Aset struggled within her Sleep, something technically impossible since her body should have shut down completely. Where she should have remained still, breathing lightly and heart rate steady she thrashed in the makeshift bed Heidi and Rousen had made up for her, her heart beat raced towards some unseen goal and her breathing was heavy and laboured.
Rousen sat on the edge of his chair, sharing concerned looks with Heidi – a beautiful redhead Fairy – and Feodore – a burly Vampire with dark hair and chocolate brown skin covered in tribal tattoos. All three of them wanted to wake her but there was so much power snapping though the air that they didn’t dare approach her.
“What the hell is up with her?” Heidi asked for about the third time, “If Drake said her Sleep is like that for NightStalkers she shouldn’t be moving or anything!” she pointed out.
“I have no idea,” Rousen muttered.
Feodore frowned at Aset, as she moaned and twitched under the light blanket they’d put over her, “It’s fundamentally the same but ...” he broke off as Aset’s eyes suddenly snapped open and she screamed, jumping to her feet on the bench she had been laying on in the corner of the room. She placed her hands on the wall in front of her and rested her forehead against it too. The wall was cool against her burning skin but she still screwed up her face in pain.
“Fuck,” she swore angrily and kicked out viciously at the wall with her bare foot, she hissed in exquisite pain as she dented the wall.
“Aset?” Rousen asked quietly, trying not to make her jump but she did so anyway. She yelped and actually jumped at least a foot in the air and then as she landed her legs crumpled underneath her, leaving her in a heap on the bench.
She scowled at Rousen, but didn’t bother to try and cover up the fact that he’d made her jump, “What are you—“ she paused and looked around, extending her scowl to the rest of the room – a modern but dark kitchen – and the Fairy she found sitting perched on a chair much like Rousen was and the tribal Vampire who leant up against one of the counters on the opposite side of the room, “Where am I?” she asked.
Rousen raised an eyebrow, “I thought Isis was supposed to be omniscient like all other Goddesses,” he said.
Aset’s scowl deepened into a glare, “I am omniscient, most of the time,” she growled and them rubbed her eyes wearily, “Rousen, I’ve just been pulled out of what should have been a Sleep that lasts for a good twelve hours by a force I don’t understand, like Vampires and Demons I need those twelve hours of Sleep,” she continued but didn’t look up at him, “Waking up always leaves my head a little buggered, and being omniscient all the time give me the Mother of all headaches, so I ignore it,” she added, pulling her knees up to her chest in a movement that made her look oddly vulnerable.
“This is Rousen’s house, we – Feodore, Rex and I – live here with him, it’s on the outskirts of the city—“ Heidi started.
“On the west side near the river,” Aset finished for her, she opened her eyes and smiled weakly at the redhead, “Thanks, I’ve caught up, Heidi.”
Heidi smiled, “Good,” she stood with fluid movements, “You hungry? Thirsty?” she asked as she crossed over to some cupboards and pulled out a glass, which she held up in question towards Aset.
Aset sighed, “I haven’t eaten actual food in at least a century and ...” she smirked, “Some blood would be nice but even with two Vampires I doubt you have that on tap,” but her eyes flicked unwillingly over to Rousen just as he glanced in her direction. Shivers broke out across Aset’s skin with the intensity in Rousen’s eyes, she looked away quickly back towards Heidi who was flicking her attention between the Demon Goddess and the Fallen in front of her.
“Why aren’t you Sleeping properly?” Foedore asked suddenly, causing Aset to glance up at him.
She shrugged, uncomfortable with the question, “I don’t know, I haven’t been able to for a while,” she said, her tone dejected.
“In the last three weeks or before?” Rousen asked quietly, his chest tightening with a sympathy he didn’t expect at the amount of pain in her glare.
“Before,” she muttered.
Rousen settled back in his chair, Aset frowned as she realised he’d hidden his wings somehow and now wore a tight black t-shirt, “What happened to being omniscient?” he asked sarcastically, knowing full well why it wouldn’t be possible for most Gods to see things in their own lives but still wanting to know that a being as unusual as Aset came under the same category.
Aset’s lip curled, “You’re Fallen, Rousen,” she snapped, “And, as much as it pains me to say it, you’re not a complete idiot – answer your own bloody question.”
