– The Vision of The Crowned and Conquering Child, the Lord Of the Aeon.1 –
“If I was born when I loved you ... what will there be left of me once you’re gone ...?”
It took me sometime until I was able to move. My freezing body wouldn’t stop shaking and I was sure that moving would be very painful. Even so I got up, wincing and swallowing my cries of pain, and took off my wet sweater that fell heavily on the floor. My skin was even colder than Gabriel’s, the drops of water falling from my wet hair and sliding down my back an absolute torture.
The sound of something heavy falling on the floor startled me, leaving me immediately alert as my gaze flew to the half-closed door. For a moment I could hardly breathe, but then the sound of footsteps on the stairs made me sigh in relief, until it dawned on me! Unless he was running, Lea was like Gabriel, his footsteps were completely silent. And, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t hear the tinkling sound of his bell. My heart jumped in panic, and I took a step back, trying to think about what to do; if I could possibly survive if I jumped out the window, since I really didn’t have anywhere else to hide.
I held my breath when the steps stopped right outside my door and my hand flew to the pair of scissors stuck in one of the metal cups on my desk. If my unwanted guest was a Human, a question by now all too common for me, I’d stick the damn scissors straight through his eye. As I was, in that moment, after all I’d been through, no Human could ever scare me!
The door opened slowly, as I readied myself for my bloody attack and then, everything was blank, and I couldn’t help stare at him in complete disbelief.
“Michael?” I muttered, blinking, wondering if I’d somehow fallen asleep without noticing it.
Michael also seemed taken aback, as if he hadn’t expect to see me there, even though we were in my room. His dripping wet blond hair fell around his face, the black leather jacket he wore and his motorcycle boots leaving a small pool on the floor where he stood. And then, he suddenly seemed to wake up, and he strode into my room, going straight to my wardrobe.
“Put this on!” he told me dryly, throwing a flannel shirt at me that I almost couldn’t catch. And I was suddenly very much aware that I’d been standing there, staring at him in disbelief, wearing only my bra.
I obeyed, awkwardly, turning my back on him to button up my shirt but, before I could even finish, his hand was already around my wrist, and he was dragging me out of the door.
“Hey! Michael! Wait!!” I complained, stumbling as my aching legs failed, but he ignored me and pulled me down the stairs.
I stumbled again, and would have fallen if he hadn’t pulled me up as if I were a child learning how to walk, the iron strength of his fingers around my wrist hurting me by the time we got to the ground floor.
“Stop!!” I commanded, angry at his silent arrogance, and tried to free my hand. “What’s going on?” I asked, my voice cracking, but the look he gave me silenced my protests at once.
His green eyes were glowing as if they were precious stones touched by the sun and something in him was suddenly very frightening.
“Don’t argue with me, Mariane! And do as I tell you!” he simply replied and, although he hadn’t raised his tone and almost sounded calm, his voice echoed inside me, giving me the creeps. I couldn’t resist him when he pulled me again, helplessly stumbling forward, but as we passed by the living room door I saw a body lying on the floor that made my heart jump in agony.
“Lea!” I called desperately but Michael didn’t slow down, forcing me to keep up with him. “No! Let go of me! Let go!” I demanded, now roaring as I fought his hand with all my strength, and he turned, wrapping a hand around my waist and easily scooping me from the ground,
I screamed, and hit him, and kicked him, and screamed again until my already hoarse throat almost couldn’t scream anymore, but nothing made him free me, or stop dragging me outside where the rain mercilessly drenched us again.
I wanted to cry but had no tears. I wanted to get free from his hold but didn’t have enough strength. My wishes all echoed empty inside of me. Because my Soul felt nothing for Lea, she didn’t care one little bit about what Michael might want with me, nothing would be able to move her except for Gabriel, and Gabriel wasn’t there.
Michael dropped me on the seat of his bike, holding me firmly, bearing indifferently my constant kicks and punches. But no matter how hard he held me there was no way I was just going to quietly sit there, and there was no way he could start that bike with me thrashing around like that. He sighed deeply and wrapped a hand around my neck, pulling me back against his chest, squeezing just enough to stop me from breathing.
“Sit still, or I swear I’ll put you to sleep,” he threatened in a whisper as cold as the rain and the shock that washed over me at that warning left me stunned for a second, time enough for him to send his bike roaring down the street.
