December 14, 1808 : 200 years prior
The knock on the door was urgent and uncharacteristic for that time of night. I raised tired eyes from the writings of His Grace Pius VII and observed the door over the rims of my spectacles. There it was again, the knock that I was sure would wake the entire floor of the seminary and have me reprimanded in the morning for not getting to it with more haste. I stood with my lantern in hand and made my way through the darkness of my small room, holding my robe to me. I was certain that only an emergency would bring someone to the door of a seminarian at 22 hundred hours.
"I'm coming," I said as I unlatched the hinge and opened the door.
"Brother Masen," said the young servant boy. I think his name was Henri. He was French and his English, though not bad, was heavily accented. He liked practicing his English on me and I encouraged him. "I em terrible sorri for disterbi you at night, but thees letter came for you and eet says ergent, life or death."
"Tell me your name again."
"Henri," he even did a little curtsy.
"Do not bow to me Henri, but you can tell me who sent the letter."
"Eet vas a young voman, and she vas veddy particular zat you get eet immediately and zat it please remain anonyme."
I raised an eyebrow.
"Secret?" He asked, and I nodded.
"Tres bien Henri, very good."
I frowned and took the creased letter from his hand. He looked not much younger than I, in his teens, and terribly apologetic and polite. I held the letter up to the lantern and started to read it right there in front of him. After the first few words I realized who it was from, so I stuck my head out into the dark corridor, held my lantern up and looked both up and down.
"Henri," I said. "Does anyone else know that this letter arrived for me tonight?"
"No, Brother Masen," he said. "It vas only me on zee foyear."
"Merci Henri," I said. "Bonne Nuit."
He did another half bow and I closed the door. As quickly as my feet could move, I took the letter to my desk and added more kerosene to my lantern. The blaze grew with a soft, licking sound and the shadows it cast on the wall at my left were ghastly.
'Meus diligo, My love, My Edward,
It is with the heaviest of hearts that I write this to you, for no reason other than the fact that my love and loss has driven me to the deepest despair. I have received word of your ordination and while I will not contest your reasons for keeping it from me, you must have known that I would find out sooner rather than later. There is nothing I live for other than news of you. My days are consumed and my nights, though lonely, are filled only with longing for you…'
I dropped my head and held on to the edge of the table with brittle force as the pain in her words tore at my insides. With an unwilling breath but with a charged heart, I held the page up to the flame again and read on.
'….In two days you will have achieved something that will forever confuse and cause me unrelenting pain. You will receive your robes and your mighty cross and you will bow to your elders at the altarto receive the ordination which will finally separate us forever. And I will remain as I am now, without a proper explanation from my love about his choice, or some enlightenment as to the grave mistake I have apparently made that caused you to turn away from me so abruptly when you did. I have had four years to condition myself to your decision and to teach myself to come to terms with it and to life without you in it.But alas, I have failed myself because now more than ever before, I am convinced that I can do nothing but love you Edward. I have written hundreds of unanswered letters to you and even though you do not reply, I know you are there and I know that you read and somehow I know that you hurt as well.
After all this time I am in no less in pain, no less confused, and no more inclined to close my heart off to you. The only thing I can do is accept it because I cannot change it and I cannot change your heart. If this will make you happy, I will cease my letters and try my very best not to hate the God that has taken you away from me. However, I shall ask one final thing of you before you are lost to me forever. If any part of what we have shared during our time together was real, if any spoken word of love from your lips was true, I ask of you now for the very last time, to come to me. Visit with me before the hour of your ordination and set my heart to rest. For the sake of my dying heart, allow my eyes the vision of your face one last time, because surely I can never set foot into your church and listen as you worship him who has seduced and won you.
I shall never see you again Edward, because I won't allow it, so please answer my call and come to me. I shall wait for you every hour until that day, and if the day comes and goes and I do not see you, take this as my farewell and best wishes for you. Know that my love shall never die, though I might, just from the sheer weight of it.
Me paenitet, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.
I dropped the letter on my table and stared at the burning flame in my lantern unseeingly for minutes on end. That fateful night four years prior slammed back into brutal focus and forced me to relive what by then I could only have referred to as fate.
Four years prior to that night, I was a final year Theology and Latin major at the university, a 20 year old Englishman from Cornwall, Britain, engaged to be married to Tanya Denali. Tanya was Italian and she and her family moved to Cornwall so that her father could accept the position of Latin professor at the university. He was my lecturer. He liked me.
Tanya and I were in love, we were happy, and she was hell bent on having babies the moment I took her across the threshold. It was no secret that Tanya was unlike the rest of her sisters who were openly involved in sexual relationships with men who were not their husbands. Tanya and I were resolute about saving ourselves for each other, and wanted our first time together to be our wedding night. Truth be told, it didn't matter to me whether we did it inside or outside of marriage, though I wanted my first time to be with her. It was probably the very thing that quickened the rate at which I got the ring on her finger. I would have happily deflowered her had she let me, but despite the lifestyle of her other sisters, it seemed drastically important to her that she wait until marriage. Tanya was known to be a crafty and devilish little vixen when she wanted to be, and though I worried on occasion that it was a trick of hers to get me to propose, I loved her and rather liked the idea of making her my wife.
However, I never predicted what happened just two weeks shy of our wedding day. The series of events that occurred during that unforgettable four day stint changed my life, or should I say existence, forever…..
The winter was a terrible one. It was worse than we expected and it snowed like the earth was trying to freeze over the entryway to hell. The Cholera was widespread and had taken the town by surprise, and when Tanya suddenly fell ill with the dreadful illness, I was left like a fish out of water, snowed in with her at her mother's cottage with no way to get a message to the town doctor. At that time in Britain, the only means of communication was a telegram or the post, and though there were rumors of electricity inventions, rural areas like Cornwall were last in line to receive it.
Already there were twelve deaths in town within the past two days from the Cholera, and when it hit the Denali household, there was mass pandemonium and panic. Of course they all locked themselves away in their rooms, wailing and sobbing and Tanya was left on the sitting room sofa with me and her mother to look after her.
By her third day into it and because of the dreadful weather, things were looking grim. Already her mother was crying and making the sign of the cross repeatedly across her torso like a tortured soul. And the distant screams that could be heard from neighbouring households every few hours as the disease continued to claim lives around us did not ease our tension any. Everyone in the town had been trapped indoors for days on end because of the intermittent storm. Because medicine was scarce to none, and with no way of getting to the doctor through the weather, anyone who contracted the virus during that time was considered dead before it even had time to run its course.
Tanya was in and out of consciousness. Her skin was flushed and sweaty, she could barely speak above a whisper because she was so weak, couldn't keep food or drink down and she had a nasty fever. For safe measure we kept a handkerchief loosely tied over her mouth and nose in the hope that we ourselves would be spared.
"We need to get her to the doctor," I said to her mother, starting to fear the worst myself.
"It's impossible!" Her mother wailed. "We can't get out and his residence isn't for another three streets."
She got up and lifted her heavy frock off the floor with her hands as she made her way to a long window and peered outside.
"I've been trying to get the attention of the neighbours all week, but no one is at their window and the street is abandoned in this weather. How in heaven's name will we get the message to Dr. Whitaker that he needs to make a house call?"
I paced the floor with a hand on one hip and the other clasped under my chin, frowning at my feet as I walked. The idea seemed preposterous but it was the only solution to a degenerating situation that needed immediate attention.
"I will take her myself," I said and turned to face the woman who was wringing her hands nervously against her apron.
"What in heaven's name!" She exclaimed with wide eyes. "Edward! It's almost nightfall and the roads are completely covered with snow! The storm! Our horse is no good either. You know his hind limb is wounded. You'll never make it on foot! You'll freeze to death! You and her both!"
