The angel was pure white, lit from above, the shadows falling across it in stark black. It was beautifully monochromatic, its long white hair cascading in gentle waves beyond its feet and into the black shadows below, its wings seeming to reflect the light, shining pure and white in his eyes, and stretching so wide and broad from the angel's shoulders that he felt sure it could envelop him completely in those gleaming wings and barely notice.
"Wake up," the angel said, and he did.
He woke to pain. He did not even know what pain was, but he felt it; his whole body seemed afire, every part of him alive with an agony that he could not explain. His mouth opened of its own accord, and he screamed, a wordless sound that went on and on and echoed back at him until all he could hear was his screaming.
"Shhhhh." The angel's voice whispered in his ear, and he heard it over his screams. He closed his mouth. The echoes mocked him, distantly, but they soon fell silent, too, and all he could hear was a memory of his scream, inside his head.
He heard a soft, whispering sound, like someone singing, but he could not understand the words. The pain receded a little, and he opened his eyes.
He lay almost in darkness; here and there, he could see tiny flickering lights, red and green and blue, all around him and above him. Some flashed on and off, regularly, others flickered wildly and without seeming meaning, and together they formed a crazy kaleidoscope that made his head ache all over again. He closed his eyes once more, retreating to the safety of darkness.
"Tee-Ell." It was the angel's voice again. "Tee-Ell, wake up." He wondered what it meant. He wondered if it was talking to him.
"What is Tee-Ell?" he asked, and the angel laughed, a sound that seemed to rain like metal jewels on his ears before scattering away again; painful and yet somehow beautiful at the same time.
"Tee-Ell is your name. Or at least, it's what I've decided to call you."
"Tee-Ell?" He hadn't realised that he needed a name. Yet when he said it aloud, the sound seemed strangely comforting.
"Yes. Are you awake?"
"Can you move?"
He hadn't thought to try. He didn't understand what was happening. He did not know who he was, or where he was, or why he was there, but somehow it didn't seem to matter.
"Alright." He didn't question the angel. He'd seen it in his dreams, and it was beautiful and somehow he knew that it must be obeyed without question.
He realised that he did not remember how to make his body move, but somehow when he attempted to move his arm, it obeyed.
Pain ricocheted through him again, and he screamed.
The angel sang to him, sweetly, and the sound brushed soothingly against his pain, like feathers tickling his skin, scattering the agony away again. He stopped screaming, but he could not stop panting.
"It's okay," the angel whispered. "Open your eyes and look."
Tee-Ell opened his eyes again. The lights winked and flashed and teased him, dancing across his vision. From the corner of his eye he saw pale flesh, reflecting the flickering colours, and he tried to turn his head to look. His neck seemed rusted, unwillingly to move, but slowly it gave, and he soon realised he was staring at his own arm.
Threaded across almost every inch of flesh were thin wires, embedded into his skin, and snaking off into the darkness that surrounded him, holding his arm in place. Only his hand was free of wire; only his hand was properly visible as a part of himself. And even in the darkness, he could see that where he'd tried to move his arm, the wires had cut into his skin, blood pooling around them, looking black and viscous in the dim light.
Fear prickled across him, tensing his body, and now he could feel it; the wire was all over him. It covered every bare inch of flesh, save for his hands, his feet, and his head. He was wired firmly in place, never to move.
He heard a strange, strangled noise coming from his throat. His eyes moved helplessly beyond his bound arm, and saw another hand next to his own. He looked beyond it, following the shape of another arm, another body, and finally, another head; another person, bound and wired next to him, eyes closed, expression vacant.
He turned his head. It moved faster this time. On the other side of him was another bound, sleeping person.
He tried to pull himself free, tried to jerk his arms loose from the wires, or his legs, or any part of him, and the pain enveloped him. He screamed, thrashing harder, and white light flashed before his eyes, and then all went black.
"Tee-Ell." The angel's voice brought him back. He wondered if he'd passed out. He wondered if it had all been another dream. He was afraid to open his eyes and find out. He still didn't know who he was, or where, or why, but it was starting to matter now. And the lingering pain told him that it hadn't been a dream.
"Why did you wake me?" he whispered.
"I need your help."
Tee-Ell couldn't stop himself; he laughed at the absurdity of it.
"I think I'm more likely to need help right now than be able to give it."
"You're all I have. I know you can do it." The angel's voice was syrupy sweet, so much so that he could almost taste it. And he wanted to.
