This has been a week of major hecticness (hectacity? hectation?) because I've been prepping a new/old release for Friday, so today you get a different sort of blog post. It's a story, a complete one at that, but not connected to Rivalries.
Anyone remember "Cambion: Dark Around the Edges" from back in, oh, 2013? Yeah, I'm bringing it back! Only as a novel this time, not a serial story, and I'm trimming the "Cambion" from the front of the title because it's long enough without it. I'll post a blurb and pre-order link below, and below that?
The first story I ever wrote in this little 'verse was an angel/demon story from a Goodreads group prompt called "In All Your Ways." It's about 10k words long, and I've got it up on Prolific Works right now. I'll make the link for easy download copies available here at the end of the week (otherwise you've got to be in my FB group or my Patreon) but because it's story day, and you're amazing readers, I'm going to post it all on here as well. It just won't be as nicely packaged :)
Anyway, happy Tuesday, darlins, and please enjoy!
Devon Harper isn't just an agent with an elite private security firm,
he's also a cambion, the half-breed offspring of an incubus and a human.
While on the trail of Porter Grey, a dangerous summoner, Devon's own
demonic birthright betrays him and he's captured by those who want to
use his heritage for evil, leaving his sometimes-partner Rio to step in
and save the day. Unfortunately, their quarry is has escaped by the time
Devon is freed. If they don't catch him fast, Porter Grey could once
again vanish overseas and out of their reach.
As the two men begin their search, the urgency of their mission can't quite distract Devon from the growing affection he feels for Rio—the one person whose calm nature seems to quiet his restless spirit. Their hunt leads them to Seattle, but Devon is captured and Porter Grey almost killed as the demon who has been pulling his strings springs his ultimate trap. He's got plans for Devon, and unless Rio is willing to risk everything by revealing his own hidden nature to stop him, he may have found a way to become the most powerful incubus to ever walk the Earth.
And now... In All Your Ways
"And there was war in heaven . . . and the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him."
The war in Heaven was brief, but blinding in its intensity. Lucifer, his love and pride too great to accept that he was lower in God's eyes than man, evinced his rage, and Michael met him blow for blow. The Morning Star fought the Viceroy of Heaven, and the greatest of the angels battled until the holy blood within them was shed. Lucifer was defeated and cast down, losing his holy name and rank in the Kingdom of Heaven. The rash, the hateful, the vicious, the prideful, and many of those who prized loyalty first fell with him.
The angel Renat was not hateful, or vicious, or rash. His fatal flaw was not pride or anger but, like Lucifer, an excess of love. Only Renat didn't hold God first in his heart, as all angels were meant to before the coming of mankind, nor could he turn his affections to God's latest and most volatile children. His love was all for Emiel, the angel who had served by his side since the time of their creation. Emiel was pure in a way so few angels managed to be, softer and gentler than the warriors who fought for Heaven or the messengers who shouted God's praises over all the earth. Emiel was love, and Renat—his closest companion—returned that love with a passion that plagued him with its intensity.
With Emiel, Renat longed for more than the simple and distant pleasure that came with the duty of love. Emiel had skin that Renat dreamed of touching, a mouth he burned to taste, and wings he would give anything to feel wrap around him. Emiel meant more to Renat than God himself, and when the revolution came, he saw his chance to act and gain everything he coveted. Yes, they would be cast out of the Kingdom of God, but they would have each other. Renat would cleave to Emiel for all eternity, and none would dare to touch his only love on pain of death. He had but to convince Emiel to fall with him.
His love was on his knees, praying to their Father to stop the slaughter. Jewel-like tears fell from his lashes, glorifying the ground with their crystalline shine. Hastily, Renat knelt in front of Emiel and took his hands. Emiel's bright blue eyes flew open, wide and shocked.
"I am going," Renat said quickly, the words like lead on his tongue. Even as he said it, he knew it could never be taken back. He was marked as a traitor from the first syllable. "I cannot stay here and pretend to feel as I do not."
"Renat, no," Emiel protested.
"It would be an insult to our Father for me to stay and live a lie," Renat pressed on. "I must go, Emiel. I ask..." He took a deep breath. "I ask that you join me. Leave the house of our Father and come make a new life with me."
"I follow His will," Emiel murmured. His face was solemn and sad as he looked at Renat. "I cannot betray Him."
"Not even for me?" Renat asked. He knew it was unworthy, but he couldn't help himself. Already, he felt heavier, felt the strain of his impending fall working on him. Renat was no archangel able to resist the command of God, and His word was that those disloyal to Him should be cast out. "Emiel, you are everything to me. I have loved you from the first moment I saw you, and your place in my heart can never be supplanted. All I want is you, for all eternity. I beg of you, come with me."
"Do not ask this of me," Emiel pleaded, tightening his own grip on Renat's hands. "Do not ask me to disobey the will of our Father. I cannot do it."
"Please," Renat said, growing heavier by the moment. "Please, come with me. Do not make me face this dark future alone; I fall for love of you! Emiel—" Desperate, he leaned forward and captured Emiel's mouth with his own. Oh, the taste...it was sweetness and light, warmth and caring and love, and Renat could taste the flavor of that love, and knew for a brief moment that it was all for him. For one moment, he had hope. For one moment, he had Emiel.
Then it was over. Emiel pulled away, his lips cherry red and his expression absolutely wrecked. He put one hand on Renat's cheek and stroked the sharp line of his cheekbone. "I'm sorry," he whispered, and those two words froze the pleasure in his veins, turning it instantly to pain. "I cannot disobey the will of our Father."
"No," Renat said, denying the truth even as the pull became almost too much to bear. "No, please." He reached out, and Emiel came into his embrace. They held onto each other desperately. "Please," he murmured brokenly. "I love you." Emiel said nothing, just cradled him close until Renat couldn't fight the pull any longer. For a brief second, he was tempted to hang onto his love, to pull him down into the Godless pit that opened for him far below, but he could not. Emiel had made his choice, and despite the agony that it caused him, Renat could not force him to fall against his will.
