Caelum Sky -23
"Are you coming?" Kayalin called out at the bottom of the stairs, voice just barely reaching me as I slept like a lump in the attic. The faint traces of the sunset were still visible through the hole in the roof, something that had fallen away with my heavy landing some two months ago. The angels still hadn't really talked with us since, but I was keeping to my word. I also gave up trying to spy on them like an idiot, just left them alone; the result seemed to be good. The angels spent more time inside, demons more time outside; there was a noticeable increase of co-mingling. For example, the touch football game going on outside right now.
Don't get me wrong it sounded like a hell of a lot of fun, and I was dying to play, but I wasn't touch football material. That and the idea, while sympathetic and wonderful and progressive for them all to start getting to know one another, still weirded me out
So the dog and I slept in the attic like good animals, laying about, enjoying some peace and quiet as the sun had long past set on this day. I could hear the fat little thing growling in its sleep that only raised more questions, being an insomniac with the rest of them.
"Get your big scaly ass down here, dammit!" Kayalin tried again.
Support the cause, support the cause, support it all. I grumbled under my breath happily, re-adjusting my head, my one lip half on the floor comfortably. It was stressful, trying to unite this house, trying to get two unwilling sides to agree with one another on more than a united hatred for whatever did them wrong. Like I had been doing nearly a year ago, it presented itself to me like a puzzle, full of pieces that claimed to be black and white, but really meshed to an even shade of grey. These challenges, these puzzles, this struggle here, I relished it. Loved it. The longer I stayed here, analyzed how these people fit with one another, what made them tick, the better I got at solving this intricate, strange problem of meshing them together.
Our relentless searching of the haunted houses in the area, and of the recently deceased/possible haunted houses had grown larger, a bigger radius that definitely encroached on regular Raziel territory; though I hadn't seen him, or Cempe for a few months. Not like the imagery of this season was helping much on my quest to put him in the back of my mind, to try and not worrying so much on what happened there; supposed husband or not. Probably not. But everywhere Palug and I walked, we'd see little Christmas angels, little annoying reminders of the very basic understanding humankind had. At first, seeing them was a little depressing, but now, I just found it outright annoying. I wasn't sure if it was before Christmas, or if everyone and their aunt were just too lazy to take the decorations down, but it was rainy, blisteringly cold from time to time, general winter weather. We weren't big into Christmas, the demons and I; pagan as it may be.
We had gained a new household member, a middle aged black gentleman named Tyler who'd been brutally murdered by his daughter's boyfriend; really nice guy unfortunately. He wasn't looking to leave the area without keeping watch on his daughter, so Palug would often take him there to hang around for a few hours and come back, once or twice a week. This game, while in addition to serving to break the ice, was also to help welcome this guy in, try and make him feel welcomed; he often sat by the window, pensive and conflicted for the first few weeks, but now was really starting to kick back and enjoy himself. Palug had mostly talked on that one, I provided faint backup, still not settled on that issue, not resolved to go out and preach how excellent and wonderful a demon's life was. Though with touch-football games like this one, it wasn't so bad.
Something kicked at my nose, not the first time, but nearly the same. Tiredly, my eyes wandered up to Kayalin, who pulled her leg back, threatening to kick me again.
"Agh, I'm just going to paint a bulls-eye on that thing, take the guesswork out of anyone else looking for a way to wake me from a lovely nap." I pulled to my feet, stretching, yawning out loud.
"Why aren't you watching the game?"
"Personal grudge against football"
"I won't be able to participate" I shook my spine full of hair out.
"Then participate, you sissy!" She jammed her hand half inside my face, grabbing me by the nostril. Instantly, I was on my feet.
"Ah! Agh, jeez, hold on!" I tried to pull away, but she clung on tight, scoffing at me sarcastically. "I'm too big and it'd be an unfair advantage!"
"What, you don't think we can take you down?"
"I don't think the team with the two small children and a Black dog spirit can take me down, no." I tried to get a footing, pushing ahead with limbs tangling to keep my nose hairs getting ripped from my face. "Alright, alright, fine, I'll watch." I relented as she let go, pretty much at the door anyways.