"What happened to us?" he asked. He would help the angel; he knew that already. He couldn't deny that voice. But he didn't want to have to try just yet.
"...the war is over. They lost, and they are gone, and we are forgotten."
"...I don't remember anything." But in his mind, Tee-Ell saw a flash of bright light, white tinged with yellow and danger, and a rush of wind sweeping past him, and the screaming of a hundred thousand voices he didn't know. He saw a demon-man sweeping towards him, and fear bubbled up inside, and he screwed his eyes shut, then realised they were already shut.
"You remember something," the angel whispered, and Tee-Ell shook his head.
"I don't want to remember," he whispered back.
"It was a long time ago. It doesn't matter anymore." The angel's voice caressed him, reassuring him, and he gratefully let the memories slip away.
"What do I have to do?"
"Free yourself. Then free me."
Tee-Ell laughed again.
"It sounds so easy when you say it like that."
"It will be easy. I'll help you."
Tee-Ell wished he could move his arms, wished he could raise a hand to his forehead and massage away the pain that was starting to build up there.
"What should I do first?"
"You need only free one arm. After that, the rest is child's play."
Tee-Ell opened his eyes again, and looked down at his right arm, so covered in wires that he could barely see more than a glimpse or two of flesh.
"There will be pain," the angel whispered, regretful. The sound seemed to tickle across his face, and Tee-Ell bit his lip.
"Will I..." he stopped, had to clear his throat, for the words seemed suddenly stuck. "Will I see you, when I am free?"
"You will see me." The words hung heavy with promise, a promise sweet and yet mysterious, something he was sure he wanted and yet did not understand what it was. He clenched his teeth, trying to build up courage.
"There is already pain," he said softly, as if the words would ward off what was to come.
He screwed his eyes shut, clenched his fist, and began to pull against the wires.
Wire bit into his skin, hard, unrelenting, unforgiving, and pain splintered through him. Against his will, he screamed, howling a storm of delirious echoes that seemed to fill his mind until he could barely think. Behind his eyelids, his vision flashed, red and white and black again, until he was dizzy and sick with it.
The angel's voice cut through the echoes, singing to him louder than before; a shivering, crystalline sound that was pure beauty and pure kindness. It washed across him like a physical thing, running over his body coldly and smoothly, until he was wrapped in the voice, protected by it. The pain receded, and his scream-echoes died out before he even realised his mouth was shut. He pulled harder against the wires, willing them to let him go, and somewhere beyond the angel's song he dimly heard a snapping sound, and then another.
Tee-Ell fought with the wires for an hour, perhaps a day, maybe a week -- he did not know. Time seemed not to matter in this place, and even less so when the angel sang with a voice as strong and devoted as his was. The pain was nothing but a distant concern, and the only thing Tee-Ell knew was that he must pull with his arm until all resistance was gone.
Slowly, painstakingly, the wires snapped, weakened by his resolve, and slowly, his arm began to lift away from its prison. He reached a point where he was sure his arm was almost halfway free, when the angel's song faltered.
The voice washed away from him even quicker than it had covered him, and pain thundered in to take its place; pain so sudden and so intense that it seemed like a physical blow. Tee-Ell's head snapped back and he mercifully fell into blackness again.
The angel's singing awoke him again; he was wrapped in it, coated so thickly that he felt almost unable to move, unable to think. He lay still and silent, his eyes closed, remembering the pain.
"I am sorry, Tee-Ell." The angel's voice spoke over its singing, which continued to envelope him tightly and reassuringly.
"What happened?" he whispered, almost afraid that he would break the song if he spoke too loud.
"I am.. not as strong as I once was. I needed to rest. If it happens again, I will warn you."
"Alright." Tee-Ell wasn't certain he could survive it happening again. The pain had grabbed him so strongly and completely that he felt weak with even the memory of it.
"But it will not happen again," the angel soothed. "You are so close now, so close.."
"I am?" He did not dare open his eyes and look at what had become of his arm.
"You are. Just a little longer..." The voice coaxed him on, and Tee-Ell could not deny it.
He began to raise his arm again, and was surprised by how far he could lift it before the wires tried to stop him.
"You see?" the angel's voice was eager, hopeful. "So close.."
"I see," he replied, and he began to pull once more, tugging hard against the wires. His heart jumped within him each time he felt a wire give in against his fight, each time he heard the snap of a wire breaking and letting him go.
