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 CH. 1

Thousands of years ago, the witch, Victoria, attacked the Hall of Wingéd, turning the reigning Seraph into a Demon, resulting in the quick extinction of the Griffon Wingéd. Attempting to put a stop to the destruction, her twin sister, Margaret, sought to purify her and failed. This act created the foiche Dé, living humans marked with magic and doomed to be forever reincarnated. In her despair, Margaret begged three Dragons, against Wingéd law, to put an end to her life and continue the long battle in her stead. While they agreed, this was not without its consequences.

Cassius lost his wings, becoming the first to be named Wingless. He was saved by the second, Emmy, a Moth. She gave up her wings using forbidden magic to free a Demon from his pain, and in the most controversial verdict to have ever been given in the Hall, Seraph Lerion decreed that the Dragons, Daisuke and Gabriel, should join the ranks of Wingless as punishment for their aid of Cassius. Although it sought to put an end to the chaos, the verdict only added to the unrest. But what has been done cannot be undone.

 

Every night, it was the same. When Cassius closed his eyes, he was locked in an evil ritual, afflicted by visions of his worst fears come to pass. They would start out as variations of the past, but each one led him to the same place, a desolate field. The ground was in such a parched state that the grass crumbled under his step into a trail of dust. He was always running, searching. “Emmy?”

Then, he’d finally find her. She was sinking in a mixture of mud and blood, surrounded by a ring of black fire. “Emmy!” he would yell again, but she could not hear him over the whipping wind. Pieces of her soul ripped from her, burned in the fire, and the ashes flew off into the sky. And through the smoke came a voice. “She will Turn,” it would say. “You cannot stop it. She will Turn.”

The heavens would darken until the sun was no more than a ring of fire in the sky, and an ominous red star shined in its stead. “No! I won’t listen! Emmy!” He reached out to help her, but his feet were petrified, mercilessly holding him to the earth.

The thunder would drown out his words, and Emmy would look up, her eyes red and her soul barely visible, shrieking like a Demon. “She will devour them, Wingless,” the voice would say. “She will devour them all. And you will have to slay her.”

Cassius awakened, shaking from the fear of his nightmares until he realized it was morning again and time to start the day anew.

Snow fell upon the Hall of Wingéd, the soft and silent flakes blanketing the sleeping mountains in its cold embrace. It looked peaceful from the single-room house the Wingless now called home, a couple of miles from the Hall proper. Hours before the sun rose over the peaks, Cassius pretended to be asleep as Emmy snuck out of their modest dwelling and ran out into the white. After the door creaked shut, he rose from his mat on the floor and looked out the window. His palms rested on the sill as he sighed deeply and shook his head. “She said she wasn’t going to do this today.”

“Let her go, Cassius,” Daisuke grumbled from his mat and pulled the linen over his head. “She does the same thing every morning. We can’t stop her.”

“She’s not allowed out without one of us. What if one of the Phoenixes sees her?”

“If you’re so worried, why didn’t you stop her when you heard her creeping around?”

Cassius shoved his feet into his boots. The truth of the matter was it was much easier to get Emmy back from going out alone than it was to stop her from doing it. “She should have honored our agreement.”

In a few hours, the first Leap since the verdict was to take place, and Seraph Lerion had specifically requested the Wingless’ attendance at the event. This meant that Emmy wouldn’t be allowed her daily rituals to control the pain that overwhelmed her, and she had agreed to this. It was most important that the Wingless remain in the Seraph’s good graces as their fates still rested in his hands.

Everyone in the Hall now walked around on tiptoe, sensing the strong undercurrent Lerion’s decision had created. They’d become a people divided into those in favor of the verdict and those who believed it immoral. The dissent had started out as a whisper and evolved into a hum, but now, the Hall was buzzing with the angered voices of the Wingéd. So, Cassius needed Emmy back here as soon as possible.

He opened the door, but instead of being able to charge off into the snow, he stopped short at the presence of a skinny Bat Wingéd whose hands shook as he removed his hat. “Wingless Cassius? I am Bat Devram. I have a message from the Seraph. You are needed in the Hall.”

Cassius glanced behind the Bat, eyeing the scarcely recognizable trail that Emmy had left in her wake.

Daisuke sat up with an ugly growl. “Go on, Cassius. I’ll take care of everything here.” He threw something over at Gabriel, who hadn’t stirred in spite of it all. “Time to rise and shine, Gabriel!”

Closing the door behind him, Cassius asked, “What does he want this time?”

Devram shrugged. “It could be any number of things.”

The matter became far more apparent once they reached the Hall proper. Cassius’ sensitive ears heard a voice coming through the corridor. It belonged to an Angel who stood on top of a bench in the courtyard. He was a scrawny looking fellow with long brown hair, but his voice rang out with tenacity and conviction to a crowd that gathered there. “I’m sure you are all aware of the terrible injustices that have occurred within these walls in the past year. And though we have tried to calmly discuss our concerns, the Seraph locks himself away in the library, refusing to speak to anyone. But today, he must emerge! This is our chance, Wingéd of the Hall, to show this man that we will not tolerate his tyranny any longer!”

