Dark Vow: Chapter 3
Part 1: Angel
Interacting with humans must be changing the way she looked at other angels, Lian decided. Try as she might, she had been unable to stop thinking about herself in the terms Detta had dubbed her. She’d even started to gender some of her fellow angels in her mind by the way Detta had described them: angels like Healm and the Seraphim she answered to, Ruksha, were male, aggressive and protective of those around them, while Cherubim Whimse, who had healed her broken wing, was female, nurturing and motherly.
Shortly after she’d first started calling Healm ‘he’ instead of ‘they’ in her mind, it had slipped out in one of their conversations. They were flying through the concentric circles that made up the angel’s city, and a Cherubim had asked where they were going.
Thoughtlessly, Lian replied, “He’s going to show me how to use the celestial bow.”
The Cherubim didn’t notice her slip-up, but as soon as they were out of earshot, Healm swept in front of her and blocked her path with a flared wingspan.
He hissed, “What was that?”
“That you were going to show me how to use the celestial bow, like you said!”
“No! Not that!” His teeth snapped together with an audible click. “What did you call me?”
Lian went back over the conversation in her mind, and her wingbeats failed as she realized what had happened. “I’m so sorry, Healm! I didn’t mean to!”
“I see.” He looked away from her, though it was clear he wasn’t pleased. “Is this a result of keeping in contact with that human girl?”
“It’s not Detta’s fault,” she snapped. “It’s something I decided on my own.”
“What, that I have enough in common with those humans that you can arbitrarily assign me one of their genders?” His tone flared with disgust.
“It’s not arbitrary,” she muttered under her breath. “I was right. You are such a man.”
“What did you just say?!”
“Nothing,” she said louder, pumping her wings to fly ahead of him.
With a curse, he shot after her, only slowing when their wings flapped abreast. “You’re sick, Lian. In the head. You should talk to someone about it before you get infected.”
“Infected with what?” She snapped.
“Human desires. I know you still have your key.” His voice grew soft. “I don’t want to see you throw away your life here because of some promise you made to a human.”
Lian’s wings drooped as she flew. “I’m sorry for worrying you, Healm. But you have to trust that I know my limits. I won’t open my box.”
“Then stop visiting the human world, at least for a few decades!” He beseeched her. “Wait until that girl is old, or dead! Then there won’t be any chance of her infecting you! Your vow to her has long since been repaid! ”
“Healm.” Lian stopped abruptly, hovering in the air, and Healm floundered in the air ahead of her as he tried to do the same. “I am not visiting her out of duty. Every time I visit Detta, I go because I want to see her. Because she is my friend.”
His upper lip curled in distaste. “Friendship is a base urge needed by humans, not superior beings such as ourselves.”
“Then you’re saying you’re not my friend, Healm?”
“Well-!” Caught off guard, his wings stalled. “You and I are comrades, fellow Archangel Commanders. Our personal bond is closer than others might be because we’ve known each other longer, nothing more.”
“I see.” Lian hid her twinge of disappointment behind a snap of her wings, heading for the archery range. “Are you going to teach me how to shoot the bow or not?”
Part 2: Human
After Detta’s tutor arrived, Lian would often visit and find her friend in the middle of a lesson. Despite her disappointment, she couldn’t deny that her worry over Detta’s loneliness would subside a little every time she caught sight of the girl with her nose buried in a book.
Every time Lian found Detta in one of her lessons, she would wait until the tutor had left, then fly into the room, hugging her friend from behind. Detta was too busy with her studies to play the games they had once played, though, since she needed to study twice as hard as any other girl her age. Detta said it was because her Papa couldn’t afford to get her a tutor until after many of the children had already been learning for years.
Thus Detta’s tenth year brought a new way to spend their time together: she would sit and read to Lian instead of studying, explaining when the angel interrupted with questions. When Lian worried that she was distracting Detta from her important studies, Detta insisted that explaining it to someone else was helping her understand it better.
The maths were Detta’s favorite, though the symbols went right over Lian’s head. She much preferred when she could stretch out on her stomach on Detta’s bed, her wings arching out contentedly, and listen to Detta read lines of poetry.
