Ruel glanced over at Ereik with narrowed eyes. The demon consort and he had grown accustomed to each other’s presence over the course of several centuries of working together, however neither held the other in high regard.
“Why should I be?” Ruel replied coolly.
The demon shrugged his shoulders, the heavy leather sleeves of his duster producing a loud rustle. “No reason. Ninety-nine thousand.” Ereik let out a low whistle through pursed lips that curved up at the corners. “Doesn’t the next soul win you a car or some shit like that?”
Ereik always found sport in provoking Ruel with profanity and insolence, especially in close proximity of his superiors. “Mind your tongue, demon.” Ereik lifted his hands in mock surrender as Ruel reigned in his uncharacteristically hair-trigger temper. “I know not seeing as though I have yet to reach this number until now.” Ruel shifted from one booted foot to the other while waiting outside the Assemblence chambers, Ereik’s calculating eyes boring into him like a power drill.
The contemptible demon consort had been assigned to Ruel at his induction into service. A necessity for all bridges, angels charged with the duty of transporting souls to their final place of existence; an angel of death in laymen’s terms.
In the end souls went to one of two places and bridges were given the task of making sure the soul made it there without incident. It didn’t take long for the demons to cry foul, accusing bridges of deception and giving souls a final chance to make it back to the Creator’s realm. After much discourse, an agreement had been reached. All bridges would be given a demon consort; an unwanted assistant who made sure that every transition ended on the up and up. Ever since the beginning of paired appointments, dealings between both higher beings ran quite smoothly. If you didn’t take into account the unending need for neutral mediation when quarrels between the bridges and their consorts would arise. Spend the day with a demon and one would see just how taxing on the nerves the moral-less creatures can be.
Ereik fit neatly into that category. He and Ruel had pretty much disagreed on everything, however Ruel had patience that transcended the demon’s unyielding appetite to poke and prod. A bridge didn’t make it to ninety-nine thousand souls on raw talent alone.
“The Assemblence will see you now.”
Ruel hadn’t realized he had been pacing until he found himself a good meter away from the hall entrance Ziekel appeared in front of. Ruel made his way back towards the angel and waited for Ereik to stand by his side before entering the Assemblence chambers. As he passed through the threshold, Ruel’s onyx wings extended from his bare shoulder blades casting a large shadow over the stark white tile that glistened beneath his bare feet. Ereik had shed his mortal dermis, crimson scales covering the whole of his naked body. Both of them took to one knee in their celestial form at the center of the vast room, waiting for the Assemblence to acknowledge them.
Ruel and Ereik appeared in a makeshift shack. The windows and door completely open to the brisk night air outside. Regardless, the small breeze that swept through did little to hide the smell of rancid death inside. No matter how many times the sickly scent singed Ruel’s nasal passage while doing the Assemblence bidding, every time cut like the first.
Reul’s eyes shifted to one of three worn down cots where a little boy lay writhing, his shrieks of pain shaking the rotted wooden walls. His mother sat next to him, tears streaming down her puffy cheeks while she held the boy’s small hand tightly. A petite woman rose to her feet across from the mother with her back to Ruel and Ereik. Her dark auburn hair rested in a messy bun on the crown of her head and her hands were stained with freshly spilled blood.
She spoke to the mother while walking over to a table in the far corner, “Your son has made it through the toughest part. Now all that is left is healing.” The healer submerged her hands into a basin filled with soapy water that soon turned deep red from the blood.
“Are you sure you didn’t get the location screwed up?” Ereik whispered, more out of respect for the situation than fear of the mortals actually hearing him. “I mean it smells like festering roadkill in here, but it doesn’t look like the child’s taking our guided tour to the other side.”
Just then the healer’s pale green eyes landed on both Ruel and Ereik as if she had found the demon’s words insulting. Impossible. “Shut up!” The demon grunted when Ruel elbowed Ereik’s side, never breaking from the woman’s breathtaking gaze. She couldn’t possibly see or hear either of them. No mortal could.
The healer was the first to turn away at the sound of a whimper. The mother now held the frail child in her arms, clutching him to her body as she moved towards the door that lead out of the shack. The mother turned to thank her child’s healer once more before she and the boy were gone.
Alone, the woman returned to the water basin and resumed cleaning. “It’s me you’re here for.” Ruel’s mouth hung open as he glanced at Ereik the same exact time the demon looked at him wearing a mirrored expression of shock. “Also, if you don’t mind, I would appreciate you not talking about my patients while they are in my care.
Ruel remained dumbfounded as his attention moved back to the woman. “My apologies, Healer. My…” Ruel searched for the right words to describe Ereik, “counterpart lacks manners.” The demon shot Ruel a dagger-sharp glare.
