A/N – My dear readers! Thank you to everyone who has emailed me with your praise, encouragement and ideas! I love you all dearly and you keep me writing whenever I feel like throwing my laptop away. It is because of you that I present in all its ten thousand word glory; PART SEVEN!! As always PLEASE rate, comment and email me! I love hearing from you guys and I will reply to every email. Happy New Year!
My bed is much too hot, burning my skin through the soft material of my pyjama bottoms and making my feet sweat. I kick at the covers and free my tortured legs, allowing them to dangle off the side of the bed. Fresh air caresses my feet, but the relief isn’t enough to cool my bothered flesh. Huffing with frustration but reluctant to open my eyes, I kick at the flannel pants and manage to get them off.
Sighing with sleepy content, I snuggle into the covers further, my feet still sticking out from under the duvet. Just as the irresistible weight of sleep settles over my eyes again, something wet and rough scratches against my big toe. The sensation is so unusual that I jolt awake only to find the golden eyes of Nala, my tabby cat, staring back innocently, as she is caught in the act of licking me. With a soft purr, she jumps onto the bed, kneading her claws into the duvet. I feel the pressure of her paws on my thigh beneath the covers and, startled, I sit up so quickly that she bolts, flying off the bed and through a white door.
A strangled gasp escapes my tense lungs and my heart races as I take in the beautiful familiarity of my bedroom. I feel as if I have been on a perilous odyssey, journeying to lands afar, for years unknown. This room should be forgotten, yet it is exactly as I remember it, with my bookshelf in the corner, stuffed full of romance and fantasy novels. How I’d wished to be a part of those worlds. The DVD rack stands beside it, displaying rows of blockbusters and TV shows. Empty canvases lie beside a wooden easel, just waiting for me to breathe life into them. Completed works colour the walls, claiming this space theirs, claiming it mine.
I spring out of bed, tugging my pants back on, then chase my skittish cat down the hall and scoop her up into my arms. I give her a little squeeze, hugging her tightly but mindful that I do not hurt her. When she voices a muffled meow of protest I laugh delightedly and drop her onto the soft carpet.
No more hard earth and falling rocks! No rapists or demons! No magic or power! Just the wonderful regularity of the human world. Boring, predicable and safe.
I shriek my joy!
It isn’t long before the lights flicker on and my father steps out from his bedroom, tattered baseball bat held tightly, my mother clutching his arm in her fear. I’m so ridiculously happy that I pounce on them, hugging them both as if they’d disappear the moment I let go. The bat thumps softly against the carpet floor and my dad pushes at my vice-like grip, trying to look at my face.
When I finally give in and let him hold me at arm’s length, he stares at me with a concerned expression, reading my face.
“Selena?” he asks, looking slightly alarmed.
“I’m back,” I croak, the words rushing out with a river of tears.
Mum steps past the protective shoulders of her husband and pulls me into her embrace, holding me the way she used to when I was a child. The nostalgic comfort this brings me only increases my tears.
“What’s wrong Lena?” she asks desperately and I hear tears thicken her own voice, “Tell us what’s wrong so we can help you my baby.”
I don’t understand her reaction. I’d expected relieved sobs and frantic questions regarding my disappearance, not puzzled looks and reassuring hugs. My confusion crescendos when mum asks me if I’m feeling sick. Unsure how to respond, my tongue locks and I look back at her stupidly, grasping for an explanation for this bizarre encounter. Surely they would have noticed that I was gone for five days?
My father seems to have gathered his wits by this point and he pulls my mother away.
“What do you mean you’re ‘back’?” he asks, looking as confused as I feel.
Realisation dawns on me as I process the implications of such a question. My parents have absolutely no knowledge of my disappearance. Could it be true? Could it all have been a dream?
“A dream,” I whisper.
“What was that babe?” my dad asks, suspicion colours his tone.
“I’m so sorry dad; it was just a dream.”
“Then why were you crying?”
“It was an awful nightmare, I’m sorry I woke you two up.”
“What are you doing?” a male voice whines at my back.
“What’s with all the noise?” calls another, female this time.
I twist my body toward them slightly, throwing a quick glance at the fatigued figures of my older sister and younger brother.
“It’s nothing,” I tell them, “Go back to sleep.”
I hear a gasp from my mother and turn back to her horrified face. My father’s face has drained of colour but as I watch it surges back, an angry purple flooding his cheeks as his eyes harden. His hand strikes out and clamps onto my arm, squeezing so tight that my eyes water.
“Ow, dad! What are you doing?! Let go!”
“Shut up!” he roars, “Who have you been seeing?!”
My mother cries silently behind him, eyes wide and jaw slack.
“What are you talking about?!” I scream back, frightened at how quickly this situation has changed.
“You know damn well what I mean! Stop acting stupid and answer the question!”
“Dad, I really don’t know what you’re talking about! I woke you up because of a nightmare, I swear!”
But he isn’t listening, he’s still firing questions at me; where have I been? Who was I with? How long have I known? They all blur together and my mind reels from the assault.
A few questions slip through the haze though and I catch them from the endless stream.
“Who have you been seeing?” he asks again, “Who’s the father?”
The father? The question falls like a stone to the pit of my stomach. Of their own accord, my hands drift toward my belly. I press them down, hoping to feel a soft, yet flat abdomen but begin to realise with a sinking certainly, that hope is not always fulfilled. I run my hands gently over the bump there and fall to my knees before the eyes of my family, sorrow closing my throat.
My father is still questioning me but I tune him out again and rake my nails against the threads of the carpet, needing to feel something, anything, to awaken me from this hollowness which grows as I think my next thought.
