“Where are we going?” asked Sariel, as Arael brought them back upstairs to change clothing.
“I have to take care of the rest of the people responsible for bringing you here,” he replied grimly, pulling a long white dress from the bag he had brought. The seriousness of his expression was replaced with tenderness as he turned towards her.
Knowing what he wanted, Sariel stripped off her outer clothing and allowed Arael to slip the dress over her head.
Arael’s breath caught in his throat. Against the pure white fabric of the dress, the golden undertone of her skin glowed.
“You are beautiful.” He meant it in every way possible. Sariel could feel the utter adoration behind his words, and it made her blush and look down, away from his green, green eyes.
He could not help himself. Gently, he tilted her head up. Slowly, as if afraid to break the spell that held her mesmerized, he brought his face closer and closer and kissed her.
It was a chaste kiss, but sensation threatened to overwhelm them both. Sariel was lost in the sensual pleasure. Her eyes drifted half-shut, and she only vaguely noticed that the Darkness within Arael was morphing.
Thin, delicate tendrils of Darkness grew from the column at his core towards her, like vines seeking sunlight. She was no longer afraid of any part of him, had spent all day leaning against him while he taught her the ways of this world, pressed close to that very element now reaching towards her.
It was Arael who wrenched himself back, pressing his forehead against hers while pulling the Darkness of his desire back towards his core. If Sariel accepted any Darkness from this world, she would be forever barred from the upper plane, just as he was.
He sighed. “I should not have done that.”
“Because now it will be even harder for me to let you go.” He would never forget the sensation of her warm, soft lips, her innocent pleasure, and her welcoming acceptance of all that he was. Everything in his being wanted her to stay with him forever.
But that would be the ultimate in selfishness. He knew that she did not belong on this Earth, with its greyness and violence and death. Happiness was possible here, but it was rarer than the most precious jewels and much harder to keep. Better that she return to the upper plane, where there was at least contentment and beauty.
The magical understanding of his words gave Sariel an idea of what he was feeling at the moment, but without any but the tiniest trace of Darkness within herself, she could not comprehend all of his emotions. All she really understood was that he was in distress, and it was related to her.
“Do I make you sad?” she asked. She never wanted to make him sad, this being of strength and kindness that had saved her from a nightmare and treated her as if she were the most precious thing in existence.
“No, you make me happier than I knew was possible,” he said, wrapping his arms around her. Her arms copied the movement, their embrace feeling so natural, so comfortable that it was like they had been together for centuries and not hours.
“But you are not happy right now,” she persisted.
“Ah, but I am. I am happy and sad and tormented, all at once.”
“But how do I make you only happy?”
Stay with me. The words were filled with so much longing inside his head that for a second he was not sure if he had kept them safely behind his lips. He would not ask her to sacrifice her wants and needs for his.
He kissed her again, knowing that nothing he did now could make their future separation even harder. “It is enough that you want to.” The words were truth that hid a lie: if he had said there was nothing she could do, she would have known his words to be false.
Heaven and Hell was a trendy club where the partiers dressed up as the Hollywood idea of angels and demons. It amused Arael’s contact to meet here with a real angel who looked much more like the ‘demon’ faction of the club, with his dark hair, green eyes and black clothing.
Eyes wide, Sariel viewed the crowd – wearing plastic haloes, ridiculously tiny bat and angel wings that would never support a full-sized demon or angel in flight, and extremely tight and revealing outfits either in pure white, like her dress, or black and red – while staying pressed tightly to Arael’s side. Though he had warned her that in humans, Darkness and Light always blended to some extent, all the greyness around her induced memories of fear and pain.
Arael kept one hand wrapped around Sariel’s waist while letting her grasp the other as tightly as she could. “It’s okay,” he murmured as they made their way through the club. “I will not let anyone hurt you.” His reassurance made her relax a tiny fraction.
