Authors: S.J. West
The Redemption Series
©2014 S.J. West. All Rights Reserved
Cover Art by Christina Holland
Each of us has a dark side.
We may not want to admit we have it, but we all know it’s there. It hides within the deepest recesses of our soul, waiting…and watching. The darkness knows its patient perseverance will eventually be rewarded. All it has to do is bide its time until a crack appears in the armor of light we always thought would protect us. Then, in our weakest moment, it slithers out from the shadows, forcing us to face the worst parts of ourselves. It’s the decisions we make when we’re made to confront our dark side that will forever decide our fate.
As Malcolm continues to hold me, not even his warmth or enduring love can erase from my mind the grotesque images of torture I made Belphagor endure. The Prince of Hell’s blood and ash stain my hands and clothes as transient reminders of the sin I committed. Yet, it’s the eternal scar his death has marked on my soul that I know I’ll never be able to wash away.
Malcolm does his best to convince me with words that everything will be all right. He repeatedly insists that nothing has been altered by what I’ve done. Nevertheless, I stand there within the circle of his arms knowing I’m forever changed. I begin to wonder if Malcolm actually understands why it is I can’t stop crying. Does he think I’m weeping over Belphagor’s death? Or does he realize I’m actually mourning the part of my soul I lost that night?
The rational part of me can justify killing Belphagor. He was a Prince of Hell, after all, and nothing good could have come from him ruling Cirro. What I’m having a harder time dealing with is the way in which I performed his summary execution. In those moments when I held Belphagor’s life in my hands, I felt raw, pure pleasure from his torment, and that, more than anything else, scares me.
“What can I do to help you?” Malcolm asks, his voice filled with concern and a desperate need to make everything like it was before.
“Nothing,” I answer, my voice sounding devoid of hope because my heart has none left.
“Anna, don’t let this destroy you,” Malcolm implores, pulling away from me slightly to look into my eyes. “It’s just a small set back. That’s all.”
I stare at Malcolm, and I wonder who it is he’s trying to fool with his ridiculous statement, himself or me.
I look over to the entrance of the sitting room and see Lucas standing there with Luna and Vala by his sides.
The play of expressions on Lucas’ face makes me feel like someone just doused me with a bucket of cold water. He looks horrified, worried, and sad all at once.
“Mommy?” Lucas asks again in a higher pitched voice, as if what he’s really asking is if the person he’s staring at is still truly his mother or some monster come to life out of his worst nightmare.
I instantly phase Malcolm and me to our bedroom to escape Lucas’ question.
The truth is…I don’t know who I am anymore. All I do know is that I don’t want my son to see me in my present state.
I step out of the warmth of Malcolm’s arms and immediately feel a coldness seep underneath my skin like tiny tendrils of hopelessness.
“You should change your shirt and go back down to him,” I say, looking at Malcolm’s blood stained clothes.
“I’m not going to leave you alone,” Malcolm protests. “Not now.”
“You have to,” I say, turning away from him to slowly make my way towards the bathroom. “I need to clean up anyway.”
“Anna…” Malcolm pleads, as if he realizes I’m using our son as an excuse to escape from him.
“Please, Malcolm,” I beg in a tired voice, not having the strength to continue an argument. “I need you to take care of our son. I can’t right now. And I can’t let him see me like this again.”
I hear Malcolm sigh in defeat and watch him walk to the closet in the room just as I enter the bathroom. I close the door behind me and lean my back against it. I just stand there with my eyes closed and listen to Malcolm’s movements in the bedroom. I know when he phases away to find Lucas because a hollow silence imbues the air around me from his absence. It’s only then that I allow my knees to buckle underneath me as my back slides down the hard surface of the door. I sit on the floor and cover my face with my hands.
I can’t cry anymore because my tears are all spent. All I can do is sit and think.