It wasn’t a dream.
* * * * *
My own sobbing wakes me and the tears burn my cheeks. I am enveloped by strong arms, pressed against the hot body behind mine but this brings me little comfort. I want to feel the warmth of my father’s hugs, not the heat of my lover’s. Just when I think that I have finally accepted my place here, a single, crushingly vivid dream crashes through my fragile tolerance and I feel my heart ache to be safe and sound at home. I cling to Asmodeus’ steely forearm, needing to be held, even if it is by the wrong person.
“I want to go home!” I moan, burying my face into his shoulder.
“You cannot, my Selena,” is his impassive response.
“Why?!” I shriek, shoving at his arm, hopping off the bed and turning to glare at him furiously, “Why not?! Why did you choose me?!”
He is silent while I continue my rant.
“Why, out of the billions you could have picked, did you choose me? What the fuck have I done with my life that could possibly warrant such an honour?” I snarl, disgusted.
My fury escalates as he watches my agitated pacing silently.
“Well, since you’re not sharing, why don’t we play a game? I’ll try to guess a reason and you tell me if I’m getting warm.” My palms feel hot and itchy, I rub them against the dress I slept in.
“Hmm, let’s see, did you choose me because I was a virgin?” I ask, but I’m not really looking for an answer from him. My anger has boiled out of control and I couldn’t care less what he has to say in this moment.
“No, that can’t be right, there are still millions you could have chosen from. It must be because you think I’m pretty, right? Let’s have a look shall we?”
I face the nearest wall and curl my fingers inwards, drawing a mirror out of it to the sound of cracking and wind-chimes. I stalk closer and scrutinise my face and body in its surface. My fury shatters the glass before I turn back to the demon, who now stands beside the bed.
“Nope, that’s not it, I see nothing special there.” I watch as he grits his teeth at that comment. Like he should care what I say about myself, I mean nothing to him. I’m just his breeding bitch.
“I know what it is!” I exclaim suddenly, “It has to be the fact that I’m the most pathetic human being you could find. All alone at twenty with no future partner in sight, you thought you were doing me a favour right? Let’s save poor, fat, worthless Selena from a life of misery.”
“Enough,” his low, hard voice resonates authority and he closes the space between us.
“Well guess what lover, you failed.” I continue, poking his chest with my finger for emphasis, “You’ve taken me away from the only people who have ever cared about me and forced me to become, what? Your whore? Your wife?” I scoff with derision.
“Yes Selena, my wife!” His outburst is as sudden as mine but ten times more shocking. “Why is it so unfathomable for me to possibly love you?! Do you really think so poorly of yourself?”
I’m so stunned to see the fierce passion in his eyes that my mouth gapes open and my mind is too slow in allowing a response.
“You think that I carried you here out of some misguided attempt to save you? From what? A lifetime of misery? Is that truly how you see your future? What are you fighting to return to then, if all you have left is loneliness and self-pity? Is it truly inconceivable that I chose you because of who you are and not out of mercy?”
His voice softens a little and his gaze breaks away from mine. He looks ashamed almost, bowing is head in uncharacteristic defeat.
“I have done you a great disservice, Selena,” he whispers, before turning his blazing eyes back toward mine, “Not because I have saved you from your life, but because I have stolen you from it.”
There is a bitter sorrow which weighs down his entire frame and I can’t help but be sympathetic.
“You know as well as I that you were destined for a noble life on Earth. You would have helped others, as is your beautiful nature. You would have found yourself a human husband who would have loved you, I know that. You would have had human children. And I have taken it all away.”
More tears blur my vision and my voice is raw.
“Then why, Asmodeus? Why did you bring me here?” I beseech him, reaching up and holding his face in my hands.
Anger clouds his features and I take a step back, hugging my arms close.
“I was weak! I was selfish! I brought you here not by my choice. I stole you because I simply had to have you; I saw her light in you. Selena, my soul met yours at the birth of humankind. A true testament of my adoration would have seen you living on Earth still, content in your new body and with no knowledge of my existence,” he chokes on the next words, “But I am weak and I have loved you always, my Elysia.”
“Have you not wondered why you never found a human mate? Did you merely cast if off as fastidiousness on your part? No, my love, there has been no other because your soul craves only mine, just as surely as mine hungers after yours. We were mated once, when you were known as Elysia.”
His eyes are tender, swirling pools of lava, somehow expressing more emotion than anything he has said thus far. But I am numb to it and this realisation constricts my chest.
Why don’t I feel anything?
“No, that isn’t possible, you’ve got the wrong girl.” I protest against this latest disclosure half-heartedly, voice hollow. Am I disbelieving just because it is expected of me? I can’t honestly say that this new information shocks me and the thought that I have become so accepting of my fate is terrifying.
“I would find your soul in deepest pit of hell my love, I know you are the woman I crave.”
“Woman?!” I laugh humourlessly, “I’m just a child to you! Six days ago, I’d never been touched by a man and now I’m carrying your baby! What makes you think that I’m ready to deal with that, let alone your revelation that I’m supposedly your lover from another lifetime. You robbed me of this life.”
He closes his eyes as if in physical pain.
“Of that I will be eternally remorseful, but my choice cannot be undone. I swear by everything in my power that I will keep you safe from pain and sorrow.”
“How Asmodeus? Everything you do causes me sorrow and pain. Did you think that chaining me to a rock would make me love you? Or using me as a bitch for your offspring would make me feel important? Did you think I would melt in your arms when you told me that I am your lover incarnate? How can you truly love me, Selena, when all you think about is her? I don’t know or care if we share the same soul but I am not your Elysia.”