“’Any number of things,’ you say?”

“Yep.”

Cassius snorted, passing through into the library. He nodded to Seraph Study Diego and walked straight to the office. He steadied himself before knocking on the door to announce his presence and entered.

Seraph Lerion looked up from his desk and frowned upon seeing him in direct contrast to his words. “Good, you’re here. Have a seat.”

“As always, Seraph, if it’s all the same to you, I would prefer to stand.”

“Suit yourself,” Lerion replied while making his mark on an official looking document in front of him. “I suppose you heard the mess out there. Are you pleased with yourself?”

“I don’t know what you mean, Seraph.”

“That Angel has been standing out there preaching for over a week about the injustices done to the Wingless, and you’re going to come into my office and tell me you had nothing to do with it? And you haven’t been spreading your slander and your discontent in order to undermine my authority in this Hall? Please, this has you written all over it.”

“I’m certain it does not, sir. I have never seen that man before today. You should know me well enough to know that, if I want something done, I will do it myself, and I would never deny it.”

Lerion scoffed at him, almost chuckling as he spoke. “Well, then, you won’t have any problems discrediting him.”

“Discredit him, how? I don’t know his name or what he wants.”

“He is Angel Simon. Strange, he has been the picture of a good, serene Angel, but now, he claims to be speaking from the collective emotions of the other Wingéd. He has been calling for my removal as Seraph and petitioned the elder Angels to put Dahlia back in this position.”

Cassius shifted on his feet, thinking about the disgraced former Seraph who had been removed from office by the elder Angels. She had been considered a weak leader even before Cassius came to the Hall. The delay in her ascension was proof of how little confidence she garnered. She was extremely unpopular with most of the Wingéd as she alienated them with her policies. She had both the Phoenixes and Dragons sour about her micromanagement over the ninth Grand Master, Aeron, and her delegation of resources to the fighter class made her unpopular with the Pegasi and magic class as well.

And although it was not her fault, Margaret’s death, the loss of Delta Wing, and the plight of the original two Wingless were attributed to her lack of ability. Therefore, as far as Cassius was concerned, Lerion didn’t have much to worry about. “With all due respect, sir, I am just a wingless Dragon. I’m not interested in involving myself in your politics.”

“I don’t care if you’re not interested. You’ll do it. You may have become a very public figure to the Wingéd, but, to me, you’ll never be anything more than an extraordinary criminal. If I need to make further example of you and yours, trust me when I say I will not hesitate to do so. That man is a menace, and he has been using you to rationalize his grandstanding; so, I need it made abundantly clear to everyone in this Hall that you do not support what he’s saying or what he’s doing.”

It was a threat that Cassius couldn’t ignore. “I will do my best, Seraph.”

Lerion looked down at something else on his desk and gave his hand a flick. “You can go now. I will see you at the Leap, and I know there won’t be any disturbances when I do.”

Cassius refrained from responding and walked back through the door. While angry, he’d already grown accustomed to being treated poorly by the Seraph. The man demanded daily status reports and frequently assigned them to tedious, unnecessary tasks to keep them busy. Some condescending speech and carefully masked threats were the least of his worries.

He stepped out into the courtyard and leaned up against the wall, listening.

“If he has the ability to take the wings of some of our most decorated Dragons, what will keep him from using this as a punishment down the line? The purpose of the Seraph is to protect us! And what has he done since gaining his rank? Which, I might add, was unlawfully given to him. He has practically slain his own people to silence them for his own interests and has allowed a dangerous witch to run free!”

“Hey!” Where had he heard that? Almost no one other than the elder Angels knew of it. Every eye within the crowd turned to watch as Cassius made a beeline up toward him.

“There he is now!” Simon held out his hands. “Cassius, the Wingless! Did you want come up here and say a few words?”

But the speaker quickly found Cassius’ hand gripping his collar, and the former Dragon dragged him down from the bench off to the side. While Angel Simon fumbled, trying to get to his feet, and protested at this rough treatment, Cassius threw him up against the wall and raised a finger under his nose. “Where do you get off announcing such privileged information?”

“The public deserves to know the details of the dangers that face them, so they can form their own opinions on whether or not they want to be ruled by a barbarous monster.”

“The public has no right to have opinions on things they can’t possibly understand.”

Simon smiled and nodded his head. “Oh, I see. I get it. He’s gotten to you, hasn’t he? He’s threatened you.”

Cassius released him and raised his voice so the others in the courtyard could hear. “Move along, Angel. There is a Leap to prepare for. Save your lunatic ramblings for another time.” Despite some hesitation, the crowd began to disburse under the pressure of Cassius’ gaze.

However, as all the others were moving away, one was making her way toward him. She was of average height with square shoulders and angular jaw under curly brown hair cropped short near her ears. He recognized her as Angel Alexandra, the main instructor of the class taking the Leap this morning. Her expression told him that this wouldn’t be a pleasant conversation.

“Wingless, I must speak with you.”

“Yes, Angel,” he replied in an effort to be patient, “How can I help you?”