"Good. Glad you reconsidered" Kayalin laughed, exiting through the back door to the game being held just beyond it. Gritting my teeth, I followed just behind.
This all came about by finding a loose football not a few doors down, so of course we stole it. Then, it became a game of wits, trying to convince a sizable team to go come together, angels and demons mixed. Breaking through to the outdoor world they lined up, teams picked, trying to get a handle on throwing the ball around evenly (this came easier to some more than others) as Kayalin entered back into the game, hands up, asking to receive the ball. Only Palug stood on the sidelines, same problem I had, but smiling on the entire thing, enjoying the comrodery. I sat beside the giant tiger-cat.
"This is your doing, you know." He said, nodding as I sat down.
"That's a good thing, right?" I chuckled, as the cat nodded more feverishly.
"It's very good. They haven't cooperated like this in years." He dawdled his tone, "It's football, but it's still cooperation. Beats pointless squabbling any day of the week."
" Not since your Nona person left?" My tone lowered a little. They referred to her like a god, like the unborn holy super-mother of all things demonic; it wasn't often that she came up in conversation, but when it did, they, demons and fallen angels alike, pretty much kissed her ass from 15 years away. Whatever this demon had done, it made a hell of an impact. Raised a lot of questions too. Palug nodded, grinning as always as I continued, meaning to pry further into all great and powerful leader of theirs. "So, what did she do that they all respect the hell out of her?" There was sarcasm; I didn't intend on sarcasm, but I guess my annoyance with the ass-kissery had shown through a little much. Palug turned from the game to face me, no longer smiling.
"She leads our side of the war, one of the very few demons who have the capacity to wander both heaven and hell. Even with that ability, she resolves to stay on earth, to lead the fallen and downtrodden."
"That's quite the noble mission statement." I snarked, tail twitching behind me. "Everyone seems to respect her quite a bit." Palug nodded, looking outward thoughtfully.
"The definition of a people-person." He said quickly, growing quiet, hints of loneliness as he said it. Turning to him, I leaned a little closer.
"You ever meet her in person?"
"Once, but it was a long, long time ago. She was busy running a rebellion, so I didn't really say more than a few yes's and no's."
"You still respect her after just a few yes's and no's?"
He laughed. "It's hard to not like the Excelsis." Nodding, my brain practically floated away; I grew dulled by the fact that this leader seemed to have a brainwashing thing going on. Foul play had to be at hand there. Like that type of politician who kisses rows of awaiting babies, just to sign off on an education fund cut. I wiggled my toes, watching the game as they made a play and suddenly waved me from the middle of the huddle.
"Neri! Get your fat ass in here and help out!"
"Piss off! I'm too big!" I leaned from the sidelines to bark out my insults. The group laughed, their attention turning to Palug, the unsuspecting cat-demon.
"How about you? We need a good running back here!" Kayalin called out as I laughed at the idea. He was bigger than I was! With a short laugh, I was about to call back and insult her eyesight when the cat spoke up for me; his tone anxious and excited, like he had been waiting for his name to be called to be put in the game.
"Hold on!" Palug suddenly got to his feet, turning to me excitedly. "Care to keep watch while I play?"
"What?" I questioned, half laughing, trying to figure this as a joke or not. "Uh...yeah, sure, I can do that."
"Great!" He stood there for a second, looking back to the game as I swear I saw him shimmer for a second, lose a little of his opacity before the cat-demon suddenly dropped his form, something like water falling away instantly. A man, a pretty much normal man except a few back horn-like overhangs like the demonic body he just popped out from, stood there. A human Palug. A Tall, dark-haired, darker-complexion'd remnant of a mixed Hispanic background, human Palug stood there. Needless to say, I was a little shocked. Moreso when he turned to me and grinned, running onto the field. "Thanks!"
"WH-What the hell!" I shouted after him, tilting my head at the whole ordeal. That bastard did have a human form! I'd been living here for this long, and that was the first I'd ever seen. Ever. "Why didn't you tell me you could do this?"
"You never asked!" He called and waved again, grinning like a happy-go-lucky fool. He didn't look over the age of thirty, dressed in casual, church-going attire. Nice clothes. In my human form, I looked a little like a modern gypsy of sorts, but him, he looked respectable. You could see the deep red scar down his chest the same as in his demonic form, squinting against the light, even this low in the day. It must be a rather weak form, unable to do much; I guess it made sense, with the months of constant guarding and keeping watch, jumping around to this form would be reckless. Dangerous.
