|The images in the bright pool flickered past Apollyon's eyes at lightning speed but he could see them all, could bring each into focus and pause there a moment to understand what was happening in the scene. He had watched over the mortals since eternity began, had watched the world change and forget his kind.
No one believed in angels anymore.
And his master had not called him forth from the bottomless pit in Hell in many long centuries.
Yet Apollyon waited for the call to come, faithful and patient, committed to his duty even as others around him chose to live by their own commands. Many of his fellow warriors had softened and fallen for mortal women, their devotion wavering and their commitment altering to their love. He would do no such thing. He had no interest in mortals.
His dark blue gaze darted around the silvery pool, following the history it was recording, stopping a moment on images that interested him. Wars. Death. Bloodshed. It was something that never changed. One day, his master would call him and Earth would know the true meaning of destruction.
The pool cast pale light on him as he crouched near it with his elbows resting on his knees, his hands dangling in front of him. The intricate gold metalwork on the black greaves protecting his shins and the vambraces around his forearms caught the light and shone.
With a sigh, Apollyon unfurled his mighty black feathered wings and stood. He stretched, causing the chest plate of his armour to rise as he lifted his arms, and then stared up at the endless black above him. The fires of Hell burned at his back. Their smoke filled the cavern, making him long to go to Earth. It had been eternity since he had left the pit and spread his wings, breathing the refreshing air and feeling it beat against him. He ached to soar above the cities again, unseen and unknown, and to speak with the angels that walked on Earth and watched over the mortals.
He longed to be free of the choking fires of Hell.
Apollyon was about to turn away and go to the edge of the pit when his blue gaze caught on something in the pool. He frowned and crouched again. The long strands of his black hair fell forwards as he leaned over the pool and stared at the image he had stopped before him.
A lone female.
He often saw her. She liked to walk in the park alone these days and her expression was sometimes troubled, as though she bore a heavy weight on her heart. What was she thinking when she looked like that? The park wasn't the only place that he had noticed her. He had seen her indirectly too, picking her out of a crowd or seeing her passing through an image that had interested him, and each time his gaze had followed her until she had disappeared from view.
She stood staring up at the Eiffel Tower, her back to him and the gentle breeze catching her short red dress and tousling her long fair hair. He didn't need to see her face to know that it was her. No other mortal captivated him as she could.
Roses framed the view, obscuring much of her legs. He cocked his head to one side and ran his gaze over what he could see. He had never seen her dressed like this. She had always worn layers of clothing in the past, her legs covered and a thick black coat encasing her slender frame. The seasons had passed so quickly and he hadn't noticed that it was almost summer on Earth. The image changed, panning up the height of the Eiffel Tower and he wanted it to go back to her until he saw the stretching blue sky above the top of the tower.
Apollyon reached out to the pool, desperate to touch that sky and feel the sun beating down on his wings as he flew.
The image drifted away, replaced with a succession of others that he had no interest in. It was summer. He stood and imagined flying in that blue sky and how exhilarating it would be. He imagined the whole of Paris stretched out below him. He had never been there but he knew it well from the images he had seen. What would it be like to see such a city?
To see such a female in the flesh?
He shook that thought away and reminded himself that he had no interest in mortal women.
If he didn't, why did his heart stop whenever he saw her?
Apollyon looked back into the pool and then turned away from it. His duty was to his master. He had to remain here, guardian of the bottomless pit, suffering the acrid fires of Hell, until his master called him.
No one was going to call him. He was going to spend the rest of eternity trapped in his own personal Hell.
A dark curse rolled off his tongue and a noise like thunder rumbled in the distance.
A familiar feeling built inside him, a sense that someone was speaking his name. He listened, trying to hear the voice of his master, knowing he would be the one who called to him. It wasn't clear.
He felt the call but couldn't discern where it was coming from.
Apollyon grabbed his sword, buckled the sheath to his waist, and didn't wait for the call to come again. This was his chance to escape Hell and he would take it. His master was calling him from somewhere. He had a mission again at last.
He spread his wings and with a single strong beat lifted into the air. The wind from them blew the dark smoke back and they raised him higher and higher, until he reached the ceiling of his prison and stretched a hand up to it. The black rock parted before him and he turned and flew upwards, faster now that he could see a crack of blue sky above him. Hundreds of feet of rock passed him at a blurry speed and he finally broke free into the fresh air. He shot upwards, his black wings beating furiously against the warm air, and didn't stop until he reached the clouds.
Apollyon hovered there, casting his dark blue eyes over the world at his feet, the chill wind blowing through his long black hair. It was as beautiful as he remembered, more so in fact. The cities the mortals had built fascinated him. He swooped lower, searching for his mission and listening for his master's call. What did he desire him to do? Apollyon would do anything for his master. He had destroyed many cities in his name and cast many sinners into the bottomless pit. He had even fought the Devil and defeated him.
He frowned when he saw the city.