"Wrap her with as many blankets as you can find and I will carry her," I said seriously. "There is no alternative. She gets worse by the minute and the night will not be kind."
I made my way over to Tanya then and looked at her frail figure on the sofa.
"Hurry up Sasha," I said as Tanya's eyes started to roll into the back of her head. "Before the storm starts up again."
"Oh my sweet Jesus," the woman uttered as she ran hastily up the stairs in a fluster. "I have to fetch her father!"
"Sasha!" I demanded, and she stopped promptly on the stairs and turned to me in surprise.
"Do you want Tanya to get help?" I asked in a deep voice.
"Of course I do!"
"Then keep it between us. Let the old man sleep. If he knows about this, he won't allow it because he will think it is too dangerous, but Tanya needs to be taken to the doctor. She doesn't look good and I fear that…." I sighed and looked at Tanya again. "I fear that she won't make it through the night."
When I looked up at Sasha again, her chin was quivering and her eyes were wild with fright. She nodded briskly then disappeared upstairs in search of warm blankets. Fifteen minutes later we had Tanya cloaked and wrapped in a thick, tight bundle with only her face left out so that she could breathe. I myself was loaned a second coat and ordered to wear a hat. I detested hats, even in the winter, and I was usually frowned upon by stately gentlemen for refusing to wear any. However, I made an exception that night because of the blistering storm. It was difficult to hold her when she was wrapped like that but I had no choice but to get comfortable with it somehow, because I would have to carry her for a few blocks through dark streets, lit only by the ember of candlelight in the windows of cottages as I passed.
We opened the front door and thank goodness for the two steps down to the yard that elevated the front door partially, or else opening it all would have been near impossible. I held her to my chest firmly and sunk my legs into the snow that came up to my calves. Every footstep took enormous effort but because I was determined to get help, I pushed through the snow in the yard until I got out to higher ground by the roadside. Sasha waved us off worriedly with Kate and Irina at her sides, then hurried back inside after making the sign of the cross for the umpteenth time.
I tried to ignore the biting wetness that clung to my skin through my trousers and seeped in through my shoes, while hurrying as fast as I could with my lifeless fiancé in my arms.
The streets were already cloaked in darkness due to the raging storm. It was becoming increasingly more difficult to push against the blistering wind that seemed determined to push me backward, as if trying to warn me to turn back because of impending danger ahead.
I'd always felt like the night knew things that the day didn't. I was educated enough to know that there was a succinct reason for why things were the way they were, namely, the natural occurrence of light hours and dark. There was a reason people are awake during the day and stayed indoors at night, and never the other way around. Usually I was no fool to try and challenge what was. I accepted what I needed to, asked no questions and paid heed to the warnings given by governmental authorities regarding the increase in crime and took their curfews seriously.
News and experiences of others had always proven that no good came to those who idled about during the dark hours and insisted on flirting with danger. And that night spared no mercy in showing me exactly how and why that happened.
Ever since the first street I had the distinct feeling that we were being followed, though every time I turned around there was nothing but black shadows behind me and the faint ember of light in the cottage windows. I pressed on, as fast as I could manage considering the weight in my arms, the lacerations that were starting to open on the skin of my feet and the howling wind that slapped against my face with brute force.
"A little help, please," I said to the dark skies above through clenched teeth. Just then a swooshing noise sounded overhead but again, when I looked, there was nothing to see. I convinced myself that it was only the wind and that I was way too old to be discouraged by the darkness. I looked down at Tanya's face. Her eyes were closed and I could hardly tell anymore whether she was breathing or not. She looked frozen and stiff to me, though her cheeks were still a bit flushed from the fever. I made it to the corner and turned rightward, careful with my footing because dropping Tanya on the slippery ground would have surely killed her if the Cholera didn't.
It started to snow again and I bit down on my jaw harder, willing myself to get indoors before the wrath of the storm caught me on the road with my sick fiancé in tow. Just up ahead, the dark outline of a man started coming into focus. He was still and leaning against a wall to a bakery. I wondered what he was doing there, alone and in that kind of weather and even though the look of his silhouette alarmed me, I kept my head up and stared straight ahead, seeking comfort in the sound of my crunching footsteps. I passed him and said 'Good night,' and all he did was nod, but sure enough, a few paces after passing him I heard his footsteps fall in stride behind me.
I dared not look around just to make sure, and I dared not close my eyes and try to imagine it was not happening, lest I stumbled and dropped Tanya. Instead I quickened my footsteps and came to another corner without stopping to see if there were any horses or carriages coming across. There was no traffic to speak of that night because everyone was indoors where they should have been, hiding from the storm and wrapped in swaddling blankets at their fireplaces, drinking hot tea or cocoa with their horses secured in their stables; everyone except Tanya and I and the mysterious stranger behind us.
I started regretting my decision to brave the night to get to the doctor. I put Tanya in immediate danger by taking her into the streets after nightfall and even though it was still very early, the streets were abandoned and too quiet to be comforting. The footsteps behind got nearer, of course, because he wasn't carrying a 130 lb blond who seemed 10 lbs heavier since I had started walking.
Suddenly there was something cold against the back of my neck and I halted with a held breath, wishing that I could rest Tanya down somewhere so that I could turn around and sock the sodding fool in his mouth. The cold thing felt like a blade which he had very skillfully managed to get under my hair and inside the collars of my two coats.
"What do you want?" I bit out.
"I want you to give me the girl," the man growled next to my ear.
"The young lady?"
"Yes, the girl."
"You wouldn't prefer money? Or jewe…."
"Give me the pissing girl."
"Oh, a potty mouth," I grumbled as I let out a harsh breath and shifted Tanya's weight in my arms. The only idea that came to me was to distract him until I could figure out how to get out of the trouble I was in….the trouble she was in for that matter, because he was obviously an opportunistic rapist who had found an easy target.
"Have you been acquainted with the young lady, sir?" I asked. He pressed the blade deeper against my neck and I felt it start to puncture.
"No, but I'm about to. Surrender her or I shall carve you up, nice and proper."
"It's not a good idea for you to take the young lady, Mr…..er….you see, she has the Cholera and she's terribly ill. She's also my fiancé and I'm only now taking her to the doctor. I hardly think you wish to be in the company of infected…."
He slid the blade against my neck right at the edge of my hairline and I screamed out from the sting, slipped and almost dropped Tanya. I stumbled forward and somehow managed to whip my body around so that I fell on my back with Tanya against my chest. She never even budged or reacted from the fall. Just as the man grabbed her and tried to lift her off of me, something large and black swooped down from above, snatched him and disappeared with him above the rooftops.
"Jesus Christ!" I screamed in terror as I clutched Tanya to me and slid backward into a shadowed corner. With wild and panicked eyes I searched my immediate surroundings from where I sat, particularly the sky, and started chanting a string line of prayers to the various archangels, beseeching their protection from what I could only assume was a beastly creature of the night. I didn't even get a look at it. It was too dark and it was way too fast and unexpected for my eyes to follow.
My ass went numb and the freezing dampness started to gnaw at my bones. I needed to get up, I needed to run. I needed to hide or get indoors somewhere, away and out of sight with Tanya because as sure as I knew my name was Edward, I was sure that that creature was still out there….quiet….listening…..watching, waiting for my next move.
I tried to get up at least three times, but her weight was too much to manage with sore limbs and a slippery floor. And because I dared not drop her, I held her tight and bent her face into my chest and waited another few minutes until I could catch my breath and try again. The ice in the air was vicious and I felt it start to lacerate the insides of my nostrils, making every breath painful. I had already lost all feeing in my fingers, toes and backside and all of a sudden it wasn't just Tanya on death row anymore….I was right there along with her, on the brink of Hypothermia.