And then, with a sudden, final snap, his arm was totally and completely free; so sudden it was that he was still straining, and his arm flew across him and landed against his chest with a wet 'slap', resting heavily, reassuringly against him.
"You did it!" The angel whispered, and the joy in its voice felt like a physical thing, like the sweet taste of rain spattering down upon his hot, sweaty face, washing away his exhaustion and reviving him.
"I did." Tee-Ell raised his hand again, slowly. It felt heavy and weak, and yet it was free. He reached up and touched his face with his fingers, and only then did he realise how wet his hand was.
He opened his eyes. His hand and all the arm that he could see beyond it were drenched with blood, the red made almost black by the darkness, glistening strangely in the flickering reds, greens and blues from above. His arm looked pulpy, and torn, and out of shape. He clenched his fist, and he could see things moving within his arm.
He closed his eyes tight, screwing them shut, not wanting to see again. He heard the whimper that escaped his throat, but he could not stop it, nor the ones that followed it.
"Tee-Ell.." the angel's voice caressed him, but he could not stop the panic he felt.
"What have I done?" he asked, hoarsely.
"You are hurt. You need to rest."
"I'm more than hurt! What have I done to myself?" The panic was as real and strong as the angel's singing, and it fought for dominance, and with it came pain.
"What if I bleed to death?!"
"You will not. I will not let you." The angel's voice grew louder, more determined. "Don't you trust me? Do you think I will fail you now? Rest. I am watching over you." The angel's voice was almost a roar in his ears, and the panic retreated in the face of its might. There was only the angel, and its singing. Tee-Ell let the pain slip away from him again with relief.
"Yes.." he muttered, and consciousness slipped away as well.
Tee-Ell did not know how long he slept for, but when he awoke, he felt different. The arm still resting across his chest did not feel wet and sticky any longer, and when he flexed his fingers, he felt dried blood flaking off them.
He listened. He heard a ghostly whisper that might have been the angel's song, or it might have been an echo of wind from somewhere far off.
He waited for the voice in his mind, but it didn't speak to him. He didn't know how to call the angel; how did he address it? Did it have a name?
"Hello?" he said, finally, and his voice was a croak caught in his throat that made him cough. There was no reply.
He opened his eyes. His arm was still covered in blood, but dried blood only. Somehow it looked more like an arm than it had before, no longer quite so lumpy and misshapen. There was pain, but it was a nothing compared to the pain he'd felt before.
"Hello?" he called, louder this time. There was still no reply. He longed for the sweet, warming touch of the angel's voice on his skin again. He looked down at himself, at the wires covering his skin, and at his free arm. What had the angel said? Free one arm and the rest is child's play? Surely he could free himself now.
He began to pull at the wires covering his skin. They were unwilling at first, and his fingers were clumsy and confused; it took him half an eternity to break the first wire, and he was almost ready to give up in disgust. But the sudden, abrupt 'snap' and the first glimpse of bare, unwired flesh was enough to renew his hope. After that, it became easier.
He worked relentlessly, single-mindedly, snapping wire after wire, baring more and more of his skin, and all the time he waited for the angel's voice to sing to him again, to encourage him on. But he worked only in silence, listening to the ghost of an echo of something that might not even have been real.
Eventually, he could prop his body up enough that he could reach his other arm, and once they were both free, things moved faster still. It seemed almost no time at all that he had one leg free, and then the other, and suddenly he realised that he was completely free. Not a single wire bound him.
For a moment, he simply sat there, stunned. All that had mattered up until now was freeing himself. Even the angel had spoke of nothing more. Yet now that he was free... what was he to do next?
He looked around him. He could not see far, but on either side of him lay more bodies, just like his own, all in a neat row, bound and unconscious. Was one of them the angel? But no. The angel had huge white wings, and it had been floating in the air, hanging in a great beam of light. He did not question if what he'd dreamt had been real.
The angel had wanted him to free it. He had to find out where it was.
Tee-Ell's legs did not seem to remember how to walk, and so he crawled. At the foot of where he'd lain was a narrow pathway, leading both left and right. He had no idea where to go, but the echoing whisper seemed to come from his right, and so he followed it.
On both sides of the pathway lay more bodies, as bound as he had been, and all of them as still and silent as he must have been before the angel woke him up. He began to wonder, finally, why they were all there. What purpose did it serve, to have them all bound up like this? And who were they all, that someone had cared so little about them to do this to them? Who was he? Who had put him here and left him here? The angel had said 'we are forgotten' but what did that mean?