I could hardly breathe at the speed he was going, the ice cold rain feeling like stones thrown against me, making me raise my arms to protect my face, and I was sure he was going to kill us both, the wheels of his motorbike squealing against the wet pavement. The curves left me sick to my stomach, making me feel dizzy again, and I would have fallen from the seat more than once, if not for the arm wrapped around my waist, holding me in place against his warm body.
When he finally stopped, the first thing I did was bend to the side and throw up, but there was nothing in my stomach. His hand grabbed me again, dragging me mercilessly, and I fell on my knees, breathing heavily, my ice cold hair sticking to my face, making me feel really sick. Still he pulled me up again, forcing me to walk even though every muscle in my body hurt. I know I stumbled up some stairs and finally his hand let go of me, and I fell on a hard ground as cold as the rain that had wet me, but finally a blessed motionless surface. The slamming of a heavy door filled the air, startling me, and his footsteps walked by me, making me feel relieved that he was walking away.
I fought to quickly sort out my thoughts, feeling too confused and tired, pain muddling my brain. I noticed that it wasn’t raining anymore, although it was so cold that I couldn’t stop shivering. With a stab of pain I remembered Lea’s body lying on the floor by the living room door and clenched my hands, looking for strength to raise my head.
I saw him standing a few steps away, his back turned to me as he faced an altar illuminated by a heavy chandelier. I felt lost and looked around me, and noticed that we were in a church, obviously empty at that time of night.
Taking a deep breath, I held on to one of the wooden benches, and forced my shaky legs to obey me and support my weight as they should. The world around me spun dangerously as I stood up, and I held on to the bench until the dizziness subsided.
“Michael!” I called out to him once I regained my composure, and my hoarse voice echoed eerily.
I saw him shudder, before he turned back to me, and facing his pained and guilty expression broke my anger and determination.
“Don’t worry, Mari. Everything’s going to be all right,” he said, coming towards me, and the memory of the unbreakable prison that were his arms made me take a step back. He stopped, giving up on the idea of coming any closer, and his pained expression became even bitterer. “I’m sorry if I hurt you.”
“Why did you bring me here?” I demanded and only then noticed that it wasn’t the first time we were in that place.
He seemed to hear my thoughts and smiled lightly as he looked around.
“Remember when we first came here?” I didn’t answer and he took a deep, melancholic breath. “You told me you were looking for an angel because yours had fallen asleep, and you thought I could never fulfill that task.” I trembled when he looked at me with that same intensity from before. “I brought you here to protect you!” he declared and his voice echoed like a thunder all around us.
“Protect?” I repeated, not knowing if I should feel confused or frightened. “Protect me from what?” I asked in a whisper, trying to call him back to reason, but apparently my words only fired his anger even more.
“Protect you from what! Protect you from what?!” he shouted, his voice a threatening crescendo, and he was on me before I could even think of escaping, and I stumbled and almost fell back, but he held me by my arm.
He pulled me against his warm body and I screamed in panic, pushing him away with all my strength, unable to get free again. He grabbed hold of my shirt and pulled it hard, breaking the sewing threads that kept the buttons in place, and pulled it down my arm, undressing me roughly. I cringed instinctively and he grabbed me again, shaking me, making me dizzy and nauseated.
“You’re still asking what? Look at this! Look!” he ordered, his voice like a thunder again, and I obeyed, trembling. My eyes fell upon the dark marks left on my skin, the bruises I had ignored as if they’d never existed, the same that Gabriel’s cold hands had given me. “On your arms. On your chest. On your back. Where else did he touch you?”
The shock lit a smoldering anger inside me.
“Let go of me!” I demanded dryly and he seemed perplexed by my sudden apparent firmness.
“Mariane! He’ll end up destroying you!” he insisted, resisting through all my attempts to get free, and I faced him severely. “Can’t you see? I only want what’s best for you. I only want to protect you. And although I understand that, up till now, you had to deal with all this on your own, you no longer need to. You no longer need to stay with him!”
“Michael!” I shouted, hurting my sore throat. I couldn’t even hear those words. What did he know of what I needed? My anger turned against him again and I fought to get free from his unyielding hands. “Let go!” I shouted and a thunder crackled all around us, as if ricocheting on the walls, making the ground under my feet shake.
