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Graceful Descent

Summary

Hell: Not as fiery and brimstoney as you think.
Heaven: Not as perfect as you think.

Two worlds collide when a wrongfully accused angel is thrown into Hell. The clock is ticking the second he lands in the jagged Hell-scape and his Grace shines like a lighthouse to the ravenous demons who want to feast on his holy flesh. He makes an unlikely friend. She holds a secret so well- kept, she doesn't even know it. As they traverse Hell, her hunger grows. Will she, a demon, be able to resist temptation? Or will the angel fall victim to her hungry maul?

Welcome To Hell

The sun didn't rise where I lived, nor did it set. Wind never blew through the streets or across the jagged rock formations that made up the wilds of home. The heat was unbearable, no matter how long you had lived there. There simply was no 'adapting' to it. It made that place a living hell; which was fitting, considering that it was the actual Hell. It was nicer than you'd think, I'm sure. Screams didn't carry as far or echo as much as folklore claims, and torture only applied to those who were either human spirits or particularly annoying to the Overseers. Lakes of burning brimstone dotted the map of Satan's Kingdom, but Hell wasn't perpetually on fire like most stories told.

A fair chunk of the 'Hell-scape' humans created in their minds came from upstairs. Angels had more power when it came to the human world, so they did their best to take advantage of the benefits Grace offered them. Angels would plant the idea in humans' heads that they would "burn for eternity" if they didn't "choose the right" and repent of their sins. Now, this wasn't far from the truth, but sometimes the angels got a little carried away. Burning for eternity? Really? How unoriginal. We came up with better ways to torture the unfortunate souls that found their way into The Pit. It was my job to dish out those punishments, and I did as I was told. A good little demon. The laughing stock of Hell. I didn't mind though. Working diligently kept me under the radar, and believe me, that's exactly where you wanted to be whenever an Overseer looked for sacrifices.

In my life, I had only ever known two Overseers. The first, Ragnarok, had been there ever since I can remember. His power and influence rocked the very ground he walked on. He was feared, respected, and all-powerful. Propaganda said that Felix overpowered him with cunning plots and deception. Ragnarok had ruled for thousands of years, and laziness set in; he wasn't as careful as he should have been. It didn't matter to me how or why the Overseers changed; the rules never changed. Through no fault of my own, I ended up on the bottom of the totem pole. Whenever a new shipment of souls sailed into The Pit, I was last in line for a feeding. My living quarters would never upgrade from a broiling cave with a blanket draped across the opening. It was my own little piece of Hell and despite the many comforts it lacked it was home to me. I spent the majority of my time there, in the dark, alone. Everything went better when I was alone. My status on the totem pole put me in the prime position to be trampled on by everyone above me. Which really was everyone.

Usually, I went to work torturing souls, then spent the rest of my time traversing through the rocky, jagged landscape that made up my sector of Hell. The only time I entered the community outside of work was when the feeding bells rang. When they rang, every demon would flock into the community, shoving and pushing to get a good seat in the Ring. This occasion was no different. I was actually in the community when the bells rang. A soul missed their daily dissection, so it was my job to pick up the slack. The bells tolled, echoing deliciously through the community. I dropped my tools and streaked out the door. Wild cries and howls filled the streets as other demons of all forms ran, galloped, and slithered toward the Ring. They spilled out of buildings like a flood of fur, skin, and scales. Their bodies collided as they challenged each other for the lead; bull versus wolf, and snake versus goat. My chosen form was human-esque, which cost me speed and strength, but benefited me with dexterity enough to whip through the crowd with minimal injuries.

We ran like the savage beasts we were, clawing at each other, tearing flesh from bone and eliciting shrieks from each other. I whipped my tail behind me and lacerated two faces with the tip. They stumbled and fell and two more demons took their place. One had the head of a buffalo and the body of a man, and the other, a dog with jet-black fur and smoldering red eyes. The dog barked and snapped at my heels as we turned a corner. Another mob collided with mine and more unearthly cries filled the air. I cut to my left, closer to a bull, and dropped to all fours. My claws gave me traction and I pulled ahead of the giant beast beside me.

