WRITING Eternal War: Sin and Salvation

Discussion in 'SHOWCASING' started by Wistful Beast, Oct 16, 2015.

  1. Here I will have segments of the ongoing story I have been working on. This thread was created in order to separate this story from my usual, more casual exercises and other pieces. While separate from my other pieces, this is still a work in progress and my writing quality will change over time. That's why my earlier passages may not be up to par with my current and future ones.

    Also, I will be editing my posts when I deem fit so reading certain sections again isn't a bad idea if you want to keep up with the story.

    Please do not post anywhere in this thread. Rating posts is fine and critiques are welcome via PM, but I request that my posts are not broken up by comments.

    Also, a disclaimer. My writing will have more mature themes and include situations with violence, gore, and quite possibly sexual themes. The weak of heart should beware.

    #1 Wistful Beast, Oct 16, 2015
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2016
  2. Notes and Other Information

    Charahub Profiles:
    Rhea Denholm
    Astra Crowden

    Playlists for both can be found on Spotify under their names, "Rhea Denholm," and "Astra Crowden." They are under the profile Wistful_Beast.

    Prompts that May Be Used
    putthepromptsonpaper quotes that may be used

    “Morality disgust me.”
    “Did they tell you I was the one who did it? Did they warn you against me?“ “No” “What a pity"
    “Is that a threat or a warning?“ “Does it matter?”
    “They watched her with the kind of awe reserved for freaks”
    “She looked like an angel, the way they were meant to be seen- intimidating and strangely judgmental”
    “Your dignity means nothing to me”
    “Do you love me?” “Don’t ask stupid questions”
    “Chaos is unavoidable, just embrace it"
    “I’ve tried to be polite, but you need to shut the fuck up or I will knock you unconscious”
    “You’ll never know how much this hurts. I need you to know”
    “No, I’m not ‘fucking with you’, I actually do have real emotions. I love and I cry and I stare out my window at night wishing on stars and dreaming of a day when the world is less cruel! Nah, you got me, I’m fucking with you”
    “Didn’t they warn you? Didn’t they try to stop you from coming back to me?” “I don’t care”
    “I never want to stop. For once in my life I feel… powerful”
    Rhea Denholm

    See charahub profile for more detailed information
    Name: Rhea Denholm

    Standing at a height of 5'5", Rhea has the height of an average female. Slim and sleek, her shoulders are narrow and her muscles are lean. Her fair skin is dotted here and there with freckles and covered in plenty of tattoos. A sharp jawline and nose give her a more harsh appearance despite her soft, brown eyes. Clearly caring about her appearance, Rhea wears black winged eyeliner and light mascara. Her medium sized lips are a black from lipstick. A small, silver colored septum piercing connects the inside of her nostrils. Her straight hair is dyed a midnight blue color and a few loose pieces hang in her face sometimes, her part on the right side.

    Rhea has narrow feminine hips and an average sized bust. Although she is generally slim, one can tell that her body holds more strength than first assumed. Through movement, her biceps make a presence and display her strength along with well toned calves. One can compare her body to that of a runner or a gymnast. Most noticeably, large feathered wings attach near her shoulder blades. Rhea's feathers are black and white with a mottled pattern, black being the dominant color.

    When Rhea dons armor, she wears plate armor. Shiny black, her chest plate is relatively smooth with layered triangular pieces on the stomach and chest that give the illusion of plates on the underbelly of a dragon. Deep blue metal trims each triangular plate to make it pop more.The chest piece accommodates her curves, but does not accentuate or make them obvious as if it were male armor. Her shoulder guards are layered as well and sharp at the ends with small uniform spikes on the tops. Her tasset, or thigh and pelvic guard, is layered and black just like all of the other pieces. Rhea wears black pants as well just to conceal herself better. Plates strap to each knee cap and skin, but not on the backs of her legs. Knee high leather boots attach to her legs. her wings protrude from slits in her chest plate and she wears no cloak. Rhea's helm is alike to an ancient Greek hoplite helmet in design, but lacks the fringe. Instead, bleached white, long ram horns are attached to either side.

    When dressed in casual attire, Rhea prefers to wear regular dark colored pants held up with a belt, boots, and a half shirt or vest with no shirt underneath. This exposes her various tatoos. Intertwined around her right arm is a swirling, deep green vine dotted with dark blue flowers. In between her shoulder blades is the simple outline of a star with a cross inside, a symbol of her former status as an angel warrior. On the back of her left calf is an intricate tattoo of a human skull with parted teeth.

    When in dragon form, Rhea measures eight feet tall to the top of her head when on all fours. Her whole body including her tail is 15 feet long. Small smooth triangular, midnight blue scales cover her body in a uniform pattern. Along her throat, chest, and stomach are slightly thicker and larger black plates that better protect her more vital parts. Rhea's body can be likened to that of a canine since she has paw like feet and walks on her toes. Also, her snout is more canine like with its length and general width. A pair of long, black, roughly textured horns protrude from the back of her head. They are arched and curve slightly and sort of resemble ram horns. A shaggy black mane grows from the top of her head and reaches back in between her horns and down the length of her curved neck. It is wild and unkempt, giving her a more feral appearance. Piercing blue eyes give her a more intense appearance especially since her pupils are slits.

    Rhea has large, bat like wings with black membrane and spines the same color as her scales. The points end in claws and her full wingspan is twenty feet. A sharp black spade is attached to the end of her flexible tail. Long claws protrude from her paws and offer grip and make her better equipped for attacking or defending. Around the base of her neck is a silver colored choker collar adorned with howlite gemstones.

    Basic Personality: Craves destruction, aggressive in a cold impassive manner, selfish, violent, social, flirtatious, hates herself(but acts confident) and suffers from acute insomnia

    Alignment: Lawful Evil

    Armed with two silver cutlasses with a sharp, slightly curved blades. The handles are black and simple. The swords are kept in a scabbard or unsheathed at her belt.
    Astra Crowden

    See charahub profile for more detailed information
    Name: Astra Crowden

    Taller than Rhea, Astra reaches a more impressive height of 5'8". More filled out than Rhea, one can note Astra's larger biceps and slightly wider shoulders. Although larger than Rhea, Astra is still relatively lean. Her body could be likened to that of a basketball player, long and lanky with the same muscle that came with athleticism. Due to a nasty fight, it is noticeable that Astra is missing her right eye. Where a bright green eye should be, there is just an eyelid that is sewn shut and four pale claw marks that run across it. Her face is more square shaped, but her soft nose and full pink lips prevent her from looking too masculine. Astra's skin is well tanned and a few scars run across her body. From her head grows thick black hair that hangs a few inches above her shoulders. It is crudely cut and parted on the right side so that it usually covers her missing eye.

    Although Astra is generally flat chested, a light hourglass figure can easily determine that she is female. Well muscled, one can assume Astra has done a lot of physical activity over the years and has maintained an athletic figure. Feathered wings attach near her shoulder blades. Her feathers are a solid grey color with white speckles and when fully extended can reach about 15 feet.

    When donning armor, Astra wears a suit of silver colored armor. Like Rhea's, her chest plate was fashioned purely for her use and therefore fits nicely. The design of golden crow with outstretched wings, the symbol of her family house, is fashioned upon her chest. The chest plate reaches up and protects her throat, though slightly limiting the movement of her neck. She wears a full suit of armor, meaning all over her body are silver plates. Astra's helmet is triangular and covers all but her eye. The eye holes are triangular. Metal pieces that look like wings protrude from each side and point backwards. A white plume of what appears to be horsehair runs down the middle of the top of the helmet, giving her a mohawk of sorts.

    When in casual clothing, Astra wears any sort of long pants and a long sleeved shirt. The long sleeved shirt is almost always a v-neck and a solid color. Her preferred colors are white or grey, although some of her shirts have different colored trim. Boots usually occupy her feet and are laced nicely.

    Basic Personality: Fiery anger, seeks to do good, protective, pretentious, confident, brave, brutally honest and can't lie, cares about protecting others too much and trusts too easily

    Alignment: Lawful Good

    Armed with a black handled, five foot long staff. The staff ends in a two foot long blade.
    World Notes
    Generally medieval setting, world with diverse biomes, an abundance of creatures.
    Main races-demons, angels, elves
    Called Udek
    World Details: Reincarnation occurs, brief after life in between although feels like a long time

    -Souls remolded and reformed instead of created new, although can become drastically different from the original
    -Fate influences by that of ancestors
    -Can access memories, skills, or forms of ancestors if skilled enough
    -Explains why some corrupted take animal forms, reason is that they had a beastly ancestors
    -Gods and goddesses are not all immortal and can be placed in this cycle, although there is still a chance the essence can ascend to godhood again
    -Some gods and goddesses are created because they discovered how to access power from their ancestors, one would have to have great skill and a deity in their bloodline to do this

    Rhea(Left) and Astra(Right) Drawing courtesy of the lovely Vermiciro

    Rhea seated on the throne Drawing also courtesy of Vermiciro

    Rhea's Jacket in Scene 7 looks like this.

    Map of the World of Udek:

    #2 Wistful Beast, Oct 16, 2015
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2016
  3. (Scene 1: Astra finding and meeting Rhea after them being separated for a year)

    The cackling of demons filled Astra’s ears. The angelic warrior was poised before a growing crowd of the damned, their smiles taunting her. Muscles bunched, she readied her spear in a tight grip,casting her attention to a beastly dragon that was slinking towards her. “How is this happening?”she whispered to herself in disbelief.

    *Earlier in the night*

    Atop a hill sat a massive palace, its walls made of slate grey stone. Rectangular in shape, it had four well defined corners, built solid. Sprouting up from each corner was a tower that tugged at the night sky, threatening to eat the stars or one of the two glowing moons. Growing from the top middle portion was a large dome topped with a long spike. All around the tops of the walls were twisted metal spires with well rusted surfaces. Ivy crawled around the sides and crept up the towers towards the sharp red roofs atop them.

    Positioned around the palace was a courtyard that featured scraggly grass as well as many bushes laden with foreign flowers. A cobble road led down from the palace and towards a valley, disappearing into the depths of the forest. A river around the gated courtyard, dipping down towards the valley as well. Below the palace was a thick forest with trees stretching on for miles, broken up occasionally by any stray civilizations. Around the back of the palace was a garden, revealing that the place had to be self sufficient if it were this secluded. Further back a farmyard also confirmed this.

    All of this was outlined in the gloom of the night, the forest alive with the sounds of insects and animals. The wind stirred the feathered wings of an armored female that was facing the palace from about a quarter of a mile away. This was Astra Crowden, an angel and member of the angelic army. Staring at the palace with apprehension, something in her gut told her that this was the place she had been seeking.

    Unfurling grey feathered wings, the woman took to the air. At first it took her effort, sleek silver plated armor weighing her down. Astra's skeptical expression was concealed under her winged and plumed helm. As she drew nearer, her skepticism gave way to a sense of affirmation, and, recalling the description she had been by scouts, she was positive that this was the proper location. It was time for a proper reunion.

    With mixed emotions clouding her already busy mind, Astra landed before the palace gates. They were ten feet tall and made of a deep bronze colored metal, more curling spikes adorning the tips. Stone demon statues stood on either side with spears in hand. One resembled a bipedal canine and its face was fixed into a snarl that looked like a grimace. Across from it stood a more reptilian demon with tall horns and an equally nasty looking face. The mere thought of her once close companion living in a dark place such as this further stirred her emotions.

    In one of Astra's gloved hands was a spear with a sword like blade at the top, held ready in case she was assaulted by any guards. The situation was sketchy, considering her general lack of knowledge of this place and what resided in it, but it was a risk Astra had to and was willing to take.

    Lifting into the air again she landed on the other side of the gate and began to press onward towards the building. She became aware of how large this place was. It also unnerved her that she hadn't been ambushed yet. No demons came flying from towers to try to claw her face away. Only a lone crow flapped by and released a cackling caw from its dark beak. Astra chose to take it as a sign of good luck that the same animal from her house sigil had graced her with its presence, though on the flip side it could signify her looming demise. Still, Astra continued towards the front doors.

    Surprise didn't even cut it when describing how Astra felt right now. Some part of her knew that a place this grand couldn't be so unprotected and that any defenders were awaiting their chance to strike. This thought caused Astra to look around often, her single eye looking out from her helm. Standing before her were two twelve foot tall doors that could accommodate a visitor of massive proportions.They were heavy and made of oak, carvings of fire dancing about the wood. Not bothering with the bronze knocker, Astra carefully pushed one of the doors. Again, she was astonished to see that it pushed open with little resistance. Stepping inwards, Astra heard the door close behind herwith a quiet thump that nearly made her flinch.

    Inside it was dim and spacious. The doors had given way to a main circular hall with a marble floor and large paintings that hung about the smooth scarlet painted walls next to torch holders. The metal holders contained torches, some smoldering to allow partial vision. It was unnaturally quiet now, leading Astra to believe that the inhabitants certainly knew of her presence and were merely still forgoing an attack for the time being. At the end of the hall another large room could be seen, although this one contained what appeared to be comfortable lounge chairs, short tables, and lowly lit fireplaces. Casting her vision elsewhere, Astra noticed there were stone staircases on each side of the round hall. Positioned 15 meters above her head was a large chandelier made of metal, its torches unlit. The air was frigid and stagnant.

    Deciding that whoever led this place could have information about her friend, Astra set off to find them, trying to disregard the dark atmosphere. Spotting more torches burning along the right staircase, Astra carefully picked her way upwards and made sure to tread lightly. Turning away from the landing at the top of the steps, Astra saw torches led further off to the right down another hall. Continuing towards the light, she passed many closed doors and before she could get her hopes up, assumed that's where potentially anyone could reside. Still, she kept her goals in mind and moved forwards.

    Eventually the hall curved and connected with another hall lined with rooms, confirming that Astra could have taken the other staircase and ended up in the same place. Now she was near a smooth marble staircase that led downwards. Upon beginning her descent Astra became aware of how her footsteps were loud enough to be obviously heard. The staircase had led her into a grand room that was well lit by torches on the wall and featured tall windows in the back that allowed moonlight to filter through. The walls were a deep scarlet color and the shadows from the flames seemed to dance upon them. Thick, white pillars attached from the floors to the high ceiling and were arranged in two rows one on each side of the room. In the center of the floor was a giant, detailed design of a black aegishjalmur, a symbol associated with battle. It featured a circle in the center with eight lines protruding from it. These lines ended in half circles with three horizontal dashes across the stem of each one.

    Most noticeable was a massive throne. It had black stone supports and softer plush to sit upon and to lean back on. The long armrests ended in curved claws and the feet of the throne also featured gruesome looking talons. The back of the chair tapered up into a triangular point with what appeared to be a stone demon skull attached.

    Astra hardly noticed the lavish throne now, more occupied on who sat in it, a young woman. Lithe as a cat and with a short stature, subtle feminine curves shaped her body. She wore deep black plated armor and sat casually, her arms resting gently on the armrests. In each hand was a cutlass, the weapons held in a loose grip with the blades positioned downwards. Large black and white wings were folded neatly behind the woman's back, their tips resting upon the seat. Straight hair dyed a midnight blue framed a narrow feminine face, skin pale in the moonlight. Shadows gave her features a sharper edge. Protruding from the corners of the woman's intense brown eyes was black eyeliner, matched with charcoal colored, bow-shaped lips. While the appearance of the woman seemed much more sinister, Astra would be an absolute fool not to recognize her. The one she came for in the first place. Her ex lover.

    "Rhea Denholm?"Astra questioned, lifting her helm free of her head and tossing it onto the ground with a clatter. Now her face was revealed,one green eye staring in disbelief, and short, wavy black hair unkempt. She approached the woman seated on the throne with cautious steps, hardly believing what she saw.