“It is about Kitane.” She glanced around her, but the fact remained, when one was with a Wingless, someone was always listening. “Will you take a walk with me?”

Cassius nodded and held out a hand so she might take the lead. They started walking back toward the Angel offices, where many were preparing for the upcoming Leap, rolling out the large gong and wiping it free from dust. Others gathered in their robes and were helping the Candidates into theirs. It was a calm hustle he knew very well.

“I’m sure you know from our previous conversations that I had some reservations about allowing Kitane to Leap. I have never worked with someone who had been reincarnated in this manner before, especially in the unorthodox way she was brought to us. I thought, maybe, if I gave her a chance, she would prove herself, but I fear, as time has gone on, this has not been the case.” She stopped in front of a door and laced her fingers together. “You have known for some time now that she has no memory of being Lydia, but what we didn’t tell you is that she still carries a considerable amount of weight from her previous life.”

Ignoring the fact he had been informed of this, he tried to appear as shocked as expected and hid behind the amazement he felt now knowing she was not the one who had sent him the Bat Wingéd during his hearing. “How is that possible?”

“How can I put this in a way that you’ll understand? Necromancy is Demon magic… When most of the living die and move on, they do so as is, with their soul and life experiences. Kitane was forcibly taken from her place of rest in a terrible and violent manner, and what was left over was not viable as a person. It would be like throwing a sword along with its hilt, sheath, and all back into the fires and calling whatever came out a blade, putting it in another sheath with another hilt. Hence, she is twice as heavy.

“We have tried everything at our disposal to convince her to talk about it, but she told me that any weight she had would be from being Kitane and that she shouldn’t be punished for the sins of another person. This obstinate denial has been detrimental to her personal growth.”

Cassius nodded his head and rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. “So, she hasn’t shed any of Lydia’s weight.”

“None, but the situation is even more dire than that. Kitane, herself, has been extremely resistant to the process. She has made progress in some areas, but in others… She is stubborn, defiant, dismissive, and, the kindest I can say, manipulative. She was not meant for this.”

“Why did you wait to tell me this now, Angel?”

“I spoke with the Seraph. He refused my proposal to give her more time.” Alexandra sighed. “She is too heavy. I’ve never known anyone to be this heavy and be saved. I thought it would be good for you to gain some closure and say ‘goodbye’.”

“No. She can make it. I believe in her.”

“She was not on the list. Frankly, I don’t know why we bothered.”

He looked away from her. “What should I say?”

“Try to be positive.” She gestured toward the classroom.

Cassius opened the door with a large nearly beating lump forming in his throat. Kitane stood by the window, peering outward into the ceremony space, as some began to gather for the best view. He tried to prepare something encouraging to say, but his mind failed him as he gazed longingly upon her.

She looked even more like Lydia than he remembered. Bathed in the morning light, her long auburn hair and tan complexion glowed under its warmth. From the way that she walked to the way she spoke to the way a smile played on her pink heart-shaped lips when she looked at him… He was inexplicably drawn to her. He stopped as she glanced over.

“Cassius, come here and look at this.” She took him by the hand and pulled him toward the window. “Have you ever seen snow like this? The sky is a bit dreary, but who cares when the mountains look like that?”

She looked up at him with such joy, he decided to oblige her. He’d seen these mountains every day and knew this morning they could hold some tragic end, but her enthusiasm made them something special.

“I know that no one thinks I can make it.”

“Nobody thinks that.”

“You’re a terrible liar. But you know what? Though I don’t make it a habit to be sorry…” She leaned in and beamed up at him. “It’s a shame, because I really liked you. You make me feel things when you look at me… I should have liked to have known you better, and now, I won’t get the chance.”

He was entranced for a moment. She even smelled the same, like pomegranates and roses. “You’re never going to make it talking like that.”

“I’m too heavy.”

“No, you aren’t. You can do this. If you worry about whether or not you’ll be saved, you never will be. They never tell you that the simple act of giving yourself up to the Leap is what saves you. And you’re already doing that, but the spirits will know if you’re resolved to be lost.”

“I’m not resolved to be anything. I’ve accepted the truth.”

“Acceptance and quitting are two very different things.”

Kitane put her hand on his shoulder. “I’m not going to fight with you about this anymore. I’ll see you at the Leap.”

“I didn’t think we were fighting.” Cassius took her hand from his shoulder and folded it into his. “Just think about what I’ve said, and there’ll be plenty of time to know me as well as you’d like. Good luck today.” He gave her hand a firm squeeze, smiled, and walked out of the room.

Angel Alexandra stood just outside glaring at him. “Wingless, that is not what I meant by being positive. Wingless!”

“Sorry, Angel, there is much to do this day.”

Traveling back through the tunnels, he was finally able to do what he had set out to earlier this morning. It was difficult to listen for their location while the snow crunched under his boots. He stopped until he could hear the plaintive sound of Daisuke’s voice, Gabriel’s baritone chuckle, and the faintest whooshing of a wooden bō staff through the freezing air.

As he got closer, he caught sight of Isis flying overhead. She spotted him and folded her wings up, falling straight through the trees to land. “Cassius.”

