"The girl hurts," one of the three said, the foreign burn of tears in his silvery eyes.
The second one turned away. "She is evil ... one of Lilith's spawn." He shrugged dismissively. "You know evil of her like cannot truly feel."
The first studied his brother with a benign smile. "Truly, can you look at her and tell me that she doesn't feel? That she is of the same ilk as her mother? Her sisters?"
The three of them understood evil. They had been guarding those innocent that she left with their mark for decades. Perhaps centuries. When one had lived since the beginning of time, it was hard to tell one day from the next, one year, one decade ... century ... millennia. But they had seen the world reshape itself a dozen times over since Lilan had first begun her rather personal little crusade. True evil cared nothing for innocence destroyed, innocence lost.
Well, no. That was inaccurate. True evil craved innocence lost, destroyed.
Making a quiet sound under his breath, the second turned away, unable to gaze upon the girl. There was guilt in his heart. And the echo of her pain only added to that weight. But with the guilt, there was doubt. There was fear. They had made a mistake with her kind before, and he had yet to forget it. Yet to forgive himself.
"She'll be punished yet again for this transgression," the third said. He was the youngest. But to ageless creatures like themselves, it mattered little. He eyed his brothers grimly. "The last time she did this, the torture she endured, it haunts me still."
It haunted all of three of them.
But what were they to do?
"Why did we allow Lilith to live?" the second said, bitterness in his voice.
"Because we are fools," the first one said. "We could have saved that child all her pain--saved so many children. So many men. So many women. So much pain could have been spared."
The third one sighed, resting his chin on his hand as he stared down at her. "If He wanted her dead, Lilith would have died, and none of her begging and pleading would have saved her."
This woman, born of Lilith ... she was heartbroken. Empty. Aching. Who said she had to be evil? Just because a human baby was born to evil parents, that didn't mean the child was evil. Indeed, some of the most pure creatures he had ever known had been born to men and women with no hearts.
"She isn't evil," the third one said. "Her heart is ... sweet. Evil doesn't understand sweetness."
He closed his eyes ... and he prayed. There was an answer, one he heard in the stillness of his own heart.
"She isn't evil."
A sigh whispered through the air and the clouds around them swirled, tighter and tighter, darkening. And then they cleared.
The woman was there between them. Bound to a wall as another woman, similar enough to be her twin, struck her back with a leaded whip, the balls cutting into her flesh, flesh that healed before the lashes had a chance to strike her again.
"Enough," the angels whispered, but their voices echoed like the pounding of drums.
The lilum wielding the whip screamed, a hideous shrieking sound that had the woman chained to the wall flinching. "Get out!" the lilum shrieked. "You cannot be here!"
The bound woman turned her head, staring at them with tear-filled eyes of the deepest blue. She gasped and lowered them quickly. But she whispered, "They may go wherever He chooses them to go, Lira. You know that."
"Be silent!" the demon called Lira shrieked. "Silence, you fool bitch. This is our land, our world. They cannot come here."
The first angel looked at her, and with a blink of his eyes, she collapsed--silently--to the ground, her skin turning an ashen gray before it collapsed in on itself.
"Does it bother you, the death of your sister?" the second one asked.
Lilan nodded. "Part of me has always loved my sisters, even as I struggle not to be like them, to dislike them even," she said, her husky voice hesitant and weak, filled with pain.
"Would they grieve to hear of your death?" he asked softly, cocking his head as he studied her.
A tortured filled sob fell from her lips and she keened, low and rough, in her throat before she whispered, "They would rejoice."
The third of them snapped his fingers and the chains fell, freeing her. The first one clapped his hands and the mists formed back around them, tightening around them even as the mother of all demons came winging in, her eyes glowing and wild with fury. In the distance, they could hear her screams as she drew closer.
"Who has harmed my Lira...?" she snarled, furious. Her eyes landed on the angels and her other child. Her eyes widened with pure fear as she stared at them. "Lilan! What have you done?" she shrieked.
