by another, fleeting, thought.
"They are not all so bad, the garou, I know one who is kinder than most Men, just as not all of Hell’s own are so wicked or Heaven’s all good. The world, I have learned, I continue to learn, is nothing so much as shades of grey."
She was riled up. It was a usual sight for the old man, and his dark soul fed from the anger that electrocuted through her features. Morphing even the beautiful into the ugly in those seconds of lost control. There was a beast in all humans. Carnal, and savage if the correct buttons were pushed, and Brock’s entire life had been spent testing those boundaries. It was such an intricate piece of work for the man to extract information in the most unusual of ways. It’s why his King relied on him. That the Bloodhawks needed him to learn all he could. Because he always got what he wanted in the end.
"Hell, Heaven, Purgatory, Limbo, and what I can only imagine are infinite other realms that speak for the many religions, and species in our world, all end in destination of a soul. In the end does it truly matter where we are headed? What of those souls used to fuel magic hmm? Is their very life force stripped to raw energy and used for selfish means of a gifted being forever lost? We know not of our destination, and nor do you fallen one. I believe that frightens you, and even if you speak not of it, you think on it when you are alone. Or in times of death of another mortal…"
Brock fingered the rim of his tea, appearing in deep thought but more in calculating his words into ways for him to get some answers he wanted. “No, when you meet a lost sibling like Azrael. Ahh…that is where your pride lingers. Why the acts of justice burn as a torch held above your head, mocking the halo you once wore with pride and image of good. That must be a terrible burden to wear on your shoulders. To know that your purpose in life is but to take on jobs of the tired and the weak who cry for their loved ones who are apart of something so grand. That their simple minds can’t even begin to fathom all around them, or better who it is they are speaking too. Would you tell those people you helped today what you were? Tell them the reasons you crashed upon the earth? Would you then still think they deserve this lapse in heroism when they look at you with a crazed expression or worse questioned awe as to why you made such a choice?”
The man rose his eyes, firmly tilting his head until he could take in her entire image seated upon the chair. She looked nothing short but a little girl to him. Long lean legs shaped for running, and an upper body littered in small muscles from her weapon choice. Brock understood in grander exactly what she could have been in heaven, but the hilarity to him is that it didn’t really matter. Because that vessel she encased is now hers. She bleeds, and breathes and will die like any other human. Fascinating to think humanity is the punishment for their fallen kind.
"What if I told you that woman you saved today cost the lives of three families? Children burned in sacrifice to fuel her magic in dark ways? Would you even believe me? No, for the man who upholds the law carries no sway in you but the petty do? Where your loyalties lie will continue to be your downfall. I propose this then, if you find that witch who is stumbling down the road. And convince her to give you the confession I already know about the children than I will supply you the antidote to the poison currently aimed to kill her in less than an hour. Choice is yours, you released the witch from my clutches. Now does she live?"
"What frightens me, gaoler, is becoming like you. So hardened to horrors and violence that I forget what it is to be good and kind; that I forget what it is to love and be loved. I have made my peace with my fate and I know what will happen for I have arranged it thus. I will mourn never seeing this world again, and those I leave behind, but do not think for a moment you know enough to speak for me."
The naming of Azrael by those cruel, hateful lips left a nigh-palpable sour taste in Belle’s mouth and, no doubt, her expression shewed it. She was growing tired of this back and forth, the needless needling, the verbal sparring. Would that she had just killed the man when she had the chance, if only to save herself this present hell.
"I help those in need when and how I can. I care little if they know my origins or no. They guessed at them in years before, just as you have done so now, and there have been some who know what I am now. Do you think to shame me? To bury me in guilt and regret by naming my brother and invoking his divinity? Whatever game it is you are playing, you have moved false. My peace has been made. Try again and mayhap this time your aim will be truer, old man."
Eyes followed his movements as he rose from his seat, muscles tensed as he leaned over her, his gaze taking her in like a wolf eyeing a particularly tasty looking rabbit. There was something else there, too, that set her teeth on edge and put her heart to beating ever so slightly faster and harder. The faint tinge of fear playing along her spine, clutching her hands into fists, it varied very little from the same fear she had felt when cornered by Caine.
His laying bare of the girl’s supposed sins did little to sway her, as he had guessed they would not. The confession to poisoning, and the choices presented her, however, set her to blazing.