Cold wind broke my anger and I only noticed that there wasn’t anything holding me anymore when I stumbled forward. I held on to the bench once more, to stop myself from falling, and made sure I was still breathing before I raised my head.
Alexander was standing right in front of me, his presence so cold and fierce that it made me shudder. But he wasn’t the only one. And, as I looked back, I saw Gabriel leaning against the now wide opened, tall wooden door, his arms folded over his chest, like an authentic inanimate block of ice.
Jonathan stepped forward with hesitant steps, dripping water all over the place, and stopped beside me. However, he didn’t even look at me, his anxious gaze locked on Alexander’s straight back, his tension leaving me apprehensive.
The sound of laughter filled the air around us, startling me. And only then I noticed that Michael was lying on the floor at the base of the altar, as if he’d been thrown across the air by an invisible force, to somewhere far away from me. I was immediately worried that he might be hurt, and then noticed he was the one laughing, and, in complete disbelief, saw him stand up effortlessly.
His green eyes glowed coldly, as if burning in a green cold fire, and I inhaled sharply, since I had never imagined his gentle face could be able of an expression like that, my heart beating too fast, making my chest hurt.
“How dare you come in here?” I heard his voice, clear and strong, the implicit threat dripping out of his every single word, and I knew immediately he wasn’t talking to me anymore.
“Because it would seem you have a serious hearing problem. It’s the second time she tells you to let go and that you’re not quite able to listen,” Alexander replied in that same restrained tone, but contempt was thick in his voice.
“This matter does not concern you!” Michael stated severely and I felt Jonathan’s anxiety grow by the minute, contaminating me.
“That it’s not for the likes of you to decide,” Alexander replied and Michael smiled, but that same expression that had always brought me comfort and warmth could only make me shiver, leaving me certain that he could not be real, that he could not be the Michael I knew.
“Oh, really? Who should decide then?” he asked ironically and his voice lowered to a deeper menacing tone. “You’re interfering in something that it’s none of your business! Because you’re nothing but a dog at the beck and call of that thing, over there!” My heart almost stopped knowing he was referring to Gabriel. I waited in fear for his fury, or to simply watch as he appeared at Michael’s side and shredded him to pieces, right there and then.
Alexander seemed to share my thoughts and his bright sword appeared out of thin air in his right hand.
“You think what you like! That thing over there won’t have to lift a single finger to put you out of your misery!” he growled in a dark threat, and Michael laughed again, insanely, as I begged in my thoughts that he would just run away while he could!
“And what can a fallen one like you do against me?” Michael demanded and everything inside me fell into a deep silence. “You’re nothing but a traitor!”
“You may even be right. But at least I didn’t abandon anyone!” Alexander replied with pure loathing and Michael smiled coldly again.
“No, you dragged him down with you. And what is he now? Nothing but an aberration, just like you! What was the use of breaking the Law? A broken thing will never be able to save anyone!” he declared and Alexander’s rage was so intense that it left me breathless.
Black feathers scattered all over the place and then he wasn’t standing there anymore. A thunderous sound echoed throughout the entire church, and my eyes anxiously flew all over the place, looking for him. I stopped breathing when I saw Alexander leaning over Michael, his face a furious mask. And it took me some time to understand that Michael had been able to stop his attack, that he was smiling coldly, and that he was holding a sword much like Alexander’s.
Alexander swiftly jumped back, his legs flexing as if he were an animal, his head bending low as he faced his enemy, and Michael stood up, holding his sword that looked almost made of light, readying himself for the next attack.
I was unable to move as I watched Alexander’s face slowly change, becoming progressively less like him, taking on the expression of the emotions commanding his actions. And I recalled what he’d told me about constantly fighting against certain parts of him, stopping them from emerging, so that he could remain who he was. My chest hurt as I realized that Michael had been wrong, that he wasn’t a fallen one, but that he was still falling, losing himself piece by piece every time he allowed his dark emotions to take over him, like what was happening right now. And I wished I could stop him, I wished I could run to hold him back, but my shaky legs just wouldn’t move and my throat was too dry to emit any sound. Alexander raised his bright sword that looked like a shadow when compared to Michael’s, and Michael smiled at him in a cold challenge, as if he were unable to fear him.
“Sigweardiel!” The young, clear voice that filled the air with that shout was like a blast of cold wind over a scorching desert, and everything was suddenly very quiet and silent, so much so that, for the first time, I could hear the rain falling outside.
