The angels descended on Rome in the dead of winter. Three of them – forsaken, pale and naked creatures arriving in the black night like falling silver stars.
Sophrosyne watched the heavenly bodies approach with a shiver. She had seen angels before, but these were different – they made an uneasiness crawl in her bones. There was something ragged about them. Something broken and awful. When the angels landed at the temple steps before the clergy, they were unsteady, weak and disoriented.
The first was a male, with a stern pride evident in his eyes, even in this moment when his spirit was ruined and beaten, there was a harsh resonance inside him. He wavered, then gathered his strength and stood tall, with his broad shoulders pressed back. He regarded the clergy – a priest, two priestesses, and a handful of maidens – with dispassion and gave a polite bow dutifully.
“I am Themis,” he said. “Archangel of this trust. This is Jezeliel and Metos.”
The female, Jezeliel, was a slight figure, even by human standards. The look in her eyes reflected only damage; desecration. Her wings weren’t white like the first angel’s, but blue. Every possible incarnation of blue
ruffled as single feathers along her powerful wings. They ranged from pale cyan, like the day at noon, to deep indigo, and every shade between, including those with odd bluish tints not unlike chrome or silver.
She held back a flood, swallowing and batting her lilac eyes, but gave a weak smile to each of the clergy as she bowed elegantly before them. They returned the bow and she faded back, behind the first angel.
Metos was the last of them and looked used – worn and apathetic. He had blond hair that fell in erratic curls around his face and deep blue eyes that wavered, crossed into mocha as his feet settled on the earth. Red and gold wings towered over him like a blazing frame. He gave each of the humans standing before him a tired nod before sinking back behind the first angel.
About all of them fell endless shimmering feathers that spiraled in the wind, around their bare feet, across the cracked marble steps, and up to the decayed temple spires. Their wings were becoming bare and raw in spots, bleeding in others.
Sophrosyne whispered to the high priestess. “Why do they look like that?”
Peithe’s response was barely audible, a trickle of words invisible over the expansive forum. “They’re transforming,” she said.She stepped forward and bowed before the angels.
“I am Peithe,” she said. “High priestess of this temple. This is Litae, and Limos.” She introduced the other priestess and priest, but made no acknowledgement of the maidens.
“It is an honor to receive you.” Themis gave her a brief nod.
“Come,” she said. “The altar is ready.”
She turned and led the way into the temple. The angels filed behind her, and the rest of the congregation behind them. The temple was cold. Rough lines ran through its length where the marble split. Spiders made webs in the cracks and crept the halls freely. Blackened, crying statues stood in bleak, silent homage to the saints and martyrs of the past all along the dark corridor.
The assembly marched through the temple until they reached the altar at the back, where they climbed the steps and divided into two sides. Sophrosyne took the side of the priestesses as she’d been instructed earlier and knelt before one of the three stone thrones. The angels sat at the thrones on the opposite end, folding their wings carefully behind them.
The priest and priestesses stripped themselves of their clothes to match the naked angels, then took their seats. Peithe took the throne before Sophrosyne and a wash basin was brought forth. Peithe dropped 9 black stones into the water and whispered at it. The surface rippled and foamed in response. At the other thrones, the same was happening, in preparation for the ceremony.
Sophrosyne took a rag from the altar and dipped it into the basin. She muttered the chants under her breath as she wrung the cloth above Peithe’s chest. Water ran in thick rivers over her smooth, pale skin, from her clavicle and down her breast. Brief droplets hung at the tips of her nipples before falling and splashing against her bare thigh.
Sophrosyne whispered to the priestess while she worked, continuing their earlier conversation, “What are they transforming into?” she said.
“Derelictae,” Peithe whispered back. “The forsaken angels.”
Sophrosyne worked the rag over Peithe, wetting every inch of her body with the frothy water until the priestess was covered in a thin layer of glistening bubbles. A new basin was brought out and blessed again, but did not foam this time.
“To save us.”
She wet a new cloth in the clean water and washed the suds from Peithe’s body. She started with her back this time, letting the water run in strange arrays like a delta down her spine.
“If they’re here to save us, then why are they forsaken?”
“For the sins they must commit to do so.”
Sophrosyne took to her knees and to make sure every single inch of Peithe was unquestionably clean. She ran the cloth over the curve of Peithe’s ass and down along her pussy lips. She slipped it inside her slit, causing Peithe to shiver and clear her throat.
Sophrosyne looked back at them over her shoulder. “Sins?”
