Araina walked swiftly, mumbling hasty apologies to pedestrians she blundered into, her vision blurred by tears. Cursing, she swiped angrily at mascara-streaked cheeks and bit down on her trembling lip. She would not break down.
Three days. She had three days to break away from the life she’d built. Her heart felt like it was going to burst from pain, and she wrapped her arms tight around herself, as though this would stop her body from exploding into ash and smoke from a burning pyre of rotting terror.
What was she going to say to her fiancé? Her friends? Cold fear welled up in her chest, poisoning her veins, when she thought of the danger they’d be in if she stayed.
Fear was her constant companion, had been since childhood. She walked in its burning shadows, had learnt to take comfort from its cold embrace.
It was no easy thing, to be the last remaining demon on earth.
When she was five, her father had given her a gift he’d brought from his travels to the blue kingdom. Araina was disappointed in the little white book. Her father had laughed at her.
“Angry, Makeina?” His teasing voice infuriated her, and she pouted, crinkling her tiny eyebrows together and looking away. His bright orange hair, tied back from an enormous golden forehead, glinted in the acid green light that suffused the air in their realm.
“Now, now, is that any way to welcome your careworn father, weary of his travels?” He sank onto the brilliant blue floor next to her, and fondly caressed her hair.
She climbed into his lap and glared at the gift. He hugged her to him, kissed her head and then opened it.
In those few momentous seconds, her world changed forever. She blinked in stunned surprise at this album, as her father called it, with its perfectly captured moments. Vision after vision of soothing colors streamed through her fingers. There was a touching serenity in every picture, a harmonious melody of composition that she’d never experienced before on her land. Her trembling hands stilled on a picture of her father, under a tree, the air about him alive with brilliant red, yellow and orange. The unholy gleam in his eyes was the perfect reflection of the piercing beauty of the surrounding world, as it shed its colors in preparation for bone-aching winter. The Earth threw festoons of its dying leaves high up into the air, openly welcoming the winter that would soon rob it of every color.
She fell in love with Earth in that moment.
How could she not love a kingdom where everything demons stood for was accepted, even celebrated?
She begged her father to take her with him the next time he visited. He promised her; once she was old enough, he’d take her there, to see for herself the many faces of the new world.
In the meantime, he would bring her a precious souvenir from Earth. She asked him for one orange leaf from the tree under which he’d stood. And then she impatiently awaited her thirteenth birthday, the day she’d be old enough to visit Earth.
But when she was twelve, a brutal war broke out. Demons in many lands had grown drunk with power and greed, and sought to claim forbidden lands. In retaliation, the Fair ones descended on their world, killing all of her kind. Her father had smuggled her to Earth through a safe little portal he’d conjured, one he’d been saving for her thirteenth birthday.
The Fair ones pursued them, intent on their quest. Had they known the price of spilling so much demon blood, they would have fled.
For over many eons, generations of demons had learnt to embrace their darkness, making peace with their nature. Breaking them free of their physical bodies merely transferred that inherent lust for blood and power to their slayer.
Araina remembered the night her father had woken her on Earth, his eyes haggard with dying powers. He’d consigned her to the care of a trusted family, and she’d watched from a bedroom window her father’s last fight, weeping as his neon green and purple fires raced from the Earth to the skies.
She did not mourn. Because as long as she lived, her father lived too.
But she missed him dearly, desperately. And she learnt the sickening dread of Fear. The Fair ones had morphed, sprouted monstrous wings, becoming all they’d once abhorred. They would not rest till they’d hunted her down.
The Earth paid tribute to her father’s death in the Northern lights, but it was its celebration of demon life that she loved. Every year, autumn brought with it new moments, new stills, new collections, but none compared to the photo of her father under falling leaves, his eyes ablaze.
Araina slowed her pace. In her haste to keep moving, she’d forgotten her surroundings. She was in a children’s park, its lengthening evening shadows befitting the dark turn of her life. Tired, she sank onto a bench and stared ahead of her.
Autumn leaves fell about her, but for the first time in her life, she did not see them. Over and over again, the conversation she’d had with the visiting spirits on All Hallow’s Eve ran through her mind. No matter how hard she thought, there was no escaping the knowledge that they were coming for her.
Minutes, hours, eons later, she stirred. If only they knew how mortal she was, they’d end this right now! She had no powers- leaving her realm before her thirteenth birthday had robbed her of her birthright, she bitterly reflected. Vulnerable and exposed, Araina was living on borrowed time. Once the Fair ones found her, they’d know soon enough just how easy a target she was. Her blood boiled at the thought that she, her father’s daughter, would go down tamely in a fight.
Her hand crept to the sealed cover she always carried next to her beating heart. The ageless orange leaf touched by her father’s hand was pressed to her chest, and a wave of grief overpowered her. She’d failed him, she was a coward. Her life had always been shadowed by terror for her life. She wished he was here, next to her. Her father’s mere presence would’ve set fire to the air, his laughter awakening the very dead from their slumber.
She was suddenly possessed by a yearning to trace the leaf he’d once held. Before she could stop the thought, she was tearing open the cover, fingers greedy for the leaf.
It dropped to the ground from nerveless fingers. She cursed, then leaned over to carefully pick it up.
And nearly dropped the leaf again with a shocked yelp.
From under the orange leaf, a brilliantly colored spell oozed, forming a roiling puddle under the park bench. Dark forms flashed across its heaving surface and a siren’s call curved slowly upward, weaving her in its enchantment.
Araina let out a breath in a weak whoosh. All these years, she’d carried a portal in a little plastic cover, right next to her heart. How? Portals were dangerous, took years to grow, and needed a demon’s powers to meld.