"Watch your step, Annie," the bull snapped, his voice mixed with the thousands of souls he had consumed during feeding times.

I growled and launched myself into the air, landing perfectly on his back. "You never let me take the lead."

"Whenever you don't want my protection," Mave said, "go ahead and take it."

Like a human on a raft, I rode him through the violent river of hunger and madness while the Ring came closer and closer. The Ring was visible throughout the community and as we approached it, the walls towered higher and higher and the mass of hot, hungry bodies thickened.

There were three entrances to the Ring, two for the mass and one for the Overseer. As Mave galloped onward, one of the two archways came into view. Deafening howls and shrieks blasted through the air as hellions charged through, shoving and biting each other. Mave bucked me off his back without warning – yet I knew it was coming and I hit the ground running – and plowed his way through the crowd. Smaller beasts were trampled underfoot and hoof, left there bleeding until the last of the mob passed them by. Blood rushed through my ears as I closed in on the archway. I jumped briefly and spotted two large centaurs charging together. I whipped my tail as I landed, clearing a spot of ground just big enough for me to continue running and weaved smoothly through the mass. Hot, sticky breath slicked over my neck and back as I dodged teeth and horns. A set of claws raked my arm, but I couldn't afford to flinch. Another strike lashed across my stomach. I couldn't see my attackers, but I didn't dare take the time to look for fear of losing my footing and getting trampled underfoot. The centaurs were nearly to the archway, and I was nearly to them. What little space I had left around me condensed and more claws found their way into my flesh. I dropped to my hands and clawed the dirt and stones, gaining speed and slipping between fast-moving legs. With the centaurs no longer in sight, I relied on the sound of their hooves pounding the ground. Demons pressed together tighter to fit in the archway and my window was closing fast. I couldn't wait another second if I wanted to get out of the mess. With supernaturally charged human legs, I leaped into the air with my claws outstretched. I hooked the right centaur with my left hand and my feet hit dirt. They dragged painfully before I could get my footing again. She cried out and swung her arm back, smacking me in the teeth. I bit her hard; metallic blood kissed my tongue, and hauled myself onto her back.

"Just go!" I barked at her. "Don't lose your place in the Ring!"

The other centaur, another female, glared back at me, but the two knew the bigger problem was not the freeloader on their backs. The archway passed over us in the blink of an eye and the crowd dispersed into the closest open seats. They were broken and set up in a half circle around a large mound of earth. Not just dirt, but earth from the world between Heaven and Hell that souls would cling to for familiarity.

The Ring rose up to eighteen levels, but that wasn't nearly enough for the hosts of Hell. This sector of Hell, anyway. The centaurs muscled their way onto the first row.

I didn't wait for their punishment and kicked off of them before they could lay a hand on me. I landed a few rows back, but knew better than to sit too far forward. Not many demons had made it that far back yet, and I had no troubles hopping to the sixteenth row.

That was my place.

Seats filled quickly, weaker demons were thrown to the back, and all eyes watched the third entrance. A tall, tower-like structure branched away from the outside wall of the Ring. One large archway stood empty, one-hundred feet above the ground. Stairs descended from that black hole to the crest of the mound. That was where the Overseer would feed.

The best souls always floated to the top.

Two timid beasts sat on either side of me, a satyr and a goat. They watched my claws carefully and eyed my ever-moving tail. I curled my lip and snarled quietly; they averted their eyes.

The air was thick with apprehension and excitement. An angry chant rose from the bigger demons, a heavy, short, chuffing chant demanding the arrival of the Overseer.

"Feed! Feed! Feed!"

I stood on my seat and joined them, pumping my fist in the air and whipping my tail with the words. The roar rose quickly, and every demon howled their frustration and hunger loud enough to reach Heaven.

Felix appeared in his designated archway in his favorite form, a human, the most creative monster. Every beast silenced. Tails dropped to the floor, heads bowed fearfully, and not a whisper drifted through the ravenous crowd.

"You called?" Felix sauntered down a few steps, and then stopped. Bodies shuffled impatiently. Felix always had a thing for theatrics. "It's been a while since we've had our last feeding, hasn't it?"