    A smirk played across the woman's face, black painted lips curling upwards. "Astra Crowden."she stated with certainty.

    "You..you..."Astra began, mouth agape in utter shock. This was not the brunette clad in white armor she had seen last. Not the same woman with pure white wings, feathers now tainted with black. Last year when she was recovering in the medics’ building after the Great Battle of Cascadon Mountain, she had heard that her closest companion-no, her lover- had been captured and tainted by darkness. Then she hadn't believed it, but now, Astra could see that clearly Rhea wasn't the same.

    "Changed? I'd say the same for you. Last I saw you, you had two eyes."Rhea replied matter-of-factly as she sat up slightly in the throne.

    Rhea's usual humor felt odd after so long a time, Astra suddenly feeling bitter about having been disconnected for so long. "Last I saw you, you weren't sitting upon a demon throne. Also, your hair wasn't an odd blue, nor were your wings so dark. And what's that on your nose?"Astra asked in a bewildered tone.

    "Oh,this?" Rhea asked, pointing to the small, silver ring connecting her nostrils. "That's a piercing. Although I wouldn't expect someone as high and mighty as you to appreciate it."she added almost childishly.

    That last statement came as a jab to Astra. It was clear that Rhea's attitude had changed since she was tainted and turned to a more ‘evil’ lifestyle.Taking a few long strides forwards made Astra further close the gap between her and Rhea so that she stood only ten meters away now. "Oh? Is that how you feel now? Are angels just too dull for a demon wannabe like you to want to associate with anymore?"Astra nearly snapped, pausing to stand and face Rhea.

    Low laughter escaped Rhea's throat. "I missed your spunk, that's for damn sure."she replied.

    Irritated that Rhea had evaded the question with such a comment, Astra went straight to the point, “Why didn’t you try to find me or the other warriors?”

    Rhea answered as she stared at her painted nails, seeming almost unsinterested. “I didn’t have a chance after my capture. None of you showed up either. I was sent to this place and soon found it cozy enough to climb the ranks.”

    “We didn’t show up because we had no clue where you had been taken. I never stopped looking for you and now I’ve finally found you.” A sense of desperation edged her voice. Why wasn’t this reunion as grand and cheerful as she had anticipated? Why wasn’t Rhea happy to see her?

    When Rhea didn’t respond fast enough Astra took it upon herself to ask, “What did they do to you?” her voice was softer now and filled with concern.

    While her eyes ran down the length of one of her cutlasses,Rhea offered an answer willingly, yet her voice didn’t portray how she felt. It sounded flat and trivial as if she were just discussing the weather. “The demons beat and abused me. Then I was deposited in this palace. They placed a curse upon me, tainted my very being and changed me forever. Suddenly I realized how naive I had been to cherish this world and learned how joyful destruction is. A few months later and here I am the top dog in this godforsaken place. I’ve a pretty nice deal here.”

    The oversimplified answer and general flippancy of Rhea vexed Astra and brought many questions fluttering to the front of her mind. Why had Rhea accepted her fate and not made an effort to turn back to goodness? What convinced her to lapse into evil? Why did she crave destruction as the demons did? How did she manage to climb to the top? What exactly had those foul creatures done to skew her mind? What was this curse?

    “So are you the leader of a gang of demons now?”Was all Astra managed to ask out of all of the nagging questions that fought for her attention.

    Rhea pulled herself to her feet and stretched out her wings. After folding them she released a yawn that revealed sharp fangs. Before Astra could ask just how Rhea had fangs now,with a light smile playing across her lips the corrupted angel offered another answer. “Indeed I do. I now lead the demons and fellow corrupted angels of this place. Would you like to kiss my boots? It’s only polite considering my position.”She gestured to her tall boots with a sweeping gesture.

    So now Astra knew that her friend had allied with the very side they had fought against for years. What hurt more was that Rhea seemed willing to take on this role even after the abuse she had suffered. Things just weren’t adding up. The jest that the woman threw in didn’t sit well with Astra either. “What’s wrong with you?”Astra blurted with a troubled expression as she walked towards Rhea with a loose grip on her spear.

    “Nothing. I’m perfectly fine here.”Rhea replied with an apathetic shrug of her shoulders.

    “So you actually enjoy destruction now? Where’s your morality, Rhea?”Astra questioned with raised shoulders, shifting her weight to a more attentive position.

    Rhea turned slightly and her face scrunched up as if a terrible odor had reached her nose. “Morality disgusts me. It complicates everything. When has it ever done good?”

    “It does good to prevent innocent lives from being lost.”Astra was hasty to shoot back.

    “Maybe, but is anyone really innocent, Astra?”Rhea asked as she turned to face Astra again.

    This conversation was going nowhere. They could bicker about changes and morality and innocence for hours.

    The sound of Rhea’s shoes meeting the ground resonated in the large throne room as she made her way towards Astra. She came to a stop a foot away from Astra so that now the two were facing off at a short distance. For a moment their gazes locked and they remained quiet, observing one another. It was odd to look at Astra now that she was missing an eye, giving Rhea the sudden primal urge to tear apart a defective lesser being. Even though Rhea now believed Astra was in the wrong for supporting the angels in this war, the past they had shared couldn’t be tossed away that easily. The desire to embrace Astra was just as strong as the urge to slap her. She hated Astra for letting her be corrupted like this, even as she embraced her own transformation.

    The war that raged on didn’t have well defined sides. It was not ‘good’ versus ‘evil’, as everyone had a bit of both even if they outwardly favored one or the other. Sides having been blended, it was not as it was centuries ago where it was simply demonic beings versus angelic beings. There were demons fighting for good and angels fighting for evil, causing there to be quite a grey area. Rhea had lapsed into a grey area, supporting the destructive tendencies of the demons and other corrupted beings. Now she hailed Marduka, the Goddess of Chaos and creator of demons. Still not convinced that mindless destruction and misconduct should not be hailed, Astra fought for Iro, God of Virtue and creator of angels. The third most important deity was Alohani, Goddess of Neutrality and creator of the elves. Many other gods and goddesses were present and allied with either of the three main deities. The war was not bound to just the mortals.

    Looking at Rhea caused a sudden rush of emotions. She was so different now, yet still so familiar. “I missed you so much, Rhea…”Astra said, barely a whisper.

    Even Rhea couldn’t mask the fact that she had genuinely missed Astra. The first few days in demon possession she had longed to see Astra again, fearing she’d die without ever seeing her. The pain had burned her, but finally drove her to break free. After the curse had fallen upon her though, her whole mindset had changed. How ignorant Astra had been to ever try to fight in a war she couldn’t win. Darkness would always prevail. This thought had numbed her longing to reunite with Astra; it would be better if they stayed on different sides so that they didn’t have to fight. Still, there had been long nights where Rhea had been kept awake. Nights where she allowed violent sobs to wrack her body under the moonlight and mumbled Astra’s name through lips damp with hot tears. The next morning she had always fixed her makeup and moved on, pushing any loving thoughts out of her mind to replace them with bitterness.

    Rhea had allowed her perception of Astra to be tainted. She began to find flaws such as the annoying stubbornness and naivety. Some Rhea had even created herself, finding and collecting Astra’s faults to feed her bitterness. This way it was much easier to forget. At least on the surface. The remaining infatuation was pent up, and eager to crawl back out.

    Under poor judgement Rhea couldn't help but allow Astra to stoop down a bit before she leaned in slowly, swords slipping into the loops on her belt.As their lips met, Rhea reached a hand back and gently gripped a fist full of Astra’s hair. It was just as soft as she had remembered and felt welcoming in her fingertips. The kiss was gentle and wistful, lingering even after Astra pulled away. Then came the violence.

    Rhea’s grip on Astra’s hair tightened and with a sharp motion, Rhea tugged Astra onto the ground. Caught unaware, Astra was thrown onto the ground with a clatter of her plate armor upon the smooth stone. Out from her hand rolled her spear. Rhea stepped back and stood at the ready, eyes projecting a cold nature laced with anticipation. In disbelief, Astra to rose to her feet and collect her spear. “What was that for?”she spat.

    “For being so fucking oblivious to the battle you are waging.” Her clear voice was nearly enough to send shivers down Astra’s spine.

    “What the hell do you mean?”Astra retorted quickly, eyebrows tightly knit with confusion.

    “You can’t win, Astra. You’ll never win. You’ll just die trying.”

    “Why would you say such awful things?”Astra gaped, holding an open hand to her chest in disbelief.

    “Sometimes the truth is awful. You can never best darkness as it is omnipresent and too powerful for you to comprehend.”

    Astra faced off with Rhea, noticing the woman had yet to take fighting stance. If it came to blows, Astra surely had the energy to forget their broken relationship long enough to knock some sense into her. “The creatures of light will prevail. Besides, you should never assume I’ll give up the fight.”She snapped, her empty fist clenched.

    From Rhea’s mouth came a scornful clicking sound as she shook her head gravely and muttered something about “never learning,” and “so damn naive.” “No. You’ll never give up and I know that. That’s exactly why I have to stop you.”Rhea stated ruefully.

    “Stop me...What are you...”Astra began to question before the sudden changes happening to Rhea stopped her dead.

    One by one, pieces of Rhea’s armor popped off of her body. Her eyes were screwed shut as if in pain, wings twitching as the muscles and bones in her body seemed to shift and expand. Deep blue scales began to grow on her body, black plates forming on her bare chest. Armor now in a heap at her feet, the transformation continued to unfold as Astra looked on with a bewildered expression. Rhea’s body continued to grow and soon she was forced on all fours as the bones and her legs repositioned so that she walked upon what looked like paws. Curved, black claws grew out from the paws and now her whole body was covered in sleek midnight blue scales. Feathers on her slowly expanding wings retreated to be replaced with black membrane and spines. A long whip like tail began to grow, a bladed spade at the end resting upon the floor. Neck growing and head shifting, Rhea’s head became that of a dragon, narrow and triangular. Eyes took on a bright blue hue and a black mane burst forth from the back and top of her head, continuing down the length of her neck. A pair of curved ram like horns poked backwards from her head and grew to be two feet long.

    Now a mighty ten foot tall dragon stood before Astra in place of the angel she used to know well. Suddenly Astra knew all too well what the curse had done to her ex lover. Smirking darkly, the dragon lifted a paw and began to stalk towards Astra. Astra woke from her stupor and backed away from the oversized reptile with her spear held defensively in front of her.

    Astra’s back suddenly collided with something hard. Freezing, the feeling of warmth reached Astra’s back through the plated armor. Upon shifting her gaze upwards, she saw another demonic dragon head peering down at her. Breathing mounting and heart rate skyrocketing, the angelic warrior pivoted away from a bipedal, scaled dragon male that had been standing behind her. It sneered at her, clothed in black and wielding a spear of its own. As Astra backed away from both Rhea and the foreign dragon man, more figures emerged. Down the marble staircase came dozens of demons with various likenesses. They had the appearances of felines, canines, bats, avians, reptiles, or even mixtures of a few. Next came three dozen corrupted angels with darkened feathers and tattooed skin, grins etched onto their dimly lit faces.

    “No..no..This isn’t happening…”Astra murmured in disbelief as her eye widened.

    As they drew nearer, Astra lifted into the air to try to get a better vantage point. She knew well that she had to escape and would fight her way out as hard as she could, not wishing to suffer the same fate as Rhea. Feeling betrayed, Astra saw Rhea speak to the demons and the angels with an amused tone of voice.

    A group of corrupted angels lifted into the air wielding a large net. It fell upon Astra before she was able to dodge, her wings flapping desperately and spear slicing the air as she began to descend quickly. Instead of colliding with the hard stone, she was surprised by a slightly softer feel to what she had landed on. She quickly realized that she was positioned on Rhea’s front legs, the dragon having lifted herself onto her hind legs to catch her.

    The butt of Astra’s spear met Rhea’s snout with a thump, the dragon letting her fall to the floor in a mess of rope. Astra’s large feathered wings flapped desperately to try to displace the netting that engulfed her crumpled body. Demons crowded in and tried to grab her. They recoiled with pained noises escaping their maws as Astra’s spear slashed about in a fury. Cutting herself free, the angel leapt to her feet again and held her spear out defensively. The demons and corrupted angels circled her with hisses and bared fangs. Even the angels had fangs, making them hardly recognizable. The deep blue scaled dragon advanced.

    “Rhea, be careful. Tha’ bitch gave me a nasty cut with tha’ poker of ‘ers.”a rumbling voice escaped a demon that had the head of a dog.

    “You won’t hurt me, right, Astra?”Rhea challenged in a low tone as she crept towards the tense figure with long strides.

    A conflicted look flashed in Astra’s eye, her spear held horizontally in front of her chest. Bitterness swelled in her chest. Her once most trusted lover and companion now wanted to capture or even kill her.

    “Please stop...I don’t want to hurt you,”Astra warned Rhea.

    “You already have,”Rhea growled.

    Before Rhea was able to elaborate, a dart shot out and pierced the unsuspecting Astra’s cheek. It couldn’t be pulled out before the sedative kicked in. Weakness overtook Astra’s muscles, and with one last hurt look in Rhea’s direction, she crumpled to the ground.
    #3 Wistful Beast, Oct 16, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2016
  4. (Chapter 2: Astra waking up in captivity, meeting a guard, another confrontation with Rhea)

    Head foggy, Astra awoke from her induced and impromptu slumbering. A small groan escaped her parted lips, her eyes screwed shut against the oppressive light that seeped from various torchlights fastened to the stone wall. Astra could see she was in an unimpressively sized rectangular room with no sign of any windows. When Astra attempted to rub the stray strands of hair from her vision she found her movement restricted.

    A slow turn of her head confirmed the suspicion that she was chained upright against a wall. It certainly explained the aching and chafing of her wrists that had resulted from hanging loose in the chains. Shackles attached her ankles and wrists to the wall. An exasperated sigh pierced the hollow silence of what she assumed to be a prison cell.

    The angel had been stripped of her weapon and outfitted in simple leather pants and a loose white shirt, not allowed even the luxury of shoes. Bare feet rested upon the cold and rough flooring. Aggravated by this new development, Astra shifted her weight before attempting to readjust her wings, which were pinned uncomfortably behind her. To her dismay she discovered they were bound together with rope leaving her utterly vulnerable.

    In a sudden rage her body flailed about, teeth clenched tightly and muscles tensed, left panting after her struggling. Astra blew a strand of hair from her eyes in a loud huff. After a brief pause to inhale, the desperate writhing resumed. “Ugh!”Astra cried out in indignation.

    As if on cue, the heavy oaken door that allowed access to the cell swung open to admit an unfamiliar corrupted angel. It was a young woman, though certainly not Rhea. Instead of deep blue dyed hair this woman had chosen a cherry red for her long, curly locks and her wings were a deep black without the tinge of white that Rhea’s held. The woman didn’t care to wear armor now that the prisoner was properly restrained and unarmed and instead was clothed in a long skirt and a tight fitting, low cut red shirt that Astra wouldn’t have ever dreamed of wearing. The woman hummed jovially and wore a belt of keys next to a sheathed dagger.

    Confident strides allowed the woman to advance towards Astra with a sick grin plastered onto her face. “I see someone has decided to finally wake up. Enjoy your nap, Sweetling?”came her mocking remark.

    Almost immediately Astra’s face darkened bitterly and her lips drew up into a grimace. Not keen on waiting for any answers or playing around, she spat out, “Why have I been imprisoned?”

    The woman responded by rolling her eyes and folding her arms, standing a few feet away from Astra and out of her range of maneuvering. “Were you not paying attention when the boss told you she was keeping you here to prevent you from messing shit up? I almost forgot how stupid untainted angels are.”