As they made their way to a less crowded part of the building, away from the booming music of the dance floor, Sariel noticed a man and a woman seated on high stools watching their progress. The man’s brow was furrowed as if he were trying to decipher a puzzle. Arael had told her that the man was a telepath, but had trouble reading inhuman thoughts, and that the woman possessed extraordinary healing powers that she could extend to those she touched, both supernatural abilities that were extremely rare among humans.
When they were close enough to speak, the pair stood. Sariel noticed little of their physical appearance, more interested in the patterns of Light and Darkness within them.
The man’s energy was split into thousands of hair-thin strands all interwoven into a whole that looked grey, but none of the strands held anything but one pure element.
The woman had the most separated elements of anyone Sariel had seen, save Arael. Three strands of Light and two of Darkness formed an intricate braid at her core. Only if she stared intently could Sariel see that the Light was slightly dimmer and the Darkness slightly lighter than that within Arael, the barest mixing of elements.
The pureness of their beings made Sariel instantly less afraid of them than the rest of the people in the club.
Arael spoke. “Kellan.”
The man replied. “Aaron.” Arael had explained that he used a less conspicuous name when he interacted with humans, and had made one up for her as well.
“Teira.” Arael nodded to the woman, who nodded silently back.
“This is Sara,” he said, nudging Sariel forward from where she had been hiding almost completely behind him.
“Pleasure,” the man said, holding out a hand, and Sariel understood that the human custom was to shake hands upon making a new acquaintance. Hesitantly, she grasped his hand, and let go as soon as he did.
“Hello,” said the woman, and they repeated the hand-shaking.
Formalities over with, Arael said, “I have to go with Kellan now. You stay here with Teira.”
Involuntarily, Sariel’s grasp on him tightened, but she forced herself to nod and let go. She knew that Arael would never leave her in danger.
The other man walked away without another word, and Arael followed after a lingering glace. Sariel watched him until they were no longer visible.
“Are you okay?” a voice asked, and Sariel finally focused on the woman in her presence. She had black hair, brown eyes, pale and flawless skin, and beautiful, symmetrical features. She wore a typical demon outfit like many of the people in the club, its tight fit accenting a youthful body, but something about the way she carried herself indicated that it was simply a costume to blend in. She did not exude the air of a person looking to have fun and perhaps meet a man, but rather a seriousness and calm that looked rather out of place among the drunken exuberance and loud music.
“I’m afraid,” Sariel admitted, clenching her hands and pressing them tight to her body.
“Here, sit down.” Hands guided her to the seat the man had vacated.
“You are perfectly safe here,” Teira continued to soothe. “It’s all humans here, other than you, and I am perfectly capable of kicking ass if anybody bothers us.”
The unfamiliar style of speaking and confidence of the young woman shook her out of her fright somewhat, and she gave a small smile.
“That’s better,” said Teira, returning the smile. The pair sat in silence for a time, a study in opposites: one dark-haired, dark-eyed, and pale-skinned in a black leather demon outfit, the other golden-haired, blue-eyed and with a golden tint to her skin that suggested a tan without actually having that darkness, wearing a pure white dress that managed to look angelic without the addition of fake wings.
Both women were incredibly striking, which was not unnoticed among the men in the club. It was only the fact that they had just been left by two intimidatingly handsome men that discouraged anyone from approaching them. After a few minutes had passed without Arael and Kellan returning and with the women seemingly bored with conversation, the first of the men finally steeled himself to approach.
“Can I buy you ladies a drink?”
Sariel was confused. She did not understand the link between the man’s desire to buy them alcoholic beverages and the fact that her magic told her he had asked because he found them attractive.
Teira gave a polite, “No, thank you.”
Sariel said, “I do not drink,” answering the question literally.
Encouraged by what did not sound like an outright refusal, the man pressed, “Could I get you a soda or juice?”