"Damn you!" Belle pushed out of her chair, the force of her action sending the thing scraping backwards across the wooden floor with a terrible scraping sound. Once more she was on her feet and she stalked past Brock to the cabin’s lone door, fear forgotten in the face of this new revelation. "I will find her, goaler, make no mistake, and I will save her."
Shiloh was laughing already, pressing his lips into the curve of her shoulder with his hands wrapped securely around her waist from behind. He wished to keep such silliness far from view when other people were around, but he couldn’t help himself. They were walking ridiculous, in a jumbled trot that mocked newlyweds leaving the chapel while he lead her to his house. But it was completely his fault over Belle’s. He just wouldn’t let go of her making their struggle of back and forth hilarious to the peering eye.
The wolf could feel the Ports people watching the scene with their own laughter filling the shared space. And he decided since the stage was set to only fill the town with more gossip on the woman who occupied his time by pausing their motions with a twist of his body to her front. He couldn’t get away with such public displays in the cities, but here was home. And he took advantage with a distracted smile to wrap his hands around her jaw. Cradling it like the finest treasure before he leaned across to coax her into a gentle kiss with a brush of his nose against her cool skin.
"You taste like dirt," he said a hair from her lips, and attempted to fight his smile but couldn’t. Shaking his head caused a cloud of dried dust to puff between them, and it succeeded in releasing a barking laugh out of the Garou who stepped forward to keep stealing kisses on her cheeks and shoulders even if she fought against them. It smudged the muck they were covered in, while he regained his close quarters in half attempt to get her back to his house so he could have an excuse to wash her off.
He grinned innocently down at Belle, knowing again, he was the reason they both were dirty in various degree’s. From leaves caught in their hair, and caked mud splashed up their backs. Shiloh having maybe thought it hilarious to tackle his woman into a sandbank that just his luck was actually a mud puddle. ”Every kiss tastes like mud,” he whined in jest, brushing it from his lips with added smile. “You are still beautiful though…do such compliments work even after I got you covered in mud?” He whispered closely to her ear, folding her hand in his to get them to his house faster.
Belle had more luck, even if just slightly, than her lover in maintaining a straight face despite their ridiculous appearance. Though her steps were severely hampered by his weighted embrace and the tangle of their legs, though her clothes stuck uncomfortably and her boots squelched, she kept her head high, acting for all the world as if it weren’t immediately apparent to one and all what had transpired between her and the wolf.
Lips parted in a soft “O” of surprise when he spun ‘round, the shift of his weight sending her balance slightly off. Calculated, perhaps, on his part, as she stumbled ever so slightly into him, hands braced against his chest. She gave into his stolen kisses, returning theft for theft, arms snaking around his trim waist to hold him closer.
His comment as to her taste brought a sardonic smile to her lips, the soft breath of a laugh caressing his lips as she teasingly reprimanded him. “If only you had thought to push me into a pile of sweetest flowers …”
She considered his compliment, head cocked to one side as if lost in serious contemplation, teeth catching and worrying her plump lower lip. “You think to play to my vanity, but I have none. Or you think to escape my ire, which remains to be seen.” Her tone remained playful, even as she put on an air of annoyance. Shiloh’s compliments, though she scarcely admitted it, did work. She found a joy in his praise of her beauty, the way he looked at her, admired her. It set her stomach to fluttering, her heart racing.
She would not, could not, remain cross with him for long and the smile that now played at her lips and the hurrying in her steps said so much.
He stood on the banks as he watched her flounder in the water,his signature smirk gracing his lips as she slowly crawled back to shore. The ronin kept an easy stance as an amiable distance was kept between them. Even as she stood shivering from the shock of the cold water with hair plastered over her face, it was indeed difficult not to admire her. The way her sopping clothes clung to her left very little to the imagination, and she was, in fact, quite attractive. He had seen it during their last encounter, but had been consumed with an altogether different desire to really take heed to it. He had to give Shiloh some credit in his choice of lovers. He sure knew how to pick them. “You must not hold my admiration against me, when your charms are such a sight to behold, little dove.”
