For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!
I am Sera, Angel of Death.
A millennia ago, Thane, the god of death, removed one of his ribs and breathed me into existence for one purpose. To maintain balance. To keep war from returning to Eres.
Since the beginning of time, Madden, the god of the living, and Thane have fought for control of the people of Eres. After much bloodshed, a compromise was made: Madden would create an angel to release a soul from the Pool of Life, and Thane would create an angel to return a soul to the pool.
I am Thane’s angel. The only one of my kind.
I owe my entire existence to him, and would do anything he asked of me. Claim any soul. Even my own, if I had one.
Every morning since Thane created me, my arm glowed with a name. And every night, after I claimed that person’s soul, the name faded away.
For years I have fought a constant battle to keep the balance between the living and the dead. One soul too many in the world and the balance would shift, ushering in a war to end all wars.
The name glowed in silver script on my pale arm. I smoothed a hand over the skirt of my black dress and stood, my grey wings spreading open behind me. I walked out of my room in the Great Palace and onto the balcony. With a single flap of my wings, I took to the skies.
Cool air rushed over me as I soared toward Eres and my assignment. Strands of my black hair whipped into my eyes, and I brushed them away, wishing I’d taken a moment to bind my hair back before I left.
I soared over mountains, past fields, heading for the outskirts of the village where the people of Eres clustered in colorful homes. My arm tingled, signaling I was close to today’s soul, Slade Neward. I circled over a pretty little Cape Cod in a cheery yellow with maroon shutters, my arm pulsing with burning heat. My assignment was here.
Landing on the rooftop without a sound, I sat, pleating my skirt with my fingers as I studied this Eresian’s home. The mid-morning sun shone on a meticulously manicured green lawn. Colorful mums, in perfect bloom, filled the flower beds lining the walk to the door. As I examined the well-cared for home, I tried to create a mental picture of Slade from what I saw.
He was probably an older man, retired, who had lived a full life and was now ready to return to the Pool of Life so he could be reborn and start a new life. Thane explained it to me once. He said that the souls didn’t remember ever being born, that each life was a new experience, and would continue until the end of time.
Part of me envied the souls. I would never be anything but an Angel of Death. I would never experience being born, or growing old, or dying. Well, I guess I experienced dying everyday when I claimed a soul, but I didn’t know what it felt like for the Eresian.
The squeak of the front door caught my attention and I peered down as my assignment stepped outside. My imaginings couldn’t have been further from reality. Slade Neward was young, probably early twenties. He had long legs and was leanly muscled. Shaggy brown hair hung in his eyes, begging for someone to sweep the locks away from his face.
Something was wrong. Thane had never taken the soul of someone so young, unless they had committed a horrible crime. Why would he choose this man? He didn’t seem anything like the vile souls I’d collected in the past. Why would Thane choose someone so full of potential?
Slade jumped off the porch and crossed to the driveway in two strides. He paused at the open driver’s door and I caught a glimpse of his face. Eyes like warm honey glowed in the morning sun, and full lips curved in a smile. I felt an unfamiliar pull in my chest. This boy called to me as no assignment ever had, and I needed to know why before I could claim his soul.
I lifted into the air, sending a loose shingle sliding down the rooftop. Slade glanced up, his golden eyes widening as they locked on me. I froze, barely daring to breathe. No Eresian could see me. Yet, there was no doubt in my mind that Slade did.
He frowned and closed his eyes. Acting on instinct, I flew to the giant pine at the end of the driveway and hid in the shadow of its branches. I peered out from the needled limbs, watching as Slade spun around in a circle, his gaze sweeping past me before he faced the roof and scratched his head.
“Must have been my imagination,” he muttered before taking off in his car.
I followed him, careful to stay out of view, not wanting to risk the chance of him seeing me again. He parked in the lot outside the local college and sauntered toward the door of a large building. Halfway there, he stopped and headed for a copse of trees.
Aha! Maybe this is why Thane chose him. Perhaps this Slade is up to no good in these woods.
Careful not to disturb the ready-to-fall leaves, I picked my way into the trees, certain I’d find him doing something evil. Something to make him worthy of removal from Eres. But, when I peered down through the leaves, I saw nothing but the leaf covered ground.
“Who are you?”
I jolted, my wings thwacking into the branches, scattering leaves to the ground. Somehow, Slade managed to sneak halfway up the tree I hovered beside. I pressed a hand to my thundering heart and settled on a branch, remaining silent in the hopes that he’d go away, thinking me something he imagined.