Rousen smirked before Heidi rapped him over the head with her hand, “What was that for?” he asked angrily.
Heidi smiled sweetly at him, “For pissing off our guest, I don’t give a shit what you do under JJ’s roof to annoy her but this is my home too and if you wind her up enough to bring the walls down I’m holding you responsible,” she answered him. Rousen rolled his eyes and pushed up out of his chair to stalk out of the room. Aset watched him go, admiring the way the muscles on his shoulders bunched as he flexed them.
She flicked her eyes back to Heidi, “Thanks for that,” she murmured before yawning and then snapping her jaw shut as if in argument with the motion.
“Are you still tired?” Feodore asked quietly.
Aset sighed and nodded, her eyelids fluttering closed, “I know I have to but I don’t want to try again just yet,” her voice cracked and her head lolled without her say so.
“Hey,” Heidi said and Aset rapidly sat up, eyes too wide as she found Heidi sitting next to her, “You okay, girl?”
Aset nodded, “Yeah, just knackered,” she admitted. Heidi smiled sympathetically and tentatively put a comforting arm around Aset’s shoulders.
Incredibly light footsteps sounded from the direction Rousen had left in and Aset glanced up in time to see him walk into the kitchen holding a wineglass full of a deep red liquid. Sniffing the air delicately, she watched Rousen approach her with curiosity, especially when he offered her the glass of blood.
“Here,” he said and handed it to her, “Drink that, and we’ll see about getting you settled, see if you can Sleep again,” he gave Aset a stern look when she tried to protest, “Don’t argue with me, Drake will kill me if anything else happens to you and seeing as though he’s not scared of you I’m guessing he’ll actually carry out the deed towards me,” he said grimly and turned to walk away.
“Hey, where are you going to put her? To Sleep I mean?” Heidi asked, causing Rousen to pause.
“On the futon in my room; like I said Drake will kill me if anything happens to her and there isn’t enough room in your and Feodore’s room, nor Rex’s, nor in the front room – not for two people anyway,” he explained before leaving the room again.
Aset sipped the blood quietly and didn’t look at either Heidi or Feodore, even though she knew they were exchanging glances. The blood felt delightful on her tongue, thick and rich and sweet it slid down her throat beautifully. She paused after a while, wanting to savour the smell as well as the taste as sat with the brim of the glass under her nose.
“Are you able to tell what it came from?” Feodore asked, Aset was beginning to guess that he always spoke quietly.
She nodded without looking up at him and took a deep breath over the glass, swirled the liquid and then took a small sip, she then frowned slightly in concentration, “Type A rhesus positive, from a thirty year old human woman,” the frown deepened, “She was willing, she knows the truth about our world ... Ahh,” Aset murmured in realisation, “She works at Club Undead, in the bar.”
“You can get all of that from just a sip and a sniff?” Feodore asked, surprised.
Aset nodded again, “Kind of, I get as much as I can from the blood and then search for links to connect the rest of the picture,” she explained.
“Yeah, but that could have come from the other side of the world!” Feodore pointed out, not even Vampires – the first beings to need blood to survive – could tell anything more that the age and race of the blood’s source.
Aset shrugged, “So I search the links until I’ve joined up the dots that lead me to the person on the other side of the world,” she continued absently, “Being omniscient helps although I try and do it without that. It did take me a good millennia to get it that quick though, it used to take me an hour or more,” she added.
Feodore shook his head in disbelief while Aset took another sip of the liquid and then watched with a frown as she tipped her head back and downed the rest of the glass’ contents. An action that would have looked greedy and untrained looked elegant on Aset, even the drop of blood that escaped her lips and fell from the corner of her mouth entranced both Heidi and Feodore as her tongue darted out to daintily catch it. Sighing contently, Aset cradled the wineglass lightly against her chest and allowed her eyes to drift closed. She fell into Sleep without noticing and forgetting that she feared what would follow.