Letting go of Emiel was the hardest trial he had ever faced, but Renat did so. A moment later, the weight of his disloyalty snared him, and he was hurled into the sky and flung over the edge of Heaven. The last thing he saw as the fires of the new realm leaped up to meet him was Emiel's face, pale and shattered, diminishing into the distance until it was gone completely, and Renat was left utterly alone on a blackened piece of waste that would soon become the Kingdom of Hell.
Farewell, happy fields, Where joy forever dwells! Hail horrors! hail, Infernal World! and thou, profoundest Hell, Receive thy new possessor! One who brings A mind not to be changed by place or time. The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
Milton, Paradise Lost - Book I
The demon Renat liked to spend what time he had to himself in the Fields of the Damned. Broken souls were planted there, and it was the responsibility of the demons overseeing the fields to ensure that they grew as twisted and tormented as their sins merited.
Renat himself was not an overseer of the damned. He was a powerful demon, one of the original Fallen and a Prince of Hell. However, when the mood took him, he would fly on ruined wings to the fields, alight on the black, charred ground, and go for a walk.
With his wings folded away, sword sheathed and eyes half-closed and pensive, Renat could almost be mistaken for a handsome young man as he drifted through the fields. He would stretch his arms toward the blossoming tufts of soul within reach of his fingertips. Tongueless mouths shrieked as he brushed them, the soul filaments flaming with the fire that burned inside the demon. Memories of lost passion and bitter regret flowed through creatures whose only respite was forgetting their transgressions. One touch and every wicked word, every evil action, was brought back to them in full, and the cries of dismay his presence brought were a satisfying melody to Renat's ears. If he should suffer the consequences of disobedience, then the human souls consigned to Hell's thoughtful cruelties should suffer so much more. After all, they were the ones who had caused this hateful division in the first place. They should feel the price of their own existence.
The newest souls, those who had no direct experience with him, occasionally begged him for mercy. From a distance, Renat might be thought a mortal, vulnerably nude; up close it was clear he was a celestial being, second only to Satan in terms of his absolute beauty. Where he who was once the Morning Star was all light, though, Renat was fiery darkness. His hair was a stream of glossy ink that fell in a sheet down his back, so clean and pure that each strand gleamed like a mirror, reflecting the twisted faces of the damned back at themselves and filling them with ever more misery. His eyes were reddish-gold, shining with the strength of his dominant presence. His body was smooth and lissome, and his face was so perfect, it could only have originated in Heaven.
No one saw the hellfire tattoo that burned against the base of his neck, placed there at the founding of Hell by the only angel with more strength and bitterness in him than Renat himself. No mortal soul saw the tattered remnants of his wings, the physical representation of every angel's grace. Very few ever saw the inside of his home, a vast obsidian castle that cut into the feet of all who dared to approach it without wings of their own.
Renat held himself apart from the dark revelry of Hell, a pathetic offering to the memory of the one he loved, but a simple gesture was better than no recognition at all. Renat could never forget that he was damned, cut off from God and all of the blessings of His presence, but he could remember why it had seemed worth it at the time, and honor the source of that decision.
Gravel crunched behind him. Renat turned and received the obeisance of the cloven-hoofed demon that approached him. The creature was over twice his height, horned and hairy and fierce, but he knew to show respect for his master.
"Speak, Nergal." Renat's voice was as sweet and smooth as honey, mustering up such tender remembrances to the listening souls that they screamed with agony over the eternal loss they suffered.
Nergal lifted his face to his lord. His eyes were black from edge to edge and seemed to suck in the light of the hellfire. "My prince, an angel has been brought through the Western Gate."
"An angel." It wasn't unheard of for an angel to fall prey to the seductions of mankind and lose their invulnerability to Hell, but it was hardly common, either. When they could be abducted and dragged into the abyss, the honor of breaking them was a distinction that all Princes fought for. Renat had done it once himself, but he had taken no joy in it. The angel he had tortured had been nothing like the one that haunted his every thought. Still, it was worthwhile information to have. "His name?"
"Ungiven, as of yet. However, Semiazas has already laid claim to him."
"Semiazas?" Semiazas was one of the Fallen himself, and he only ever bothered to exert himself for truly extraordinary purposes. Renat felt a stirring of unease in his chest. "What compels him to stake such a claim?"
"My prince, it seems that the angel is thus far untainted."
"Untainted?" Renat frowned. "Then how could he be dragged into Hell?"
"Word has it that he was not dragged at all, my prince. It is said that he was waiting outside the Gate, and that he entered of his own free will."
"One might even say extraordinary, my prince." Nergal hesitated for a moment, then pressed on. "I thought it particularly a concern for you because, from the glimpse I was able to catch of this angel, he greatly resembles a certain figure in your house."
Renat went absolutely still. Nergal was one of the few demons he had ever allowed into his castle, and the creature was a master spy. Naturally, Nergal had found the likeness that Renat kept in his great room. He felt no need to hide the reason behind his fall, and it had been millennia since any of his demonic brethren had dared to mock him for his ill-fated love. If Nergal thought that this angel looked like Renat's, if this strange new angel was truly here of his own free will...it begged a question that set every last nerve of Renat's quivering with ferocious energy. If Nergal were right...
"The Western Gate?" Renat snapped, looking for verification as he extended his wings. Nergal nodded once, and then bowed low again. Renat could waste no more time. He beat into the air, crushing dozens of fragile human souls in the maelstrom of his ascent. The Western Gate wasn't far from his domain. He could reach it in time to stop Semiazas from doing any permanent damage to the angel. He had to.
The Western Wall was a fire that stretched high into the sky; so high, it was impossible to tell where the wall ended and the tainted red sky began. The Western Gate was the fire's only break for the entire length of Hell, a small gap at the base of the flame. Onyx pillars marked the edges of this gate, and its three-headed guardian had only failed a handful of times at protecting it from intruders.