It was when she mentioned again that the other uratha was due there any moment, wielding his name as a threat, that Caine decided to just go ahead and upset that little illusion for her. “Yes, I heard. Shiloh, you said? I know the name and the wolf well.” His grin spread just a little more as he looked down at her, not needing to bluff his way through this. “We are, what you might call, two sides of the same coin.” He held out his hands in a peaceful gesture. “If you like, I’d be more than happy to wait here until he arrives and he can settle this once and for all.”
In truth, the desire to hunt this woman had been a result of circumstances and adrenaline. Now standing here before her, there was an itch in him to finish what they had started before, but there were several other things he could think to do with her. The fact that she had a connection to Shiloh was only a minor inconvenience, knowing too well how protective the garou was over those he cared for. He was not about to get on the wolf’s bad side over jealousy of a woman.
He had made a point to keep himself between her and her weapons, although he could detect the scent of the silver concealed on her. So, as a gesture of good faith, he backed away and sidestepped to stand by the tree and took a seat at its roots, leaning back casually. “Why don’t you make yourself comfortable while we wait for him? And, do us both a favor, and keep your hand away from your boot?” He shrugged slightly. “I’d really hate to explain to him as to why you had to strip just so you wouldn’t do anything foolish.”
A frown darkened those pretty features when Caine admitted to knowing Shiloh; more so, to being intimately familiar with the wolf. Heart and mind instantly rejected the thought, throwing it aside as ludicrous, a cheap ploy to throw her further off balance. Though she did not know every one of her lover’s friends and acquaintances she had full faith he would not stoop so low as to associate with such a craven beast as this one.
And yet …
The phrase “two sides of the same coin” stuck in her mind like a raspberry seed and the more she tried to dislodge it, the more it irritated. It was a familiar saying, and not in the passive sense of its every day use. No, she had heard it bandied about before, describing another who was dear to the one nearest her heart.
As she worried at the connection slowly being made, she kept her eyes on her attacker, side-stepping to a tree across from where he now sat. She shivered as she moved; the air that had once been pleasant was now freezing to her damp skin and wetter clothes. There might have been something of her building anger at being so humiliated and surprised in the gesture, too. She half-turned, to better inspect her footing, and the scars raking across her back became plainly visible to he who had inflicted them. There, too, could be seen the twin starbursts on either shoulder blade, their size and symmetry suggesting wings torn free and lost.
Aware of this, and more self-conscious of them than her nearly naked breasts, Belle turned again and sat at her tree’s roots, straight-backed and cross-legged, her hands on her knees and in plain view.
"There is one person Shiloh describes using the words you did. A wolf, like he, bereft of pack and forced into solitude. What would he say, what would he do, if he knew it was you who attacked me, Caine?"
The words stuck in her throat and tears, hot and angry, welled in her eyes. She fought to maintain her composure, to not give another inch beyond what had already been taken from her.
"That was centuries ago… It still affects the city." He was surprised at her age. She only seemed to be around his age, maybe even younger. But, her aura betrayed her looks. He could tell that she was something different, something old. It was familiar, like he had seen it before but not quite the same.
He continued to cut the meat as she spoke. He was glad to know that she wasn’t a phantom or a demon, he didn’t want to fight on his birthday. He wanted to just celebrate it, like how he had seen Stephen celebrate his with his mother and sister. Caden had felt so out of place there, as if he didn’t belong because he didn’t understand the custom. But, watching it, it had stayed with him. He longed for kinship and family, he had been longing for it since his father died.
The knife slipped as she spoke the passage. He pulled away from the meat immediately as his finger bled. He wrapped his hand into his other hand as he focused magic into the wound to heal it. He muttered the incantation under his voice. He had heard that there were some that could use magic without incantations, but he couldn’t imagine that. He finally turned to face her.
"Your divinity is apparent to me, my friend. It is as if being bathed in the purest light. You may say that you aren’t an angel, but I must disagree. Your aura is angelic." He stepped back to the table to continue cutting the meat. It was almost done and he wasn’t going to let a small slip frighten him.
"May I ask what you did as an angel, Belle?" He was curious about her. The only other angel he had met had been Ian and their meeting had not been a pleasant experience. His meeting with Belle was so far much more pleasant.
"I went by another name in those days; Sofiel. I …," She paused here, searching for the words to properly describe all those aeons that seemed, upon reflection, so short a time. "I strove to nurture a love of nature in Man, to teach him better methods of animal husbandry and farming. I spoke with all the creatures in Eden …" A whimsical smile crossed her lips. "I taught my dearest brother, Azrael, how to speak in the language of birds so we could have our own private language."
