"I wouldn’t count upon the intelligence of humans to rise above the idiocy of risking not only their own, but the lives of others for a scrap of coin," the angel replied over his separated sister’s shoulder, "but this does seem to be an isolated incident. Whatever the cargo, my former friend didn’t seem to want to discuss it, but his anxiety belied its innocuousness and his eyes, by the way they watched the trees, planted a seed of suspicion that it is something highly sought." Atop the cliff swung the long form of a limp man to which Azrael briefly glanced. "Part of me hopes that whatever is in there is protected enough to escape being waterlogged, but the other wishes to condemn it to the loneliness of a seafloor burial. It’s making me ill."
If his last words were not telling enough, the waning proximity of his voice surely would be. Angels were a hardy creation who were immune to the susceptibility of many things, however at the very top of those they were weak against was magic, especially that belonging to the darker, more dastardly leagues of men. Being the angel of death on top of that, there was precious little that could stir a trepidation within the man so timorous that a degree of separation needed to be forced between himself and the source of such contention. Surely Belle, being wise in both the ways of her former kind as well as her former brother, needed no verbiage to practice her pursuit with an abundance of caution. He receded in the interim.
Wading into the shore whose constant crashing was orchestrated by the moon and exacerbated by the tumult of the weather in the distance, Azrael preoccupied himself with pulling ashore the buoyant corpses of the mysterious traffickers. He abandoned his sanguine slippers for fear of their everlasting surrender to the sea and instead offered himself, ever present train of his consistently oppressive outfits leaving a sluggish trail in the inlet’s sand like a dead appendage of a multi-armed seabeast that accompanied his soggy steps. The men were light upon the waves but overburdened with weight upon more steady ground; the soup of salt in which they had been basting had done little to ease the gravitational tethers to which their still forms clung. The archangel was not an overtly strong man in the least, but some struggle and fuss seemed to cut it when it came to the more permanent placement of the foreign pair.
Meanwhile, the chimes of his sister working the pair of locks rang out as a treblesome percussion to the grumble of thunder beyond, and the clapping of water just behind. Her success may have been marked with some normal, expected expression - perhaps the lid of the chest hitting the sand, a feminine exclamation of surprise or disappointment - but if present, they fell on distractedly deaf ears. Rather, the gift of the chest’s interior was not made known by any sound so much as it was a putrid stench. Fetid air released to mingle with that more natural, the odor seemed to be some noxious combination of an ageless decay and bathyal-based slaughter, as if belonging to the remnants of a deviously divine deepsea form that was destined to decompose in perpetuity. It commingled with the passing breeze until merciful dispersal was made, even if its initial impression lingered to burn the eyes and clog the lungs.
Knelt at the side of one of the men, Azrael felt around his form for some trinket that would place his point of origin, the curiosity with which he searched matching that of a buzzard surveying scraps of carrion for the most prized choice of meat. Pockets were pulled to reveal little in the way of any clues - if there ever had been anything tucked into them it was almost certainly lost in the velocity of their crash - but the angel did find an anklet composed of curious beads around the leg of one man, and in the clutched hand of the other, a necklace that bore an unfamiliar charm. He was busy prying from a cold, dead hand when the chest’s smell passed by and forced him to pause. A long sleeve was lifted for relief from the wayward wafting, though it didn’t seem to do much.
"Eugh," he commented, "is there another body in there?"
"There but remains one way to see what was worth all of this …" Belle’s eyes swept from the two men in the water to their mate swinging from the tree’s branch. Discarded and reclaimed key was put in the top lock and that undid that protective mechanism. For the second, she reached into her jerkin and pulled out a flat, small square of well-worn leather. Laying it out on thigh, she untied it and revealed a set of lockpicks; a thieves kit. A moment’s consideration and she selected the instrument best suited to the task at hand.
The second did not open as readily as the first. There was much twisting and turning and gentle finangling before the thing finally sucumbed to her persistent picking. A soft, triumphant exclamation escaped her lips and, before she peered fully inside the chest, she replaced her tools to their hidden pocket.