Just inside the gate was a thronging crowd, demons of every shape and size and allegiance, and in the center of that crowd, Renat could detect a light. The light was faint, dimmed by the proximity of so many hellspawn, but there was no denying that it was purely angelic. Renat had once glowed with that sign of the grace of God himself, and it struck a chord in him that was so deeply-buried, he had forgotten its existence. This angel was indeed untainted.
Renat landed in a whirlwind of cinders stirred up by the force of his wings. Minor demons immediately moved aside for him, shielding their eyes from the stinging heat. The inner circle—demons far more powerful than the madding excess driven by curiosity—was slower to move. Renat's eyes burned with red-gold fire, and a moment later, his sword appeared in his hand. It was still sheathed, but the weapon's reputation had spread to every corner of Hell as something that no demon wanted to face. They grudgingly shifted for him as well, closing their gaping jaws and retracting claws as they reined in their constant menace.
In the very center of the circle, providing the spectacle that had so many demons transfixed, was Semiazas. He was a huge creature, thickly built, with four squat centaurian legs and a torso that sprouted up from the very center of his worm-like body. The tips of his blunt, heavy fingers flickered with fire, and his face was a hideous blend of equine and human. He was great and ruddy and powerful, the nightmarish embodiment of one of Satan's first lieutenants. Lying on one side before Semiazas, his upper half barely held off the ground by his trembling arms, was the angel.
As soon as Renat saw him, though it was only the being's back, he knew Nergal had been right.
The pale wings that had once been blinding and bright were now faded, dirtied from soot and ash. Long chestnut hair had been hacked off, and Renat could see strands of it clutched in various demons' hands, held close like the precious drug it was. Tasting pure celestial energy was the rarest of all experiences, and Semiazas had done his part to buy the crowd by dispensing a small measure of that energy to them. Instead of a robe of white, the angel was nude, and his naturally flawless skin already showed signs of abuse, red and black burns weeping where Semiazas had laid his flaming hands on him. Draped over his shoulders and coiled around his legs was a chain of hellfire, and it burned a sullen blood red, able to restrain the angel, but unable to harm him as long as his purity of soul remained intact.
"Renat," Semiazas hissed, his voice nasal and flat. A forked tongue poked between the gap in his enormous teeth. "What brings the Pretender of Hell here?" The Pretender was one of many names that Renat carried through the pit. He was one of very few Fallen who had mostly held on to his angelic form despite their exile from God. His appearance angered many of the other demons, especially those who had been totally transformed by the fires of Hell.
"This angel is mine," Renat replied. His voice was calm and cold, though inside he was shaking with the need to claim. "You will release the binding chain holding him."
Semiazas brayed loudly, vastly amused. The nearest demons joined in with scornful laughter. "First to find, first to bind, and then the deal is done," Semiazas said when he could speak again. "I found the angel; I brought him through the Western Gate. He is mine to enjoy as I please." He jerked the chain, forcing the angel up onto his knees. Renat couldn't let himself focus on that. If he did, he would lose his mind.
"I give you one last chance to release the binding chain without bloodshed," Renat intoned, stretching his wings a little wider. He knew how this was going to play out, had known from the moment he heard which demon was holding the angel. Some demons could be bartered with, some could be intimidated, but others could only be stopped through brutal application of force. Semiazas was one such demon. He feared none but Satan and would never give up the angel without a fight.
Sure enough, Semiazas simply grinned, steaming saliva dripping to the ground as though his mouth were watering for the fight. Perhaps it was. He tossed his end of the chain away, then lashed out with one razor hoof. It caught the angel square in the chest, knocked him through the air and onto his back. None of the crowd dared to touch him, not even to sample his energy. If they handled the chain without Semiazas' consent, it would burn the offending limb to dust.
Again, Renat kept his eyes averted and focused entirely on his opponent. Fire crept up Semiazas' hands and arms, eventually engulfing them completely in a flame so hot, it was the color of ice. In turn, Renat unsheathed his sword. The light emanating from the blade was bright enough to hurt the eyes of the watching demons, a strange, twisted pain brought on partly by the hellfire that had been poured into its forging, and partly by the thread of angelic virtue that somehow formed its core.
Renat had made the sword very early after his fall. He had imbued it with the tattered remnants of his grace and made it an enduring symbol of his reason for falling: love. The sword helped him to remember and kept him from overwhelming regret, and in turn, the blade was one of very few weapons that could lastingly hurt a demon.
"You and your toys," Semiazas growled. "You are nothing but a plaything, Pretender." He reared back onto his hind legs, and the tremor caused by his thundering strike as his front hooves hit the ground again made the pillars of the Western Gate itself tremble. He launched himself toward Renat at a full run.
Renat swept up into the sky, avoiding Semiazas' first blitzing attack. Unable to stop his bulk in time, Semiazas plowed into the first rank of watching demons, snapping and hissing as he lashed out at them, trying to turn around. Renat dove down, his sword flickering faster than sunlight, and cut through the tip of Semiazas' long, reptilian tail.
The demon roared, flames spilling down his arms, and then he raised them up and leveled a sheet of blue-hot fire at Renat. Renat flew up and away, not quite fast enough to avoid the bottom edges of his wings getting singed. It hurt, but Renat was accustomed to pain from his vestigial members, and he ignored it. The flash had momentarily weakened Semiazas. This time, Renat came at his opponent's face, slicing away two of the fingers on one grasping hand as he drove his blade at Semiazas' swamp-colored eyes.
The demon lowered his head defensively, and the sword impacted with a curling horn instead, half-severing it before Renat could draw back. It stuck there for a moment, caught in the bony whorls, and Semiazas took the opportunity to grab Renat.
The heat scorched the outer layers of his chest where Semiazas gripped him tight. Gritting his teeth, Renat used what little leverage he had and managed to jerk his sword free just as his opponent's other, injured hand rose to try to clamp his lower half and rip him in two. He hacked the rest of the fingers from that unlucky hand, and when Semiazas howled with pain and loosened his grip, Renat tore free. Instead of flying away, though, he dropped to the ground and moved directly beneath the heavy body of his opponent.
