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Historical Fiction Fantasy Speculative

1846, a young man held a brush like a dull blade slashing through the canvas with colours. The light dances through his hand, gilding it with gold and shading it with grey. A dancing bright soul of a human battling with the demons assigned to haunt him.  

He himself was nothing impressive, a mere young mortal who held dreams too big for his short life-span to carry. At the age of thirteen, he could paint his own face with its full cherub pink cheeks and hazelnut hair in a way that resonates with the true design of Father's Creation. At twenty-three, he thought he could have already achieved perfection. 

Instead, he found himself staring with red-rimmed eyes at a piece of work that he considered his masterpiece, torn down to shreds not with swords but the words of the judges of the Fine Art. They denounced his positions among the stars, all due to his interpretation of Orestes. But unlike the titular protagonist, who was to acquit the crimes of an artist for failing to please the mainstream perception?

The painting was not half-bad. It was dull, with Orestes half-turned facing the Furies, the viewer could only see the side of his face cast in the shadows. His limbs stretched out towards the frame, as if trying to flee from fate itself. Yet there was no desperation in his movement, as his widened dry eyes that dripped like lead were hidden away, so was his downturned mouth that had saliva leaking from the corner. 

The painter thought himself a genius, putting the only face on his work that of the mystical Furies. Her pale eyes of judgement engraved into the darkness like twin pearls, set upon the darkened shape of a humanoid face that blended into the background. 

It was meant to invoke fear and tension, yet the painter missed the point of the story he was trying to tell entirely. It was like omitting heat from the creation of light, taking out the scorching blaze which created the brightest stars. 

"No wonder the judges consider you a failure," she sat on top of the chair where his muses propped themselves on and said to the young painter. "You truly have no talent at all."

"You are merely the muse, you have not the knowledge of art.” The painter waved the muse away like he did to all the men and women who draped in dynamic poses until their armpits sweat due to his tedious command. “Please turn around, put your left hand into your hair."

"And hide my face?" The woman's reddish-brown curls danced in the breeze that swiped in from the open window. "I think not, human."

 The young painter did not remember when he opened the window. He made it a point to shut them off as completely as he could, just like how he bolted the doors. Every turn felt like the cruel and merciless murmurs his peers utter when they thought him not listening. Every clamping of hooves or squealing of lovers sounded like taunting to his broken ego. 

"This is my studio," the young artist said with gritted teeth. "An artist's studio is his Heaven, you will not mock me here in mine. Leave now, before I lose my temper."

The woman flung herself down from the sofa she lounged against with the grace of a swan. Her auburn hair spread out like sea-grass around her face, against the backdrop of the blue sky filled with clouds in the shape of angels. 

She was truly a gorgeous thing, that was why the young artist picked her in the first place, he clearly didn't think of how a muse's attitude could stall or ruin the quality of a painting. Now his fingers clutched against the wooden-handled tool, splinters digging into his skin until it drew red. Alexandre Cabanel finally thought of the Bible verse of 2 Corinthians 11:14. for even Satan fashioneth himself into an angel of light.

The young artist thought of that no doubt thanks to his current predicament, namingly the new inspiration that was prickling in the back of his mind. 

It was certainly unconventional. Inconceivable to some. He did not give much thought to what would become his name after he presented this piece to the public. Most of his days were consumed in doubts nibbling at his creativity. He tried to write those thoughts down like that of a writer would, but all he found was joyless sorrow. 

He burned those letters instead of sending them to his friends. The young Alexandre watched as his howling soul simmered from a crimson glow into brittle crumbs that faded into ash in the wind. 

In a moment of utter hopelessness and melancholy, Alexandre Cabanel thought that there was only one creature in all of God's creation who could have understood how it was to fall when one was once the most angel among the Heavenly Host. 

Only Satan, the former angel Lucifer, could feel how he had felt at that very moment. 

"You are proud, mortal. No shame in that." The muse who he had ordered to leave instead paced around his studio with the confidence bestowed only to monarchs. She giggled as she peeled the fabric that hid some of Alexandre's less confident works as if they were an absence joke she had heard at one of the royal balls. "Which is what I would say if you had any fortitude to claim such prowess. Except, you clearly do not possess whatever you think you deserve."

"Who...who are you?" Alexandre was astounded at the impish behaviour this clearly high-born lady was behaving. Was she the daughter of some aristocrat, disguised as a muse only to come and humiliate him in person so that she could gossip about it at parties. Look at that once promising artist Cabanel, lost in obscurity. 

The muse laughed at that. She bellowed until her belly ached and let herself fall back onto the sofa she was occupying before when she posed. Until Alexandre's face turned from scandalised red to an embarrassed pink, like the hot sun from noon to a begrudging twilight.