“Isis.”

“You should be in your Leap robes. We’re going to be late if we don’t get moving soon. I thought you talked to her about this.”

“What makes you think I didn’t?”

“I’m sorry. I was just concerned. I don’t want this situation to get any worse.”

Isis had been invaluable in the days after the verdict, helping them all adjust, but her attitude of a mother hen wore on Cassius’ patience. They were wounded and disgraced, but they were not children. “We will be there. I’m sorry if we can’t always stick to the Seraph’s schedule.”

“Is there anything that I can do to help?” she asked, in a more genuine tone.

“Hopefully, we won’t need it.”

They walked over a hill near a spring where Emmy spent most of her morning hours. They came upon Gabriel, already dressed in his Leap robes with his arms crossed, looking down at Emmy swinging her bō around in controlled yet forceful movements. Daisuke stood a safe distance away from her, desperately trying to get her to stop.

“It’s a bad day, Cassius,” Gabriel said.

They watched her bring the bō around abruptly, and Daisuke had to duck in order to keep from being hit. She stuck the tree next to him, and it cracked under the pressure from her blows.

“Any red flashes?” Isis asked.

Gabriel rubbed his chin. “She hasn’t had any for three weeks, but today… two in the last hour.”

Cassius winced. They’d all been hoping that she was going to beat this and the pain she’d taken on from the Demon would eventually dissipate. Master Butterfly Gherl had theorized that, since her relationship to the pain was not symbiotic as a true Demon, the pain would have nowhere to go except into the ether. To an extent this was occurring, but it wasn’t happening as quickly as was ideal. Every Wingéd Emmy touched, for that instant, experienced horrific pain and would end up in the Butterfly infirmary.

The severity of Emmy’s pain was always significant, but seemed to also be tied to her mental state. Her every insecurity, no matter how small, was exploited and transformed into physical agony. They all should have known that this day would be worse than the previous ones, but they rarely heard her complain. She wouldn’t even answer if they asked how she was doing, calling them forbidden questions.

“We’re not sure she should even see you right now,” he heard Gabriel say.

Cassius would have done anything to keep Emmy from being hurt. Perhaps if the Seraph would have allowed Kitane’s Leap to be pushed back, it would have made things easier. For a moment, he almost entertained the idea that she could sit this one out, but he knew this was impossible. All the Wingless needed to be at the Leap as a sign of solidarity, and Cassius planned to deliver. He just wished it didn’t come at Emmy’s expense. “She already knows I’m here.”

Emmy doubled over, her knuckles white from gripping the staff, which was only adequate enough to hold her up. In her Leap robes, her stark, bare back heaved as she gasped in pain.

Daisuke, who had grown accustomed to seeing these things, stood away and waited while Cassius approached.

“Emmy, it’s time to go.”

“I know,” she said. “I’ll be ready. I just… Just one more moment, please.” Her entire soul shook, but she forced herself upright. “I am ready.”

When they walked into the courtyard, the clamor of Angels making the final preparations ceased. The hush made Cassius feel even more conspicuous than before, but he tried his best to ignore them, ushering the others through the front gate.

The Seraph had reserved part of the Angel peaks for them. It was close to the gate, the pedestal, and visible to all points in the range. If Cassius didn’t know better, he would have assumed it was a place of honor. Now that the mountains were covered in Wingéd as well as snow, the ceremony could begin.

He heard the gong and saw the Angel Wingéd emerge on the steps. The Seraph trudged out, wings barely spread. One would think that since he was trying make a positive impression that he would at least try to look like he wanted to be there. “Open the door…” he directed at a volume only the fighter class could hear. When no one moved, he repeated himself in a tone fit to express this great irritation. “Open the door!”

“To Leap is our duty. We Leap for the love of the earth,” the Wingéd responded.

The Angels inside the courtyard opened the door to the Spirit Pass, and the strong gusts of wind rushed through the mountains, letting snow fly over the side of the cliff and float down into the misty abyss.

“Bheith ar… foluain go deo…”

Cassius rolled his eyes. “To Leap is our duty. We Leap for the love of the earth.”

The Candidates began to gather within, and all twelve of them walked out in a single file line. Kitane was the eighth in the line, and Cassius shot a quick glance over at Emmy, who seemed to be holding up well.

“May the first Candidate step up?” Seraph Lerion gestured for the first in line, a blond man, to step forward through the thunderous response from the Wingéd. “As those who came before us, you now embark upon a journey. Do you accept this challenge?”

While the man replied, Daisuke elbowed Cassius in the side. “There’s a good Pixie if I ever saw one.”

Daisuke had a natural talent for guessing what each individual would end up being. While most Wingéd could only hope to be correct a handful of times, Daisuke had a surprising eight-two percent chance at accurately predicting the Candidates’ final forms.

The man took his place at the pedestal and swallowed hard. “Bheith ar foluain go deo,” he said, signaling the change in response from the Wingéd. He took one more moment then sprang into the air before sinking down into the freezing mist like a stone.

