This is the first chapter of Thoeba the Novel. Enjoy!
Thoeba watched the end arrive with grim fascination. Colors rarely seen in her realm danced a solemn waltz of death in garish display amongst the clouds. Pinks and yellows mated with oranges that became fuchsia, finally surrendering to purple.
Blood and ashes splashed across the sky as her people battled the minions of darkness. She stood on a warm, sandy cliff with the breeze chilling her bare skin. The enemy swarmed in the distance, a black swarm of insects flying toward them.
For centuries, darkness encroached upon this paradise, this Eden that some called the home of God. For many long years evil promised to swallow the heavens.
It must be the only promise the soulless entity ever kept, Thoeba thought, as she waited for her chance to fight.
They were vastly outnumbered, so much so that the angels were forced to retreat. Thoeba glanced up to see the first wave of refugees rising to the air.
The exodus had begun.
One by one they disappeared to other dimensions. Not all of them would make it. She drew a shuddering breath. Someday she hoped they could reclaim their home, but first they must struggle to leave it.
Beside her, her lover sensed her worry, and took her hand. A warm and unfamiliar wind blew his long dark hair across his face, partially obscuring his slight smile.
“Are you afraid, Thoeba?”
“No Thani.” She squeezed back. “I would prefer not to die.”
She sighed, turned her blurring gaze to his face and lifted the corners of her lips. “I rather like it here.”
“Think of it as…a new beginning.” He stroked the glowing crystal around his neck. “Nothing truly dies, you know that,” he said. “Night becomes day, to turn to night again. Flowers die and shed seeds, to grow flowers yet again.” He rubbed his hands together, as though this invasion were an ordinary mundane occurrence, something to be dealt with and dismissed.
“Besides, who says you will die?”
Thoeba, soldier angel of God, stared at the pendant around Thani’s neck.
A deity on a string, The Energy, as her kind called It, remained a shining kernel of fluttering life. Without It, all would be lost.
Another wave of her brethren left Eden and disappeared into the sky.
Fly swift my friends, she thought, No time for fears, tears, or regrets.
“I will fall defending you,” she said. “I will secure your escape.”
Above them, the evil arrived and the fight commenced. Other angels met the demonic beings made of ash, and sounds of dying rang through the darkening skies.
Barely aware of anything but the need to destroy, the minions of darkness experienced no pain. They understood only the joy of inflicting it. They slashed at wings, and skewered hearts while their leathery wings beat hot humid winds.
“Wrong,” he said. “We will secure our escape.”
They released each other, their decision an unconscious one. Thoeba plucked her sword from the soft sands, and prepared for her opportunity to do battle. She examined the glowing weapon, tested its weight and heft, and gave it a few practice swings. Her lover busied himself by communing with the gem.
His discussion complete, Thani gave his attention back to her. “Ready?”
He pulled her close. Centuries of love made the kiss perfection, as his tongue eagerly dove into her mouth. She equaled his passion, pressing her bare nipples against his chest. One of hand framed her face the other he placed on the small of her back.
She relished the gentle way he released her lips with a brush of tenderness, only to demand more. She could smell honeysuckle and musk floating from his skin. Her free hand ran through the silk of his hair.
He didn’t let her go. Not yet. He tightened his embrace. The hand holding her face gripped her hair, and he trailed wet, sweating kisses down her neck. His arousal burned like fire against her stomach, and she whimpered in pleasure.
He released her with a sigh and a smirk. “Incentive to live through this.”
Thani chuckled and grabbed his sword from the ground, grinning at her as he launched into the air.
“Hellspawn.” She was not referring to the ashen ones.
Thoeba followed him into the fray.
A molding gray specimen with a protruding lower jaw full of pointed teeth met her. Fangs jutted from every available space in its mouth, and it leered at her, its red eyes alight. The rusty smell on its breath promised Thoeba she would bleed, and she fought to keep her stomach contents.
The monster’s intense desire to feed on her rippled through her mind, causing her to lose her bearings. To emphasize its intentions it clacked its many canines at her, drool dripping away from its mandibles as it dove for her.
Thoeba took immense satisfaction in driving her sword straight through it, and pulling up with all her strength. A rib and a leathery wing were sliced away, and the thing tumbled, spinning in a swirl of sooty dust.
The angelic warrior’s next victim loomed uglier than the first. Its only eye rolled over her, and a lengthy tongue caressed her face before her sword met the demon’s primitive weapon.
Thoeba noted with disgust that the blade and hilt had been crafted from a previous meal. Determined not to be next, Thoeba pumped backward in haste.
The cyclopean pressed the attack, spurred on by the taste of her skin. Its nose spasmed, and a thick line of slobber demonstrated its intent.
She tucked in both wings and dropped.
Creatures of the darkness were not known for their intelligence, and was thus confused by its prey’s sudden disappearance. It glanced down, but Thoeba had flared her feathers out to stabilize the reverse dive. She twisted, her own feverish flapping thudding in her ears as she struggled to rise up behind her grotesque victim. She jabbed it in the back, where a heart should have been, and transformed it to powder.
Panting, beating her wings in tune with her heartbeat, Thoeba wondered where Thani could be.
She registered a bellow of rage from beneath her. No time to investigate.