Before she could think about it, a voice from the portal froze the blood in her veins.
“Father?” She screamed, falling to her knees.
“No... no Makeina. We are not your father. We are the torn, the broken fragments of those doomed to walk the Earth. We have been watching over you.”
Araina couldn’t believe this was happening. This was her father’s doing, it must be. Her body was wracked with sobs. “It’s no use,” she cried. “The Fair ones know where to find me now, and I have no powers to battle them.”
“Makeina. Your father was a mighty demon. He had his powers, and he fought bravely. But did he live? No.”
“Why do you think he brought you to Earth?” Whispered another voice, its tone hard. “Have you learnt nothing from your stay here?”
Araina was taken aback, and then fired back angrily. “How am I meant to fight them? I’m mortal.”
“That is for you to decide, Makeina. You alone can choose. But remember- no matter what happens, you are, and you always will be, a demon.”
The surface of the portal stilled and the voices faded to a murmur. But its unknown depths beckoned to her, wrapping her in a familiar embrace of sheer power. For a long while, she gazed at its promise. A sure escape lay in front of Araina, and it was right at her feet. Fear receded into the background; all she had to do was take one step, and she’d be gone. No more fear. The portal’s humming brilliance lulled and hypnotized her, drawing her in toward it.
Gazael smiled triumphantly at his angels. It wouldn’t be long now before the demon girl was captured. And it would be his elite force that would accomplish it.
Rumor had it that she was a mere mortal now, but he knew better than to trust such idle words. Besides, even if it were true, it did not matter. Gazael knew that he had to put up a grand show regardless when they killed the child. It would not do for their last coup to be made quietly. Their battle would ring to the skies, and finally, her power would be his. All would hail him as the conqueror of evil, the vanquisher of demons.
“The demon has been found, Sire.” Bernein, his trusted friend, walked up to him. “She appears to be... awaiting us.”
Gazael’s lips curved into the perfect cupid’s bow. “Then let us not keep her waiting,” he said silkily.
As one, fifty angels flew up into the skies, Bernein leading them. They circled the city till they reached its fringes. There, in an abandoned park, the demon girl stood tall in front of a raging bonfire, looking up to the skies. Her arms were crossed and, Gazael noted incredulously, she was tapping her foot impatiently.
A stir of unease swept across his guard. This won’t do, Gazael thought grimly. He sent a forceful gust of wind sailing toward the demon, and she stumbled back. He laughed darkly when he landed with a resounding thud in front of her.
“Kneel, demon.” He sauntered forward toward the child. His guard were slowly descending, circling, cornering her. She would not escape. “Kneel, and I will make this quick.”
Araina looked about her, almost curiously. She then faced him, a savage gleam in her green eyes. She would fight.
As he’d known she would.
He raised an arm to pelt her with a storm of lightning when she softly asked, “Are you sure? Do you even know what you’re about to do? What will happen when you kill me?”
Gazael laughed contemptuously. “I’ve not come here to bandy words with a soulless demon. You’ve made your choice to fight. Do you mean to run now?” He mocked.
She gave him a long, sorrowful look. “No. Do you?”
The angels threw back their heads and howled with laughter. This was Araina’s chance. Quickly taking advantage of their distraction, she took a burning branch from the bonfire and threw it far, into the circle of gasoline she’d spilt in the clearing.
Within moments, the world was ablaze. Crackling flames roared up skywards, licking the air hungrily, and creating a closed dome about them. Its gale sent branches of nearby trees shivering, and the air filled with burning, flying orange leaves. Smoke flew about them, filling the night with the acrid smell of burning ash. Araina laughed in sheer glee.
She was, after all, a demon. This may not be anything close to the fires her father had once cast, but it was uncontrolled fire. Every demons’ delight.
The Fair ones were silent now. The orange-yellow glare cast deep, cavernous shadows, showing their faces for what they were. Avaricious angels, fallen from grace.
“Your little fire will not stand for our rains, child.” Gazael scoffed, though he had to tamp down his rising unease. “You will-“
His words choked in his throat. For, beneath him, had opened a beautiful, shimmering pool. Its depths glistened with sparks of lightning that glinted and weaved between waves of dazzling, dizzying colors. It beckoned with the voice of torpid sirens, and its undulating surface promised infinite power.
“Come, mighty ones. Your throne awaits.”
The angels had frozen, completely immobile save for hungry eyes that shone with a light their souls no longer possessed.
Araina watched them fiercely. She knew what would happen, now.
Gazael never looked up. Not for a second could he have withstood the lure of power that lay in a demon’s portal.
Only one raised on demon lore knew its call. Araina had been reared by generations of demons before her to resist its temptation.
One by one, the angels walked with gleaming eyes into the swirling portal. Before the last one could step in, Araina caught up a knife and cut her across the face. Howling, her blood spilling on Araina’s hands, the angel leapt back, and Araina closed the portal.
The angel lay trembling at her feet, staring up at her, maddened with greed.
“Please... please, I- I only wish- need- to go with them,” she begged.
Araina leaned down, and caught the angel’s chin in her hand. The burning leaves fell about her in sparks and flying ash, and her green eyes burned.
“I see you now.” Her voice rang clear over the roaring fire. “I know your face. Go back and tell them what I’ve done here today. Tell them my hands know blood, I’m no timid child. Tell your hunters they will be my prey.”
Her time on Earth had taught Araina two things.
Every living mortal fought, to survive. And nothing was constant except for change.
Whether she lived or died, she had changed. Araina would fight, she would not abandon her people on Earth, and never again would fear shadow her life.