“I accept your apology. Do I have time to see another patient before you take me?” Ruel had no idea how to answer the healer’s question. She seemed in fair heath apart from the inhuman paleness of her irises and the fact she seemed completely unaffected by their presence. Why would the Assemblence send them for her? “Hello, are you taking me now or not?”
Ereik recovered before Ruel, “Look, when we arrive on the scene the cargo is usually…” Ereik finished his sentence by swiping his forefinger across his throat while his tongue dangled from his mouth. The demon had such an astounding way with words.
“Very well than, I shall see another.”
Ruel stepped in front of the woman as she started for the door that stood between them. “How is it that you can see us? I have been charged with the transport of the dead for centuries and none have ever set eyes upon me until their souls had been severed.”
The woman shrugged her shoulders. “Beats me. Now if you don’t mind…” The healer stepped sideways, moving past Ruel and heading straight for the chair she had sat in while attending to the sick boy minutes before. As if she could not seen the errant piece of furniture in her path, the healer cracked her knee cap into the seat and stumbled while the chair met the floor. Ruel’s hands shot out, capturing the woman in his embrace before she fell also. He swallowed as the scent of lavender milled soap washed away the underlying stench of death that had literally clung to the shack’s walls.
Realizing what he had done, Ruel instantly pulled his arms back, releasing the healer as of her skin had spontaneously been engulfed in flames. He had never touched a mortal before. Never felt the urge to do so. “Your… you’re welcome.”
Ruel’s dark brows furrowed, framing the bridge of his nose. “Pardon?”
“Kira. My name is Kira.” The healer’s brilliant smile ran away with his breath in haste.
“Ereik.” Ruel looked over at the demon leering in the corner, having forgot about his unwanted shadow for once. “Since we’re introducing ourselves.” Ereik stalked closer, an impish grin on his face as he ate up much of Ruel’s personal space with his long strides. Typical Ereik. Ruel took a step back from Kira and glared at the demon just as a heavy arm snaked around his shoulders. “This chatterbox is Ruel. Obviously, I’m the better looking one.” Ruel growled and Ereik wisely removed his arm, sliding both his hands into the front pockets of his dark denim jeans.
“Are you brothers?”
Eriek snorted. “Hell no! We just… um… work together.”
“Now for the question on the tip of our tongues, how the fuck are you seeing us right now? You’re not dead and we’re not…” Ereik folded both his arms across his chest as he waited for the answer.
Kira shook her head, the stray strands of dark hair wisping against the gentle curve of her chin. “Like I said, I have no idea but it’s incredible how clearly I can see you.”
The arch of Ruel’s right brow lifted, uncomfortable by her unwavering stare regardless of the fact that Ereik was the one who posed the question to her in his usual vial manner.
“I’ve lost most of my vision in my left eye and my right is now slowly fading. Last scan showed the tumor had surrounded the whole of both optic cavities, applying pressure on both nerves.”
“But you were just elbow deep in that little boy and then managed to stitch him up without assistance?” It was as if Ereik had plucked the question right out of Ruel’s head.
“I work mostly from instinct and the use of my other senses.”
Ruel found himself staring at Kira, then looked down at his hands that had touched her. Felt the warmth of her body. Was this a test? Had the Assemblence changed the rules of the game to see if he would waver? At the succession of this transport he would have a permanent seat on the Assemblence council. His wings would shed their onyx and take on their true angelic pigment. Ruel had no idea what color they would become. Zekiel’s were a bright blue azure. A symbol of his station and years of loyal service. Ruel thought himself just as loyal and even more so patient. He would let nothing stand in his way of the council seat and the chance to lose Ereik forever. “When do you expect to die, Healer?”
Ruel heard the sharp intake of air by Ereik as Kira’s eyes welled with tears seemingly brought on by the bluntness of his question. He steeled his emotion, needing to remain immune to the temptation her mortality seemed to stir within him.
“I… I don’t know.” Kira broke from his gaze and looked about the dank shack. “Hours. Days.” Having recovered from his unexpected callousness, she pushed out her chin and returned her eyes to his, ice replacing the fire that had been reflected in them before. “Why are you asking me? Aren’t you the immortals here?”
Ereik spoke before Ruel had a chance, “We were only given the location of transport. All the other details were kept from us. You see, this is a milestone for Ruel and well, the ones in charge obviously thought they should make things more interesting.”
“I’m sorry to pose such a challenge for you.” Kira moved over to the cot and began stripping it of the soiled sheets. “If it is any consolation, I want this over just as much as you do.”
