Whenever my siblings became a bit much for me I'd locate the portal in the forest and go through. Each time I grew a little bolder, venturing further and further from the portal. I would have to mind how long I stayed, however; I had come to find out my eyesight slowly began to fail when I stayed too long. I guessed I could only stay for three, four hours before my sight would begin to wane from the sunlight.
At my farthest I discovered a dirt trail and followed it until I got to the edge of the forest where the human settlement was located. It was too small to be a city, yet "town" wasn't the proper description for it, either. I remained at the edge of the forest, looking uneasily around. Trepidation filled me and I almost turned around. I only decided against going back when I knew there would be no going back from this point on.
Humans were everywhere, the streets bustling and loud. They bumped into one another, some politely apologizing and others looking haughtily away. Their buildings were simple in design, made of stone and hay-thatched roofs. A sign that had a picture of a loaf of bread on it caught my eye and I entered the building.
A bell attached to the door rang as I entered the store. The bakery smelled of confectionery and flour, blending together beautifully. There were a couple tables set up around. Two teenagers, a boy and a girl, sat together sharing a piece of cake. They were the only customers present. I walked to where they had a larger display of goods. I pressed my hands against the glass, staring hungrily at the rolls and sweets. I wondered if they tasted as good as they smelled.
"Can I help you?" I looked up at the youth behind the counter. He looked bored, like he wished he was anywhere but there, most likely the Baker's son. His brown hair was nearly white from flour.
I shook my head. "I'm just looking."
He rose an eyebrow at my peculiar eyes as I turned to look at the treats again. I half expected him to comment on them but I supposed he thought better of it. I then realized my money would hold no worth here. I straightened up with a heavy sigh and looked to the door.
You are a demon. You can do whatever you want; never mind these foolish humans. That voice cooed to me.
Most demons would slaughter the humans present and steal all the baked goods. It wouldn't be difficult for me—I might have been small but I was about as strong as a full grown human male—but I did hold life being somewhat valuable. Even human lives. I was not above breaking human rules as they did not govern my actions. I pointed to the rolls.
"I'll take a dozen of those."
The boy got them for me and placed the bag in front of me. I took the bag and headed for the exit.
"Hey, wait! You have to pay for those!" I ignored him, rushing out of the store. "Stop! Thief!"
I pushed through the crowd, some muttering offensively as I nearly knocked them over. I sprinted out of the settlement swifter than most humans could ever hope to move. Following the path back to the portal, I jumped into a maple tree and sat on one of its branches with my goods. I opened the bag with the rolls and sniffed it before taking a bite out of one. I closed my eyes in bliss. It had poppy seeds in it, giving a satisfying crunch. The roll was buttery and melted in my mouth. It was the most delicious thing I had ever eaten. Hell, it was the second thing I had ever eaten next to souls.
Contrary to popular belief Hell is not where the damned souls reside for eternity. We feed them to the hellhounds and consume them ourselves. Hell doesn't need the souls; we aren't like the angels, who take in souls with open arms. We're an exclusive group: if a human was particularly evil in their life they become demons. That isn't the only way we come to be.
When Lucifer Fell from God's grace, there were others. They were the First Demons, our precursors. My family comes from the line of Amdusias, a Great Duke of Hell, and a Persian demoness from a different sect of religion. Her kind had been around centuries before Lucifer was even born, perhaps even older than God. My family is a rare noble family, Optima, having come from one of the original demons. We are above nobles, only second to the Demon King. We live in large manors made of stone rather than the brick of the noble homes.
It was mostly silent in the forest with the occasional chirp of a robin nearby. A herd of deer walked across the trail, their hooves causing the leaves to crunch. I sighed contentedly at the peacefulness of the moment. It was rare back home to have a moment of peace what with my siblings constantly bickering with one another.
I was about to bite into my third roll when I heard the flapping of wings. I paused, the roll centimeters from my mouth, as my ears twitched. There was a sound of feet hitting the ground and quick footsteps getting closer. Placing the bag in my lap I peeked around the tree and saw an angel. I tensed as the scent rolled over me.
This angel smelled like soot and cinnamon. Not an overall pleasant combination but I'd smelt worse. When his odor reached me I was hit with such a wave of fear, ingrained into my instincts since Lucifer's Fall, I visibly cowed.
Another little tidbit about us: we can tell how powerful an angel is by their scent. Angels cannot do the same with us, giving us quite an advantage. This angel was powerful, if his scent gave way to anything; beneath his soot/cinnamon combination was a very sharp, icy scent, indicative of power. An Archangel.
He was about twenty feet away from me, carrying a worn leather book and a quill. His large black wings were receding into his back as he walked purposefully in the direction of the human settlement I had fled from. His mid-back red hair was sticking up all over the place and from where I was perched, it looked like his eyes were the same color as his hair. His skin looked so healthy it emitted a slight glowing aura. It looked smooth and soft. He was dressed elegantly in a black coat that reached his knees, black trousers and shoes, and a white tunic.