Maybe what was more dangerous, he wasn't hard on the eyes. Both fallen angel-women hooted for him as he ran into the game, Kayalin giving a sort of fan girlish scream as he joined their team. Even I was stuck smiling at him, mouth agape, half confused and half tickled pink that this had been hidden here. Certainly would've helped my case on why becoming a demon was a good thing. I laughed out loud, shaking my head around a little as the game resumed. I couldn't stop grinning, trying to be coy that I couldn't stop blushing as well.
I sat on the sidelines as my grinning slowly subdued, as I calmed down, enjoying the nice night, the fruit of my hard work play and dance before me. It was humbling, and like I suspected lying about in the attic, it was a smidge depressing as well. I wanted to play, I wished to have fun, but didn't know my way out of this body more then I knew how it all worked. I guess things just became a very poignant reminder of where I was, and who I was. Sighing, I tried to put it out of my mind, just enjoying the game in front of me.
Sitting there, third quarter in, something caught my attention. A smell, sweet and lovely like dried flowers-nothing I mingled with smelled sweet and lovely at any time of the day. Rising to my feet I scanned the area, the smell growing stronger and stronger, trying to find it, walking plainly onto the playing field just as their last play came to an end. Someone gave a joking insult at my expense, my focus breaking the punch line as the fierce, concerned snarl on my face wouldn't go away. The football game stopped altogether, more people perking up to the same smell I was.
"Neri, what is it?" Palug walked from the middle of game play, heading straight for me. "What do you smell?" I smirked for half a second, pinpointing back to whatever it was, stench growing stronger and stronger.
"Dried flowers..." I scanned some more as Palug's eyes grew huge, head snapping back to everyone else.
"INSIDE!" He yelled out, running back towards them, "CHERUB!"
"What!?" I took a step back as the beast burst onto the scene, heavy built body taking out two of the trees at the back of the property. It was enormous! Like a giant white owl of sorts, white-eyes like tiny little buttons on its face, surrounded by snow-white plumage that fanned into a crest above its head. The talons were a blood red, along with the beak-like nose on it, edges serrated heavily. The cherub flapped both sets of its enormous wingspan, probably at least three times my own, hovering over us all, looking down as it decided which one to pick off first. It was pandemonium, most spirits immediately headed for the indoors, while a few, like the Black dog spirit and Palug, didn't move an inch.
"Neri! You're going to have to keep it busy!" He shouted out, trying to help the others inside. "I can't do anything like this; keep it away from the house!" I dawdled, looking at the giant bird as it picked a victim, landing massively atop Tolstier, the Incubus and one of the first spirits I had met in this household.
"Shit shit shit shit shit!" I took off running, stretching out my wings in the process and taking flight, quick and low into the air. My legs still scrambled beneath me, back flexing and tightening like I was swimming through the world, working hard as I could to get there in time, to save Tolstier, to be a help. It wasn't enough; the bird leaned down quickly and ripped the guy in half, spraying the area around us with demonic bits and chunks. I stumbled as the bird ate him practically whole, leaving a leg behind like an unwanted memento. "No!" Crashing into the ground just in front of the raptor, I feared it, quivered, afraid of the hideous holy beast.
The bird tilted it's head back and swallowed the last bit of the Incubus, feet stamping on the ground happily, excited and giddy as I tripped up, frozen in fear. The Cherub flapped both sets of wings at me once, trying to push me away, display how big and fierce it was, take your pick. I couldn't move.
"Neri! C'mon! Get it!" Palug called behind me, the black dog and me the only three spirits outside with the Cherub, the only targets left. "You're strong enough to, you can do it!" I spit out a sort of nervous, sideways laugh. I could handle a lot, I could fight back against most... but this thing, this ridiculously oversized owl of death, it scared the hell out of me. The bird screeched at me, almost laughing, setting its sights on the noisy one in the bunch, Palug.