Tee-Ell stared at each body he passed. At first, they all looked the same; bound and tied, their eyes closed, their faces blank of expression. Then he saw one with eyes open, staring at the roof above it, mouth half-open in a grimace. He stopped crawling.
"Hello..?" he whispered, half-hopeful, half-fearful. But the person paid no attention, still staring sightlessly upwards. It wasn't until he crawled over and gently prodded the wire-bound shoulder that he realised that the person was dead. The body was cold, stiff and somehow grimy beneath his fingers, and the eyes stared forever beyond him, staring at something he would never see. The expression on the face was clear; pain. Tee-Ell remembered that pain.
Were they all dead, then, aside from him? He turned to the body beside the dead one, and poked it hesitantly. The flesh was still warm, and the chest rose and fell, slightly and evenly. The eyes remained closed, the face remained empty of expression.
He crawled on.
After that, he saw more dead ones; eyes open and faces grimacing, or heads turned away and faces drawn in expressions of fear and horror. He saw one with an arm even more torn and bloodied than his had seemed earlier, still held down by half the wires that had bound it. The expression on that face was shock. He wondered what he would've done if he'd awoken without the angel's voice to reassure him. Would he have ended up one of these?
He reached what seemed to be the end of the room, and the whispering echo of the angel's song seemed louder. A corridor led out of the room, narrow and dark; unlike the room, it had no flickering lights to show him the way.
He used the wall to pull himself upright, and then he forced his legs to walk down that corridor, clinging to the wall, feeling his way slowly along in the darkness. He hoped he was going the right way. He hoped he wouldn't accidentally walk past the angel in the darkness and not even know it. But he'd hear it if he went beyond the singing voice, wouldn't he?
The darkness was absolute, crowding in on him. He concentrated on the ground beneath his unseen feet, the wall to which his unseen hands clung. Flashes of light and strange coloured patterns moved before his eyes, and yet when he moved his head they moved with him, and he knew them to be false.
He dragged himself onwards. Before his eyes, he saw a vision that he had banished before; a demon-man walking towards him. Its body was wrapped in black, swallowing the light, yet he could see its shape clearly, see that it looked like a man, moved like a man, and yet was not. The shell that hid its face from sight was wide, triangular, with three horns twisting up from it, and within its depths he saw the glint of orange-yellow eyes, eyes that focused on him. It wanted him, and it would have him.
He screamed and threw up his arms, screwing his eyes shut, but the demon lingered, pacing towards him in memory. It had tracked his family's scent across the desert, and there was nothing he could do. The enemy's demons took who they wished. They had emptied whole villages and more.
His father fought it and fell; his mother rushed against it, screaming for him and his brothers to run and hide; his eldest brother fell as well, shouting wordless anger at it, tears tracking down his cheeks. And when it turned its gleaming eyes on him, he felt paralysed beneath it. His youngest brother clung to him from behind, and he felt the tears that dampened the back of his shirt, but nothing mattered once those eyes took hold of him. His numb fingers pushed his brother back into the house, but he'd stopped caring, and when the demon's hands clamped around his throat, he forget everything.
He fell, and his body caught against the cold metal wall of the corridor, his arm half-crushed beneath him. His eyes were wide open again, wide and seeing nothing that wasn't memory, not even the hand that clutched his face, not even the tears that spilled from his eyes.
He'd been a child, or not much more than one. What was he now? His mind didn't think like a child's, his body didn't feel like a child's, and yet he remembered nothing. Only the demon-man's eyes.
From the darkness ahead of him, he thought he heard the angel's voice, whispering his name; whispering the name it had given him. He could not remember his real name. But the angel had renamed him. He was no longer a child. He was here, now, in the darkness, and all that he had to keep him moving forwards was the angel.
Slowly, he dragged himself to his feet again.
He'd been walking for so long in the darkness that he'd sunk into a daze, when he stepped on something that almost caused him to tumble to the ground. His legs wavered, still unused to walking, and he backed up, carefully, and then lowered himself to his knees.
The object was long, thin, and smooth, half as tall as he was, and it seemed somehow warm under his fingers; warm against the coolness of the endless metal walls and floor. His fingers clamped around it, strong and certain, and holding it somehow made him feel less unsure. It made no sense to hold onto it, not even knowing what it was, and yet when he stood and began walking again, his hand continued to clutch it tightly.