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Ereik spoke under his breath. “That is some shit I would say. You’re an angel? You’re all that is good and kind.” The demon accented the cliche with air quotes.
Ruel dismissed the demon with a wave of his hand. “I need some fresh air.” He turned and began to stalk towards the exit. He paused to glance over his shoulder, but Kira refused to look in his direction. The angel let out a low curse and left the shack, the sounds of the jungle surroundings somehow soothed his frazzled nerves. He just needed to stay away from Kira until it was time, Ruel told himself once he was well enough away. He could do this. It mattered not the circumstances.
He inhaled deep and the scent of lush greenery was soon laced with a soft hint of lavender. He spun around to find Kira, the moonlight cascading down on her tiny, fragile form.
“Ereik told me why I make you uneasy.”
“Oh, he did did he?” Ruel returned to look into the vast depths of the jungle. “He’s a demon. Lying is as normal to him as breathing is to you.”
“I can make this easy for you.”
Ruel’s eyes shot back to Kira. “What?”
“Why prolong the inevitable?”
“Because it’s a one way ticket to the dark realm. Is that what you want? To burn for all of eternity?” Reul watched Kira’s reaction intently.
“How do you know I am not on my way there already?”
“I saw you with that boy. There is no way.”
Kira let out a frustrated breath. “You don’t know what life I lived before. I could have sealed my fate long ago and my healing the sick could be an attempt at atoning for my sins.”
After a brief moment, Kira shook her head. “No. I just don’t understand how you could be here and know nothing.”
Ruel glanced down at his feet. “Are you in that much pain?”
“I take herbs for the pain, but they dull my other senses. If I know that I have a patient, I do without.”
Ruel stepped closer and faced Kira, feeling her short breaths against his skin just above the neck of the black t-shirt he was wearing. “So you are in pain now?
Kira’s throat dipped as she swallowed right before nodding her head.
Ruel’s voice was low and completely foreign to him,“where does it hurt most?”
“My head, behind my eyes. It is as if someone is stabbing my eyes sockets with a knife.”
Unsure why, Ruel cradled Kira’s head in his hands. He closed his eyes and offered up a silent prayer to the Creator as her lavender scent encircled him like a soft blanket. His tongue slipped through his teeth to moisten his lips that suddenly felt dry. When he reopened his eyes, Kira’s remained closed and her beauty this close forced Ruel’s heart to stutter beneath his chest. If he were to just dip his head a touch, he could taste the flavor of her kiss. That instant Kira opened her eyes and Ruel immediately dropped his hands.
“What did you do?”
Ruel cleared his throat. “I absorbed your pain. I fear it is only temporary, but hopefully the small reprieve from discomfort will be helpful.
“Thank you!” Without warning, Kira’s arms wrapped around Ruel’s neck. He clenched his hands into fists at his side, not knowing what else to do. He didn’t want to touch her. Not again. Not so soon.
“You’re hugging an angel of death who has come to transport you to the other side, oh the irony.” Kira released Ruel at once and stepped away when Eriek made them both aware of his arrival.
Ruel narrowed his eyes at the demon, ignoring the fact that he was actually irritated by his presence, more so than usual.
“So, are we looking for a place to shack up or do you think she will not make the night?”
Ruel felt the overwhelming urge to spill Ereik’s blood. Before he could act on compulsion, Kira intervened. “I have a cabin. Just past the infirmary. It is small but…”
“We will meet you there.” Ruel’s contemptuous glare pinned Ereik where he stood. “I just need to speak with Ereik for a moment if you wouldn’t mind.”
“Very well.” Kira’s eyes moved from Ruel to Ereik and back to Ruel before she disappeared into the night.
“What exactly do you think you’re doing?” Ereik at least had the decency to wait until Kira was out of earshot.
“What do you mean?” Ruel growled back, not liking the chastising tone the demon addressed him with.
“You were healing her. You know the rules Ruel and I won’t let you fuck this up for either of us, or did you forget it’s not always about you?”
Ruel had no idea he had moved until he watched the color drain from Ereik’s face while his hand viced the demon’s throat to a nearby tree. “I do not need you to tell me how to do my job, demon!”
Ereik clawed at Ruel’s hand, in search of the air that had been cut off. The demon mouthed his protest, “do it! Do it and the Assemblence wins!”
Ruel released his hold and Ereik fell to his knees, choking on gasps for breath. “What are you talking about?”
It was a few moments before Ereik could actually form words. “You are about to complete a task that hasn’t been done for centuries. Don’t you find it a bit curious as to why? Not to mention the obvious change in circumstances? Never once had we come to a mortal before it has been severed, but here we are. The last mission before the loyal and deserving Ruel gets his position on the council. They’re playing you and you are falling right into their trap.”