A few deep voices rumbled an affirmative answer, but all others only nodded timorously.

"Those Hallowed Halos have been holding out on us, I think." Felix descended a few more steps and made a grand gesture to the sky, "what of thier fabled generosity?"

Chuckles rippled through the beasts, but the tension thickened. Hunger rose violently and my insides growled. I peeled back my lips and showed my teeth, off-white daggers that were ready to tear into their next meal. If it ever arrived.

"Who's hungry?" Felix gripped his railing and leaned over, bearing his teeth in a voracious smile at the roar that answered him. "Let's eat!"

With another ostentatious gesture, he rent the sky and glowing souls poured through. The weakest souls crashed immediately and rolled to the base of the mound. The more powerful ones descended slower, some gracefully; some just slow enough to avoid a crash landing. They clung to the mound and never spilled over into the seats. It was all they knew. Souls never left what was familiar, they couldn't. They came from earth, so they gravitated toward the mound like fish to water.

Hunger pinched my being harshly as I watched my meal sit there and wait for the rest of the souls to spill out. Excited noises and movements shuffled through the crowd as each found their desired (or appropriate) souls. Wolves snapped at the air, snakes struck, bulls dug at the ground with their hooves. I spotted Mave in the third row and felt my usual jealousy blossom within me. When he acquired enough power from souls, he had the foresight to change into something bigger than a snake. With horns and massive weight, he could get almost whatever seat he wanted.

And for one soul per feeding, I could hitch a ride through the community.

I knew I had the short end of the stick, but it was better than becoming one with the ground.

Finally, the souls settled, groaning in confused fear and pain. They couldn't move freely here, and that heightened their fear, which made mouths water. The strongest souls could almost stand; but not quite.

Felix skipped steps in his haste to the mound. His first victim was nearly on her feet. Her luminescent skin glowed brightly as her fear climaxed, accentuating vulgar tattoos. Felix gripped her shoulders, her glow intensified. He let her fear mount for a good while before feasting. Even from my seat, I could hear his teeth tearing into her neck. Sloppy and hungry, he sucked her essence away until she glowed no more. He tossed her heavy soul aside and started in on the next one. Then the next. He moved quickly and fed ravenously, exciting the beasts who were forced to sit and watch.

Thirteen hefty souls later, Felix wiped his mouth and licked the glowing leftovers off his fingers.

"Feast!"

Like bullets, every demon shot forward. Starved cries ripped through air and souls screamed in terror.

I grinned.

Nothing like dinnertime.

Higher Law

                Think of white.

                Now, think of a whiter white.

                Being human, I can’t imagine that you can conjure it in your mind, but think of a perfect whiteness. Untainted by any other color. That is what Heaven looked like. As an angel, I was given Sight. This meant I didn’t see the illusion that you will see when you die, should you come up here. Heaven, to most people, is a paradise. This is entirely true, but as the world diversified so drastically after the exploration of the Americas, some changes to Heaven needed to be made. Just one paradise wasn’t enough. Souls were getting restless and their wants and needs weren’t being met. Therefore, our wise King, Savior and Lord God himself created this newer Heaven. Human souls were kept in something like apartment complexes. Each room housed a soul and a different paradise particular to that soul. It was genius.

                There were angels who opposed the idea of shifting Heaven so much. They adored the simplicity of a single Heaven rather than countless Heavens in need of care and nurturing. This change made more jobs for angels, which opened them up to make more choices. It is my personal belief that our wise King, Savior and Lord God did this to weed out the unfaithful. As the angels made more decisions on their own, their true colors shone through. Color, for an angel, is not acceptable. It is this reason that my job is important, terribly important.

                Heaven is perfection.

                Heaven is grace.

                Heaven does not tolerate disobedience.

                Angels who broke the rules were sent to me. I am Delphinius. I am the Holy Executioner.

                “Dephinius, please!” Hannah fell to her knees before me. Her wings lay a few feet from her, severed from her body by a contraption resembling a guillotine. Instead of one hole for the head, two sizeable slits were cut into the wood for wings. It was a simple machine. Insert wings, pull the cord, and clip! No more wings.