“Yes. These ones will be Praelitae. Angels of war. There is always evil in war. They sacrificed their station in heaven forever to serve humanity in the darkest of ways. There is no salvation for them.”
Sophrosyne used two fingers to press the rag deep inside Peithe and cleanse her insides. She swirled her fingers against Peithe’s vaginal walls and watched the priestess gasp and clutch the arms of the throne.
“Who are they warring?” Sophrosyne asked.
Peithe’s eyes batted as she tried to bring her mind back to focus. “The vampires,” she said.
Sophrosyne stopped as a cold terror ran through her. She swallowed. “The vampires? They abandoned heaven to war the vampires?”
“Yes,” Peithe said. “They came to answer our prayers.”
Sophrosyne nodded, distracted. “Of course.”
She shook her head and went back to work. She wet the cloth once more and soaked Peithe’s clit, and then down between her thighs, making sure that every last stretch of skin was thoroughly cleansed.
After the cleansing, there was painting. The priest, priestesses, and angels were adorned with bright, glistening jewelry and inked with designs of strange and familiar creatures. The ghosts of faiths past – the drake, the kelkie, the fenrir, and the bennu, among others, all snaking menacingly over their skin.
At last, came the ceremony. Peithe and Themis were first. Sophrosyne and the other maidens lit incense and laid rings of juniper in the holy water while the angel and priestess stood and met in the center.
He touched her first, pulling her towards him. He kissed her hard, cradling her body against his, and exploring her flesh with roaming hands. He tasted her neck, sucking and kissing her soft skin.
Sophrosyne looked on with desperate curiosity. She wondered what it might be like to have a man’s tongue tracing her skin, wondered what it would be like for a man to have at her body with a hungry force.
She caught the other male angel, Metos, watching her. His face was blank, but his eyes were fixed on her. She looked away and then to the others to see if she shouldn’t be watching. They seemed unfazed. The angel and priestess’s united shadow spread across the floor, ending near the throne. Sophrosyne focused on that. Themis pushed Peithe to the ground and mounted her, his wings casting a great shadow, broader than the both of them combined.
The maiden’s eyes drifted back to the lovers. The angel was bigger than human men. Every inch of him was muscular and cut like a living sculpture. His dark hair fell in his face as he buried his lips against her breast. He licked her nipples and took the great majority of her bosom in his mouth.
Sophrosyne’s hand unconsciously went to her own soft mounds, letting her fingers trail across their surface, raising her own nipples. Her eyes darted back to Metos who gave a silent, amused chuckle and looked away.
Themis held the priestess’s knee up to her chest and aligned his nakedness with hers. She jumped when he pressed into her and bit her lip. He slowed and opened her legs wider, gently taking her virginity.
The angel dove deeper and deeper into her human flesh and, as he did so, new feathers sprung forth across his wings – all of them a uniform and endless black with the shimmer of a raven’s coat. He pulled her up to him and sucked on her breast with a ravenous urgency.
She dug her nails into his back, just under his wings, pulling him closer. She arched her back and moaned as he plummeted into her again and again. Her eyes rolled with pleasure and, for a second, they fell on the surrounding audience. Peithe’s gaze quickly darted away – away from those watching her get violated on the sacred temple floor.
The others also averted their stares and Metos and Sophrosyne found each other again. There was a kindness in him. A distant uncertainty and vulnerability underneath the initial careless mask.
Themis grunted as he held the priestess tight and lurched inside her in disjointed convulsions. His body curled, tightened over her as he let out another pleasured cry. His eyes were squeezed shut and, for a minute, he held his breath – as if he couldn’t be brought to focus on a single other thing at that moment, not even breathing.
Peithe clung to him, her muscles taught and focused around his body. Themis relaxed and rested his head on her chest. The pair laid at the center for a moment, catching their exploded energy and panting.
They regained their composure quickly and got to their feet, each moving back to their respective thrones.
The priest and Jezeliel were next. They each moved forward with a great deal more fearfulness than the first two. They regarded each other with polite respect for a moment before he approached her carefully.
She was short for an angel and he loomed over her head by a few inches, but her wings stretched well above them both. She kissed him when he neared. She took his hand and guided it to her breast. They were full and had a perfect round and perky shape. He closed his eyes when his fingers graced it.
She watched his expression with blue eyes reminiscent of a falcon. She let him feel her breast for a good measure, then guided him down between her legs. He let himself be directed and looked to her for reassurance.
Her breath caught and quickened as his fingers found their way inside her folds. Her eyes flickered and faded from blue to hazel to vibrant green. He swallowed as she pushed his fingers deeper inside of her.
