Author’s Message: This was a request that I received 2 years ago and it was such a hard one that I divided it into two pieces.
As an aside: probably one of the strangest things I have ever asked my peers during the writing process was “what would you sing if a song could open the gates of hell?”
Without further ado… enjoy.
At first, all I can see is the black blood. Ink spraying across the swaying stocks of wheat that swallow you. It dotted my face; stained my neck. It was warm on my skin. I’ve always wondered if you were warm blooded or cold.
I guess that question has been answered.
Then I watch your body fall in slow motion. I barely hear the muffled thud. I cringe. You shudder in the dirt and my hands twitch like I should be there clutching you; as if that could change anything.
Your vacant, pale eyes watch the darkening violet sky, but I find myself wishing you would look at me instead. Just a quick glance to tell me you’re still here. Tell me that my brain is wrong. It thinks I’m watching my best friend die.
You’re a goddamn force of nature.
The wind shifts, stirs up dirt and the crop begins to dance. My legs bring me towards you while I forget to breathe. My hands shake violently. I ignore the heavy thudding in my chest.
I know you’re fine. I know it because you’ve never been beaten. Hell, I can’t even hurt you and you know how many fights I have won.
You’re fine. You’re fine.
But you’ve gotta breathe for me now. Give me that much, old man.
My hand slaps against yours and I’m holding on like I’ll fall into the sky if I let you go. Who knows? Maybe I will. Just curl your fingertips around mine. Come on, Edge.
You’re fine. You’re fine.
Sweat drips off my brow as I choke again. Lungs tightening up and refusing to work. They’ve gone on strike. The wind is whipping around us like an angry guardian. Thanks.
I breathe out long and slow, force my lungs to do their job. They aren’t happy.
Why are you so cold?
The blood has slowed down. Good sign. I breathe again, long and slow.
But the wounds aren’t closing. Three gashes scream at me across your chest, spitting black ink as they remind me, “your fault. Your fault, Gabe!”
Damnit, old man, you just have to look at me. That’s all I ask. Stop staring at the moon, it’ll let you down. Can’t save you like I can. Believe in me, please. Breathe!
There’s a race in my chest and I wonder absently if my heart will crack the bones caging it. It is selfish for demanding my attention. I ignore it. Lean over you, press my forehead to yours. Ignore the sweat too. You’re sticky and you’re so cold.
I have to get you home. I know this and I pull in a long breathe. Sit back, square my shoulders. It’s alright because you’re not dead. I have time. I still have time.
My head lulls back and I let my eyes slip shut. I start with a low rumble from somewhere deep inside my chest. Lips held shut, push the sound with my throat. I’ll get you home, don’t you worry.
You’re fine. You’re fine.
Tears sting my closed eyes, begging to be free but I deny them. The notes rise louder slowly and I let my lips open to free the song like a bird. A long, baritone tumbles into the circling wind as a warm ache starts up in my chest, trying to choke me.
It’s not there.
It doesn’t hurt.
I am not afraid.
Faster and higher, I build a stronger tempo that’s pushed up from my belly, carrying the sounds of my breaking heart into the night. My eyes slip open and above me, the moon hides its tears behind dark blue clouds illuminated in front of a royal purple back drop. He’ll hear me. It’ll be okay. I’ll get you home.
You’re fine. You’re fine.
Swaying with each pull of new broken cords flowing from my trembling lips, I beg and prey within my mind. Please hurry! Please hear me! Come on!
Heat flashes across my face and my eyes widen while a half crazed laugh makes its way out at the end of the final note. Shadows dance within blue flames now encircling us with the angry wind, and red eyes glare at me from all directions. Elongated, awkwardly shaped fingers reach and grab and slice at me. I lean into the chilled sting of their claws, smiling and continuing to hum for them louder. Red mist surrounds us. I am sweating and stained with black and now red. I am buzzing, lightheaded. The mist thickens as they slice through my clothes, biting into flesh deeper and deeper. Copper stench. I almost choke. Hell’s gate keepers can demand any price they wish of me as long as they’ll take you home.
My shirt falls in shreds to the ground. My knees are weakening. Blood splashing across pale, scarred flesh. I let out a heavy sigh. Hurry and take your toll, beasts of the gate! No one in their right mind would ever sing the gateway’s hymn because the price to enter is much too high for most to bare. You have to see him, though. You will survive if I get you home. Blood toll be damned.
Finally, darkness engulfs us. I grin into the black and pull you up, clutching you to my chest, ignoring how heavy you have become. You must have had a big breakfast. I am not holding a lifeless doll. This is you. Edge. My dearest friend. You’re fine.
A heavy, scratching voice growls to my left. Its breath chills my neck. Get on with it, beast.
“State your business, intruder.” It whispers on a hiss.
“Escorting a loyal soldier home to the Master of Souls.”
Why is my throat so tight around those words? You are going to be fine. I breathe.
“State their name.”
Okay, deep breath. Say it. Don’t choke on the words.
Your name tastes like razorblades and I think I’ll be sick. Push it away.
You’re fine. You’re fine.