His hair fascinated me; I'd never seen red hair before. It was beautiful and I wondered if it was as soft as it looked. I gripped the branch I was on and subconsciously leaned forward, watching his long, graceful strides. Despite his elegance there was something rough about him, but that only made him more interesting to me. I wanted to know what made me think such a contradictory thing of him. Was it his aristocratic nose and confident walk that made him seem elegant? Or the undoubted power of his wiry muscles and his monstrous height that made him appear rough?
I shook my head. What was wrong with me? He was an Angel, for Lucifer's sake! Demons were not supposed to think such things about Angels. Yet, even as I and the voice in my head tried to rebuke me for thinking such lovely thoughts over an Angel, I found myself doing it all over again as my heart pounded in my chest.
I had never felt like this.
The Angel was nearing my tree, muttering quickly to himself. I realized he was saying names, each different from the last, and scribbling them in his book. He had yet to notice me; I was downwind. Perhaps I could sneak away once he was far enough away. He then stopped walking and looked around, sniffing once.
"I smell meadowsweet? That doesn't grow around here..." He sounded confused. I cursed silently. Meadowsweet was my scent. The wind had changed direction. The only thing I could do now was hope he couldn't pinpoint my location.
He kept his head high and his nostrils flared as he scented the air. He was directly underneath my tree now, the only thing hiding me from him were the leaves. He placed his hand on the tree. I gripped the branch with one hand and my bag with the other. My muscles bunched as I got ready to jump. I pushed myself off the branch in the direction of the portal.
I made a startled noise when a warm hand gripped my ankle while I was still in the air. The Angel threw me roughly into the ground, forcing the wind out of my lungs. The bakery bag flew out of my hands and skidded a few feet in front of me. I wheezed, stunned by the force of me hitting the ground. The back of my head throbbed something awful, no doubt concussed. I blinked open my eyes to see him standing over me with a raised eyebrow. From this close I could see he had an angry red scar across his throat like someone had tried to slit it.
"I initially believed you were just a human but the tree told me of your true nature." His voice was husky, perhaps a couple octaves lower than my brother's.
So, he was the Angel of Life; only they could speak with any living thing. I got to my feet once my breath returned. He regarded me warily as I held my arms up in surrender. "I mean no harm; please leave me in peace."
For a moment he seemed surprised as though he hadn't expected me to speak. It led me to think he had only had encounters with them. Surprise was met with derision as he sneered, smoke coming from his hands. I took a step back, momentarily taken aback by how quickly he had become hostile. "You demons always mean harm. Judging by your reluctance to engage me must mean you're low rank. This'll be easy."
I kept my expression impassive, despite the jab at me being weak. "That's not it; I just really don't want to fight. I want to eat my rolls."
His eyebrow twitched and his expression told me he clearly didn't believe me. He flickered out of sight and I blinked before sprinting toward my bakery bag, scooping it up and whirling around. He was nowhere to be seen. I began to back up, all the while trying to find his scent again, my eyes flitting around a bit apprehensively.
That was one thing I hated about higher ups: they had this annoying habit of moving too quick for me to follow, then they ambush me. I could do it as well, albeit I could only do it for three times at most; it drains the user's stamina with each utilization.
I bumped into something warm and hard. I whirled around and instinctively lifted up my bag as his flaming fist came toward my face. The bag crumbled into ash as I took a couple steps back. I pouted and looked up to glare at him.
"That wasn't nice." His hand lashed out at me and I lifted my arms up defensively to shield my face.
I hissed as his burning hands grabbed my wrists, pulling me toward him. He was so much taller than me, looming over me as if I were a small child. His eyes were filled with complete abhorrence as he glowered at me. Though his opinion of me didn't matter, it still kind of hurt he hated me so; it wasn't a nice feeling to be hated for being something I had no control over. I averted my eyes, not wanting to seem like I was challenging him. The smell of my burning flesh wafted into my nostrils and I tried to break free, a whimper of pain leaving me. He yanked me violently back into his body, the joint in my shoulder popping painfully.
"Why don't you fight back, scum? You can't be so weak that you can't break free." He taunted. I didn't think he realized just how strong his grip was, given how thin he appeared.
"Don't make me self-defense you." I warned before bringing my knee up into his groin as hard as I could.
He abruptly let go of me as though I had leprosy. He stumbled back, hunched over in his pain. He wheezed, "You bitch!"
I rubbed my poor arm, the scalds already beginning to heal, and looked back at him. He had recovered and his fist was heading for my face. I dodged his next punch, slipping to the side, and sprinted toward the oak trees.