Sariel tried to clarify. “I meant that I do not drink anything. I do not require –”
“– She’s on a special diet,” Teira interrupted. “Our dates will return soon,” she hinted, and the man retreated in defeat.
Leaning close to Sariel’s ear, Teira murmured, “If you want to pretend to be human, you can’t mention things like that. Just say ‘no, thank you’ if a man asks you if you’d like a drink or to dance.”
“Okay.” Sariel looked so guilty and repentant that she reminded Teira of a little puppy who had gotten into trouble. She hugged the angel about the shoulders.
“It’s okay. You’ll learn.” Sariel relaxed and gave Teira a happy smile. Then a question occurred to her.
“What did you mean, ‘our dates’?” Her magic had given her a complex reading when Teira had uttered the sentence, telling Sariel that the words were both true and untrue.
“Aaron and Kellan will be back soon.” The words were uttered completely calmly, but Sariel could feel the flood of emotion when Teira said the telepath’s name.
“You are in love with Kellan?” she asked, tilting her head in curiosity.
Teira paled. “How did you know that?” She was extremely worried that something in her behaviour had made it obvious even to a stranger not from this planet, who had seen the two together for maybe a minute. Sariel hurried to reassure her.
“My magic… translates both the literal meaning and the true meaning behind speech, so I felt it when you said his name.”
Teira took a moment to process this. “So you can tell what I feel about what I say?”
“Does this mean that Aaron knows, too?”
Sariel hesitated. “I am uncertain.”
“What? Isn’t he like you?”
Sariel realized that she indeed knew very little about Arael, not even whether he was part of her species. On one hand, he seemed to understand everything about her, and Darkness and Light stayed completely separate within him; on the other hand, she had never seen him manifest wings, and Darkness was not supposed to exist within angels at all.
“I… do not know.” She had been completely content to remain in Arael’s company, incurious and unquestioning, but Teira’s question seemed to stir the curiosity within her. In truth, the Darkness in this world was slowly seeping into the edges of her being without her notice, giving her access to stronger, wilder emotions. Whereas a few hours ago, she would have been unconcerned with the questions, they now made her uneasy, as if she should know the answers.
Teira tactfully returned to the main subject. “I would appreciate it if you and Arael didn’t mention this to Kellan.”
Sariel nodded, but asked, “Why do you not want him to know?”
Teira sighed. “It’s complicated.” After a pause, she attempted to explain. “Kellan is an extremely powerful telepath. Not only can he read minds, he can control them. This makes him ideally equipped to be a hero.
“Even when he’s not trying, he can sense people a few miles away. What really get his attention are distress calls, pain and fear. Every single day, he saves a few people, whether they’re being mugged or they were injured with no one nearby. They are always extremely grateful. He’s handsome and kind, so when it’s a woman, she nearly always becomes infatuated with him.
“He saved me when I was five. Since then, he’s saved a couple of other children from bad situations, but they either had other family or friends to go to, or were old enough to be on their own after a few years. It’s been the two of us for twenty years, and of course I have my own special ability, so it’s like we’re in a special club for two.
“I’ve been healing him every day, so he hasn’t aged a day since he found me. Physically, I’ve caught up to him in age, but he still sees me as that little girl he raised.
“Plus, I’ve seen him with those women he saves. If they try to do more than just thank him, he gets uncomfortable. He’s always avoided any advances they make because he feels that it’s wrong to take advantage of their emotional distress. I’m not any different than them.” Teira looked down, sadness swimming in her eyes. The central strand of Light at her core dimmed, sadness and discontent causing it to bleed into grey.
Sariel mimicked Teira’s previous action and hugged the woman, hoping the contact would cheer her up and clear away the distressing greyness seeping into her core.
Teira visibly shook off her depression with the force of her will. “Look at me, all pathetic and depressed. My life is actually very happy. He does love me, just not in a romantic way.”
Sariel’s curiosity again asserted itself. “How can he not know your feelings if he is a telepath?”