The desire to go to the Eiffel Tower and find the mortal female was strong but he resisted it and flew over the city, trying to find his master. The call was quieter now and difficult to locate. It burned within him, relentless and driving him to search, even when he was beginning to wonder if he would be searching forever and if this was just a cruel joke because he had cursed.
The Devil would do such a despicable thing. He had a strong voice and could throw it well. He had always promised Apollyon that he would pay for all the times he had cast him back into Hell.
Apollyon swooped lower, effortlessly cutting through the warmer air, delighting at the feel of it tickling his black feathers and washing over his skin. Turning, he dived down a side street, skimming low above the heads of the mortals, causing a wind to gust against them. He smiled when they shrieked and grabbed their clothes to keep them in place. It was wrong to take such childish pleasure from doing such things, but all angels had a tendency to misuse their invisibility.
A strong beat of his wings and he was soaring upwards again. He landed on the edge of the roof of an old pale stone building and looked across the city towards the Eiffel Tower. It speared the clear sky, surrounded by lush green at the base. He was about to fly there when he felt as though someone was speaking his name again.
Apollyon focused, frowning as he tried to discern the direction it was coming from. His gaze shot back to the Eiffel Tower. There?
He ran to the far edge of the building and leapt off, waiting until he was close to the flagstones of the square below before he unfurled his wings and beat them, shooting straight across the square only a few feet above the ground. He ducked and weaved through the people and came out over a grassy bank. The river was ahead and beyond it the Eiffel Tower. He flew straight for it and then came to an abrupt halt in mid-air when he heard the call again. It was behind him.
He scoured the people below. Was his master down there, amongst them, calling to him?
His master had several guises. Apollyon's eyes darted over the mortals, stopping for barely a second on each face. None of them matched how he remembered his master.
The call came clearer this time, beating in his heart. His gaze shot in the direction it had come from and his eyes widened.
A fair-haired mortal female stood beside one of the fountains below, her back to him and the warm breeze playing with the short skirt of her dark red dress. The jets of water from the fountains sprayed high, the droplets catching the wind and settling on his skin when it blew towards him.
It had to be the Devil's work.
He had been watching her, had cursed, and then she had called him. It was ridiculous. No mortal had the power to call an angel, and he had not had a different master since eternity began and the angels had made a pact with him.
Cautiously, Apollyon swooped down, closer to her, hovering bare metres above her head. Had she called him?
She raised a hand to her face and it lingered there. He couldn't see what she was doing. Her shoulders heaved and a wave of sorrow and anger washed over him. She was hurting.
He landed mid-way along the bridge over the river behind her and stepped down off the wall, changing his appearance as he did so. His wings didn't want to disappear and it took several strides towards her before he was sure the mortals wouldn't see them and that his glamour was falling into place. He changed his clothes, replacing his armour with a fine black suit, with a black shirt and a dark blue tie, and then swept his long hair back and tied it at the nape of his neck in a ponytail.
Finally, he lifted the force that made him invisible to the mortal eye and walked casually towards her. He took the blue handkerchief from his pocket, stepped up behind her, and hesitated for only a moment before touching her shoulder.
"Are you alright?" he said in French, hoping he had the right language and the right words. He hadn't spoken to anyone in a long time and although he knew modern languages, he had never used them.
She touched her face again, her long fair hair a curtain which he couldn't see beyond, and sniffed. When she turned to face him, she was smiling. Her hazel eyes lit on the offered handkerchief at first and then slowly ran up his arm to his chest and then towards his face. She was more beautiful in the flesh, her features soft and her eyes round. She could be an angel herself. He hadn't realised how much shorter than him she would be. She was at least a head shorter, and petite too.
The moment her gaze met his, her expression changed. Her hand stopped close to taking the handkerchief and horror filled her eyes.
"Get away from me." Her French held a sharp note of panic and then she stormed towards the bridge.
Apollyon frowned, looked at the handkerchief, and then went after her.
She glanced over her shoulder and her pace increased. It was easy to close the gap between them. His strides were longer than hers and her little heeled sandals were clearly not made for a swift escape.
"Leave me alone."
Why was she running?
People were staring, murmuring to each other. She was causing a scene and he wasn't quite sure why.
"Get away from me!" She turned to face him and then backed away, the fear still bright in her eyes. They darkened when she frowned and spoke as though uttering a curse. "Abaddon."
He hadn't heard that name in a long time.
She knew he was an angel.
How? Had his glamour failed? It had been millennia since he'd had to cast one. He looked around them at the watching mortals. None of them looked afraid. If they could see an angel before them as she could, they would be reacting the same as she was. People would be screaming that the Apocalypse was nigh and the world was going to end. He would be in serious trouble with his master.
He remembered that she had called him. Could she see through the glamour? Was she different somehow to other mortals?
"I don't want to die," she muttered almost beneath her breath and cast a fearful look his way.
This wasn't going as he had expected. She wasn't supposed to have been able to see that he was an angel. She was supposed to have accepted his kind offer of a handkerchief to dry her tears and told him why she was crying so he could figure out what he was doing here and whether someone was playing a trick on him.
