Redemption: A Story of the Damned©



I remember how it started. I was young, only seventeen; not quite ready to embrace my angelic potential, but more than willing to fall in love with a stranger. How stupid I had been, not trusting my mother's judgment.

"Every man has two faces," she told me, "the one he wants you to see, and the one beneath the mask."

I was arrogant. Mother had married a Virtue; a Guide to the Heavenly bodies. Of course she wouldn't settle for a peasant boy from the borders. I, however, was more than willing to accept him. He was beautiful with shaggy dark brown hair, caramel eyes, and the most charming smile. He told me his name was Leon. The idea of his implied image, his first face, still makes me blush, despite the four years that have passed. Truly, I was in love with him. So I thought.

Several months into our secret affair, he removed his mask. I've always found it amusing, how my mother would speak of these hypothetical masks that men wore. Oh how wrong she had been about my Leon. His mask was not a hypothetical one, but an all-too-real ruse; a demon scout dressed up as a peasant angel to scour bits of information from the clueless, swooning, coming-of-age angels. From me. On the day I told him of the coming ceremony in which myself and other adolescent angels would join the holy ranks, the sacred army, his chocolate brown locks fell away into a cropped military cut and turned black as pitch, and his sweet caramel eyes glowed deep gold. I pulled away from his kiss in horror.

"Thank you, Rylee," he sneered with a sickening smile. "The council will be most pleased."

"How could you?" I shouted in agony. "I trusted you!"

"It's my nature, Ry. The predator always finds his prey."

I backed further away, intending to run for the portal guards. I had been so naïve. Mother had been right after all. He grabbed my arm before I could escape from our place in the pristine woods.

"One last kiss?" he asked.

As I opened my mouth to shout, he silenced me with his lips.

The kiss was painful, unlike the stolen pecks from before. It felt as if a thousand flames were running through every vein in my body. A ripping sensation tore at my chest. This demon, the boy I had given my heart to, was stealing my Purity as proof of his success. Without it, I could not be within Heaven's walls. An angel's Purity was it's greatest treasure, and I had given this boy the means to take it away from me. I let him, a stranger, get too close.

As he pulled away and exhaled in satisfaction, my Purity glowing inside him, I was left writhing on the grass. I had been reduced to nothing.

"Was any of it true?" I croaked as the world began to fade around me. Sorrow filled my stomach as I realized what was happening around me.

"Of course not," he chuckled. "There's a reason they named me Levi. It uses all of the letters in 'lie,' with a twist. Honestly, what sort of name is ‘Leon’?"

As the demon Levi, the boy I had loved relentlessly, summoned a portal and disappeared to the underworld, the scenery collapsed around me. The trees crumbled, the crystal sky cracked, and the soft grass beneath me disintegrated. Just like that, I was falling.

***

"Wake up, Lee," Kale says from the bunk below me.

My eyes fly open, and I'm placed back in the present. My pale skin is drenched in a cold sweat, my pale blond hair a tangled mat at the base of my neck. Damn that nightmare... I wipe the sweat from my brow and sit up, gazing out our dingy window at the rising sun. It lays low on the horizon, lower than it has all year; the Winter Solstice. Today is the day.

"I can't wait to be rid of him," I growl, ripping the ponytail from my hair in order to brush it out.

Kale isn't a very expressive man, but I'm sure if he was, he would’ve smiled at that.

"I'm sure," he says, moving a lock of deep auburn hair away from his sea blue eyes.

I jump down from the top bunk and stand beside him, coming up to his chin in height. The orange rays from the sun sting my pastel green eyes. Doubt sweeps through me as I scan the scattered wasteland that is Purgatory. While it isn't pleasant, it's better then the Underworld and it's all I've known for the past four years.

"We won't fail, will we?" I ask quietly. The thought of being trapped in the Underworld with Levi makes me shudder.

Kale merely shrugs. "As long as you're certain it is he that harbors your Purity, how can we?" he asks. "We will ascend today. Are you ready?"

I spend a few more minutes, watching the sun creep above the browning hills in the distance. One chance. I have one attempt to find Levi and regain my Purity through his death. Should I fail, I will remain trapped in the Underworld with him. Should I succeed, my once-human partner and I will make the ascent back into the Heavens. Today is the day. I take a deep breath.

"I'm ready."

***

We step through the portal, armed with only a steel blade and a silver dagger. Around us, the sky of the Underworld burns bright orange, the landscape a scorched, rotting brown. A shiver passes through me. Had I been older and aware of my wrong-doings, I would have come here instead of landing in Purgatory. I would have no chance for redemption. The thought makes my stomach churn.

"Steady, Lee," Kale mutters. "Remember your goal."

His voice calms me. Kale once told me a story about his human life. He had been a Combat soldier in a dangerous war, taking down armed human men with only his hands. That is how he came to be my partner at the age of twenty three. While justified by humans, murder is a sin. Unless of course the victim is a demon whom stole your Purity. Despite his past, Kale is looking for redemption, like me. We make quite the team.

"Do you sense him?" he asks as we walk, the ground crumbling under his boots.

I extend my senses, searching for my Purity, praying it will draw me to it. I feel a tug in my chest, pulling me east towards the River Styx. I point eastward, away from the small villages and dying towns.

"He must know we're looking for him," Kale mutters.

"Indeed," I murmur, heading off ahead of my partner.

As if pushed ahead by The Lord himself, we reach a cliff side in record time, almost unscathed by the decaying but living remains of the elder demons. Our only injuries are a few scrapes and scratches from their grasps. It's apparent that Levi is looking for a challenge, putting himself in an area that won't diminish our strength. He has forgotten that I am stubborn and relentless. I will not fail.