    Disregarding the explicit insult, there was strained silence from Astra as her thoughts formed. Head lifting up to stare at the goaler, a sudden question finally escaped from Astra. “What did you all do to Rhea to make her so...different? Or do I even want to know?”

    The goaler paused for a moment to collect her own thoughts, clearly amused by the question and more than pleased to oblige. “All we did was beat her around a bit to show her what real suffering felt like. Then a few curses and some exchanging of vital information wisened her up real quick,”she replied nonchalantly with a sickly sweet smile.

    While the answer was expected, it still hurt Astra to know her friend had been converted through violence and most likely some sort of aggressive coercive persuasion to the beliefs of the demon and corrupted. The next question escaped Astra in the form of a growl, “Who was responsible for cursing her?”

    That question received a low cackle and a haughty grin to accompany it. “Sweetling, did they tell you I was the one who did it? Did they warn you against me?”

    Astra’s perplexed expression was soon replaced with that of wrath and she nearly choked on the word. “No.”

    “What a pity,”replied the woman with sarcastic sympathy.

    Pure ire flowed through Astra’s veins and turned her face hot. Metal chains served their purpose and upheld their strength when Astra threw the brunt of her weight against them repeatedly, lashing out as best as she could. “How pathetic. No wonder Rhea didn’t give a damn about parting with a pretentious maggot like yourself.”

    Another irritated sound exploded from Astra as her hopeless efforts to break free continued wildly as the goaler watched and jeered. She was soon left nearly breathless where she stood, offering a dark look and with fists clenched tightly. Before the goaler could utter another taunt the heavy door was pushed open yet again. A familiar figure in black leather pants and a very revealing matching vest strutted in, hair flitting about on her narrow shoulders. “Good morning, Astra. I see you’ve become acquainted with Beryl here and from the looks of it,”she paused and looked between the red haired woman and the captive for a moment,“You two seem to have had a pleasant chat,”Rhea finished before excusing the golaer with a simple toss of her head.

    The other corrupted angel stalked off after offering Astra a teasing and childish wave. The door shut with a dull thump.

    Rhea cleared her throat and grabbed hold of an old wooden chair that had been positioned in the far corner of the cell. She proceeded to drag it towards where Astra was standing and stopped only just out of Astra’s short reach. Turning the chair around so that it faced the wrong way, Rhea sat down with her arms rested on the back supports and her legs spread. A few seconds passed with Rhea just taking in Astra, the woman stripped of her armor and, with that, any hint of divinity. While mighty on the battlefield in gleaming armor Astra proved to be much more vulnerable looking in plain clothes, strands of her black hair sticking to her face from the light perspiration that had accumulated during her recent struggles.

    “That Beryl woman hurt you. Why keep her around?”Astra managed, voice nearly quaking with her frustration. It was difficult to believe that Rhea would put up with someone that had hurt her even if they had somehow changed her mind about the world. However, Astra felt as if she didn’t know much of Rhea anymore even with their years of intimate history.

    “You have hurt me, but I keep you around,” Rhea replied simply.

    “You’ve made your reason for keeping me here plain enough. You wish to keep me out of trouble or something like that, but what can you say of Beryl?”

    “The same thing really. I keep her close so she doesn’t mess with any of my plans. Although she seems pretty bitchy, she actually used to be the leader of this place before me. You know what they say, you have to keep your enemies close,” Rhea said with an air of reason.

    Astra didn’t hesitate to ask a follow up question. “Does that make me an enemy?”

    A soft sigh escaped Rhea in response. Running a hand through her hair she nearly grumbled, “Call it what you wish.”

    Rhea’s evident irritation when the status of their relationship was broached made Astra think: What were they? Certainly not lovers. Friends? Their rich history of being peers, companions, and lovers made mere acquaintanceship impossible. This left them estranged, yet maybe not full-blown enemies. Astra’s attitude about that might change, however, depending on how long she remained strung up in chains.

    Anger flared again and Astra’s eye took on a dangerous gleam. “Am I nothing to you now? Not even an old friend? Just some woman you keep chained so that she doesn’t interfere with any of your nefarious plans?”Clearly she was hurt. This was not what Astra had expected. She had expected a daring rescue where she and Rhea would leave to return to the army and be happy together again, but now that outcome was highly unlikely.

    Spilled emotions left Astra feeling even more vulnerable than she was in the chains she bore. Rhea’s eyes softened a bit as if a flash of guilt had overtaken her, but she soon regained her detachment again as she rose to her feet and stepped closer. Astra contained herself enough to avoid lashing out. Rhea looked up at Astra quizzically. “Do you think I don’t care about you? Sure you're here so you don’t mess any more shit up, but, while it may prove to be a bit amusing to see you feel some pain, I don't wish to see you torn apart by demons.”

    While it came as a relief that Rhea wanted Astra to live it was a bit offputting that the woman claimed that it would be entertaining for her old friend to be harmed by demons. The important part was still that she didn’t want Astra killed.

    A small huff escaped Astra and she relaxed enough to allow her chains to fall slack. “You’re still being an asshole for keeping me in chains,” Astra offered in response.

    A small smile formed on Rhea’s face and she hid the surprise she felt when Astra wasn’t yelling or threatening her. In some sick way she wanted a response, something that could justify the need to keep Astra contained like a prisoner when obviously she was so much more valuable than that. So of course Rhea pulled keys from her belt and one by one removed the shackles that bound Astra. Astra stood still obediently while her wings were untied and took a moment to stretch. After Astra had made herself comfortable, she immediately kicked a leg out and hooked it around the back of Rhea’s knee before pulling back. With a thud Rhea was brought to her knees before Astra pushed her onto her stomach and then flipped her to her back with a harsh tug. Before Rhea could rise again Astra was straddling her midsection and held her wrists against the stone floor with a vice grip. Teeth clenched and nostrils flared, Astra looked down lividly as adrenaline coursed through her veins.

    Feeling acute emotional strife, Astra’s first instinct had been to attack. Reason was thrown to the wind. Rhea had attacked her first, and Astra was going to return the favor while her blood was still boiling.

    But, Rhea did not lose her sardonic grin. “And that’s why you were kept in chains.”

    Rhea threw her head upwards without warning and caught Astra’s forehead, yanking her wrists free and shoving Astra off. Both popped up and faced off with knees bent and arms out in a readied position. “I’m not your prisoner, Rhea,”Astra stated.

    “I beg to differ. It sure looks like you are inside a cell that I happen to control. That would make you my prisoner.” Rhea was a smart ass as usual.

    Astra suddenly rushed forth and aimed a leaping kick. Easily sidestepping, Rhea dodged the spontaneous assault. Quick to throw herself back at her opponent, Astra threw a jab, but Rhea deftly caught her hand and sent a knee to Astra’s ribs. Struggling to not double over from the splitting pain, Astra swung, landing a stinging slap to the cheek that she regretted even before it landed. Pent up aggression and emotion Astra had saved over the year surged out. Blow after blow forced Rhea backwards until she had reached a wall and couldn’t escape. Just when Astra thought she had the upperhand, a hand darted out and two expertly placed fingers prodded into her neck. Astra was sent to the ground in a heap. Before she could scramble up again Rhea had pinned her down and held her firmly by the throat. Astra’s wings were pushed into the ground and her stomach was left exposed. Squeezing her knees against Astra’s sides and bending forwards, Rhea planted a quick kiss on the angel’s forehead, leaving Astra dumbfounded.”Goodnight, Astra.”

    Shocked, Astra lay still, and she didn’t notice that Rhea had fetched something from her pocket until she felt a sharp stinging at the base of her throat. “More poison?”Astra whispered as her senses began to fade.

    The image of Rhea’s feline grin and the mocking words. “Satako snake venom always does the charm. Another induced sleep will do you good.” Rhea’s voice grew faint as Astra slipped into unconsciousness yet again.

    Rhea eased herself into a sitting position on the floor next to Astra's head. The girl's one eye had flickered shut, facial features falling, muscles limp, wings bunched up under a lean figure. If you didn't know better, you’d think the angel were slumbering. It was peaceful. Rhea allowed a gentle hand to brush over Astra's cheek. "What am I going to do with you, Astra?"Rhea whispered to herself.

    After brushing the dirt off her clothing, she rose to her feet and withdrew. She locked the door behind her with a heavy heart.
    #4 Wistful Beast, Oct 16, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2016
  5. (Chapter 3: Astra being brought in fetters to meet demons)

    Cold water assaulted Astra. Icy tendrils trickled down her face and soaked her hair, biting at her skin. Astra’s back arched from where she lay on the ground, her mouth opened wide in a startled gasp, and her one eye snapped open. An empty wooden bucket clattered to the ground beside the angel’s head.

    “Rise and shine, asshole,” a silky sweet voice spoke with a tone of false courtesy.

    Coughing out some water and looking up Astra saw Beryl, the red haired goaler. Remembering the woman’s awful deeds drove Astra to pull herself up, but her stiff muscles didn’t allow it, that and the fact that her wrists were chained together and a chain connected her ankles. With effort she rolled herself upwards into a sitting position and cast Beryl a bitter look. Strands of wet hair stuck to Astra’s face and clung to where a second eye should have been. Instead, just scar tissue and stitching held the eyelid shut.

    The goaler wore the same scandalous outfit of a long skirt and a tight, low-cut shirt, still radiating authority despite the lack of proper garb. Her arms were crossed and all of her weight was on one hip, foot tapping upon stone impatiently. “Waiting for an engraved invitation, maggot? Up and at ‘em,” Beryl ordered, prodding Astra’s side with a shoe.

    With muttered obscenities and much effort the angel staggered to her feet. Astra’s first move was to run towards the door, but the shackles connecting her legs caused her to stumble and land harshly on her bound wrists instead of attaining sweet freedom. Beryl shoved the heel of her boot into Astra’s back and pushed down before the angel could scramble up again, forcing her to lie belly down on the ground. A long sigh was released from the corrupted angel and she grabbed something that was hanging off of the wall.

    Thrashing did little to help, and Astra was grabbed roughly by her hair, head becoming steady. Click. A collar of sorts was fastened around her throat, loose, but not near loose enough to slip out of. Then clattering suggested a chain was attached to the back of the collar, hair parted to reach a small loop.Then Beryl tugged upwards fiercely, eliciting a choking sound. Astra was pulled upright..

    “If you’re going to act like an animal, I’m more than happy to treat you like one," Beryl explained, bouncing the chain in her hand.

    Pointing a long painted nail at the door of the cell, Beryl ordered, "Now walk or I'll drag you, brat."

    Violently spitting on the ground, Astra obliged begrudgingly. She trudged over to the door as best as her linked ankles allowed and pushed open the door. Beryl followed after, still grasping the chain. Out of the cell, light filtered in from slender, barred windows, and judging from the height, Astra deduced they were in one of the large towers. The winding stairs they had used to descend confirmed this.

    The stone stairs were cold on Astra's bare feet and walking down took caution with the chains. One slip and she'd be tumbling. The last thing she wanted was to present herself to the demons and corrupted in a heap. Chains were already humiliating enough, so Astra took care to pick her way down each of the seemingly endless steps. They passed by other cells and rooms, suggesting that Astra was deemed important or dangerous enough to be at the top-most level of the prison. How flattering.

    Finally the stairs ended, a platform leading down to a wide hallway. Astra was led down the corridor, the walls adorned with crimson wallpaper and old paintings. The paintings depicted stoic demons from noble households, and others featured corrupted angels standing proudly at their sides. Their accusing gazes followed Astra down the hall. A stone sculpture was positioned up against one section of the wall, showing a horned elven like demon resting a boot on the back of an angel’s corpse. The severed head was held proudly in one hand of the demon, a sword in the other. The demon’s mouth was held in a permanent grin, eyes proudly resting upon its victim forever. “Very tasteful,” Astra mumbled dryly.

    “Glad you are enjoying the ambiance,” Beryl replied with a short toss of her head.

    Astra was marched towards the sound of conversing and cackling laughter. The hallway soon let out into a massive room with tall ceilings and more of the thick white pillars. Swords and stuffed hunting spoils hung on the walls. Light filtered in through tall windows located on the left side of the room, the rays of morning sunshine illuminating two long wooden tables. Benches ran on either side of the lengthy mahogany surfaces and around one of them sat an array of demons and corrupted angels alike. They laughed, spoke, ate, and drank merrily. The smell of eggs and sausage kindled a hunger in Astra unlike she’d never known. The tumult masked the rumbling in her stomach.

    As Astra was ushered forwards with a sharp prodding in her back, the eyes of demons and corrupted angels fell upon her and the chatter began to die down. They watched her with the kind of awe reserved for freaks. Consciously, Astra placed each foot carefully and held her shoulders were back in a prideful posture. Chains or not, it was evident her confidence had yet to be stripped away. Seated at the head of the great table was Rhea, who had set down her utensils and leaned back into her seat. A golden goblet was clutched in one hand and she swirled its contents absentmindedly. After bringing it to her black painted lips and taking a deep gulp, Rhea placed the cup upon the table deliberately. “Good morning, Astra. Sleep well?”

    Rhea’s voice reached over the stretch of the dining hall to the approaching angel. Demons looked at each other with grins plastered upon their faces, anticipating a response. Astra was not willing to leap through hoops. With an air of courtesy Astra called back across the hushed hall, “I slept deeply. The Satako venom worked like a charm.”

    Looking straight at Rhea with a gleam in her one eye, she added, “It’s a mighty fine tool for a coward.”

    Murmuring erupted in the cluster of demons and corrupt angels, looks of disbelief being passed around like a fine dish. Rhea’s narrowed eyes followed Astra to where Beryl had led the prisoner, placing her in a seat towards the opposite and less occupied end. Beryl took her seat next to Astra, chain still gripped tightly. Astra made no move yet and instead leaned back to survey those around her. Closest to her was a male demon humanoid with a wolf like head, short grey fur covering its body. His snout snuffed in the angel’s direction before he promptly stuck a sausage with a dagger and ate it off of the blade in a quick succession of powerful bites. Beside the wolf demon was his companion, a young man that was covered in green scales. A forked tongue darted from his cracked lips and he offered only a glare in Astra’s direction, which was generously returned. Across from the two demons were two corrupted angels, their tattoos shifting under the vivid morning rays. The male and female corrupted whispered over their goblets.

    The murmuring seemed to run up and down the table, and Astra would have been embarrassed if she didn’t consider these creatures beneath her. They could mumble and gossip all they wanted. Their words meant nothing if they didn’t dare utter them to her face. Eventually, the wolf demon did. “Aye, bitch. What makes you think you can dine with us?” His voice was gruff and low, and as he spoke a clawed hand scratched an itch on his bare, furry chest.

    Astra took a moment to clear her throat before answering,“I am not a bitch since, unlike your mother, I am not a female canine. Secondly, I was dragged down here against my will. Rhea must deem me important enough to sit among her band of filth. What an honor.” The word ‘honor’ was a jab of sarcasm, and again her eye locked upon Rhea. The corrupted angel leader was watching her intently with that intense gaze of hers.

    The wolf demon released a growl at the mention of his mother as well as the clear slight upon the authority of the demon gang. In a flash he rose to his paw-like feet with his dagger in hand, amber eyes flashing dangerously. Nostrils flaring and fur raised, the demon threatened to leap across the table at Astra. Tensions had mounted rapidly and other corrupted angels and demons began to draw weapons and offer outraged expressions.

    Beryl was cleaning something out of her teeth with the end of the dagger as opposed to trying to protect her prisoner, leaving Rhea to alleviate the damage done. She simply raised a hand and said, “Enough.”