With a contented sigh, Lian slipped through Detta’s bedroom window after making sure that she was alone. Lian laid her hands over the girl’s eyes, grinning a cheeky grin as she embraced her from behind.
Detta dropped her book and threw her arms around Lian’s neck, nearly knocking the angel off balance. “Lian! You’re back! It was so quick this time I hardly had time to miss you!”
“Really?” With a smile, Lian extricated herself from her embrace before settling on the floor, her wings arched over her head so they wouldn’t brush against the floor. “How long was it this time?”
“Only three days! You’ve been coming more often recently.”
“Is that so…?” Lian murmured. Then she shook herself and smiled up at her friend. “So, what are we learning today?”
“Dante!” She exclaimed, holding up the book she had just dropped to her lap. “He’s one of the most influential writers on theology since St. Augustine! The Divine Comedy was banned for a long time after he wrote it because he was willing to tell some hard truths about people in power, like some of the recent Popes, but we recently realized the value of his work again and his prose is amazing!”
“And a Pope is…?” Lian hedged hopefully.
With a roll of her eyes, Detta answered, “The head priest of the Roman Catholic Church, obviously. But it’s not surprising that you don’t know about them, considering that the Catholic Church is corrupt from the selling of indulgences and the Church of England is the only correct way to celebrate God.”
Lian never understood most of what Detta was saying when she started to talk about God and religion, but had long since learned to simply make affirming noises and nod whenever she was told something she should already know.
“Read some to me?”
“Alright,” Detta giggled, then put on a stern teacher face. “Sit up straight and pay attention when your tutor is taking their valuable time to teach you!”
“Yes, ma’am!” Lian snapped her back straight and performed a two winged salute like she might to a passing Seraphim.
After one more giggle, Detta resumed her teacher's face and began to read. The words blended together in a stream of thoughts until they sounded to Lian just like the way a brook skips over rocks. The book was written in a different language than the one they normally spoke, and sometimes Detta stumbled over the pronunciation, but Lian could still understand the words.
After a few cantos, Detta let the book drop slowly to her lap with a frown. “Is it… really like that?” She whispered, her face twisted in an unreadable expression.
“Is what like that?” Lian responded dreamily, her mind still caught in the throes of the word-stream. At Detta’s startled look, she realized she’d instinctively spoken in the language of the piece, not the language they normally spoke. She quickly apologized and repeated her question in the right language.
“Hell,” Detta said bluntly, her hand crumpling the paper of the book slightly. “Is it really like how Dante describes it? With all the fire and the demons and the torture and stuff?”
“If Hell is where the demons live, I don’t think so,” Lian said with a frown. “I’ve never been there because they’d kill me before I got even close, but it wouldn’t be like that. Where the demons live and where the angels live - Heaven and Hell, if that’s what you want to call them - are both part of the same plane. I don’t know where human souls go after they die. I’m a warrior, not a juror.”
“I see.” Detta’s expression twisted again, and this time, Lian recognized the emotion for what it was: fear.
“Hey! Don’t be scared!” She quickly jumped up and pulled Detta into her lap. “Whatever it’s like, I’m sure you won’t need to worry about it! You’re a good girl, so I’m sure you won’t go anywhere that punishes people after you die!”
“It’s not that,” Detta said quietly. “I just thought… I always thought that people who went to Heaven went to the same Heaven that the angels live in, and after I die I’d be able to be with you again. But that means that when I die, I’ll never be able to see you again!”
She began to cry quietly, stirring a panic in Lian’s heart. “Don’t cry!” She begged, wiping the tears from Detta’s cheeks with a corner of her pristine robe. “I know it’s sad, but we have each other now, don’t we? Besides,” she added desperately, “knowing we only have a limited time helps us cherish it more! That’s why we love flowers, right? Because we know we have to appreciate them before they fade!”
The look Detta gave Lian was incredulous, then she giggled a little through her tears. “Which one of us is the flower in that metaphor?”
“Um… both of us?”
At that, she laughed out loud, then climbed back into her chair and picked up the book again. “You’re right. There’s no use crying when we have so much time left. So, I left off here…”
She began to read aloud again, and Lian stretched out on her stomach to better watch the way Detta’s brow furrowed in concentration. Her wings arched over both of them like a protective canopy of clouds.