                “I beseech you, brother,” Her dark hair hung over her eyes. “I didn’t do it with impure intentions. I love the humans! I am your sister!”

                I stepped down from my station at the Clipper and gathered her wings carefully.

                “Dephinius,” Hannah’s voice wavered dangerously on the edge of anger, “there was nothing wrong with what I did!”

                I deposited her wings in the collection basket beside the door delicately. Angel wings were precious and reusable. The next angel to take Hannah’s place would need them.

                “Perhaps not,” I stroked her wings lovingly, “but your actions do fall under disobedience.” I turned to her. “We both know that is not tolerated behavior.”

                “Disobedience to the Higher Law!” Hannah crawled forward, unable to glide for lack of wings. “Where does it say that a soul can’t be given more Light than what Uriel decreed?”

                “In the Higher Law?” I walked to my workstation, where tools awaited use. They were silver and shone perfectly in the soft ever-glowing light that came from nowhere in particular. “It doesn’t say anything in the Higher Law about Light.” I plucked a scalpel, suction bulb, and small basin from the tool set and crouched down in front of Hannah. “However, the Higher Law states that you must obey the Word of God without question or grief.”

                “Uriel is not God,” Hannah spat. I stared at her in disbelief, shocked that her sin brought her so far down to feel the unholy emotion of anger.

                “Uriel is the mouthpiece of God.” I raised the scalpel and Hannah whimpered. “I must do this.”

                Hannah closed her eyes and tears fell down her cheeks. “Please.”

                “I obey every commandment without grief,” I said, “but I do not enjoy this.”

                Hannah nodded sadly. “I understand.”

                Slowly, she raised her head, exposing her neck to me.

                “Thank you.” I cut a thin line across her skin and held the basin under it. White, silky grace trickled from the incision, gathering in the basin like a soft mist. Hannah’s countenance faded and her eyes dulled considerably, which was a shame because she had the most beautiful hazel eyes. I suctioned the last drops of Grace from her and she slumped forward, exhausted.

                “What is to become of me?” She hugged herself and cried.

                “You know I can’t tell you that until we get to sentencing.” I took her Grace back to my workstation and poured it into a glass bottle. It whispered quietly as it cascaded into the glass. Although indistinguishable to me, I found peace in the sound. Grace carried Light, which was the good that spoke to every creation. Humans had Grace too. Not nearly as much as angels, but the still small voice that humans sometimes hear is their Light.

                Light came from the man Himself. It was a gift from the Almighty God, and it longed to return to its creator, which is why it always whispers His will. The quiet and humble can hear it, but the loud and prideful are too busy listening to themselves talk and spout false wisdom to lend an ear.

                The whispers ceased when I screwed on the cap to the jar. In much the same fashion as a kitchen cupboard, two small doors opened below my workstation. Multitudes of glass jars were arranged in neat rows, each of them filled completely with pure Grace. They would remain here until Uriel came to collect them and hand deliver them to Him. Our glorious King would then find a suitable human soul to bestow this gift upon and the wings would attach themselves to that soul, should they accept their calling.

                I didn’t remember my human days. I used to, but Uriel took that away. In his wisdom, he took the human memories away from all angels. They were distracting and caused riotous emotions to keep us from effectively performing our duties. I’m sure you’d call that harsh or cruel, but it was peaceful.

                “Do you even know why I did it?” Hannah sobbed.

                “It’s not my business to know the mind of a sinner, Hannah,” I said coolly. “Don’t make this worse for yourself by trying to taint me too.”

                She sniffled and nodded. “I’m sorry, Delphinius.”

                “I forgive you.”

                I crossed to my fallen sister and helped her to her feet. Her legs shook with effort and she draped herself on me. I extended my wings for lift and we glided out of the preparation room. Angels watched us glide down the hallways, whispering to each other about her crime. Hannah was well known and much loved. Her presence and influence would surely be missed, but there wasn’t a thing anyone could do about it.