Alexander slowly straightened his back and lowered his sword as if he’d received an irresistible command, and Jonathan stepped forward, his head raised high, passing by me and then by Alexander without even acknowledging neither of our presences.
Michael was also looking at him, his burning green eyes intimidating, although he seemed intrigued by the boy’s sudden interference. And Jonathan stopped just a few steps from him, facing him with absolute and unwavering determination.
“Sigweardiel is my Guardian!” he declared with such vehemence that Alexander shuddered. “I will not allow you to destroy him!”
“He is no Guardian,” Michael replied in a warmer, condescending tone, more like the Michael I knew, almost as if he felt sorry for the delusional boy looking up at him. “And you are not a Human Being. Or do you believe you are?”
Jonathan closed his hands into two tight fists, and I regretfully recalled how that was a painful subject for him. Even so he kept his head high, still facing him, and he was suddenly not a boy at all, certainly not frail or vulnerable.
“I may not know what I am, but I know all too well what I’m not!” he admitted. “However, my Soul is still a Gaalgha’s Soul! And, as a Gaalgha, I will not allow you to destroy him!” He practically threatened Michael, who slightly tilted his head to a side, as if reflecting on the boy’s words.
“With that curse on you, you’ll never be able to use your Soul’s power, even if you could make your feelings one, which I seriously doubt,” Michael concluded.
“You’re wrong about that,” Jonathan replied, apparently indifferent to what he’d said, when I knew all too well how those words had hurt him. “I may not survive, and I’ll probably shatter into pieces, but I guarantee you that I’ll be able to use it. And you! You’ll have destroyed a Gaalgha.”
Alexander took a step forward, his face a mask of pure terror. “Jonathan, please,” he mumbled pleadingly, but seemed unable to dissuade him.
I wrapped my arms around me and dug my nails into my own skin. I was the only one to blame for all this mess, and I would never forgive myself if something happened to either one of them. In any case I just couldn’t keep running away, pretending not to see the truth, allowing my usual escape pattern to cost me the life of someone I cared for.
“Enough,” I said in my almost inaudible voice, but still they all turned back to look at me. I took a deep breath, reinforcing my decision, and raised my head, “That’s enough,” I repeated and looked for the courage to speak my next words. “I need a moment with ... Michael ... alone, please,” I declared and, even without seeing it, I felt as Gabriel moved for the first time since they’d arrived and left, leaving me completely frozen inside.
Alexander seemed to notice it as well and immediately appeared by Jonathan’s side, leaving a rain of black feathers on his trail, and gently pulled him back, making him move, even though Jonathan kept glaring up at Michael with that dark threat in his eyes.
“Mari, are you sure..?” Alexander asked me as he stopped by my side and I looked up at him, making sure I was smiling when I did. He was worried for me, I could tell, but, above all he was relieved. His arm was wrapped protectively across Jonathan’s chest, his face back to his normal self, and seeing that was enough to make me absolutely certain that I was doing the right thing.
“Yes, thank you, and I’m sorry,” I added towards Jonathan and he finally looked away from Michael, looking like a fourteen-year-old boy again, almost embarrassed even.
“We’ll be close by,” Alexander said and I nodded.
Watching them go was even harder then I’d expected and I suddenly felt very much alone and abandoned.
Michael was still looking at me, his expression now bitter and hurt, again the Michael I knew, although his eyes kept glowing, and his blond hair looked like it was made of gold, shining under the light of the chandelier. He averted his gaze with what looked like regret, and seemed to struggle to find the right words.
“Tell me!” I interrupted him, my voice rough and harsh, and he raised his head unable to understand me. “I want to hear it in your own words! From your mouth. In your voice.”
“I’m ... sorry,” he said. I shook my head in stubborn refusal and squeezed the shirt he’d rendered useless.
“The truth, Michael!” I demanded, raising my voice, hurting my throat, and for an instant that hoarse sound filled the church.
Michael was silent for a long time, but then a sigh left his lips and, with it, his sword disappeared in a cloud of incandescent sparks that were gone even before they could reach the floor.