“Why do you care so much? If I fall or succeed you will get a new bridge to annoy, so there is nothing at stake for you regardless of what actions I choose.”
Ereik slowly rose to his feet, dusting himself off. He looked Ruel straight in the eyes, absent of the humor that the demon used like a suit of armor. “I like you, Ruel. You’re one of the few I can honestly say that about. I don’t want to see everything you’ve work for be flushed down the drain because the assholes in charge don’t want to share their sandbox with you.”
Ruel felt genuinely touched by Ereik admission, another feeling he had yet to experience in all his years of service. “Then trust me to do what is right.”
Ereik bowed his head in defeat. “As you wish. I’m going to take a powder. You know how to reach me if the time comes.”
Ruel nodded his head. “I do.” Ereik started past him, walking deeper into the jungle. “Ereik.” The demon turned to face him. “Thank you.” Ereik said nothing and continued with his departure while Ruel went in the direction of Kira’s cabin. So many thoughts raced through his mind. What was he doing? He should be following Ereik right now, not heading towards the mortal. Nonetheless, his feet kept moving towards Kira.
Ruel stood pacing outside Kira’s cabin. The scent of lavender wafting through the open windows. He could see a small fireplace with a large pot bubbling over it. Dinner he presumed. Maybe he should let her eat in peace. He had no use for food or anything mortal. The latter most of all.
Just as he turned to leave the soft sound of Kira’s voice brought his departure to an abrupt end. “Where is Ereik? I heated enough stew for three.”
Ruel faced Kira who stood in the doorway, the light from behind ironically made her appear angelic. “He had other issues to attend to. Besides, we don’t eat.”
“Oh,” Kira frowned and looked down as embarrassment deepened the color of her cheeks. “Would you like to come in?”
Every fiber of Ruel’s being told him to decline. To go in search of Ereik and wait out the completion of his final mission as a bridge somewhere else. However, his body did just the opposite. Before he knew it, he was inside of Kira’s small cabin. The scent of lavender was strong and mixed with the delicious aromas of the stew. Kira collected the extra bowls from the table that had been set for three. Ruel walked over to one of the chairs and sat down. As long as he remained a good distance from her, he would not feel tempted or so he hoped. Kira grabbed the lone bowl and filled it with some of the thick soup before sitting across from him. “I see the loss of sight has not hindered you in any way.”
Kira blew breath on a spoonful of vegetables and broth. “When I first found out, I was so angry that I searched for some way to give life the finger.” Her inadvertently sensual mouth surrounded the spoon and Ruel forced himself to overt his eyes while shifting in his seat.
“Well, your success is admirable.”
“But you’re still here, so in essence it was all in vane.” Ruel looked back at Kira who continued to eat her stew. Pushing his chair away from the table, he rose to his feet and walked over to one of the windows. “Do you have wings?”
“Excuse me?” Kira had finished eating, wiping at her mouth with a napkin just as he glanced back over his shoulder.
“Well, you look just like me. At the risk of sounding cliche, don’t all angels have wings? Or is that just a bunch of bullshit?”
Ruel laughed heartily, “I have no need for them here but yes, all angels have wings of some sort.”
“Can I see them?” Ruel’s eyebrows shot up. “How aware of things will I be when I make the journey to the other side? I’m thinking I won’t remember you or anything about me for that matter.”
Ruel felt her sorrow as if it was a lead chain hanging heavy around his neck. “Honestly, I can’t answer any of those question for you but,” Ruel gripped the lower hem of his t-shirt and lifted the black cotton up over his head. He positioned himself in the center of the room before he whispered the words that would summon his wings. Large onyx plumes branched outward from his shoulder blades in one swift rush of air.
Beaming with excitement, Kira jumped to her feet, each step bringing her closer and closer as his eyes took every inch of her in. Her hand reached for his left wing but she jerked it back. “May I?”
Ruel smiled and dipped his head. “You may.” Inhaling a deep breath, his eyelids dropped to half mast as Kira’s gentle hand moved along several of his wing’s feathers. He had never felt anything like it. His heart raced, pumping blood straight down to his lower region that was undoubtedly all male.
“So beautiful…” Soon her hand grazed over the upper arch and Ruel released a low gasp when her molten touch landed on his shoulder. “Am I hurting you?”