    That single word compelled the wolf demon to sit down with an exaggerated huff. The murmuring didn’t cease and only swelled as demands for showing the angel a lesson or two flitted through the air. “Our prisoner will learn to behave herself soon enough. Don’t you worry,” Rhea added, looking Astra dead in the eye. Astra had hardly noticed in the sudden influx of chaos that Rhea had sent the tip of her dagger deep into the wood of the table top. Now Rhea held the dagger’s handle and yanked the blade out with a sharp upwards jerk.

    “Will you actually back that threat up or are you just trying to convince me to behave?” Astra asked quizzically.

    As she slid her dagger into a sheath at her hip Rhea answered, “Does it matter?”

    The answer jabbed at Astra, rubbing her the wrong way. In a sudden haste, she was on her feet. “Yes, it does matter. Can you be straightforward for once? For the duration of my stay I’ve only received cryptic half answers from you.”

    A glance from Rhea stopped Beryl from yanking Astra back into her seat. The angel took this as her cue to continue, facing off with Rhea who was at the opposite end of the table. To her, only Rhea existed and the demons and corrupted angels darkly peering up at her were just part of the grim decor of this hollow palace. “I expected you to be somewhat glad that we finally got to be reunited and instead I was ambushed, poisoned, and chained up in a cell to be verbally kicked around by the same woman that corrupted you in the first place. Even if you hate my guts now for some unknown reason, can you just take me seriously?”

    The last question hung in the stagnant air. Suddenly the scent of eggs and sausage repulsed Astra. Here she was chained and alienated before a woman she used to love the most.

    Rhea’s mouth formed a tight line. The silence drew out. Then as she got to her feet and, turning away from the dining hall, she said, “Beryl, take the prisoner back to her cell. I don’t wish to see her anymore.”

    Astra would have preferred being kicked around than have received that chilling dismissal;her mouth fell agape incredulously. Before more could be said, the shackle around Astra’s throat was pulled. Beryl began to yank Astra away, but the angel was still transfixed on the doorway through which Rhea had disappeared. A chorus of bitter and lewd comments followed the prisoner from the dining hall.
    #5 Wistful Beast, Oct 16, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2016
  6. (Chapter 4: Rhea’s Memories)

    Rhea exited the dining hall with sweeping steps, boots trailing across the marble floor. As she shoved past a few servants, she bit the inside of her cheek to avoid crying. A sob was stuck in her throat in a painful lump. Weakness. It was to be scorned. A single tear was flicked from her eye and away from prying eyes.

    The corrupted angel took to the ascending steps and practically leapt up them, skipping a few as best as her short legs would allow. A sharp turn. Rhea was gliding down the length of a hallway, hardly paying attention to where she was going. She didn’t have to, knowing the place like the back of her hand. Many sleepless nights had been spent roaming the vast palace. Every painting, every nook and cranny of this ancient place was familiar.

    Casting her gaze upwards, Rhea noted that there was still a long claw mark across the ceiling, imprinted when one of the winged demons had a particularly difficult and alcohol induced trip back to his room. Further down there was a splattered blood stain on the black trim near the floor. Memories of one of the many brawls she had witnessed flashed back, the crunch of fists on bone almost audible. The scent of blood was remembered like an old friend, mingled with sweat and tears. No sooner there, the vivid memory dissipated in a flash, leaving a door at the end of the hallway in front of her.

    The wood gave way with a creak and allowed access to a staircase that wound up one of the towers. Those stairs were also cleared as Rhea continued the arduous ascension. She didn’t stop until she had reached the room at the very top, her sides heaving with the effort. A harsh kick sent the door of her bedroom flying open, then another deftly shut. A loud thump echoed in the commodious room.

    Softly, wind crept through an opened window and made the deep red velvet curtains dance like ghosts. At the back of the room was a grand bed that had been well made by servants, the earth tone pelts atop its surface clean and laid out. Tall metal supports protruded from each corner of the bed, their tops sharp spear tips. A silky, black translucent fabric draped over the top, its corners drooping down towards the dark carpeted floor. Large book shelves sat on either side of the great bed, teeming with books of all sizes, binding colors, age, and subject. Plenty of literature to occupy the nocturnal hours.

    Along the walls were shelves that held various objects. Animal skulls perched on them, their empty eye sockets peering at any that dared enter. Joining them were vials of colorful flowers and other nature based materials.

    Up against another wall was a wooden table and a chair, neat stacks of paper placed next to a small pot of ink and a dirtied quill. A half burned candle smoldered beside the paper. Beside the table was a doorway that led to her wardrobe. Across the room was a series of soft couches propped up against multiple windows, allowing one to look out over the courtyard and the teeming forest situated below. The middle of the room was quite empty except for a wooden stand that held her armor. As Rhea passed by, her fingertips brushed the cold, polished metal.

    When she reached the bed Rhea was quick to throw herself on its surface, shoving her face into one of her pillows. After grasping the pillow in a vice grip and properly smothering her face, Rhea released a primal scream. The sound was easily muffled by the plush pillow. Another scream followed, then another, and another until her throat felt raw. Before she knew it hot tears began to stream down her face and create moisture on her pillowcase. Wings outstretched completely, Rhea lay face down on the bed and allowed herself to cry. Tears wracked her body violently and muscles quaked with emotion.

    As Rhea’s sudden rush of anguish subsided, one by one her muscles began to relax again. Sliding over the soft covers her arms were released from under the pillow and one was left dangling over the edge of the mattress into empty air. Light breezes tickled her hand. Turning her face to one side Rhea’s gaze was pinned on the open windows and out at the blue sky. The brightness caused her to squint, tears being flinched away from the corners of her eyes.

    She had been treating Astra like shit. They had been apart for a year. The person Rhea loved and trusted most had finally returned, and instead of an embrace she received only imprisonment. Why? The question seemed to ring in Rhea’s ears. The answer came soon enough. A year was way too long to find this godforsaken place so obviously something had delayed Astra. Damn Astra’s infernal sense of duty! While Astra had been sharpening the skills of her fellow angels, Rhea had been screaming from across the nation for help as demons raked her skin and whispered foul ideas into her head. Destroy. Devour. Decay.

    Screams echoed in Rhea’s head and suddenly she was no longer sprawled out on her bed, but instead swimming deep in her memories.

    Cold shackles gnawed at her bare skin, a chilling breeze blowing over her naked body. Moonlight filtered in through the window of the prison cell and illuminated the darkened room. Droplets of blood slid down her smooth skin and onto the cracked stone. Again a leather whip danced across her stomach and sent her to her knees, a loud cry bursting from her mouth. Snake like and foul, a demon released a bout of cruel laughter and lashed out again. “Thisss...pain and suffering, it’ssss what makessss usss all mortal. Overcome it and you will be sssstronger. You will emerge valiant, you will be reborn. Sssshed your falssssse ssssskin! Be reborn!”

    Another lash fell upon Rhea’s pliant body and another cry bounced off of the walls. Extended wings stretched out in a feeble attempt to struggle as an odd black substance slowly began to grow out from the roots of her milky white feathers. The pigment of shadow stained the surfaces in vein-like formation.

    Back on the bed in present time, Rhea rolled onto her back with her wings still extended. Fingertips traced one of the faint scars on her exposed stomach. Closing glassy eyes, another memory swept her into oblivion.

    This time Rhea was in the middle of the vast throne room. Stomach down and stripped of clothing she lay on the frigid marble with her wrists bound at her back and her feet tied together, breathing ragged, left vulnerable. Stepping forth from a claw-footed throne, a young woman crossed in front of a line of corrupted angels and demonic figures. Adorned in black leather armor, she looked and moved like a shadow. Bright red hair poked out from under a hood and a mask resembling a wolf covered her facial features. Murmuring ran up and down the line of demons and corrupted, things like, “she’ll be the strongest yet,” and “if she survives,” were tossed around quietly.

    A cluster of hooded figures surrounded Rhea as well, chanting under their breaths in a foreign tongue. Wispy black aura burst from the fingertips of the cloaked figures and trailed through the air, mingling with thick incense that smelled of musk. Torchlight flickered on their masked faces and cast shadows across slivers of exposed skin. Rhea’s body was already slick with sweat.

    Writhing did little good as coils of dark aura twisted around Rhea’s body. In her mind she tried to convince herself this was for the better. Plenty of whipping and verbal abuse had begun to make her believe that remaining innocent was impossible and that siding with evil would ensure the victory she had always craved and a potential end to her suffering. The temptation flirted with Rhea’s ambition, toying dangerously with the prospect of her being granted a new and more lethal form.

    However, when the tendrils of dark magic tethered her limbs and snared her throat, Rhea began to wildly thrash on the ground. Sharply, the heel of the wolf masked woman connected with the small of Rhea’s back. The breath was forced out of her and before she could suck in again, the magic was slithering down her throat and snuffing the oxygen right out of her lungs. Eyes widening in panic, Rhea gasped and squirmed to no avail. The masked faces swam in her vision and tormented her mind. Bites from unseen forces ravaged her skin, yet left no marks. Starved of oxygen, the tearing feeling became dull. Then, just when Rhea felt as if she was going to black out, oxygen forced its way violently back into her lungs and made Rhea release a strained gasp. Wisps of the black stuff twirled off of her tongue leaving a taste like smoke and something foul.

    As Rhea drew in sharp breath after sharp breath, her gaze fell upon her wrists, more specifically her veins. Under her skin her blood had darkened significantly and felt as if it were running slower in her veins, threatening to clot, and a great ache assaulted her system. Suddenly Rhea shoved her arms beneath herself, not having even noticed in the onslaught of suffering that the wolf-masked woman had used a dagger to cut all of her bindings.

    Fingernails clawed at the smooth floor desperately, but the pain stubbornly refused to cease. Pressing her cheek into the ground Rhea looked up at her outstretched arm that had began to twitch violently. Midnight blue scales had began to poke through her skin and scattered crimson upon the white flooring. Regular human skin was shed in bloodied patches. A silent scream gripped Rhea’s throat. All over her body these deep blue, smooth scales continued to grow until no soft peach colored human skin remained. Then Rhea’s hair, naturally brown, receded into her scalp with mind numbing discomfort. Ears grew out into points and a piercingly blue pigment blossomed in her irises in a ripple effect.

    Curved black claws grew out from her fingertips and scraped against the tile. Throwing her head back and opening her mouth wide revealed long beast-like fangs to grow in place of human canines,pushing out existing teeth. The pearly objects landed on the floor with a quiet tapping. Groans of pain shook Rhea’s body as she staggered to her feet. Out from her tailbone came a long, whip like strand of joints. A cry of pain pierced the warm air as flesh gathered and formed the bone into a muscular tail that ended in a curved blade. Rhea was forced to stand upon her toes as her bones and spinal structure began to shift.

    Awkwardly doubling over, the angel was forced to a crouch. Gritting sharp teeth, Rhea’s mouth and nose began to elongate and merge into a snout. The cry that Rhea released became a roar. Crackling ensued as her skull slowly began to reform into that of a canine-like beast, the pressure making it feel as if her head was about to burst, ready to splatter its soft pink contents. Black horns pushed free of her back of her head with the gruesome sound of ripping flesh, curving to resemble ram horns. The feathers of Rhea’s wings were pushed back into her flesh and replaced with flexible membrane and skeletal spines that ended in claws. More muscle mass formed upon Rhea’s body as her neck was elongated with a series of popping sounds. Spine repositioning, Rhea was forced to stand upon all fours. Fingers grew into paw like structures and allowed her to stand with little effort. One by one, thick black plates began to grow along the front of her neck, chest, and underbelly. Black strands of coarse hair grew from the gaps of her scales at the top of her head and the back of her neck. They grow out into an unkempt and feral looking mane.

    Finally, Rhea’s body began to grow,repositioned into a more sleek and feline like form. The masked figures were only seen when she tilted her head downwards,from her now ten foot height. No longer was Rhea an angel, but a mighty dragon. Power coursed through her very essence and elicited a shudder. A sweeping look at the demons and corrupted allowed her to see their looks of awe. They had every reason to admire her. Every reason to fear her.

    Fueled by a new longing for power, the dragon reared up onto her strong back legs and used her tail to balance herself. Long wings unfurling and front claws raking the air, a bellowing roar burst from her maw and filled the throne room. The call was joined by other demons and for the first time in many months, drunk off of a skewed sense of triumph, Rhea felt very powerful. She liked that. Well, until she proceeded to crumple to the ground in a heap.

    The memory faded away again, leaving Rhea looking blankly up at the ceiling with her hands folded on her chest. Strength had seemed to return to her body, sobering her mind. Using her hands Rhea pushed herself up into a sitting position. Now she was ready to speak to Astra.
    #6 Wistful Beast, Oct 16, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2016
  7. (Chapter 5: Astra and Rhea converse)

    So down the stairs Rhea went, feet falling heavily upon the stone steps. Pushing the door wide open, she continued down the hall in the direction of the prisoner’s tower. Instead of walking back through the dining hall she walked into the lounge. This was a large room with plenty of fireplaces and comfortable seating laden with pelts. Bookshelves lined the walls and were stocked well with old tomes. Here many of the demons and corrupted were conversing and jesting, not yet fulfilling their mandatory training hours. All were expected to be eligible for battle if needed. This responsibility was embraced, but this early in the morning they were not yet heading out and Rhea hardly blamed them.

    As she passed with meaningful strides, some offered smiles or greetings that were not reciprocated. The strength Rhea now possessed would have to be protected from disruption since she couldn’t go into such a vital conversation without a clear resolve. Soon she reached the winding staircase and made her way up with haste, energy coursing through her veins.

    Now the wooden cell door stood before Rhea, the journey much shorter than anticipated. Out of the corner of her eye she spotted another figure leaning up against the wall. It was Beryl and she was wiping blood from the corner of her mouth with a wince, cursing quietly. “What’s up with you?”Rhea couldn’t help but ask.

    “Bitch happened. That brat head butted my face after I tried to give her some gruel,” the goaler responded.

    The injury didn’t seem to surprise Rhea. All she asked was, “Well, did she eat?”

    An agape mouth clearly showed that Beryl didn’t think that was the concerning part of the story. Swallowing her own opinion, she obeyed an unspoken command to speak. “She did eat some after I had her strung up on the wall again. Damn. Why do you care?”

    “Calm down. She’ll suffer soon enough,’ Rhea dismissed.

    The answer satisfied Beryl for the time being. Off she went, a hand rubbing her tender jaw. With that unsettling confrontation out of the way, the cell door was opened using the keys Beryl had left hanging on the wall. Sure enough Beryl had managed to chain Astra to the wall again to make her especially vulnerable. From the last encounter Rhea knew such measures were important if she didn’t want to have to use sedation yet again.

    In Astra’s eye was a sudden hopeful spark, soon diminished. No longer would she look to Rhea with the same sense of comfort and trust, now humiliated and imprisoned among those she had spent her life trying to rid the world of. Degradation was an understatement.

    Rhea could read Astra like a book. Downcast eye, harsh jaw, jittery leg. It was clear the angel was holding back anything she wished to do or say. Darting upwards, the gaze of the one green eye bore into Rhea. She looked like an angel, the way they were meant to be seen- intimidating and strangely judgmental.

    The corrupt angel kept her intentions and goals in mind as she pulled the wooden chair close to the prisoner and sat down, again with the back of the chair facing forwards so that she had a place to rest her elbows. For a while they just stared. Tension crackled in the cell. Then Rhea opened her mouth to speak.

    “I’m sorry….For the curt dismissal is all.”

    “Just the dismissal? Not the whole throwing me in jail thing?”came Astra’s remark, full of its usual passion. It was clear she had been wounded.