                Rules were not meant to be broken no matter how many of your peers tell you otherwise. Consequences follow, whether positive or negative. My dear, dear sister followed a path of unrighteousness, and my duty needed to be fulfilled, lest my own righteousness be threatened.

                Petitions for mercy came softly, but none of them adamant enough to call for reprimand. Angels could express their thoughts and opinions, provided they were humble enough to accept the right one when it came.

                Hannah never lifted her eyes from the floor, too ashamed to look directly at her brothers and sisters. Henceforth, she would be labelled as a rebel, a Fallen One. Just like her once-favored brother, Lucifer. Of course, she didn’t know that. No one would know until Uriel revealed what her sentence was, but I knew well enough that direct disobedience was punished harshly.

                “I don’t see how it was wrong,” Hannah said quietly. “It doesn’t hurt them. If anything, it shows more compassion and love to them, more reward for living a righteous life on earth.”

                “We may not be able to see the wisdom of His commandments yet,” I replied, “but it is our duty to obey them without question.”

                Hannah shook her head. “Withholding Light from His children doesn’t seem like Him.”

                I didn’t dignify her words with a response. If I allowed our conversation to continue, she would surely plant doubt in the minds of her fellow angels. As a devout follower of my King, I simply could not permit it.

                As always, the walk was long and every hallway filled with onlookers. However, when we turned into the final hallway, no angels stood to watch. No other doors or hallways branched away from this pristine white corridor. It led directly to a single door.

                “Delphinius,” Hannah gripped my shoulder and her voice shuddered, “I’m scared.”

                “Without your Grace,” I explained, “you are more prone to earthly emotions.”

                “Where is my mercy?”

                “Uriel will decide your fate.” I felt a twinge of sorrow for my sister, but left it in the hallway as I entered the court. There were no seats in this court, save for one chair in the middle of the room. This chair sat on the edge of a hole in the floor, concealed by dark, rolling clouds. The chair faced a large podium where Uriel, merciful and wise, sat on an elegant throne. Instead of robes, Uriel chose a one-piece garment that covered his modesty from his ankles to his wrists, with white shoes to cover his feet. His dark skin contrasted dramatically against the whiteness of Heaven; however, blue eyes brought the opposite colors together. Graceful as ever, Uriel crossed his ankle over his knee while I helped Hannah to her seat. Once there, I took my place at the door to ensure no interruptions.

                “Hannah,” Uriel’s deep, silky voice was calm as he began, “do you understand why you are here?”

                Quiet tears streamed down her cheeks and onto her lap as she nodded. “Disobedience.”

                “Stealing and dispersing Light is a heinous sin,” Uriel said coolly. “There are reasons far above your understanding that these laws are in place, dear sister.”
                “I understand,” Hannah’s voice was small in comparison to that of her judge and jury, Uriel.

                “It pains me,” Uriel uncrossed his legs and leaned forward, looking down in pity at his sister,

“but the consequences for direct disobedience are severe.”

                “Please, have mercy upon me, brother.” Hannah looked up at him with tear-filled eyes. My compassion toward my sister increased tenfold at her display of emotions. No mercy, at least not the kind she desired, could be given at this point.

                “You know the Higher Law,” Uriel began his sentencing, “you understand the goodness of myself and the Almighty God. Yet you still choose to rebel against those who have given you so much. There is no place for rebellion, hate, or secret plots in Heaven. Therefore, you are sentenced to Fall as Lucifer Fell.”

                Hannah’s tears froze in her eyes and her mouth dropped open. Her gaze fell slowly to the dark clouds at her feet. I approached her at a deliberate pace, allowing her enough time to comprehend her fate.

                “Uriel,” her voice faltered, “please, please, show me mercy!”

                “I cannot.” Uriel shook his head sadly. “To do so would be to disobey my Master, and that I cannot do.”

                Hannah stood quickly and turned to me. “Delphinius, please, I-“

                “Hannah,” I touched her arm to offer comfort, “your choices have led you here.”

                She dropped to her knees before me. “Brother, please! Certainly, damnation isn’t the only punishment! You’ve taken my wings; my Grace- isn’t that enough for you?”

