Kingdom of the Damned
“I often find that I cannot forget the beauty you have forged in this place.” Elraesa whispered, her voice like elegant silk caressing his skin.
The demon’s amber-lit eyes widened at the admission, his smile forming quickly and foolishly, leaving the woman before him grinning as she spun away and continued along the garden’s winding path. Cabrion gave a soft shake of his head, a quiet refusal of the compliment she had offered for he found the vision before him, an angel in service to the Spirit of Passions, to be the far more beautiful sight.
“Forged?” he said with a growling chuckle “How would one hammer a flower?”
“In this land it would take the strength of a hammer to bring forth such flowers. A strength I see in your heart.” She whispered, walking away slowly.
The lingering scent of the Stygian Orchids, rare night-purple flowers whose scents brought visions of the dead to mortals, mingled with her own intriguing fragrance to begin gently tugging him along in her wake like a faithful pet.
As his long legs carried him down the path behind her Cabrion had one more opportunity to admire the Angeli’s form, her grace, her heavenly soul. She held a beauty beyond that expected of Passions Angels, her soft skin as white and radiant as the moon, her eyes devoid of pupil and filled with a rich emerald light that poured from the corners like streams of enchanted tears. Hair spun from the darkness spilled down her back, between the intricate tattoos of wings that graced her bared skin, like all Passions Angels she wore sheer robes cut low in the front and lower in the back, allowing any who wished to view the exquisite work of ink and divine magic.
“Will you sow them amongst the mortals?” Elraesa whispered, drawing his focus from her tattoo and up until he met her emerald gaze, all the while the soft smile on her lips were begging to be kissed, and taunting him at the same time. It seems she asked the question more then once.
“No, that would break the treaty.” Cabrion answered hesitantly.
Elraesa merely snorted “The treaty” before turning and continuing in her slow walk through his garden, eyes drinking in the beauty that she had in small part helped inspire.
“Not pleased by your service?” he offered teasingly, pushing back his growing doubts.
“What if I were to tell you that soon the treaty would mean nothing?” Elraesa said teasingly, the flower petals rolling slowly over her lips as they curled in a knowing smile. “Would you not wish to see your creations blessing the nights across all of Shaethe?
“No, I would not” Cabrion answered honestly, his eyes narrowing as he began to wonder what the angel before him now had truly seen in him when they had first met. “Is that your reason for agreeing to meet me here? To test my will?”
“I am drawn to those whose passion calls to me, as you well know.” Elraesa repilied tersely, eyes blazing jade fire.
“Tell me what you see.” Cabrion whispered.
“What I see?” Elraesa asked, her head tilting in a curious gesture.
“In me, when you look at my demon form.” Cabrion said softly, the growl inherent to his nature growing more defined with each word.
“Ah, your cursed skin?” the angel could not help but tease.
“Yes.” Cabrion growled harshly, no longer hiding his heritage, his amber eyes burning.
Like all demons, all traitors, Cabrion had been branded for his actions in the Fall. Skin that had once been much like her own was now coated in thick, though admittedly soft, black fur. His face, once handsome by all accounts, was now more animal then man while his eyes held only a glimmer of his former angelic nature and intelligence. Fangs, claws, he even had a tail hidden beneath the dark black robes embroidered with crimson thorn vines that he always wore.
And he was one of the lucky one’s.
“A wolf” she said finally “I would say you look like a wolf.”
Cabrion could only chuckle “So I am, at best, a beast. Mighty Cabrion, once Knight Commander in the Angeli Order is now but another dog.”
Elraesa shook her head sadly, staring at the orchid he had given her as she spoke in that soft silken voice “Five hundred years is a long time to hold on to such anger. The Queen’s final curse bid your bodies only to be a true reflection of your souls.”
“Has it truly been that long?” he whispered, ignoring the truth and clinging to his anger.
“Any word from the King?” Elraesa teased, a half smile on her lips.
“Nothing. What of the Queen?” Cabrion asked quietly, staring deep into the emerald pools of her eyes.
“She waits in silence and dreams, as always.” Elraesa answered without hesitation.
“Then I am still damned.” He growled, looking away towards the well-ordered flowers beds and blossoming fruit trees.
“Only if you still wish to be..” her voice growing fainter as the passion within began to dim beneath his animal instincts, forcing his burning gaze back to the woman who had been his only companion for so very long. “Even the humans have found a way to salvation in these dark and lonely times.”
A soft buzz drew his gaze from her precious beauty to the orchids he had created, a sigh parting his lips as the vicious insect clinging to it began to drink its nectar. “And here I had hoped for butterflies, perhaps even a few bees.”