“The truth …” he repeated with a sorrowful tone and I waited for him to go on. “The truth is my name is … Aldaraian.” He hesitated, looking for a reaction, but I remained completely still. “Which, in the ancient tongue means Will of God. I am a Merifri, an angel, as you Humans call us.” Hearing those words in his warm voice hurt much more than the rough way he’d treated me just moments ago. “Better yet, I’m an Iaidon, a Guardian. And, in this present time, I’m the Iaidon in charge of protecting the Gaalgha known, in the Human world, as … Mariane Mellis.”
My name sounded all wrong in his voice, hurting me, and even though I wished I could feel anger towards him or even disgust, the only thing I could feel was that deep, sharp pain that stole my breath away. Images of him filled my mind, of his bright smile, of his warm gaze, of the moments we’d spent together when I’d thought he was only ... Michael. All false ... all lies ... all empty.
“You ... left me,” were the only words that escaped my lips and then he was there, right in front of me, startling me.
“Hush,” he whispered, trying to appease me, and I looked up at him, at his unnatural beauty, at how even his skin seemed to glow. “I had no other choice.” His pained voice made me look straight into his absurdly clear eyes.
“And you erased my memories ... of you?”
“I had to. You’d have been in pain if I had simply disappeared,” he clarified, but his words didn’t make any sense to me. “And I had to make sure you would move to a different town, too, or I would have had to manipulate the memories of everyone around you, everyone that knew you,” he added, softly.
“Move?” I repeated, still dumbfounded, still trying to make sense of all that had happened, and he nodded. “The divorce? My father’s offer to go to the U.S.A.?” I asked, now in complete disbelief, and he nodded again. A sarcastic smile took over my lips. “This is ... ridiculous,” I mumbled almost to myself, feeling like a rag doll in the hands of stupidly strong and powerful beings. “You took my father from me, he took my mother ... Jonathan was right. You’re all the same!” I declared, resenting him deeply, and Michael frowned, that threatening expression returning to his face.
“Do not compare me to that thing!” he commanded rudely, but I faced him with my coldest expression.
“No? At least my mom came back to spend the holidays with me. And I’ll see her again soon. I haven’t seen my father at all for the last two years!” I accused him dryly and smiled again, the irony choking me. “I should hate you!” I declared and he seemed shocked by my words. “All this time, right beside me.”
“No! I swear! I swear that I didn’t know!” He hurriedly cut me off, and then looked slightly embarrassed. “Only today when I saw you on that park ... and you suddenly disappeared amongst all that light. It was as if my mind had been kept in the dark and suddenly someone had flicked the switch on, and there was light again! You have to understand, Mari!” He held me by my shoulders and I couldn’t help recoil from his touch. “I never wished for any of this to happen. I never even intended to let my presence be known to you. But your Soul was always too bright, and no matter how many barriers I placed around you, that inferior scum would always find you!” He spit out the words with hatred. “And, of course, I’d always protect you! But, for more than once, you knew that something was wrong, that you were somehow in danger, and you were so small. You started having nightmares, and you were always afraid, even to go to school. You would wake up at night, screaming in terror, and even your parents didn’t know what else to do. I feared your mind might break down under the pressure and so I thought that if you knew … if you knew that I was there, always by your side, always protecting you, that you wouldn’t feel so scared. And I was right.
“You suddenly stopped being afraid to go to school, and there were no more nightmares. And when you had a bad dream I would hold you in my arms and you would quickly go back to sleep. Everything was better. Your parents too, seemed a lot happier, less stressed, and I became a part of your life. Unavoidably, I loved you since the moment you were born, but loving a Gaalgha was no news to me. Even when I noticed my feelings slowly changing as you grew up, or when I became aware that your Soul didn’t attract only inferior Deiwos, but irresistibly attracted my Soul as well. Even then I never felt, not even once, that I wouldn’t be able to fulfill my mission.”
I found myself unable to move, as if he’d cast some kind of Magic Spell to keep me in that place, and the suffering that transfigured his face left me hanging.
“I told myself that the proximity between us was normal, since we knew each other since you were a child,” he continued, “And I refused to see that I was the only one you really talked to, that it was to me you came running every time you had some news to share, that it was in me you confided your secrets. I allowed all boundaries to be crossed, one by one, under the excuse that I was your Guardian. I let you get close to me, get attached to me, because it made me feel good. I knew that I was the only one to blame for your absent social life, for your almost complete lack of friends, and that that was wrong. Because you came into this world to live a Human life. But still I allowed this to be, happy with the knowledge that I was special to you, that no one could take my place.”