My lungs were burning, my breathing was shallow and my strength had failed me completely; even the new wound at the back of my neck had started to freeze over with the blistering, howling wind. But in spite of all that, I stayed alert, because even the cold couldn't temper the adrenaline that my fright had instigated within me. I knew it was still there. I could almost feel it waiting for me to step out, and why it should wait for me to step out of the corner I didn't know, because surely it could swoop down again and attack if it wanted to.
I kissed the top of Tanya's head then as I shed the first tears for her life.
"Meus diligo," I whispered against her head. "Me paenitet. Please forgive me. I will get you help. I promise, even if I must die trying."
"She is already dead," came a deep, growling sound from the eaves above my head. I scampered backward in surprise, but there was nowhere to go as I was already backed firmly against the wall.
"Who's there?" I demanded, though I sounded more frightened than alarming. At least the rattling of my heart helped to warm me up a little.
"Leave her," the voice came again, and no matter how hard I looked or stretched my neck to see, the thing never came into view. "You cannot help her anymore."
Like a maddened lunatic I started to pull the borders of the blankets away from the sides of her face so that I could inspect her. It couldn't have been true. She couldn't have died right there in my arms, a mere few buildings away from the doctor's. Heaven wouldn't be so cruel. I refused to believe it.
"Why is everyone trying to get me to hand over my fiancé tonight?" I screamed into the night as I touched her face with trembling hands, looking in despair as her head fell back and her mouth fell open. I widened my eyes and started to open the blankets at the center so that I could feel her body on the inside. She was still very warm and it gave me hope. "I will not leave her! If you want her you will have to kill me first!"
"I have no interest in the maiden," the growling voice said again. "My interest is in seeing you back to the cottage before you die yourself."
"Where are you?" I screamed out, beginning to get enraged at his cowardice and the fact that I couldn't get myself on my own two feet. "Pissing coward! Come out where I can see you? At least the rapist had then decency to show himself!"
Before I could utter another word, a looming, black figure landed in front of me and stood tall and wide in a long black cloak that touched the floor and a face that couldn't be seen inside the shadows of the generous hood of his cloak. I thought I saw something like black wings contract behind him as he flitted before my eyes, but it all happened so fast that I couldn't be sure. I had never seen anything so large in my life and it didn't help that I was crouched on the floor in a corner either. I tightened my arms protectively around Tanya and turned my body sideways, against the thing, so that I could shield her.
"Never, ever liken me to a human," the thing growled and stepped forward, exacerbating his towering stance over me. I all but lost my breath as he came in closer and though my heart pounded with the might of a lion, my brain started to feel like it lacked oxygen.
"What are you? What do you want?" I asked through clenched teeth. I was determined to see its face and determined to protect Tanya from it at all costs.
"Leave the maiden and get up. You are too weak to carry her back. Set her down and I will make sure you get to the cottage safely."
"I AM NOT LEAVING HER!" I screamed up at him, which made my breathing worse. I starting panting through short breaths, both because of the frigid cold and the way my heart stampeded in my chest. "Show yourself!"
I thought I even saw him cock his head to the side in mock curiosity.
"I stand right before you."
"But you still hide," I growled through clenched teeth. "Remove your headpiece so that I can see your face. You say you are not human. What are you? I demand to know! And what is it you want with my fiancé?"
He didn't move. He just stood there and I knew he was looking right at me because of the angle of his head, but he was still faceless inside the shadows of his cloak.
"I want nothing with your dead maiden."
That's when I went frantic again.
"Hush! She is not dead!" I shrieked as I started tearing through the blankets again. "Tanya?"
I got the blankets open at the front again and started running my hands over her chest and across her neck. "But you are warm meus diligo! How can you be dead when you are so warm?"
Like a wounded fool, I started to cry, shaking her body in my arms and screaming her name over and over into the night.
"Not yet!" I shrieked as I brought her lifeless form up to my face and smothered my face into her neck. "Tanya! Wake up!"
"This is senseless!" The thing growled and took another threatening step forward. "Leave her! Get back to the cottage and I will clear your path!"
"What do you want with me?" I screamed up at him with blurred vision. "She is dead! I have lost her! I have failed her! She was to be my wife! I cannot leave her out here like a pissing prostitute in the street!"
"Then I will carry her for you back to the cottage."
Something was oddly peculiar about his focus on me and all of a sudden the axis of every first impression I had of him shifted drastically. Still clinging Tanya to me, I tried to stand again, but slipped and fell back to the floor with a hard thud. The thing cursed and before I could blink again, he had Tanya in his arms. I went crazy then. I swung to face the wall and crawled upward with numb hands, and once I was on my feet again I lunged at the thing to get Tanya from him. With one graceful movement he blocked my attack and got me by the neck to hold me suspended off the floor. His fingers were as hard as rock and as cold as the snow, and somehow I just knew that he spared me the full crushing force of his hand. I gagged and swung my legs wildly beneath me as I tried to get my fingers under his steel grip at my throat. The gentleness with which he placed me on my feet right after was a direct contradiction to the power and roughness I felt in his hand. I leaned over and held my knees once I was on foot again and gasped for air.
"You tried to attack me?" He asked curiously as if nothing like that had ever happened before.
I raised my hand and grabbed the tail end of one the blankets that hung off Tanya's dead body.
"Give her to me," I gasped. He rocked his head back then and roared in laughter; a sound so deafening and blood curdling that I almost cringed and fell back into the corner where I was crouched before.
"I knew you were special," he said and turned away from me.
"No human has ever dared to attempt an attack on me before you, Mr. Masen."
"How do you know my name?"
"I know a lot about you," his voice was grainy, rough and deep.
I stood erect then and shifted my eyes between Tanya in his one arm and the faceless shadow inside the hood.
"You were following me earlier tonight."
"I was. You knew. You are perceptive."
"I don't like the word follow," he said.
"Then what do you call it?"
I raised an eyebrow.
It was all too surreal. Everything about that night was peculiar and deviant, down to the almost gothic snarl of the wind.
"What do you want from me? You obviously want something or else you wouldn't be…."
He lowered his head to look at Tanya then looked back at me again.
"You were about to attack me, knowing you couldn't defeat me, and even though you think she is dead ….because…."
"I love her," I bit out and I gaped at her body in despair. "She was to be…" Then I sighed.
The next few seconds flew by in taut silence and only when I looked back into the vacuum where I assumed a face would be, he spoke.
"Are you willing to make a pact for her life?" He asked.
I swallowed and frowned copiously up at him. "What on earth are you referring to?"
"I am straight with my words so listen carefully, because I will not say it again. I will sound my offer once and I expect your answer immediately. If you fail to comply, I will take you and your dead fiancé to her cottage door and leave promptly and you will not hear from me again."
I nodded and gulped in agitation. "I understand."
"You are a theology major at the university," he stated.
"Though you have no intentions of becoming a priest, you study it because you are somehow entranced by celestial beings and their power. However, you keep yourself at arms length from any commitment to it."
"How in heaven's name…."
"I told you already, I know a lot about you. Please do not make me repeat myself. I am not very patient and already I have stepped out of my jurisdiction by speaking with you at all. We do not have much time left."
All I could do was frown and shake my head and try my best to keep up.
"I will save her life if you make a pact to enlist yourself in the seminary tomorrow by nightfall and do what needs doing by way of making yourself a priest."
A barrage of questions and exclamations started attacking me right then and I didn't know where to start.