Lucifer warned me that this would happen. He said the seals would change me into a monster, and that’s exactly what I’m becoming. But, am I totally lost or am I simply on the verge of losing myself? The fact that I’m even considering the state of my soul must mean something. If I were completely damned, I probably wouldn’t even care. The damage would have been irreversible and no amount of worrying could change that fact.
Yet, a part of me felt powerful, almost jubilant, as I killed Belphagor. If Lucifer hadn’t shown up when he did, I’m not sure how long it would have taken me to crash from the high I felt from killing Belphagor. The expression of horror on Lucifer’s face as he looked at the carnage I wrought forced me to acknowledge what I had done. How many people can say they’ve shocked the devil with their actions? I would have to presume the answer is not many.
I lower my hands from my face knowing I can’t hide from the world forever.
I stand up and walk over to the sink in the room. I turn the cold water on and begin to scrub the blood and ash from the palms of my hands. I continue to wash my hands until they’re almost raw. I avoid looking at myself in the mirror above the vanity. I fear what I’ll see in the reflection staring back at me. Are my eyes glowing blue? Are my face and hair drenched in Belphagor’s blood? The only solace I receive from his death is the knowledge that I’ve avenged his murder of the real Empress Zhin. I hope she knows that the demon who ended her life so prematurely was made to pay for his crime against her.
At least Botis’ death was clean and swift. Olivia Ravensdale will at least know that I do keep a promise once made. I know if anyone did the same thing to Malcolm, I would want revenge in the worst possible way. I may not have made Botis suffer as much as I did Belphagor, but then again dead was dead. I doubted Olivia would care how I ended Botis’ life. All she wanted was revenge against the one who stole a good man, a man she loved, from her life. I understood her need for such vengeance.
I shut the water off and turn away from the sink to walk over to the bathtub. I remain vigilant and keep my gaze from venturing up to look in the mirror. I don’t need a lasting image of myself in my present state. It was bad enough Lucas would have one for the rest of his life.
As I turn on the water to fill the tub and begin stripping out of my clothes, I try to think about how I’m going to explain to Lucas why I was covered in blood. How do you explain death to someone so young and innocent? How do I justify the fact that I’ve killed people when most parents try to teach their children that such a thing should never be done, unless you’re trying to defend yourself or others? I suppose I could tell him that the ones I’ve dispatched from this world deserved it. But, I know for a fact now that Belphagor didn’t deserve the torture I made him endure. He had kept his end of our bargain and voluntarily transferred his seal to me of his own free will. It was I who broke the agreement we struck by killing him because I thought he was lying to me. On the other hand, how could I have known he wasn’t? Why didn’t his seal appear with the other two on my back? Perhaps not all of the seals manifest themselves in the same way in a different host. Maybe the blue glow to my eyes when I became angry was proof of the seal’s presence.
Once naked, I step into the tub full of warm water and slide into the cocoon of warmth it provides until I am completely submerged from head to toe. I lay there in its cleansing power, reveling in the quiet solitude. Only when my lungs burn for air do I lift my head out of the water and take in a deep breath. I quickly begin to wash my hair and body because I know it will only be a matter of time before Malcolm comes back to check on me. He’ll want to do what he can to help me through this time in my life, but I’m not convinced his tender loving care is what I really need.
Just as I stand from the water in the tub, the door to the bathroom opens and Malcolm walks in.
The look of worry in his eyes as his gaze meets mine almost makes me want to slide back underneath the surface of the water and hide there forever. Before I can even step one foot out of the tub, Malcolm phases over and grabs a nearby towel. He holds it out for me to step into. Neither of us says anything as he wraps the towel securely around my torso. He grabs a second towel and gently begins to dry my hair with it while he stands behind me. I close my eyes and feel like I can finally breathe normally as I let myself enjoy Malcolm’s tender ministrations.
After he towel dries my hair, he works a brush through my long strands, making me feel loved and cherished by such a simple action.
“I love you,” I whisper, keeping my eyes closed as he continues to steadily work the brush through the tangles in my hair.