Lilan lifted her head, terror flooding her. Mutely, she shook her head, her eyes locked on her mother as her knees gave out from under her and she fell to the floor.
The third one, the bravest and the kindest, moved to stand before her. "She ... has done nothing but be who she is ... and she deserves more than anything you could ever give her."
Lilith screeched at him. "I could give her all!"
Lilan sobbed, huddling in on herself. The third turned and walked over to her, kneeling beside her shivering form. "Hush, child," he whispered, stroking her arm gently. His eyes, dark and penetrating, lifted and met Lilith's. "She can never hurt you again, regardless of what happens from here on out."
"You cannot grasp just how very wrong you are," Lilith growled. "My child--my offspring--I shall do whatever I wish to her."
"Be silent ... before I beg my Lord to let me do what we should have done millennia ago," he said, his eyes flashing with fire.
The only reaction was a flicker of her obsidian, soulless eyes.
Baring his teeth in a smile, he said, "My brother and I, we hate to have unfinished business, Lilith. You should know that by now."
Lilan lifted her gaze, staring at the men around her. She knew them. She had left their images on thousands and thousands of mortal children. The angels that had gone to kill Lilith. Lilith had pleaded and begged for her life.
For some reason, the angels had taken pity on her. Instead of killing her, they'd shown mercy. In return, Lilith had "offered" a token of her gratitude--she had sworn that any child with their image would be spared.
Thus, Lilan had refined the magic that would allow her to leave their image. It was a gift that had come upon her so long ago, she had forgotten when and where. She hadn't ever understood where it had come from. Not until that moment.
He had given it to her. Not the angels ... Him.
"Don't you wish to know what is going on, Lilan?" the first of them asked. He was the one who had faced down her mother, showing a bravery no other had ever shown, a complete lack of fear.
"Bravery isn't the lack of fear, child," another said. Until that moment, he had been silent, watching Lilith with bitter anger in his eyes. But now he studied Lilan with kind, wise eyes. "We have no reason to fear her. She cannot harm us. She has harmed you, though ... and child, you are true bravery. You continued to defy her, even though you knew she could--and would--punish you." He sighed and looked at his brothers.
You were right about her, he said to his brothers.
The first one smiled, a sad smile. Then he crouched beside her, wrapping a blanket around her shivering, cold body. "You've been heard, child. Now the question is ... do you really understand why you were heard? Do you even understand what you want?"
Her eyes flickered away from the floor and she licked her lips, fear radiating from her. "I don't know," she whispered. "What you want with me, that is, radiant one. But I know what I want."
The firmness in her voice startled them and the third one applauded, pleased. "You do, do you?"
Lilan rose, letting the blanket fall to her waist as she turned around, baring her wings to them. "I want not to be this," she rasped passionately. "I want to be free of her, of this ... of what my very nature demands of me."
He arched his brows, nodding. She did indeed know. "Then you have the chance, Lilan. Become what you wish ... now. You no longer are bound to her. She cannot harm you, not her, and not her children. Only the world around you can cause you harm--for a time. You have two months."
"Two months?" she whispered.
The lilum were ancient creatures. They had seen millennia pass, civilizations rise and fall. Two months was nothing. He could see the fear in her dark, fathomless eyes as she asked, "And when the two months is over? What becomes of me then?"
"That is up to you. Find whoever it is you wish to be. You spoke of your own nature--for the next two months, this demonic nature, the need for flesh, the urges you inherited from your mother will not control you, cannot even tempt you ... unless you wish them to. Live as you choose. For two months."
"But what then?" she persisted. "Am I returned to her? Will I be as I am now?"
"No. If you've found whatever life you would have sought had your mother not controlled you, then you may have it." He fell silent, watching her with grim eyes.
The second one spoke up. "Unless of course that life revolves around the urges you claim to revile. Can you control your nature, Lilan?"
"Because if you cannot, at the end of the two months, you will go to your master," the third one finished, his voice harsh and heavy with warning.