    Meanwhile Rhea maintained a cool, calm, and collected expression. “Mostly,”she said, “But maybe I could have been a bit more diplomatic to get you to stick around.”

    “You think?”Astra raised her eyebrows, snorting at her remark.

    A smile crept onto Rhea’s face despite the circumstances. “You still do that.”

    “Do what?”

    “Point out what upsets you by asking questions.”

    “And I see you still enjoy pointing that trait out,” came Astra’s answer, although the interruption of their blossoming discussion had taken her aback a moment.

    “I missed it.” Rhea sighed and pulled out her dagger to toy with.

    To this Astra said nothing and her jaw clamped shut. Rhea huffed and rolled her eyes. “Now you’re giving me the silent treatment when I clearly came to talk to you. Isn’t this what you wanted?”

    “This is what I wanted. But not like this. You have me all chained up like some animal,” Astra began. Then her voice took on a more adrenaline induced tone and she added, “I’m not an animal. I’m not the one who can turn into a massive dragon at will.” The earlier transformation had left the angel bewildered.

    “I may have been granted a dragon form with the grace of Marduka, but you have a fight in you that belongs to a beast. Don’t act like I haven’t seen your fury. That’s why you’re chained, princess.”Rhea replied,her voice losing its previous indifference. By accident her old pet name for Astra had resurfaced.

    While a compliment to Astra’s strong will was appreciated, the nickname had derailed the somewhat pleasant jesting. “Princess? I’m not your princess anymore since you have shown that I’m more of a prisoner to you,”came Astra’s reply, a sense of outrage edging her words.

    “Sorry. Old habits die hard, prisoner.” The response was half a jape and half a bitter reply.

    Astra realized that eye rolling didn’t work well with a single eye, but she made an attempt anyways. “If you really want to talk, let me have my dignity and take these chains off.”

    “Your dignity means nothing to me.” Rhea scoffed. “We both know what happened the last time I trusted you. It’s best that you stay chained for a while longer.”

    Astra offered no argument since she had, in fact, planned on pulling the same stunt. Instead it felt time for her to cut to the chase yet again since she could no longer hold back what she wished to say and dreaded to hear. Astra released a long sigh and screwed her eye shut. It opened again, but slowly, almost as if expecting something unfavorable. She asked, “Do you love me?”

    “Don’t ask stupid questions.” Rhea shot back quickly with knitted eyebrows.

    “Don’t give stupid answers then.”Astra pressed on. “Answer me, please.”

    Rhea was about to dodge the question again, but the sincerity and desperation of the word ‘please’ had been too compelling. A long sigh was followed by Rhea running a hand through her hair. “I..I don’t quite know, Astra.”

    The expected method of expertly dodging such questions was not used this time. The answer was not rude, nor was it false. Astra’s answer was the same. Their years of close bonding had not fully faded away after the year of disconnection. Such a rich relationship could not easily be discarded, even for Rhea, who had been subjected to a variety of tortures and an aggressive liberation of her opinions. It was silent for a while longer.

    “Can you unchain me now?”Astra requested again, tone softer. It seemed that aggression wasn’t going to get her free anytime soon.

    “Promise you won’t jump me again?”Rhea asked quizzically.

    A nod of affirmation. With effort Rhea pulled herself up and fumbled for the keys she had. One by one the shackles fell to the ground with a clatter. Although Rhea had her dagger up and readied, Astra instead shrugged off the rope on her wings and pulled up the other chair in the room. Then as Rhea sat back down again, so did she.

    “What a civilized little prisoner,” Rhea teased.

    “I try,” Astra responded, voice thick with sarcasm.

    After stretching out her arms and yawning Astra sought to further the conversation. “So, what else do you want to talk about? Are you..alright? You seem...well, very different.” She radiated awkwardness.

    “I’m doing well, thanks for asking. I’ve changed a bit, but for the better I think. Have you changed at all?”Rhea went on, well aware that an important topic was being avoided.

    “I’m the general of the angelic army now. I did change some though since...Spent a lot of time missing you. Lost an eye...trained some more recruits…”Astra answered, burying her jab with other more trivial remarks.

    “Sounds nice. I know you always wanted to lead that damned force of goody two shoes. You want to fight blindly for a dying cause, as expected,” Rhea said in a backhanded manner, ignoring the remark clearly meant to guilt her.

    “Originally I had hoped to lead at your side, but apparently not killing mindlessly was too hard for you.”Astra jabbed right back in the same fashion, temper threatening to flare again.

    “Well, yeah. I was an idiot for sharing that goal. Also, killing isn’t mindless. One knows just she is doing when she does it.”

    “Thinking about murder before committing it doesn’t make it any less cruel.” Astra managed to stay in her seat, but seemed tense.

    “You know about murder just as well as I do. After all, you are a warrior. In case you didn’t know, warriors kill things. Often. And actually take pleasure in it, so look who’s also in the wrong. Oh, it’s little miss hypocrite.” Rhea’s anger was more calculated and every remark she made was meant to be sharp, well thought out.

    “I never liked killing. Knowing that killing a demonic being has saved an innocent person or creature is what I enjoy. That type of murder is more justified than killing just for the sake of it.”

    Erupting from Rhea’s mouth was a bark of laughter. “You contradicted yourself again. You say murder is wrong and yet you deem it fit punishment.”

    The laughing made Astra bristle. “It’s wrong when used for the wrong purposes, like killing the innocent,” she said stubbornly.

    Rhea seemed terribly amused. She leaned forwards and rested her chin on clasped hands. “Define innocent.”

    The demand almost took Astra aback, but she managed to recover smoothly enough. “People that aren’t evil.”

    “What’s evil?”Rhea asked thoughtfully, head tilted slightly to the side, feigning ignorance.

    The questions were getting on Astra’s nerves. “Evil is tormenting someone mentally or physically with no real motives except for pleasure. Evil is slaughtering anyone or anything with no regards for the value of life. Evil is fighting without a valid cause,” she answered with confidence as Rhea listened carefully.

    “So if someone wants to torment another for a ‘good reason’, they’re not evil?”Rhea asked, tapping the point of her dagger against her chin thoughtfully.

    At first Astra had believed she had been well versed in her own opinions, but never had she prepared detailed answers. She had just...known and felt what was right to her. “Well...well…Um…”Astra fumbled.

    A smirk played across Rhea’s black painted lips. “You don’t know, do you, Puppet?”she asked softly.

    Clenched fists rested on the arms of Astra’s chair. “I’m not a puppet. I know well what is right and you can’t expect me to verbally express all of my morals,”she retorted defensively.

    “Your morals aren’t going to help you in the real world, you know?”

    “Oh, really? They did allow me to become one of the generals of the angelic army. That’s a pretty big deal.”

    “A fool’s position. You are a sheep following after that Iro,” Rhea said bitterly.

    “That’s not what you thought last year when we were fighting for the same cause. And besides, you think following Marduka is such a great idea? She just destroys everything. Do you want to kill this world and everyone on it?”Astra replied.

    “You must be ill informed,” Rhea began by casually pointing the tip of her dagger at Astra. “Marduka only wishes to liberate the minds of others and break the social ties that bind them to certain classes or rules that abstain from the violence that is only natural to them. The world is meant to be free, in a pure and healthy state. Why do we get mad at predators for killing prey when we all work in the same fashion? It's because of those damned morals we made up to give the illusion that we're better than the other creatures that roam this world."

    "Liberation through breaking up what authority we have and pitting everyone against each other in a bloodbath! Sounds great if you have no sanity,"Astra was hasty to snap.

    "We'd be fine if we didn't have anyone lording over us. We should all just be equal and choose to keep to ourselves or connect with others."

    "And what would you say to those slaughtered by those that have embraced this so called, ‘natural state?’ What of their families too?”Astra asked.

    “I’d reassure them. Life is an endless cycle and death so short. They would return to the earth in a new form soon enough,”Rhea answered with a dismissive wave, believing her answer was more than enough to satisfy the question.

    “Only to continue being violent and bloodthirsty. You do know that some won’t be keen on killing each other and would, you know, wish to lead a normal life,” Astra tried to reason.

    “You don’t have to be violent all of the time. It would just be more acceptable. People could still go about their lives if they wish, they just can’t tell others what not to do.”

    “I don’t see how this course of action would work out. All I hear is that we should all be violent and bloodthirsty if we feel like it and authority is unnatural. By the way, authority is natural even in what you are calling the ‘pure world.’ Even beasts have a hierarchy,”Astra countered, knuckles flexing.

    “Good for them. They can balance violence and leadership in a way that works. Angels, demons, and elves have not figured this out yet. Step one is breaking our hierarchy. Once everyone adjusts to the pure world, then some organization may take place.”

    “So we can start at square one and have to break it again? Your beliefs make no sense!”

    “Neither do yours! Your plan involves killing all those that oppose you in order to achieve some sort of strict order!” Astra rose to her feet quickly with Rhea mimicking the gesture. “Yours involves pure chaos!”she shouted.

    “Chaos is unavoidable, just embrace it.” Rhea replied, voice becoming steady and cool again.

    “It is avoidable if we keep fighting against it!”Astra defended, still stubborn as always.

    Instead of retorting, Rhea realized they were going nowhere with this conversation and all it was doing was riling both of them up. She sat back down again and sternly stated, “I’ve tried to be polite, but you need to shut up or I will knock you out.”

    At first Astra opened her mouth a few times to speak, but soon she sat down again with a grumble. Some unspoken motive compelled Astra to remain civilized for a while longer. It would be wise to prolong this conversation in order to come to an understanding of the mess she was in. Bickering about morals wouldn’t help them since clearly they held very different beliefs now.

    “Thank you,” Rhea commented, pleased by Astra’s apparent passiveness.

    The corrupted angel cleared her throat and began to run her nail up and down the length of her dagger idly. “Any other questions?”Rhea offered.

    Another short pause. “What are you planning on doing with me?”

    “More than likely I’ll have to try to corrupt you,” Rhea stated as if it were obvious. There was still a longing for the relationship they once had, but things had changed and Rhea couldn’t cooperate well with Astra if they didn’t share the same views. It was in her best interest to lead at Astra’s side, but convincing her to turn was not going to be easy. She’d have to be hurt. Broken. A very lofty goal.

    Bewilderment crossed Astra’s face again. “What? You’re planning on torturing me!” Betrayal coiled around her heart.

    For the first time in this conversation Rhea expressed genuine pity displayed through softer eyes and a more relaxed posture. “It’s what has to be done….You’ll never know how much this hurts. I need you to know.”

    Anger flashed in Astra’s gaze. “So now you want me to believe you actually care about me. Stop messing with me, Rhea.” Her voice was full of hurt.

    “No, I’m not ‘messing with you’, I actually do have real emotions. I laugh, I cry, I get angry!”

    Continuing with sarcasm she said, “But no, Astra, you got me, I’m messing with you. Since it’s totally easy to toss aside all that we had or could have been.”Rhea’s response was bitter and full of an emotion that had yet to be expressed during the duration of this conversation. Regret.

    If a look could kill Rhea would have dropped dead. Green and wounded, that eye would always haunt Rhea. In a low tone Astra asked again, “So...do you love me?”

    The indifference Rhea had expressed when starting this talk was long gone. Conflicting emotions tugged at her facial features and what words she wanted to say couldn’t escape her throat. “I don’t know. I told you, Astra, I don’t know. I want to..I want to love you so badly, but...things have changed. We aren’t on the same side anymore and it can’t work out…”

    Something in Astra couldn’t help but soften. Rhea didn’t want to do this and it was obvious. Rhea didn’t truly hate her, couldn’t bring herself to do so despite how many attempts she made to try to convince herself. For that Astra couldn’t yet bring herself to a rage, subdued by confusion.

    “You knew this could happen when you sought me. Didn’t they warn you? Didn’t they try to stop you from coming back to me?”Rhea asked.

    “I didn’t care. I wanted to see you,” Astra answered unwaveringly.

    “You’re an idiot for that.”

    “I know…”Astra answered with a weak twitch of a smile.

    For a while they just went through another bout of silent staring. Both were thinking deeply and hardly breaking eye contact. Astra’s bare foot tapped nervously on the cell floor. The dagger continued to serve as a fidgeting device for Rhea.

    “Why can’t you just...stop? Just don’t torture or curse me,” Astra found herself asking.

    To that Rhea said, “I can’t stop….I never want to stop…. For once in my life I feel… powerful.” Since she had pledged allegiance to Marduka and the causes of the demons, she couldn’t stop even if she wanted to. They’d punish her severely and she’d lose everything she had worked to gain, making quitting impossible.

    Trying to sympathize with Rhea’s desires Astra answered, “There are other ways to obtain power. Like...helping me command the angelic army.”

    While the effort to offer a suggestion was appreciated Rhea could only laugh at it, a wistful chuckle. “We both know that is not possible now. Even if a miracle altered my views,I wouldn’t be accepted. They’d never get off of their high horses to let a corrupted like me back in.”

    “I’d make it possible,” Astra offered almost desperately.

    Smiling, Astra’s determination had always been admirable. “I know you would try...but it won’t work,”Rhea reminded her with a shrug. Rhea waited for Astra to speak again.

    “So when will my torture begin?”Astra decided to ask next, hope sinking.

    “Soon enough. Just keep in mind that cooperation can negate the severity of the procedures.”

    The way those words slid off of Rhea’s tongue made the process seem less catastrophic than it really was. The language implied it was just the same as a medical process. As harsh as it was bound to be, Astra wasn’t one to give in. “You know I can’t be broken. They’d sooner kill me.”

    “I won’t let that happen. I can promise that much.” Rhea was well aware how difficult this particular procedure would be considering that Astra had always possessed a will of steel. In the past there had been failed corruptions and in these cases the prisoner either escaped or was slaughtered. If it came to it Rhea, would just have to hope Astra was lucky enough to escape.

    “And if the torture fails to change my views?”Astra pressed.

    “I guess you’ll be stuck here since you’d know too much,” Rhea replied after a moment of thought.

    “Joy,” Astra muttered sarcastically, smoothing her pants out nervously with her palms. The floor became her new focal point and her head had dipped down. Facing an enemy was one thing, facing Rhea was another.

    In an attempt to alleviate the damage Rhea, offered,“Hey, Astra….If you cooperate I’ll keep you unchained. Maybe you’ll even be allowed to visit areas outside of your cell. With proper accompaniment,of course.”

    As expected, the offer didn’t manage to lift spirits much. The looming threat of torture was too great to be ignored, and Rhea didn’t blame Astra, having undergone it before. In hindsight she still believed it had been for the better. Even though the offer was not overly appealing, Astra wasn’t willing to pass up any opportunity for more freedom. “I’ll think about it.”

    Defeat was not something that was often observed in Astra’s behavior, but now it seemed to radiate from her. Heartsickness worsened in Rhea. Duties were duties, but this was a wretched one. With that having been done Rhea found herself standing up again. Astra mimicked the gesture and stood uncomfortably, still forlorn. The fight hadn’t left her and never would, but this conversation had run a bit deep. It wasn’t a break up, but it might as well have been.

    Instead of making her way towards the door Rhea had stepped closer to Astra. Her arms slid around the woman and hugged her close, a gesture that was soon reciprocated. Even the cell had yet to taint Astra, the woman still smelling of rosewater. Sweet and comforting as usual. Forest scents such as wood and dampness also mingled with the scent. Rhea took a moment to bury her face in the woman’s shoulder, trying to forget their differences and circumstances. Astra tried to do the same as she returned the embrace, hands resting on Astra’s lower back. “Why is life so damn confusing, Astra?”Rhea mumbled into the woman’s shirt. while such a gesture coupled with a childish question should induce shame, now it felt right.