Azrael’s reaction to the chest had not gone unnoticed. Mortal though she now be, Belle was not so far gone as to have forgotten the weaknesses she once shared with her kin. Though she could not feel the magical aura radiating out, warping perception like the invisible waves generated by a full-shining summer sun, she felt a sympathetic twinge and, she would not lie, no small sense of trepidition.
Carefully, slowly, she lifted the thing’s lid and, in place of treasure or mundane goods, released a noxious odor that near as like knocked her back. “Saints and stars …” Belle lifted an arm, muffling nose and mouth against the crook of her elbow for all the good it did which was not, sadly, much.
"There’s … There’s a book!" Even muffled, the surprise in her voice was easily heard. With her free hand, she gingerly lifted the tome out. Surprise gave way to unease and even revulsion; this book had not been bound in cloth or leather or even gild, but untreated skin. Whether animal or man’s, she could not say and did not dare guess. "It’s bound in skin," she said to Azrael, turning to speak to him over one shoulder. "That accounts for the stench."
Then, to better ascertain what it was they had stumbled upon, she opened it. Picking pages at random, Belle tried to read what had been written, but her eyes kept sliding off the page, unable to concencrate and picked out specific symbols or words. It was the same no matter the page she picked and the harder she tried to read it, the more her eyes (or was it the book?) rebelled.
"I can’t read it. I try and the words refuse to be se—" A heavy plop-plop interrupted her explanation. Two smallish red blots had appeared on one page, sanguine spreading as more, larger, drops joined the first two.
Dropping the offensive tome back into the chest, Belle put a hand to her nose to find it bleeding profusely. Red streamed down, painting lips and chin and dripping onto tunic and leggings and showed no signs of slowing.
"I have doubts that any of these three are magic-users," she said, even as she attempted to stymy the flow of blood. "No doubt they meant to transfer this ghoulish thing to one who could read it …"
Takeshi blocked a sword that wanted to remove his head with a resonating clash of steel on steel. Pushing against the attack with a hand raised, he blasted the man away from his person and firmly gripped his side that had been cut open. He could heal in a minute if he had enough power to provide himself relief. Tak’s magic in general was wearing thin in a bad way, his head throbbing from the constant use of spells along with his sword fighting.
The remaining crew weren’t approaching the pair standing center of the upper deck surrounded in carnage of Captain Campbell’s crew. The man himself had remained at the helm, his large body, and coarse beard that of a typical mangy pirate. Tak thought his coat ugly, and his hat in shambles for being such a rich pirate like himself. Maybe all this time it was a ruse of sorts, letting Tak run along with his own wrong deductions.
"Capt’n Campbell, we meet again," Tak said still holding his side, knowing he needed his magical strength for what he wanted to do to the man. The storm above them remained swirling in frightening dark clouds and the flicker of electricity from the collisions. Tak spared a glance at Belle, turning enough to see the state she was in with a reassuring nod of approval at her fighting skills. "Ye can handle ye self aye see," Tak said ignoring all around him in that moment of appreciation. "Can ye go release me crew? Kill anyone in ye way."
Takeshi stole a kiss. How could he not? She was there for him when he hadn’t anyone else. Their lips only brushing a second, chastised and unlike him in intensity but the pirate wasn’t looking for what he usually craved. Firmly pushing away he met the approaching captain in a swing of his sword that clashed with his own.
Fight me with out ye magic Capt’n Bin! Ye be a man about this!
Tak thought this amusing. “Pirate..Capt’n, ye know better,” gripping forward his palm pressed into the side of the mans face. Tak’s eye glowed in a sheen of gold, moving in closer as the man stepped back with another attempt to cut him with his weapon. Tak moved them backwards, slamming the larger man’s back into the wall of his Captain’s quarters.