It was then that Tee-Ell realised he couldn't hear the angel anymore. Not even the ghost of an echo that he'd been chasing. Panic clutched at him, and for a moment he couldn't breathe. He had no purpose now except to find the angel, to free it and hear its honeyed voice whispering 'thank you' in his ear. He had to find it.
His legs began to move faster, shaky and yet determined, and he shuffled forward down the corridor, trying not to think, trying not to wonder how he would find the angel without its song to guide him. He felt as though he were dashing headlong, as though he would fall forward at any moment, tumble into the darkness surrounding him and never stop falling. Yet his legs would not slow down; they rushed him forwards.
Light teased at his vision, and he turned his eyes away from it. It moved away. Startled, he looked towards it again. His legs still moved him forwards, his hand tracing his path along the wall, and there was light ahead of him. Steady, unwavering light that became brighter with every step he took.
The light poured out of a small doorway in the wall far ahead of him, and he stumbled his way towards it, his heart pounding louder with every step until all he could hear was its stuttering 'thud-thud' in his ears. He was sure it would warn anyone ahead of him that he was coming.. if there was anyone there, that was.
His hand clutched the doorframe, and for a moment he could not bear to step through it and see what lay beyond it. But there was nowhere else to go. And the angel had been bathed in light, hadn't it? He stepped through the door.
The angel was pure white, lit from above, the shadows falling across it in stark black. It was as beautiful as it had been in his dreams; more beautiful now, perhaps, because it was real this time. If he took but a dozen steps forward, he could touch the angel himself, caress the broad, gleaming wings, bury his face in the long, wavy hair that looked so soft.
The angel's head was lowered, its face almost completely hidden in its flowing hair. Even though it was naked, even though he could see its thin chest clearly from where he stood, Tee-Ell could not tell if it was breathing. And did angels need to breathe? Who could say? All he knew was, the angel wasn't singing, and it wasn't speaking, and it did not move even the tiniest bit.
His legs propelled him desperately forwards, spilling him on the ground at the angel's feet. The long, thin object he'd carried this far slipped from his fingers, forgotten in an instant, as he stared up at the angel. From here, he could see that its eyes were closed. From here, he could see what was not apparent from across the room, had not been apparent in his dream; the angel was bound to the wall, as surely and completely as he had been bound to the floor. Thin, almost invisible strands of white wrapped across its skin in neat criss-crossing lines, holding its arms, its legs, its body, and its beautiful broad wings in place. And from here, he could see that its chest was still.
He stared up at the angel, and his vision began to waver and swim. He realised he was crying again, only now he could see the tears as they spilled from his eyes. He wiped at them, frustrated; they stopped him from seeing the angel clearly, and the angel was all he had. Even if he was too late, the angel was still all he had. Yet the tears kept coming.
Slowly, Tee-Ell pulled himself to his feet. Now, he stood face to face with the angel. Through his tears, he could see the soft, delicate beauty of the angel's lowered face. He wiped away his tears again, and then reached forward with his damp hand to touch the angel's cheek. Its skin was smooth and warm under his touch, and he caressed it lovingly. If only he had walked a little faster...
"Tee-Ell..? Is that you?" The angel's voice spoke in his mind, a faint whisper, yet as sugarsweet as it ever had been. His hand froze on its cheek, hope sparking wildly through him. Its mouth had not moved, yet he had heard it, as surely as he had heard it before. For all he knew, the angel never spoke with its mouth.
"It's me," he whispered to the beautiful, still face in front of him. "I'm here."
"I knew you could make it..." There was a smile in the faint voice, and for a moment he was sure he saw the lips in front of him move, just slightly, to mirror that smile. But then it was gone.
"I'm here for you," he said, and he caressed the angel's soft cheek again. "Just tell me what to do now."
"I'm weak.." the angel whispered, but he didn't need to be told that. He could see it in the angel's lifelessness, could hear it in the angel's fading voice. "I need you to free me..."
"I'll free you," he promised.
He worked at removing the thin wires that covered the angel's body. They slid through his fingers, resisting him, cutting into his skin, making him bleed again. He ignored the pain, ignored the blood, and snapped one wire, and then another, moving slowly across the angel's chest, leaving a strange pattern of blood smears across the impossibly pale skin.
He had snapped almost all the wires on the angel's chest when he heard a strange, whispery noise; it seemed very close, and he looked around quickly, afraid suddenly that there was something else still alive in this place, something else besides him and the angel.
But the room was empty behind him. He looked back at the angel -- and stared.