The Creteos may have once been a dragonfly; the long tapered form and iridescent wings would certainly fit, but like so many thing, like his flowers, like himself, the insect wasn’t what it used to be.
For one, he was fairly certain a dragonfly never burrowed into mortal flesh to lay eggs, which hatched, and were nourished, within the chambers of the heart.
“Heart Breakers.” The Angeli whispered. “How fitting.”
Cabrion didn’t need to watch her form shift into mist before blowing away on a warm wind to know that she was gone, that his passion had fled in the face of his anger and self-loathing.
Alone in the ever-night of his gardens, a darkness that held much of the land called the Kingdom of the Damned forever in its thrall, Cabrion lifted his head towards the sky and howled out his pain to a moon that would not shine.
The Woods and Hills of Damaran
Provinces of Heaven
"It was her smile, that sweet and tempting grin that blossomed upon her face whenever there was mischief to be had." Aros thought, his legs aching as he tried to mimic the endless grace his companion possessed, her long legs and lithe form as swift as a dark jungle cat.
He figured that had to be the reason he was chasing her up a steep hill, despite the seemingly boundless energy she possessed, in this exhausting run across the damp and rough countryside. Knowing he couldn't keep up with her, he never could catch Saerina, Aros instead took a much needed break after reaching the top of the winding trail and let his tired legs rest while he drifted between the towering pines. The thin lines of trees gave way soon to the sheer edges of the hill and its overlook of the valley below. There, in a clearing surrounded by tended farmlands, lay the small town of Damaran, the only place had ever known. There lived his friends, his neighbors, and his family.
"Funny how a smile can cause so much pain." He whispered to the flowing winds as memories of his father's punishments came to mind, the old man's voice whispering soft wisdoms after the suffering, wisdoms that had apparently yet to sink in.
"A woman's smile can lead a man straight to hell, grinning like a fool the whole journey." His father had last offered after a rough punishment.
A punishment that Aros knew, in retrospect, was well deserved. He and Saerina had, after all, snitched a few of Jylan's horses and ridden in the most dangerous way possible down the narrow road leading through Damaran; that method of riding being the soft placement of the right foot on the saddle, the gentle pressure of the left foot on the rear and, most importantly, maintaining a tight grip of the leather reins.
He had managed the feat for a minute, at best. Saerina had done it for five.
So, Aros decided, his dad had probably been justified in punching him despite that the blow left him seeing little lights dancing beyond the black fog that quickly swallowed his world.
As his dad had said. "Thats parenting."
The thought brought a smile to Aros's lips as the wind kicked up and pulled strands of his dark hair from the leather thong binding it behind his neck. Another memory followed, this one later when he regained consciousness. He had asked his dad what to do when a woman's smile is so powerful that it can lead you in such a way.
His dad had just sighed, went to the cupboard and pulled down a corked bottle of his favorite Black Oak Whiskey with two glasses. These he set on the table, and after bidding his son to sit and pouring him drink offered the only wisdom he could on the matter.
"Make sure you marry her and start drinking, cause that girl is gonna send you to your grave with a smile." His dad had said before bidding him a toast and downing his glass.
Aros sat in silence a few moments longer, sapphire eyes tracing the flight of hawks in hunt or studying the indecipherable language of the curling smoke slipping from the hearths of many houses. The soft brushing of leaves drew him from his thoughts, his smile growing bolder as Saerina slipped towards him with all the stealth she possessed.
"Ghost" he whispered, the usual signal that she had been spotted. Her sigh, though as soft as the brushing of leaves moment before, was enough to let him know he had won the game once more.
"Giving up our chase so soon?" Saerina asked playfully as she came to stand beside him and look out over the valley. His gaze, naturally, drew from the view beyond to the view before him and as ever he found the sight of her far more pleasing. Her dark brown skin gleamed gently, and he knew from her countless innocent gestures that the soft caress of Saerina's skin and its lingering scent were as intoxicating to recall as they were to experience. The gleam in her emerald eyes was akin to his own, though far more playful and wild then the sharp blue of Aros's eyes, and often framed by the untamed bounty of her raven's black hair.
"I haven't quit on you yet" he responded, a smirk on his lips as he found her eyes leaving the valley view to meet his own.
"No you haven't" she said with a smirk.
"So, are you going to tell me what this "little run" as you put it, is really all about?" Aros said, hoping the serious light in his eyes would for once draw an easy answer from his mischievous companion.
"I need my offering." Saerina said with a little laugh, as if it were obvious to anyone "Tomorrow is Judgment Day after all."
"You’re going to be judged?" Aros asked, though he deeply desired to start screaming.