“Diflannu,” he muttered darkly, feeling his very magic surge as the shadows to consume the man before him as he drew out every bit of water from his system. His body concaved, and collapsed in a silent scream along his chest. Skin puckering until it turned to instant dust and added to the fog that filled the deck of the ship. The Captain let go dropping all that was left of the man to explode into a fine powder of aged bones.
He felt something dark lurk in then. A pull from the ocean like Naloth was there watching him. The storm grew in intensity as he stood in place, wind whipping the ocean into a churning tide that crashed the two vessels together. His side was bleeding down through his clothes, but Tak remained frozen with a lost stare on the horizon. Unaware of what was happening around him with the rest of the pirate crew, or the rescuing of his. The faintest of white hazed over his chocolate eye, and an out stretched hand to the ocean.
Though her nerves still sung to the tune of pitched battle, Belle was caught unawares by Tak’s stolen kiss. She had been distracted, looking about at the remaining enemy crew, at the other captain, trying to guess their odds and wondering if her companion could manage more of his awesome magic. The last thing she expected was a hand at her waist, a pirate’s lips upon hers. A not unpleasant thing, though, and it wasn’t unreturned.
"I’ll see to your crew, captain," she said when distance and necessity had separated them. "You finish this business and live to share in the victory with your men … Live so I can properly thank you for giving back to me what I thought had been lost forever …"
With those quasi-cryptic words, she hurried across the deck, to the stairs that lead below. Her path was largely unblocked; only a few pirates made an attempt to stop her and these were not as fierce as they might have been at battle’s beginning. These obstacles quickly despatched with the flash of a blade, she descended to the dank, cramped, humid space of below decks.
As it had been in her magic-induced farsight, she saw the crew bound to one side. She saw, too, that they were guarded more closely and these men had been roused by the noisome combat above. Leering in the sickly open torchlight, they advanced, wicked swords and knives drawn. Much was made of what they would do with her once hands were laid upon her person; how they would ruin her in ways undreamed.
Belle did not answer these crude remarks with any of her own; better than these mangy dogs had tried and failed to despoil her. Deftly side-stepping an over-reaching attack by one nautical guard, she slid her knife between his ribs and sent him crashing into his compatriot. A third man advanced and was just as neatly dealt with; a few lunges from him, easily ducked and blocked, and Belle had her knife in his belly, spilling blood on the warped wooden deck and dropping him to his knees. The man who had been waylaid by his mate’s dead weight surged forward, now free of lifeless limbs, and got a slash across the girl’s arm. Belle took it in stride, though, turning and splitting his throat from ear to ear in a ghastly, second smile.
"Pray, another moment," she said to the wide-eyed captives, "And I’ll have you all free. Your captain awaits you above decks; he wages battle even now with Campbell and seeing you unharmed and returned to safety would gladden him greatly."
Making good on her word, she made quick work of their bonds, cutting through intricate knots and rough rope. Her work done, she ran back up above just in time to see Campbell crumble to dust, nothingness, and Takashi standing like a man turned to stone.
Fearing the worst, she ran to his side and was no less concerned when she saw the blood streaming down his side.
"Captain, come, we mustneeds leave! Your crew is saved and I fear this ship will be lost to the storm …" Concern showed plainly on her face and her touch was gentle, yet firm, as she put an arm about his shoulders and pressed a hand to his wound. "It would seem my duty remains to see you mended; you are not an easy man to befriend, captain …"
Shiloh nodded at letting her steer the conversation away from those things upsetting her. But Shiloh still wanted to kiss every part of her skin in attempt to make even the smallest of smiles form on her lips. His large hand engulfed hers as they lead through the crowd. Moving through the people as if they were a traveling river and all those in their way were smooth stones to roll past. His other hand pressed on the backs of those people, guiding them gently out of their way until they moved to the stand on the edge of the square.
"How much for a throw?" Shiloh asked the man behind the booth, fingers pressed on the wood as he leaned onto his space to look at the assortment of weapons. Dragging her as close as possible with him not wanting one second without her skin touching his. Bronze coin. "Alright, what do we win?" he asked taking the dagger slid his way, spinning it skillfully into the palm of his hand. The rough wood of the old dagger biting into the raised scar that jutted and broke through his life line, before wielding it. Choice of a prize on the table.
