She had no idea of how much time had passed – it felt like eternity – but suddenly, the door burst open and a man stepped through. She had a hard time seeing his actual features, the Darkness and Light so vivid within him that they outshone normal vision, unlike the ugly grey within her tormentors. She would never forget the pattern she saw: a column of pure Darkness running down his length, bound by more slender chains of Light twining around the column, both in constant motion. She was almost frightened of him, of that pure Darkness that she had never seen before, but she could not be frightened of him for what he did next. Casually, he defeated her tormentors, whether they attacked physically or magically, though they outnumbered him many to one. He had them all incapacitated, but alive, when he glanced in a corner at the bloody remains of what had been pure white wings before they had been severed from her. Then his face hardened, and the Darkness within him pulsed.
He killed them all then, quickly and without remorse, paying blood for blood. She could see that he drained them somehow as he took their lives, the greyness within them flowing into him and separating into Dark and Light before melding with his Dark core or the binding Light chains. Being who they were and having done what they had done, the men had far more Darkness than Light within them, and the Dark column in the stranger swelled to the point where it appeared it would burst free of the Light. She was a little frightened then, as he finally approached her in a room of now-dead men, a being of almost pure Darkness.
But the Light chains, stretched and thin though they were, never broke. He knelt before her and gently touched her face, the Darkness receding from his hand so that the contact had only Light, only calmness and serenity. She abandoned fear and threw herself into his arms in the unselfconscious way she would at home, absently noting that the Light strands again rearranged themselves so she touched no Darkness. He was warm and comforting, gently stroking her hair until she stopped shaking and lay quiescent in his arms.
Gently, he let her go so that he could take off his jacket and wrap it around her naked form. It touched the wounds on her back and she shuddered away from the pain. He quickly surrounded her with his arms again. Sliding a hand under the jacket to her back, he whispered words that sounded almost familiar, and the pain stopped. She went boneless in relief, and he caught her up, cradling her as if she were a child. She pressed her face against his chest, content to let him take her away from this place of pain and fear, and not caring where.
The Darkness pulsed within him, swirling chaotic emotions chasing each other through his head. He was furious, he was deliriously happy, he was calm and peaceful, he was riled and would never know peace again. It was clear that the magic practitioners he had killed were of the blood sacrifice variety. That they would dare seize an angel out of the upper plane… He wished he could kill them again. It was clear that they had harvested enormous amounts of power by corrupting a Light being with Darkness; he had drained it from them as he killed them, and he would use it to restore her wings. Her wings, their beautiful plumage streaked with blood and lying discarded on the ground, was a sight he would never forget. He was furious.
But she was here. He had been alone for an eon, and had expected to continue that way; his kind did not die of old age. After the fury had abated in the wake of killing and draining the men, after she had thrown herself at him in complete trust as only someone who had never learned to be wary would, he had realized that he was no longer alone. He was deliriously happy, and felt guilty that her pain was cause for his happiness.
She was Light. It radiated from the core of her being in a purity and brightness he had not seen since he had left his birthplace. As he held her, it strengthened the Light in his own being and granted him serenity. He was calm and peaceful with an angel in his arms.
But he knew he would find a way to heal her and send her home. He could not imagine her wanting to stay in a world that had been so cruelly and violently introduced to her. She would be afraid of the way Light and Dark could blend into a muddy grey; he was surprised she did not try to escape him with the amount of Darkness he carried. He would send her home, and he would never know peace again.
Involuntarily, he tightened his grip, but she simply snuggled closer in contentment. She was so beautiful it made his heart ache. He travelled towards his house in this city and decided to savour the time he had with her. It would be brief, but it would have to last him forever.
It was night. The air was still and silent in the hours before dawn. He reached into a pocket of the jacket he no longer wore to retrieve the key to his house and unlocked the door, easily supporting her weight with one arm. She stirred in curiosity, wrapping her arms around his neck to gain a more upright position, and looked around as he carried her inside and slid off his shoes. The house was barely furnished, mostly bare white walls and gleaming hardwood floors showing in the moonlight shining through the windows. Soundlessly, they passed large, empty rooms, as well as an office containing a computer, desk, and chair. The kitchen was bare; he did not eat, and she would not need to, either. Climbing up a flight of stairs, they came to the reason he had bought this house.
The master bedroom had been the pride and joy of the architect who had designed the house. One wall and the entire ceiling were made of glass, currently showing the night’s sky and surrounding woods in moonlight. He walked past the large bed, the only furniture in the room, into the adjoining bathroom, where he clicked on the light and closed the door.
The bright yellow light from the light bulbs seemed harsh and artificial compared to the silvery moonlight, and she blinked as she looked around. It was a fairly normal bathroom, cream-coloured tile with a separate shower and large tub, but it was the first one she had ever seen. He set her down on the edge of the tub and began to fill it with water. The sound of the running water was extremely loud compared to the previous silence, and she startled, almost losing her balance on the thin ledge she perched on. He reached out to balance her, soothing, “Shhh. It’s all right.” It was the first time he had spoken aloud, and she stared, fascinated by the richness and smoothness of his voice. He held her gaze as the tub filled, his eyes filled with deeper emotion than curiosity. She watched as the pattern of Light and Dark within him shifted. Instead of pure Darkness at his core, the Light bands coalesced into a single column as well and the two twined about each other in a single length. It was easy to see that the Darkness was much more abundant than the Light due to the power he had drained from the men.