Tears spilled down her cheeks and she wrapped her arms around herself, making herself small and making him want to reach out to her and somehow ease her suffering. Whatever pain had caused her to cry, it was still strong within her heart, tormenting her. He could feel it. There was some sort of connection to her that gave him insight into her feelings, a sense that she needed him and that they were supposed to have met here today.
It was ridiculous.
A mortal could never call him. They didn't have the voice.
He had been alone too long and was dreaming all of this, seeing things as he wanted them and not with clear eyes.
There was only one way of finding out whether she had called him somehow. He had hoped to discover it through casual conversation but that wasn't an option now. It was time for a more direct approach.
He stepped towards her and she backed away again, holding both of her hands out as though that gesture alone could stop him if he wanted to get to her.
"Please," she whispered and shook her head, sending more tears tumbling down her pale cheeks.
"Leave her alone." A burly man started towards him.
Apollyon lost patience and cast his hand out, waving it across the gathered crowd. "There is nothing interesting to see here."
Their expressions went slack and they moved as one, drifting off and back into their own lives, moving past him and the mortal woman as though they weren't even there.
"Oh God, you're going to kill me."
He frowned at her. "Why would you say such a thing?"
"It's what you do." There was accusation in her tone and a hint of bravery.
Courage in the face of death?
A moment ago, she had been fleeing him and now she looked ready to fight.
"I have not done such a thing in a very long time." He sighed. It was never going to leave him. Spend a few centuries as the angel of death and no one forgets. Everyone presumes you're still in charge of taking life's final breath from mortals. Still, it was better than the other rumour that he was the Devil. "There is a fleet of angels who do it now."
She didn't look as though she believed him. Her hands trembled in front of her.
"I didn't ask for my powers. Please don't take me there."
"Where?" His patience was wearing thin again and he seemed to be unable to get his question out into the open. He tracked back over what she had said.
"All the fires of Hell are in your wake... I don't want to go there. I haven't done anything wrong."
Apollyon looked behind him. All he could see was Paris. The edge of the stone bridge and the murky river, and the city beyond.
"You are gifted." He looked back at her, deep into her hazel eyes. She nodded. Was this how she had called him? He frowned and looked at the fountains at the other end of the bridge behind him and then at her. "What were you doing there?"
She looked past him, blinked a few times, and then her eyebrows rose. "Nothing really. Contemplating life, I guess, and how shitty it was."
"You did not ask for anything?" He stepped closer to her and this time she didn't back away. She kept staring at the fountain with wide eyes. Tears lined her dark lashes. All of her fear disappeared and the pain returned. She clutched her hands to her chest, and he felt the hurt well up inside her, overwhelming her.
"Revenge," she whispered and her gaze darted to him. "I asked for vengeance against that cheating bastard."
Cheating? A sinner?
She had called for vengeance and he had heard her, and he had felt compelled to answer and accept her mission. He couldn't. Contracting with her would break the one between him and his master.
Apollyon looked at her, studying her pale beauty.
She had called him and he had come. She was his master now. He had accepted the mission and the contract the moment he had left Hell.
He was going to get into trouble for this.
It had been a while since he had been on Earth though, and although the angels who watched over mortals now tolerated the old sins and only took them into account at death rather than punished the sinner during their life, he did still hate some of them.
Infidelity in particular.
"Are you really here to kill me?"
Apollyon smiled and a hint of colour touched her cheeks. "You called me and I came to you, not to take your life but to ease your suffering."
She swallowed and looked as though she was going to deny that she was in pain. Apollyon stepped up to her and touched her face. Her skin was warm, soft, and felt good beneath his fingertips. He caressed her cheek, placed his fingers under her chin, and raised her eyes to his.
"Whatever he did to you, I will make him suffer for it, but no man is worth such tears. Your heart will heal in time and you will love again."
Her hazel eyes searched his.
Apollyon stared deep into them, feeling a strange warmth travel along his hand from where his fingertips touched her face. It chased through him and finally settled in his chest, burning there, stirring feelings that he had long forgotten existed.
"I will give you the revenge you seek."
Those words were distant to his ears even though they issued from his lips.
He was lost in her eyes, in the way she was looking at him with so much warmth.
Was it gratitude that made her look that way?
Or was it something else?
"Are you a goddess?" he whispered, trying to keep his thoughts on track and on his mission.
She shook her head, moving his fingers with her, and licked her lips. He made the mistake of looking at them, watching the soft pink tip of her tongue sweep over them. A surge of hunger swept through him and he took his hand away, shocked by the strength of his desire and the suddenness of it.
"I'm a witch," she said, matter of fact, with a little shrug.
Apollyon stared at her. Was he making a terrible mistake by helping her? A part of him said to leave now before it was too late and he became too deeply involved with her.
He couldn't though.
She had cast a spell on him.
And he was a slave to her.
Close this window