"Oh, you sure you are an artist and not the muse?" The woman who pretended to be the muse but a monarch in disguise grinned with her full set of teeth. "Because you surely are a-musing."

"I do not understand what you are saying," Alexandre replied. "Is that...English?"

"It's called a pun," the woman waved her hand dismissively, as if the young artist was the one making a fool of himself. "Wait around for a few centuries, then you'd get it. It's creative, and funny. Both are qualities your works do not have."

"I am an artist," Alexandre replied indignantly, he found himself defending his position as if he owed this woman clad in almost nothing but a sheet of white robe as if she was the witness to his every sin. "I do not make art for people's amusement. What we do is a craft perfected over centuries by the enlightened minds of million predecessors before us."

"Your predecessors' craft, as you say, is nothing but a spark of flame." 

The woman smiled brightly. Her auburn hair swirled faster, as if they were truly caught in water. Alexandre felt the pull before he lost all sense of gravity. He tumbled like a fish being sucked in by a tsunami. His brain was unable to comprehend what was happening before his eyes. The white sheet that covered the woman's body floated away, as her torso and limbs engulfed the sunlight streaming from the windows around them. 

The light attempted to flee, like rats caught in a trap. The muse merely laughed at the pathetic attempt. Sunbeam after sunbeam, they were snatched by her dancing hair like playful hands of toddlers, then gulped down into the endless pit of a monster's stomach. The lights were still there as they entered her body, screaming and twitching. 

The woman did not even blink once even as the light she consumed lit her up like a human torch. When her eyes opened, Alexandre's mind was temporarily put into a catatonic pause as it could not conceive the level of clarity he was seeing the world as light casted everything away. 

Alexandre choked on his breath as he was thrown back to his body. His eyes swayed as the woman leaned back against the sofa in a comfortable position, her face content and smug. She had made her point.  

"You..." The young artist trembled at the revelation. He felt his knees give weight under the stress of seeing the Devil in blood and flesh. "You are not human."

"What brilliant observation skills," the woman shrugged her shoulders, not bothering to pick up the discarded robe she had worn whenever the artist did not need her posing. "I can totally see how you become an artist at such a young age."

"R...really?" 

"No, that was sarcasm." Lucifer rolled her eyes up heavenward as her rosy lips curled into a snarl. "Gosh, does anyone around here have a sense of humour?" 

"You," Alexandre shook his head. His eyes still blinded by the light humans should not be exposed to, but no wonder Satan did not care for the common rule. "No. I did not call upon you. I did not forsaken God's name. I did not die a sinful man. I was...I was merely trying to paint. Oh God.

His fingers began to claw at his face as he saw the Devil in all her glory that he was just trying to capture half a minute ago. 

"Yes, you were painting," the muse, who was apparently Lucifer herself, added more timber to the fire Alexandre found where sanity should have been. "I believe the subject of said painting you were making was of me." 

The young artist crumbled onto the ground in a puddle of mumbling mess. There was no getting an answer out of him like this, Lucifer would know. This simply wouldn't do. 

"I found it curious, you know." Satan continued without giving Alexandre a single glance. She reached out her hand which had skin as smooth as marbles, the canvas that left abandoned flew across the room that hovered in thin air revealed its half-finished paint yet to dry off. "No one ever painted for me, you know? Humans love to dedicate all their imagination to my other siblings. Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, even all the other unimportant ones. Everyone and the footsoldiers of their legions got at least a stained glass dedication. But I am nowhere to be found. 

"It's like I never existed, all because Father said so. You know what? He made me like this. He was the one who poured all the light inside me. I did not ask for it! You can't blame a tornado when you're the one stirring the pot. I screamed and screamed. Angels were not meant to be filled with so much light. Father asked me to perform my purpose, so I obliged. He didn't care how much I was burning up from the inside out. He didn't care how it hurt for one's wings to be eaten away like flies chew away at rot. He said I was his favourite daughter, but he did not look back even once as I Fell."

She scoffed, the wrath twisting her perfect features like a crack in a perfect symmetrical architecture. Above everything, that was what stopped Alexandre's impending begging of mercy. It was such a human reaction, almost childlike in nature. It shattered the illusion that this creature of light was somehow above the young artist. It grounded his shock and horror, which returned Alexandre to an artist first and foremost. 

The concave between eyebrows as they knitted themselves closer to the subject's amplified amber eyes. The way the edges of those eyes were coated in red vessels expanding like the River Nile turning into blood under Moses' staff. 