I suddenly realise why the feel of him touching my swollen belly made me so angry and dejected. Heat pricks the corners of my eyes.
“If you love me so much, how could you treat me as if I were nothing but a vessel for whatever you have planned for our baby? How could you make me care for you and then act as if all that mattered was the fact that you’d gotten me pregnant? You broke my heart just when I was beginning to think that I could trust you; when I was beginning to think I could love yo-”
He cuts me off with a kiss, his warm lips moving desperately against mine. It’s as if he wants to prove his love, showing me where words fail, exactly what I mean to him. He pulls me in close and just like that first night, my heart jumps at the feel of his fingers pressing into the soft skin of my waist. I should be mad at him, but I’m tired of being angry and he makes it so damn difficult to stay that way. Then again, he also makes it easy for me to get mad in the first place.
But right now, I feel only heart-pounding excitement as I mould my body against his. Could he be telling me the truth about Elysia? Had I really loved this demon in a past life? It would explain my affection for him now, when by all rights I should hate him with everything I possess.
When we break apart, he smiles his wicked smile but his eyes are soft. When his hand slides down to my belly though, the smile vanishes and his eyes darken with unconcealed pain.
“You bore me a son once, as Elysia. It was my proudest moment and we lived together in peace for one human lifetime. It may seem like a long time to you my young bride, but to the immortal it was but a moment.”
“What happened?” I whisper, uneasy with the way this conversation is headed, yet compelled to hear the rest. I rub the gooseflesh from my arms and feel the hair at the back of my neck prickle as he continues.
“You were both murdered,” he moans, “stolen from me in a wave of jealousy and greed. A demoness, who was my betrothed, became vengeful that I had taken you as my bride rather than her. She killed you to spite me and while I mourned your loss she hunted our son. He was on Earth when she slaughtered him, performing the task for which he was born.
“I took my revenge, but ending her brought me no peace. I was alone and I believed that I always would be, until I felt her soul spark in you at your conception, and I knew then, before you were even born that I had to have you. I waited until you were physically and mentally mature. Twenty years is naturally but a blink to me yet I remember every agonising second from the moment you were conceived until the night I brought you here. That is the extent of my desire for you.”
“Elysia,” I insist, trying not to think about the fact that my fate was decided before I was even born, “You love her, not me.”
“You are her and you are not. You are the joining of two halves. I did not love her for her body nor her mind - although both were as beautiful in her as they are in you; I saw in her a light which bathed my own soul and transformed me from a bitter, arrogant creature into a being capable of great love. She made me feel as if I could defy my fate and ascend into the glory of Creation. And you Selena, I feel this when I am near you. I sunk into the cavernous depths of depravity when she was killed and I know that I would not survive losing you. Is that not enough of a reason to believe that I love you, for being you? You are Elysia just as surely as you are Selena, it would be impossible for me to love one without the other.”
He sounds so earnest, as if he is genuinely trying to make me understand.
“So you’re saying that you love me, not because you think I’m your Elysia but because you love our shared soul? You’re not expecting me to be her, but you know that no matter how different our personalities, we’re both manifestations of a singular spirit – one which you’re crazy about? Is that the gist of it?”
He smirks at the impatience in my voice.
“Yes, my eternal love, that is the ‘gist’ of it.”
“Right,” I say, dazed under the enormity of it all. That is, until another thought occurs to me.
"You speak of this undying love for me, yet you hold me here against my will," I say, tilting my head to the side, curiously watching his reaction to my words, "If you love me as much as you say, then it wouldn't be a question of whether you are strong enough to let me go; you simply would."
He says nothing, just closes his eyes and scrubs a palm down his face, as if he's been awake for an age, longing to let sleep claim him.
"So what is it then, Asmodeus?" I ask, hand on hip and eyebrow cocked, "Do you truly love me as much as you claim?"
His eyes open and fix on me with a heat that melts my insides. His gaze is fierce but when he speaks he sounds tired and pained.
"Of course I do Selena. After the child is born, you may leave if that is your wish."
A prickle starts at the back of my neck and shudders through my entire frame. This is not the way I expected the conversation to turn. I asked him this not because I truly expected him to listen but rather as a way to prove to both of us that he doesn't love me as much as he thinks he does. Given his response every other time the subject has been broached, I find it difficult to believe that he's suddenly had a change of heart. There's no way he's telling the truth!
He can't be, after all the time he spent waiting for me, all the trouble I've caused him, every effort on his part to make me feel as if I had no other choice; he can't seriously be giving me a get out of jail free card.
But when I search his eyes, I do not find a lie, only a steely determination which barely covers the pinched look of loss.
He's being deadly serious; he's really giving me the choice and he seems sure which one I will make.
Two thoughts flit through my mind at this realisation. The first is ridiculous and pathetically warm; he really loves me. The second is smarter, calculating and triumphant; this is my chance! I can leave!
But why does the thought fill me with dread?
"Alright," I whisper, and I hear the hollowness in my own voice because I don't know what else to say.
"Alright," I repeat, louder this time, deciding what I want as the word forms against my teeth. I need some time alone and I tell him this.
He does as I request, with only a lingering look back at me as he leaves, showing his reluctance. I understand, to some extent, his desire to stay with me after all that has been said and I'm pleased that he pushes it aside for the moment, allowing me a brief respite.
When he leaves, silence swallows me up like a giant chasm. But it is one that I willingly fall into, craving it's comfort after bearing the weight of so many words. Rather than using it to contemplate this new meaning to my existence, I banish all questions and thoughts and emotions from my mind.