“Bheith ar foluain go deo. Bheith ar foluain go deo.” The words grew in intensity as they all stared at the gates.

Cassius, however, stared at Kitane awaiting her turn. The Pixie Spirit appeared through the gates, but Cassius studied Kitane’s face, trying to surmise what was going on in her mind. But her face was composed. Perhaps nothing he had said or done had any effect.

He tried to focus on the ceremony as any other Leap. Three Bats came after the Pixie, then a Moth, a Phoenix, and a Fairy. As time grew nearer, he couldn’t help himself anymore. Kitane was next. “What will she be?”

Grimacing, Daisuke wiped his face with his hand. “I was hoping you weren’t going to ask me that.”

“Tell me.”

As Daisuke opened his mouth to speak again, a startling, ear-piercing cry blasted out from in front of the Hall doors. “Emmy!”

A Demon.

In the middle of the sacred Leap ceremony, a Demon Wingéd had materialized in front of the Hall steps. It was screaming, but worse, it was wingless.

Cassius clapped his hands over his ears to shield them from the heart-wrenching sound, but took notice that Emmy did not. She was still and looked down from the cliff.

His mind raced. Was this the day that haunted his sleeping hours? Would she return his dreadful call?

The Seraph immediately commanded the Hall gates and the doors to the Spirit Pass closed as Emmy sprang down from the cliff side and sprinted toward him. Had the Dragon Wingéd been on rotation to secure the Leap, perhaps restraint would have been shown, but the Phoenixes held no qualms in drawing their bows.

No! Cassius bounded down after her. He knew those arrowheads were all now blessed in Margaret’s blood. If one of them hit her, there was no telling what might happen. The image of her mimicking the sounds of that wretched creature came unbidden into his mind. He wouldn’t allow that to happen. He couldn’t. He tried to shout above the cries. “Hold! Hold!”

But the Phoenixes took no orders from him; they let their arrows fly.

Before becoming Wingless, even as a Moth, Emmy was much faster than any Phoenix could hope to be, but there was no way of knowing if she could continue that speed weighed down by her agonies. Please… let her survive…

Arrow after arrow breezed by her head, and as he followed, he, too, narrowly missed becoming a victim of Phoenix Wingéd precision.

Emmy evaded the whizzing arrows to stand in front of the shrieking thing. She pulled her hand back over her chest and struck him hard across the face. Silencing him. “You dare interrupt the sanctity of the Leap!”

While Seraph Lerion signaled to the Phoenixes to cease their firing, relief fell over Cassius as he cursed the slowness of Angel reflexes.

“How do you know my name?”

The Demon lifted his head and stared up at her. “Because… you saved me once.”

Her eyes searched him, and her expression softened. He was beaten, bloody, one of his eyes was black and swollen shut, and half of his scalp was missing. Cradled close to his body, his left arm was badly broken, and his right lay off to the side at an unnatural angle. One of his wings had been broken off at the shoulder joint, little more than a stub, and the other had been cut cleanly at the height near the top where his ear used to be. “What happened to you?”

Before he had the chance to answer, Seraph Lerion gave his order. “Cassius, finish slaying that thing.”

“No!” She turned her back on the Demon, her fists clenched behind her in defiance. “You can’t! He’s not just any Demon, Cassius. He’s the Demon I released from his suffering.” Her pleading eyes turned to Seraph Lerion. “You cannot slay him. He needs attention from the Butterflies. You might arrest him, but I will not allow you to slay him!”

CH. 2

The wait for the Seraph’s answer was long and excruciating, but eventually, the old Angel let out an exaggerated groan. “Very well.” He turned back toward the Hall and instructed one of the nearby Angels, “Tell them the ceremony is over. We’ll continue this at a later date.” He walked all the way up to the gate, which the other Angels opened for him, before pausing on the last step. “Wingless Cassius, take care of it.”

Cassius was so shocked, he almost forgot to answer. “Yes, Seraph.”

Once Lerion was safely inside, two Phoenixes flew down from the heights, seizing the Demon by his shoulders. Daisuke and Gabriel rushed down from their perches. “Come on, Emmy,” Daisuke said, “Let the Phoenixes do their jobs. We can go warn the Butterflies. I’m sure they’re going to need a moment to prepare for this little surprise.”

While the Angel shouted to the crowd, Cassius worked up the courage to look over at Kitane standing at the front of the line, confused and awestruck by the postponement. “No,” she told a fellow Candidate. “I was ready.”

As much as he wished he could talk to her and help her figure out what this meant, that was what Angels were for. He followed the Phoenixes into the Hall.

Down in the infirmary, Emmy mused from her seat in the hallway, “I wish they would allow me in there to help. I’ve always done it before.”

Both Daisuke and Isis sat on either side of her, trying to calm her down. Isis did her best to explain. “This is a little different from the other times. Regardless of the circumstances, he’s still a Demon, which presents a considerable risk, especially to you.”

“And the room is tiny,” Daisuke added. “I’m not sure you could fit another person in there without touching anything.”

Isis reached around her friend and smacked Daisuke in the back of the head, but Emmy prevented her from beating him further. “No, it’s alright, Isis. It is the truth, and I’m glad for it.”