“He is very good at controlling his powers. He tries not to look indiscriminately into people’s minds, especially me and his friends. He usually only looks for one specific thing and doesn’t see the rest of a person’s memories or feelings, and only if he has reason to go looking. And telepathy is not empathy; unless he accesses my full mental state, he doesn’t get much of a reading on emotion.”
The two women sat in silent contemplation for a moment, Teira rather shocked that she had shared so much with a virtual stranger. Sariel was absorbing the idea that love could cause so much pain. Back in the upper plane, love was given and accepted freely, never intensely focused on one single person and never hidden away out of fear of rejection.
More men took the lull in conversation as an opportunity to approach them. This time, two approached as a group.
“Would you ladies like to dance?” one asked.
“No thank you,” said Teira, and Sariel mimicked the words.
Emboldened by their numbers, they pressed on. “Come on,” said the other man in what he thought was a coaxing voice, leaning close to Sariel, “we’ll have some fun.” Sariel shrank back, repelled by the alcoholic fumes of the man’s breath and the greyness of his being.
“Actually, I think we will dance,” said Teira, taking Sariel’s hand and pulling her towards the dance floor, “but not with you two.” Leaving behind the dejected would-be suitors, they wound their way into flashing lights and loud music, with a throbbing bass that they could feel in their bodies like a second pulse.
Sariel passively followed the tug of Teira’s hand, but when they stopped, looked uncertain. “I do not know how to dance.”
Teira laughed. “Yes you do. Just move your body to the music.” She demonstrated, swaying her body to the beat with easy grace. Not letting go of Sariel’s hand, she twirled in a circle, then pulled Sariel into motion.
At first Sariel was hesitant, but it soon became clear that she indeed knew how to dance. Grace of movement and understanding of music was intrinsic to her being, and before long the women were dancing so alluringly that they caught the attention of everyone around them. Lost in the music, they danced until the men they loved returned.
After they were in the privacy of Kellan’s car and driving towards their destination, Kellan explained the situation to Arael.
“From my scans, only one mind within my range was aware of the plan involving your Sara.” This meant that if anyone else knew of the plot, they were over a day’s drive away. “He is the mastermind behind the plan; the others were just underlings. I don’t quite understand what he was planning to use the power for, but it has something to do with gaining an unfair advantage in the business world. I’ve made him believe that the underlings called him, having successfully completed the energy harvesting, and are meeting him tonight to help him cast whatever spell he has planned.”
“Good.” Arael did not waste words.
“So, what’s the plan?” In his telepathic scans, Kellan had seen the kind of torture involved in the dark ritual they had performed, and had no problem with anything Aaron wanted to do to the man.
“Can we kill him without gaining much attention?”
“It’s unlikely. He’s fairly important in the business world, and people would notice him missing.”
“What if it were made to look like an accident?”
“Unless it was health-related, he has enough enemies that other kinds of accidents would be thoroughly investigated.
“Then we’ll do that and destroy any information he has.”
The two sat in silence for the rest of the drive. Kellan was interested in the fact that he could read Aaron’s mind more clearly than ever before. His thoughts were completely focused on dealing with the black magic practitioners and getting Sara – or was that really her name? – home. There was a formidable mental wall blocking off any thoughts of the future past Sara’s departure.
As it was the middle of the night, the businessman at his home, waiting for his supposed meeting with his underlings. Kellan and Arael simply rang the doorbell and waited until the man opened the door. As soon as they came face-to-face, Kellan seized the man’s motor control while Arael lifted him by the throat and carried him into the house.
“Now, I’m going to ask you a few questions,” said Arael softly, face calm, body relaxed despite supporting the rather portly man’s weight with one arm. If you could not see the swirling vortex of Darkness and Light within him or read his thoughts, you would never gain a hint that he was having anything but a pleasant talk. “Answer, and you can forget that all this ever happened.”