    “I wish I could answer that…”Astra replied softly. The embrace subsided and both reluctantly pulled their arms away.

    For the last time today they offered another stare-off, searching each other for any clues to what was to happen next. Closing the gap in between them again Rhea tilted her head up and planted a kiss on Astra’s lips, delicate and full of a burning longing. This gesture was also reciprocated by Astra, but certainly felt differently than it should have been.

    On that note Rhea turned and left before Astra could even think to rush the door. The angel was left standing rigidly. Two fingers rested upon her lips and came off black from Rhea’s lipstick. The darkness was wiped off onto her pants, but the real darkness was unknowingly looming just before the manor’s doors.
    #7 Wistful Beast, Oct 25, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2016
  8. (Chapter 6: Malax arrives)

    After that particularly emotionally draining confrontation, Rhea was slowly winding her way down the stairs of the prisoner’s tower, trying and failing to avoid thinking of Astra back in that lonesome cell. Anger flooded in her system and reminded her that the angel deserved the treatment, but nagging feelings of lost compassion resurfaced and quelled the inner flash of rage. Furiously she ran her hands through her hair with an exasperated sigh. For a moment Rhea paused on a single step and pressed her shoulder against the wooden supports along the stone wall. What was she doing?

    What she was predestined to do. There was no more pretentious angel in her and no room for those that fit that role. With a new sense of purpose and a feeble attempt at to bury her lingering doubts in lies, Rhea straightened herself up, continuing her journey down the long staircase again. Each foot fell lightly, not alluding to the weight of emotions that pressed hard upon her narrow shoulders.

    When Rhea reached the bottom of the staircase she advanced towards the living room, intending to enter without calling much attention to her presence. Evidently this was no longer plausible. For a moment Rhea’s heart nearly ceased to beat, her posture growing rigid as a corpse. There would be no reprieve from her emotions. This was the worst time for this. This was the worst time for him.

    Standing at the opposite side of the room was a beast of sorts. Looming at around eight feet tall, the bipedal canine was imposing. Resembling a wolf, he had a silky black pelt and erect pointed ears situated in between a set of magnificent deer antlers that only added to his already staggering height. Well groomed and twitching, his tail brushed the backs of his long legs. Muscle defined the creature and elicited fear in the hearts of many. It wore no clothing despite its humanoid figure, fur covering anything that would warrant modesty. What was more unnerving than the sly grin full of sharp teeth was the lack of eyes. The eyelids of the canine had been sewn shut; instead, in thin strips of gold fur upon the center of the forehead was a sharp diamond symbol with a dot in the middle. Such a presence had often cleared the room, more often than not under his charming instruction, or simply expelled by crippling fear. Such a figure evoked that response in even the gutsy demons. It was Malax Stuxhal, a demonic god, otherwise known as the God of Insanity, branded with this impressive title by his ability to weave stunningly intricate illusions and read people’s very emotions and souls. The same creature, who had turned scores of righteous soldiers to the clutches of madness, was standing in the living room amongst the plush seats and discarded books, awaiting the proper attention as he feasted off of the emotions hidden in the manse.

    “Malax. I am surprised you’ve graced the manor with your presence,” Rhea managed, feigning courtesy as she approached. Suddenly anxiety’s dull claws were upon her.

    The canine demon stood in a posture more befitting of a noble scholar and not a ravenous monster capable of bringing the toughest of people to their knees begging for mercy. Such behavior only made him much more dangerous. Cautiously Rhea kept her guard up and looked around for any evidence of illusions. Even if she attempted to resist, he had ways of reading her emotions and soul as if they were another text book or formal letter for him to examine. One couldn’t be fooled by the sewn eyelids, as he had been granted vision through more sinister and magical means, along with access to the spirit realm. This was only befitting one of the most highly regarded demonic forces and one of Marduka’s right-hand demons.

    “Skip the formalities, Rhea. We both know you do not feel as if I’ve offered much grace. Don’t fret though, child, I understand your emotions. Very well, actually,” Malax began in that low tone of his.

    Already Rhea was beginning to be peeved by his near omniscience when it came to reading her. By this point he’d know exactly what she was feeling. The wolf demon took a seat on one of the plush chairs and sat with an upright posture, ever the gentleman. With a clawed hand he invited Rhea to join him. One didn’t decline his offers. So Rhea found herself sitting in the seat across from him, prepared for yet another emotionally tolling discussion with a potential adversary. In name Malax was an ally, but he always seemed to push his boundaries when it came to authority over the manor, its inhabitants, and the other demons in the area.

    As Malax rolled his great shoulders back he temporarily displaced some of the longer strands of his fur with a deep inhale. This great breath was released and the bellows that were his lean, barrel chest relaxed and expanded again. Thoughtfully, with fluid movements, Malax clasped his hands together and brought them up towards his snout as if thinking. “You’re very troubled, child. And not just from my presence. No. This is more than the usual territorial angst and anxiety I’ve seen in your soul,”he stated aloud.

    To avoid possibly offending Malax, a creature bound to courtesy, with effort Rhea avoided fidgeting with her dagger. For the time being her tongue was tied and for a split second she unknowingly wished for Astra’s fiery courage. Diplomacy and the desire to present only her best self to someone with so much authority prevented the corrupted angel from making any comments. Around Malax every move had to be precise. Errors only fueled what awesome power he naturally possessed.

    Then Malax spoke again. This time with a tinge of excitement in his masculine and proper tone. “She’s here.”

    While trying to ignore the terrible smile plastered onto the creature’s face Rhea dumbly asked, “Who?” They both knew the answer, but it was difficult to adjust to someone who already knew how you felt.

    “Don’t play naive with me now, girl. That angel general, the one you fancied and courted. The one you were bonded with romantically for years. You certainly know since you’ve locked her away in your prison,”Malax responded.

    Not needing this reminder, dismissively, Rhea turned her head to the side and occupied her sight with the shelves of books instead. The demon before her merely offered a rumbled chuckle. “Don’t shy away like that. I offer congratulations for capturing such a girl. And such an important one at that, to you and those she commands. Absolutely delightful.”

    “I suppose.” Rhea sounded detached.

    They were sitting close enough for Malax to reach one of his long arms out and place a hand on Rhea’s thigh. It was large enough to cover her whole thigh, fingers spread wide, sharp claws offering unpleasant pressure. This gesture was intended for comfort even though such a thing was never genuine in this god’s case. The hand moved away and was replaced with a message of petty consolation, “I know you’ve held this woman dear to you, which is why I am offering my help now. I will break in this woman of yours.”

    Goosebumps spread across Rhea’s pale skin like wildfire and the small hairs on her arms and the back of her neck stood to attention. Crawling frantically up her spine was a sense of foreboding that reached her intestines and nested there to join the preexisting knots of worry. Such fear was translated over to Malax with ease. They hardly needed words now.

    “Child, this is necessary and you know it. She needs it to be a better person. You’d want the best for her, right? Also, if all runs smoothly you may find her back at your side as a much more respectable woman. Rhea, you have my word for it,” Malax persuaded. A large palm was held up in a false gesture of reassurance.

    The prospect of having Astra back again was tempting, but not ideal in a clearer mindset. Astra wouldn’t be the same person she’d fallen in love with. The same she cherished and exchanged soft caresses and scenic hikes with. Also, something told her Malax would break Astra like all the others and that was the last thing she wanted. Conversion through simple violence was one thing, but mental torture that destroyed someone’s very soul was another thing.

    Digging deep, Rhea found unseen courage. “No. I can handle her myself,”Rhea challenged. Surely this was folly and Malax would get his way as always with one clever ploy or another, but Rhea wanted to prove she wasn’t a doormat or a kicked dog. She was the mistress of this manor and her prisoner was hers alone.

    Indeed Malax found the jab amusing and a ripple of movement ran down his tail once, the bushy thing patting the plush chair almost fondly. Lean legs were crossed at what appeared to be the ankle of the canine structure. “You can’t. You’d hold back.”

    “I won’t. I’ll treat her like any other prisoner and convert her as the others have been,” Rhea lied.

    The dark wolf head shook negatively and allowed the light from the window to slide across his antlers. A throaty chuckle escaped his sizeable maw. “Rhea, Rhea, Rhea. Child, you still love her and you can’t conceal that. You’d be too soft on her even with the intention to do harm. You simply cannot bring yourself to act appropriately.”

    Bold claims pushed Rhea again and she retaliated with the same boldness. She convinced herself she was correct, or at least made the effort to. “No. You’ve misunderstood. I am certainly not in love with her. Not anymore and not ever again. There is no love there. Besides, such a thing is not powerful enough to have any influence on my duties.”

    Malax leaned forwards and cupped a large hand gently under Rhea’s chin and seemed to peer into her soul. Then he wisely explained,“Here’s the thing, child. Love is a weapon. It’s a chemical reaction in your brain and in some instances it can destroy more people than any army can. People think of it as a wonderful thing when, in reality, it may be the deadliest thing of all. It influences you to do things that you usually wouldn’t. It changes your very soul.”

    Then he let go of her face with a light shove of warning that could be taken as a mistake by anyone not well informed of Malax’s behaviors. The message left a clamor of unsaid refutations in Rhea’s mind. Much unlike her old partner Rhea knew when not to continue an argument since this one could never be won. To her absolute dread, Rhea accepted that Astra was to be broken in by Malax. In this situation submission was default.

    “Fine. You will meet her tomorrow with my strict supervision,”Rhea said, swallowing her pride.

    “Excellent,” Malax rejoiced calmly as he rose to his hind paws again. Fur was neatly brushed off like fine clothing and the demon expected Rhea to stand and join him. After some internal conflict regarding small gestures of dissent Rhea had decided to rise courteously to her own feet. Although that conversation was brief, it was powerful and somewhat preferable to the usual mind games and lengthy lectures.

    “Then I will retire to my carriage and see you tomorrow,” Malax said as he began to walk towards the door with those sewn eyes still trained upon the corrupt angel.

    “Alright.” Rhea could only muster a small response since any false courtesy would be detected by the departing demon.

    “Trust me, child. You will not regret this decision,” Malax uttered across the room before retreating out of the main doors. They closed with a thump.

    Rhea was left standing alone in the living room with an exhausted posture. “Wasn’t much of a decision,” she grumbled to herself. Steps now much heavier, defeated, Rhea marched herself back to her room where she isolated herself for the remainder of the day. Time was occupied by reading, gazing out the window, or staring dejectedly at the floor while stomach down on her massive bed. Long into the night Rhea remained, the meals brought in by her servants only toyed with before being left on her desk. Worrying thoughts fended off the relief of sleep and all she could imagine was the anguished cries of Astra as Malax reduced her to a husk of a person. Many didn’t survive his treatment with their sanity.

    And when sleep finally took hold of Rhea in the early hours of the morning, she whispered a prayer for Astra before succumbing. Maybe Malax was right. Maybe she did still love Astra.
    #8 Wistful Beast, Nov 14, 2015
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2016
  9. (Chapter 7: Astra’s first torture experience at the hands of Malax)

    A door opened with a creak and was pushed closed. The sound was enough to rouse Rhea from her slumber. Even without reaching a hand up to tell, she knew there would be subtle bags under her eyes as a sign of her restlessness. Her mouth dry, a weak hand reached out to a side table and grabbed a half filled tankard of cool water. As Rhea pushed herself up with her back against the headboard of her great bed she brought the tankard to her parched lips and drank deeply, revived by cool liquid. With groggy eyes and unkempt hair Rhea looked across the room to see a servant, a smaller male corrupted angel, bring in a tray with breakfast and set it next to the untouched meals. Once noticing that Rhea was awake the servant spoke, “You know, Mistress. You should really eat to keep your energy up.”

    “Don’t tell me what to do,”Rhea grumbled after wiping excess water from her lips, voice a bit hoarse.

    The order was enough to silence the servant, compelling him to just take the untouched meals, leave breakfast, and then exit Rhea’s grand bedroom. While nausea was sure to return and remind her of the event that was to come today, the rumbling in Rhea’s stomach convinced her to rise and make her way over to her desk where breakfast was awaiting. Sitting down on a finely carved wooden chair she noticed she had fallen asleep wearing her clothing from the previous day, the garments rumpled by slumber, deformed by hours of tossing and turning. Rhea focused on her breakfast now and observed it with a fork in hand. The tonged utensil poked at one of two blood sausages, puncturing the flesh and causing a tantalizing scent to reach her nostrils. The sliced hardboiled eggs beside the sausages were ignored in favor of the meat, a preference that was the result of her curse. The dragon inside always yearned for blood and flesh.

    With hasty bites the sausage was consumed, broken up only by gulps of some sort of fruit juice. After the sausage the eggs came next, shoveled into her mouth with little thought, quick as if to avoid losing her appetite. The empty dish was pushed aside with the scraping sound of porcelain on wood.

    Next Rhea found herself in her closet dressing herself. Her outfit of choice today was similar to the previous day, dark, tight fitting pants and boots. The difference this time was that a more formal outfit was chosen, one that showed a bit less skin. Atop a deep grey undershirt was a black vest that featured attached long sleeves. Lace adorned the shoulders and ran up her neck in a high collar. The back of the coat featured two tails, velvety soft and lightly laced. Straight midnight blue locks were brushed to near perfection, dark makeup from last night washed off to be replaced, made fresh again.

    Once readied Rhea allowed herself some free time before she would have to go downstairs and face horrors unknown. Unconsciously she found her feet taking her to her bookshelf and a hand reaching out to a book with smooth black binding. It slid out from the shelf smoothly. It was opened to a familiar page, the words meaningless, overshadowed by a different object. A pressed flower sat in the yellowed pages. Its flattened petals were crisp with dehydration although still maintained a deep blue color. It was the same flower that inspired her hair dye. The flower that was given to her by Astra.

    Rhea remembered vividly how it was presented and when. It had been a pleasant day. The wind was soft, both suns were out, the hotter of the two thankfully blotted out by puffy clouds. She had been seated on a fallen log near a babbling creek, watching intently as water slithered over smooth grey stones, lapping at the grassy land around it. A bird fluttered overhead in the canopy of soft green trees. The core of a sour apple Rhea had been previously munching on was hurled across the creek and landed in a bush, making the foliage shudder. Then Astra had made her return, which was announced by lightly snapping twigs and the crunch of leaves. Smiling was contagious around Astra. The angel approached with an object in hand. “What’s that?”Rhea asked, pointing to what was now tucked behind Astra’s soft grey wings.

    The grin on Astra’s face looked as sweet as honey and Rhea remembered how badly she had wanted to break that goofy smile with a kiss. Now Astra pulled the object from behind her back and revealed it as a single flower. Its thick green stem was vibrant, but couldn’t compare to the deep blue petals that offered stark contrast with the other flowers in the forest, which were usually orange or red. “A beautiful flower for a beautiful woman,”Astra finally answer as she presented the flower.

    The message was very cliche, but the offering still touching. The flower was accepted in a careful hand while Rhea’s other hand grabbed Astra by the wrist and pulled her into a sitting position on the log next to her. An arm reached around the woman’s torso to hold her closer. “A sappy gift from a sappy woman. But one to be treasured all the same, just like you,”Rhea replied. She offered Astra a kiss on the tip of the nose in return.

    “You think I’m sappy? You just called me a treasure,”Astra replied, clearly with humorous intentions. She slid her own arm behind Rhea’s back and under white wings.

    “I wasn’t lying. I do treasure you,”Rhea remembered laughing as she looked down at her hand to admire the flower again.