Before Semiazas could think to try to crush him, Renat had run the span of his belly, dragging his sword through the thick hide above him. He emerged behind Semiazas and watched as the perforated bag of guts drooped slowly downwards, finally spilling out in a mess of writhing, coiled intestines. Semiazas bellowed with pain and came down hard on his forelegs.
Renat walked slowly around to the front of the demon. The fire burning along Semiazas' arms was almost gone, and his eager arrogance had been replaced by resentful fear. Renat placed the point of his sword beneath the demon's chin. "You will release the angel's binding chain now," he said softly, "or I will deal with it myself by leaving you a corpse."
Glazed, muddy eyes blinked once, twice. A second later the hellfire chain holding the angel dissipated completely, vanishing like a mirage. Renat immediately stalked over to where the angel had struggled back onto his knees and took up position in front of him, one hand still firmly holding onto his sword. The other hovered for a moment over the angel's head before retreating to his side. He couldn't touch him yet, not in front of this group. Not without revealing more than he cared for them to know.
Renat stood and looked around at the gawkers, and his gaze was met with awed silence. Princes of Hell did not often do battle like this, in front of a crowd. It was only a matter of time before word got back to Satan, and Renat felt sure he would need every second alone that he could get with the angel crouched before him.
The angel leaned forward until his forehead rested against Renat's body. The touch was electrifying and spurred him to act. Renat reached out and wove a length of binding chain out of his power. It was much thinner than what Semiazas had used, but it would make the angel his captive all the same. He wrapped it quickly around the base of the angel's wings, then jerked him to his feet. Without another word, Renat flew aloft and raced back to his castle, dragging the angel behind him on the length of chain.
He entered his home through a high window, not the door. There were petitioners outside of his grand entrance, lower demons who were ready to swear fealty to Renat in exchange for his patronage, but he had no time to deal with them now. Hot, dry air swept through the room as Renat gently lowered his burden to the ground before landing himself. His eyes hungrily tracked the angel's weakened movements, devouring every tremor and gasp as the celestial creature slowly levered itself to its feet.
Its wounds were already healing, the burns disappearing as the angel's grace permeated them. The one thing that remained unchanged was the binding chain that glowed like a brand around its wings, and Renat felt a surge of possessiveness unlike anything he had experienced in millennia. When the angel finally met his eyes, though, the first emotion Renat felt was not one of tenderness, but rather pure fear. Something this perfect had no place in Hell.
"What in His name has possessed you?" Renat turned to pace so he wouldn't have to stare into those crystal blue eyes. "To wait at the Western Gate like a lamb waiting for slaughter...this is pure idiocy! You belong in the Kingdom of Heaven, not the filth of Hell. What is your great sin that makes you want to sacrifice yourself to the pleasure of Satan's minions?"
"Renat." His name flowed with sweet amusement off of the angel's tongue, and it stopped Renat in his tracks. "There is no sacrifice. I knew you would come to me."
"You knew nothing of the kind," Renat snapped, keeping his eyes averted.
"I know everything about you," the angel said, gentle and trusting. "I know your heart. I see its goodness. I knew you would not leave me to suffer anyone else's claim."
"There is no goodness in me," Renat insisted, backing away as the angel moved forward. "Stay away from me."
"That would defeat the entire purpose of my being here," the angel replied, his footsteps as soft as velvet against the shining black floor. "I came here for you, Renat. Why would I stay away now?" He followed Renat's retreat to the wall, standing so close to him that Renat could feel the cool, comforting light still emanating from the angel's soul.
He closed his eyes, desperately trying to maintain his composure. He hadn't been afraid like this for thousands of years. He wanted to strike out at the object of his fear, make it hurt and bleed before it could flay away his defenses, but it was impossible.
A hand touched Renat's cheek, turning his face forward again. He kept his eyes resolutely shut, even as acidic tears welled up behind them. The last threads of his calm frayed and snapped when those cool lips—whose touch he had only experienced once before—pressed a kiss to each of his eyelids. The breath in his body froze for a moment, and then left him in a harsh cry as he flung his arms around the angel.
"Emiel," he choked out, and a moment later, arms enfolded him in an embrace just as strong as his own, just as desperate.
"Renat," Emiel whispered, and his voice was as soothing as a prayer. "I'm here. I'm with you." They stood in silent communion for a long time, Emiel's embrace slowly leaching the anxious tension from Renat's frame.
Renat would have stayed like that forever, but Emiel had to break the delicate silence. "I dreamed of this moment for so long. I prayed to our Father and, at last, He answered me. God rewards the faithful, my love."
Renat pulled back, his temper already on the rise. "Do not say that."
"What?" Emiel searched his face, his expression curious but compassionate. "Do not say that I love you, or rather that we are faithful? For we are faithful, both of us, and I do love you. I have always loved you."
Renat turned away and began to pace again, needing the distance. This was some sort of cruel trick, some new torment designed by God or His greatest sons to punish the Fallen. "Why didn't you come with me, then?" he demanded. "Why wait until now?"
"I had to wait for our Father's blessing," Emiel said softly, extending one hand to Renat. The demon forced himself to ignore it. "I could not go against His word. He has finally spoken anew, though. He gave me leave for this. This is a gift, Renat, not a curse, not a trick. I promise you."
"How could God's reward for you be abandoning you to Hell?" Renat couldn't keep the desperation he felt from leaking into his voice. "I cannot protect you here, Emiel. I can save you from lesser demons, but the King of Hell will soon learn of your presence, if he hasn't already. I cannot prevent Satan from tearing you away from me."
"He won't tear me away," Emiel said, confident. "We will seek an audience with him, and if he doesn't kill both of us out of hand, then we will be saved."
Renat swallowed heavily and finally looked back at the angel. Emiel's wounds were already healed, and his hand was still outstretched. He wanted to take it so badly, but there was no way this could end except in tragedy. "Our Father will never receive me in Heaven."