                “I am not the power you need to satisfy.” I took her clasped hands and pulled her to her feet. “I forgive you for all you’ve done, but that is my duty as a humble servant. Justice needs satisfied, Hannah. You know this.”

                “Please.”

                I looked up at the wise Uriel. “May I take her Sight?”

                For a moment, Uriel seemed displeased with my request and I cast my eyes to the floor respectfully.

                “Yes, you may.”

                “No!” Hannah swatted my hands away from her. “No, I- I want to remember.”

                “Memories of Heaven will not serve you well in Hell,” I warned her.

                “I want to keep them,” she closed her eyes.

                “Very well.” I took her by the shoulders and led her to the edge of the pit. To push her in when she didn’t resist was unlawful. Therefore, we waited until she was ready. She cried quietly for a while and whispered soft prayers to her Father. Finally, she stepped into the pit, disappearing from sight in the blink of an eye.

                A single tear rolled down my cheek and I bowed my head in reverence. This calling was not one I would have chosen for myself, but they seldom are. Uriel descended his throne and put a comforting hand on my shoulder.

                “Be strong, Delphinius,” he advised. “There is a reason that you alone were chosen to carry out this calling.”

                “If He sees fit to release me,” I said quietly, “I would prefer that. But His will, not mine, be done.”

                Uriel patted my back. “Your strength sets you apart from the rest. Nevertheless, I will ask if it be His will to release you.”

                I nodded gratefully and left the room. Out of Uriel’s sight, I allowed my tears to flow freely. It was unbecoming of an angel to weep over the Fallen, so I cried quietly. Because it was against the Higher Law, none of my brothers or sisters entered or even looked down this corridor, so my tears went completely unnoticed.

                “Forgive me, sister,” I whispered desperately. “Please, forgive me.”

Dinner and Dessert

I shoved what smaller beasts I could aside and leapt on larger ones to get ahead. When my feet touched earth, a cool shock shot up my being. Earth was cool and pleasant to the touch, unlike the unbearable heat of Hell, but I couldn't take a moment to appreciate it. I scurried upward a few feet, snatched a softly glowing soul, and sunk my teeth in; he screamed, sending a pleasing shudder down my spine. I sucked hard and fast, draining him quickly and moving on to the next available soul. The sour-sweet taste didn't have time to fade on my lips before I latched onto another neck of the damned. Already, used up shells were tumbling down and away from the mound, sucked dry of their essence and essentially useless.

My usual (and limited) buffet rested a meter below me and I was in dangerous territory. Demons more powerful than I were feasting on these souls, and I would end up in worse condition than these souls if they caught me stealing their meal. However, they were too focused on satisfying their own hunger to notice me. I chose my victims quickly and carefully, only stealing one from the batch when I was sure no other demon saw it.

Oh, beautiful, succulent screams! Human essence filled me from the center of my being to my fingertips. I was almost full when I made my mistake. I didn't watch for other hands reaching when I snatched the last soul near me. My teeth were already deep in my victim's neck when a large paw connected with the side of my face. I tumbled and rolled twice, feeding even more frantically now, and a black cougar pounced on me. He batted at my face with his claws until I let go of what should have been his meal. I peeled back my lips to growl and four claws gouged my flesh from my ear to the corner of my mouth. I howled and rolled to the bottom of the mound, and the cougar was back to feeding before I reached my designated level.

Heated excitement filled me, despite the pain. I fed on a higher level than I had ever fed from before, and that meant more power and less hunger. For the first time in eons, I felt satisfied. Not full – a demon could never be so lucky as to experience that particular sensation – but deeply satisfied with the souls sitting in my gut, scared and in unspeakable pain as I absorbed them.

The majority of my fellow demons still ravaged the mound when I took my leave. When I first became a demon, I was bestowed one of the seven deadly sins. Greed wasn't it. With new power came new enemies. Nobody in Hell wanted anyone else to pass him or her up when it came to power. That just meant that there was another enemy to fight if you wanted to rise yourself.