"What do you mean by…save her life? You said she was already dead." Suddenly I wasn't so sure anymore and I hurried to her body hanging from his arm. I couldn't believe it when I felt a faint pulse under her jaw. In my panic at the presence of the creature and the command in his voice when he told me she was dead, I believed it automatically, even though I knew she was still alive. I knew by the warm and pliant molds of her skin as I ran my panicking hands over her, but still, I had believed him.
"She is as good as dead," he said. "Minutes left, seconds even. She would have died tonight anyway. It is her time. Even if you had made it to the doctor, he has no medicine to cure what she has. It was a wasted trip."
"How will you save her?" I asked, getting straight to the point; lunging at any opportunity to save her.
"All you need to know is that I will. What is your answer? Time is running out."
"She will be healed? Tonight?"
"But…," I held my hair at the both sides of my head and widened my eyes as I stared despairingly at her face. "If I say yes and do what you ask…..I will have to leave her."
"Give me your answer."
"First tell me why," I demanded with a racing and unsteady heart as I looked up at his menacing figure.
"I am a guardian of the church from a certain legion of your heaven, bound to the earth. That is all I can tell you. There is a drastic shortage of priests. I have a quota to fill and you are my pick."
"This is not real," I shook my head, feeling as if I was going crazy, still clutching my hair in panicked shock.
"It is real. Give me you answer. You will not see me after tonight, nor will you tell anyone about me. I strictly forbid it, or you will suffer the consequences."
"This is ludicrous."
"Is that your answer?"
"What about Tanya? She was to be my wife! This will devastate her!"
"Devastation is an emotion only the living can suffer. She won't if she's dead."
"Aargh!" I exclaimed, tortured by the choice of saving her, only to abandon her right after.
"This is the last time I will prompt you. Give me your answer now."
"What will happen if I agree but then break the contract?"
"If you breech, then so will I and her consequential death will not be by my hands. It will happen automatically because as I said…..tonight is her natural time to die. If she lives, it will be on borrowed time. You must keep that pact if you make it."
I raised myself again and dropped my head, then with one last longing look at the face of the goddess whose beauty defied even the clutches of death, I sighed and gave in to his request.
"Save her. I'll do it."
As soon as I said it, my feet lifted off the round and everything flashed by me in a matter of seconds. Before I could even react to the shock and terror of being airborne, I was placed before the front door of the Denali cottage with Tanya back in my arms.
"I'll be watching you," the voice warned and then faded away.
I whipped my body around toward his sound and stared out into the darkness, turned my head left and right, looked up and down, but he was nowhere. He disappeared just as swiftly as he had appeared and the next thing I knew Tanya opened her eyes and smiled up at me.
That was in 1804, four years prior to the night I stood with her letter in my hand, begging me to visit her one last time before my ordination into the priesthood. I knew I shouldn't have. I knew it had the markings of something unclean and that the one who called himself my "guardian" had in fact been watching me since that first night. I hadn't seen or heard from him after our first encounter, but I knew he was there. Just like that night when I felt his presence behind me like an unearthly stalker in the night, I felt him near, all the time, checking on me….making sure that I stayed true to our pact.
The tragedy of the human condition however, is weakness. The spirit is always willing to do right, but the flesh is weak. We are emotionally charged and driven by entities that make it impossible to resist our need for love and physical human contact. It may have been easier for me, like I had witnessed with the priests I came to know, to resist what needed resisting if I hadn't known it beforehand; if I hadn't known what it felt like to be loved and desired by a woman and to love her back. But in my four years at the seminary, studying diligently to become the priest that I didn't really want to become, I hadn't been able to fall out of love with her. And because I knew how dangerous it was to be distracted by that carnal urge, I severed all contact with her and made her believe that I didn't want her anymore. I had hoped that she would grow bitter with hatred and turn away from me, but as the years crawled by her letters kept coming to my door. They started off despondent and cluttered with questions and pain, then they turned angry and accusing, then they turned into peculiar rants about odd, random things that had nothing to do with us or anything at all. No letter however was without evidence of her love, and it stunned me the way she clung on to hope that one day I would turn away from the seminary and go back to her.
As if she knew that something wasn't right.
I couldn't turn my back on the seminary though. My one encounter with the creature of the night four years earlier was enough to convince me that he was to be taken by his word; and had I broken our pact, Tanya's life would have been forfeited.
When I finished reading her last letter I removed the guard from my lantern and held the edge of the page to the open flame. Once it caught fire, I dropped it into the ash tray and watched it burn, like I had with all of her letters before that. I paced the floor of my room and frowned into the darkness, fighting between the decision to go to her or stay away as I knew I should. After pacing myself into a sweat, I ended up convincing myself that it would be harmless to pay her a short visit and that I was by no means breaking the pact. I would see her, allow her to offload all her anger and pain on me, placate myself and her, somewhat, then return to the seminary and continue on as usual. I threw off my bedroom robe and changed quickly into my trousers, shirt, sweater, coat and shoes, then slipped out of my room quietly. There was no set curfew in the seminary, but there was an unspoken rule or expectation that the students not leave the premises after a certain hour. I was effectively breaking my first rule in four years…and the first one of the night.
Henri was on the ground floor stacking hoards of old newspapers to be taken out the next morning to the trash.
"You are working late tonight, Henri." I said to him. I saw him notice my attire, but he nodded and pretended that he didn't.
"I must step out for a short while," I went on, then gestured to the staircase I had just descended with my thumb. "You were right. It was an urgent matter that I must attend to, and it is…anomyme."
He nodded again and made a gesture with his hands as if to say he understood. I patted him appreciatively on his shoulder and left through the back gates, because our one security guard had a preference for the booth at the front.
With no horse to aid my journey, I made haste on foot; mapping out the route in my head that would never be forgotten to me. I passed the spot on the stretch with the bakery where it all happened, the spot that haunted me and raised my pores every time I passed it. And he was with me, I knew, because he promised he would be; following and "protecting". So I walked in confidence without fear for my safety from any human element. After meeting him four years prior, I had submerged myself in every piece of literature I could find about angels, looking for some kind of explanation about him, but nothing I read described him to me or offered any answers to my nagging questions. So, I let it go.
I arrived at the path off the road to the Denali cottage, and stared at the door for the longest while. Again, I battled with my conscience and though I came close to turning away and returning to the seminary more than once, the look of the place tugged at my heart strings and made me oddly nostalgic. She opened the door after one knock and when she did, she stumbled backward in surprise with her hands clasped over her chest.
"May I come in?" I asked.
Her eyes were already swarmed with tears as she nodded and stepped aside for me to enter. The smell of the cottage was exactly the same, and every single piece of furniture was in the exact spot I remembered. The only thing different about the place was the sound. It was awfully quiet for the Denali household, or for any household endowed with four women for that matter.
"Where is your family?" I asked. She continued to stare at me, awestruck, then took a deep breath and dropped her hands to her sides.
"Back in Italy."
I frowned and shifted my eyes between hers searchingly.
"For a holiday?" I asked.
"No," she shook her head. "They went back two months ago. Father got an offer back home, so they all left."
She nodded and her tears started streaming viciously.
"Because..." she pulled her eyebrows up and to the center in a heart wrenching expression."I couldn't leave. You are here, Edward."
"Tanya," I exhaled a rough breath and took two steps toward her. "You shouldn't have stayed behind. You foolish girl."
"I couldn't leave without seeing you again."