Still, he was gentle. When the tub filled and he turned off the tap, he carefully removed the jacket she wore and began lowering her into the water, again shifting the elements within himself so that he touched her with only Light. She was not bothered by her nakedness; she came from a place where there was no shame or modesty, and the bathroom was now warm and steamy. When her foot touched the hot water, it stung, and she snatched it back. Patiently, he held her at the same height and waited until she was able to place her foot back in the water without flinching before he continued lowering her. This lowering and stopping was repeated several times before she was finally seated in the tub, but he showed no signs of impatience or physical strain at having to hold her weight in an awkward position. Her bones were light and hollow like a bird’s, and she weighed far less than would a human woman of the same size.
She relaxed into the warmth, lying back until she was submerged up to the neck. She allowed him to wash away the blood and dirt, as docile as a sleepy child. The whispered spell he had cast before bringing her here had healed all the cuts on her body, but he cast another, smoothing away all bruises so that her skin was pure and unblemished. The healing spell used up some of the Light energy within him so that the Darkness dominated even more. The only remaining physical evidence of her ordeal were the two scars on her back, from her amputated wings. The sight of them made him want to rage and to weep, and her eyes widened as the Darkness again began to pulse.
He did not want her to ever feel fear again. He closed his eyes and calmed himself, the Light again splitting apart to bind the Dark. He brushed his thumb along one of her delicate cheekbones and smiled, the expression reaching his eyes. She smiled back, her momentary apprehension gone in an instant.
He bundled her into a large, fluffy towel and carried her back out to the bedroom and into the bed. Rather than stretching out under the blankets, she stayed curled up, tucked under his arm and against his chest as he reclined against the padded headboard. He stroked her damp hair as she drowsed, eyes half open, basking in the contentment her Light generated and marvelling at her beauty.
Physically, she was perfect, as were all of their kin. Even, symmetrical features, high cheekbones, large, vivid eyes, long and graceful limbs, these were all hallmarks of his species. With blonde hair and blue eyes, this one looked like the archetype of an angel from Heaven.
It was the inner Light that drew him, so pure, and so innocent. She was probably hundreds of years old – he himself had lived for over a thousand – and yet she could give him all her trust and affection upon their first meeting, a kind of trust only found in newborn babies on this plane, before they could even properly think or control their bodies. The assumption here that everyone could harm you, the wariness and distrust he himself had learned to cultivate, it was one of the things that made him long most sharply for home. He never wanted her to learn it, and he would shelter her from danger and harm for as long as she remained under his care.
It was the early hours of the morning; those who practiced what they called ‘black magic’ seemed compelled to be nocturnal. Soon, the sky lightened with the rising of the sun, the light passing through the glass walls and illuminating the room as if they stood outside.
The angel in his arms stirred, leaving the bed and walking to the eastern edge of the room. More slowly, he followed, positioning himself at her side so that he could see her face. Her expression was bright, almost entranced. He was both unsurprised and utterly shocked when she opened her mouth and began to sing the high, pure notes of the song for the greeting of the dawn. Her voice was inhumanly beautiful, pure and soft and strong, like nothing he had heard in centuries, mesmerizing him so that he could do nothing but stare and listen. She raised both arms in the traditional gesture of greeting, still singing, and it prompted him to join her, shook him out of his trance so that he could join his voice with hers as he had longed to do for centuries in exile. But just as he inhaled to begin his first note, she realized that her wings had not spread wide to match her arms, because she had no wings. Her voice faltered and broke. She turned to look at him, eyes filling with tears. He understood. He wrapped her in his arms, surrounded her with strength and comfort, carried her back to the bed and held her as she cried like a lost child, as the sun finished rising and its beauty brought no comfort.
“Shh,” he soothed, gently stroking her hair, “they will be back. Do you hear me? I promise you, I will restore your wings.” He spoke English, but magic enabled her kind to understand speech, no matter the language. She understood both the literal meaning of his words and the intention behind it, the confidence and weight of an unbreakable vow. She calmed and looked up at him, the vivid green of his eyes. “I will restore your wings,” he repeated, and then, more softly, “and you will go home.”
The word ‘home’ caught her attention, with its simple sound, but such a complex meaning. When he said it, her saviour, he meant the upper plane, but the word had so many facets. Where you are from. Where you belong. The place that you return to, where you feel safe and warm.
“Home,” she repeated, the first word she had spoken, its meanings shivering through his mind and awakening an ache of loneliness. He was from the upper plane as well, but he no longer belonged there. He owned many buildings like this one scattered around the world, but he never returned to one more than any other. He had no home. The Light pulsed in him, for sadness was a calm emotion, and she was confused, for Light had always meant contentment for her, but his eyes did not look content at all. He read her confusion and smiled, but did not answer her unspoken question.
He asked one instead. “What is your name?” She chimed a musical sound, and he repeated it, stripped of most of its music: “Sariel.” Her eyes widened at his pronunciation, for it sounded so strange to her with only the barest hint of rising and falling intonation, and he laughed.
His laughter was such an irresistible sound that she smiled and hugged him, laying her head against his shoulder. The action, so full of affection and trust, made him catch his breath. She tried to lean back and look at his face to try and understand why he had stopped laughing, but he wrapped his arms around her and held her close, and she relaxed into the embrace.
“Sariel,” he whispered in her ear, and she heard both the syllables and the wonder and reverence he felt for her. “Sariel, my name is Arael.” He gave his name the proper musical accents, then repeated it as someone would say it on Earth. Arael, she whispered in her mind. She did not speak aloud, and so he did not discover what she felt for him.