Belle looked up to Caden as he spliced his finger, concern softening her features. She began to offer assistance, but stopped short as the wizard healed himself; how easily she forgot the skills her host had at his disposal. Seeing he was healed, she continued in her remembrances.
”I was a warrior, too, fighting shoulder to shoulder with my brothers and sisters in arms against the legions of Hell. There was no better with a bow or sword and that is no idle boast, but truth. It was a varied portfolio, I counted myself a bookkeeper, too, keeping tally of souls as they departed the earthly realm and headed towards their eternal reward or punishment … Another task that brought me closer to my brother.”
Belle’s eyes dropped and she folded her hands together in a gesture reminiscent of prayer. “You are the first to tell me something of my divinity yet remains. I had thought it completely gone forever; it is comforting to think that is not so. Thank you, Caden.” She lifted her face to the man and smiled.
"The stew smells delicious, by the way. Is there anything I can do to help in its preparation?"
Ellis allowed himself to watch the woman walk past him without asking and approach the hearth of his forge, slack-jawed and shoulders sagging. He hadn’t given her permission to wander his shop; he’d simply invited her in. Dark eyes narrowed as he drew up to the fullness of the height he sorely lacked, sliding his hands from his apron pockets as he studied her, not entirely able to hide her discomfort from him by the way she walked. Where she should have been moving with what seemed to be a hunter’s grace, small and just as lithe as himself, he could see that something painful was marring the fluidity of her motions. It was unfortunate, really, because even the hint of such things just happened to be interesting enough to watch, a far cry from so many stumbling, broken gaits found crawling the streets of Leeds.
He opened his mouth for a moment to object, to shoo her away from the precious heat of his flame, the heat that was often his only source of cheer in the near-unbearable cold of winter, the heat that warmed more than just his bones, knit as he was with more than just human flesh. Even if he had been born in it the middle of winter, he was well aware that whatever had made him who he was had been forged in fire instead. But he was forced to shut it just as quickly at her assumptions about his age, sharp features drawing tightly together for the flicker of a scowl before he laughed, coarse and loud. He ran dirty fingers through his auburn hair as he answered her smile with a wry expression,
"Mmm, aye, I ‘ear that’n more often than ye know, lass. It’s safe t’say that it ain’t worth judgin’ by th’outside ‘ere on this isle, s’far as I’ve learned, anyway." He was indeed older than he looked, but finally old enough not to care. At least he was no longer that soft-faced boy so underestimated in Ireland, at least the handful of decades that had passed since he’d crossed the sea to Athoria and made something of himself in this smithy had allowed him to grow into his features as a man. He wasn’t about to share what he was with a stranger, especially not one asking of him what she was.
"Silver?" Ellis hissed that word, feeling a warmth of recognition spread like wildfire down the back of his neck, a heat fueled mostly by curiosity down his spine. He was friends with wolves. He may have even carried a silver weapon of his own, knowing some to be as unpredictable as they were true. Still, her request made him wary, and he dragged his words over coals as hot as those that fed the flames behind Belle’s healing back, closing the space between him as he approached his hearth again, "I ain’t a jeweler. I don’ make trinkets’r toys."
The darkling chewed the inside of his cheek, standing in front of brown-haired woman to lean on his still-hot anvil, bare-handed and unflinching. His eyes wandered over the hilt of her blade, wishing for a moment he could see the weapon to truly judge its craftsmanship, to assure himself it wasn’t just for show. He let his gaze travel upward, and if their black depths lingered anywhere near where her crossed arms hid the curves of her body his view on their way back up to her green stare, it was admittedly hard for anyone but himself to tell, “Silver’s a soft metal, not like iron’r steel. It must be poured, molded, not ‘ammered an’ forged. A dagger made’f pure silver’s ‘ard pressed to be sturdy—”
Ellis finally let a smile burn its way into his features, full of a surety in his skill, “—but it ain’t impossible.”