Down the narrow hallway, Cassius could feel the dig in his heart as he stood there with his arms crossed, leaning up against the wall. On the other side, Gabriel did the same, alarming any Butterflies who were forced to pass. But Cassius was lost in thought and paid little attention to him or the Butterflies that scampered by with their heads bent down and eyes forward.

“What do you think they’ll do with him?” Gabriel asked.

“That depends on many things. If they can fix him, he might be given back to Wing Leader Pratt, nothing changes. If not…” He hadn’t thought of that.

“He becomes one of us.”

Cassius shifted in agitation. “Anyway, they might still slay him.” He walked away, joining the others sitting on either side of the door.

Before long, there came a massive exodus from the room, filling the hallway with bright and colorful Butterflies. None of them said a word, and due to all the rushing, Emmy needed to pull her knees up toward her chest to avoid coming into contact with them. Then, finally, one last Butterfly emerged from the other side of the door. “Wingless Cassius?”

He was the tallest Butterfly they’d ever seen, and Cassius’ jaw nearly dropped. This was a Butterfly? Taller and more hulking than Gabriel, skin dark as night, he filled up the entire doorway in an intimidating fashion with green, blue, and black wings. It was no wonder they had sent him. As he was in danger of becoming an embarrassment like Daisuke, Cassius let his gaze fall to keep from staring.

The Butterfly cleared his throat and looked down at the notes in his hands. “I am Butterfly Nzimandewendidane, but you may call me Richard. I’m sorry about the others. Fear does disappointing and ugly things to the soul, if you know what I mean. But I have been instructed to inform you on the patient. We were able to heal much of the damage done to him.”

“That’s great, Butterfly, thank you.” Cassius pushed forward trying to enter the room, but an enormous hand pushed back on his chest. Glancing down at it, he could see the blisters that ran from the Butterfly’s fingertips to his wrist. “Yes?”

“His wings. We could have healed one of them, but without the other, we saw no point in doing so.”

“That complicates matters.”

“Begging your pardon, Wingless,” his voice boomed like thunder as he explained, “but I was also instructed to make myself plain without altering the message in any way despite my sympathies for you. Please tell the Seraph that the other Butterflies do not feel comfortable having this Demon held here and request for his immediate transfer to a more secure location. You will discuss this with him?”

“I understand. I will make sure the Seraph knows of your concerns.”

“They’re not my concerns, but thank you. He is awake, so you can speak with him in any manner you choose, but of course, as we told the Phoenixes, we will frown upon all forms of screaming. I hope the rest of your day is more positive.”

“Thank y–.” He stopped short.

He could hear someone whispering in frantic tones. “Cheri, the Wingless isn’t exactly known for being forgiving of things like this!”

“You left him in there with the Phoenixes?” Cassius burst through the door to see one of the guards holding a scalpel up to the Demon’s neck. “Phoenix Wingéd, put the knife down! You are dismissed!”

The unarmed Phoenix nodded and left without a word. The second, Cheri, placed the scalpel back down on the tray by the altar to which the Demon had been secured. She glowered back at him. “You know Demons are for slaying, not saving, right?”

“I shall take that under advisement, Phoenix. Good day.”

Once she left as well, Butterfly Richard grabbed the handle of the door. “I’ll just get that for you,” he said, pulling it shut.

As Cassius rubbed his face with his hands, the Demon remarked from the stone slab, “You have to forgive them. Fear does disappointing and ugly things to a soul, eh?” When he didn’t answer, he asked, “Where is Emmy?”

He shouldn’t talk about her so casually, Cassius thought, examining him with a discerning eye. The Butterfly Wingéd had done a solid job making him look presentable. Although he was no longer repulsive, he was still badly scarred. They could not heal the strip of his scalp that had been sliced away, but his blond hair wasn’t stained with blood anymore. Two green eyes stared up at him, waiting for an answer to his question. “You will call her by her proper name, Lady Emmy… She is in the corridor and will not come unbidden. If you answer my questions, I might let you see her. If you attempt to get to her before we are finished, I will have no problem beheading you myself. Understood?”

The Demon nodded.

“We’ll start off easy then. What is your name?”

“I thought you said we were going to start off easy.”

“You don’t know your name?”

He shook his head. “I’ve been locked away in that cavern for a long time. The Dragons called me ‘Demon’, but mostly, they never said anything.”

By that account, Cassius was surprised that he still knew how to speak. Seeing a piece of slate left by the Butterflies, Cassius picked it up and brushed it off. “Okay, I will ask you a series of questions. Try to be as detailed as possible. Even if the detail doesn’t seem like it matters at all, I want you to tell me. Do you think you can do that?”

He nodded again.

“Do you remember being a Phoenix?”

“Bits and pieces only. None of them significant, but flashes.”

“Do you remember anything about your existence as a Demon?”

“Yes, sir. Everything.”

Cassius’ eyebrows raised high into his forehead. “’Everything’?”

“Yes, sir. Most of it is vague, the farther back that I go, but I remember everything that I did as a Demon. Every person that I killed, Wingéd I slew and Turned, and how I did it.”