Across the angel's chest, where he'd worked so carefully to remove the wires, the wires were slowly reforming themselves. One after another, they snaked their way back into position, making that strange whispering noise he'd heard as they joined themselves back together again.
He reached out, grabbing two of the moving ends, trying to stop them from meeting. They struggled in his hands, resisting as he pulled them apart, and one end sliced straight through his fingers.
He cried out, pulling back. A sudden gush of blood from his hand spattered across the angel's pale chest. And the wire became whole again before his eyes. Helplessness clenched his heart, and he watched, stunned into stupor, as all his efforts were reduced to nothing. All too soon, the angel was completely bound again.
"How?" he whispered, unable even to speak properly. "How do I free you?" He strained to listen, but the angel said nothing.
He reached for the angel's bound arm, and began to pull at the wires there. He tried to work faster this time, ignoring how the wire slipped through his wet, sticky fingers, pulling madly, snapping wire after wire. Soon, the angel's arm was freed up to the elbow, and it hung limply down. He heard the whispering of the wires moving, and he grabbed ahold of the angel's hand, pulling its arm straight outwards from the wall, away from the grasping wires.
The wires followed. Somehow, they knew where the angel was, and they sought out its arm, wrapping slowly around it. They began to try and pull it back towards the wall. Tee-Ell clung to the limp hand, fighting to hold it in place, and the wires began to cut into the angel's pale skin.
"Tee-Ell.." The angel's voice was barely audible in his mind. He jumped, but he didn't let go of the angel's hand. For a brief moment, the angel's fingers tightened in his grasp, clinging to him as well. Then they went limp again.
"It hurts... stop..."
Tee-Ell stared at the angel's placid face. Frustration welled up in him, and he let go of the fingers twined with his. Instantly, the wires pulled the angel's arm back to the wall with a soft thud.
"How..?" Tee-Ell begged, and he could hear the threat of tears in his voice, could feel them pricking at his vision again. "Tell me how to free you..."
He moved closer to the angel, pressing his body up against its body, cupping its face in his hands, his forehead pressed against its smooth, warm forehead, their noses almost touching. He gave his warmth to the angel, and its warmth reassured him in return. The angel's body fitted perfectly against him, and its soft hair tickled his skin.
"Help me help you," he begged softly. "Please."
"My wings..." The angel's voice seemed a little stronger, or was he just imagining it?
"What about them? Should I rip the wires from them first?"
"No... you must... cut them from me..."
Tee-Ell stared at the angel's face, so close to him now that it blurred in his vision. He was certain that he'd heard wrong.
"Cut me free... from my wings..."
"But without your wings..."
"My wings... give it power... my wings... are what it needs... it will never let them go..."
Tee-Ell closed his eyes. In his mind, he saw again the beautiful vision the angel had first been to him, in the dream that seemed so long ago now. The wide, never-ending wings that he'd wanted to be wrapped in, wrapped and soothed and comforted.
"Without your wings --" he began, and then stopped, helplessly.
"Without my wings... I am free..." Now, it seemed the angel's voice was fading again. The panic grabbed at him again, and he fought against it, trying to think of another way.
"But how can I cut you free?" he asked, desperately.
"You brought a weapon with you.. didn't you?" He could almost see the sad smile that would accompany that tone of voice. "You already know how to use it..."
Frightened, Tee-Ell took a step back from the angel. Bloody hand-prints stained its face, and blood dripped down its chest and along its arm; his blood. He looked down. At the angel's feet lay the object he'd almost tripped on in the hallway. The object that he'd clutched so possessively. And now, he recognised it for what it was, without knowing how he knew.
He picked it up, and slowly drew the sword from its scabbard, in a motion that his hands seemed to remember, even though his mind did not. The sword glowed dully, a soft amber that brightened as he grasped the hilt in both hands. He could hear it humming, a low dull throb that seemed to touch him at the base of his skull, and set his teeth on edge. It thrummed with energy, and it wanted to be used.
He looked up at the angel again. The amber glow reflected on its white wings, tainting them with its colour.
"Please..." the angel whispered to him, and he raised the sword slowly above his head.
"I'm sorry," he whispered back, and then he stopped thinking and let instinct take control.
The sword swung in his arms, a practiced, trained movement, and he watched in numb, detached horror as it sliced clean through the angel's right wing, severing it from the angel's shoulder. There was blood, so much blood, and the angel's voice screamed in his mind, deafening him, and he screamed back at it. His body moved, almost against his will, and the sword swung again, separating the angel from its left wing.
