It was cold. It was dark. The first snow of winter was still falling. He stumbled through the forest, numbe both inside and out. It wasn’t from the cold. He could never feel the cold anyway and the thick darkness he could see in. It was because … because …
“I used you …” a voice said.
“The hate in her eyes …” another voice whispered.
“I needed her blood …” the first voice continued.
“I played with her …” the second added.
He fell forward, tasted snow. He’d never felt this way before. This was worst than when Anthony had run a sword through his chest and left him for dead. He had often wondered about that. How could something who was never born die?
Now he could feel that sword inside of him again, twisting, slowly twisting. It hurt to breathe. No, it was worst than that. Each time he drew breath, his whole body was racked with pain. Pain. Throbbing, aching, burning pain.
It made him think of her being tied to that stake. How the fire had started from the bottom, a small flame and quickly grew into an all-consuming thing. Only too soon did the fire find its way to her feet, catch a hold of her skirt.
He remembered how he had struggled, fought, tried to twisted and claw his way out from under Michael. He remembered the barbed whip tight around his throat, the same whip that kept his wrists bound behind his back.
He remembered watching the fire move farther up her body, turning her flesh to black. How she had so desperately struggled, her cries interrupted by coughing as she inhaled the smoke. Somewhere along the way he had started waiting for her to suffocate, to spare her, to end her suffering. But she had been alive to the end, until the fire had claimed her, inside and out …
He lifted his head from the snow. He heard something on the wind and smelled smoke in the breeze. The snow had stopped falling and he remembered how it had been unable to extinguish the fire, too weak to combat the blaze.
He started moving again. He stumbled and fell forward. Then he got to his feet and staggered in the direction of the smoke and the noise ahead.
It took him hours to cross a distance it should have taken him a heartbeat to. Steadily the scent grew stronger and the sounds louder. Now he could make out the sounds of stories being told, jokes being shared. He could smell meating being roasted–deer–and wood being burnt.
He came to some bushes and peered through the leaves. Men, women, children, and livestock were camped in the large clearing. He remembered them. They were the ones who’d dragged her away, mocked her and thrown clumps of mud and rocks at her while she went without a struggle. He remembered how she had hung her head as she was dragged, the trail of blood left in her wake. He remembered the hate in her eyes when she looked at him, when their eyes met. He had betrayed her, he had beaten and raped and broken her spirit. He was every bit the demon he had said he was.
As he remembered, the numb sensation left his body. He had betrayed her but he would redeem himself, he would make it up to her. And he would start–by avenging her death. Silent, he sunk his fingers into the ground and began to remember farther back.
“Humans are merely cattle, my boy,” the voice said. “Pawns in our little games, toys we use to entertain ourselves.”
Yes, cattle, pawns, toys, he thought as he clenched his teeth, shut his eyes. They didn’t deserve to live. They deserved to be destroyed!
Another memory came back to him without him willing it to. “Do you know what kind of a name Gabriel is?” she had asked, studying him.
He looked at her. “No.”
She had smiled then, a small little smile as she handed him a bowl of soup, let him drink himself. “Gabriel is the name of an angel. You are named after an angel.”
He had looked at her oddly then. “I am no angel.” She had told him what angels were and he knew for a fact he was not an angel.
She had chuckled. “No … But you could be a sort of angel, if you wanted to. Or … more like a guardian. Yes, a guardian angel. To humans.”
He had snorted. “You humans are weak if you need someone to protect you all the time.”
She had blinked and looked as if he had slapped her. Then she had smiled again. But this smile was … different. It made him feel … like he had done something wrong. “Yes but … we have a strength all our own. Just like you have a strength all your own. I hope one day … you use your strength for the right reasons …”
He opened his eyes, looked down at his hands which had become claws. Perhaps he could make it up to her after all. He stood and peered over the brush to the camp beyond…
“Momma! Momma!” the little boy cried as he ran into her arms.
His mother caught him easily and cradled him against her. He was growing so quickly, her little baby. In no time at all, he would be running around, getting into the type of trouble only growing boys could. “What is the matter, little one?” she asked as she stroked his hair.
“A stranger! A stranger!” the little boy cried.
“A stranger?” On one hand, it could have been just a child’s fear but on the other … These were strange woods. It was best to put him at ease before she thought of doing anything else. “And where is this stranger, my little one?”
“Over there!” the boy lifted his head and pointed across the clearing.
The mother smiled as she turned in the direction he had pointed, ready to tell him it was nothing–only to freeze. It was like something out of a dream. A stranger with such a dark and intense aura, staring at her with something that shifted from malevolence to indifference and back again. She was about to scream for help when she met his eyes. There was something about those eyes. Loss. Despair. Darkness. It sent shivers down her spine and made her feel so vulnerable, so open, so human … No matter how much she wanted to look away, he held her gaze and it felt like ages had passed.
And then he turned and just like that disappeared …