Chapter 5, Part 1
"Mother Mary!" Stephen exclaimed. There was blood everywhere—on Asrial, on the ground, on the grass, on the corpse, on the... the other angel. An angel that looked far too worldly to be anything but a demon, despite the feathered wings. "Asrial!"
The demon's sword hissed as it flew from its scabbard, and the Fallen stepped in front of Asrial. "Don't touch her!"
"What the—?" Stephen said, back-pedaling out of reach of the weapon. "What are you doing here! Did you hurt her?"
"What are you talking about?" the demon growled, his voice an impressive baritone. Stephen wondered wildly what he would sound like as one of the Pharisees in the play. "You're not here to hurt her, are you?"
Asrial added, "Please, Mephistopheles... he's helped me. Don't kill him! He's a priest!"
The sword's point described a tiny circle in the air as the demon eyed him. "You worship God?"
Voicing his occasional ecclesiastic doubts did not seem prudent. "Yes," Stephen said firmly.
The demon slid his sword back into its sheath.
Looking up at the Fallen, Asrial said softly, "That matters to you?"
"Of course it matters to me," he said. "Do you think I hate God?"
Stephen said nothing. Neither did Asrial.
Which was when Brad stumbled into the clearing, and stared. "Holy s—"
"Can it, kiddo." Stephen backed away another few steps until he stood between the teen and the demon. "What on God's green earth are you doing here?"
"Remind me to give you a few hundred demerits."
"I can Damn him for you if you want," the demon said cheerfully.
They all stared at him at that until Stephen's sense of humor reasserted itself. He grinned. "Only if he tells people about you. Got that, Brad?"
"Hell, yeah! Ummm... sorry." Brad stared past the priest at the two non-humans.
Stephen glanced at the sky, then back at the others. "So now what? It's broad daylight. I have no idea how I'm going to get you back into my room short of throwing blankets over you and passing you off as hunchbacks. To say nothing of the fact that there's a corpse on the ground. You're responsible for that, I assume."
"He was going to hurt her," Mephistopheles said with a one-shouldered shrug.
"For a knight in shining armor, you're pretty... uh... dark," Brad offered.
The demon grinned. "Don't worry. I have enough soul-curdling vices to make up for my few petty weaknesses of heart."
Stephen was almost certain he was joking. Somehow he hadn't expected wit or humor from Fallen angels; it made them... more human, somehow, more than Stephen was comfortable with. Ignoring the mental tangle, he walked to the corpse and signed the air above it.
"Don't bother." The demon stood behind him, a black bird landing on his shoulder. "His soul is already gone and in Lucifer's hands."
"Right," Stephen muttered, shaken. "Can we at least bury him?"
"I suppose," Mephistopheles said. "Though who are they going to arrest for murdering him? He was run through with an antique, and I have no fingerprints."
Stephen stared at him.
The demon grinned. "We do get criminals in Hell, you know. They're talkative."
Stephen shook his head and returned his attention to the body. "It feels wrong to just leave him here."
"Dear priest, if priest you be... all your rituals mean nothing. Your belief in souls is correct; your belief that praying over an empty husk will somehow help those souls is false."
The hint of weariness just audible beneath the cavalier tone drew Stephen's face to one side where he could see the taller demon, just a glimpse: enough to see the matching weariness in uncanny yellow eyes. He whispered a quick prayer under his breath anyway and stood, dusting off the knees of his black pants. "All right, then. I assume your arrival has something to do with Asrial's... and I want to hear what. But we need to get you out of the open. Come on. We'll figure out how to cross the field when we reach it."
Mephistopheles offered Asrial his hand, but she stood on her own, the bloody blanket clinging to her belly. She held it to herself half-heartedly, her wings askew. Stephen didn't miss the disappointment that flashed, swift as the flight of a bird, across the demon's face.
It was a strange procession through the copper light of the afternoon then; Stephen leading, dressed austerely with a charcoal gray sweater over clerical black, Asrial stumbling behind, and at the rear Mephistopheles with dark cloak sweeping in his wake. Observing the grackle flitting around the procession, never landing save on Mephistopheles's shoulder, Stephen reflected that Brad must be its human equivalent. The boy sometimes walked next to him, and sometimes dropped back to dog the heels of one of the non-humans as discreetly as possible.
At the edge of the forest, Stephen stopped and surveyed the field. The campus was empty; the parking lot visible on the fringe of his vision was occupied only by drifting leaves and the cool wind. Brad and the demon joined him.
"No one around," Brad said. "Maybe if we run?"
Mephistopheles glanced over his shoulder at Asrial, who sagged against a tree. "I'm not sure that's a good idea."
"It's either that or wait until dark. It'll get colder," Stephen said.
"Point," the demon said.
Stephen turned to the angel. His brow furrowed at the sight of her shivering. She held one of her wings partially folded, the other drooping. The lack of symmetry didn't feel
right. "Asrial?" he said, careful to maintain his distance. "We're going to cross the field now. At a good clip."
She nodded once and pushed herself off the tree.
Stephen turned. "Okay people. Off we go!"
Brad darted across the field, the grackle soaring past him on glossy wings. Asrial followed at a quick walk with Stephen ranging before her. Mephistopheles went out last, his wings lowered so their arches pressed tightly to his shoulders and the feathers trailed behind him like a second cloak.
They made it halfway. Then Asrial took one step, wavered like a tree deprived of roots, and slid to the ground with wings splayed, the light glittering on the bronze and golden bands.
"Asrial!" Stephen stopped. Brad turned at his call, but he waved the boy on. "Go open the doors, Brad! Hurry on."
Mephistopheles stopped at her side, fell to one knee, and scooped her up with an ease Stephen could not have matched. He had no idea how the demon managed to hold her without fouling her wings, or how in lifting her he'd kept the blanket over her. The image—tall, grim man, dark hair tracing lines across his throat and black wings draped behind him holding a limp woman, her white wings dragging across the ground—struck Stephen so hard his breath stopped.
"Unconscious," the demon said quietly as he joined the priest. "Or she wouldn't have let me near her. And best for her not to know that it was me who got her where we're going."
Stephen managed a faint, chagrined smile. "She doesn't like me to touch her either."
"She wasn't trained to revile you all her life, though," Mephistopheles said, and continued past him.
© 2011 M.C.A. Hogarth, Stardancer.Org