The scream in her head that caused to her yelp in the real world and jump up reverberated around her head for a good thirty seconds while she tried to gather her bearings. She was in a dark room, lying on what looked like a futon but she couldn’t make out the colour and couldn’t be bothered to enhance her vision until she could do so. Glancing up from where she lay she saw a heavily covered window, the material paler over it that compared to the rest of the room which was huge. In one corner was a small library with a number of artefacts that sang with power in the silence, in another was a large table with three huge computer screens, a tv screen and a lot of technical equipment and directly opposite her was a large bed like that in the secret room in the basement of Club Undead. Aset could just make out a figure lying beneath light sheets, a figure which had inky black wings carelessly curled around it. She remembered Rousen’s words about being put in his room.
Settling back against the headboard, Aset tried to forget the echoing scream that still ran through her head. Tried to forget her brother’s dying form as he hung suspended from their temple wall. Tried to forget the pain in his voice, his eyes, their shared link as he was beaten and then left to die. Cackling laughter sprung up from nowhere in her mind and echoed along with the scream until she couldn’t tell the difference between the two. Panic and paranoia erupted in her mind like thousands of tiny spiders scurrying from a broken egg, she began to shiver and twitch as every shadow in the room became a threat. Pain exploded across her ribcage as her chest tightened and squeezed around her heart, she couldn’t even tell if that was in her head or not and relentlessly dug her long fingernails into the tender skin on her arms in an effort to define what was real pain and what wasn’t. She whimpered unwillingly as she dug deep enough to leave thick trails of blood.
Without really thinking about it, she leapt from the futon and scrambled across the room. Making enough noise in the silence to awaken Rousen. He sat up sharply, his wings shooting out as he scanned the room for the disruption, he’d only been sleeping lightly anyway in case Aset had needed him. His eyes locked with her wide and frightened ones and he didn’t really understand what she was doing until she crawled into his bed. She paused on the edge, unsure of how he would receive her and he noticed how she was awkwardly holding her arms. He used night vision to see what was the matter and then sighed as he saw the self inflicted wounds, reaching out slowly he let her get used to the action before he placed healing power over the scratches so that they stopped bleeding and only left dark red marks. Glancing back up at her face he saw that her fundamental fear was still with her, she’d been alone since Iah had been snatched from her and he truly didn’t mind her presence in his bed. He lay back and allowed the wing on the same side as her to stretch out until it could reach her and then curling it slowly, he pulled her towards him.
As his velvet wings brushed against her back, enticing her forwards, Aset realised someone had stripped her down to just her bra and underwear and had she been thinking clearly she probably would have summoned a shirt for herself but in her current state of mind all that she could concentrate on was the touch of his feathers against her bare skin and the soothing air that filled her as he drew her near.
Rousen settled her next to him and then arranged the sheets around her and angled his wings so he could share his warmth with her as she shivered. Her skin was cold to the touch but it soon warmed up and he was able to concentrate on the soft touch of her skin against him, her thick hair haloed around her head and on his chest as she used his shoulder as a pillow. Tentatively, nervously, Aset reached out a lay an arm over his thickly muscled stomach and relaxed into his hold. Tears still rolled down her cheeks and spilled out over onto Rousen’s chest. Her forehead wrinkled in slight confusion as she thought she felt Rousen press his lips to the crown of her head.
“Do you remember what woke you up?” Rousen asked, his voice a gentle caress that throbbed with protective power.
Aset drew a breath that made a whimper ring in her throat, but she nodded against his shoulder, “A scream I think,” she breathed, her voice barely audible.
“Do you know whose?”
“No, I woke up before that.”
Aset simply whimpered again as she tried to remember what had happened in her dream and in response Rousen pressed her tighter to his side.
“Ssh, don’t think about it then, you’re all right Izzy, I’ve got you,” he soothed and rubbed small circles over her side where his hand lay. Aset breathed a sigh of relief but her shoulders tensed oddly under Rousen’s wings and he felt it, “What’s the matter?” he asked quietly, whispering the words into her ear.
“Only Iah ever called me Izzy,” she murmured, her voice cracking.
Rousen closed his eyes at the sound of her pain, he knew he should stop from calling her that if it was going to cause her hurt but he liked calling her Izzy, he liked that he’d be the only one to do it. He didn’t know why but he found himself asking, “Do you mind me calling you that?”
Aset lay still and thought about it and then just when Rousen thought she may have fallen asleep without answering his question, she shook her head, “No, I don’t mind,” she whispered and pressed her nose into the crook of his neck and inhaled deeply before relaxing back into his arms. Smiling to himself for some absurd reason and stroked the tips of his wing down her legs as she fell back into Sleep.