It feels so good to be numb and I stare into the red earth without really looking at it. My mind doesn't just wander, it leaves me, if only for a little while; and I sway on my feet, so thoroughly exhausted after... What?
I find it hard to distinguish between the good memories and the bad. It's as if my entire life has been a struggle in one way or another and this new life; I fear it. I fear the power it has over me, the ability to change me into someone I no longer recognize. Damn him for giving me the choice; what if I make the wrong one?
This world could be a new home, an escape from the only life I've ever known; the life of mine which I am privileged to have led. After all, I've had everything that a person needs to survive; a roof over my head, love in my heart, knowledge at hand and food in my belly.
Except... There was always something missing; something which erected an invisible barrier between me and the people I love. Why is it that I pushed them all away? My family, my friends, my chance at happiness?
Did I want to be alone?
No. I wanted more than anything to be with them, to be a part of them. But something always pushed me back. Was it because they didn't understand me? Or because I couldn't understand them? I was always looking for something more, as if I was placed on Earth to find one absolute truth. And the life that I've lived, as content as it should have been, was simply not enough to satisfy me.
This is why, I know, I fear the choices I have been given. What have I become if I cannot appreciate the privileges I've been afforded? What kind of person rejects a life which has the potential to be rich and rewarding? Yes, I fear my own choices, not because I have no clue what comes next but because the ease at which I find myself wanting to be here is unsettling. What kind of person willingly discards her old life and all those within it to be with a stranger? To become a stranger?
Only a desperate one. A person who was born trapped and suddenly finds a way out. Would such a person find the strength to push past fears of change and the unknown toward the possibility of freedom? Or is the idea of such change and uncertainty too daunting to risk leaving their prison?
I have made my choice. I need a moment to let go of the other option though, so that I can put it to rest and immerse myself into the life that I have chosen without regret.
I have made my choice. I choose freedom.
* * * * *
I stand in the sunlight after what seems like a century, letting its soothing warmth wash over me. I’d forgotten how much I’d missed it.
This isn’t a dream. I truly stand above ground with the sun shining red through my closed eyelids and glinting off my teeth which are exposed in a grin of pure delight. I curl my toes around the soft coolness of the grass before digging them deeper into the earth, past roots and fibres until I feel the rich brown soil beneath.
I’m standing in front of my home, savouring the feel of the summer breeze as it sings through my hair. This is it. I’m only a few steps away.
I open my eyes and step forward, toward the stone and tile archway which shelters the double door entrance of the house. A pin-pad is attached above a handle on one of the doors and I reach for it without thinking, the sequence familiar to my fingertips. I stop at the last second, realising that it would be quite a shock to those inside if I suddenly come barging in. I give the door a sharp rap with my knuckles instead, before pulling my hand away.
As I wait for an answer, my leg jumps disobediently and I chew my bottom lip as both anticipation and dread fill me.
My father opens the door and I forget to breathe.
We stare at each other for a second and I take in just how tired he looks. He seems to have aged a decade over the past few days; darkness shadows his eyes, his thinning hair looks un-kept and his usually clean shaven face is speckled with salt and pepper stubble.
And then the spell is broken. His mouth moves but before he says anything, I cut across him.
I try to sound as sympathetic as possible, letting a touch of the true sorrow I feel at the sight of him, colour my voice.
"Mr Sastri," I say, "I'm so sorry for your loss."
Instead of replying, he stares at me for a second, his gaze hardening, then he shuts the door in my face!
After I get over my shock, I knock once more, knowing he will answer.
He opens the door again, fury visible in the lines of his face and I'm quick to apologise, realising the insensitivity of my words.
"I'm a friend of Selena's, Sir," I say, tripping over the lie, "I'm so sorry that I phrased it as if..."
Of course, he's not the kind of man who would give up his daughter for dead; not unless he sees the body. I keep forgetting just how short my time away has been.
He looks like he's about to shut the door again.
"Please Sir, I know I have no right to ask this of you, but can I come in? Selena... She was- she is like a sister to me."
He huffs with unconcealed displeasure, looking at me but not truly seeing my face under the glamour. I know that he sees a young woman standing before him with pleading eyes, but she isn't the daughter that he's lost.
"Funny," he says in a voice that suggests the complete opposite, "My daughter never mentioned you before. All her close friends have already been to visit; they're still helping us look for her, but you, I don't even know who you are. I've never seen you before and you're wasting my time."
He moves to close the door again.
I shoot my arms out and push against door before he touches it.
"Please! Please Sir, I only found out yesterday! Please let me pay my respects. I love Selena, I really do. Please believe me." I'm desperate to go in, to spend time with my family and it shows on my borrowed face, in my stranger's eyes. My throat constricts and the tears fall.
His eyes soften a little. My father may be a hard man, but he's neither cold nor cruel. What I wouldn't give to hug him right now, to feel safe in the way that only a loving father can provide.
"Make it quick," he says, stepping aside and it might as well be a hug from him. I am quick to comply, stumbling through the doorway in my haste.
"Be careful," he says, catching my arm to steady me before looking outside again and calling, "You can come in too."
He says this to the man who stood behind me at the doorway. The man towers a massive foot and a half over my father, opposite from him in every way possible.
Where my dad is short and stocky, he is tall and well-built. His skin is pale compared to dad's and his hair shockingly ash-blonde, kept just a little too long for contemporary tastes. Black tribal tattoos creep across his forearms peeking out from beneath rolled up sleeves; my father hates tattoos. Ice-blue eyes pierce the deep brown pair which sharpen with suspicion once more.