Shiloh snorted. All those silly prizes he really wasn’t interested in, but maybe Belle would find something amusing. He closed his eyes, encasing his fingers around the dagger handle that’s weight was off by a hair. Just enough of a notch that would make the thrower miss the center of his target. Shiloh nudged in closer to Belle if that was possible, taking in her scent with a deep inhale that brought about a flash of memories in the springs, and forest floors that made him bite his lip to keep himself quiet.
"Tell me where it is," he whispered, letting the entire place fade to only her heartbeat, and her touch. Knowing she could aim his throw perfectly no matter that he knew they could win any silly game in the square. Her small hands on his hot skin always sent shivers to his senses, and reminded him of that day in the Ports when she stole a kiss. How he drank her in, wanted more the second she stopped. Knowing she would give, fill him with whatever he needed to the point he never had to take. Only ask. He only had to ask, and he cherished what they had because of it. She would be whatever he needed no matter what.
No matter how ever changing he was.
No matter what selfish demands he made.
No matter his past, or the future unknown.
Not opening his eyes once, he threw the dagger.
Belle was glad for Shiloh’s unspoken agreement to the switching of topics. It honestly had never been her intent to fall into such a grey, morose mood; she had thought the festival would be a gay event, an opportunity to share a piece of herself with the one she held closest.
With only half an ear and mind she listened to the chattering between Shiloh and the man behind the table. She looked over the knives, all in bad repair, purposely so she would guess, their weights off and points so dull as to not do any untoward harm. The table of prizes bore the usual trinkets: brightly colored ribbons and hammered tin medallions in various arrangements and assortments.
Catching, from the corner of her eye, the wolf’s spinning of a knife, she came back to him, standing now hip to hip with him. Experienced eyes judged the distance; that same experience took in the projectile itself and gauged how it mustneeds be thrown to find its mark. She straightened his arm, hands on either side of his bicep, and gently moved that limb up and then down in fractions of inches until it was just so.
"There." The word was not so much spoken as it was breathed, her lips next to his ear, her eyes sighted down his arm. "Just pull back and let go …"
"Just above the liver I see," Brock smirked at the pointed dagger in his back. His voice even in this situation and eerily calm, and commanding. She smelled of pollen, and tree sap. Like she had been running through the woods like some nymph. Though the swiftness of the woman didn’t surprise him, it grated his nerves. She would look pretty strung up beside the woman.
"If you want to free her, please do so little warrior," he mocked, moving away from her with open arms at the sobbing woman in the chair. Tools littered his table, but his favorite one were set up in a trap around her. The older hunter circled around the pair like a hawk, face void of emotions as he look in everything she was. Pale hues combing over her small frame, noting the tiny cuts and scrapes on her skin. But more her attire, marking her proficient in hunting in the woods. Speed was in her favor, but the fact she was here gave way that seeing another person in pain was her weakness.
"Of course," he said gravely in tone, fingers carting over the long scar on his cheek. "You know who I am. And that she is a prisoner of this Kingdom. Who are you to decide that she is above what the King deems punishable by law? Hmm? It would be ashame to release her, and become a wanted criminal yourself. It would make your life…more complicated even with threats against my own life." Brock moved to sit more comfortably in the chair. She could save the woman if she really wanted too. She would be dead in an hour by the poison in her system either way. It was a precaution, because Brock was very thorough with his interrogations.
"Then again, we could make an agreement," he said, "at least one of the guards in the Castle always know where I am. It’s a perk of the job, the necessity of being able to reach me in case of required business. So you see, maybe we can make a trade. You for her? Just a talk. I even brought tea." Brock settled into a chair, pouring two glasses.
"Your king is a petty, cruel, cowardly man if he is so threatened by one terrified woman. I am not so easily cowed by your threats, gaoler; I have faced the judgment and punishment of a power higher than yours and yet here I stand."