While I was no newborn demon, I simply didn't have the fighting experience to take down a low-level Angel, let alone an Archangel. My best chance of survival was to retreat. I couldn't hear him pursuing me, but didn't slow my pace. I was twenty feet from the portal. Ten...five...a ball of fire flew past me, the grass drinking it up hungrily to create a wall of inferno.
I slid to a stop before I ran into the fire placed between me and my way of escape. Turning around, the Angel approached me languidly, as if he had all the time in the world.
"Why don't you just let me go? I wasn't causing anyone harm." I said imploringly, slipping into a defensive pose.
The Angel snorted derisively. "Nonsense. You demons are evil, miserable creatures. Your domain is Hell and Hell alone; you step into the Human World, you step into the Angels' realm. Besides, you should be thanking me for putting you out of your misery."
I stiffened at his words. I knew he was aiming to kill me, but to hear him say it so casually startled me. I had always thought Angels to be relatively peaceful. He saw the fear in my eyes and seemed to relish in it, something else that perturbed me. For a bringer of life, he seemed needlessly bloodthirsty. He withdrew a sword I had not seen, taking careful aim at my head, briefly tapping the side of my throat with the blade.
"Tell me, Angel, how is it you can create life, but snuff it out just as easily?" My query caused him to pause.
"You demons possess no life." His response was monotonous, like he was reading out of a book.
I blinked owlishly at him, wondering how on earth he ever got an idea like that. He pressed the sword warningly against my throat when I held my hand out to him.
"Touch me." He seemed disgusted by the idea and actually lowered his sword.
"Why would I-"
I grabbed his free hand and pulled it against my throat to where my pulse was. He tried to yank his hand free, then froze when he felt my carotid artery pushing against his fingers. His hand was warm, pleasantly so. We both knew just how trusting I was being; a simple movement of his hand and my neck could be broken (not that that would kill me). Yet, he just kept his fingers over my pulse. I released my grip on his wrist and took a step back. He didn't move, staring at me with an unreadable expression.
"Blood runs through my veins, I breathe." I said. "I am no different than you or those humans you Angels cherish so much."
The last part was not spat out, only a bitter observation. I wasn't sure why I was so envious of the Angels' love for humans; they were petty, frail beings.
"William!" We both stiffened at the shout. An unfamiliar scent, another Angel, hit me and I stepped back, looking wildly to the skies. This scent made me uneasy. It was too sweet, like sickness, and there was a strong presence of death.
The wall of fire dissipated with a gesture of his hand.
"Get out of here." I looked at the Angel. He wasn't looking at me, sheathing his sword. "That's Luke; he won't hesitate to kill you. So, go."
I blinked, confused. He had been trying to kill me not moments ago, had I managed to change his mind about me? I managed a small smile. "Thank you."
He snorted and turned away from me. "Don't mistake this for kindness or sympathy; I'm doing this on a whim. This changes nothing."
"Still, thank you...William." He whirled around, probably to tell me off for using what I presumed was his name, but I had already stepped through the portal.
After breathing such clean air, the stagnant air fell heavy in my lungs. I walked back into the city, passing the white palace of the Demon King that lies in the very center of the realm. A guard with a hellhound walked by, paying my presence no mind. The streets were paved with sanded bones and skulls were used as lanterns.
The streets were mainly barren and I tried to recall if there was anything special going on that day. Perhaps hellhound fighting at the arena several legions away. I saw another Optima on the street and relaxed. He was a much older demon, probably nearing the end of his life, who lived next door to my family. He was dressed for a leisurely stroll. He tipped his hat to me in acknowledgment and I gave him a curt nod.
I pushed open the iron gate that surrounded my house, my ears perking up at every little sound. Father was not home yet from his job as the King's Adviser and I could hear two different heartbeats. One on the second floor and the other on the first. I walked up to the front porch and into the dark foyer of my house.
"Where did you sulk off to, Mel?" I turned to see my older brother leaning over the staircase rail on the second floor.
He looked like Father; black hair and catlike gold eyes and all sharp angles. He was tall and sturdy with thick muscles. He had a wide nose instead of the aquiline nose my sister and I inherited from Father.
"I thought I'd take a walk in the forest." I replied airily, heading up the stairs.
"Not in Hell." He remarked, smirking at me when I turned to look at him. He walked down the stairs.
He knew. It shouldn't have surprised me, my older brother always just knew my secrets. He'd probably known about me sneaking off to the Human World since the first time I did it.
I kept my face expressionless, nor did I respond to him. Instead, I changed the subject. "I am feeling rather tired. I will not be eating dinner."
I turned back around and went up the remaining steps. His heartbeat faded from the bottom of the stairs, migrating into the kitchen. My sister's heart was thumping louder with each of my steps. I passed her closed door and opened mine, which was directly next to hers. Slipping inside I shut the door behind me, sighing.