"Dammit!" The man spit out, taking a few steps back before outright bolting away from the house, out into the field. The bird followed, taking back into the air, judging me to be no threat. As it turned its back, as that unforgiving, rotting stare left me, I eased up once more, snapping back to attention, back to reality. Go, idiot!
"Palug!" I leapt from the ground, straining hard to gain lost distance, to catch up. The bird flew in slow, predictable wing beats, moseying along at a rather snail-like pace after the man, playing with its food. Banking sharply above the chase I gained speed, gained momentum and ferocity, urging my body to go as fast as physically possible. It responded, worked hard as it could as I went into a dive, aiming for the shoulder of the giant bird, aimed to clip one of the beast's wings off. I wasn't too late! I hadn't waited too long, I could still save this situation, still be of help! Pumping harder and harder I gained more speed than I ever had, more energy, faster faster faster!
Aimed perfectly at the shoulder, mouth open, things began to blur, began to distort and pull at the very fabric of the world around me. I felt that life-canvas tearing as I began to travel through things, seeing all sides of that bird's wing just for a second as I disappeared from the air around me, suddenly popping up on the other side, exactly below the bird, never once hitting it. With all the momentum of before redirected to where I was now, I smashed into the ground hard, tumbling over myself and sliding to a stop. The bird was completely fine, my attack, my rush had pushed through something, had thrown me past the target altogether. My head pounded, ached painfully like something was trying to escape out the back of my head. Palug ran past me, eyebrows furrowing as he did.
"Neri? He called once, focusing back to running for his afterlife, the bird not far from him now. Groaning as the feathers rushed past me once again, I ran. Running was still safe; running wasn't teleporting dangerously through the air around me like a reckless idiot. In a few strides I caught up, leaping forward to latch onto the bird's ankle, teeth hitting flesh and sinking in deeply. It only pumped its wings harder, pulling me off the ground in continued pursuit of the cat-man-tiger demon. Palug turned behind him as the bird screamed out in frustration, my body swinging around, stripping the ankle of whatever flesh was around it. "Flap, Neri!"
Gurgling, I opened my wings up; getting whatever spread I could to pump opposite the Cherub, both of us working hard to beat out the other. Snorting, I worked harder, pulling my head back like I was trying to pull in a massive fish; a giant white, feathery cherub. It became a sort of stalemate, the only thing keeping us together was my bite, jaws locked tightly onto the cherub, thankfully something tangible, something easy to bite that wasn't a mix of shadows. With all our force going outward and not upwards we dropped to the ground, cherub crashing chest-first into the dirt, taking out another tree as it did so. T there was cheering, something that stopped pretty quickly as the cherub's kicked its foot and me out in front of it, other talon pressed onto my head and pried me from its ankle. I tore skin and flesh as I was kicked off, rolling backwards to hop back to my feet, panting heavily as those fresh wounds started healing, wings tiredly out to the side. Barely aware that Palug got behind me, the bird flipped back to its feet, limping heavily on the one chewed up leg, back on the attack. White wintery wings flared out, lighting up the evening, the Cherub's tiny little mouth opening wide, wider then where it should, stretching out almost to the back of its head, screeching out impossibly loud. Palug covered his ears, the dog yelping out painfully, but I stayed resilient, returning the flashy display, flaring out my own wings and bellowing as loud as I could possibly do. Two monsters, opposites from heaven and hell, screamed at one another, bristling; the true dividing line in this world.
Neither of us made a move; the cherub stayed put, and I stayed at the brunt of the attack, wings spread out protectively, keeping this holy entity from the dammed spirits inside.
"Run. Go inside and do whatever you need to do." I spoke quietly from my back teeth, eyes locked cold onto the cherub as it chirped angrily, stamping about a little, getting impatient. Palug ran off, attracting the bird's attention for a second, head darting upwards, watching him go. I growled out viciously again, gaining the focus once more, flaring my wings open and stamping towards the bird, a universal animalistic challenge. "Right here, right here, c'mon, I'm your opponent here." Taunting under my breath, the bird made the first move.