Though still beautiful, her face had the marks of pain and grief etched into her youthful skin, leaving her with a look that made her older than she really was. It hurt to see the dimness in her eyes. She used to have a sparkle in them, a mischievous sparkle that could excite the most dormant of old men. Her laugh used to bounce off every person in a room. Even if you didn't know what she was laughing at you found yourself laughing along like a giddy fool, infected by the contagious spirit in her. But I had to focus on the present and though it tore at me, I had to make her understand this time, finally, that we could not be together. Whether through the priesthood or through her death, our destinies were not cut from the same cloth and we were not meant to be together.
"Well now you have seen me," I said. "So after tonight, you can go back to Italy. It is not right for a young girl to live on her own like this."
"I was not supposed to be on my own. I was supposed to be with you."
I closed my eyes and clenched my teeth, trying to stifle the urge to hold her. She looked like she desperately needed comforting and seeing her for the first time in four years fueled a dormant flame in me. "Tanya. It is better this way, and regardless of the way I feel about you, I have to do this and you have to go away."
She frowned at me suspiciously and took a step toward me, closing the space between us so that we were closer than we had been in the longest while. Her eyes scanned my face for an answer to her questions and then she grabbed her throat and inhaled.
"You still love me," she whispered as a tear rolled down her cheek.
"Not even four years has changed that look on your face, Edward. It is the same today as it was back then and I know you better than anyone else. You still love me."
"Of course I still love you!" I growled and stepped into her menacingly. I regretted my words immediately afterward because instead of turning her away from me, they gave her hope.
"Then why are you doing this?"
"I have to."
"I do not understand!"
"Regardless…you must accept it."
"Hush! This was a mistake….I am sorry, but I must leave at once."
"Wait!" She cried out and grabbed my arm as I turned to leave. With my back to her and her fingers enclosed around the sleeves on my forearm, I bent my head, shuddering from the mere touch of her. I hadn't been touched by a woman in four years, and specifically by her, and even though the contact was innocent, it charged something inside of me and overrode my better judgment.
"There is a reason I asked you to come," she choked through her tears. I did not pull my arm away from her hand. Instead, I tried to listen.
"Once you are ordained, you will close yourself off forever; not only to me but to everything instinctual and impulsive in you…."
"What is your point?"
She squeezed my arm and sent a dangerous shiver up to my shoulders.
"Let me give you something that you will not be able to have for the rest of your life."
I turned to face her and she took another step closer. I could feel her breath on my face she was so close. I could smell the fragrance in her hair and the sun on her skin. The molten churning at the base of my stomach shot through my legs and all of a sudden there was nothing more important than enabling it.
"Let me give you what you have saved yourself for all those years," her eyes dropped to my chest and she tilted her head slightly to the side.
"We were supposed to be with each other, Edward," she went on. "And if I have to accept this, at least, give me what you have promised me all those years ago before you leave me for good."
"Woman," I exhaled down into her face. "You are the devil himself."
"Maybe," she sniffled. "But at least, if I go to hell for taking what's mine, I shall go happily."
"Hell is not something to play with, Tanya."
"I already know hell," she bit out harshly. "My life right now… is hell. Do not preach to me, you do not have the right. You know you want to do this and I know that you still want me. I can see it in your eyes. I can see the red glow of desire lick behind your irises."
I almost fell to my knees when I saw her pull the string of her corset from behind. The thing slacked instantly and her breasts relaxed inside of it. She started peeling off her layers right there in front of me and my eyes fastened themselves to her, like a hypnotized puppet will no will of its own.
"What are you doing?"
"Make me a woman, Edward," she whispered with heavily hooded eyes. "I gave you a promise, that you would be my first and I intend to keep that promise and make you keep yours. After this, you won't have to deal with me ever again."
I grabbed her by her shoulders and shook her vilely. "If you think this will make me change my mind!"
Her dress dropped to the floor and my eyes almost burned themselves out when I saw her for the first time in nothing but her undergarments. She unclasped the clip in her hair next and let her tousled locks fall to her shoulders, weakening me from the core straight out.
"Witch," I hissed, breathily.
She smiled and divested herself of the rest. I had never seen a naked woman before then and she knew that. She knew that the sight of her curves and her breasts and the hair that concealed her most private parts would shatter my last reserve, and that hers in particular would appeal especially to me.
With an expelled groan under my breath I grabbed for her and crushed her against me. The sound she emitted as our tongues collided hardened me in my trousers and after that moment, I was lost to all reason and conscience. I had her in my arms, hot and languid and offering me the one thing notorious enough to be the demise of all mankind. She didn't hesitate to undress me and before long we were both naked and pressed to each other, falling to the floor by the fireplace, robbing each other of our chastity in the most unaffectionate and greedy manner possible.
I was rough because I had been without, her seduction being too errant and malicious for it to incite tenderness from me. I drove myself into her like a blind thief, hearing her cries of both pleasure and pain, feeling her body contract and loosen around at me at the same time; not once considering the consequences my lust would confer afterward. As far as I was concerned, after could wait. The magnificent sensation of her hot, moist, virginal walls around me was inebriating and before long I was thrusting into her so hard and squeezing every soft part of her body, that even her screams were driving me over the edge. I had never felt anything like it before and suddenly I wondered if I could ever live without it again.
We made eye contact and I saw the glint of mischief in her eyes, the one I used to know, that knowing and entrapping look like she was up to no good. It made sense to me then; her plan. Her seduction was supposed to be her way of getting me hooked on her again, drugged to the point where I wouldn't be able to walk away. She couldn't keep me with love alone, so she tried to trap me with sex. I got angry as the connection in our eyes fired off. I was carnally weak, a failure at best for having broken my vows to the church two nights shy of receiving my robes. Not even going back to the seminary quietly for confession would erase what I had done or wipe away the stink that I had smeared all over myself. It would follow me everywhere and everyday. It would stay with me and the scent of our sex would cling to me forever, I was sure.
I growled into her face as I slammed my body into hers, over and over, so hard and fast that even her screaming turned into a shrieking sound with no break for breath. Her head was thrown back and her hair was flying everywhere and with every thrust against her inner wall, her legs would jerk back. Her nails were biting into my shoulders and her breasts were bobbing like obedient, excitable little soldiers underneath me. I grabbed her hair and forced her head back even further so that I could run my tongue from her collar bones to her chin, in nasty depiction of ownership, marking her next with my teeth and a sucking so vicious that I could no longer tell if her screams were from pleasure or pain.
It was over all too soon as I felt my self harden impossibly more inside of her. She was going into convulsions by then, glowing red from perspiration and sexual gratification. I pulled her head back harder as I exploded, watching the way she clenched her eyes tightly shut. She sucked in a harsh breath and tightened around my erupting erection in response to the low growl I let out against her cheek. She didn't orgasm with me, probably because it was her first time but that didn't take away from the spell that had her drugged and flushed.
I dropped her unceremoniously and pushed off of her, aghast and confused. She started laughing in delight, rocking her head from side to side with closed eyes and her legs still spread wide before me. I saw the blood of her innocence smeared on the insides of her thighs and I turned away from it quickly, disgusted with myself moments too late. Even though my heart was not completely set in becoming a priest, I had always felt an inclination toward it, or at the very least, a strong passion for knowledge of celestial beings. I had lost my chance at love and traded my freedom to spare Tanya's life, but at the end of the day, my life at the seminary was quiet and peaceful and I had grown comfortable with the lifestyle. My relationship with God was neither lukewarm nor overtly passionate but I tried to be loyal and for the most part, I thought we understood each other. But now...I had destroyed it, and possibly even Tanya's life, as I broke not only my vows, but my pact with the angel of the night.
How could I return to the priesthood after what I had just done?
"My God!" Tanya shrieked. "That was invigorating!" She sat up with her knees bent, her legs spread and her back arched so that her breasts were pointing toward me.