I felt his warm hand caress my face and my body responded the same way it had always responded, when he was still just Michael and I a silly girl in love with the school’s idol.
“Recklessly, I wished you could love me, and you did love me, and from that instant on everything was lost. I could no longer resist your warm embrace ... or your touch ... or your defiant smile ... Because while you were allowed to do all these things, for me there was a clear line I could not cross. And I was afraid, because if I did cross it I’d have to leave you forever, to leave you alone to fend for yourself. At that point, the only thing that mattered was that I could remain by your side.
“And so I decided to erase my existence from your mind, and then erase my own memories so that I wouldn’t be tempted to get close to you again. Your parents had been discussing the divorce for quite some time then, and I took that chance to make sure you’d move somewhere else, somewhere where you could start a new life. And then I made sure that, even while I slept, I could be close to you, so that I could protect you if you needed. I was too naïve,” he added with a sorrowful tone and his warm hand ran across my wet hair, gently straightening it around my face. “The barrier I placed around you was meant to wake me up the instant you were in danger, and it did work, twice. I woke up, defeated that inferior scum and, once my task was done, went back to sleep. But I only placed that one clause on it, to defend you from attacks coming from the outside. It never occurred to me that you’d be the one to break it, from the inside out, that you’d be the one to call one of them to you. And once the barrier was destroyed its effect became null, and I didn’t wake up again.”
The absence of his voice seemed to break the spell that kept me motionless and I took a step back to avoid his touch.
I felt tired and confused, and clearly unable to process not even half of what he’d just told me. In my mind I could only see the Michael I knew; remember the pain in his voice when he’d told me about how he’d lost his memory, how no one had come forth to claim him. His bitter expression when he’d insisted he’d done something really wrong and how he wished his life could remain the way it was. And I was suddenly aware that all that was gone ... for me as much as for him. I couldn’t help thinking just how ridiculous all my inner battles had been, and I recalled what Alexander had told me about the irresistible attraction between Guardians and Gaalgha. And finally I heard Gabriel’s velvet voice, his warm breath caressing my skin, as he told me that there were still things that I didn’t know. ’And when you do, remember that it was for your sake that I stopped now.’
I ran a cold, shaky hand over my face and took a deep breath, annoyed at the headache that insistently drummed in my head making it even harder to think clearly.
“Michael, I need time. I need to think about all this ... and right now, I’m too tired,” I confessed, suddenly not wanting anything else but my bed, but he gave a step towards me, grabbing my shoulders again, his expression almost exasperated, as if I’d completely failed to understand what he’d meant.
“I’m telling you I love you! That I’ve loved you since the day you were born!” he told me in one breath and his words exploded in my head.
“Stop! I don’t want to hear that!” I shouted over his voice, fighting to get free from him again, but he didn’t let go.
“Why? Didn’t you want the truth?”
“Everything but that! Let go of me!”
He held my right arm roughly, pulling the velvet ribbon that I kept around my wrist, and the ribbon broke, hurting my skin.
“Why? Because of this? Because of this damn Contract?” he shouted and I was suddenly quiet as I noticed that the small mark was still there, the relief that washed over me robing my legs of their strength, making me tremble. “You have nothing to fear, Mari. It’s all right. I know you did it for me,” he told me, his voice soft again, even though his hand kept squeezing my arm. “But you know … this, none of this is valid. Because he could never promise to give you something that was already yours to begin with. All this time, he has been deceiving you!”
“No!” I practically growled, pulling my hand free from his grip and held my wrist against my chest, protectively. “You’re lying!”
Michael put a sorrowful expression on his face. “I’m really sorry, but it will be all right. You won’t have to see him ever again. And since that Contract is invalid, I can easily erase that horrible mark from your skin, and you’ll be able to go back to your everyday life.”
“No!” I shouted again, and stepped back, as the world spun around me, dark walls closing down on me, making it hard to breathe. “No! I don’t want to! I don’t want to live without him!”
“Mariane!” His severe tone startled me, filling the air around us with that thundering sound, and still I raised my head to face him, to defend what little happiness I’d found.
“I am not the same anymore! I am not your Mariane anymore!”
“That doesn’t mean anything to me! And this Contract ... this Contract too, even if it is invalid, I don’t care! I want to stay with him!” I declared without a shadow of a doubt, and the thunder that roared all around us made me dizzy.