"Renat." Angelic light washed over him, diminishing his fears and leaving something close to peace behind. "Trust me." Renat didn't say anything, but after a moment he took Emiel's hand. The angel smiled at him, and it was too perfect to look at.
Renat dropped his eyes and took in the ash and blood coating Emiel's skin, transferred from Renat when they had embraced. His wounds were still burning, but it was a distant pain. "I have stained you."
"We should both be cleansed," Emiel agreed. "Do you have a bathing chamber here?"
"I do." It was an incredible luxury. A hole carved out of the volcanic rock of Renat's castle filled with water that trickled down from Earth. Water could be found in Hell, but no matter how you attempted to purify it, the stench of sulfur was always there, permeating every drop. This water was hard with minerals and hot like everything in Hell was hot, but it was pure for all that. "Come." He turned away and Emiel followed, keeping a hold on his hand as they walked.
The bathing chamber was on the far side of the great room. Renat's statue stood in the center of that room; there was no way Emiel could miss it. Renat wondered if the angel would be offended by the likeness, a replica of Emiel as Renat had last seen him, on his knees, arms akimbo from the force of their broken embrace, and anguish etched on his face. He’d looked beautiful, as all angels were, but tortured, too. It was the pain in his expression that had given Renat some small measure of comfort over the millennia, and he wondered if Emiel would understand. The angel didn't say anything, just tightened his grip on Renat's hand a bit more as they passed it.
A single torch guttered in a sconce on the wall of the bathing chamber. The water steamed, misting the air and touching Renat's face like spirit fingers. The bath itself wasn't too large, no longer than the length of his body in any direction, but it would hold the two of them. He stepped down into the pool and turned to guide Emiel in.
As soon as the angel's foot touched the simmering pool, the water changed. In the space of a second, it went from cloudy with dissolved minerals to clear and soft, water so soft it felt like silk against the skin. The color of the mist changed from gray to gold, and once the angel was immersed up to his waist, even the temperature had changed from a degree below boiling to comfortably warm. "You..." Renat's voice failed for a moment, and he had to try again. "You should not waste your grace. You are cut off from God now; you cannot get it back."
"I have enough for this," Emiel assured him, moving a little closer.
Emiel dipped his free hand into the water and raised the liquid to Renat's shoulder. It soothed as it trickled down Renat's side, every rivulet leaving whole, unburned skin in its wake. It had been so long since anyone had cared for him, since anyone had bothered to consider his pain, that it was hard for him to take. Renat jerked back from Emiel's hands and pushed away toward the far side of the pool.
"Don't touch me!" he hissed. "Do not touch me. I have lived without your touch for too long, I cannot accept it now. You aren't for me. You have never been for me."
"But you have always been mine," Emiel said matter-of-factly. He didn't move closer, but he didn't back away, either. "You have been mine, in all your ways, from the moment you came into being and knew me. Our Father sees that."
"Then he has hated me from the beginning."
"No," Emiel said. He moved forward now, slowly but inexorably. "God understands love. He also understands sacrifice. Do you think it has been easy for me, all these years, to be separated from you?" Emiel's tone gained an edge of anger and frustration. "There was never a moment when I wasn't thinking of you. I traveled all of Earth looking for you, wishing that you were one of the Fallen that rose to tempt humanity just so I could see you again. I don't have the power to look through the Wall into Hell."
"I could not bear to go to Earth," Renat confessed. "To be surrounded by the cause of Heaven's sundering was too painful for me to contemplate. Once their souls are here, they are fair game, for they, too, have betrayed our Father, but up there..."
"I know." Emiel stopped a hands-width away from Renat, the soft, healing water lapping between their bodies. His white wings spread, curled forward and around them until everything else was blocked out and the only thing Renat could see in every direction was a cocoon of white, pulsing with the beat of Emiel's heart. "Everything you see," the angel assured him, "is for you. I'm yours, and so are all my abilities. Let me share my grace with you." Emiel placed his hands gently on the points of Renat's hips. "Let me give you everything."
Renat knew he didn't deserve everything, but he couldn't deny that he wanted it. This might be all he had before God or the Devil stole Emiel away from him again. If this was the only moment together they would get, then he would own it completely.
Before he could remind himself why it was wrong to do so, Renat wound his arms around Emiel's shoulders and neck, pulled the angel's body flush to his, and kissed him hard on the mouth.
Renat had meant it to be a violent, claiming kiss, a mark of possession, but it didn't stay that way. As much as it was his chain that bound the angel now, both of them knew that it wouldn't be there if Emiel hadn't sought him in Hell. Emiel's claim had come first, and he asserted his authority and took control of the kiss, gentling it and making it into something intimately tender.
The sweetness of the angel's grace flowed through their lips, and suddenly Renat was drowning in love. It filled the parched plain of his body and renewed the part of himself that barely existed, the smallest residual speck of their ancient connection. It quivered in pain, a wounded creature shrinking away from the light, and Renat tried to pull back, but Emiel wouldn't have it. He kept their lips locked together, unrepentantly pouring all his grace and adoration into Renat until the pain finally faded. The heavy feeling of drowning was replaced by a fragile sense of rightness that Renat had forgotten. It was the sensation of God's love, and it permeated Renat's body with just enough force to heal his newest injuries.
The healing came from God. The rest of the kiss, the growing heat and passion of it, that all came from Emiel. He held Renat tightly, pressing their bodies from chest to toes. His tongue brushed against the seam of Renat's lips, tasting him, testing for an opening. Renat gave in, and then they were closer than they had ever been, but somehow, it still wasn't enough.
"I know," Emiel whispered against his mouth. "It's all right."
"It isn't," Renat argued. He didn't even know why at this point, but the pleasure made guilt well within him. "This is not all that I am. You don't know..."
"I know your darkness," Emiel replied, pulling back just enough to capture Renat's gaze again. "I know it. I read it in every inch of you. Especially here." His hands brushed Renat's shoulder blades. "Show them to me."