"I want to do it again," she grinned and licked her lips. I shot up off the floor and started retrieving my strewn clothes.
"I have to leave," I said.
"What?" She exclaimed and stood up to come after me. "But…..Edward! You only just got here. The night still has so many hours left. We could do it again...all night long if you want to."
She held my shoulders from behind and pressed her cheek between my shoulder blades.
"Oh Edward," she whispered. "You are even more wonderful than I ever dreamed you would be!"
I shrugged out of her hold and started pulling on my under garments, hearing her stomp her foot behind me in dissidance. When I turned around she had her arms folded across her chest and a scowl on her face.
"Tanya!" I growled. "You have no idea what just happened here! I have gone against everything I have devoted my life to for the past four years!"
"And what about who you had devoted yourself to before that?" She screamed at me. "You arrogant, selfish man!"
"And foolish," I bit out as I pulled on my trousers next. "Don't forget foolish."
"What is so wrong with letting yourself enjoy what you were made for?"
"That seems paradoxical coming from you," I answered. "You were the one hell bent on waiting for marriage, and now you are trying to convince me that you think it's ok to abandon yourself to impulses?"
"I think differently now, obviously. You forget, I have no marriage to look forward to."
"Tell me something," I said angrily, as I dressed myself with rough, impatient hands. "Were you telling the truth about wanting to wait for marriage or was that your way of pressuring me into marriage?"
She pouted slightly and swung her hips back and forth. My eyes dropped to her hips and when I caught sight of her womanhood again, my breath hitched. I could still smell her moisture reeking off of her like a drugging sexual mantra. Her first time, and already she was a vixen.
"Does it even matter anymore?" She asked and passed her finger down the front of my shirt to the button on my trousers.
I swallowed and brushed her hand away, but then she grabbed my testicles with her other hand and squeezed me. I fell forward against her and gasped through clenched teeth, and just like that, I was hard and ready again. She liked my reaction and turned her face in to the side of mine where she kissed, as she massaged my testicles with her left hand. I groaned gutturally and grabbed her by her hips again.
"You see," she whispered with hooded eyes. "This is what you were made for, Edward. You were made for me. See how I know how to touch you? You never have to live without this again, Edward. Never again. I promise to please you every day... every hour if you want me to. I still love you."
I closed my eyes and bit down on my jaw, trying to find the will to back away, but then she pushed her hand into my pants and got my bare flesh in her hands.
"Imagine," she whispered and she squeezed and massaged, making my eyes roll into the back of my head. "Imagine my body clinging to you every day, my limbs wrapped round you, my hands touching you like this, grabbing you, my breasts in your face, hearing me scream your name."
Then she took my hand in her free one, put it between her legs and curled my fingers around her moist flesh.
"Imagine," she gasped and licked my ear with her wet, hot tongue. "Sex,that keeps getting better and better and…."
"No..." I grunted harshly, pushing her away from me violently. I grabbed my hair in two fistfuls and turned my back to her, breathing heavily though my sexual frustration and disorientation. I almost admitted it to her. I almost told her right then and there about the pact made with the dark angel four years ago that kept me away from her; and that if I failed to deliver she would die. "Get away from me. You are a seductress and I have to remove myself."
"How can you even think to walk away from me now after what just happened?" She cried out. "What are you? A monster?"
"It is what you offered!" I screamed back. "You offered yourself to me, knowing that I am a man of God and knowing full well that I intended to return to the seminary! I did not come back for you, Tanya! I called on you because you plead with me in your letter. And now the visit is over."
"But I can't let you leave!" She wailed, pleadingly. "I thought I could let myself feel you like that and then watch you walk away again, but now that I've had you, it is impossible to let you go, Edward! You were the only man to touch me!"
I bent my head and squeezed my hands into tight fists, praying for the right words to appease her and for the strength to walk away.
"Good bye, Tanya," I said and turned to leave. She let out the most agonizing scream then. The sound of it terrified me and froze me in my tracks. Every pore on my body rose. I had heard about it before, but hadn't known the full hair raising effect of it until I heard it with my own ears; the sound of a scorned woman.
All of a sudden, I couldn't get far enough away from her.
"Edward!" She screamed. I didn't turn back. I reached for the doorknob, hearing her footsteps scamper about behind me. "I swear to you! I cannot do this anymore, especially now. The pain of living without you is more than I can bear! Please! Do not leave me! Me paenitet, sed fieri sentio et excrucior!"
I remembered the words from her written letter to me. Me paenitet, sed fiery sentio et excrucior; Latin for, "I am sorry, but this is how I feel and it is torture."
I closed my eyes painfully tight and turned the door knob.
"Good bye," I said again in a deep, gruff voice. "Some things cannot be explained, but you ought to know that there is no other way. I am doing this for you."
"Then farewell, my love," she wept. I raised my head and stared at the door as I opened it, still not able to turn around and look her in the face.
"In aeternum te amabo. I will love you always," she uttered, then let out a loud choking gasp.
The sickening thud of her body hitting the floor made me whip my body around. Her naked body lay sprawled, with limbs strewn out disgracefully at her sides. Her hair was tumbled over her face so I couldn't see her eyes, and the dagger that stood erect from the center of her chest created an oozing mess of blood that ran hotly down to her stomach and over her sides to the floor. I dropped to my knees, stunned and wide eyed as her body twitched for the last time; blasting the air out of my lungs.
"Tanya!" I screamed with outstretched arms, my body shaking in fright and shock. "Deus Meus! What have I done!"
I crawled on my knees to her side and pulled her body into my lap, hunched over her and continued to scream until I tasted my own blood in my throat.
It was the second time I had looked down at her dead face, even if the first time she wasn't completely dead yet. I screamed in terror and I screamed in anger. I screamed in agony and disillusionment with God and I screamed out in shock. How could it have gone so awfully wrong? It was just supposed to be a visit, a few short hours with an old friend and somebody I loved. But in that time, I had snuck out of the seminary, called on my ex fiancé who I knew was still in love with me, knowing no good could come of it, broken my vow of abstinence, lost my virginity, took hers, and caused her death. If I had stayed put and just left it alone, she would have been sitting by her window right then, presumably on the look out for me; but she would have lived.
The emotional trauma of her first sexual experience with the man she loved but couldn't have, compounded with her years of longing and grief was a sure recipe for disaster. I should have known.
I pressed her bloody, limp frame to me and the dagger came between us. I ripped it from her chest and the slippery, gurgling sound it made as it slid out of her almost made me gag. I dropped the heavy, stained thing to the floor and wept like a child for the tragedy of losing her in that way, and for every wrong turn I had made since the night she was supposed to die from the cholera. That death, though uncomfortable, would not have tainted her soul like this. She was dying naturally, in her own time, and I had interjected and stopped what was natural and given her life that she was probably not supposed to have. And because of that, every forbidden day she lived was torture for her. She was unhappy, she was lonely and she had pined for me while I sat in a seminary studying my books, thinking that I was doing right by her.
Tanya's blood was on my hands. I had single handedly destroyed that girl's spirit and soul by stepping in the way of fate, and in the end it turned out worse than I could have ever imagined. She was supposed to die in 1805, naturally, young, loved and happy. But instead, she died in 1809, unnaturally, older than she was, scorned and bitter. I let go of her then and let her body fall from my lap. She rolled onto her side like a limp dolly, leaving me horrified and covered in her blood.
I ran to the front door and buttoned up my coat in front of me, glanced at her one last time then escaped into the dark night. I had no idea where I was going, but I was going fast. I ran from her house and I ran in the opposite direction of the seminary, sucking at the cold air and fighting to see through the water in my eyes. I couldn't go back to the seminary. I had damned my soul in too many ways for me to walk back in there and expect a mere confession to wash me clean.