For the first time in a long time Aset wasn’t forced from her Sleep, instead she woke gently to the sound of someone else breathing calmly beside her. Glancing up she found Rousen watching her, he still had an arm and a wing curled around her and a soft smile on his lips. She stilled, shocked to see him where he was and shocked to find herself so comfortable in his company when she was so vulnerably exposed. The look in his eyes was hard for her to decipher but the smile on his lips was catching, it had barely tweaked at hers before she had fully caught up with what had happened and why she was where she was. At that point any happiness that had filled her heart was thrown out by cold anger at the thought of being at the malicious mercy of her nightmares. Tears pricked at her eyes as they turned stormy and she threw herself from the bed, visibly shaking with her anger.
The mix of anger and pain was unbearable and she cried out in a voice that shook the house with the excess power that ripped through her soul. Her chest clenched and convulsed around her heart cutting off her cry and forcing a low moan from between her lips. Her shoulders shook with the tears that now fell, tears for herself in her anguish and pain and helplessness and for Iah whom she could never see, never regain from Anubis’ care.
And then the anger was back and she was screaming out through her tears, she hated not being able to do anything about not having Iah. She was a Demon Goddess, she was supposed to be above such strong emotions, she was supposed to be able to control death and life and prayer and have an actual say in the way the worlds worked. So why hadn’t she? Who’d taken that away from her?
The back of her throat closed up and she was left, hands knotted and fisted in her hair, lungs heaving through heavy and painful breaths, stomach churning with unspent emotion and legs shaking with all that had forced its way out of her. She couldn’t go on like this but already, after only three weeks she’d forgotten who’d she’d been before, had no idea how to get back to the old her. Three weeks of little or no Sleep, random power bursts, random surges of overpowering emotion and she was a wreck with no safety net to catch her as she fell, no one to watch her back. Whoever had ripped her twin’s life from his body and ripped her into pieces and carelessly scattered them to the winds.
“Izzy,” Rousen said softly once her screams had ceased, he could sense Rex, Heidi and Feodore edging nervously around outside his room having been awoken by her screams.
A soft groan left Aset’s lips as she remembered their early morning conversation and how she’d agreed to Rousen calling her Izzy. Her shoulders slumped in submission and she slowly dropped her hands from her hair, she looked over her shoulder at him, studying him. The way he sat, pushed upright on his hands, his shoulders, chest and stomach tight in readiness should she need him, his wings thrown out carelessly around him, she could still remember their ghostly touch on her skin and she shivered just at the thought. Slowly she met his eyes, endless silver clashing perfectly with ebony swirls, she exposed herself to him in a way she’d done with no other, not even Iah and he saw everything through her eyes.
“I’m a mess,” she said softly, in way of a reply to his unasked question, in way of an explanation for her screaming, in way of needing to speak the truth aloud for herself, in way of a number of things and those three words, as a result, held a multitude of meanings from which Rousen could choose any he wished.
Rousen did something no one else had done in a long while, he didn’t judge her. He accepted every reason and explanation shining through the tears in her eyes and nodded compliantly. Aset sighed quietly in relief and then turned her back on him and looked around for her clothes, she could feel Rousen’s eyes skating over her figure, over the muscle on her back and the way they shifted as she moved. She knew he could see the deep scars that trailed horizontally down her back in the same sort of place as where his wings grew out from his own back.
Aset paused as she felt the tension in the room soar. Neither Demons nor Goddesses were supposed to have wings; that was a trait that only the Fallen and a few Fairies possessed.
“Izzy,” Rousen said, his voice low and dangerous.
Aset ignored him and bored with humanely looking for her clothes she magicked them onto her body, when her golden flesh was covered in tight fitting black leather she left the room scattering the two Vampires and Fairy from outside Rousen’s door. Aset ignored them and headed for the grand staircase and shot downstairs.
Heidi edged into Rousen’s doorway and saw the look of confusion and shock on his face, “Ru?” she asked nervously.
His attention shot to her and Rex and Feodore and he took a deep breath after realising he’d been holding his breath, “She has wings,” he whispered but his voice carried. Heidi’s jaw dropped.