Belle’s eyes followed Brock as he moved around the still-bound woman; she thought him snake-like, cold-blooded and ready to strike. Though he did not frighten her she did not see a reason to lower her guard or be incautious. No doubt he knew his way well around a weapon; to be sure she had more years of experience than even she could count, but he only needed land one lucky hit.
She lowered her gaze to the woman. Whatever her crime, real or imagined, it could not warrant treatment such as this. Lightening-quick, the options before her flashed across the huntress’ mind. She could engage the man in one-on-one combat. If she won, she could take the girl and leave. This would, no doubt, bring more guards down and more misery upon the captured girl. If she lost, the girl was dead.
Neither scenario sat well with Belle and she liked the third option, the proferred conversation, even less. However, that seemed the best way to see the girl’s successful rescue.
Belle again regarded Brock, disliking his smirk and the easy way in which he carried himself in a room designed to play audience to so much needless suffering.
"Let the girl go and I will stay and … talk with you." The words left a sour taste in her mouth.
"I’m not sure," came the reply with some absentmindedness while his sights were still so engrossed on the pair that were liltingly rocked by the waters beyond. "Three there seems to be, but I’m unable to discern any particular relation." Looking up, his chin turned toward the girl first, then followed the rest of his towering form. Death usually knew where death lingered, and it was often that he could determine the deaths that would be connected to an individual from their proximity to another - the closeness of interpersonal bonds, friendships, romantic or parental relationships - but there were no such ties for the two dead men and the one that had yet to arrive. Strange, but Azrael hardly let it show. It may have all been coincidence.
"You’re looking for pirates, but those two don’t appear much of a pair… or if they are, they’re not very successful at it." He turned his vision back to the beach, long finger pointing to the sturdy, twice-locked chest in wait. "While that’s not an unusual means of transporting cargo, it does leave some negative space to wonder exactly what it was that required them to forgo any of the normal, significantly less treacherous ports around Athoria where simple subterfuge often does the trick. Personally, I’m not sure they’re from here; there’s a peculiar feel about them that I cannot find the words to adequately describe… other than foreign, alien. Esoteric. Maybe this is the reason, maybe there’s more to it…" Lost briefly in the intoxicating ambience of worlds that may or may not exist, the woozy waves of possibility stemming from uncertain origins, he looked to his former sister once more. "There’s something wrong with that chest, but regardless, it’s good to see you again." The words were flat, but not without their own semblance of sincerity. The familiarity was a brief reprieve from the queer culmination of mystery and suspicion that lingered in the air, however it wouldn’t serve to stave the latter for long.
From the treeline that the female hunter had earlier emerged clamored the half-injured form of a scoundrel, gripping his side slathered with scarlet from the stomach down. His steps were little more than uneven shambles, drawing him into the open night air that was heavy with salt-scattered spray and the turbulence of distant storms. A groan escaped his lips at the sight of the pair waiting on him, but it was less of one commenting on their accompaniment more than it was an expression of his existential exhaustion. He saw Death awaiting his collection, and knew that wretched night would be the last in his wretched life. Brother and sister need not offer any assistance, simply for the palpable stench of resignation that joined the curious assemblage of atmosphere.
Taking to the cliff’s slope, the damaged newcomer saw what awaited him. It was a deal disguised and yet still broken, shadowed connections and promises of what was now the past never to bloom into anything that could be considered good. It was a misstep that the bodies of two expired men should be stuck with the lifeless form of the chest, for this unnamed man had sworn upon what little shred of honor he had left that not only would the curious cargo be delivered to its buyer in one piece, but that it would come with the expertise of minds who were fluent in its ways. That devil’s deal was dashed, but it wasn’t all bad for that fellow, for he had another that saw itself true. The angel of death waited patiently to claim the soul which had been offered and secured so many years ago.