"I never got your name," he says turning back to me as my companion walks over the threshold.
"Sorry," I amend hastily; I know that one false move on my part will give dad his excuse to kick us out, "I'm Rowan, Selena's friend from university."
I chose I name that I could have possibly mentioned to my family before; Rowan was an old friend from high school but I'm hoping that they only notice the familiarity of the name, not where it came from.
"And this is my partner, Ash."
My father shakes my lover's hand and even though he doesn't know who we are, I feel the tension spike. The muscles on his forearm flex and I see that he's testing the stranger before him, searching for weakness.
He finds none. When they break contact, his hand twitches a little and a small shudder rolls through him. He walks through to the lounge as if the pain means nothing. Typical cop bravado.
Furious, I elbow 'Ash' in the side as hard as I can. All this accomplishes is the bruising of my elbow. I glare at him, rubbing my arm and he shrugs, a gesture that looks so odd I can't help but smile.
Nonetheless, I take this brief opportunity alone to chastise him for his behaviour.
"No more macho bullshit!" I hiss, so that only he can hear.
"My apologies," he replies, not bothering to lower his voice.
I groan, slapping a hand against my forehead. This is going to be a long day.
Eventually, we settle on the overstuffed canvas couches in my parents’ living room, silent as a graveyard. It's broken by the awkward dance between hosts and uninvited guests. My mother asks if I'd like anything to drink.
I long to speak with my parents as a daughter; see warmth and love in their gazes in the place of suspicion and sorrow. My sister, always so in tune with my thoughts avoids my strange eyes while my usually jovial brother sits silent and red-eyed, staring at his hands.
My mother speaks again, but it's with forced politeness and a tight smile. She asks questions about my relationship with her daughter, how we met and so forth, questions which I am able to answer easily.
"Rowan, is it? Yes I'm pretty sure I've heard Selena mention you. What are you studying?"
"A Bachelor of the Arts, majoring in English with a minor in Theology, I met Selena in an English lecture." I reply, heartbroken to hear the false chirp in her voice.
Fingers clench and eyes tighten at the mention of my name. I can’t believe just how much my disappearance has altered their behaviour. My mother is quick to change the subject, eyeing Ash with seemingly genuine interest.
"You two look so sweet, how long have you been together?"
"Forever," I reply, when a fake time period refuses to materialise in my mind. At least I'm not lying.
While my mother and I discuss my love life, my parents sit together rather stiffly, as if twenty-four years of marriage were not enough to make them comfortable with one another. Their eyes never meet. Has my disappearance caused the strain?
Was I really such an essential part of their lives, that they are irreversibly changed by my absence? I hope it isn’t so, not only because it’ll make it harder for me to willingly leave them but also because I can’t bear the thought of them suffering for my decisions. It sounds selfish, but the hope that they will one day move beyond my disappearance is comforting. At least that way I can begin my new life with a clean slate and without guilt weighing me down.
"How far along are you?"
I nearly choke on my glass of water.
"Er... Five um..."
"Months," supplies Ash, taking my hand in his.
"Yes, five months," I say.
My mother smiles a little while my father eyes Ash with distaste.
My parents were never overly affectionate in public, true, but as one of their children, I’ve seen a tenderness reserved only for each other shine through on more than one occasion. Enough to believe that they still love each other as they have since they were teenagers.
Or maybe I just saw what I wanted to see?
The idyllic relationship between two people who decide they love each other enough to be together until the ultimate end. It might have been a naive notion but it was a beautiful one to grow up believing. Of course, I learnt the hard way that love isn’t all that easy to find. And when you finally do, it isn’t all longing stares and blissful sighs.
After a short time – I don’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed – sitting with my family and partaking in the forced formalities, the conversation ceases. I use the opportunity to excuse myself.
My mum directs me to the bathroom across my bedroom and as soon as I turn a corner out of sight, I duck into my room. It is almost exactly as I left it, although with a neat emptiness which I’ve never associated with my personal space. The normally messy room has been tidied somewhat, the bed dressed and the clothes which would have been on the floor have been picked up, folded and piled carefully at the edge of my bed. It’s like my mother hoped that by preserving the imprinted memory of me within this room, I would suddenly walk out of it, as if I’d been hiding in the cupboard the entire time.
I skim my fingers across the varnished wood surface of my dresser and rub a smudge from the mirror behind it. I treat everything I touch with absolute reverence, like it's all part of an ancient tomb, the prized possessions of a departed soul. Oh, I know that I am still Selena; but I’m a different version of her, reborn from the ashes of this old life. Freedom beckons while the chains of my past sing sweetly to me, attempting to entice me back into their iron hold. Their fingers of nostalgia grip tight my throat and I can barely breathe. I love my family but this existence has stifled me all these years. I want to be free! But still a terrified part of me wants to be imprisoned, here where it's safe.
My hand brushes against a thin knotted rope, lying in the dust coating my dressing table. I lift up the black leather necklace and rub my thumb over the silver pendant that is attached to it. It’s a two inch long ankh, the Egyptian symbol of eternal life. Next to it lies another, longer necklace with a gemstone looped through it. It's carved into the shape of an angel and is made out of a stripy brown stone called tiger’s eye.
I used to wear both these pendants every day, only ever removing them to polish them. The ankh’s necklace can be adjusted to fit snugly against my throat while the strap which holds the angel is long enough so that it disappears between my cleavage. I study the pendants for a time and am struck by the startling relevancy of them both. The tiger’s eye stone which symbolises grounding and protection; is my Asmodeus, a strong, dark angel of the earth. Even the ankh has a parallel; as farfetched as immortality seems, it’s been confirmed by lover. My soul is as ageless as his body.