    Standing in her room now Rhea hadn’t noticed she was crying now until a tear dropped onto a page of the opened book. Astra couldn’t be her treasure anymore. The truth made her feel a vast emptiness swell inside of her. The flower was pressed back inside of the pages with a quaking hand, the book closed and slid back into place. Tears were dabbed away with a pocket handkerchief and suddenly Rhea wished she had burned the flower since it had been the only possession she had managed to bring to the manor. It had traveled in her armor in the Great Battle, pilfered by the demons when she was imprisoned, but regained after Rhea rose to power. Many times she had been instructed to incinerate the reminder. Rhea had hovered the flower above the fireplace on multiple occasions, only to pull it back towards her heart, out of the reach of greedy flames. If only her relationship with Astra had been as resilient as the little flower.

    Rhea steeled herself with a deep breath. A new resolve hardened. This woman was not hers anymore. She was an enemy and was to be treated as one. Down the stairs Rhea walked, jaw set, eyes cold. Now she was a true ice queen, heart left in a locked box back in her room, the only place she allowed feelings of weakness to be poured. Once in the hallway she was nearing the throne room with long strides. Shoulders back and chin raised. False courage grew. Impassive mask fastened.

    Soon enough the great throne room was spread before her. Predictions proved correct: Malax was found standing in the center of the great room, paw-like feet resting on the black painted war symbol on the floor. The windows in the back of the room behind the massive clawed throne cast light on the dim demon. His canine head swiveled towards Rhea as the corrupted angel reached the bottom of the marble steps. “Good morning, Rhea,”Malax greeted.

    “Good morning, Malax,”Rhea returned.

    “I hope you don’t mind, but I brought Dalihr to supervise my work. I assure he will be contained properly,”Malax said. From the other side of one of the thick pillars walked a familiar figure. Dragon in nature, the creature had a flat face and tough blue skin. Narrow as a board, he stood bipedal and only wore pants, upon the instruction of his master Malax of course. A long tail trailed behind him and its plume of fur brushed the ground. The beastly demon’s eyes were glowing green and pupiless in an eerie fashion. Gnarled tree branch like horns looked puny when compared to Malax’s great rack of antlers. Solid muscles, a grin of crooked fangs, and curving emerald colored claws coupled with a height of seven feet made many find him almost as terrifying as Malax. But for different reasons. Malax’s sheer intelligence and deliberate actions elicited fear, fear for what he is capable of doing. Dalihr drew fear through primitive means befitting of a beast like himself, excessively violent and vulgar. Now he held a clawed hand in greeting. “ ‘Morning,” he said, and much quieter, “dumb bitch.”

    “Good morning….”Rhea said tersely. She decided wisely to ignore his inappropriate comment.

    “I trust he will not be disruptive as he has been in the past,”Rhea said, eyes narrowed. Of course Malax had to make the experience worse by bringing his filthy underling.

    “If he is, I will be sure to take care of it.” Even without eyes one could tell he was glaring down at Dalihr. Dalihr appeared to be oblivious and occupied himself by staring longingly at the throne. Rhea’s blood boiled, but she responded by heading in the direction of her throne.

    An outstretched hand pressed on her chest stopped her. Looking up Rhea saw Malax and raised an eyebrow. “Actually, I would like you to stand near the stairs. Here you can watch the proceedings and I will hide you with illusions.,”Malax explained.

    “Hide me? Why?”Rhea asked.

    This reply made Malax smile wide and rub his hands together. “You see, I have a genius plan. I’m going to make an illusion of your likeness and use it to torment the prisoner. That way she will be mistrusting of you, preventing temptations and keeping her in line.”

    All of a sudden Rhea’s stomach dropped. Her facial expression remained the same, doing its best to hide her true feeling, dismay. Such treatment would crush Astra. She’d believe that someone she had loved for years would be cruel enough to perform the horrible actions Malax was bound to carry out. A lump in her throat was swallowed almost audibly. Her heart pounded in her ears and she knew her fear would betray her.

    Sure enough, a clicking sound was produced by Malax’s mouth. “Rhea. This is for the best and this is why I’m the one doing the work here. You have connections with her still, I can feel your distaste for my procedure.”

    Rhea opened her mouth to protest and was cut short by Malax, “Ah, stop now. Just take your place. I have instructed Beryl to bring in the prisoner soon.”

    Angrily, Rhea stalked to her position by the end of the stairs, arms crossed like a pouting child. Dalihr was ushered out of sight, not even allowed a prime viewing spot, peeking from a side door. The sound of voices growing louder cued Malax. His hands raised and Rhea could see he was weaving his illusion, bound to shroud both him and her from the naked eye. Rhea looked to the throne and saw what looked like herself seated on it, an unnerving vision. It was identical in every respect. Looking to the stairs Rhea saw Astra being guided into the room by Beryl, the read haired goaler shoving the prisoner forwards. Metal shackles connected her wrists and ankles, wings bound instead by rope, tight enough to be partially covered by feathers. Beryl sat at the top of the steps, pointing at the fake Rhea at the throne. Astra spat in Beryl’s direction before trudging towards the false Rhea, looking hopefully at the illusion and seeing nothing wrong with it. A bad taste flooded Rhea’s mouth.

    Astra walked right up to the throne. “So...why have you called me down here?”she asked innocently. Again she was so naive.

    The illusion of Rhea rose from the throne to stand before the shackled angel. With no warning whatsoever, a hand reached out quickly and smacked Astra hard across the cheek, tossing her head to the side, leaving a stinging red print. “What in Iro’s name was that for!”she yelled, clutching the hurt side of her face with a look of pure bewilderment. Why was Rhea hurting her? There was no answer given.

    Instead, another slap caught the other side of Astra’s face before she could dodge, making her stumble backwards. The false figure reached out and grabbed Astra by the hair for leverage as she brought a knee up into the angel’s stomach with a harsh thump. The force made Astra double over, only to have a knee shoved into her face repeatedly, no thrashing of shackled limbs enough to stop the onslaught. Shock nearly petrified the angel anyway. Repeated blows sent her crumbling to the ground. Blood streamed steadily from one nostril and bruises were bound to form. “Why?! At least say something, damn it!”Astra hollered as she staggered to her feet. Her face was fixed into an expression of anguish.

    Malax could also make the illusion of sound and did so now, using the knowledge of Rhea’s voice that he had stored in his mind. “Because you deserve every blow,”came a snarl from the illusion of Rhea.

    “But why?”Astra demanded, shackled hands held out at her sides to emphasize the urgency of her question. Blood dribbled down her chin.

    “Why? You are just as ignorant as I expected and more. You deserve it as a firm reminder that you mean nothing to me, Astra. Absolutely nothing,” the illusion growled, stepping closer with a raised fist.

    The crushing blow of the fist colliding with Astra’s jaw felt like the tickle of a feather when compared to the damage done by what Rhea had dared utter. It couldn’t be true, right? Last night Rhea seemed sympathetic, what had happened? Astra let her body fall to the floor again, skin skidding painfully on the floor. The achilles heel of the fierce warrior had been struck. On the ground she didn’t stir. Had no will to do so. Unfiltered tears welled up in her eye. “Bawling like a baby now, aren’t we?”the false Rhea taunted with a kick to Astra’s stomach that forced her to lie on her side. Dull, the blow only made Astra flinch.

    The whole ordeal was incredibly painful for the real Rhea and tears began to well up in her own eyes, covered by the illusion that rendered her invisible, wiped away by one of her unseen hands. It took every ounce of effort to avoid running out and breaking the grand illusion in order to console Astra, to tell her she meant more than ‘nothing.’ It was atrocious to see the strongest woman Rhea had the fortune of knowing curled up on the ground refusing to stand. Giving in for once in her life.

    “Astra, you’re dumber than I originally thought if you think that you matter to me. Maybe I did convince myself at one point that I loved you, but I regret it. Looking back it’s obvious we were never meant to be.” Each word stung both Astra and Rhea. Rhea couldn’t handle it anymore. None of these claims were true.

    Before she could stop herself she grit her teeth in frustration and ran forwards. The illusion around her shattered and with that the false image of herself dissipated in a puff like smoke, rising away. “Stop this!”Rhea found herself yelling. Malax and Dalihr were visible now, and just as upset as Beryl was, the gaoler having bared fangs and flared wings.

    Dalihr’s fury was not as contained as the cool anger of Malax or Beryl and he sprinted towards Rhea without warning. Rhea noticed out of the corner of her eye, and the features of her face contorted rapidly to form the visage of a dragon’s head, a partial shift that left long ears pinned and lips pulled back. When Dalihr was close enough Rhea dodged his charge and grabbed the demon’s tail, pulling him close savagely and nipping his arm with deadly jaws.

    Astra lifted her head from the ground weakly to see Rhea grappling with an unfamiliar demon, wondering how she had moved away from her recent spot so fast or had screamed “Stop.” And where had the dragon looking demon and the massive wolf creature come from? “Enough of this nonsense!”Malax bellowed as he swiftly stalked forwards and grabbed the back of Dalihr’s neck. The demon’s throat was squeezed harshly to control the raging beast. Rhea reverted to an all-angel looking form and continued her way to where Astra lay.

    Protectively she crouched down and began to speak quickly and quietly to Astra, “That wasn’t me, Astra. It was just an illusion. A very fucking accurate illusion. I don’t want to hurt you like that. You don’t mean nothing to me, not at all Astra. I can’t promise hope for us being on good terms, but I can promise that in this moment I’m not ready to harm you myself.” Her speaking was rapid and almost pained, eyes glassy. She had little idea as to what words were spilling from her mouth. Her emotions were spilled like blood in a gory display, previously bottled up feelings welling up unexpectedly.

    Malax’s attention was now fixed on where Rhea crouched near Astra. “Rhea Denholm. I expected much better behavior from you, but I suppose this only proves my point that you are too attached to the girl. What you have done will not be easily forgotten.” His words were soft and calm, more terrifying than any burning anger. Too calculated to be disregarded. The room seemed to grow cold as Rhea began to realize the weight of her actions, looking up from Astra to Malax.

    “I have much better and more pressing matters to attend now. I will not make the mistake of trusting you with the treatment of this prisoner and I strongly urge you to sober up. If you are too weak for the task have one of your soldiers take care of the torture. No matter who does it, the deed must be done. You have until three moons from now. Do not disappoint me,”he said clearly and curtly before dragging Dalihr out of the hall and leaving only Beryl.

    Beryl scoffed loudly and dramatically, leaving, sure to spread the rumor of Rhea’s apparent weakness.

    Meanwhile Rhea lifted Astra’s head into her lap and went about running her hands through the girl’s hair while quietly fretting to herself. For a while Astra remained completely immobile save for the rising and falling of her chest and the occasional blinking. The blood around her nose dried, tears streaking her face. She felt weak. Confused.

    Then Astra’s shackles shifted when a hand reached up and held Rhea’s. Rhea could feel Astra’s fingers shake. So warm, unlike the lofty room. Welcome now. They sat like this for a while.
    #9 Wistful Beast, Feb 13, 2016
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2016
  10. (Chapter 8: Rhea and Astra reminise)

    When it was time for Rhea to take action she rose to her feet and extended a hand to Astra, who tried to accept it with her shackled hands, dragged up to her feet. Blood slowly trickled down Astra’s battered face and mistrust remained imprinted on her features, single eye watching Rhea as if she were still an illusion. It hurt. What trust they had had taken a beating as severe as the one Astra received and was fractured. The shackled wrists were taken roughly by Rhea who began to lead Astra forwards, heading up the stairs solemnly.

    Further down the hall they found Beryl leaning up against a wall in waiting. Upon seeing the duo she straightened up and made a clucking sound. “You really fucked up, Rhea,”she chuckled lowly in a dangerous way. A dark glare from Rhea forced the feisty red head to take her pride down a peg, toothy grin fading. “Want me to take the bitch to her cell?”she offered.

    “No. I have a new spot for her,”Rhea said tersely as she walked right past Beryl with Astra still held tightly. The taller angel was forced to shuffle along, stumbling, disoriented after her world had been turned on its ugly head.

    “Your bed?”Beryl offered with a suggestive eyebrow wiggle as she followed after Rhea, who was trudging with a clear sense of icy determination.

    Rhea halted. Beryl continued, oblivious to the fact that she had struck a nerve. “I know you’ve had a pretty lonely year. It’s a pretty great time to fu-”she began before Rhea swiveled around with lightening speed and enclosed a hand around the goaler’s pale throat. While Rhea had to look up to gaze intensely into Beryl’s eyes, she was still terrifying, fingers coiled around the woman’s trachea to block the airflow. Instinctively Beryl’s hands grabbed onto Rhea’s, eyes widening, sputtering for breath.

    “Shut...the...fuck...up,”Rhea commanded lowly with clear enunciation. With that warning said, she roughly released her grip and turned away, leading Astra away like a dog. Beryl was left to gasp and rub her throat, watching Rhea retreat, bewildered.

    The two continued down the long series of hallways with haste. Eventually they reached a heavy wooden doorway that Rhea opened, expecting Astra to follow along, which she did. Now they were left to wind up a series of stairs until they reached the top room. Rhea’s room. The door was flung open and both marched in, the door slammed. Astra realized this and perked up, scanning the area. It most definitely belonged to Rhea. The shelves full of books, the skeletal decorations, plenty of plant samples, and of course the set of black plate armor, hanging lifelessly on its stand. Wordlessly Rhea half guided, half dragged Astra to her spacious bed and yanked her to the wooden floors. Astra didn’t resist, eye still glassy. Astra’s shackles were fastened to one of the bed posts so she could sit on the floor, trapped for now with her arms pinned above her head. Exhausted, Astra just let her head hang low.

    Such a pathetic sight left Rhea to bite her lip to avoid showing her pain. What the hell was she to do now? The only thing she knew to do. Carefully she approached a shelf where multiple vials of odd liquids were corked, various colors, both natural like hues of green, and unnatural like vibrant purples. One clear liquid was picked up between two fingers and the contents were gently swirled. Then Rhea walked over again and crouched next to Astra, holding the vial out after uncorking it with a fang. “Drink...it will allow you to sleep,”she ordered softly.

    Rhea didn’t realize until now that Astra was shaking. Was that fear she saw? “Are you real?”came a quaking voice as Astra lifted her head.

    Almost awkwardly, now unfamiliar, Rhea reached a hand out and brushed a strand of hair out of Astra’s face, maintaining a cool expression after her earlier outburst. “Yes, I’m very real. Now please...drink.”

    Slowly Astra’s eye closed and she tilted her head back to allow Rhea to pour the vial’s contents into her throat. It felt warm. Unlike the snake venom previously injected to make her comatose, this was different, the change more gradual with the beginning being the relaxing of the muscles. “I take this all the time to get some rest. You’ll be out soon enough,”Rhea said, standing again and putting the vial away. Unable to face the reality of her deeds, Rhea exited the room. The thud of the door closing elicited a shudder in the captive angel.

    Hours later Astra came to after a long slumber, eye fluttering open, head snapping upwards. Her breathing picked up and she looked around, pulling vainly at her shackled wrists, seemingly unaware of her surroundings. “Calm down,”came Rhea’s voice from the spot near the opened windows across the room. She was lounging on the window ledge with the windows thrown open. A cool breeze slithered in and washed over the room. Outside the sun had set already, meaning Astra had slept the entire day away. Pale moonlight illuminated Rhea’s skin and gave her a ghostly visage. A glow caught her eyes as she surveyed the darkened courtyard and forest below her. A light breeze disrupted her pristine looking dyed hair and in the moment, Astra was captivated by the corrupted angel. Then she remembered the previous events, the illusion that had made her believe the person she cared about most in life saw her as dirt. Was it so different than reality? Troubled, a heavy sigh escaped Astra as she hung her head again.

