I look the fiend straight in his feral, glittering eyes and say, “Let’s do this.”
His response is a quick, victorious grin, then he spins around with his black sword drawn and lunges at the shadow demons crowding around us. Blood sprays as he leaps over the dying bodies, hovering suspended for an ephemeral, ethereal moment against the slate gray sky, his shriveled red and black wings in sharp relief.
I’ve heard rumors of his prowess in battle, but the reality is breathtaking.
But there is no time for admiring my enemy’s skill.
I follow close at his heels, my own blade slashing, drawing black blood and green from my foes, and I keep my mind carefully blank of the bargain I have struck. There was no other choice. There was no way out but one.
They say the enemy of your enemy is your friend, but it’s not true. Though technically the enemy of my enemy is now my ally, he will never be my friend, never hold close the same values, never fight on the side I stand on. Even though we fight this battle side by side, we wage the war from opposite trenches.
He is of the Crimson Tainted, those with withered wings of black and crimson, who know the touch of the world and revel in its desires, who will always be at odds with the Untouched, those of us with immaculate white wings, who know not the touch of the world, desire not what mortals do.
We Untouched are ageless, asexual and emotionless. We view everything objectively; unbiased, impartial, with none of our own feelings or wishes to pollute our judgment. In our world, we are the judges of all matters mortal and divine. We are the blind justice that holds the balance.
The Crimson Tainted were once like us, but they allowed themselves to fall prey to the greed and lust of the mortals. Their wings shriveled and blackened, tinged with red. Fallen, they long for the rest of us to fall, as well.
For Lorelei, I remind myself coldly.
I fight on, aware that my ally…my foe has cleared a path that would otherwise be impossible to pass. My sword sinks into demon flesh. I yank it out and slash again, and again, and again, my slaughter coolly methodical. I feel no fear, no sadness, no regret – such things are foreign to me, mere insubstantial concepts that I cannot fathom…yet.
It is all for her.
She has to escape. I know this with a certainty. She is my sister, the child of prophecy. Whichever side she claims will ultimately triumph over the others. This means she cannot remain with the shadow demons, who are madness embodied, evil incarnate, what every man fears and every wicked thing craves. It would throw the world into eternal chaos if she remained here.
And so the bargain had been struck.
He had known that escape would be impossible without him. That was why he had come. Not to save Lorelei and me out of any well-meaning intentions, but out of cold, hard envy, or maybe lust. Not understanding either notion, I hardly know what his motivation is. I only know that with his help, Lorelei will escape.
I can hear her behind me, her breath soft, her eyes taking in the death my blade is dealing. Blood flows over my hands, splatters my face, but I keep her shielded, untouched.
I wonder if she sees how my wings are turning pink. Soon they’ll be the color of blood. And after the bargain is fulfilled…
I fight on, no remorse clouding my mind, no fear slowing my hands…not yet.
Suddenly we’re out of the horde. Free. Slaughtered bodies of demons lying all around. Their leader slain.
With his death, the magical chains binding our wings disintegrate.
Lorelei takes flight, her immaculate white wings outstretched, dazzling white against the darkening heavens, beautiful, exquisite. Without a backward glance, without a shadow of sorrow to mar her flawless brow, she soars away from me. The Untouched know no emotion, not even love or devotion to one another.
There is no reason for her to look back.
I nearly take wing after her, but the Crimson Tainted grabs my wrist and drags me back down to the gory battlefield. I catch a glimpse of my wings. Already tinged with ruby from the blood that I’ve shed.
“Our bargain,” he reminds me, and lowers his mouth to mine.
This is just the beginning.
After it is all over, I find myself weeping. Overwhelmed, dazed by emotions I have no control over. Is this what it means to be a Crimson Tainted? To be swept along in a maelstrom of desire, helpless against the flood? For the first time in my life I feel alive and terrified, sated and horrified. Too many sensations at once make me dizzy.
He drops a kiss upon my shoulder and I feel hatred for what he has done. Hatred…so ugly, it makes me feel sullied, so I banish it…or try to.
He has awoken my sleeping soul, I tell myself…and destroyed your wings, my hatred murmurs back.
It feels odd with them now misshapen and curled in on themselves, although their color surprises me. They are a brilliant scarlet at the edges that blends into midnight blue near my spine. There is no black as I suspected there would be. They are lovely in a despicable way, like a blazing sunset fading to eternal night, a last vestige of beauty before dark descends.
I feel regret for their loss of purity, and sadness that I hadn’t even realized when they’d shrunken and withered…although ironically I know the exact instant they did: the moment I’d forgotten about them. They’d shriveled the second the tremors had begun, the second ecstasy engulfed me and blocked out everything else.
His fingers graze my shoulders, and my senses surge to tingling life from that small touch, like a spark igniting a flame. When his breath brushes over the skin of my neck, restless desire stirs within me and I shiver. Part of me wants to hide from it, and part of me wants to bury myself inside it and hide within.
His voice caresses me from behind, low and seductive. “Was it worth it?” he whispers.
“Lorelei is safe,” I say in a voice thick with unshed tears of raw shame, an emotion so new to me I wonder how I know what to name it. “That’s all that matters.”
He chuckles softly. “Poor dear, you still haven’t guessed, have you.”
I stiffen. His long, slender fingers grip my chin and draw my head to his for a deep, luxurious kiss. Passion wells up within me. Beautiful in its treacherous way, undeniable in its loveliness, drawing me once more into the arousing, disturbing turmoil of sensation and making me feel helpless, powerless, and insatiable. Things I’ve never felt before. Things I have no defense against.
“She isn’t the child of the prophecy,” he says softly.
I stare incredulously into his triumphant eyes. What is he saying? A bitter, acrid taste of defeat rises like bile on my tongue. Is this fear? I wonder.
“You’re the child of prophecy.” He smiles slowly. “And you’ve just given yourself to the wrong side.”
*** short story by Sonya Lano copyright 2012.
Posted because my friend visiting from Australia said she remembered it, so I figured I’d share in case anyone else liked it, too 🙂
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