Cassius tried to keep himself under control. “Tell me about them.”

As directed, he gave as many details as he could remember, each one more disturbing than the last. Cassius scribbled down some notes, but eventually, he had to stop and just listened to story after story.

The Demon had the extraordinary ability to keep his voice level and calm as he recounted his experiences, strangely detached from everything he’d done. He smiled often and found humor in the most appalling of instances.

Cassius wasn’t sure what to make of it. He was used to hearing tales of conquest by both Dragons and Phoenixes alike. He was guilty of telling a few as well, but this was different. It made him feel sick, but he couldn’t help making comparisons between himself and the man in front of him. The memories of Cassius’ transgressions caused him many restless nights, but the Demon made it seem like his were neutral or pleasant experiences. Had circumstances been different, he wondered if he could have been this man.

Before he was done, Cassius muttered, “Thank you. I think that will be enough for now. Is there anything else that you’d like me to report to the Seraph?”

The Demon grew quiet for a moment before he replied, “I believe that I have important information regarding a witch named Victoria. Is that of any interest to you?”

Cassius could have choked from surprise, but he couldn’t stand to hear any more. “We will give you more time to recover your strength before we speak more of this. You will be moved to a more secure location in the Dragon Wingéd tunnels per the Butterflies’ request. I give you my solemn promise that no more unsanctioned attempts will be made to harm you.”

“’Unsanctioned’, eh?” The Demon chuckled. “I feel safer already. Thank you.”

“Until we discover your identity before your Turning, what should we call you?”

The Demon shrugged.

“You must have a preference. You can’t wish to be ‘Demon’ the entire time you’re here.”

He paused, chewing his lip. “Ask Lady Emmy.”

“Excuse me?”

“Whatever she wishes to call me shall be my name. I really would like to see her if that’s possible.”

Cassius tried not to groan, but he was certain the former Phoenix would hear him no matter how he tried to stifle it. Without another word, he stood up and took his leave back into the hallway. The Butterflies had made themselves scarce, so he could speak to the others in peace.

Emmy got to her feet and asked, “So, how did it go?”

“He… gave me an interesting account. It’s enough to keep me working on reports for at least a week.”

“Well, it’s better than having to run stupid errands,” Daisuke teased.

“Emmy, he’s been asking for you. I don’t think that he’ll be a danger to anyone as he is, but if you choose to see him, I will be right there with you. And there is something else. He told me that he doesn’t remember anything before Turning. He requested that you give him a name.”

She squinted in confusion. “Why me?”

Cassius shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

Emmy nodded, thoughtfully considering this proposal. “Okay, I’m ready.”

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to. It won’t be too difficult?” His eyes were nearly begging her to refuse.

“You have never known me to be indecisive, Cassius. Open the door.”

Cassius did as she bade him, and he could see the Demon’s head shoot up out of the corner of his eye.

As Emmy entered, she was immediately disgusted. “They didn’t even give you something soft for your head?” She walked over to the wooden box on the other side of the room and took out a small brown pillow. She brought it over to him and placed it under his lifted head. “There, that’s much better.”

“I’m glad to see that you’re doing so well. The pain hasn’t diminished you,” the Demon said while Cassius shut the door behind them and leaned up against the wall.

“Are the bindings too tight?” she asked.

“No, they’re perfect, thank you. I’m happy to see you.”

Cassius had watched the two of them closely. Emmy’s attentive behavior to a creature she barely knew mystified him. The amount of time she spent making sure he was comfortable seemed excessive.

“You were informed of my request?”

Emmy stood beside the altar and nodded. “I was, but I don’t know why you would wish me to name you. A name is a personal thing, and I wouldn’t wish to give you something you don’t feel comfortable with.”

“Eh, no one ever picks their name anyway, and it would mean more to me if it came from you, someone who cares, more than anyone else. I’d cherish the name ‘Demon’ if that’s what you wished to call me.”

Emmy stared at him, her eyes searching the Demon’s face. “You’re different than I remember you… We will look through the archives of the Turned Phoenixes and find who you are, I promise. Until that time, how do you feel about ‘Logan’? It was my grandfather’s name.”

He smiled. “I love it. Thank you.”

She looked over at Cassius for a moment.

Unable to interpret the expression on her face, he asked, “Emmy?”

She turned her head back to Logan. “I must be honest with you to soothe my soul. I hold such animosity toward you. In fact, I know a part of me hates you. I have dreamt of your return, and I cannot pretend that I haven’t hoped that you would so that I could kill you with my own hands for making me thus.”

“I understand.”

Shaking, she insisted, “No, you don’t. I must let you know. I promise that I will never do that to you, and I would never allow anyone else either. I would see myself executed first before I would allow them to slay you.”

Cassius couldn’t understand what he was hearing. She’d never said any of this to him. He had no idea of her being capable of such thoughts much less the realization how she thirsted for his blood. The whole thing made Cassius feel sick. Looking down at the floor, he said, “Emmy, it’s time to let this man get some rest.”