“It’s not going to work.” I arched a brow and he chuckled. “Standing perfectly still, or closing your eyes doesn’t mean I can’t see you. I can. And I know you’re real. I just watched you knock half the leaves out of that tree.”
Busted. I took a deep breath and whispered, “I’m Sera.”
“Hello. I’m Slade.”
I nodded. “I know.”
“How do you know?” His brows raised. His gaze caressing the planes of my face and the edges of my wings. “And, what are you?”
I was in uncharted territory. Never in the history of time had I talked to an assignment. I closed my eyes and prayed to Thane for guidance. When he didn’t respond, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to tell Slade what I was.
“I am the Angel of Death. I collect souls for Thane, to keep the world in balance.”
Slade nodded. “I see. So, who are you here for?”
I dropped my gaze, pretending to take interest in the bark beneath my feet. When the silence stretched into discomfort, I finally looked up, wishing I could give a different answer.
He swallowed hard. “I should’ve guessed that. So, how’s it work?”
I shook my head. “How can you accept all that so easily? I just told you I’m here to take your life, and you’re okay with that?”
Slade shrugged and tucked his hands into his pockets. “I wouldn’t say I’m okay with it, but what can I do? It’s my fate, right? My soul will return to the Pool of Life and be reborn. Hopefully next time it will experience more. Or perhaps this is to balance out the longer life I had last time.”
“I don’t think I could be so understanding. If someone wanted to end my existence I’d want to rage and cry out, not calmly accept my fate.”
“It wouldn’t do me any good to fight. Nothing would change. At sundown, you would still claim my soul.” He cocked his head. “So, how does this work, anyway? Do you run a sword through me? Or suck the life out of me with a kiss?” He flashed a grin. “Of the two, I’d prefer that one.”
I giggled. “I’ll take note of that.” Slade was kind, sweet, and funny—unlike any Eresian I had ever encountered. And it pained me to know that by sundown I’d be taking his life away. “Usually I follow my assignment around and design a death fitting of their life. Just before the sun sets, I set things in motion and take their soul.”
He looked at the band on his wrist. “So, that gives me about eight hours of life left. It would be silly to spend that time in school, learning things I’m never going to need. And my friends are all too far away to see before my time runs out.” He lifted his head and locked his gaze on mine. “How would you like to spend the day with me?”
“Before you say no—”
“How do you know I’m going to say no?”
He grinned, revealing slightly crooked front teeth. “I’m a good judge of character.” I rolled my eyes and he continued. “I’m the only person who’s ever seen you, aren’t I?”
I gasped. “How…? Yes. I don’t know why you can see me, but no one ever has before.”
“So, it should be safe for you to spend the day with me.” His grin widened, and the tug in my chest returned. “I might look a little crazy talking to myself, but I’m willing to risk it if you are.”
A day with an Eresian. It was something I’d always wanted, but never dared to ask for. “Yes. I’d like to spend the day with you.”
“Excellent. I’ll meet you at my car.”
I flew out of the trees and waited beside his car. A minute later, Slade opened the passenger door and waved me inside. I stared at him, beginning to wonder if he really was insane.
“You do realize my wings will be in the way, right?”
He shrugged. “We’ll figure it out. Now, get in.”
I climbed inside, my wings folded behind me, careful to keep them out of his space, and we headed down the highway toward the lake. Half an hour later we walked down to the water’s edge and stared at the horizon.
“I love it here. It’s so peaceful and quiet. Calming.” Slade winged a pebble toward the water and it skipped over the surface. “It makes all my worries go away.”
It was a beautiful place. A soft breeze blew in from the lake, bringing the scent of fresh water and damp earth. Small waves lapped at the sandy beach, the sound soothing and restful.
I closed my eyes against a pang of guilt. This would be the last time Slade would see this place. The last time he would skip stones across the rippling surface. I looked at my arm again, wondering if I had made a mistake. The silver script glowed bright, as it always did when I hovered near my assignment. There was no mistake. Slade Neward had to die.
Time inched by as he skipped another stone. And another.
“Here. You try.”
“I don’t know how.” I glanced around the empty beach. “And what if someone sees?”
“They’ll think it was me.” He fit a stone in my palm, positioned my thumb and forefinger, then wrapped his hand around mine. “It’s all in the wrist.”
He held me close as we winged the stone toward the water. It hit the surface and sunk. Over and over, he tried to help me make at least one skip, but the stones just sunk as soon as they touched the water.