Lunging out with those thrashing claws I jumped back, finding myself suddenly pinned beneath them from the chest down, lightning fast. I scratched and bit as much as I could as the bird accepted it, leaning over fatefully to disembowel me, just as it did to Tolstier. Pressing myself against the ground it got closer and closer, beak hovering just above my neck now, mouth zipping open . No longer did it smell like dried flowers, but stunk of rotten meat, of putrid filth, of halitosis. I gagged, smile zipping across my lips.
"Stupid neck less bird!" I spit out quickly, using my long and quite handy neck to lunge from the ground like a striking snake, latching on just below the bird's mouth. It screeched in surprise, pulling back out of shock and pulling me from beneath its death grip with only a few julienning slices. Gritting my one eye closed I grabbed hold of the bird, finding nothing but feathers, feathers, and more feathers. With one last jerk I fell from the cherub, a ham-sized chunk of throat ripped out in the process. I spit it off to the side, opening my wings quickly to lunge back, aiming. The bird reeled back, suspecting my move, taking to the air. I followed.
"Bring it close to the house!" Palug shouted from porch, repeating it over and over until I heard and understood. "Trust me!" He reassured as I shrugged, pushing harder and leaping onto the bird mid-flight, latching onto the lower left wing, finding bones amidst a flurry of rushing feathers. The bird screamed out loud, hovering with three good wings, spinning slightly. What came next was no real surprise; these days I was getting harder and harder to surprise- the bird latched onto my back end, from my ribs down, teeth ripping deeply into each side. Sharp as metal it bit down further as I did the same to it's wing, stubbornly tightening my grip until it was practically concrete.
"Let go!" The beast screeched at me, voice distraught and pained, wavering somewhere between masculine and feminine. I snarled in response, biting down harder as the cherub laughed at my expense. "Take that wing and I've got three others, demon! You can't kill me this way!" The two of us meandered closer to the house lazily, my wings flapping tiredly to help push us there.
"I won't be killing you" I gargled between feathers, shaking my head a little more to dig my teeth in nice and snug. "Angelic reject!" The bird hissed at me angrily, biting down hard to snap my back just above my pelvis, yanking back as it shredded the skin and muscle away from this form; I could feel every bit, every sinew snapping, every burn and tear, every broken bone. But it worked, my body held together enough for the bird to inflict its own damage, force snapping and tearing away the one gigantic feathery wing from its own body; I only acted like an extension of rope. My body shuddered in excruciating pain, large wing dangling from my mouth.
The bird heaved in pain, screeching out a mix of screams and growls, seething painfully. It held onto me tight, opening its mouth a little more to get most of my back end like it intended to eat me. I couldn't think, couldn't reason or breathe correctly, knowing to hold onto that wing with all I had, knowing that I had done my job to get the owl close to the house. The rest was out of my control, it was up to fate.
"You stupid demons!" the bird shook me for good measure as I hung there limply, eyes flickering back to its bloodied face, the face laden with my own blood. It was the only time I thought of Cempe, thought of how she was doing a poor job of 'watching over me', letting me hang in the clutches of death like this. The cherub arched it's back, ripping off both of my wings for good measure; I pulled my neck back, moving its own wing out of the way from doing so. This was my prize. My wings could grow back; I wasn't seeing the same effect from the giant white owl of death. Blood trickled down my neck, cascading away onto the ground far away. I tiredly watched it go. "Bloodthirsty, simple minded fools." It laughed, staying in the same place, hovering in position . I tried to fight back, trying to say more. There was gurgling instead; thankfully, no words needed to be said.
Something ripped open the roof of the house, exploding outward from it; black, dense, impossibly large. Manasa. The giant snake in the basement that couldn't have moved more the a few inches each year, lunging out like an animal possessed, mouth wide, aimed straight for the cherub and I. The angelic being screeched in terror, promptly dropping me, wings reeling backwards, trying to counter, trying to bring those talons up to fight back. No use; Manasa was far too fast, hitting the bird right in the throat, a heavy, crushing sound as it grabbed tight. I fell, sound falling away, barely aware of the giant-animal fight happening just above me, regarding the ground as it rushed closer. There were no wings to slow my fall, nothing to break the energy I was building up, to break the speed I gathered. Cempe... useless thing. Protect me; my ass.