Eyes whose verdant color was alternating as obscured by the darkness of the sea and revealed by the fire of the clouds watched the morosity with which their prey walked. Though Azrael had been undecided on the man’s involvement before his arrival, that decision was now set in stone. With a free hand, the nameless man took a key – decipherable mostly for its argentine flash in motion – secured by a long length of jute around his neck and tossed it into the rock-dotted mandible of the salivating sea. Turning, the thief slunk toward his carefully measured, expertly wound, roped destiny.
Silently, Belle watched the third man’s approach. She knew not to interfere with her brother’s deals and, truthfully, she didn’t care to even if she could save the wretch’s life. What piqued her interest was the flash of a key, and its spinning, top over bottom arc from hand to churning sea. No great intelligence or wisdom was needed to gather that it belonged to the curious chest.
With a wordless gesture to her looming sibling, the girl dropped to hands and knees and began the arduous task of clamboring down the cliff’s face. It was no easy task, but experience and patience had hands and feet finding small holds and sturdy roots and branches. The thought did occur that rope would have been well appreciated, but one worked with what one had.
With only a few feet left in her descent Belle dropped to the rocky shore, landing lightly on her feet. She turned her attention to the co-mingled bodies, battered still as they were by wind and wave. Close up she could see the alien-ness that so puzzled Azrael. Despite the distortion of features by bloat and death, she could see they were not of Athoria or her European sisters. The differences seen were hard to quantify; all she knew was the uneasy feeling churning in her stomach that had little to do with their state of unlife.
Picking a path across the rocks, she turned to the chest, wedged as it was, now, between stone formations and sand. Two locks presented two different problems. One key she had seen thrown down, so what became of the second? Keen eyes scanned the shore only to be brought momentarily up when her ears caught the sound of a man’s neck breaking. Azrael’s deal had come to its only conclusion.
Providence, it would seem, remained on her side. The dispatched key was not so far away, washing in and out with the indifferent tide. Crouching and scrabbling crab-like, she reached it, leaving the bodies and chest some feet away. Some trial and error later, and with one arm thoroughly soaked for all her trouble, Belle fetched the wayward key and brought it back to the chest.
"Ahh, just in time, Azrael," she said upon feeling more than seeing her brother’s joining her side. "I was about to prise this open and see what was worth three men’s lives. Methinks I was mislead when I was told only gold and cloth were taken from my merchant’s caravan …"
Lanie lifted her eyes looking into Belle’s. Lanie could tell when someone was lying and this girl was not.Her hand lifted and wiped away a tear. Lanie didn’t care anymore, at least not in that moment. She was so far gone, in the bottom of her own worst, she felt ready to just give up. “How can you know this?… You…” She looked down at Belle, she was so small and yet she said she fought evil… “You fought Damnation’s Army?” For a moment Lanie could not breathe, all she could do was stare into those kind and honest eyes and something beyond herself whispered silently to her that what she was saying was true.
The wind began to blow and Lanie’s loose hair began to flow to her right side, the leaves rustled and somehow she found her breath again. The air was clean and sharp, and suddenly nothing felt so awful anymore. “I’m a werewolf.” Lanie said plainly. It was the first time in her life that she had said it out loud or to anyone that is, and now she’d just told it to a stranger. “That’s my curse. Everyone I’ve ever know in the Church has said they are servants of the Devil. Most think they are myth, but I’ve met some who claim they exist- as they do- and they all say werewolves are damned. I never told anyone before, I don’t know why I’m telling you right now, but… “
She swallowed and closed her eyes wincing a bit before opening them again. She’d cried so much her eyes burnt and it was difficult to keep them open, even if she was wide awake. She lowered herself a bit sitting on her feet rather than keeping her weight on her knees, she felt more relaxed and had all forgotten about her shameful performance in from of the congregation the night before. “They would burn me like a witch if they knew… that’s how I know… well… you said you fought the Damned Ones, tell me, and tell me looking into my eyes; Who and what are you?”