Is this yet more proof that I am destined to be with him?
As I’ve done countless times before, I slip both necklaces on, adjusting the ties on the ankh’s cord so that it tightens around my neck and leaving the angel hanging low on its cord. The pain in my throat lessens somewhat at the familiar weight of them on my neck. Perhaps there are some things that need not be discarded from my old life. I have a great many possessions – most of them material or sentimental – but only three which I prize above anything else. Two of them hang on my neck at this very moment, while the third dangles above my pillow.
It’s the dream-catcher which has guarded my dreams since I was ten, from nightmares which used to showcase not goblins nor ghosts but killers with knives, intent on pursuing me to the ends of the earth just so that they could end me. Were those glimpses of my other life? Bitter reflections of my own death?
I shudder, climbing onto my bed, needing to run my fingers over the wind-chimes dangling off the dream-catcher and to hear their delicate clinking. The sound is as reassuring as ever, enough to banish cold thoughts and waking nightmares. I want to take it with me, just as I intend to keep the necklaces, but I resist; the loss of such a trinket would be noticed by my parents. Unlike the pendants, it was my father who bought the dream-net for me, after childhood gave way to youth and I was too old to still be disturbing by parents after every nightmare.
"What," A voice at the door stops my heart, "Are you doing?" My father is neither cold nor cruel but my fiery temper was inherited from him.
I step off the bed, moving slowly, a frightened child backing away from a snarling beast. He's caught me encroaching his territory and he is fuming beyond measure.
"I think it's time for you to leave." Each word is clipped short and sting like lashes of a whip. I wish in this moment that I can tell him the truth, just so that his anger can turn into relief. But I have made my choice.
"I didn't mean to offend you Sir, I just wanted to feel close to home," I explain, as best I can under the circumstances, "Selena is the only family I have and I feel... lost now that she's gone."
"Go home to your parents."
"They are gone too Sir, have been for a long time. When Selena spoke of you to me, I liked to pretend that we were sisters and that you were my parents too."
I'm making him uncomfortable, I know. I need him to see though, that I mean no harm. I need him to look at me with something other than a guarded annoyance.
"I think it's time for you and your boyfriend to leave."
He eyes my belly - which I tried to hide somewhat with a flowing top - with deep disapproval and waits by the door, insistent on following me out.
Releasing a choked breath, I file past him, trying to quash the sobs that attempt to escape.
Back at the lounge, I can't say I'm all that surprised to see that 'Ash' has already charmed my mother and sister with his good looks and infallible grace. My brother, on the other hand, looks ready to throw a punch.
Ash is laughing at something I must have missed while being ushered out of my own bedroom by my father. His laugh is subtle yet honest, his eyes crinkle at the corners on his borrowed face. The glamour he wears makes him appear younger than he looks in his true form but the sharpness in his eyes hints at a wisdom beyond that of face so young.
I believe that this is what makes my mother like him so, but it's also what has my father on edge. If we don't leave soon, I worry that he or my brother will snap and the last thing I want is either of them getting hurt trying to wrestle a demon.
"Thank you for your hospitality Mrs. Sastri," I say to my mum before dad can ask me to leave again.
"Oh you don't have to leave so soon sweetheart, we've only just met you! Selena would have wanted you to stay longer."
The others cringe when she says my name. It's all still too raw, too frank. But my mother believes that I'll be back soon, that I've run away. She's in a different stage of denial than my father. He believes that I need to be found before my captor kills me.
I insist that we go, watching my father shoot us daggers as Ash and I walk towards the door. It's time to leave them forever, but I can't bear the thought of ending it like this. The problem is, I don't know how to fix it.
Ash's hands twitch beside me, his back turned away from my dad. Something glints in the light but I miss seeing what he holds as he turns back toward my family.
"Mr. Sastri, I know this may seem inappropriate, however it was our intention to present this to you and your family upon our visit. It seems that Rowan has forgotten to mention this. You may not know us very well, though I assure you Selena does and it would mean everything to Rowan if you would be so kind as to attend our wedding in her stead tomorrow."
We all stand speechless as Ash hands my father a thin tablet of sorts. It's made out of a deep purple-blue stone - which I recognise as a star sunstone - with specks of sliver dotted throughout. It's as if he sliced a piece from the night sky and made it solid, carving words onto it to turn it into something unexpected.
"No." Dad answers, skimming over the words quickly before thrusting the invitation into my hands.
I look down at the thin stone slab and run my fingers over its face, smooth all over except where the words have been beautifully carved. It's addressed to 'Selena and Family', announcing the union of 'Ash and Rowan' and indeed boasting tomorrow's date. A surge of anger rolls through me. A fake wedding! This is not the way to extend my time with my family. It is cruel and deceitful; I’ve lied to my family enough already and I would rather not bastardise the sanctity of marriage just to steal a few more hours with them.
Ash pulls the invite from my shaking hands and offers it to my mother instead. She takes it without hesitation.
"We're not going!" My father says, his voice hard and menacing. This is the final straw for him.
Ash ignores him and addresses my mum instead.
"Please consider it at least, Mrs. Sastri, I know Selena would have attended."
My mother nods just as my father snaps.
"GET OUT!" He shouts.
I don't wait to be told twice.