The man’s face was turning red, but Arael was not squeezing harder than necessary to keep him in the air, so he was in no danger of suffocating. All in all, the middle-aged, overweight, and balding man was a pathetic sight, eyes bulging in fear.
“Where,” Arael continued, “did you learn about black magic?”
The man spluttered and choked, but Kellan answered for him. “Just research on the Internet. He obtained a spell book in an online auction, tried out a spell for fun, and it happened to work. Eventually, he started doing bigger and bigger spells to get ahead in the business world.
“Get his computer. I will need to deal with the seller.”
Kellan went directly into the man’s computer case and logged in, pulling the password from the man’s mind. Looking at the man’s purchase history, he found the sale. “Got it.”
“Now, who else knows about this?”
The man had gone still and silent since hearing Kellan say exactly what he was thinking. Kellan answered again. “Nobody but the ones you dealt with last night. He doesn’t have any close family or friends.”
“Where is the spell book?”
“In the safe in the office. I’ll go get it.”
Arael waited in silence for the few minutes it took for Kellan to retrieve the book. He had been holding the man aloft for over fifteen minutes, but still showed no fatigue.
The man finally gained coherency. “You’re… not human.”
“No, I’m not,” Arael agreed. “I’m the same as the innocent you ripped out of her peaceful existence to torture, except I am no innocent.”
Kellan returned, carrying an old, battered book.
Arael asked, “Can you erase his memory of us and send him off to sleep?”
“Yes.” Kellan reached over to touch the man’s forehead. At first, he tried to cringe away, but then the man’s face went blank and empty. “Done. As soon as we leave, he’ll forget about us and go to bed.”
“Good.” Arael then proceeded to rip all the extra energy the man had gathered out of his body, the energy appearing as uniform grey sludge in a man so immoral. His red face turned extremely pale as Arael drained him until there was the minimum amount keeping him alive. Then, with just the tiniest tendril of Darkness, Arael weakened one of the walls of the man’s heart. He relaxed his hand and the man fell to the ground, unable to stand.
“Let us leave.” Arael led the way out the door and to the car. Kellan paused at the porch to make sure that the man obeyed his telepathic commands, then followed.
Back on the road, Kellan asked, “What did you do to him at the end?”
“He will have a heart attack some time this night. It will not be of great surprise to anyone, as he was not in good physical health.”
Silence. Then Arael said, “I thank you for your assistance. It would have been extremely difficult to find that man without it.”
“It needed to be done,” Kellan said simply. It was not in his nature to let such horrendous acts go unpunished.
“Nevertheless, I am in your debt. Do not hesitate to call on me if you require help.”
Kellan and Arael had known each other for over ten years, ever since Kellan encountered him in passing. Arael had exhibited such strange, incomprehensible thought patterns that Kellan knew he could not be human. After explaining his own superhuman ability, Arael had opened up and cautiously disclosed some information about himself. Over the years, they had occasionally done minor favours for one another, but this was the first time they had been involved in each other’s personal matters.
As soon as they reached the club, Arael wasted no time re-entering the building and looking for Sariel. He could feel her presence, but neither she nor Teira were in the spot where he had left them. Kellan joined him at a slower pace and pointed his attention to the dance floor.
The two watched the scene, motionless and silent. Sariel and Teira had their own little pocket of the dance floor and were clearly enjoying themselves, smiles and laughter on their faces while their bodies moved to the music in a way that drew desire from the men and jealousy from the other women present.
To Arael, Sariel’s beauty stood out like a lone star in a sea of blackness.
Sariel could feel Arael’s presence almost as keenly as he felt hers, so she soon looked over to where they stood. Teira noticed the direction of her attention and grabbed Sariel’s hand, pulling her towards the men. Putting Sariel’s hand in Arael’s, she told them, “Go dance.”
Arael hesitated, but Sariel’s look of delight at the idea was all that was needed to convince him. He allowed himself to be pulled onto the dance floor. Soon he was twirling Sariel around in a style that was decades older than the dancers around them. She laughed in delight.