The pain of being thrown against something hard and cold sent needles throughout my entire body and I had to gasp for air. His warm hand surrounded my neck, immobilizing me like before, making me stand on the tips of my toes so I wouldn’t choke, and his face leaned over mine with a sorrowful expression of regret.
“I’m sorry, but I cannot allow that,” he whispered softly, his warm breath caressing my lips, and I uselessly clawed at his hand, fighting for every breath. “I promise I won’t hurt you. I’ll just erase all your memories again and take you somewhere far, where you’ll be able to start anew, and where you’ll live the Human life you were born to experience.”
Despair washed over me and warm tears slid down my face, tears that could never hurt him and that thus were easily ignored.
He placed his other hand on my forehead, and I clawed and scratched his face when his lips touched mine, stealing the little air I’d been able to manage.
My wrist burned painfully and I sobbed, feeling as if I was being torn into pieces. Everything in me was pain, and anguish, and despair, and another voice, equally torn, rose inside me.
You cannot lose him! Call him to you! she commanded, but I didn’t know how to call him if I couldn’t even speak.
And then I could see it, as clear as day, the page from where I’d read the Magic Spell that had released him and, in reality, there was only one word, one word that really mattered, and I wondered how I’d never seen it before.
It was as if a bomb had exploded right next to my ears and I fell helplessly on the floor, coughing and gasping for air.
His terrifying presence reached me way before I could even hear the clashing sound of metal against metal, and I urgently dried my eyes, trying to see what had happened.
Michael averted Gabriel’s spear that hit one of the benches instead, rendering it into small wooden splinters and dust, and immediately disappeared, appearing on the far side of the church, his breath heavy and labored.
“What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be out there destroying your own kind?” Michael asked, straightening his back, recovering from Gabriel’s surprise attack, and Gabriel kicked the pieces of wood at his feet, and they flew like sharp daggers towards Michael’s head, forcing him to quickly slide out of the way. “You have nothing to do with Mari! And that damn Contract is invalid!” Michael shouted and Gabriel smiled coldly, pointing his spear at Michael’s chest.
“You dumb, stupid Merifri!” Gabriel sneered in his most cold and cruel tone. “That Human evoked me and offered me her blood. Her Soul belongs to me and it’s mine to do as I please. And this Contract that you so much insist in nullifying, and that you stupidly just fulfilled, is the agreement we reached and the only way she’ll be able to keep her Soul. I really advise you to stop interfering, before I decide to claim what is rightfully mine. As we now stand, the only thing she owes me is a long night of hot and passionate sex!” he added dryly and I couldn’t help feel humiliated before his cold, cruel words.
Michael, on the other hand, was burning in anger and, with a loud roar that made the ground shake, jumped forward as two beautiful white wings sprung from his back.
The deafening sound that filled the air when they clashed midair echoed in the high chamber, and from then on I could hardly see them, as they jumped and flew from one place to another, using the walls and ceiling the same way they used the floor, to propel themselves through the air.
I cowered where I sat, protecting my head with my arms as pieces of wood and stone flew everywhere, almost as if I were sitting in the middle of a cataclysm.
The sound of a barrier vibrating made me open my eyes to peer into that war zone, and I blinked in astonishment as I noticed the pile of debris piled all around me.
“Mari? Are you all right?” I looked at Alexander, crouching beside me, and knew that the barrier protecting me was his doing. “Listen carefully!” he went on with a serious expression, not even waiting for my answer. “Izrail is going to destroy him. He himself told me that he’d do it if he had to interfere, and that’s why he asked me to come here instead of him. He didn’t want you to watch as he destroyed your Guardian. But now that things have reached this point, it’s simply unavoidable. So, just come with me!”
I blinked once again, trying to make his words sink in, and looked at the two amazing creatures fiercely fighting each other; Michael with his white wings and golden hair, Gabriel like a dark shadow with pale face.
Foolishly enough I remembered seeing them standing side by side, at school, shaking hands, exchanging greetings and even smiles. It all felt out of place, as if right then, that church, couldn’t possibly be my reality. And then it suddenly came to me, and I knew I’d been in that same place many times before, the floor below me feeling much harder and cold. I’d dreamt of that moment, time and time again, and my dream always ended ...