I ran like a maddened lunatic, blind and unfocused, toward the railway station with the plan to flee town. Nothing made sense except the fact that the body of a woman everyone knew to be my ex fiancé would be found on the night I was missing from the seminary. It wasn't enough to convict me, but it was enough to make me want to flee the suspicion and accusations. And what if Henri had read my letter before bringing it up to my room? He knew Tanya well because she came by often to drop letters, hoping to catch a glimpse of me, though she never did. The walls of the seminary were high and women who weren't cooks or maids were not allowed past the front door.
I wasn't only running from the potential trouble of conviction, I was running from my life and from all the forms of failure and debauchery I had piled upon myself. I fell in the street at least five times in my hysteria, wailing and swearing and gnashing my teeth.
Then without warning I was grabbed and pulled into the sky; moving against the biting wind at a speed that sucked the breath out of me. All physical sensation in my body was lost. I might as well have been a rock being pulled through the air for all the use I was to myself. I was so high that there was nothing but darkness and shadows beneath, even the thing that carried me was too heavily cloaked in black for me to see him. However, I didn't have to see to know that it was him and that he had come back for me... that he had been watching all along.
He watched and he waited and now that I had made a complete mess of everything, he was enraged and quite possibly flying me to my death. Our descent was swift and we landed on the flat area of a rooftop between three massive, slanting rafters of a building that must have been at least three stories high. When we got low enough he dropped me then flew a little distance away to perch himself on the peak of a vertical beam. I scampered to my feet once I landed and dared not look over the edge. I was intolerably afraid of heights and the ghastly trip it took to get me on that rooftop alone had managed to turn every part of my insides, out. In fact, the trauma of it was suddenly too much and I bent over and relieved myself of my guts.
"Humans," the winged creature grumbled in irritation. Even after four years, I remembered his voice. Once I was done emptying myself, I stumbled away from the mess and looked over at the perched thing. I could see him clearer that night than four years before. The storm back then made the sky overcast and starless. But on this night, the sky was clear though cold, and the moon lit the rooftop where I stood, casting beams of light near the angel with black wings. His wings were folded behind him and once again the large hood of his black cloak engulfed his face in shadows.
"What is your name?" I asked.
He didn't answer.
"You've been watching me," I continued.
Again no answer.
"You know what happened tonight."
"I am disappointed," he growled.
"You? Heh….how do think I feel?"
"Have you any idea the trouble you have caused me?"
"I think I can guess," I grumbled as I glanced behind and wobbled slightly. "God, I hate heights."
"That's a pity," he said. I raised my eyes to him and frowned. Everything was a fast blur. The events with Tanya, my hysterical attempt at escape, my flight, and now this.
"What are you going to do with me?" I asked.
"I have no idea," He said, raising himself effortlessly to stand on one foot on the pointed beam. His movement caused his cloak to swarm out around him and his wings to open up slightly.
Graceful, I thought.
"I have to hand you over to my Elders. Our pact was broken, you have to pay...as well as, I have revealed myself to you...and we have to do something about that."
"Your…..elders? Elders? There are more?"
"You have gone and created a monstrous mess for me to clean, Edward," he said. "Not only is the pact broken, but you have caused a death that would not have happened had you not made the mistake you made tonight."
I sighed and squeezed my eyes painfully tight as the memory of Tanya assaulted me again.
"You are no longer fit for the priesthood like I envisioned," he said.
"Listen chap," I started getting annoyed. "I was fine before you showed up four years ago. You were the one who appeared and got mixed up in my life. I didn't ask anything of you. You offered and I accepted, regretfully, and now because of it I am in this mess, not you."
"Precisely and that is why I am so tempted to end your life right now, vengefully, for the complication you have caused me."
He jumped down to the floor with his wings at half mast and turned his broad back to me.
"What kind of creature are you?" I asked, staring at his wings in awe.
"You're oddly curious for a man in so much trouble."
"What trouble? Like death? Death does not scare me," I said to his back. "Especially after tonight, life does. Death would be nothing but a welcomed escape from all of this."
He turned on me then.
"So kill me," I said.
He cocked his head to the side and stood quiet for a long while, staring so intently through his black shadow for a face that my pores rose. He embodied danger and darkness in the most complicated form of simplicity, and when he started moving toward me, I flinched inwardly.
"Aren't you afraid of me?" He asked.
Just then something slick and dark landed soundlessly behind him and my eyes averted to the smaller yet no less enigmatic silhouette of another just like him.
"Emmett," the female voice called. "What are you doing? Are you trying to get yourself killed?"
I looked back at the looming figure right before me, silent, dark, unmoving, eerie, frightening...and I swallowed. I was afraid.
"Emmett?" I said up to him. "That is your name?"
"They've sent me for you," the female one said from where she stood. "We have to go, now."
"I know what I want from you now," Emmett said to me. "As reparation for breaking our pact."
"Emmett!" She called again. "They are angered. Come now!"
"What do you want?" I swallowed.
"I want you to come with me willingly."
"Either way you don't have a choice. Willing or not, you have to be presented and your fate will be decided upon, but if you come willingly, things may perhaps….turn out differently."
"I don't understand."
Suddenly the female one took to flight and landed right behind Emmett. She was much shorter than he was. In fact, she seemed shorter than I was, but I may as well have been the size on an ant next to her, for all the silent power she emitted.
"No time for questions," Emmett said. "Speak now."
"Never any time," I mumbled.
"Now!" His voice boomed.
"I am willing."
The girl was the first to fly off and before I could catch a proper breath Emmett had me by my torso under one of his rock solid arms. In the matter of seconds we were alongside the female, gliding side by side effortlessly without a single flap of their black wings. I couldn't bear to keep my eyes open. The knowledge alone of being so high up started to jog my stomach and the visual affirmation would have been the end of me. Just as I was closing my eyes, I saw the female's hood fly back with the force of the wind, but still shut my eyes stubbornly. Like a cornered and threatened child, I willed myself to open my eyes again so that I could at least see what she looked like and then maybe I could turn my face upward to see if Emmett's hood had blown back too. But with my feet being pulled behind me with the speed of our flight and the slapping cold against my face, it was better to hold my breath, hold on for dear life, squeeze my eyes shut and beg for it to be over.
The journey didn't take long, but by the time I was on foot again, I was disoriented, freezing to death, unable to stand upright and wanting to vomit again. I was ushered quickly through double doors to what looked like an ancient and abandoned church, judging by the moonlit stained glass windows and the gigantic markings of crucifix up ahead. The ceiling was completely torn open, either from dilapidation or vandalism, but it worked as a skylight and the moon shone directly through it and cast its light on things on the inside that would have otherwise been only shadows. There were four steps that ran from one end of the empty hall to the next, up at the front, and I guessed that an altar was probably set up there once. I was put to stand at the bottom of the steps and when I was finally able to stand upright and draw a deep breath, I looked up. The gripping urge to turn and flee snagged me then, at the sight before me.
Emmett by himself was disturbing enough. Emmett alongside the female was intimidating to say the least, but standing before nine of them all at once was downright petrifying, and it was all I could do to keep myself from collapsing in sheer fright. What I did do however, was bend over and hurl for the second time that night.
"Humans." I heard Emmett say condescendingly.
He and the female took their places at the third step from the bottom, standing in line with and opposite each other. Below them on the second step from the bottom were two others, and on the first step from the bottom closest to me were two more. At the very top, standing in the center, were three. It looked like a formation of some sort with the three at the top being the pinnacle or the point of the inverted V. The ones on the steps fanned outward with the two on the bottom step standing the furthest apart. Besides Emmett and the girl that came to get him, I couldn't decipher which were male and which were female. They all wore black cloaks and looked like exact replicas of each other, height and size being the only differentiator between them with their black folded wings at their backs and their heads, hooded.