Frustrated, I walked away. Birds flew overhead, their cries mournful, as if they knew what was about to happen to Slade and were expressing their grief. Unfamiliar feelings bottled up inside me, ones I didn’t know what to do with, until I was filled with a need to run. To flee far from this place of peace.
“Let’s go somewhere else.” Without waiting for an answer, I headed to the parking lot.
“Where to?” Slade asked as he started the car.
I had expected him to say something about my rudeness, or complain about these being his last hours on Eres so he should be the one to choose what to do. But it was as if he sensed my distress and wanted to comfort me.
“Where else do you want to go?”
Slade didn’t answer, just turned onto the road and drove to a wooded area. Sunlight streamed through the colored leaves, making the air glow with warmth and radiance. I walked beside him until we reached a large oak tree. Slade sat on the ground, and leaned against the trunk. He patted the grass beside him, and I sat, looping my arms around my knees.
“This is my second favorite place,” he tipped his head back and stared up at the trees. “There’s just something about walking through the shade of the trees that makes me happy to be alive.”
The leaves rustled in the soft breeze, carrying the scents of dirt, decomposition, and a hint of pine. Slade sat in a spotlight of sunshine that brought out hints of red in his brown hair. This was a perfect place, one I’d never be able to visit again. Not without Slade.
Like at the lake, my heart ached, and my eyes burned. I blinked, but it only caused my vision to blur, and a warm liquid to trail down my cheeks.
“Hey,” he brushed a hand over my cheek and I jerked away, confused by what was happening. “It’s going to be okay.”
I swiped a hand over my cheek and stared at the wetness gathered on my fingertips.
“It’s normal. They’re tears.”
“Tears are for Eresians not an Angel of Death.” I stood and stalked a few steps away.
“Tears are a sign of great sadness. Or immense joy.” He sauntered to my side. “Are you not allowed to feel emotions?”
I snorted. “Of course I can feel emotions.”
“And does my pending death make you happy or sad?”
I glared at him. “How could you think I would be happy to take your life?”
He shrugged. “I assume you’ve been pleased to take the other souls you’ve returned to the Pool. Some because they had lived a full life, others because they were cruel and didn’t belong among the Eresians.”
“I wouldn’t say I was pleased to take their lives, but they did not cause me distress.”
“And me? Where do I fall in that grouping?”
I stared at him through tear filled eyes. “You don’t. I don’t know why Thane chose your name. And that’s the problem.” I turned away. “I never should have come with you. This was a bad idea.”
Slade sighed, the sound filled with frustration. “You said you get to know your assignments so you can find the perfect death for them.” He turned me around and tipped my chin until I met his eyes. “I want you to know me so I get my perfect death.”
I gazed into his honey eyes. Sometime today, Slade had gone from being a job to someone I wanted to spend time with, to know all there was to know about.
Someone whose soul I couldn’t take.
I shook my head and backed away. Turning, I ran from the woods, past the car, and launched into the air. While we’d waited in the woods, the sun had continued its journey across the sky. Soon it would dip below the horizon and I’d be forced to take Slade’s soul.
Footsteps pounded below me and I sobbed as I flew. I had to get away from him, had to find another soul to take before the sunset. Had to keep the balance.
Buildings rose up replacing the trees and fields of the countryside. The setting sun glinting off their windows and chrome accents in a blinding light. I winged around them, heading toward the worst part of town. The air turned rank, and the buildings became run-down. Crumbled bricks and dirty, broken windows seemed to absorb the light creating a blackness that the vilest of Eresians fed off of.
In a dank alley, I found the man I searched for. His victim lay bleeding at his feet. Triumphant, I grabbed him by the neck and slammed his head into the wall. The sound of breaking bones filled the air and his body went limp and tumbled to the ground. A black haze hovered over him and I leaned down, inhaling the mist into my lungs. His soul collected, I flapped my wings and soared toward the Temple of Madden, where, I would transfer his soul to the Angel of Life.
I landed on the rooftop of the church and stood across from Azriel. He was tall, like Slade, with golden hair. His bright white shirt and pants stood out in stark contrast against the darkening sky. We’d exchanged souls a myriad of times. A simple kiss and the transaction was done. But tonight, the thought of kissing him seemed wrong.
I shrugged off my misgivings and watched the sky. The last inch of the sun hovered on the horizon. As the orange orb dipped out of sight, footsteps pounded behind me.
I wheeled around. “No! You have to leave. You can’t be here.”