“And I love you,” he murmurs. “I always will, Anna.”
I wait until the brush runs smoothly through my tangle free hair before I turn around to face my husband.
“I’m scared, Malcolm,” I admit, holding the towel around me closer to my chest as I profess that fact not only to Malcolm but also to myself.
“I know,” Malcolm replies, setting the brush down by the sink on top of the vanity. “And I don’t think that’s a bad thing, Anna. If you felt good about what you did,
I would be worried.”
“I didn’t think I could ever be that ruthless,” I say. “I’ve always had a temper but what I did to him…that wasn’t just a manifestation of my anger. I enjoyed watching him suffer. I took pleasure in the act of torturing him.”
I saw Malcolm swallow hard after hearing my confession.
“You’re going to have to let it go, Anna. Listen to the warning Lucifer gave you before he left. If you don’t, your guilt will slowly destroy you and change you more than the seals can.”
I feel my head tilt of its own accord. “I heard what you said to him after he brought me home. You asked if that was what happened to him. What exactly did you mean by that?’
Malcolm sighs heavily before speaking. “After the war in Heaven, I think Lucifer regretted what he did, but by then it was too late. There wasn’t any way our father could allow him to stay in Heaven after he practically tore it in half. You know some of us have theorized that our father actually wanted the war to happen.”
“Why would you say that?” I ask in surprise, not seeing any reason for God to want His angels to fight amongst themselves.
“I know it might sound crazy,” Malcolm admitted. “But if Lucifer hadn’t rebelled and hated the human race so much, Hell never would have been created. My father had to know such a place needed to exist in order for the souls of the unredeemed to have somewhere to go after death. I mean you can’t really reward the damned with Heaven. It would cause chaos in the universe to make two polar opposite forces like that coexist in the same realm of space. Lucifer was the first angel ever created. He was the strongest of us all. I’m sure my father understood that Hell could only be shaped and controlled by someone who could wield that much power.”
“But why not just send all the damned souls to the Void?”
“The Void is a punishment of sorts but not nearly as threatening as the eternal pain Hell promises. The Void is like being in limbo. Sometimes people need the threat of something more sinister to help them make the right decisions in their life.”
“Then Lucifer’s fate was never supposed to be a happy one. Don’t you find that sad?” I say, feeling even more sympathy for the life my biological father was apparently preordained to lead.
“Well, don’t feel too sorry for Lucifer,” Malcolm says, obviously seeing my distress over Lucifer’s fate. “Every sentient being has free will. He could have changed his own destiny at any time if he had really wanted to.”
“Sometimes it’s hard to alter the direction of the path you find yourself on,” I say, feeling the truth of my words as I consider my own situation.
Malcolm rests his hands on my shoulders as he says, “You are not your father, Anna. Plus, you have the added benefit of being surrounded by people who love you. Lucifer didn’t have that kind of support. All he had were other angels who had fallen from God’s grace too and who encouraged his anger towards humanity. Take it from someone who has done more wrong than right in his own life. Don’t let what you did continue to haunt you. Keep the feeling of remorse you have as a reminder that you don’t want to feel like this again, but you have to put it behind you and forge on. Lean on me, Anna. Use me to keep you grounded in who you are. I will stand by your side and help you through this if you’ll just let me.”
Without even having to think about it, I step closer to Malcolm and wrap my arms around his waist, laying my head against his broad chest. Malcolm wraps his arms around me too, and I hear him sigh in relief. I think he was afraid I would pull away from him emotionally, allowing my guilt over what I did consume me. I have to admit that I almost did. But his words and unconditional love pulled me back from the brink.
“I know exactly what you need right now,” Malcolm says, hugging me close before letting me go and taking one of my hands with his. “You need to be with your family. Let’s get you dressed and go downstairs.”
Malcolm leads me into the bedroom and finds me a simple knit dress to put on. As he slips it over my head, I unexpectedly find myself smiling.