Renat wanted to protest. His wings were hideous, and no amount of shared grace was going to heal thousands of years of damage. But Emiel wanted everything, and he was going to get it, even if he turned his head away in disgust. Renat twisted his mind slightly and the wings came curling out of his back, bone and sinew creaking as they flexed and stretched. Bone and sinew, that was all that was left of Renat's wings. It was a wonder he could still carry himself with them; the vast majority of the Fallen had lost their wings when they reached the firmament of Hell, the first indelible change that their decision wrought on them. Renat's remained, mutilated as they were. Rumor had it that Satan had kept his as well, although they were said to be wrought of sorcery now, with nothing of Heaven remaining in them.
Once his wings, such as they were, were completely open, Renat tensed expectantly. Emiel looked almost exasperated for a moment, and then gently stroked down Renat's spine. His wings quivered. It felt...good.
"You think of yourself as a defiler, and yet you were also defiled." Emiel kissed Renat again, and his hands moved to the base of his wings, the thick, scarred connection, and held him tightly. "You have done evil, as evil has been done to you. You cannot lose your past." He rocked his hips forward, and his erection pushed against Renat's groin, tempting him to imitation. "But it should not kill your future. We are meant to feel this."
He pressed in again, undulating, and the curving feathers around them mimicked the movement. "You can feel pleasure with me. No guilt or blame or anger, just joy. Ecstasy." His wings opened a little to enfold Renat's, cocooning them as well, and then everything was surrounded in softness and heat and wet. Only the body against Renat was hard and lingering. It coaxed him into an answering hardness, and the sensation was so alien and pleasurable, it took his breath away.
Demons fucked. Demons were hedonists of the most vicious and sadistic kind, and for many of them, their foremost proclivity was sexual. It was such an easy way to discomfit, a simple, primal way to bring horror and pain and brutality to the damned. There were demons that strutted around Hell with permanent erections, huge and deformed, edged with thorns and dripping acid. Sex in Hell was almost inevitably just fucking, and fucking meant nothing but straightforward pain and torture.
Renat had never found that kind of punishment fitting, not for himself or the souls he liked to torment. He preferred the flexibility and range that came with destroying the mind with its own sin, which was why the older souls—those that had moved beyond the ability to be tormented through physical means—feared his presence so much. Primal pain was brutal, but the psychological pain he brought to them was an exquisite abomination.
This was a primal pleasure, and it stirred something heavy and aching and hot inside Renat. This was flesh pressed to flesh, rigid inside of its silken cage and bound between warm, slick skin. This was Emiel in his arms, the angel he had longed for, so much more than the threadbare memory Renat had cherished. This was a real entity who sighed against his lips as he brought one elegant hand down between them and closed his fingers around both their lengths. He stroked their erections, and the feel of it made Renat groan, half in protest, half in pleasure.
"It's all right," Emiel reassured him, his voice shaking with desire. "You can have this. We can have it, together. I swear to you, this is right. Relax, my love, don't fight it. Don't fight me. Welcome me."
Renat didn't reply, but tilted Emiel's head back and fastened his lips to the long, pale column of his throat, alternately nipping and caressing him there, trying to control the urge to sink his teeth into that tender skin as the ache in his groin intensified. Emiel didn't pull back or resist, just leaned harder against him as he pumped his hand around them, holding them so tightly together, it almost felt like they were joined there. It left Renat balancing on the edge of physical pain, still overshadowed by the foreign ecstasy that consumed him.
"You are for me," Emiel moaned, digging his nails into the space between Renat's wings and wrapping his legs around Renat's waist. The sudden weight was nothing, but the neediness of the gesture stunned Renat, breaking down the dregs of his faltering opposition. "Mine."
Emiel lowered his face to Renat's. His eyes shined so brightly with his grace, Renat could hardly meet them, and yet it was impossible to look away. All that brilliance, all that love...it was all for him. "You are mine, Renat."
Emiel was close, so close, and when he began to lose himself to the pleasure of their flesh, Renat was able to let himself go and fall over the edge with his lover. He closed the distance between their lips and screamed deliriously into Emiel's mouth as everything else faded away.
For a time, Renat couldn't see anything but the golden mist of the air covering his eyes like a shroud. As he recovered, shapes began to coalesce, and then he could see bits and pieces of Emiel: his nose, the sweet curve of his mouth. His eyes, still so blue and bright. He looked happy, and he held Renat gently around his waist. After a moment, Renat realized that he was smiling back at Emiel. It was potent, this love between them, if it could force his lips into an expression they hadn't worn since he fell from Heaven.
"Renat," Emiel breathed, like his name was a prayer. "My love."
"Yours," Renat agreed, finally accepting it. Emiel smiled and kissed him. When he pulled back, his expression was a little more solemn. "We need not seek him out. Your king is coming to us."
As soon as Emiel mentioned it, Renat could sense it as well, the silent but sure pressure in the back of his mind that heralded Satan's impending arrival. In the weak, Satan's presence evoked insanity, and lesser demons fled from it. In those with stronger minds, it put them on edge, made them more likely to snap and snarl. It accentuated their urge to challenge, and Satan had used this visceral ability to prompt his enemies into reckless combat many times before. He had never come close to being defeated. Renat was immediately both protective and despairing.
"He will not take me away," Emiel promised.
"How do you know that?" Renat demanded, holding onto Emiel's arms too tightly.
"Because I have faith in our Father," the angel said. "The Morning Star is still His son. He has a place in God's grand design, even if it is hard to understand. We will be well." He kissed Renat again, and then stepped back and put space between them. "We should go and meet him."
"We should," Renat agreed. They climbed out of the healing pool, and somehow Renat knew he would never enter those waters again. Whatever happened next, his existence was about to change indelibly.
They were dry within moments in the hellish air. Renat took hold of Emiel's hand again and led him slowly back to the great room where the King of Hell waited for them.
