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“Aerya. Wake up. Aerya, I know you can hear me.”
A quiet lull of pain descended from some state of consciousness to the nightmares that hid behind closed lids. Until the closed lids opened and I remembered that the nightmare was as real as the pain.
“Get up, Aerya. Hurry.” Above me floated the flawless face of a familiar friend. Her exotic beauty, unmatched among demons, now looked beaten and broken.
“Xierra - …” Her name stung in my throat, choked back by the stench of ash and decay. I turned my head an inch to the left and immediately regretted moving. Mounds of lifeless husks soaked in blood littered the land, no light in the sky save the rampant fires that feasted on the deceased.
“Let’s go, Aerya. You’re not even injured.” Xierra extended her left arm down to me. Blood dripped off her fingertips.
“What happened to you? The angels - …”
“Gone. Now come on.”
I gathered enough energy to bring my hand to hers, realizing upon contact that the skin of her forearm and bicep was almost entirely scraped off. Despite this, she pulled me to my feet – which sent my head spinning in a nauseating array of rotting fumes. She looked dreadful. Apart from the lack of flesh on her arm, her left leg appeared to be broken, her face was marred with bruises, a trickle of blood leaked out of swollen lips, a wound in her side recently burned shut, there was a hole ripped through one of her wings, the other crushed, and only a bloody stump remained where her poison-tipped tail once curled proudly around her ankles.
“Xierra - …” Her name once again refused to leave my lungs, an overwhelming sorrow drowning out the dull ache in my muscles. A second wave of grief took over when my gaze fell away from Xierra.
Beside the spot where I once lay, the body of a young demon bled from a hole stabbed through the side of his chest. One of my closest and most trusted friends, Kuro died in my own embrace, murdered by the very ones we thought to aid us. His final declaration echoed in my head; “The angels came to save us…”
My agony melted into a cold fury that shrieked inside my veins, a foreign emotion sweetened with the promise of justice. I idolized the angels for so long, believed in their purity and righteousness, only to watch them massacre my people, my brethren, my friends.
Xierra stepped forward, placing her left hand on my shoulder gently. She observed in silence as the tears burned and blinded my crystalline eyes, my once white wings trembling as the blood dribbled off my feathers like venom from the mouth of a serpent. I turned away from Kuro and gazed out over the battlefield. Instead of terror and repulsion, this time, I only thought of vengeance.
The two of us picked our way across hundreds of thousands of bodies, searching for, hoping for, but not expecting survivors. Making our way underground, into the chasm that my rejected little band of refugees once called home, my anguish was renewed. All the other faces belonged to strangers. These belonged to friends. Holly, Athena, Thirron, Emory… Everyone, slain, and for what?
As if reading my mind, Xierra’s voice muttered by my side, “What divine motive, what holy cause, what sacred intent could reap such bloodshed?”
I merely shook my head in response, angry tears lashing at my cheeks. We neared the hallway that led to my quarters, where I first received word of the initial attack. A few bodies that had been cut down fleeing through the tunnel sent cruel shivers down my spine. I reached the old iron door before my companion, unlatching it gingerly and creaking it open on its rusted hinges.
The chamber looked as if a great wind had passed and swept through like a tornado. The chairs were overturned, papers scattered haphazardly , and all my prized possessions lay strewn across the floor. The book on herbal remedies had been torn to shreds, the ring that conjured shadows cracked and broken, and the everlasting calla lily shriveled up on the corner of my desk, the one piece of furniture that remained intact. And surprisingly, the obsidian dagger placed quite delicately upon this desk caught my attention sooner than the carcass propped up against it. A strange serenity came over me, one painted with flecks of crimson, as my feet carried me closer to the alluring weapon. This was the revolting little thing that started it all. This was the choice I made that resulted in so much loss. My fingers curled around the hilt, hysteria clutching at my gut with a sharp cry of torment.
Some part of me heard Xierra inhale in surprise, heard the frail whisper by my side, heard the hope that survived. But when my eyes turned to the figure on the floor, I saw not a living creature, but one undead, one that haunted me since the day he died before these eyes. The demonic messenger, killed once, and rising again, his massive horns and rippling strength, the scars intricately carved into his face, drew a shrill scream of horror from my lips. Some part of me recognized friend from foe, but that part of me was dead. The screams morphed into the ring of the warning bell Kuro rang through the cavern, obscuring the voices that cried my name, until I could hear nothing but the demon’s oath. “Return this to me in three days’ time, stained with the blood of an angel. If you refuse, it will become stained with the blood of an archdemon.” I gripped the knife tighter, fear gripping my heart with a wild screech, fear that danced with fury and sent icy adrenaline rushing through my veins. The messenger moved closer, Xierra with him, her hands scorching my skin. My instincts no longer told me to run. With a cry of panic, the blade embedded itself into the messenger’s chest, over and over and over and over. Xierra begged me to stop as the two somehow became one, fusing together until I no longer recognized either of them. But each downward stab brought me closer to salvation, closer to revenge, closer to madness.
Today the name of the archdemon is eradicated. The damned now march together as one. We are monsters. We are savages. We are demons.