    Suddenly, Rhea spoke while gazing out at the night. “Astra...do you remember the first time me ever met?”

    At first the question was left in the air. Silence was a language of its own. Stubbornly Astra refused to give an answer.

    “I was a handful, wasn’t I? I recall challenging you you to a brawl on the first day. Do you remember?”Rhea proposed, looking over her shoulder and drawing her legs up to her chest where she sat.

    Rhea remembered it well. It was her first day of training, the first time she met her squadron leader, Astra. All of the new soldiers had lined up, joining the ranks of the veterans, shoulder to shoulder. Whispers had spread down the line. Rumors passed from ear to ear. All sorts of warnings and praises of the squadron leader. Some claimed she was the most promising leader, others claiming she had once challenged the general to a duel and won, some even going so far as to boast they had seen her fight a wild boar barehanded. Acutely Rhea remembered scoffing at such accomplishments, both real and obviously fantasy. Jealousy ran deep. She had to prove herself.

    So then Astra had strode in, walking as if she owned the place, tall and elegant even with the body of an athlete. The perfect warrior model. Murmurs hushed upon her entrance. “Greetings. My name is Astra Crowden, squadron leader. I see some new faces in the crowd so today we will learn the basics.”

    Astra’s eyes followed the line to a peculiar girl, short in stature, lean muscled, eyes gleaming with ambition. Wings a pure white, deep, near black, poker straight brown hair framing her pale face. Noticeably, her hand was raised, demanding attention. “Yes?”Astra questioned.

    “Why must we start at the basics? Shouldn’t we already be battle ready if we passed the initial evaluation?”Rhea challenged smoothly.

    Astra’s eyes narrowed. “Do you feel like you’re actually battle ready, soldier?”she asked, head tilting to the side in a questioning manner, stepping forwards.

    “Yes I do.”

    “Alright then...Why don’t you spar with me then? Hand to hand, right now.” It was a proposal Rhea couldn’t refuse. Murmuring erupted again, silenced by frantic hushing.

    “Sounds fair to me,”Rhea answered hotly as she sidled forwards. All eyes followed her to where she squared up with Astra. At this point Rhea came to realize just how tall Astra was up close, towering over her. Muscles appeared to be chiseled neatly, exposed by a sleeveless shirt. Both sank into a fighting stance. “Ready?”Astra asked.

    “Born ready,”Rhea replied arrogantly. Before she could even formulate her first attack, Astra’s foot swiped out and caught her ankle, setting her off balance. A single harsh push sent Rhea into the dirt on her hands and knees. The heel of a boot shoved in between her shoulder blades and slammed her cheek into the ground. Laughter filled the training yard. Astra kept her boot pressed on Rhea’s back to keep her down. “Take this as a lesson, soldiers. Never overestimate your abilities. There is still much to learn,”Astra addressed the group. Rhea’s cheeks were hot with embarrassment and spite coiled in her gut.

    Now, in the present moment, Astra lifted her head. “I remember kicking your sorry ass.”

    Rhea managed a faint laugh. “That you did….”

    More quiet time. Outside the nocturnal animals came to life. Distantly birds called to the stars. Wolves sang to the moon. Wind stirred the trees and branches shifted as if they were alive.

    “Do you remember the time you admitted you loved me?”Astra offered.

    “How could I not?” Rhea became engulfed in their memories, recalling the day in question and the details. From the corner of the training yard Rhea had sat and watched another young woman.

    Seated on a wooden bench, her legs were crossed neatly, a hand resting under her chin to support her head while her elbow rested on one knee. She appeared to be folded over, gaze fixated on the captain of her squadron, Astra Crowden. For weeks they had begun to transition from bitter rivals into something more pleasant. No longer did Astra have to frequently reprimand the ambitious Rhea for refusing to obey simple instructions with the excuse of knowing a superior method. Butting heads was less common, the clash melting away, replaced by a sense of understanding that grew gradually. Over the time Rhea had spent training in the Angelic Army she had begun to become more cooperative, finding this increased the chance of success and also made making friends much easier. Rhea had learned an important lesson. There was no 'I' in team.

    As Astra whirled about the circular patch of packed dirt, one of the many training yards, thoughts were fluttering about in Rhea's head. Initially Rhea yearned to befriend Astra, but time changed this idea too. Her goal was to become more than friends. It was of her every intention to court the woman, and she hoped the same idea was in Astra's head. Astra couldn't possibly deny their increase in conversation time, now more than a few sharp remarks exchanged in training. Next had come a few phrases shared at meal times, and then that turned into lengthy conversations that even left the dining hall. Not to be overlooked were the glances they shared; it was very true that eyes were the window to the soul, showing unfiltered emotions. Rhea could lose herself in Astra's eyes, green and teeming with life. The fire that constantly flickered within.

    Rhea could see the same passion, laced with concentration, as the well muscled woman now pivoted sharply and sent the blade of her spear into a stuffed practice dummy. The dummy's burlap skin burst open to reveal a mess of fluffy cotton. Then the gleaming blade was pulled away, Astra now relaxing her muscles, which were shiny with a sheen of sweat. Taking a free hand she pulled a small rag from the pocket of her pants and dabbed at her forehead. Sides heaved with effort, breath coming out in short puffs. Soft looking grey feathered wings were half extended and shaken out with what appeared to be a sigh from where Rhea watched about ten meters away. Astra seemed to take more notice of her silent observer now, sidling over with a spear held loosely in hand. When Astra was close enough she raised an eyebrow and jokingly asked, "Are you taking notes here?"

    "Well of course. I have to learn what not to do, right?"Rhea joked right back with the glimmer of a smile, rising to her feet. The taller woman towered over her, but unlike the other squadron members she wasn't intimidated. Of course not much intimidated Rhea with her baffling sense of boldness. However, many were more intimidated by Astra's status more than her size, something that also didn't trouble Rhea. She was on good terms with the other woman. Not many others could jest with Astra as much as Rhea did, especially when it came to mocking the other's abilities. Proving the comfort between them, as opposed to scolding Rhea for the brash statement Astra released a low chuckle, which Rhea returned with a laugh of her own.

    Once it died down and Astra had wiped at her face again with the rag, she asked, "So, what really brings you to the yard? Since clearly you are not in the attire for training." As she said this she gestured to Rhea's clothing, which was rather simple with dark pants, tall boots, a maroon long sleeved shirt, and a lightweight brown hunting jacket to keep the occasional chilly wind at bay in the evening. In contrast Astra wore shorter pants and a lighter weight shirt to accommodate more activity.

    "I wanted to invite you to take a nice walk in the forest with me. No training or anything, just talking,"Rhea replied, fighting the nerves that hopped around inside of her throat. What she wished to talk about in the forest was important and she'd be devastated if Astra rejected.

    While Astra looked a bit skeptical at first, not knowing Rhea's true motives, she smiled again and answered, "A walk would be nice. Just give me a moment to change and clean up a bit."

    "Sure. Could you meet me at the main trail when you are ready?"Rhea asked as the two began to walk away from the training yard side by side.

    "Sounds good to me. I'll see you there,"Astra replied as she turned away from Rhea and started to take a set of stairs that connected to a tall stone building.

    Rhea offered a loose wave, just a hand up in the air, before shoving her hands into her pockets and retreating to the meeting spot with an even pace. There was no rush now, only prolonged anticipation for the conversation to come. More time for her anxiety to ferment.

    The situation played on in Rhea’s head, the possible outcomes accounted for. Would Astra accept or decline her advances? Acceptance would be ideal, but was rejection more likely? If indeed Astra did decline, there would be room only for humility. Rhea’s heart nearly leaped into her throat at the thought of facing Astra the next day if the response had been negative. Would Astra break ties entirely? Or maintain a now more awkward companionship?

    Before Rhea had realized she had unsheathed the dagger at her hip and began to turn it about carefully in her hands. The blade moved slowly, yet fluidly, like liquid, weaving between deft fingers. Such a habit should be tamed, but nervous instincts were not one of Rhea’s current priorities. The dagger was sheathed anyways under better judgement.

    A few more agonizing minutes passed before Astra appeared at the top of the steps and came winding down. A simple white button up shirt and pristine looking pants replaced athletic attire. Rhea’s heart fluttered and suddenly she was self conscious. Was she underdressed? No, it was characteristic of Astra to always look her best. And that she did. As Astra descended Rhea watched with the trace of a smile, before realizing she had been caught staring. However, backing down was not something Rhea did well, so she kept staring in a bold move. Defying social standards was what she did best.

    When Astra finally reached the bottom she said, “Sorry to keep you waiting.”

    “It’s no problem,”Rhea dismissed with a wave of her hand, beginning to walk on the dirt trail in the direction of the surrounding forest.

    Astra followed Rhea with long strides, having to slow her pace so she could match the strides of the much shorter woman at her side. “So, lovely day, isn’t it?”Rhea commented with a sigh, taking a sweeping look of the afternoon sky that blanketed the forest.

    “It is indeed,”Astra answered, watching the trees roll by as they began to enter the woodland. A faint, teasing glimmer caught her eye. She was ever observant and realized one oddity in Rhea’s seemingly innocent comment, “But when did you become interested in small talk? Last time we talked you went on a rant about inequalities of economic classes. The previous time we spoke of ancient war strategies. May I ask what makes you so keen to change your pace?”

    Rhea nearly froze, white wings drooping slightly. Astra could read her like a book already. Was that a good sign? To recover, Rhea looked up at Astra and said, “Why not? Look around. Isn’t scenery like this something to be admired? War strategies, we can speak of later.”

    “Fair enough. You do make a good point,”Astra offered casually, smiling to herself while Rhea busied herself with looking at a patch of wildflowers. The flowers grew all along, most being orange or yellow, but the one Rhea was fixated on was a deep blue color.

    “What a pretty color,”Rhea praised, pointing to the flower. “You don’t see one like that every day,”Astra replied as they passed it, offering last looks before pressing onward. The forest closed in around them and the light level decreased, what sunlight that was left filtering through tree branches, casting all sorts of shadows.

    They went on in silence for a few more moments, both enjoying each other’s company, but also acutely aware that something about this meeting was different than others. After a minute passed Rhea began to look to Astra for some sort of opening. She hadn’t planned this far into their meeting. When would she breech the topic? And how? Astra gave no cues, looking forwards as she ambled along, feigning ignorance.

    Of course Astra knew why Rhea had called her aside. Years of training among soldiers had yielded information on combat not only on, but also on how to read people. Usually Rhea was confident, head up, shoulders back. Now she seemed slightly hindered, wings settling and resettling when she thought Astra wasn’t looking. Since Astra had also noticed their increased closeness, there was only one outcome to this. She was just waiting for it to happen, waiting for Rhea to make the first move for her own amusement.

    After a few more minutes when Astra offered no words or actions, Rhea couldn’t handle the discomfort any more. “Astra…”she began, stopping and placing a hand on Astra’s bicep since she couldn’t reach her shoulder well enough.

    “Rhea?”she returned, stopping and facing Rhea. A sense of excitement welled up in her, but still, she waited for Rhea to act.

    Rhea looked at the ground, the tip of her boot pressed into the ground, shaking slightly in the dirt. A sign of apprehension. “Um…”she began, fumbling for words, which only made it that much harder for Astra to stifle a smile, the beginning of a grin starting to form. Slowly Rhea’s head tilted up to look Astra in the eyes and she mentally scolded herself, feeling like a silly child. Pride wounded, she made a smile that was more like a grimace and turned away. “Nevermind…”she mumbled bitterly and immediately felt like more of a bumbling idiot.

    Astra’s smile turned into a concerned frown and her hand followed Rhea, resting on the girl’s shoulder. Realizing the girl needed some help here Astra gently offered, “Hey, you can tell me anything. Really. Anything.”

    Rhea slowly turned her head to look over her shoulder. “Anything?”she asked, an eyebrow raised in question.

    “Anything,”Astra affirmed with a solid nod, hand sliding off of Rhea’s shoulder.

    Rhea gathered herself, turning around, shoulders and head returning to an upright and confident position. “Astra Crowden...I think that I have fallen in love with you,”she said softly, looking up at Astra and trying not to break their gaze. It wasn’t time to back down again.

    At first Rhea feared a rejection as if it would be the death of her. Then it became clear that wouldn’t happen. A toothy grin grew on Astra’s face. “I was waiting for you to say that.”

    Rhea’s jaw nearly dropped. “So you knew...the whole time?”

    “Pretty much,”Astra laughed awkwardly, rubbing the back of her neck.

    A look of relief seemed to cross Rhea’s face and she managed a slightly awkward giggle of her own. “Well then I just look like an idiot now…”she said, glancing down at the forest floor again and shifting her weight from foot to foot.

    Surprisingly, Astra wrapped her arms around Rhea. “Does that make you...my idiot now?”she asked, pulling a bold move as well.

    Initially Rhea’s posture became rigid, uncomfortable. Then she relaxed again and gently rested her head against Astra’s head. “I suppose it does,”she affirmed.

    The mood was much darker years from that memory, in Rhea’s room in the demon manse. Rhea and Astra ceased their reminiscing and Astra spoke up in the present,“Are...are you still my idiot?”

    “Perhaps...an idiot. Probably not yours.”

    Reality was harsh and unrelenting. It wouldn’t let them forget that they were supposed to be split now, but years couldn’t be erased. The issue was, what could they do? Was there a remedy as convenient as Rhea’s arsenal of chemical concoctions lined up on the shelf?

    “Why not?”Astra suddenly asked, almost childishly.

    “Because it simply can’t work,”Rhea defended, seeming somber.

    “But...why can’t it work?”Astra reasoned.

    Rhea scoffed and turned to face Astra. “We’re on different sides now. ‘Corrupted’ do not mix with ‘non-corrupt’ angels.”

    “Why can’t we be different?”

    “....Are you going to do this all night?” A nostril twitched in frustration, eyes accusing,incited by sudden discomfort.

    “What? Question how easily you seem to have dropped our relationship?,”Astra offered, voice raising slightly.

    Rhea rose to her feet suddenly with clenched fists and watched Astra flinch. It pained her that the small encounter with Malax had left Astra so mistrusting. How could Rhea blame her? The girl had believed she had received the highest insult. Also, one tended to be more cautious of reality after dealing with Malax’s cruel shenanigans. Compared to the gods’, the minds of angels and demons were more fragile than initially assumed, arguably more primitive.

    “Do you think this has been easy for me, Astra? It hasn’t. I feel like a gaping hole has been torn into my heart. Every. Goddamned. Day,”she spoke, voice tense. It took a lot of energy to prevent her words from wavering.

    “I didn’t think you cared about me. I’m just a dumb angel to you.”

    “That’s beside the point...You are a dumb angel…”Rhea paused to collect her thoughts.

    Before she could speak again Astra did, looking up like a hopeful puppy, but she didn’t want table scraps. She only ever wanted love.

    “Does that make me your dumb angel?”

    Rhea’s mouth formed a tight line. She turned towards the opened window again, back to Astra. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, Astra,”she dismissed cooly. Soft Rhea was shoved aside and replaced by the new one, the Mistress of Moristor Manner, leader of demons.

    That having been said, she leaped out from the window and unfurled great black wings, feathers tipped with traces of white. They caught the night air easily, extended to a full span of fifteen feet. How can one possibly fly away from problems when said problems are embedded inside ones soul?

    Inside the manor still Astra sat, an empty feeling slipping over her like a tidal wave. Drowning was welcomed.
    #10 Wistful Beast, Apr 14, 2016
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2016
  11. To see this story on wattpad, check out my profile at Wistful_Beast. :bsmile:
    #11 Wistful Beast, Jun 8, 2016
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2016