He followed her into the woods. Coppery hair hidden beneath a dark hood, her fleet footsteps were soundless on the path. No snapping branches, no crunching leaves, no gasping breath betrayed her passage. The silence raised the hairs on the back of his neck.
Making a complicated gesture with his left hand, he shifted, body becoming blurred and wispy. He moved between the trees, a living wraith. Even in this indistinct, shadow-form, he took care not to make a sound. He only had one chance to get this right.
She paused and he froze. As she turned towards him, green eyes reflected catlike in the starlight. Her freckled nose wrinkled and she sniffed the night air. His heart thumped in his chest. Paralyzed, he prayed she wouldn’t detect the acrid scent of his disquiet over the pine resin and damp, mossy earth.
She shook her head and continued down the path. It took a moment for his pulse to slow its frantic rhythm. Of their own volition, his fingers touched his chest, tracing the rectangular lump in his pocket. Reassured, he followed, flitting between the shadows.
Moments later the trees opened to a clearing. An altar sat in the center, the stone ancient and crumbling. He hovered in the treeline, watching as she raised her arms above her head. She snapped her fingers and a cloud slithered across the moon. Darkness blanketed the glade. He blinked to force his eyes to adjust.
She pulled items from her cloak, arranging them on the plinth. A jeweled dagger, a glass jar, a silver bowl carved with spidery inscriptions. After placing four black candles in the cardinal directions, she felt in her pockets, searching for something else. She frowned.
In the shadows he let the wraith-form drop, transitioning back to full corporeal. He squared his shoulders and took a deep breath. It was now or never – before she completed the ritual that would sever her from her family, once and for all. He stepped forward.
A twig cracked underfoot and she whirled to face the sound.
“Izidkiel.” She sneered at him, the expression at odds with her oval face and girlish features. “If anyone was going to try and stop me, it would be you.”
“Kepharel, please. It doesn’t have to be this way. Father will forgive you.” His voice softened. “He’ll take you back.”
“And what’s that worth? Father’s forgiveness.” Kepharel’s laugh echoed harsh and bitter in the night. Her pupils swelled, the green swallowed by black. “It’s already too late.”
She unfastened the clasp and her silken cloak rippled to the ground, pooling at her feet like a puddle of ink. A sizzle of electricity lifted her hair into a russet halo. She rolled her shoulders and a silent thunderclap rocked the clearing. Her broad wings snapped open. They were ravaged – skeletal, adorned with ribbons of rotting flesh and a few ragged feathers.
“No!” Izidkiel gagged and fell to his knees.
Kepharel pulled a black rapier from her belt. She held the weapon with assurance, finality. Eons ago, before their Father had even made the world, she had told Izidkiel that she only drew the blade to kill. She excelled at it.
Kepharel strode forward, death in her black eyes.
Izidkiel’s hand darted into his pocket and pulled out a gold lighter. Snapping it open he touched it to the ground. A ring of fire sprang up, encircling his foe.
“Holy oil?” Kepharel smirked. “Brother, you know it can’t hold the Fallen.” She put a hand in the flame and yelped. Shock crossed her face as she yanked singed fingers back.
“This will though.” Izidkiel held out his hand. The ornate cigarette lighter nestled in the palm of his hand bore a scrolling K on the face. “Tell me it’s not your fetter, your link to your physical form.”
Kepharel howled in rage. “How?”
Izidkiel waggled his fingers and shifted for a moment to his shadow-form. “I’m not the only one who’s learned black magic.” He dropped the fetter on the ground. “Father’s waiting.” His boot heel crushed the lighter.
Kepharel’s scream cut short. In a flash of light the fallen angel turned back to firmament and was drawn back to heaven.
With a sad smile, Izidkiel stretched his wings and leapt. Brilliant white feathers beat the air, sweeping the clouds from the sky. Between heartbeats he disappeared into the moonlight, in search of the next Fallen one.