My eyes drifted shut, closed lazily, teeth still locked on the cherub wing as it skewed my fall, twisted me around. I breathed harder, bracing for the ground, flexing my hands a little, the first things that would touch the ground, first things to crumple and fold into a broken mess. I felt grass instead. Eyes snapping open, I found myself sitting politely on the ground, wing still in my teeth, no longer falling. My front legs shook, wobbling. Above me, Manasa and the Cherub broke apart, the snake deeply scratched up, the cherub a striped mix of red and white. Screeching once more it turned away, bolting from the house, flapping unevenly until it was enveloped in darkness.
"Neri!" Palug called, racing out the door as my head tiredly turned back to him, mouth still full of white feathers. With a wary, painful smile, I spit the thing out, my arms buckling to rest on the sides, head dropping towards the earth. Palug grabbed both sides of my jaw before I hit the ground, hoisting my face back up to chest level. "You did a great job! Proud of you!" I stared at nothing, half at his waist and half the grass behind him, body exhausted, unable to focus. Grinning, slightly, I could feel the energy gathering back, feel myself slowly healing.
"Got you a souvenir." Coughing, I shifted my front legs to rest as they should, wondering about my lower half. "Do... Is there..." I tried to raise my head to check out the damage as Palug's grip remained steady, keeping my head facing forwards.
"I'd give that a little while longer" He laughed, smacking the side of my face lightly. I looked up, eyes traveling with a grin to my lips, along his human body until I got to his face, faded remnants of shiny streaks barely visible with the pale light. He'd been crying. Instantly, my smile fell away.
"That's not for me, is it?" I could faintly feel my spine readjusting, healing and adding on by the moment. He only smiled a bit, unable to speak, suddenly pulling me close in a hug. "Aw, c'mon" I smiled, pushing on my own; he really was a true friend. After a moment I could feel my knees, after another the bones to my feet came back to life as well, healing considerably quicker. I didn't want to pull away from him, happy just resting here. Content.
"Ah, I'm already feeling better." I grinned, sighing. Human Palug had a scent to him, more familiar then anything I'd ever remembered about our friendship. I could hear him laugh.
"But if I wasn't like this, I mean, I could've helped, I could've fought it off." He patted the top of my head as the bits of muscles reformed themselves, a painful step in the process. "You wouldn't have had to do that by yourself, it was asking a lot" I grit my teeth as the pain subdued.
"It'd be a lot easier to be angry about that if you weren't so damn attractive as a human." My grimace turned to a quick smile as he chuckled.
"Sorry about that, it's a curse, really"
"Oh, bullshit" I could feel bits of my tail now, the tips of my toes, all other wounds practically gone except for the parts I still missed. Reflecting, my tone grew low "This wasn't part of the plan, was it?" my voice was soft as the cat smacked the back of my neck once with more gusto.
"No, no this was not." He cut an actual laugh, not one to cover insecurity, to cover worry or doubt. It was very real. "You might have a harder time convincing your innocence this time. No one usually survives the Cherubs, and no one heals to tell about it." Palug said as I rose to my feet, head released to look behind me; the very last bits of my skin came back, tail unfurling until I was almost whole, adding and finishing up my body, good as new. With a large coughing yawn I shook myself out, flaring out my wings just as the black smoke rose to form them, looking over to Palug once before back to the cherubs wing.
"Didn't know Manasa had it in her." My mind suddenly reminded me of my peculiar landing, of heading straight for the ground and suddenly just being on it, no more damage done. What a day; my head still hung low, exhausted. Full of pep and energy from healing, but completely emptied on the will to do anything but sit here tiredly. This was not the end I was told, scaring off a cherub was not the same as killing it. "It'll be back, won't it?" I could feel Palug stare at my face before turning to the same direction I was, crossing his arms.
"We don't use her unless we really need it, she's our ace in the hole; and Manasa tends to make lots of holes." He wiped at his face before scratching the back of his head full of short black hair. "But yeah. This one'll probably bring reinforcements."
I looked to the roof, to the snake that lay tiredly on the remaining parts still intact, scales like black onyx, subtle hints of color, like polished metal. She was wounded badly, drips of demonic blood slowly oozing down to our level, black and viscous. My newly reformed glare scanned back to the night, back to the skies, back to the wrath we were destined to incur.