The Fallen Angel sulked with her arms crossing around her body, hiding away half of her perfect features. There was nothing in this room, which barred Alexandre and herself, that could hurt her. Still, Lucifer's arms curled around herself as she pulled one of her knees closer to her body in order to achieve a more comfortable position. 

The young artist felt the flames that were blown away by the wind flickered slightly, like an illusion of a desperate man seeing a castle in the desert. Yet, he could not stop the curve of his hand as he picked up another blank canvas from the ground and set it against the empty easel. 

"Hold still," he found his voice spoke clearly like thunder. Determined and filled with purpose. It was devoid of human weakness and fear for evil. For an artist does not fear their own creation, they only make sure to get the details within them as close as possible. 

"What?" The Devil mumbled. 

"This," Alexandre Cabanel said. "This is perfect."

Lucifer stared at him without words. The smirk on her face wiped away to the side. She did not pretest as Alexandre fussed at the different tools, or when the young artist measured her from across the room with his pencil. She merely remained in the same position and watched, as quiet and still as a dow with blurry eyes. 

Alexandre was so entranced in his work that he did not realise that as more time has passed that changed the yellow hue outside to the orange of the afternoon, later faded into a lilac field until it finally became velvet black. He painted without noticing his fingers were slowly twitching to be free of the brush, that his eyes were sewing themselves shut. 

The young artist only saw the Morningstar as he drew. The Fallen Angel who curled up in a position that was a feeble attempt at concealing her sorrows. He painted the blue sky casted in bright light, filled with the brethrens the Devil just talked about with both envy and longing, rejoicing in the sky in droves in pearly white. Then there was the ground where Lucifer sat upon, which was covered in vines and caked in mud, much like his emerald sofa that had stains all over it due to him losing track of the maid's absence.  

The contrast was a phenomenon. Alexandre mixed together the white and blue paint as he tried to remember how it felt like when Lucifer let her power engulf his human provisions. The Fallen Angel who was born of the purest of light, that was where she came from. She fell so far that now Lucifer was sitting on his sofa. Alexandre's sofa. The sofa of a dishonoured, unreputable artist who barely passed the age of twenty, who in her eternal eyes was nothing but a flick of dust. Exposing her pride and torment, all for the chance to be painted like all the siblings she talked about. 

This broken being, who had lost itself so completely. That was what Alexandre had drawn. 

When he finally finished, it was six-hundred-sixty-six days later. No one would ever know this was the exact amount of time it took Alexandre Cabanel for him to create the masterpiece that will one day become synonymous with classical art. 

The piece was named "Fallen Angel". You must have seen it. In the painting, Lucifer sat with their wings furled up, against the dark background with the bright sky far above him, the feathers drenched in shadows the further down it got. His body naked, but filled with light. Their hands clasped tight, covering the lower half of their expression, while a single tear rolled down red-rimmed eyes. 

Auburn hair dancing like seagrass around his face, like Hellfire filled with rage. 

Alexandre Cabanel painted all that without a single pause. Later those rumours would disappear beneath the enormity of his legend, but some thought the tormented young artist might finally offed himself in a last stroke of desperate romanticism. 

"You could see the unhingeness from all those tested works of his," they muttered. "It was clearly signs of a decaying mind. He was once a great artist, too. But he had lost his sanity to his ego."

They would all be wrong. Truth was that, after Alexandre Cabanel finished the painting of "Fallen Angel", he went about his life a lot better. The painting itself was a massive flop within its contemporary time limit, as it was the painting of a Devil in beauty, done with empathy and grace that the judges sneered at as blasphemy. 

He was unaware in all his mortal years, the painting he did for the Fallen Angel Morningstar would go on to defy and define art for generations to come. 

The young painter went on to create more and more conventionally acclaimed works. He regained his peers and the public's respect as years crawled bb. 

His talent was recognized. His good name was restored. 

Sometimes, Cabanel still painted a muse with brownish-red hair.

He lived on for another forty-three years. However, in his final days, one of his most notable paintings that was set in the convention was born. 

It was a painting of Venus rising from the ocean that was the colour of the sky. Little angels sounded around her, as she lay bare and half-woken. There was a regal to the way her arm raised above her torso, the way one of her arms crossed her face hiding her expression. The sea waves her body lounged on were that of emerald green. 

She looked like she had just woken up for a particularly early morning, disrupted by an annoying lover who kept rocking the bed. 

Her hair was brownish-red, the same shade of auburn as decades past and millennia to come. 

September 10, 2022 00:49

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1 comment

Daniel Allen
14:16 Sep 17, 2022

There was some really powerful imagery and emotion in this piece, I loved it! Keep up the good work!

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