Oxygen became scarce when another gargoyle-like creature plowed into her. Pain dug deep into her shoulder as the monster bit down and pulled. She screamed louder than ever before in her long life. The raw noise echoed back to her, clamoring off the crumbling crags and bluffs.
Thoeba vaguely detected the alarm that Thani radiated before she began to tumble, with her quarry joining her.
Thoeba had her sword, but to her it resembled a twig when she faced the behemoth. It had no weapon, and didn’t need one. Its malevolence alone assaulted Thoeba’s thoughts with images of suffering she had never before imagined. Her brain ached with horrors she, in all her centuries of life, had never endured. She flailed, weeping as she struck with all the effectiveness of a fist against a mountain.
We are here Thoeba.
Another body slammed into them, separating her from the beast. Relief swept over her for a breath, as she caught herself in a spin, and fought to regain altitude. She searched the skies for her rescuer. Thani.
The answer came seconds later, when she heard a distant boom below and his pain shivered through her head. Thani. The urgency escalated.
His weak response came late, but she found him. She dropped through clouds without concern for her own safety. The pain started in her shoulder, but she ignored it in her hurry.
The mists parted for her, and she saw Thani lying broken on the ground. His wings were mangled beneath him, covered in a broth of blood and black film. The beast that he’d tackled ceased to exist.
Thani greeted her with a bloodstained smile.
“Beloved,” he said, extending feeble fingers.
Thoeba’s heart broke as her toes touched the ground.
“Don’t move, sweetness.” She dropped her sword, and fell to her knees beside him. “Be still. I need you to conserve your strength. The Energy-“
“The Energy cannot help me,” he said. “There’s no time.” His pendant blinked in sad agreement.
She peered around in desperation for something to stanch the bleeding, and found nothing but the shimmering grains of sand that slipped between her fingers. Another glance at her lover reminded her of the futility of her search. She couldn’t tell from where he bled. He seemed to ooze from everywhere, and blood dripped from his beautiful chin. His eyes were losing color and focus.
“Thoeba,” he said. “Come to me, my love.” She scrambled closer, pleading with her thoughts and grasping his hand.
“Thoeba, I love you,” He regurgitated more blood as her tears dripped down his nose. “But I have to leave you now.”
She shook her head in protest, but he smiled up at her.
“Yes. You know I must.” With his other hand, he tugged on the cord holding the bright stone around his throat. “Take it.”
“No.” The word came out a whisper.
He held it out to her. “There is no other way. You have to take it to a different realm, any realm.” He sighed, blinked with agonized slowness. “There isn’t much time, Thoeba. If you don’t, the Energy will be too weak to-“ He coughed harder, blood spattering his nose like freckles. “To restore the balance.”
She knew it to be true. The Energy would not survive in this new dominion of evil that had once been her home. It would fade until It winked out of existence like a snuffed flame.
The darkness gained strength and there were too few guardians left to protect against It. She slipped the crystal from his hand then pushed the hair from his face. She studied his pale skin, his strong jaw and full lips. Her gaze moved to his perfect sloping nose and at last to his fading blue eyes.
“I love you,” she said. “I always have.”
He smiled. Then his visage lost the light.
Grief strangled Thoeba without mercy. For long moments, she allowed it.
She howled her anguish. Her heart filled with torment and rage, like a water flask full of dust.
The living glow in her possession developed an ominous flicker. She might have gone mad from despair had it not been for that presence. After taking another wheezing breath, she nodded.
“You are right,” She let her tears fall, but clenched her god in her fist in resolution. “I waste time, and draw attention to us.”
But she lingered. She scanned for the enemy above her. Safety existed for the moment. Enough cloud cover hid her and her dwindling party for now.
She tied the crystal around her neck, brought it to her lips.
“Forgive me,” she whispered. “But I won’t leave him without saying goodbye.” Once again she smoothed her lover’s long soft hair away from his face, noticing as she did so how his skin cooled in death. Above her swords clashed, demons hissed, and her comrades screamed and died. She planted a delicate kiss first on his forehead, his nose, and finally his lips. She licked his blood off her mouth and reclaimed her sword.
“Where must I go?” she asked. The golden light inside the crystal pulsed with enthusiasm and she made ready to leave.
Thoeba crouched using the power of her legs to propel herself into the twilight and took flight.
She stared straight up, pointing her toes and stretching herself long. She soared, gaining altitude and speed. She accelerated, but it wasn’t enough.
She sensed them before she heard them. Dual shrieks ripped through her ears. She’d been spotted and they were coming for her.
Sweat formed on her brow as she flew with desperation, trying to put more distance between herself and them.
The blind flight straight up into the purple nothing began to hurt.
The bite in her shoulder left a stream of scarlet down her chest.
How much longer? She would not waste the energy to call out for help. No one could come.
The demons would fight over who got to eat her eyes. Her screams would be music. Their reveries were more than she could bear.
Thoeba struggled for air, and the monsters were so close she could hear their batwings flapping faster.
She could smell them. The burning sulfuric decay that clung to them like disease hit her and adrenaline gave her a push. A talon raked down her leg, just as an explosion concussed Thoeba’s entire being.
She tried to guard her eyes from a brilliant flash to no avail, her limbs no longer worked. She remembered plunging, but nothing more.