"The church is wrong, sister. It is not the nature of the beast that damns it to Hell or ensures it salvation, it is the acts of the man and his beliefs. I know precious few of your kind, but I do know that they are as varied as mortal men.
"You cannot control or change what you are, sister, but you can choose how you live your life. You have dedicated yourself to others, to Christ, and you do not bear your beast’s burden lightly … I cannot promise you Heaven, but I can assure you that you are not consigned to Hell."
Belle considered Lanie’s last, lingering question. Again, she looked past the girl to the church in the distance. Perhaps, even, gazing beyond that to sights unknown and unseen by her companion. Then, returning to the now, she regarded the nun once more.
"Are you well versed in your named angels, sister?" A question that was largely rhetorical for Belle assumed she would be given her chosen vocation. "Once, not so very long ago, I went by another name. I fought the legions of Hell alongside my brothers and sisters in arms, girded in heaven’s armor and a divinely blessed and wrought weapon in my hand.
"I was called Sofiel in those days." Depending on the breadth of Lanie’s knowledge, she might know Sofiel as an angel of nature, the one who taught men the art of animal husbandry and inspiring within them a love for all of earth’s creatures. That she had fallen was still unknown, would be largely unknown for decades if not centuries.
Turning her back to the girl, Belle made quick work of her tunic’s lacings, dividing and divesting herself of the garment. Her braid she pulled over one shoulder as she spoke.
"The twin scars, on either side of my spine, are all that remains of my wings. The others are from the gaoru who attacked me. I said I knew varied members of your kindred. He who gave me those would have raped and killed me had I not fought him off. I know another, his name is Shiloh, and he is one of the kindest, gentlest souls I have ever known."
Other, smaller, scars and marks peppered the huntress’ once flawless skin, but the most eye-catching and brutal were the two named. Roughly aligned with her shoulder blades were two starburst scars, the flesh pale and slightly puckered, the shapes suggesting wings cut off at the base. The scars from her attack were newer, more raw, and ran from left shoulder to right hip. The furthest edge disappeared beneath the waist of her leggings. The back of her right arm bore some of the damage, too, telling the story of an enormously sized monster and the power of his claws.
"You ask how I know about the damned and the saved. That is how. I was once one of God’s own and I chose to disobey His rules and, for that sin, I was made mortal. But I make the choice, too, to live my life as well as I can. That is all any of us can do, really."
The demon’s scowl deepened when Sofiel provided examples of his change in behavior. All this time he told himself that he was still the same Abaddon, but one with a different goal. He was crueler, downright sadistic to be frank and there was time when he found it easier to experience merriment. He yearned to prove Michael wrong in his assumptions that Destruction would succumb to treachery, but what changed all that? It was the seed that Lucifer planted within him and the others that followed.
Since Abaddon was a Dark Angel, it was much easier for him to succumb to sin. Those like him were made from darkness and spent most of their willpower resisting the temptation of giving in to it. Lucifer’s words had grabbed hold of him, they lingered in his plainest thoughts, screaming in his ear until he acknowledged them. The more Abaddon considered those ideals, the more sense they made.
Sofiel’s answer was just what he expected, although he couldn’t quite understand how one short relationship could be worth damnation. To slowly march towards one’s death as humans do would be agonizing for the demon. He would not wish it on his worst of enemies. “You couldn’t have helped me, Sofel.” Abaddon answered. “I doubt you could have talked me out of it…A part of me had already made up my mind.” The demon paused, for something finally occurred to him. “What could you have possibly done to change what I had come to believe?”
And therein laid the point of divergence in their parallel paths. Belle could not, would never, understand siding with the enemies of Heaven. She could not see what had been so promising, so tempting, in the lies Lucifer’s lips spilled. What had been worth more than a loving creator, family, home … What had been worth more than her and the love they once held for each other.
Yes, she had turned her back on all that, too, and for her own selfish reasons, but she held no animosity towards heaven and no desire to arm herself against it. She would rather die tomorrow than live forever as a servant of Hell.