It was impossible to encapsulate in mere words the dark glory that was the former archangel. Where Emiel was love and light and grace embodied in flesh, Satan was chaos and lightning and elemental space itself folded into the form of a man, and yet still unrestrained. The very air surrounding him seemed energized with his presence, and Renat struggled against the conflicting urges of either launching himself forward in a frenzy or pressing his forehead to the ground. Emiel squeezed his hand.
"An angel," Satan said appreciatively, looking far more interested than Renat was comfortable with. "Not one of mine, either. Our Father's faulty grace doesn't just cling to you, it flourishes in you still." He ran a fingertip over the head of the statue of Emiel. Everything about the motion made Renat think of possession, and he had to look away to keep the jealousy at bay. "You stole him from Semiazas, Beauty?"
Beauty was Satan's particular nickname for Renat, given to him with warring affection and disdain. Renat thought that the King of Hell appreciated the contrast that Renat provided and found his devotion to a memory amusing. It wasn't so amusing to Renat now that the real thing was actually here.
"I fought Semiazas for him."
"You fought for your own little angel, come down at long last to join you in the pit." Satan smiled slowly. "This is a perfect tale of tragic folly. I have to know more before I have you both destroyed for your presumption."
Panic swelled in Renat, but Emiel calmed him with another brief caress. "I did not come here to challenge your reign. I have brought you tribute, in exchange for releasing us."
Satan's smile turned harsh. His face morphed from beautiful to menacing in an instant. "I want nothing of God's," he snarled, harsh enough to make Renat's ears bleed.
"The tribute does not come from God," Emiel promised. He turned a reassuring look on Renat before releasing his hand and moving forward. Every step he took brought him closer to Satan, and drove Renat closer to losing his mind.
The King of Hell's power crackled through the air, barely restrained by his curiosity. Renat watched as Emiel drew close enough to touch, close enough to be killed in a moment if Satan wished it. His body quivered with the effort of holding himself still, giving Emiel the time to do whatever it was he had planned.
Emiel leaned close and spoke softly into Satan's ear. "This is from Michael, Lucifer." Then he kissed the Devil firmly on the mouth.
Only their lips connected, but the sudden flare of celestial light was more powerful than anything Renat had seen since before his fall. He shielded his eyes, and when the light died down and he could see again, he was stunned.
The swelling antipathy that had soured the air was gone. The chaos had diminished, becoming more contained, and the King of Hell...he looked like the Lucifer of old. He was still beautiful, but his beauty was heavenly now, refined and sealed with grace. He had drawn back from Emiel, and his fingertips hovered in front of his mouth, which hung open with shock. Emiel's own grace had diminished sharply, the power of the archangel's gift now passed on. Renat stepped forward cautiously, anxious to get his hands on Emiel, and when he saw him coming, his lover reached out to him. They stood as one in front of the Morning Star as he gradually regained his senses.
"From Michael," he murmured.
"He has not forgotten, any more than I," Emiel said.
"Yet, somehow, I had." Lucifer looked down at his hands and grimaced, as if seeing something that disgusted him. "I have dwelled in the isolation of my own self-righteousness with too much ease." He turned his attention back to them. "This new awareness is worthy of a small benevolence on my part."
"You mean...you'll let us go?" Renat asked, unable to believe his ears.
"I'm going to let you follow the path that He has set for you," Lucifer replied with a faint smile. "I doubt it's what you would love best, but beggars can't be choosers." He reached out and cupped a hand around the back of Renat's neck. His whole spine seized with agony for a moment, but then the pain and heat left him. He opened his eyes just in time to see a ball of Hellfire cupped in Lucifer's palm before it vanished. The burn of his demonic tattoo, the mark of Lucifer's lordship, was gone from his skin. His binding chain had also disappeared from around Emiel's wings.
"Now the blade," Lucifer said. Renat reached for the dimension where he kept his sword, surprised at how hard it was to reach it. He managed with some effort, though, and after a moment of hesitation, handed the weapon over. Now, they were completely vulnerable to the King of Hell.
Lucifer turned the sword over in his grasp, looking at it pensively. "It still carries a piece of your original grace. How long has it existed, Beauty?"
"Almost as long as I have been in Hell."
"Which is nearly as long as I have. Your constancy could shame me, if I let it. No wonder my princes have hated you so." He turned a thin smile to the two of them. "They throng outside of this castle even now, Beauty, baying for your blood and the blood of your angel."
"Please..." Renat breathed. It was the first time he had uttered that word since his fall.
"I won't give you over to them." Lucifer said it with easy honesty. "They could never deserve you. But it is time for you both to leave." He glanced at Emiel. "You know the way?"
"Good. This place..." Lucifer glanced around, then focused on the kneeling statue. "I think I'll keep it for myself. It will serve as a reminder to me that even Hell can evolve." He lifted his hand toward the two of them. Emiel immediately wrapped his arms around Renat, holding onto him tightly. His wings quivered with tension.
The last thing Renat saw before the Devil's dark energy engulfed them was Lucifer staring into the eyes of a new statue, this one tall and straight and proud.
I am not a human being; I am a human becoming.
The first thing he noticed through the rising wave of consciousness was the surface beneath his body. It was soft; not ethereal like a form of energy, but real. Solid. It cradled Renat's body, which felt similarly solid. He frowned in his growing wakefulness and opened his eyes. They felt gritty, and as he began to move, an inadvertent groan forced its way past his lips. His entire body ached, was sore in a way he had never experienced before.
It wasn't a torturous pain. It wasn't even sharp, but it inhabited him completely, made him feel as though doing more than rolling over from his stomach to his back was impossible. Renat stared up at the ceiling and...
Ceiling. He was staring at a ceiling. Not a grand, vaulted height that soared above him, but a simple, off-white ceiling. There was a rotating fan attached to it with a dangling cord. Renat only knew what a rotating fan was because some of the souls he had tormented over the years had hanged themselves with those cords.
He put the flats of his hands down on the soft, springy surface he lay upon and pushed himself upright. Doing so made his head spin, and he cupped his forehead in his palm and squeezed his eyes shut for a long moment. The slight pain and feeling of dizziness receded, and he finally opened his eyes and looked around.