* * * * *
When we finally leave my parents’ house, I’m horrified by the encounter. This was not the way I wanted to end things with them. I turn my back on Ash and ball my hands into fists. This is all his fault! He set my father on edge from the very beginning with his too firm handshake and unnatural allure. Then he drove the hammer home with all his ridiculous talk of weddings and what ‘Selena’ would have wanted. Did he ever take the time out to ask me what I want?
A car pulls up in front of us before can voice my protests. It’s fairly non-descript, not too flashy though shiny and new. A thin man hops out, dressed in a chauffer’s suit and runs around the car to open the back door. Then he waits, head bowed.
I look at Asmodeus, cocking an eyebrow. He tilts his head in confirmation and holds his arm out in an ‘after you’ gesture.
Sliding into the car is a little difficult. I hoist my heavier body onto the leather seats and drag myself over, making room for Asmodeus, he ducks in gracefully, then makes a fuss over my seatbelt, attempting to buckle me in himself.
“I know how to do it!” I hiss, slapping his hands away, “You sort out you own belt.”
He settles into his own seat as soon as he hears the click of my buckle and the driver pulls away from the house. I wind down my window and avoid his gaze, feeling conflicted about today’s turn of events.
After I took the time to think about what I wanted, I decided to give myself wholly and willingly to the Demon King. My conditions were that his original promise never to hurt me must be kept and that I be given a chance to say goodbye to my old life. Small requests, I realised, considering the severity of my sacrifice and Asmodeus knew it too. He’d agreed immediately, forming the plan in which we both wore glamour to visit the human world.
He took me to a corner of his cavern which I’d never noticed was there. It led to another, smaller room, filled with unfinished art, sinister looking weapons and a pool of bubbling clay. I eyed the weapons suspiciously while he went straight to the pit. Scooping up some of the – no doubt scalding – clay with his hand, he rubbed it into the skin of one of his arms. I watched with fascinated disbelief as the area coated with clay changed its colour. The ancient magic of his shifting, swirling skin pigmentation was cloaked by the alchemy of the clay. When he rubbed some of it on me, I was surprised at how cool it was, hardening against my skin and changing me also.
I’d never seen the appeal to mud-wrestling, but smearing it over the firm shoulders and taut ass of my lover had me twitching in anticipation. And of course being lathered so thoroughly by him was beyond delicious. His large, rough hands felt the same as they always had but they looked foreign against my breasts. The pleasure they elicited within me though was so delightfully familiar that any unease I felt about our changing appearances dissolved without a fuss. The slippery mud worked wonders, the silky texture of it aiding and caressing us as we explored each other. We ended up on the floor before he entered me. I was giddy with pleasure and wound so tight with orgasmic energy that every touch and movement reverberated through me with the power of stars imploding. I could feel every pulsing inch of him under my skin and hear the sweet sound of three heartbeats pounding in my ears, two fierce and thunderous, the other quick and fragile. Our lovemaking wasn’t wild or desperate; it needn’t be for the strength of our desires. It was steady and intimate; all slow thrusts, clinging limbs and hitching gasps, and all the more beautiful for it. When we’d finally reached our mutual climaxes, we did so as Ash and Rowan.
Dark skin turned light for both of us and a little clay rubbed onto our eyelids even changed the colours of our eyes. Asmodeus’ rubies bled away into sapphires while my mocha globes froze and transformed into glittering emeralds.
We were different people, akin to our other bodies only in stature. The clay changed me into a Caucasian woman with more delicate features, tawny hair and green eyes. My lover had transfomed even more significantly, the aggressive plains of his face filled out more so that he looked less rigid than before, more approachable and less intimidating. While still exceedingly tall and largely built, the lightening of his skin and almost boyish glamour on his face made him look less severe. Certainly, he could pass for a human, albeit one whom most would think a professional athlete.
I coordinated our clothing, instructing Asmodeus until he was able to create clothes for us both which would be casual enough to let us pass through relatively unnoticed. When we were both dressed and unrecognisable, it was time to go. Asmodeus, now Ash, picked me up as if I weighed nothing and the air seemed to shimmer around us. The reds and browns I’d grown so accustomed to over the past few days, melted away and were replaced by the shocking greens and yellows of flora. We’d appeared impossibly in a secluded corner of the nature reserve across my parents’ house. Birds took off, startled by our sudden arrival, but we were otherwise unseen.
I’d assumed we’d travel back the way we came after our visit, but the arrival of the car was an unexpected surprise. What more does he have planned for us here?
Down the road from my parents’ house lives one of my best friends. When we stop in front of her house, Asmodeus wills another invitation into existence. I raise an eyebrow, how does he know where my friends live? He gets out of the car, slips it in the mailbox and slides back in before I have time to figure out what I should be doing.
“This is the home of a friend of yours, is it not? Bailey Stilo?”
“Yes,” I sigh, “Though I don’t know what you’re expecting of her.”
“I expect her to attend our wedding, of course.”
He smiles as if he is plotting something elaborate and I roll my eyes. The memory of our sweet lovemaking fresh in my mind is enough to sooth my anger for the moment, though I still do not approve of his wedding plan. Why can’t anything ever be simple with him?
I protest as the car pulls away from Bailey’s house; I didn’t even get to see her! How am I supposed to convince her to attend my sham wedding – at such short notice too – if I can’t see her? Asmodeus, vague as ever, says that we will convince them all tonight.
He drops off one more invitation, at Rochelle Sindhal’s house, the other of two friends I would trust with my life. As with Bailey, we leave before I have a chance to see her.