"I …" Words failed her as she thought back to the conversation she had with their youngest brother. He had tried to sway her from her own path and though he had spoken the truth, given her warnings, reminded her of all she stood to lose, she did not heed him. How could she stand here, now, and claim to hold any more power?
"You are right, Abaddon. There would have been nothing I could have said to change your mind. Ian tried to change my mind and …" That he had failed did not need to be said. "But can you blame me for having wanted to try? For thinking perhaps I could have said or done something? For as little as I understand your reasons, for as much as what you have become pains me I still love you, brother. I had thought we would be together for all of eternity and all we had was one brief, shining, moment …"
With these words, she overcame her initial shock and revulsion to his changed nature and dared to press a hand to his chest, her palm resting over his heart. She looked up to his changed face, eyes searching his, and, for a moment, she was transported to another time and place. A moment with less pain and even less complications.
Lanie was tired. So very tired. Suicide had not been an option. If there was a slim chance for her to go to Heaven when she died than committing suicide would erase all those chances. She hated everything she was now. Even being a healer became a burden at times. Watching people die, rot, innocent children succumb, took a lot of her each time. Some days were easy and other days when all had gone wrong, like this day the one where not only had she turned into the vile beast, but she had humiliated herself so horribly in from of her peers. Her position within the Church was already precarious. A few of the priest who had met her had found her too shy to be a volunteering nun. How could a woman who choked on her words in front of people could help people?
Truth was Lanie was an amazing healer and dedicated and when in the face of struggle she , unlike most, never ran, she stood and fought. None of those judging men ever saw it, they only judged her from seeing her rarely back at the Church. The only good, kind hearted priest she’d ever met had been Father Freeman, Stephen. He had been kind beyond any of the others. Even so, she still had no idea if she could trust him. She had just met him, and who knows, maybe he was sent out to sniff her out so to better remove her from her vows. There had been chatter, for a long time, to remove Lanie. She was too odd, too shy, too recluse, too sullen. Lanie had handled her cursed life the best she could, but now she was at a breaking point. The accusation, the looming threat that could shatter her life apart- her one dream, her career, gone forever, it was all that she was and all she felt she could be, all she thought could save her damned soul from Hell.
Her vomiting in front of them all… She could taste the vile bitterness of fear in her mouth. They’ll end me because I’m weak. Now, there she was in some strangers arms. Belle’s words kind and sweet, and somehow felt exactly like how Lanie’s mother had held her once a long time ago, in a life she once had millions of centuries ago. What troubled her? Everything and nothing. How could she put in words what was happening. So much she had bottled up inside. She took a deep breath, trying to figure out how to word her world. “Ten years ago… I was cursed. I’m not sure how but it’s turned my life into Hell. ” It was more than she’d ever told anyone, more than she’d ever agree to speak, but she was not herself right then, she was too broken and on the verge of losing her sanity. “They made me a servant of Satan and I don’t know how to break free.” She looked to the sky, seeing only a blur through her tears. “God, I tried…I tried.”
"How were you cursed, sister? Who did it? Why do you believe this?" Belle’s hands, gentle despite their archery-inflicted callouses, lifted from Lanie’s shoulders to cup the girl’s face. She peered into her eyes, as if searching for some hidden answer, a clue to the questions she had just asked. Her voice was gentle, too, for she did not want to frighten the girl back to silence with harsh rebukes or naked disbelief.
Though she lacked the preternatural senses that would have immediately alerted her to any demonic or witchy taints upon the nun, Belle could not believe that what she said was true. There was a kindness to Lanie’s being, though it seemed now to be over-powered by fear and pain, an innocence that Belle knew could not, would not, still be intact if one of Hell’s denizens had laid hands upon her. The possibility of magic remained, though a thread of doubt weaved its way into the huntress’ thoughts.
"I see no servant of Satan, sister. Dry your tears." Belle offered her a smile and brushed a tear away with the back of a crooked finger. "I have, in my time, crossed path and blade with those who serve damnation’s army and you are no foot soldier. I promise you that."