Renat was sitting on a large bed in a simple, elegantly furnished room. Light filtered in through a tall picture window, and the air was cool. As soon as he recognized it, his skin prickled with goosebumps, prompting a shiver, but Renat ignored the minor discomfort in favor of slowly getting to his feet. He wobbled for a moment and had to extend his arms to keep his balance. Once he had it, he wandered through the door into a hallway.
The floor was polished hardwood, smooth beneath his feet. Renat trailed one hand along the wall as he walked, noting every slight curve and bump his fingertips encountered. Thoughts were pounding in his head, a million anxious things that cried out for consideration, but he couldn't focus on them yet; something was pulling him forward.
Renat kept going until he reached a wall of glass. Outside, there was mist and the slick shine of water on wood, and an instant later Renat knew he had to be out there in it. He tried to simply step through the wall, something that should have been easy for him, but it was unyielding against the smooth skin of his palms. He closed his eyes and summoned his power, but there was...not nothing, exactly. Not necessarily a void, but an absence inside of him. Instead of the pain of a gaping hole, however, Renat felt as though something else had been put into the space where first his grace, and then his hellfire, had lived. Whatever it was, it had none of the quick and ready power that came before, but there was something so deeply profound about it that Renat shied away from looking too close.
What he did manage to gather was that he wouldn't be walking through walls any longer. Renat examined the glass surface, running his fingers down the sides until they caught on a small indentation. A latch, perhaps. Like nothing he had ever seen himself, but some of the damned had, and he had been inside their minds.
He clumsily inserted his fingers into the groove and pulled. The glass wall slid smoothly aside, and the wet, moist air touched Renat's bare skin like a caress. He stepped out onto the deck and heard the quiet susurration of water lapping against the wood that he stood upon, and felt the mist blanket him.
The wood was rougher out here, a little harsh on his feet. Renat walked as though he were in a trance, right to the edge of the deck on which he stood. He knelt there and stared over the edge into the water below. A face stared back at him. It was his face—it must have been—but it looked unlike anything he had ever seen before. His eyes were brown with a thin ring of green around the pupil. His hair was still long and black, but the razor's edge that had defined every strand had vanished, leaving it a somewhat disheveled whole. His face was pale, thin, not ethereally beautiful. He looked... human. He looked like a human.
Tiny ripples spread out from where the salty drops fell, distorting his reflection. After a moment, Renat realized they were coming from his eyes. Tears. He was crying water, making something simple and pure, and it didn't hurt, it didn't burn. It was a strange sort of beautiful, the ability to do something so elemental. He stared at himself and wept in the chill, rain-touched air. His body, so foreign and frail now, started to tremble from the cold, and a moment later he felt something soft drape over his shoulders, followed by a pair of warm arms holding him close.
Renat turned blindly into Emiel's embrace, gripping his lover too tightly, but unable to stop himself. He was shaking so hard, he thought this body might break, and his breaths came fast and shallow.
"It's all right," Emiel murmured in his ear. "It's all right. I have you, my love. I have you."
"What...how...?" He couldn't get the words out, and, fortunately, he didn't have to.
"We could not go straight back to Heaven," Emiel said, filling Renat with a new and sudden grief. It wasn't that he had truly expected to be let back into the Kingdom of God, but that he hadn't been was still painful. At least Emiel was with him. He could bear whatever this was if Emiel was with him.
"This is our new home. I searched for the right place for a century and spent the last ten years making it ready for us to live here and learn to be human," Emiel continued.
To be human? Renat pulled back slightly, just enough space so that he could look at Emiel. The angel was wearing clothes: thin pants that clung to his skin and a simple blue shirt that buttoned down the front. His feet were bare, and his face was the same, but...different. His hair was still short and brown, and his eyes were blue, but they no longer glowed with the grace of God. He had lost his grace. Emiel was no longer an angel.
"No," Renat whispered desperately. "You must not lose your grace for me."
"There is no lack," Emiel promised him. "We have a new grace now. We have souls, my love."
"Human souls. That's what we are now, Renat, mostly human." Emiel lifted his hands to cup Renat's face. They felt the same as they always had, warm and loving. Renat leaned into the touch and let gentle fingers brush away his tears. "It was the only way we could be together again. We will live as humans, and if our lives our honorable, then we both will be welcomed back into Heaven when these mortal forms have reached their end. We will go on forever, my love. This is only the next step." He leaned in and kissed Renat's cheek soothingly, then his lips. "After all, what is one lifetime when we have already waited for so long?" he whispered into Renat's mouth. "One lifetime here on Earth, and then eternity together."
"Emiel..." Renat leaned into the kiss, wanting to deepen it, but he forced himself to pull away as all those things he hadn't wanted to think about came rushing back. "I don't know how to do this."
"I will teach you," Emiel promised him. "Our home is fairly isolated, so we don't need to worry about interruptions, or seeing anyone before you're ready. I chose a place on a lake because I thought you would enjoy it after so long without such things." He reached over and trailed his fingers through the water, and then brushed his wet fingertips across Renat's temple. "You can do this," he assured Renat. "You can do anything."
"As long as I have you," Renat murmured, and Emiel's smile seemed to brighten the sky. "What does mostly human mean?"
"Just what it sounds like. We have human bodies with human frailties. Human needs. But," Emiel said with a sly smile, "our Father anticipated that this would get difficult sometimes, and so He left us with a little...reminder. Close your eyes."
Renat obeyed, shutting lids that felt a swollen from tears. Emiel shifted away for a moment, and when he came back to Renat's arms, his chest was bare. Something soft fluttered against Renat's cheek, and when he opened his eyes, he was looking into Emiel's grinning face, and surrounding them both were gently pulsing white feathers.
After a brief moment of shock, Renat tilted his head back and laughed. He laughed for what felt like the first time in his life, pure and joyous. The sound echoed across the water and slowly dissolved into the earth, a fitting introduction to the world for one of God's newest souls.