A few demons still trickled in, most of them limping or bleeding from being trampled. They hurried to the mound and stole what few morsels they could. I dropped to all fours and started toward the exit when a streak of blinding light rent the sky with a powerful clap of thunder chasing after it. Every demon hit the deck, lying flat on their stomachs and trembling in fear. Perhaps Felix's "offering" to Heaven came as an insult and the Feather Brigade came down to teach us a lesson?

Silence.

One by one, demons picked up their heads to watch a brilliant soul descend slowly.

Very. Slowly.

"An angel," someone whispered. Quiet awe settled over the hosts of Hell as she fell. Wingless and weeping, she was the purest creation I ever laid my eyes upon. Pure white robes fluttered around her, rippling in calm waves. She was beautiful.

"GET OFF THE MOUND!" Felix's deafening roar shattered the silence and sent even the most powerful demons scampering back to their seats. However, I stayed near the exit, watching with peculiar interest from the lip of the tunnel as she drew near. Felix raced hungrily down the steps of his tower to meet her at the tip of the mound.

As they always did, this falling angel made the back of my brain itch. Just another discomfort that came with the Holy Ones. Strangely, this time the itching got worse and I contemplated ripping my skull off to scratch it.

Her sandaled feet touched the mound and a cool shock raced across the ground.

"Hello, my dear." Felix grinned at her. He whispered something in her ear and she shuddered. "Choose wisely."

The angel's weeping turned into violent sobs. The fair majority of the demons in attendance laughed. Atypically, Felix waited patiently for the fallen angel's grief to run its course through her. From my position, I could see both of their faces. Shimmering, diamond-like tears streamed down her cheeks and filled her hazel eyes.

"I-" her voice hitched in her throat, "I- I can't."

Quiet sobs racked her. Those shimmering eyes scanned the sea of black fur and scales and I stepped further into the tunnel to avoid her gaze. Why I did that I wasn't sure, but I figured it had something to do with that bothersome itch.

"You must." Felix stroked her shoulder with one claw and offered her a malignant smile. "If you don't, I get to make the decision for you." He leaned in close and whispered in her ear again, sending yet another visible shudder through her radiant body. Fresh reserves of tears poured down her face, but they were quiet.

"I did nothing wrong," her terror-filled voice deepened into one of indignation. "Something is going wrong up there. You must understand what it means for a pure, sinless angel to fall!"

"Oh, I do." Felix nodded, his face wrinkled in concern. "I just don't care."

Laughter rolled through the crowd. A few demons barked out orders for her to hurry it up. They were still hungry and there were still souls to eat.

"I'll only ask you once more," Felix said raised his voice to better serve his theatric needs, "join us, or joined the damned."

The angel scowled at Felix, which seemed to please him. "Every one of you are damned. I will not stoop to your level and submit myself to-"

Felix's teeth ripped through her shoulder and her screams ripped through the air. Sloppy noises came from his throat while he slowly sucked her dry. Her brilliant aura faded, her knees buckled, and her screams quieted to soft whimpers. Entranced, I stepped forward to get a closer look at the spectacle. The rest of the Ring silenced and watched with just as much fascination as I, licking their chops jealously. I however, felt that itch grow stronger and dug my claws into my hair to quench it. Another step took me to the edge of the mound and I saw a few drops of her essence trickle down Felix's chin. Weak, her head lolled back. Her eyes found me, foggy and unfocused, no longer beautiful- but painfully dull and lifeless.

"Anna?"

Dying at the edge of the mound, her voice reached only me.

Felix finished with her, draining her until her countenance matched that of the discarded souls at the bottom of the mound, then threw her human soul to join them. He wiped his chin and licked his hand clean.

"You may resume." He bowed dramatically and stepped up to his tower. Once more, the Ring filled with unholy cries from the damned. Demons rocketed past me, some shoving past forcefully. I couldn't seem to look away from the place where the angel lay. Curiously, the itch moved from the back of my head to my neck. Easy to scratch, but not to relieve, I drew blood before my feet made the decision to move. While the hosts of Hell occupied themselves with satisfying their insatiable hunger, I snuck around the mound to her. She lay with her eyes closed, grey tears trickling down into grey hair.