He held her eyes for a moment, sliding his fingers across his anvil as he bent to remove something from inside his left boot. Standing, he flipped the small knife once quickly, too quickly, before offering for her to take it and inspect it from his warm, calloused hand hilt first. It was definitely not a dagger, but it was silver, just not purely so. The orange glow of his hearth danced in the blackness of his eyes. He knew what he was admitting and he was openly unconcerned with the consequences,
"I can’t with good conscience guar’ntee such’a weapon could be used more’n once, ‘owever. If yer askin’ for reasons I think yer askin’, y’ve got some options ‘cause it ain’t gotta be pure silver.”
Belle watched the smithy’s uncaring display; his bare hands on the still-heated anvil, eyes darkening to black, the too-quick reflexes. If any of it surprised or shocked the young woman, she showed no sign of it; his heritage was no concern to her, only his skill.
"I did not know Hibernia had taken to breeding darklings and demons," she said idly, taking the proffered knife. "Though I will admit to its having been some time since I last saw those emerald shores."
She examined the knife now in her grip, turning it over and testing the weight and balance of it in her hand. It wasn’t perfectly suited to her, unsurprising since it had been made for the man across from her, but she could find no real fault in its making. “And if you’re meaning to frighten me or test my mettle, you’ll mustneeds do better than that, Mr Callighan. I have stood on the edge of Elysium and looked over the edge into the Abyss, facing such heat as to singe even your skin.”
With those words, she handed the weapon back to its owner with a nod of thanks. It was joined, soon enough, by the blade at her hip. Her reflexes weren’t so quick as his, but their fluidity spoke to years of experience and muscle memory. Ellis’ well-trained eye would instantly recognize the age of the thing; this was no newly crafted accessory to adorn a fashionable dress for court. The thing was older than him, to be sure, easily twice his true age. It was well-made and even better cared for. Leather hilt told a tale, too, of its owner. This looked original, worn smooth and supple, the grip in the exact shape of the girl’s palm and fingers. This clue, taken in with her queer nigh-archaic pattern of speech, and earlier claim of standing on heaven’s shore lead to one conclusion: She was another with more than the blood of Adam and Eve in her veins.
"And since honesty appears to be the currency trading hands this day, I intend to use the weapon you make to kill a garou." Belle simply and quietly divested herself of the furred cape, draping it over one arm and turned her back to the smith. Arms bent back, she exposed enough skin between pants’ top and bodice’s hem to show four cruel, wide, still-healing gouges marring the once perfect flesh of her back. The angle said they went from right hip to left shoulder and, once she turned to face him again, a glimpse could be caught of their tail end, curving about and ending just beneath her collarbone.
"It is by God’s goodwill that I escaped with only that injury. He who did it had more than a pound of flesh on his mind. I ask that you forge me a weapon that will kill such as he; if it can only be used the once," here she shrugged, settling her cloak back about her shoulders, "My aim is true; have you no worry there. Pray, what options are open to me, Mr Callighan?"
He had been travelling through the Hallowed Oak, leaving one city for another, willing to take on a job if it came his way but altogether content to simply wander aimlessly for a bit. His coin purse would start to cringe after a while, but he was not a man without means. After all, money was not the be all and end all of trade in the world, thank goodness. If he could not gain what he needed by way of favors, he could always take what he wanted by force. However, as Caine walked at an easy pace through the woods, careful to stick to the trails after what had happened with the hallucinations several weeks prior, a very distinct and familiar scent caught his attention, which he immediately followed.
It had been quite some time since this particular aroma filled nostrils, but in a world of several million unique fragrances, there was a handful that he would never forget for the rest of his days. This was one of them. Strong, sweet, confident, and deadly. Had it possessed any other qualities unique to certain species found roaming the lands of Athoria, he might have mistaken her for another, but the mortal shell in and of itself was utterly one of a kind and he was drawn like a moth to a flame, knowing he would probably be burned and welcoming the opportunity with open arms.
When he finally came upon her, her back was to him, sitting in a pose of serenity and beautiful posture, her back straight and yet relaxed as she breathed evenly. The picturesque scene of peace and tranquility was almost too delicious and he wished to ravage it to pieces. The ronin could remember every pious, self-righteous word pouring from her lips as she defended herself quite admirably in the face of a bloodthirsty werewolf. Now she sat, completely exposed by a burbling creek. It was almost more than he could have hoped for.
Caine paused in his approached when a dead twig snapped beneath his foot, ready to pounce on her if she whirled on him. Yet she didn’t so much as flinch. He had to keep from laughing outright as she scolded him, no, scolded Shiloh, and warned him of the consequences for dowsing her in the river. Her words were playful yet sincere, and he could only imagine the intimacy she shared with his ronin brother.