"Levi," I say as I scale the shallow slope of the cliff.

Levi turns away from his view of the blood red river of lost souls, sneering at me as he does so. He hasn't changed a bit. Though evil, he is still beautiful, and I can see my Leon hiding under his skin. How had I been so foolish?

"You've come to see me, Ry? I was thinking you might never arrive," he says. "And you've even brought my apprentice a snack. How kind of you."

Beside me, Kale growls. I clench the steel blade holstered at my hip.

"You may like my friend, Rylee. He's right up your alley. Strong, charming. Deadly.”

From the shadows of a rotting tree steps a young boy, perhaps sixteen. His crimson eyes glow with the desire to kill, his short dark blonde hair sharpening the angles of his face.

"But enough chitchat," scolds Levi. "Time for supper, Zek."

The apprentice instinctively lunges for me, sensing the faint holy glow within me. Kale, however, is faster. Before my blade is drawn, Kale has taken the boy to the ground. They roll and tumble along the cliff, battling it out with their size and strength, Kale’s silver blade forgotten. While Kale is older and larger in muscle mass, he is still considered mortal. Zek has a strength advantage, being a demon.

My worry for Kale's safety distracts my focus, and Levi attacks from behind. Putting me into a chokehold, he drags me to the ground and struggles to pin me down. I kick and thrash, trying to roll and reach my dagger. Levi is strong, but my will must be stronger. When I see an opening, I quickly curl my legs to my chest and drive my feet into his gut full force. He flies back a few feet, giving me time to draw my steel blade and rise to my feet.

"Have you forgotten something, Levi?" I ask, tossing my hair over my shoulder as we circle each other. He glares at me, but doesn't reply. "I'm not one for giving up.”

I lunge for him this time, my blade becoming an extension of my body, just as it did in practice. Still, I miss, and Levi manages to land a solid punch to my exposed torso. My breath leaves my lungs in a rush, causing my vision to spin. I shake it off in time to dodge a throwing star headed for my face. I twist sideways, only allowing it to nick my cheek. Blood runs down my face in a small stream. My anger flares. We exchange violent, flesh breaking blows, back and forth, back and forth, until we reach the upper part of the cliff.

"Have you ever danced for me, Rylee?" Levi asks.

Jumping back, he throws three throwing stars, one after the other, at my body. As I twist and contort myself to avoid another strike, a ragged scream erupts to my left. Turning my head, I see that a now-bloody Zek is no longer moving. However, Kale is also on the ground, unmoving.

"Kale?" I shout between gasps, losing my focus again.

"Didn't they teach you anything up in the clouds?" Levi chuckles.

I turn just in time to catch a throwing star across my upper right arm. The flesh now torn, a heavy flow of blood runs down my arm. The pain is intense to the point I believe I may collapse. I glance up at the demon boy, beaming with a false sense of victory, as he approaches. There is an opening. His arrogance has gotten the better of him. Mustering the last of my strength, I throw the dagger as hard as I can, falling to my knees as I do so. He stumbles back a foot or two towards the edge of the cliff.

"You little bitch," he coughs, ripping the steel knife from his chest and dropping it. "I loved you. We could have been together here."

I stare at him as I rise to my feet, mustering the energy to move closer. I look into those deep gold eyes of his and see nothing but deceit. Again with the lies... My eyes narrow as his skin pales and he drops to the ground.

"I'll take my Purity back now," I mutter.

Grabbing him by the collar of his blood-stained black shirt, I force my mouth to his. Like a long lost friend, my Purity rushes back into my body, flooding my veins and bones with a feeling of lightness. It's almost like ecstasy. Once the feeling fades, leaving only the burning remains of angelic power behind, I take a last look at Levi, who gazes at me drunkenly. I almost feel sorry for him, but I shake it away.

"Enjoy death," I say softly, pulling him to his feet. I let go of his shirt, and he stumbles back a foot, off the edge of the cliff and into the River Styx. His screams, loud at first, die off as the skeleton souls of humans devour their first meal in what has probably been years.

"Kale?" I shout, my focus returning. I rush to his side as the subtle burning in my chest grows. The pain in my arm intensifies before numbing. It's almost time.

"You did it, Lee," he says softly, his eyes half closed. I don't need to look closely to see the gash in his throat from the jaws of Zek.

"We did it," I mutter.

"You can... go home," he says.

I shake my head as the burning creeps into my limbs. Typically a mortal murdered in the Underworld disappears into nothing, floating through time as a shadow. However, Kale isn't quite dead yet...

"We're partners, remember? I go, you go." I snap.

He opens his mouth, but I don't hear his reply as the Underworld fades from around me. A sharp pain erupts from my spine, cracking it in some places; my wings have re-sprouted. I cannot open my lips to scream for Kale. He is lost to me now, possibly drifting into nothingness, possibly following behind me, or even staying where he is now. I am mute as my body changes. The ascent is happening. I'm almost free. The burning intensifies until it consumes my every thought, adjusting my brain, my body, and burrowing its way into my soul. All thought of Kale and Levi slip away as a divine voice echoes from the blackness around me.

"Welcome home the angel Rylee; guardian of those whose love be damned."

I feel no ache, I feel no lingering pain. The familiar crystal sky comes into view as my vision clears, surrounded by soft thick forests and plush green fields. In the front of the angelic crowd before me, I see Kale. Without asking, I know his real name is Kyle Marsh. I know he has been redeemed. My partner has made it along with me; he wasn't damned to disappear. A million kinds of relief flood through me as I gaze at the heavenly beings around me; I have a purpose now, a purpose to protect as a Guardian. After four long years... I am finally home.


Copyright © Kat Jenning//Shade Shadows 2012-2016