“Yes, Cassius. Logan, I will come see you tomorrow.”

“No rush.” He smirked. “Promise me, you’ll take care of yourself.”

Opening the door back up, Cassius led Emmy out to the sympathetic faces of the Dragons, who had heard every word.

Isis got to her feet. “Well?”

Cassius replied, “He is resting now. Daisuke, Gabriel, I need the two of you to stand guard over him while I let the Seraph know what’s happening. No one is to see him. I don’t trust anyone else not to slay him. Meanwhile, Isis, if you’re not too busy, I would like him transferred to a protected room in the Dragon Wingéd tunnels.”

She nodded. “I’m not too busy, but I’ll have to clear it with the wing leaders first. I don’t know that they’ll like it, but if I make it seem like the order comes from the Seraph, they’ll agree.”

“Emmy, if you’ll come with me…”

She glanced over at the door for a long moment, biting her lip. “Yes, of course.”

They walked through the tunnels in an uncomfortable silence. There were many things that Cassius wished to ask her, but couldn’t bring himself to utter in her presence. He glanced down at her hands. Even knowing what torture they held, it was difficult not to reach out to hold her long graceful fingers. He sighed.

As they reached the courtyard, they came upon a disconcerting scene. Twice in one day, Angel Simon had set up a speaking engagement, trying to rile the crowd. Didn’t he know when to quit? Cassius thought Angels were supposed to be reasonable and above such pettiness. Was he going to have to come back to the Hall proper every day to drag him down from his post?

“Is this the showing of a leader? Not only was his performance at the ceremony lackluster and emotionless, he’s allowed us to harbor a Demon within the Hall, a risk that even Dahlia knew was not worth taking! That is why the practice was abolished! How can we sleep peacefully knowing that our Seraph is too busy to concern himself with our safety?”

Cassius turned to Emmy. “I’m sorry. I need to handle this.” He raised his voice to the Angel again. “Angel Simon, I’m getting tired of you spreading lies about our Seraph! Our safety is on the forefront of his mind at all times, and if he saw fit to allow a Demon into our Hall, he must have access to information that you don’t!”

“Wingless Cassius and Lady Emmy, you honor us with your presence. I’m so glad that you could join us in our dialogue.”

“We are not here for any dialogue. This meeting is over!”

Unwilling to give up his makeshift platform, Simon replied, “No, Wingless, this meeting is certainly not over. The Wingéd deserve to have their voices heard.”

“Don’t you have somewhere else to be instead of wasting everyone’s time with this idiocy?”

Simon crossed his arms. “I don’t actually. I would be off congratulating my Candidate class on a Leap well done, but five of them didn’t get to participate, because our Seraph decided that he was finished. I’m surprised that you aren’t up here with me, fighting against the injustice that has been done to Kitane. She wasn’t able to Leap, and she is one of the most vulnerable to Demon attack. Will you not advocate for her? Where is your outrage?”

Cassius was forced to ignore his baiting, but inwardly, he fumed. This was one of the Angel Wingéd preparing Kitane for the Leap with Alexandra? No wonder she was failing so horribly.

Beside him, Emmy said, “I don’t know who you are, Angel, or perhaps who you think you are, but I don’t appreciate your tactics. Your claim of this being a dialogue is flawed. You rant up there without discipline and get defensive when challenged. Furthermore, I can tell you that there will be plenty of time for your Candidates to take the Leap later unless you’re expecting them to spontaneously spring back to life.”

“Lady Emmy, I–.”

“I’m not finished, Angel. That Demon, or so you call him, his name is Logan, and he isn’t dangerous. You’ve no idea what he’s been through to get back here to us or what caused him to be lost. Tell me, how much torture could you withstand before you become just as he is? Would you want us to shun you if someone set you free? You should be welcoming him as a lost brother instead of damning him. Or was I mistaken in the belief that Angels preached forgiveness?” Her voice cracked as she added, “Think before you open your mouth again.”

Angel Simon seemed to be humbled by Emmy’s heartfelt scolding. The two of them waited until the small crowd dispersed. Cassius wasn’t sure what had gotten into her. “Emmy…” he started softly. “You know that they would never say those things about you.”

She let her head rock from side to side. “Why shouldn’t they? If they could all believe that about him, what is to keep them from doing it to me?”

“Everyone in this Hall knows and adores you… And you should know that none of us would ever allow them to do that to you.”

“It should not matter if they know me. We are the same. If they aren’t willing to give him the same courtesy that I am given, I’d rather not have it… Cassius, will you help me save him? Please.”

Cassius frowned, but he couldn’t deny her this. “I’ll do the best I can. Come on, I’d like to get to the Master Bird before she gets too busy. I have no reason to doubt… Logan, but I’d like to be sure if I can. There might be a few more details that a Bird might be able to pull out of him.”

“I thought we were going to report to the Seraph.”

“We will, but I think the longer we stall, the better chance that he may keep his head. I’d like to be able to get that Bird without him if I can.”

“That’s a bold plan. The Seraph won’t like it.”

“He never does, but I don’t see us having any other choice. If he has information on Victoria, I want it.”

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