When we leave Rochelle's house, I think that we'll be heading back to Asmodeus' realm. We keep driving though, eventually turning onto the motorway. We head toward the city centre using the route I take to University. The driver seems to know exactly where he's going and needs no instruction from me or Asmodeus. Now that I think about it, I don't recall Asmodeus speaking to him at all. How did he know to visit my friends? He must be one of the Demon's lackeys.
A rich ripping sound diverts my attention to the demon sitting next to me. He grips the seat with uncharacteristic tension, his eyes closed and body rigid. He's actually torn clean through the thick leather.
He releases a strained breath and cracks open an ice coloured eye. Then the car jolts slightly and it squeezes shut again.
I stare at him, dumbfounded, then burst out laughing!
"Oh my god! You're afraid of being in the car aren't you?"
"If one were meant to travel at such speed, one would have developed the power," he grinds out, eyes still shut.
"We're only at one hundred kilometres an hour!" I laugh, "You mean to say that teleportation is fine but a car isn't?"
"As I stated, the only modes of transportation with which I am comfortable, are those which I am capable of achieving with my body alone."
The car begins to slow down as we take an exit and Asmodeus relaxes a little.
"Then why didn't we teleport?"
"The travel link only exists between the human realm and mine. I cannot flit from one human location to another, only from the demon realm, here and back again."
We stop a little while away from the city, at the entrance of a large botanical garden. I've been here before, years ago with my family; I remember spraining my ankle after tripping over a tree root on one of the trails. It's still one of my favourite places though, surrounded by the beauty of nature, tamed though it may be. I follow Asmodeus through the reception building and into the gardens themselves.
The weather is glorious and it's unsurprising that the park is packed with visitors; families sitting on picnic blankets, children feeding ducks at the pond, teens tossing frisbees and couples strolling amongst the roses. Asmodeus takes my hand in his and we walk a quieter trail, within the sights of others but out of earshot. I wonder idly why we're here but my mind is still teeming with questions from the car ride.
"If you hate cars so much then why didn't we just travel back and flit here from there?"
"It is exhausting scattering ones atoms and making them whole again. I would not have the energy for a return trip."
"You scattered our atoms?" I breathe in wonder, remembering a feeling of weightlessness for the split second after the cave disappeared.
"I was granted the ability so that I may visit the human world whenever I so see fit. I remember a time when one could walk between points of interest without the need for chariots. Why in the Great One's name do humans insist on traversing great distances?"
"Expansion is a natural part of a developing civilisation. As a population grows, so does the space it inhabits. By your logic, even riding a horse is unnatural and humans have been riding for millennia! Yours is old fashioned thinking," I admonish.
A smile spreads on his face and he looks at me with an arrogance which belies his next words.
"You forget my love, that I am the epitome of old age. I remember a time when humans were yet too young to walk on two legs let alone break a horse. I am over three million years old."
I stop in my tracks. Three million?! It is an amount of time that I cannot even begin to fathom. Three thousand is ancient in my view, the times of Achilles and Agamemnon. Then I remember that he said he was born before the first humans and shudder to think of enduring such a lifespan. No wonder he considers a human lifetime 'but a moment'. To him it would probably seem as if the first car was invented mere seconds ago; after all, what is two and a half centuries when you have lived over three mega annum?
I suddenly feel extremely small in the grand scheme of things. Not for the first time I find myself wondering whether I have made the right choice. I am so utterly insignificant compared with the immortal who stands beside me, yet here I am, thrust into his enthralling world.
I can't believe that-
"Cease." His voice is commanding, humour gone. He places his large hands on my shoulders, holding me firmly within his sight. His eyes are hard and flash with annoyance.
I shoot him a questioning glare.
"You know what I speak of. I will not have you doubting yourself. Our ages mean nothing. I am no more superior simply because I have lived longer. You should consider yourself fortunate that you have not lived to suffer as long as I have without you."
His eyes soften and he combs his fingers through my hair.
"I love you Selena, now and for all eternity. I wish for you to know this always. You, my young love, you mean more to me than you will ever possibly fathom. I wish to be with you until the end of time. I wish to marry you, not as a ploy to allow you more time with your family, but because I want you bound to me just as surely as I am bound to you. You deserve everything you will ever desire and I intend to begin affording you these desires when we wed tomorrow, in these very gardens. Will you honour me by becoming my bride?"
He drops to one knee while I stare, stunned, and produces a gorgeous platinum engagement ring. The band curves into a sharp V point at the top and is adorned with a large red diamond. Smaller, black diamonds glitter on either side of the red one, trailing along the V, and the effect is breathtaking.
My throat closes and I nod mutely as tears drip off my chin. Distantly, I hear cheers and hoots as strangers watch my lover take my hand in his and slip the ring onto the third finger of my left hand. The V points up toward my wrist as if it is an arrowhead enchanted by Eros aimed straight for my heart.
I pull my lover up and into my arms for a fierce kiss, ignoring the wolf-whistles and cat calls from our audience. It doesn't matter that we wear unfamiliar faces because I see my King in his ice blue eyes when we break apart.
He was right of course; ever since he'd offered my parents the wedding invitation, I did think getting married to my demon was just a ploy of his to secure me more time with my loved ones. It had hurt me more than I was willing to admit. Just as I’d felt like I was a breeder to him before, a means to an end, to be used cheaply; I felt that the marriage he had sprung on me earlier was a mere convenience, a way to ensure that I stayed with him. Now I believe that he'd planned this all along and the thought fills me with such love for him that I can't stand it.
How will we convince my invited guests to attend though? Now that I know the wedding is not just for show, I am eager for them to be present.
'We will convince them tonight', he said, and while I have no idea what that could mean, I have faith in my fiancé.