Deciding he had nothing to lose, he slowly walked up behind her, allowing her to believe he was the elder garou for another moment longer. Leaning down to wrap his arms around her waist, he quickly lifted her off her feet and tossed her into the stream, waiting on the bank with a malicious smirk on his face for her to surface and realize just how grave her error was.
"Shiloh, my threats are not empty. I—" Belle cracked an eye open as she heard the wolf come closer and it was only when it was too late did she realize the gravity of her error.
She flailed against Caine’s grasp about her, too surprised to do much more than kick at the air and shout protests that were too quickly drowned, quite literally, as she hit the ice-cold stream. She stayed under its rushing surface for a moment, then two, longer than one would have thought, then came, gasping, to the surface. Scrambling, she came to dry land, standing now on the same shore as her attacker.
Sopping wet and now freezing, she didn’t look like much of a threat, but then how dangerous had she looked in that alley? With a shaking hand, she pushed her hair from her face and spit a moutful of river water on the ground. Leather pants, already form-fitting, were obscene in their soaked clinging. Her blouse even more so; for all it now covered and preserved she might as well have been nude from the waist up.
"Come to finish your business? Or perhaps you wish to admire your handiwork?" Eyes, ever defiant, glanced to where she had pierced him with that mangled, twisted silver cross. "Whatever business you have, make it quick. I will not be alone for long; another of your kind is well on his way and he is a more formidable foe than I by far. Though, perhaps you only attack solitary girls."
For all her words and bluster and bravado, she made no move to fetch the blade and bow lying, still, propped against the tree where she had left them. She well remembered his speed and had no desire to wear any more of his claw marks. Though, this was not to say she was completely defenseless; tucked safely in one boot rested the silver blade she had commissioned from the darkling smithy. One hit was all he had promised her and, if it came to it, she would see it count.
Various groups of angels were packed within Gabriel’s great hall. Though, it was Michael that summoned his kin for the urgent meeting. Many did not know what the impending news consisted of, but rumors revolved around some demon upstart with heinous plans. Lailah stood closet to the duo of Archangels, her wings twitching anxiously as she leaned next to a marble pillar. Michael had just bid the gathering to quiet their chatter so he could begin the briefing and tell the truth they all awaited. Once his audience settled down, God’s right hand finally began to speak in that booming voice that shook even the strongest of souls.
"We know that our enemies have grown powerful, regardless of the weight of their damnation. They’ve become restless, vengeful, hungry, and daring. And that hunger births ambition." He paused for a moment, allowing his striking, cobalt eyes to wash over his brethren. "These abominations that were once our kin have pushed into Limbo, using that void as an extension of their kingdom.” Michael spat the final word like a curse and all knew of his hate for Lucifer and his brood. “Furtur, some bastard son of the Morningstar is planning to breach the barriers between Earth and Limbo.”
As Michael paced, his chestnut hair lightly glistened beneath the sheen of light that seemed to always envelope him. “He has twenty-nine legions in his wake, but we shall send in a small unit that will strike hard and fast in the operation’s center. Defeat Furtur and his army will scatter; all of them are craven in nature.” At that statement’s end, his gaze turned to her direction. “Lailah, I have chosen you to lead this task. The right to name your lieutenant belongs to you; step forth and name them.”
Determined and proud, the Angel of Night did as commanded and stepped into the space between her fellow soldiers and superiors. Her midnight blue gaze surveyed the crowd for a tortuously long moment before falling on Archangel Ariel and then the angel next to them. “Sofiel, I name you as my Second.”
Upon hearing her name called, Sofiel stepped forward, the crowd about her parting like the Red Sea. That she had been so named came as little surprise to the veterans and they acknowledged her passing with respectful nods; the raw recruits, those greener than the lady’s dress, looked with confusion onto the gentle woman. Surely Lailah had meant another … Sofiel, with her flowers and sweet smiles, was best left culling weeds in her gardens and not bringing down demons in battle.
As she moved through the crowd, meeting nods with familiar smiles, her green gown swirled and moved about her figure with a preternatural grace, transforming itself from dreamy romantic gossamer to battle ready plate.