The beast pulls in a sharp breath and I understand. There isn’t a single soul under your master’s thumb whom would not mourn the passing of his divine right hand. But you’re fine.
It pulls back a seam in the blackness like a curtain and I can see grey marble. Stumble forward, hoisting you into my arms, holding you tighter. Breathe in deep. Ignore the rock behind my collarbone. You’re fine.
There is a throne carved from a deep shade of green gemstone in which he sits. Long, curling black hair tumbles around his white jacket. He looks at me as if my entrance alone has dropped the weight of the whole world right on his head. His eyes match the mass of emerald beneath him. I have brought you home and Lucifer will save you.
I sink to the floor. My knees ache and I place you down carefully. I press my forehead to the cold stone, my hands stretched out to rest on your sticky chest, fingers coated in your obsidian, cooling blood. You’re still not breathing. You lay in front of me like a sacrificial offering and I almost think I’ll laugh at the irony.
The stone is harsh beneath me. There’s a lump closing off my windpipe. I welcome the chill of the stones and wish it could reach my chest. Why am I struggling to breathe?
You’re fine. You’re fine!
I lock my jaw. The ache in my chest is getting stronger. A hollow pulse that shoots from my beating heart, collapsing my throat and bringing warmth into my eyes. Now is not the time to cry. But the silence is crushing me. Confusion stings my cheeks. Oops. Too late. The warmth is leaking down and I bite my lip.
I can’t remember how to breathe and I am finally frightened. I curse you in my mind and curse his silence. Why is he taking so long? Gulp down air that hurts when it gets stuck in my throat and now I cough. I can’t look up. I can’t face him. Your wounds aren’t sealing. Why aren’t they sealing?
It’s my fault and my chest begins to crumble inward.
The first thing I hear is a heavy exhale. My shoulders tremble; I feel that sigh across every nerve ending in my spine. Okay, this is it. Here we go. Hurt me if you must, but save Edge!
Then comes laughter. Quiet chuckling across the room that rolled into howling laughter.
A cord in my belly snaps. Rage coils like a spring and races through my veins. I dare not move, though. I know better. Blood pools in my mouth instead. As my rage is quickly smothered with a shot of pain, I release my cheek from the grasp of my sharp teeth. This is a god. He is not built to make sense.
“Please, you have to help him,” I beg into the floor. My voice cracks.
“Raise your eyes, lost one.” His voice sounds like velvety shadows.
Slowly, I raise myself to sit back on my knees. Suddenly, he finds himself crouching only a few inches from you and I am not surprised. He has long fingers and his hand is boney and pale. It is waving over your body, not touching you, but sensing within you. I know this. I wait. Force air out of my struggling chest. Bring it back. My mouth tastes like metal. I wonder again if I’m going to be sick.
Had I taken too long to bring you to him? What if there is nothing that he can do? What if you’re really gone?
My fists clench and a black cloud erupts around them. I breathe one clear shot of air. Force my fingers to unlock. The clouds solidify into leather gloves. Don’t get angry. My power reacts to rage. I know better. Breathe again. I won’t let you go without at least a proper good bye… Jerk.
Finally, the god stands. He appears colossal in height and I wait patiently for his words. He has to say something. He will save you. I am not too late. Tears brim my eyes. Not again. I scowl.
Lucifer regards me with a frown. The silence is unbearable and too loud. It is crushing me. I am losing my composure fast and know I can’t challenge the god of the afterlife. Solid anguish slices up from my belly, straight into my eyes and pushes out the newest wave of tears. Damnit. A hiss escapes my lips.
“Gabe, we cannot do anything at this point. Only he can decide if he has the strength to return to us. Be patient,” the god whispers, placing a gentle hand on my shoulder.
“I don’t understand,” I mutter around the pool of emotion in my mouth. It tastes like poison.
“He is an Arch demon. He is also one of the eldest of his kind. Do you remember how an Arch grows their power? Tell me.”
I am quiet and annoyed but still I answer mechanically. “It grows as they age and they train it to follow their commands. Their power is alive and therefore has a mind of its own. If an Arch demon cannot tame that mind, the power will destroy them.”
A smile graces the lord’s lips and his eyes shine. He waits. It only takes a single second and I realize exactly what I’d just recited:
You can’t come back until your power is subdued and allows it. You can’t heal until the power is forced to do so. Your body is dead but you are battling your magic. You are trapped inside your mind!
“If you could have stayed calm, Gabe you would have noticed that his wounds are sealed by a black gel now. For an Arch as old as Edge, his blood grows thicker the longer his wounds are left open. His body has died, yes. But he is not yet gone. Be patient, lost one. There is still time.”
My ears are ringing with rushing blood. I barely hear the god but his words sing within my mind. Hope is a dangerous thing, but I am not afraid now and my body wants to collapse with the release of this fear.
This time I welcome the tears. I pull in long gasps of air as if I’d just been released from someone’s hands strangling me. I am trembling. Lucifer is telling me where to take you and to clean you, but I am howling with victory and weeping with guilt and can’t be bothered to listen just yet. I promise to kick your ass when you return for all this stress. You know how I hate weeping.