Slade hesitated. “But, I thought you needed my soul.”
Tears pooled in my eyes, blurring my vision. “I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t take your soul. But I had to have a soul, so I took another.”
“You what?” Azriel’s voice boomed across the rooftop, echoing over the town like thunder. “You have violated the agreement. I cannot accept this soul.”
“Please,” I begged. “You must. A soul for a soul. That’s the agreement. I have a soul, you have to take it.”
Azriel narrowed his eyes. “No. And I will tell Madden of your transgression.”
Before he could leave, I leaped forward and kissed Azriel, transferring the murderer’s soul to him.
"What have you done?" Azriel backed away, fear burning in his eyes.
A black mist circled over the church and the air turned frigid. Azriel rushed to the edge and took to the sky. Agonizing pain burned into my arm and I watched in horror as Slade’s name turned from silver to black. I’d done the unthinkable. In saving Slade’s life, I started a war.
“What’s happening?” Slade stepped beside me, wrapping his arm around my waist. I found the protective gesture comforting, even though I knew Slade could offer no protection for what was to come.
“Sera!” The roof shook beneath my feet as Thane formed before me. I craned my neck to look him in the eye. He was a fearsome sight on most days, but tonight he was terrifying. Fire flickered in his black eyes, emphasising the white of his face. His arms bulged as he stalked toward me, the building groaning in protest of each step. “You have disobeyed me and broken the treaty.”
I stood tall and squared my shoulders, angered that he accused me of breaking the treaty. “I didn’t disobey. I took a soul.”
He pointed at Slade, blue lighting flickering around his finger. “You took the wrong soul.”
I tipped my head, acknowledging the truth. “But balance was maintained.”
“Balance is not yours to define.” Thane’s tone softened. “Slade’s soul was to be taken so it could be reborn tomorrow. The soul you took hadn’t finished its purpose yet. You’ve upset the balance and now he must pay for your mistake.”
“No! It was my fault. He had nothing to do with my actions.” I planted myself in front of Slade, knowing Thane could move me with a thought.
Thane’s face filled with pain as he gently set a hand on my shoulder. “I am sorry, but there is no other way.”
“It’s okay, Sera. I understand and am ready to give my soul.”
“I won’t be taking your soul.”
“It doesn’t matter. I will accept whatever punishment you give.”
Thane faced me, sadness brimming in his eyes. “Because you desired to keep Slade at your side, you have upset the balance of Eres. To make amends, you are stipped of the title of Angel of Death and relegated to Shadow Warrior.” He reached out a hand, pulled a sword from the blackness swirling around him, and handed it to me
I accepted the sword with a shaking hand. Shadow Warriors fought shades, vampires, and ghouls. Only the most proficient of soldiers were chosen for the ranks. Or, those Thane wished to send to a quick death. I tipped my head forward, acknowledging my punishment and accepting it, and tightened my grip on the sword. At least I would die for a good cause.
“What of Slade? You said he would pay for my error.”
“Slade will lose his soul during the day and regain it at night.”
I frowned. “I don’t understand.”
“From this day forward, I curse Slade to the form of a gargoyle. By day, he will stand atop this church, guarding the parishioners from evil spirits. By night, he will come to life and fight at your side.” Thane held my gaze. “You must watch over Slade during the day, for any damage done to him in his stone form is not repairable. Should his head be removed, he will die at nightfall.” Thane turned to Slade. “You must protect Sera against her enemies, if she falls in battle, she will die. Do you both understand?”
“Yes,” we said in unison.
“Good. Let the transformation begin.”
Slade dropped to his knees, crying out as his muscles bunched and shifted. He writhed in pain, a pain I caused by not following the rules. I wanted to take away the hurt, to bleed for him, but I couldn’t. My punishment was to watch him pay for my crime.
The transformation took hours. Every pain filled scream cut through me like pieces of jagged glass. The sky tinged pink when Slade stood beside me again, a grotesque mockery of the handsome boy he'd been.
The first rays of sunlight filtered through the air and I watched in awe as Slade turned to stone, inch by inch. As the golden rays bathed over me, I settled on a nearby bench, sword in hand, and began my first watch.
Twisting tales one story at a time.
YA author Mary Waibel’s love for fairytales and happy-ever fill the pages of her works. Whether penning stories in a medieval setting or a modern day school, magic and romance weave their way inside every tale. Strong female characters use both brain and brawn to save the day and win the heart of their men. Mary enjoys connecting with her readers through her website: marywaibel.blogspot.com