“What?” she hissed hoarsely and ignored the fact that Rousen was naked as he left his bed and threw on a pair of trousers not dissimilar to Aset’s.
Rousen just shook his head and moved past her, he retracted his own wings as he headed downstairs to confront Aset. He found her staring out of the large window in the kitchen over the sink, her hands clenched into tight fists and he could see the blood oozing from between her fingers. His eyes shot to the knife that now lay on the floor as if dropped, it held blood the distinct colour that was rumoured to belong to Demon God or Goddess; a copper tinged blue.
“Izzy,” Rousen growled and then again wordlessly when she didn’t answer him but dropped her head, “You have wings, how the fuck does that work?” he demanded, “Isis,” he snarled when she still didn’t answer, “You’re not Fallen, or Fairy, how the fuck did you end up with wings?”
Aset refused to answer and then just as she felt Rousen cross the room to force her to face him she snapped around and glared at him, “I don’t know!” she yelled, “I’ve always had them, Iah didn’t and we kept it a secret, it was something we knew was there before they’d surfaced for the first time. Our parents didn’t suspect, no one did, so we kept our mouths shut – you’re giving me the same reaction we expected from everyone else. I don’t know, Rousen, I don’t know why I have wings,” she blurted, tears in her eyes, “It hurt, so much, so so much,” she whispered and gently opened her hands, the blood had stopped flowing and the cuts had healed. Rousen’s eyes widened, even by Godly standards that kind of healing was quick.
However, Rousen set aside this and concentrated on her last words; he knew she was speaking about the first time her wings had forced themselves from her body. He sighed and rubbed his face, “It always does, but they shouldn’t have scarred like that, and even if they did they shouldn’t have remained as scars,” he added.
Aset nodded, “Iah and I couldn’t figure it out either and it would have drawn too much of the wrong attention to have asked anyone he could help us,” she admitted.
“How old were you?” Rousen asked, the later the wings unfolded for the first time generally gave an idea of how powerful the bearer would be; it was a massive sign of strength to withhold the first showing much beyond thirteen but it wasn’t frowned upon to have them open at the age of ten.
Aset glanced up at Rex, Feodore and Heidi edged into the room, she sighed again, “How much do you know of Demons and Gods when they mix breeds?” she asked quietly.
Rousen didn’t dare answer, he had a horrible idea where this was going and let the idea show on his face as he stared openly at her. Heidi answered for him, “You’re born Demon, you die or are killed before you age one and twenty and are reborn through the eternal ice flames as Demon Gods,” she whispered.
Aset closed her eyes at the memory, “Iah and I were powerful Demons, something unusual for those destined to be Demon Gods, we were killed the day before our twentieth birthday,” she looked up at Rousen, “My wings first showed themselves during the three days that we were hidden behind the curtains of eternal flame, the scars that were then black were assumed to have been acquired during the rite of passage – Iah had the same sort of thing down the inside of his lower arms, it happens to some and not to others,” she ended with a shrug.
“Twenty,” Rousen breathed, “You were twenty before they showed?” he asked hoarsely, he’d never heard anything like it. Aset nodded slowly but didn’t meet any of the inquiring eyes, “Does it still hurt?” Rousen asked gently.
She shrugged, “Sometimes,” she murmured and knew what was coming next.
Aset looked up and met his eyes, she was terrified he was going to mock or judge her by what he saw but he seemed truly interested and curious as to what they’d look like on her. She closed her eyes against the sudden flash of memory, the same look on Iah’s face and the same fears surfacing. It scared her how much Rousen was able to remind her of Iah but it was in a completely different way to the brotherly devotion she always received from the Sun God.
And there was that name again, she wanted to shiver every time it fell from his lips and that also scared her. She’d been wrong when she’d said that without Iah she was utterly alone, she’d been alone for a long time prior to Iah death and both twins had felt it. She was just too different from everything and everyone else to feel properly included.
Eventually she whispered, “There’s not enough room.”
She didn’t have to open her eyes to see that Rousen was nodding and glancing around the room, she knew he was guessing that her wings were almost as large as his seeing as though he also couldn’t open his in the confinements of the kitchen. A hand brushed against hers and she allowed Rousen to catch her fingers before leading her out of the kitchen through a backdoor and down a short flight of steps. She heard a door being opened and then warm air flooded the space around her as Rousen led her outside.
