CONTENT WARNING: CRUDE AND INDECENT LANGUAGE: SOME SCENES READERS MAY FIND DISTRESSING
The moonlight was annoyingly bright, but it leant an odd beauty to the dense forest. The trees stood as monuments to gods’ that didn’t deserve them. The grass of the forest floor was lush and green, bleeding into the moss that crawled up those trees, growing toward heaven.
Breathing deeply, I called the Zulfiqar forth. It vibrated against my palm, fire streaking up the blade. Focusing, I pulled the fire toward me. Curling my fist, I focused on harnessing the fire, feeling the power of the blade burn through me.
It was becoming easier to take within, to control.
I smiled, releasing the power, tossing it out, watching as the fire spread and crawled along the moss ladder of the closest tree. It burned hot, climbing high, as the tree charred and smoked, shrinking away from heaven.
Eventually, all would realize, there was no stairway to Heaven.
“Rafaela,” Tobin muttered, clearing his throat as he entered the clearing. “Your guest has arrived.”
I inclined my head slightly, acknowledging Tobin before I swiveled away from the smoking, now dessicated, tree. “Steven, welcome!”
“Rafaela, hello,” Steven offered. A soft spoken man, most would never assume his power. Dressed in all black, from his tailored shirt, down to shoes that were so shiny they gleamed in the moonlight, he looked the part of a reaper. A dashing modern one, but a reaper nonetheless.
It was a common misconception regarding Psychopomps. They were not reapers, more like death travel agents for souls. But, as always, humanity’s need to understand things they were never meant to know often forced them to over simplify even the simplest of concepts.
Steven’s eyes followed the flames as they licked up the trees. A bit that happened to be true, Steven’s brand of Psychopomps had a small fire obsession.
I shook my head at his predictability.
“It is indeed.” I smiled, forced graciousness curving my lips upward. Protocols and niceties were tiresome, but, statistically effective in calming…prey. “Thank you for meeting me.”
“Mmhm.” Steven smiled as well. His lips curved in a dark look of desire. He couldn’t pull his eyes away from the flames. It was like he was entranced.
I smirked. Geez, it wasn’t like it was a fucking burning bush or something. I guess I should be honored.
Snapping my fingers dramatically, I finally drew his attention back to me. “Eyes here.” My tone was even, hard, far less gracious. “Shall we discuss the things we stand before the moon to discuss?”
Steven nodded slowly between quick peeks back at the flames. “I am but a guide.”
“Correct.” I rolled my eyes, even as I attempted to plaster another smile on. “The question, Steven, is how long has it been since you had a…vacation?”
Steven’s brow arched in question. “Your god and those that worship Them have made vacation impossible. It is my duty to guide the souls. I honor my duty.”
Archaic standards of morals drowned and tethered so many. It was incredibly repulsive, these codexes of agreements beings made for themselves or those that followed them. Random justifications and ideologies for what is just and what is not, for what should be and what should not.
It was complicated and exhausting.
My arm raised, sending the Zulfiqar from my hip slicing through the air, to strike diagonally across Steven’s chest. He looked down, watching the blood trickle into a puddle at his feet. “Oh, fudge, you demented angel.”
With a growl, he charged, barreling through me, forcing me back against the smoldering tree. The heat burned through the black jacket and silver shirt I wore, sizzling against my flesh, making me mildly grateful I rarely exposed my wings. “Why do angels always think they are the exception to every rule?”
It was kind of sexy, his bravado. I could taste the mixture of rage and excitement as it built within him. Steven was both as expected and a little more. It was going to make his torment that much sweeter. Finer. Like whiskey aged in sherry husked barrels.
I licked my lips.
His hands wrapped around my neck, squeezing as my eyes pulsed a deep coral orange. His power emitted from him, dancing along the edges of mine, tickling my senses where they melded with the energy of the Zulfiqar. “Dearest, Steven, I am far, far, more than just an angel and this will be your last exception request.”
I pulled the Zulfiqar from my side where it had returned. I forced it forward and up through his sternum. The clearing echoed with the sloppy sounds of flesh and bone caving and twisting under the influence of the power now carving its way through him. I tilted my head sharply, reshaping him was more apt.
Arching forward, I allowed momentum to pull my body from the burning stump of the tree. A wailing scream ripped from my lungs as Steven’s cherry red eyes glinted up at me. The force of my motion propelling him, his blood splattering as he fell backwards toward the forest floor.
“Ye are the devil, spawn of hate.” His fingers clutched at the blade sticking from his chest. He mumbled fruitless words, forming an incantation that was powerless against the power that consumed and ate at him.
Tilting my head slightly, I leaned forward, watching him struggle as laughter spilled from my lips in waves. “Oh, Steven, you’ve definitely gotten the wrong angel with that one. Hate is exhausting and something I never have time to indulge.”
His eyes began to roll, his body seizing, as he seemed to burrow deep into the lush forest floor. “Rafaela, you can’t do this. It’s never…I…”
Annoyed, I punched the Zulfiqar’s handle, driving it deeper into his chest. The blood oozed out around the wound, seeming to dance along to the beat of the blade’s powerful hum. “I can do anything I want,” I growled. “And what I want, is your soul.”
“Why? You are not a god, a-and angels are soulless.”
“We are. They thought it easier to control us that way. To make sure we never tried to become gods.” I tsked. “Horrible foresight, that.”
“I will not bring you…” his voice ran low, hollow, even. Blood trickled from the sides of his lips like the B-rated vampire films Mundanes so adored. “My soul,” he coughed, “doesn’t offer freedom.”
I smirked, standing. I pulled at the buttons on my melted jacket and shirt. The back of each were burnt and partially seared into my flesh. Vanishing it away would be best, but I wanted to feel every sensation of it pulling away from the flesh suit I inhabited.
Pain carried lessons that should be embraced. I would not deny or avoid any knowledge.
Steven’s eyes began to glass over. “ I do not seek freedom.” I shrugged. “Also, and this is the important bit,” I focused my bright eyed stare, locking my eyes with his faded ones. “I am not aiming to release your soul, guide. My aim is to trap it.”
His eyes grew wide and round with understanding. They looked like red saucers, filled with shock, awe, and honestly not nearly enough fear for my liking. I pulled my first arm through the jacket sleeve. “Bingo. Nice to see you understand. I truly hate explaining myself.” My second arm slid out of the next sleeve. Before I could pull the jacket fully away, Tobin appeared from his usual shadows.
“It is bad, let me do it.” I frowned slightly, but didn’t argue as I watched Steven shudder and seemingly melt into the power of the Zulfiqar.
“Don’t be gentle, just get it away.” I watched Steven, cataloguing the process of his transition. Tobin, of course, went slowly, working the cloth from my skin as if I was some softened lover. “Tobin, for fucks sake,” I growled.
I felt his annoyance as he shrugged slightly. I loved when sparks of defiance flared from my oldest…friend. He pulled the garments from me quickly, harshly, exposing the burns to the air as he pulled the remaining charred flecks from my back.
Steven was no longer fighting.
Seeing a Psychopomp still, lifeless for lack of better phrasing, was a grade A mind fuck. A jolt of excitement coursed through my belly as I felt my back begin the healing process. I pulled a shirt from the ether, letting it form over my exposed body.
“Well, I guess this part of the process is done.” I smiled down at Steven, sure he could still hear my every word. “I might as well get my little visit over with. You know, get the meet and greet out of the way.” I grabbed his bloodied body from the ground and slung it easily over my shoulder. “Steven, bud, you’re definitely coming along.”
I phased away, reappearing just outside the address Rumplestiltskin had left on his invitation.
Well…this should be fun.