He bent down with caution towards her breast, keeping an eye on hers – asking for permission wordlessly. She ran her hands through his hair and drew him into her. He took her breast into his mouth, kneeling before her. He rolled his tongue around one nipple and pinched the other between his fingers.
His other hand remained between her legs, moving inside her lips. She pulled him close and he rolled to his back, easing them both to the ground. He withdrew his hand and placed it firmly on her hips. She straddled him, steering his penis to her opening. Sophrosyne could clearly see him penetrate her from where she stood. Could see him stretching her as they shared the same space for this moment.
Jezeliel’s eyes were wide and staring up – up to the sky. To the heavens and the god that abandoned her in favor of humanity. She pressed her eyes shut and grit her teeth against the pain. She gasped as he violated her body, the last of her shimmering blue feathers cascading around them. New black feathers erupted in their place, stark and despondent.
She watched the old ones fall and held out a hand, catching a few. She stared at them, with a terrible mourning in her expression. She held them to her chest and closed her eyes as the priest continued to invade her.
Sophrosyne looked away as he cried out and erupted inside of the angel.
She swallowed hard and focused on the spiders making webs in the floor – watching them wrap their struggling prey in tiny coffins and trying to close her ears to the ritual before her.
- – -
Sophrosyne raced home against the impending dawn after the ceremony, wishing desperately she had taken a horse into town that afternoon.
When she stumbled through the door, they
were still there, as she’d expected – half a coven of vampires sprawled across her dusty floor. The room was filled with muffled moaning and quick, startled gasps as they twisted together, enjoying a symphonic orgy in the safety of the house before the breaking light.
“You need to go,” she announced.
Their leader turned to her, breaking away a previous kiss. “Go?” he said. “Your sister invited us.”
“And I’m uninviting you. Go on.”
“What’d we do?”
“Nothing. Nothing, it’s not you.” She swiped the hair from her face. She sighed and twisted her dress in a hand.
He stood and invaded her space. “What are you hiding?”
“Nothing,” she said. “I bid you to leave my home now.”
He shrugged and stepped aside. The others followed, filing out the open door into the night. Demetor stayed behind. He let the rest of the vampires fade out before turning to Sophrosyne.
“Are you okay?”
“You know you can talk to me.”
She gave him a forced smile and let the silence expand between them, her heart racing in his presence… his concern. She stood on her toes and gave him a kiss on his temple. “Keep low for a while.”
“What’s going on?”
He nodded. “I promise.”
“Good. Are there any left?”
He gestured to the stables outside. “Lilith and someone new. I’ve never seen her before.” His demeanor changed as he looking anxiously in their direction, as if he could see them through the wall – as if they
could see him
through the wall… and would come for him.
He turned back to Sophrosyne and touched her face, tucking a stray strand of blond hair behind her ear. “Be safe, yourself,” he said.
He licked his lips and left then, slipping wordlessly into the night.
She stared out into the blackness, hoping to catch one last glimpse of him, but he was swift and gone. She turned and took a steady breath, gathering her courage to face Lilith.
The path to the stables was difficult with the moon and stars blocked by clouds. There was no sight, only the crunch of Sophrosyne’s footsteps on the wet path and the smell of horses nearby. She counted her paces until she reached 13 and then held her hands out, searching for the stable door.
Voices filtered through the splintered wood.
“When I found it, I hid it… inside a mortal soul.”
“Clever. Very clever, Lilith. I never would have thought of that, myself. I’m impressed.”
“You’re not listening. This is the problem… she
Sophrosyne leaned forward, trying to strain her ears against the brief silence. A cold void met her half way, emanating from inside. She swallowed and wondered if the stranger was another demon, thinking back to the uneasiness she saw in Demetor when he mentioned the pair.
“And you can’t kill him? Send him on to the next plain?”
“He chooses rebirth every time. I’ve kept an eye on him since he was created, and it never fails. He always chooses to walk this earth again on death.”
The stranger clucked her tongue. “But if he could be persuaded to turn himself over to physical immortality… to memory and power…”
The void outside grew with the demon’s improving mood. Sophrosyne tried to warm herself of the infinite chill washing over her, to catch the breath escaping from her chest into the depths of the night, but it had an inescapable gravity. She backed away a few pases, then shook her head involuntarily, convulsing into a shiver. She fell to the ground and crawled backwards, until she was out of its reach and then fled to the house, slamming the door behind her and collapsing on the floor.
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