“They make a great couple,” Teira observed.
“Mm,” Kellan replied noncommittally, not paying much attention to the angelic pair. He noticed that Teira was slightly overheated, the dance floor being too hot for her long-sleeved outfit. “Could I get you something cold to drink?”
Teira smiled gratefully. “That would be wonderful, thank you.” She did not bother telling him her drink preferences; he knew. He left with a silent nod, and Teira returned her attention to Sariel’s childlike delight.
“You’re extremely beautiful for someone who has such plain colouring.”
Teira turned to see a man wearing an affected look of confidence talking to her. At first, she was appalled that he would say something so insulting to a woman he was trying to impress, but she remembered that this was a technique called ‘negging,’ used in order to lower a woman’s self-confidence and make them seek the approval of the man. She smiled in amusement. Technically, with her pale skin and dark hair and eyes, she had vivid colouring, but she guessed the man was trying to imply that her hair and eyes were a boring colour.
“Wow, what a compliment.”
The man introduced himself, and Teira proceeded to have a very amusing conversation. To her, he was clearly a nice guy trying out some routines that he had read on the Internet. Her amused smiles seemed to give him confidence, letting his true personality break out once in a while before he remembered to go back to the script in his mind. Just then, Teira saw Kellan returning with fruit juice for her and his own drink.
“Look, you seem like a nice guy, so I’m going to give you some advice. Going with the whole ‘insulting a girl to make her want your approval’ thing is only going to work on girls who have self-esteem issues. If you ever want a girlfriend with half a brain, just be yourself, be confident, and don’t randomly insult her.” With that, she met Kellan halfway and claimed her drink. “Thank you.”
“Who was that?” Kellan indicated the man, who was still staring at her, with an eloquent eyebrow.
“I actually already forgot his name. We had an amusing conversation where every fourth sentence of his was an insult hidden inside a compliment.”
“Ah.” Kellan’s amused smile made nervous butterflies dance in Teira’s stomach, but she was well used to the sensation. She drained her glass and put it on a nearby table.
“Want to dance?”
Kellan followed her lead, draining his drink in one go. Unlike her juice, his drink was alcoholic and had much more of an impact.
“Maybe you shouldn’t have done that.”
“I’ll be fine. You can drive home.” Taking her hand, he led the way to the dance floor. Teira thought that his behaviour was slightly unusual for him, but was willing to go along.
“Did you have fun?” Arael asked.
“Yes! I am glad I met Teira, and I learned how to dance!” Sariel glowed with contentment.
“Good.” Changing their clothing, Arael and Sariel settled into bed, admiring the moon through the clear ceiling.
Not long now. Arael had recovered all the magic the humans' black rituals had stolen, and had more than enough to restore Sariel's wings. All he had to do was wait for his body to convert the Dark energy to Light and it would all be over. Closing his eyes, he tried to imprint every detail of Sariel into his memory.
“Arael,” Sariel spoke, the Darkness of curiosity more and more evident in her behaviour, “are you like me?”
Magic ensured that there could be no misunderstanding in their conversation. “Yes. The word that people use for beings that look like us is 'angel'.”
“Then why do you have Darkness in you?”
“I travelled here several centuries ago, and living here has made Darkness a part of my being.”
“Is it bad?”
“Darkness is not bad. If in balance with Light, it can be very good.”
Sariel was silent for a moment. “How long until I become part-Dark as well?”
“It will not happen. You will be going home in a few days.” The mere wisps of Darkness affecting Sariel were not integral to her being and could be easily removed.
“But you do not want me to go home.” Sariel's magic told her of the pain Arael felt about sending her away.
“Yes, I do.” The determination and conviction of those words were also a truth.
Sariel did not have nearly the level of Darkness required to sustain an argument. The pair leaned against each other silently, simply enjoying the other's company.