The thunder-like sound that filled the air was much stronger than the ones before, cutting off my thoughts, and the wall behind me cracked and opened from top to bottom. With my heart beating against my chest, I saw Michael slide down over it until he hit the floor, just a few steps from where I sat, as if he’d been thrown against it by some brute force. There was blood on his clothes and the sword he held on to shuddered in his hand when he tried to raise it but the strength to do it failed him.
And then Gabriel was there too, soundlessly landing over a pile of debris as if he could float, his eyes glowing red as he raised his spear, pointing it at Michael’s chest. Michael tried again, clenching his teeth, his face angry and frustrated, but his arm just wouldn’t obey, and Gabriel smiled, towering over him like a predator who knew he’d just cornered his prey.
Panicking I knew that Michael would never be able to defend himself from his next attack, and I tried to stand up, wanting to reach them, wanting to stop Gabriel’s hand as he pulled his spear back to stab him, but my aching legs wouldn’t obey. And all I could do was close my eyes and scream when Gabriel thrust his spear forward, and my will was suddenly one again.
Something burned my chest and warm tears slid down my face. I just couldn’t lose any of them, not like this.
I opened my eyes, not really knowing if I was dead or alive, and saw Gabriel’s spear, pointing at my chest, turn into ashes, his expression of horror locked on my face. I knew that he’d gotten rid of it so he wouldn’t run me though with it, and I lowered my arms as relief washed over me when I realized I’d been able to stop him.
“So, this is it.” His cold whisper startled me and yet I couldn’t react in time to avoid his cold hands, as he grabbed me by the collar of my shirt and pushed me violently against the wall. I felt dizzy again, at how fast we’d moved, and my aching body protested painfully. “So, you’re protecting him now?” he went on, accusing me in that raging tone, and I looked at him stunned, trying to blink away the tears that stubbornly blurred my vision. “Are you crying because of him?” he shouted and I cringed reflexively, as the wall on my back trembled and cracked some more.
“Izrail! Stop it!” I heard Alexander’s angry voice, but he didn’t even look at him.
“Stay out of this, Sigweardiel!”
“You’re hurting her!”
“I said, stay out of this!” he shouted again and this time even the floor cracked opened, swallowing pieces of wood, as if we were in the middle of an earthquake. “So? Is he your choice?” he asked me in a tone that would never admit denial and I trembled before his immeasurable presence.
My desperate will reached for the power of the Circle around my neck and his thoughts reached me like agonizing whispers that made me cry.
“Why ... are you lying?” I mumbled in my hoarse voice and raised a hand to touch his cold, pale face. “Why all these questions when you know all the answers?”
He held my face between his hard fingers and leaned over me, the scent of his skin leaving a bitter taste in my mouth as his thoughts told me exactly what would follow.
“It was him you protected. For him, you placed your life in danger. Because it’s him you chose,” he whispered cruelly in my ear, as if his words were a Magic Spell meant to mold my mind to his will, and I sobbed before his insistence.
“And yet you’ve already decided ... to leave me because it’s the best for me, because now I have my Guardian Angel to look over me and I don’t need you anymore,” I echoed his own thoughts and he pulled the chain from my neck, stealing his thoughts from me.
“That’s what your mind tells you,” he declared and looked down at Michael with scorn. “If you want to belong to him, feel free to do so! As he said, I declare our Contract invalid,” he announced in a cold, unfeeling voice and, although I wanted to scream, and argue, and beg, all I could do was sob. He looked back at me and his cold fingers gently caressed my face, insensible to the burns that my tears left on his skin. “In return, I’ll claim what is rightfully mine and, once your life is over, I’ll come back to take your Soul,” he told me and, with a fast move, held my chin, making me raise my head, and all I could see was the dark, cracked ceiling.
His lips touched my chest in a cold kiss that pierced me like a blazing dagger. And, even so, I raised a trembling hand to caress his dark hair, loving, for the last time, the pain he gave me.
“Goodbye ... Mariane …”
His cold voice echoed in my ears and I fell. I didn’t feel the impact against the hard floor, but the cold stone seemed to invite me to sleep. The damage done to my being was just too deep, too vast to even consider trying to fix it. Contrary to what had happened before, I didn’t fight the cold chains that dragged me down, towards the deep darkness, and I plunged into it by my own free will; wishing I could sink as fast as possible and simply forget ...