"Emmett," said a male from the top.
"Carlilse," Emmett responded.
"Stand next to the human."
Emmett obeyed and broke formation to stand at my side.
"Present your case," another one from the top said. "And be quick. The night hours are limited and we have far to go."
"The human has violated a pact and needs to repay," Emmett said.
I looked up at Emmett incredulously.
"Is this why you asked me to come willingly? So that you could get me into trouble?"
"Don't speak unless you are asked to," Emmett growled under his breath.
"And what about the pact you have broken, Emmett?" The same one asked. "You have committed a serious offense by disobeying the rules and revealing yourself to a human."
"With all due respect, Aro," Emmett began. "I had a worthy reason and it was not done without heavy thought and consideration. I was not trying to be reckless."
"Adding one priest to the order does not justify you violating The Legion's rules. You have exposed yourself to a human, exposed The Legion, interfered in the lives of humans, saved a life that was not supposed to be saved, then lost it disparagingly. And after all that, your purpose behind it has failed to materialize. We are not allowed to interfere in humans' lives, Emmett. You know that. Our only purpose is to protect from a safe distance."
The voice of Aro came down on me next.
"You won't become a priest now will you, human?" He asked me. I gulped and blinked upward.
"I cannot," I managed to say.
"Nor should you," he answered. "Not after the situation you have created tonight. At the very least, ordination in two days will be out of the question."
"The fine for your violation, Emmett," Aro said. "Is usually expulsion from The Legion."
Emmett took a step forward and did something that made me stop breathing entirely. He raised his hands and pulled his hood down exposing this profile to me. It was the most magnificent thing I had ever seen. His skin looked just as taut and as hard as he felt and his skin tone was so pale that no color could have been attributed to it, though if I had to choose a color, I would have to say….grayish white, like ceramic or perhaps….stone. His face had human proportions and what looked like human bone structure but I was almost positive that there was more to him than that because he was most certainly not human. His hair was as black as his cloak and when he glanced down at me his eyes were a penetrating, liquid gray.
"Aro," Emmett said. "The human has kept his silence and has not told anyone about me. He is the only one who has seen, so therefore, my exposure has been limited."
"One is bad enough. It means his human life or his memories must be forfeited one way or another, and you are to blame for that."
"I agree," Emmett said. "And that is why I want to keep him."
"Keep…wha...w….wh…keep…me? What in heaven's name does that mean?"
Emmett ignored me and continued to speak.
"I ask to have a say in his sentence since I am his Guardian."
"You have no right to ask anything of the sort since you are about to receive a sentence yourself."
"Aro," the one named Carlisle spoke up. "If it pleases you, allow me to find suitable punishment for Emmett since he belongs to my Host and I will report to you on the status."
After a few seconds of consideration, Aro nodded.
"If you step out of line again, Emmett, The Elders will deal with you ourselves," Aro said and started to descend the steps authoritatively.
"Human," he said to me. I flinched because he came too close and despite how hard I searched the shadows of his cloak, I couldn't see his face. "Your life as you know it has been forfeited due to the actions of a careless Gargoyle. Entering into a pact with one means that unless you deliver, you are bound to him and his will. Seeing that you will not be upholding your end of your contract, especially after having received what he had promised, you have to repay. There are only three ways out of it, hypnosis, death or metamorphosis. Death is recommended because it will be the least expensive method for you. Hypnosis will complicate your life by taking your memories and making you vulnerable to the very unpleasant situation you just left behind. If you choose metamorphosis, your sentence will have to be determined by an elder like myself and it will not be easy for you. You have the choice."
"Death," I said at once. Metamorphosis and whatever it meant to them sounded awfully painful and after the night I'd had, I really didn't want to return to that horrid situation of a dead Tanya and an investigating priesthood on my case...least of all with no memory of it all. Death seemed to be the best way out of my trouble.
At the same time however, I couldn't get the word Gargoyle out of my head. He had just said...Gargoyle.
"He came willingly," Emmett spoke up. "That means metamorphosis."
"The human has chosen," Aro said in a bored tone. "What is your fascination with this one anyway?"
Emmett glanced at me then back to Aro.
"He was born to be a soldier of the church. I have been his Guardian ever since his boy days and I have seen his life follow a succinct path that kept leading him back to the church. He is fascinated with our kind, has studied us for most of his life thus far and was about to become a priest. He belongs in some division of the order….even if it is our version of it."
"The only reason he agreed to the priesthood was because of your pact," Aro reminded him.
"Wait…," I spoke up feebly, feeling like I weighed the importance of a pint next to them. "You say you are Gargoyles and you said I have studied you, but I have never studied Gargoyles."
"Angels," Emmett said to me. "The Gargoyles in your literature is a myopic and inaccurate depiction of what we really are. We are Guardians of the earth and of the church."
"Not the ones in heaven," Emmett said. "Closely associated, but our Legion is bound to earth. We have never entered the gates of heaven though we are guided by them. Our work is here. Besides, we do things a bit differently."
"Is death your final choice?" Aro asked, speaking over Emmett. "I have to leave right now and I won't come back to deal with this."
One of the others from the top step glided down to my side and took his hood down. Again, I was awe struck by the precision in the facial structure. It looked human, but at the same time, far from it; a hundred times more striking, a thousand times more mysterious and an infinite amount of times stronger...appealing. His hair was light colored, closest to blond, his eyes were the same kind of gray and his bone structure was sharp. Despite that, however, his expression was less harsh than Emmett's. I guessed from his stance at the top where Aro came down from that he was one in authority as well. He was the first one who spoke to Emmett, the one they called Carlisle.
"Edward, isn't it?" He said to me.
I nodded nervously.
"Emmett usually has an exceptional eye for potential. If he has seen something special in you, there probably is. If you choose metamorphosis, you will not be alone. You will belong to my Host and become part of a team of Guardians, something that should appeal to you based on what Emmett has said. We will guide you accordingly. Choosing death because you are afraid will be unfortunate and I wish you wouldn't."
Something about his tone of voice and the searching quality in his eyes put me at ease.
"Ten seconds," Aro growled. "Or I will go with your first option."
I looked at the one called Carlisle, then I looked over at Emmett, then I looked into the shadows of Aro's hood, then behind them at the others who hadn't moved from the steps. There was still another at the top who hadn't moved either.
"Five, four, three, two…."
I closed my eyes and sighed, trying to shut it all out. At the sound of one, something cold and hard came down on my head and started to squeeze against my skull. When my feet lifted off the floor, I opened my eyes and gasped as I felt the veins in my face start to swell. Aro was about to crush my skull with me suspended in the air and I literally felt the bones in my head start to cave within his grip.
"Metamorphosis," I grunted, as the pressure of his steel fingers closed in harder. "Metamorphosis!"
And then he dropped me to the floor.
"Two hundred years," he said to me the instant I hit the ground. "That is your sentence, and when your time is up you will either cease to exist or revert to human form and live on from there with no memory of your immortal years. Give Carlisle you answer. I will return in one week to set the stone. Carlisle, he is yours. I must leave immediately as there are only a few hours of darkness left. Take care of this. I will be back."
"I have it under control, Aro," Carlisle said. "Thank you."
"Caius," Aro called, and the third one from the top step flew to his side. "Let us fly."
And then the one named Aro spread his black wings and took off in magnificent flight up through the open church ceiling with his companion, Caius, right behind him.