"What did you call me?" I asked her.

With some effort, she opened her grey eyes. They settled on my neck, where I still hadn't quit scratching. The pain felt better than the itch, and I wouldn't die from it anyway. I couldn't die. Demons only suffered until they healed.

The angel whispered something.

"What?" I lowered myself onto my hands and knees.

"Wrong," she said.

"Wrong?"

"Wrong." She closed her eyes again. "Heaven is wrong."

I wrinkled my nose.

"Stupid bird," I sneered at her and turned away. As I left the Ring, my neck ceased to itch. Returning to the empty community, I found that several shops were left completely unattended. Most shops sold alcohol in one form or another, but some sold copious amounts of unsatisfying food, some sold books written by older demons on how to tempt well or rise in the ranks. All of which were completely false, of course. With no one to stop me, I raided the pubs and stole a few bits of merchandise for the sake of stealing. Since the only currency in Hell happened to be souls, I never had the opportunity to purchase anything. Greedy, resourceful demons set up shops to feed outside of the usual time. The only demons to fall into their trap were the gluttonous ones. I only ever stood idly by, watching them drink, full of jealousy and hate for their excess of souls.

With a keg of alcohol under one arm and mendacious books under another, I raced out of the community to my home. Miles from the nearest demon, my home rested directly on the border of Felix's domain and another one. Kings had lords and dukes to watch over their lands; the Devil had Overseers. This was the perfect spot to rest and lick my wounds. And get bleary-eyed drunk. Becoming a drunk accelerated the healing process, and I wasted no time in sucking down half the keg once I was safely hidden behind the walls and drape of my cave. Hardly an hour passed by when I heard hoof beats approaching. Wary, but nonetheless pleasantly drunk, I staggered out of my cave to listen. At first, it was a soft drumming. Gradually, drumming turned into a rolling wave of thunder and I moved around a few towering rocks to see.

"Aw, feathers." I ducked behind the rock column and cursed again. Charging ahead of a billowing cloud of red-tinted dust, a herd of black bovines thundered toward me. I peeked around the rock and squinted to get a better look only to find Mave at the head of this posse. Safely behind the rock once more, I looked around for any possible escape routes, of which I found none. One way in and one way out, my cave was tucked in a narrow canyon that ended in another sheer cliff wall. No footholds and too far to jump down from, it offered protection from the back. The rest of the narrow canyon was dotted with large rock columns. Unless you knew what you were looking for, there was no way someone would be able to see my cave from outside the canyon.

A crow cawed above.

Unless you happened to be a bird.

The columns forced the herd to disperse, only allowing two or three to slip between them at a time.

"Mave!" I stepped out from behind my pillar and greeted the bounty hunter with a smile. "What brings you all the way out here?"

I looked at the bird circling overhead and flipped him one of his own kind.

"Forget something before you left?" Mave flared his nostrils. The bulls behind him did the same and a small plume of dust rose from all the movement in the air. There must have been at least seven, maybe more. The pillars made it difficult to count. Mave marched forward without hesitation, stopping only when he was close enough to blow my hair back with a disdainful snort.

"Oh, right." I extended my arm, still scarred from Mave's most recent fee collection. "One soul per feeding."

"Oh, right," Mave rolled his eyes and clamped down on my arm. I bit my lip to keep from crying out. His body was bovine, but his teeth were something else. Like every other of his kind, he possessed teeth sharp enough to cut through diamonds, let alone the flesh of my arm. Slowly, he milked one soul out of my body, but he kept drinking.

"Hey!" I lashed out, clawing three deep gashes from the corner of his eye to his snout. He released me. "That's enough!"

Having kept my eyes closed during his feeding, I was unaware that the rest of Mave's herd had shifted into something resembling a circle. Their tongues flicked out hungrily and their red eyes cut to my bleeding flesh.

"I promised you one soul," I bore my teeth and stepped away from Mave, closer to the center of the circle. "That's our deal, now get out of here!"

"That was our deal, Anathema." Mave snorted. "But I have to pay these boys for their trouble."

The circle became tighter.

"It took a lot out of them to hunt you down."