Years had taken their toll on him. His eyes now gave little away, where once they had been bustling with curiosity, now a stern caution haunted them. Like everything that was ever beautiful in them had been forcibly restrained, lashed and locked deep inside. Never to see the light of the day again. This settled well with somber countenance he wore, and with a growth on his face that was far advanced for his years, he no longer looked handsome almost earnestly so as he had been described in the days of his youth that he had spent with her.
He walked alone, the cold wind trying to force its way through his curly locks but no longer did his hair magically untangle. That magic died with her. He strode through the natural declivity, the harsh winds trying their best to oppose him. His leather coat clapped against his thighs and the sheath he wore on his back repeatedly stuck him, the sword inside growing warm so much and so that he was now beginning to feel it. He knew what this meant, he would have to use it soon and the blade was relishing the prospect.
Finally he stopped at the edge of the hill, the climb down from here was always tricky more so with all the snow lying around. This was not however why he stopped. Where once standing on the ledge you could see the little shire, now a dank desolated scene formed into his eyes. The place had been ravaged, ransacked and burnt down.
He closed his eyes and visualized it how he remembered it, as he had looked over it standing right here where he stood now one last time before going away as a child. In the vision, there was no snow, it was spring and the whole valley looked like a shining emerald with posies of red, yellow and blue covering it with a soothing grace, the dense plantation of apple trees blooming with ripe fruit, everything in perfect harmony with itself. The windmill stood at farthest corner of the town, where many young couples met and shared first kisses, where they would spend time with their beloveds away from the prying eyes of the world and where young women would sometimes inevitably develop certain reputations. Sometimes boys would hang around it desperately yearning for a special someone to show up, who later they wouldn’t be able to stand after they would promise to love and cherish them in health and in sickness before all the people in the shire, and all the Seraphs in heavens, inside the wall of the granite temple of the Holy. The temple was the only place left standing, though it too had been pillaged. Perhaps the fire didn’t burn hot enough to melt gray stone.
He opened his eyes, the fact that temple was still standing, barely more than a ruin told him something.
“Man made fire, humans did this.”
As if on cue, a blinding pain coursed through him, even with all his years in training to block out pain there was little he could do to contain it. This flood had little respect for the dams he had built and he was forced to go on his knees holding his head between his palms, an expression of utmost horror on his face. The headache again was accompanied by flashes, lakes of fire, wretchedness as he had never seen it, and creatures of such deadly, such horrific, such nightmarish beauty. His own body dangling from meat hooks that ran through his flesh and bone indiscriminately. Hell.
As the pain passed his tensed body eased, it wasn’t gone. It never went away but now it was content to lay down behind his defenses again, where what was left of his sanity resided. He said a little prayer in thanks, to whom he prayed to he wasn’t sure. He had no friends or guardians, neither in the Heaven above nor the Pits below. It was however a weakness of habit, something he had been taught growing up in the temple and there was little he could do stop these spontaneous words of submission to cruel Seraphs who had took away his beloved.
As he opened his eyes to see the snowy meadow, he imagined what it would have been like to live here with her. Mayhaps they would’ve had children. Her child and his too. It seemed such a curious thought. Like a common-man he would raise his kid. He would teach him to fight with a sword and his letters. Maybe he would work at a farm or at the smithy. Come back each day sweaty to a hot meal and a loving wife. He would never know what that would be like. He ran his eyes through the black spear tattooed on his left arm. He was a man of war, not of serenity. Of death, never life. A hero’s existence was his fate, his bane. He was a cursed man, a marked man. A tear almost came to his eye, almost, not quite. It boiled before it could fall. A fierce anger over took him and his body began to warm up. The snowy wind around him began to hiss and it looked like he would soon catch fire but once again he checked his emotions, his passion and prodigious anger. There would be time to unleash it and he must save it for that.
He made the descent down the declivity almost with sick ease and inhuman grace. His body was under his rigid command in such a way as his heart never was. And finally he made his way towards the temple. A huge granite structure erected, so misplaced, such an anomaly in the little shire and now with its walls covered in black soot and the magnificent metal door looked as if it had been congealed by the hands of a giant. Barely hanging on by the hinges. The many tinted glass windows once adorned with glyphs and praises to seven High Seraphs now broken or decolored to coal black no doubt by the very flame that had engulfed the rest of town.
It was where it had all begun and this site was perfect for the ritual he had in mind. His beginning, his first crossroad. It was in this temple he had been dedicated to war and bloodshed as a babe in a ceremony usually reserved for warriors as they came of age. The sigil of The Angel of Valor burnt into their flesh. But he had gone through that when he was but a day old and it was not without reason.
He had come out of his mother’s womb to announce he was favored by the Invictus, the Highest among the High Seraphs. The Angel of Valor, Might and Righteous Anger. Born to be an Angel’s whore. A glorified butcher and they had named him after the very same Archangel and the priest had proclaimed him to be the little blessed one. That brought a small smile to the edges of his mouth and for a second his features looked handsome once more.
He removed a small package from his pocket full of little personal effects. Right outside the temple door a little further from the slab that adored the step leading to the ruin, where the earth was soft, he dug through snow and earth his fingers numbing in the process and placed the small box in the little hole he had made. He then proceed to remove a dagger from his waist and with a deft moment he cut through his palm. Warm blood sizzled the winter air, placing on it a fiery kiss. He let the blood flow, gushing at first but quickly changing into a trickle as it filled the little pothole and submerged the box. An offering.