Blood splashed over him, and the sword fell from his suddenly numb fingers. The angel was still bound to the wall, unmoving, lifeless; blood poured over him, staining his pale body red, dying his long white hair, and the screaming went on and on.
Tee-Ell turned away, unable to bear the sight any longer, and somehow he ended up on his knees. His throat ached from screaming, and his screams faltered, so that all he could hear was the angel's screams. He clamped his hands over his ears, trying to block out the wretched, agonising sound of it, but it rang inside his mind and there was no escape. And even with his eyes shut, he could still see the angel's severed wings, could still see the blood pouring over its still body.
He whimpered, and the screaming stopped. Silence poured in to meet it, making his head ring. He listened, but there was no sound. He wondered if all he'd done was speed up the angel's death. He was afraid to look.
A gentle hand touched his shoulder, and he jumped. A honey-sweet voice whispered in his ear.
"Thank you, Tee-Ell."
Slowly, he opened his eyes. Slowly, he turned his head to look.
The angel stood behind him, its hand reassuring and warm on his shoulder. Its face was beautiful, both soft and gentle; opened, its eyes were black, as black as the darkness he'd walked through to get here, and they were focused on him. Somehow, all the blood that had rained down upon its body was gone, and its skin was white again, pure and unblemished, as was the long hair that flowed down its back.
Tee-Ell stood up, slowly. The angel's hand slipped from his shoulder, and it stood before him, waiting.
"What happened?" he asked, the words a croak against his sore throat.
"We're free," the angel replied, and it spoke with its mouth, not its mind.
Tee-Ell looked over its shoulder, at the severed wings still bound to the wall. They reflected the light, gleaming and white, but the thin wires that held them in place were beaded with blood. He shuddered, wishing he could have thought of something else.
"No," said the angel, and he brought his gaze back to meet those dark, dark eyes. "You could not free me any other way. My wings are bound for eternity. If you had not cut me free, I would have died, like all my kin."
"Why?" he asked. The angel looked down, and Tee-Ell followed his gaze; the amber sword lay on the ground next to them.
"They would not risk their own in the war. So they learned to use my kind, to power their weapons, and your kind, to fight for them."
Tee-Ell shuddered, remembering the demon-man's orange-yellow eyes, remembering how well his hands had known the amber sword.
"But the war is over, and they are all gone. This place is lost and forgotten, and there's no-one to take care of us, and one by one, we all die."
"Except for us." The angel reached out, taking his hand, linking their fingers, and warmth flooded into him from that gentle touch. "You were strong enough to free us both."
Tee-Ell reached out slowly with his free hand, hesitantly touching the angel's cheek, as he'd done before. The angel nuzzled against his hand, its black eyes never leaving his, and the warmth within him grew.
"Can we go.. away from here?" he asked hoarsely.
"To anywhere we want."
"For as long as you want." That promise hung sweet and heavy in the angel's voice again, promising him more than he understood. But he didn't care if he understood it or not. He wanted it.
"Forever," he whispered, slipping his arms around the angel, pulling it into his embrace. Their bodies fitted perfectly together, warm and comforting, and he buried his face in the angel's neck, breathing in the sweet, pure scent of it.
"Forever," breathed the angel, in his ear, and Tee-Ell's hands tightened convulsively around its thin body, hearing the surety in its syrupy voice.
He didn't know who he was, or where he came from, or what his life had been until now. But he had the angel by his side, and they were free. So long as the angel were with him, he felt as if he could face anything. So long as the angel's honey-sweet voice would speak his name, and the angel's soft hands would hold him tight, he could deal with whatever came his way.
The angel loosened its grasp on him, and he turned his head towards it. Its face swam in his vision, too close, and he felt soft lips placing a feather-light kiss on his forehead. Then it moved back to look at him.
"Let's go and find out what our forever has to offer us," it said, and smiled, a special, sweet smile that he knew was just for him. Warmth and love and surety flooded through him. Everything before was forgotten; the angel, still and silent and coated in its own blood; the wings, bound to the wall, severed by his own hands; the dark, endless hallway where the memory of the demon-man had tormented him; the room full of flashing lights and bound, sleeping bodies that waited still. None of what had happened mattered now. All that mattered was the angel.
"Whatever it's like, we can take it on, together."
He followed the angel out of the room and into their forever.