“No…” Kira was in front of him now, her hand lay over his heart that continued to drum as if trying to touch her palm through his ribs and skin. Her eyes so pale and so green pierced right through him. He lifted his arms and cupped her face, the pad of his thumb brushing gently over her lips. After a few stutters of his heartbeat, Ruel bent his head down, swallowing up the air between them until his mouth met hers. The heat of her kiss consumed all of his body as lavender tickled his taste buds.
Ruel hoisted Kira up in his arms, her thighs wrapping around his waist while his dark wings encased them both, shielding them from the world outside. With ease he carried her towards a small bedroom off to the right side of the cabin. There was a fire burning here as well, but its warmth did not compare to the heat Kira stoked within him as she clung to his chest.
Ruel placed the healer down gently onto the bed, never breaking his eyes from hers. He watched as she peeled off her t-shirt, slowly revealing a white lace bra that did little to cover the fullness of her ample breasts. Ruel hissed when she reached back and unclasped the undergarment, letting the straps fall down her shoulders until she was bare to him. A feast for his awakened hunger.
Dropping down to his knees between her parted thighs, Ruel grasped one supple mound with his calloused hand while his mouth sampled the sweetness of her nipple that beaded against his tongue. Kira’s body trembled and Ruel pulled back suddenly in alarm. “I’m sorry… I shouldn’t have…”
Kira shook her head, her plump lower lip a deep scarlet from her own teeth biting down on it. “Please, don’t stop. Make love to me, Ruel. I want you to be my final memory before I die.”
For the first time in all his existence, Ruel’s heart broke. Kira’s words bringing tears he had never shed before to his eyes. He rested his forehead against hers while his palm cradled her cheek. “It’s not fair.”
“No, but I learned that lesson long ago.” It was Kira who was crying now. So strong yet so fragile. “But there is nothing to be done now. Please just give me this one last gift.”
Ruel captured Kira’s lips in an urgent kiss that took even him by surprise. Together they fell down against bed. Gone were Ruel’s wings as his mouth glided over Kira’s chin and along her throat. His hand mapped out every patch of velvet soft skin on his way to the waist of her pants. Sitting back on his heels his tugged her jeans and panties off her long legs, tossing both to the floor on the side of the bed. Ruel only had to think his own pants away before he was as naked as Kira.
He paused for a moment, eyes taking in her beauty. Again her body trembled and he searched her face for any reason to stop. “Are you cold?” She shook her head and opened her legs wider for him, the scent of her arousal hitting him right in the groin. He could wait no longer. He ached to be inside her, to know what it would feel like to have her body all around him.
Ruel positioned himself over Kira, placing the blunt head of his shaft at her slick seam, cursing as its hot elixir licked at the sensitive tip. “Kira…” With a strong push forward he sheathed himself in the hot swells of her sex and it felt like heaven on earth.
“Rise and shine you two.”
Ruel shot up at the sound of Ereik’s voice, quickly hiding Kira’s nakedness from the demon’s eyes with a sheet. “What are you doing?”
Ereik smirked, “I’m giving you a head start. The Assemblence is on their way here. Well Zekiel is anyway.”
Panic soon gave way to fear as he clutched Kira to himself protectively. “Impossible. How could they know so soon?”
“Because I told them.”
Ruel flew from the bed, his onyx wings taking up the whole of the small room at their full span as he pinned Ereik against the wall. “What game are you playing?” His fist flew and the loud crack echoed when knuckles crushed bone.
Ruel felt Kira tug at his bicep. “Don’t! Please, stop!”
Ereik spat blood onto the floor as he massaged his cheek once Ruel released his hold at Kira’s plea. “Fuck! I did you a favor and this is how you repay me?”
Ruel snorted. “A favor? Please enlighten me to your warped thought process demon, before I make you nothing more than a blood stain.”
Ereik stared Reul right in the eyes, “Take Kira and get the hell out of here. I will handle the rest.”
He studied the demon, searching for any betrayal of intentions. However, the mask of Ereik never wavered. “Zekial will torture you until you divulge, if he doesn’t destroy you at first sight.”
“Trust me, I won’t be alone. There is war on the horizon, angel, and you have swung the scales in our favor.” Ereik grinned wide, summoning his celestial form. “Zekiel draws near. Now leave, before you are mistaken as one of the enemy.”
Ruel was confused but felt the gentle tug of Kira, her fear a sour scent in the air. He reached a hand out and Ereik gripped his forearm in return. “Thank you, I think.”
The demon gave an acknowledging nod. “Go.”
Ruel summoned his wings and took to the air with Kira in his arms, clinging to him desperately. He had no idea where they would go, but he wouldn’t stop until his wings gave out. But even then, he would employ his feet until they bled. Anything to keep the woman who awakened his heart, safe from those who wished her harm.