Flimsy layers of skirt enveloped her legs, dividing, becoming boots and greaves and cuisse. The remaining fabric separated, hanging like so many fluttering banners from her waist, revealing glimpses of smooth peachy thighs. Bodice fabric shifted to molded breastplate, gorget, faulds; all delicately etched with images of blossoming flowers and arching beasts. Sleeves, fluttering and flowing. wrapped themselves into pauldron and gauntlets similarly decorated as the rest.
A long sword now hung at one hip, seemingly pulled from nothing, the once delicate belt chain at her waist now thick buckled leather; a bow hung at her back, unstrung and needing only to be brought forth to do its work. All that remained of the demure woman listening to Michael’s words mere moments before was the crown of roses atop her unbound tresses.
Coming to Lailah’s side, Sofiel greeted the other with a warm smile and a hand over her green-plated breast. “You honor me, sister. I will gladly fight by your side.”
Michael looked at the girl with an ill-concealed hard-eyed gaze. Her closeness with Abaddon was still a fresh thing in many minds, long-lived and far-reaching as celestial memory was. Sofiel, to her credit, met his eye without flinching or falling back.
"I will do my duty, Michael. If Furtur gains yet another inch, it will be because he and his legions have felled me and stepped over my body."
The woman had a fucking mouth. Brock hated women who thought themselves capable of such talk to a man. It brought up thoughts of striking his own mother to quiet her sharp tongue, and he wanted nothing more than to whip this little, over-confident creature until she bled upon the floor. He was sure her body was puckered in scars that he would maliciously tear open and ask how she got them. Adding his own until she would have no choice but to look at them and remember she had caused such torture to her body.
The treason bleeding from her gums like liquid poison rose his brows, and elicited an obvious wash of something darker than demonic over his features. If she wanted to play such games with declaration and words she was speaking to the wrong person. Brock enjoyed nothing more than a puzzle of wit and complete destruction to a persons life. And her comment about her divinity left nothing to his imagination. He knew exactly what creature she was, and the fact she held such immediate hostility no matter the man doing his fucking job was infuriating under his heated skin.
"You willingly speak treason to me," he said carefully, placing the cup upon the table to blink stormy iris’ her way. "Such anger you have. Yet for some reason I feel this isn’t linked to me. We would leave today and you would still harbor these strong emotions would you not? Hmm…you speak of your divinity in past tense so it answers questions of your puffed up attitude. Compensation for all you lost, swelling and fueling your ego to make up a mistake you made. One you will live with until your dying breath and judgement on your soul takes place as to if you return to heaven. Or are dragged to hell."
Brock’s fingers wrapped around the ball of poison in his fingers, feeling the give of soft sheep’s belly surrounding it. “Your pride is ridiculous, and un-necessary in this moment. Is conversation so difficult for you? Even more between two souls who in the end will be judged for their deeds by a creature who holds neutral ground. You think I care where I am headed? That your opinion on me is of import? Have you even asked yourself those questions?”
"You dare—? You know NOTHING about me, gaoler! Nothing of my past or my ultimate fate!" Belle began to step forward as she spoke, her brow darkening at this man’s impudence. He continued to needle under skin as surely as if he had her bound to one of his chairs, cruelly hooked instrument in hand and pressed to tender flesh.
Disgusted with herself for falling so easily victim to his verbal traps, she turned on her heel, braid whipping snake-like with the sharp movement. When she spoke again, her voice was softer, but no less dangerous.
"Better you turn that gaze inwards and ask yourself the question: Are you truly prepared for what awaits you? I have seen the fiery pits of Hell, the skins of the damned flayed by whip-wielding fiends. What you play at here," and she gestured to the chairs and bindings, "This is nothing compared to what will be done to you in the hereafter." Not so much a threat, for she had no power over his eternal soul, but fact, and spoken in the same tones he might use when assuring those in his clutches of their utlimate fate.
"What is difficult for me," she continued, eyeing the empty chair, "Is being in your presence." And, saying so, she sat, finally, perched on seat’s edge, not willing to even play at being an at-ease guest.
"You offend all my senses, all I know to be right and true. You speak of a judging creature … I know you do not speak so callously of God. Do you perhaps mean Death? The archangel Azrael? If so, you know even less of him then you do of me. Methinks the realm of your knowledge is limited to pulling false confessions from the broken and the weak."