Blinking into the late afternoon sunlight she found herself in a large garden enclosed by tall hedges, it was plain but Rousen and the others didn’t need it for much. Slipping her fingers from Rousen’s grip she moved away from him, unlike Rousen she couldn’t bare her chest for all to see while she exposed her wings and for that reason she magicked away her leather jacket and cut two horizontal gaps in the back of her polo neck just over the scars.
She took a couple of deep breaths as she reawakened the muscles she’d spent so long trying to send to sleep and hissed in pain as they snapped and cracked in reply. Tears were welling and she knew this would hurt her, she’d resisted their call for too long. And yet she didn’t allow them to shoot out as if she had no control, she knew she’d earned this pain and was going to work through it as slowly as she could.
Rousen winced as he heard the skin around the scars rip and he knew just from that sound that she rarely showed her wings and had gone a long time since she had done so last. Her ability to control the speed at which they emerged amazed him, even though he knew her to be ancient in terms of years he’d never seen a Fallen with so much self control before. Then again Aset wasn’t exactly Fallen. Heidi dithered on the steps down into the garden while Rex and Feodore hovered inside and all four of them held their breath as Aset moaned just before the mass of feather, bone and muscle unfolded from beneath her skin. Rousen knew this transformation inside out, how the wings would unfold from underneath the skin and then pause while the skin closed up around them, how there’d be a battle between willpower and instinctive response as you struggled to hold in your wing and flex them slowly so you didn’t pull anything while they all the while pulled at your endurance to snap out and flutter.
For someone who hadn’t been brought up with the ways of the Fallen, how to fly and cope and live with your wings, Rousen thought Aset was doing exceptionally well. And then all rational thought left him as she began to slowly flex them out and the bright sunlight caught the colour of the feathers and sent a thousand tiny rainbows scattering over the garden.
Aset whimpered and clenched her fists even tighter as the last of the lightweight bones in her wings clicked into place and she flexed them to their full extent. She didn’t have to have her eyes open to know their colour off by heart, golds and yellows, deep oranges and russet reds shone brightly even without the help of the sunlight and on the underside of ever feather, something you caught a glimpse of whether you were looking for it or not was a shade of raw silver that resembled that of her eyes. Her knees shook as the pain didn’t dull, even when she stretched all twelve and a half feet worth of wings out and in again.
She heard air and feather rustle behind her but she didn’t dare open her eyes, fearing that if she did the pain would become too real and she wouldn’t be able to cope with it. In an attempt to hide from the world she curled her wings tightly around her, feeling their warmth as they enclosed her in a safe cocoon but not really being able to appreciate the feeling as the pain numbed everything else.
She knew Rousen had come to stand in front of her, she could feel the soft breeze his own wings were making against her bare feet and she instantly lost a little of the tension within her shoulders when he tentatively placed his arms around her. She whimpered and he gathered her up with a little more confidence, wrapping both his arms and his wings around her in an attempt at comfort.
“It hurts,” she moaned against the skin of his chest.
“I know,” he soothed as he slipped his fingers under the slits in her top and ran them over the seams where golden skin became golden feathers, “They’re beautiful though, Izzy.”
Aset smiled in spite of herself against his skin, “So are yours,” she mumbled, causing Rousen to chuckle as he held her.
“Have you ever flown before?” Rousen asked quietly, the small tremble that shook her body told him she hadn’t, “It’s the most beautiful feeling, Izzy,” and then added in a conspiratorial whisper, “Even better than sex,” the laughter that burst from her lips delighted him, he had to ask, “Want to try?”
He felt her tremble and was about to begin soothing again, knowing he’d taken it a step too far, but she spoke before he could.
“Not yet, I need to gather a little more courage,” she admitted against his chest, her breath caught in her chest again and he had to wonder if she was crying, he couldn’t feel any tears on his chest though.
“Do you wanna pull them in?” he asked, she half shook her head and half nodded, trembling more against him, “Okay, I want you to try something for me, Izzy, I want you to pull them in as slowly as you can,” and he began to massage the seams between feather and skin on her back with his deft fingers, “Can you do that for me Izzy?” he was about to ask again but she was already doing as he wanted.