And he said the words.
“Diara. Angel of Guidance. Mistress of Wisdom. The lady perched on the pedestal of the heavens above. Bane of Darkness. The Radiant, the North Star, the Shinning Moon. I beseech you. Here my call. Bless my soul with your wisdom. Grant me an audience.”
For a minute nothing happened and Invictus was sure his call had been ignored as the Angels often do to the calls of men. But then the air around him began to fizz and coagulate forming a feminine figure and then a definite body with awe-inspiring curves and skin shinning with a radiance that would put the Lady Selene in the heavens to shame.
The most remarkable thing yet about the woman were two magnificent white wings that stretched at her back. The changed color and shined with the vivacity of a thousand splendid suns as they moved ever so gently in cold, cold air. They lady had a hood drawn up so Invictus couldn’t see her face. The body was covered in an armor made of gold with a fleshed tint. Its daring neckline hinting the womanly curves of her buxom breasts. The armor ended abruptly at her muscular thighs. Where her curvaceous sword was sheathed besides her waist. Not even the most vivacious painters or stonemason had ever dared to paint Lady Wisdom in such an immodest attire which was usually reserved for the Lady Love and no artist would have ever been able to do justice to it. Invictus stared without meaning to.
Suddenly he felt that the Lady was smiling from underneath her hood and realized how rudely he had been staring, he blushed. Gathering himself, and now looking at ground he made a curt little bow.
“My, my, a blusher. Who would have known?”
Even though the voice was laced with a hint of womanly playfulness, Invictus was suddenly made aware he was talking to no woman, such was the mystique and power than emanated for the words spoken from underneath the hood. This was a powerful, proud creature. This was not a woman. A woman you can love and make love to. This you could only worship, and never know intimately like you could a woman. You can’t make love to an earthquake, to a tornado, to a volcano as it spews out hot lava. This was what she was. A force of nature.
“I seek guidance, my lady.”
“That you do indeed. And a bold thing to do, to summon me here with your unfit blood like I am some common creature of the night. Can you even begin to deliberate the insult you have offered me and mine?”
Her voice was now thunderstorms though somehow mixed with the calm that predates it. It should’ve scared any mortal but it had little effect on Invictus.
“And yet you answer the same. And offer me no harm.”
Invictus felt that the smile beneath the hood widen.
“Such boldness in face of an insurmountable foe. Rare even among my brother’s champions. No wonder my sister Ethos has taken such a keen fancy to you.”
This scared Invictus. The people in which Lady Love took a special interest rarely had happy endings. Tragedies was as much her domain as love.
“You know why I am here. Lenore. Where is she?”
“That is hardly seeking wisdom now, is it? Still I will answer,” the playfulness had returned to her voice, she was enjoying this, “She is neither in Heavens, nor in the Pits, neither is she on this plane or any other than runs parallel to it. She is simply to say concealed like she never existed on the fabric of time and space. “
The anger started surging through him again. He had little patience for the games of the immortals. For a second something dark form inside overtook him as he instinctively reached for his sword. He eyed the angel with a gaze of a wolf stalking a pray and he wonder what it would like to rush her, unleash all his anger on her, overpower her, bury his teeth in her soft flesh. Use her as a man would… he restrained the darkness in him. His face screwed up in concentration.
The Lady noticed it. “It grows inside you, doesn’t it? I feel it too. Darkness as even I have never know it. Something so foreign, not of this world. Be warned it is a consequence of whatever brought you back, Invictus. And related to whatever happened to your beloved. You are corrupted to the flesh that cover your bones. You are lost, and so is your Lenore. You are an abomination.”
“Where… is… she…” Invictus spoke through clenched teeth as he fought to contain the creature that clawed him from inside whatever it was.
“She invoked dark magicks, perhaps it is best she remains hidden from us. She is a culprit to the very forces of life. And her life is ours to take, it is forfeit!” Lady Diara spoke with an authority that shook the earth to its very core.
Invictus bared his teeth in defiance. The very essence of human spirit.
“Do not seek to test me, Angel. If the heavens in all its magnificent beauty, and all its terrible fury. With all its Seraphs shrouded in their armors of gold, threaded with the blessings of old were to stand against her. I would unleash Hell on Heaven itself and bring damnation to all that dwell therein!”
Lady Diary finally removed her hood that had thus far adorned her face. It was as perfect as a poet’s dream, of the snow top kissed mountain, of the eternal spring, of the moon without is blemishes. It inspired lust and awe, her eyes however were inhuman, two burning rubies encased in her skull. Unmerciful wisdom reflected in them. Her lips blue of deadliest poison danced as she spoke.
“Even the deadliest, most skilled maggot is but a maggot and maggots can be crushed!”
With that a furious gale burst his way and he was forced to shield his eyes with his arm. A thousand curses uttered in the tongue of old. Abruptly the winds calmed just as they had riled. And he removed arm from his eyes to see emptiness where the Archangel had stood only seconds ago.
The little puddle of his blood had evaporated, a sorry little sight it was. His claymore burnt ever so furiously on the small of his back.
“Your time will come too, Angel. I promise.”