"Yes." She said, more gently, offering him a rare apologetic look before spinning away and heading back towards the tree line.
"Wait" he growled, turning and running to catch up with her "Where you planning on telling me?" he grumbled when finally moving alongside her.
"I just did" she said, offering faint smile, her eyes slowly sweeping the forest floor, then the trees and hills.
"I meant before now, you couldn't have told me sooner then this?" he said, hoping his desire to scream would slip away soon.
"I…i knew what you would say." she whispered, stopping and turning to meet his eyes. "Come with me Aros, come to the Judgment."
"No!" Now Aros was yelling. "You know i can't go through that, i won't!"
"Aros, please." Saerina said gently "I know you can, if you wanted to, they would be lucky to have you."
"No Saerina!" he yelled, his fists clenching rhythmically as his heart hammered "I can't"
"Your Mother chose to be judged." she whispered, almost defensively, though the pain in her eyes spoke of how much it hurt for her to bring that up.
"That’s not fair!" Aros yelled louder, then pausing and fighting to breathe he let his anger drown in the pain of the memories she had evoked "You know how hard that was on my dad, how hard it was on me."
"Yes, but you were only a child then. You know what it means to be judged now." Saerina said confidently "You would make an excellent Voice, you’re certainly smart enough. You could even be a Hand!!" she finished with excitement.
"I don't want to be a Hand, or a Voice, or any other tool of the Angeli." Aros said bitterly, turning his back on Saerina and staring at the valley through the tree line "I don't want to die for their war."
"They protected us from the Baelful, gave us shelter in their lands. Don’t we owe them something for our freedom, for our lives?" Saerina asked.
She didn't wait for the answer, quickly turning her back to him and resuming the search.
Finally, Aros sighed and whispered, "What kind of offering do you need to take?"
Saerina paused in her search, hiding her smile as she answered just as softly "I don't know exactly, i am supposed to trust my instinct. I am supposed to have faith i made the right choice."
Aros shook his head and muttered "Typical angels."
"If i am to be a Hand, then you are going to have to learn to accept the Angels. I will be in their service, after all, and might not take kindly to you talking in such a tone." Saerina said, her voice harder and more intimidating then Aros had ever heard. So strange was that tone of voice coming from her lips that Aros turned, needing to see her eyes, and found once more the pure humor burning in them.
Humor gained at his expense.
"I will have to spank you if you do." Saerina finished with a wink, biting her lower lip for a moment before she spun away in a veil of dark tresses and ran off towards the higher trails, her laughter like the joyous singing of birds.
The thought was enough reason for Aros to hang back a moment and calm himself down once more.
Then the chase was on.
He found Saerina further up the trail than he expected, crouching against some rocks and staring intently at the mouth of a cave. His quiet steps carried him across the dirt and stone so effortlessly that Saerina jumped and let out a cute little squeal when he whispered “Ghost” in her ear.
“Don’t do that!” she growled, slapping him playfully before turning her attention back to the cave.
“Don’t even think about it” he countered, knowing Saerina would drag him into every cave she could find if it meant getting her offering. Panicking as that smile spread across her face, Aros searched the surrounding area for something, anything that would distract Saerina and suit as an offering.
Then he noticed the small group of wild rose bushes.
“How about those?” Aros asked, nudging her with his elbow and motioning to the bushes that just happened to lay in the opposite direction of the cave. Walking to the bush and plucking a few of the budding flowers he came back to Saerina, certain that he was blushing as he held out the bouquet.
She shook her head.
“No, those are not very suiting of a Hand now are they?” Saerina asked
“Then how about simply as a gift?” Aros growled, hoping to regain his dignity.
“A gift?” Saerina said curiously, then her eyes widened as she stammered “Oh yes a gift! Of course, thank you Aros.”
Taking the flowers and stroking their petals she whispered softly “They are very beautiful. I’ve never seen black roses before.”
“They suit you.” Aros said honestly.
“Oh?” she said with a grin.
“Mmmm beautiful, deadly, and impossible to touch without getting hurt.” He said softly, leaving himself wondering if that was a compliment or insult.
Either way Saerina seemed not to notice, nor said anything if she did, instead she quietly stroked the soft petals of the flowers and came to her feet. Each step was slow, tentative, and in moments she was standing before Aros with his heart hammering so loud he was certain Saerina could hear it.
Again she said nothing, merely smiled and then placed a soft kiss on his lips. He didn’t need to be told to wrap his arms around her and pull that dark temptation closer. Didn’t pause in that kiss or steal its growing passion when the thorns from the roses pricked into his hands and let thin streams of blood spill over his skin.