The Embrace of Life and Death
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by Liz Strange
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Gay Fiction
Description: Kieran is a hundred-and-twenty-year-old immortal, originally hailing from the harsh, famine-stricken life of 1880s Ireland. He has surpassed death and thrived, gaining wealth, power and knowledge. Azrael is the angel of death, but his mission is far from ominous. He is the protector of the grief-stricken, and the champion of lost souls. The two are polar opposites in mission and nature, yet are inexplicably drawn to one another. The Supreme One sees all, and when he discovers the truth about the relationship he is enraged. Their commitment to be together must be stronger than his determination to keep them apart.
eBook Publisher: MLR Press, LLC/MLR Press, LLC,
eBookwise Release Date: June 2011
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [311 KB]
Reading time: 198-278 min.
I'd been aware of my surveillance for about a month before finally coming face-to-face with my shadowy voyeur. The first hints had been nothing more than a fleeting tingle, a whisper of awareness of another supernatural being in the near vicinity to where I hunted. The presence was foreign to me, not a human being, but not vampire either. It was a warm energy, yet subtle, only noticeable because of my keen senses. This was a unique experience for me--something I'd never tasted before.
Yet I did not fear it, nor worry when in proximity, for whomever or whatever it was, they never intruded upon my unseemly activities or nocturnal ramblings. Distance was kept, and judgment not passed, at least not to me directly. If I were forced to make an assumption about its intention, I'd have to say my watcher was simply curious. As the nights passed I came to expect their presence, and even began to take a strange comfort from its silent observation. It became a gentle reminder that I was not alone in my supernatural existence, that there were wonders even I had not yet been made privy to.
At last the time arrived for my shadow to make itself known. That night, my heightened sensibilities immediately picked up on the difference in their presence. Where their touch had previously been a hazy breath of warmth, now heat and urgency existed, a phenomenon demanding my undivided attention. I peered into the darkness, over the shoulder of my victim as I fed, and for the first time I could discern an actual form. It stood not ten feet from me, a dark mass only a few shades lighter than the night itself. The specific features could not be identified, but the height and breadth of the form spoke to something large and masculine.
The blood from my female victim became sluggish, then stopped altogether. It'd been her misfortune to fall for my boyish good looks in a bar not three blocks away, and it had taken but a small touch of my supernatural influence to convince her to leave with me, alone. Persuading my victims to come with me willingly had become easier with each year of my undead existence, to the point I barely gave the occurrence a passing thought.
I let her body fall to the ground, and waited. Warm tendrils of energy probed my mind, spreading a flush through my body and making the stolen blood sing. For the first time in more than a hundred years I tasted a pure stream of life, bold and sweet. A teasing, spidery tingle started in my gut, spiralling its way out the tips of my fingers and toes. My body felt nimble and rubbery. The air grew heavy with an odd, but not unpleasant scent, accentuated with bright snaps of anticipation, like dancing fireflies.
"Kieran," a rumbling baritone called out. The voice commanded my attention, the urgency it imparted squeezing along my body like groping hands. The breath accompanying the words came as a humid gust of wind, closing the space between us, then encircling me, exploring me with its otherworldly influence. I'd never experienced anything like it; the intensity of the moment stunned me into silence.
"I have been watching you for some time now, Kieran," the same voice said. "And I am most intrigued and puzzled by what I have witnessed."
I trembled in response to the strange stimuli, becoming so rattled I had to call on my inner resolve, developed over the years of my sinister existence. Pulling my wits together, I took a deliberate pause before speaking so as not to seem rattled.
"You have me at the disadvantage, I must confess. Though I have been aware of your surveillance, I do not have a name to address you in return."
The shadowy figure advanced, instilling a sense of dread foreign to creatures such as I. "You may call me Azrael."
The name gave me a prickly tug of familiarity, though in the moment I couldn't identify the context or significance. I concentrated on the figure emerging from the camouflage of darkness, explicitly aware of how the face that appeared made my bowels hot and loose. The creature before me exuded gritty, masculine power, striding towards me on limbs like solid, muscled tree trunks. The circumference of one leg easily surpassed the size of an average man's waist, and a sprinkling of fine dark hair could be seen covering the limbs left bare by the short, tunic-like garment he wore. A set of massive, dove grey wings lay flat against his back from shoulder to knee.
A wave of energy, like fire, burst forth from him, licking along my skin and pulling a soft moan from my lips. Tiny pinpricks of heat and ice danced a strange tango up my arms to the base of my neck. As I strained my eyes, I could just make out a misty cyclone of power swirling around us, drawing in closer as Azrael closed the distance between us. When he was within arm's reach I could see a fine sheen of perspiration covering his ruddy skin, and I longed to run my tongue along the salty fluid. The heavy scent, I now realized, belonged to him, and the nearer he drew to me the more intense and alluring it became.
He stopped just short of being able to touch me. The eyes that fixed on me had appeared black at first glance, but as Azrael drew nearer I realized they were blue, not dark. I'd always been partial to blue eyes on either sex, influenced by memories of my human family and also the one who'd given me the Dark Kiss. All had been blue-eyed, but the eyes that stared at me now were not a shade I had seen before. They were a deep indigo, reminding me of the colour of the frigid, winter sea, the water of my boyhood land. Flecks of gold danced in the blueness, shining in the soft moonlight. The effect captured me.
My mind continued to roll along nonsensical trails of thought as the creature stood close, continuing his blatant appraisal. I let my eyes trace the lines of his face, down from his eyes to the straight, patrician nose, back to the strong cheekbones, full lips and square jaw line. A mop of dark, shaggy curls framed his face. One wayward strand dangled into his eyes, and I experienced the most maddening urge to brush it aside. I felt my hand lifting from my side, and with a flush of embarrassment I dropped it again. What was wrong with me?
"Azrael," I repeated. My voice sounded laboured and distant.
"Do you know who I am?" he asked, the sound quivering along my exposed skin.
I did my best to hold my reaction in check, but each word brought with it a tactile sensation that proved difficult to ignore. "Should I?"
He did not respond, and I couldn't ascertain whether he was simply surprised by my ignorance, or annoyed. Then he closed that final distance between us, wrapping a heavy arm about my shoulder and drawing me close to his warm, firm body. His touch was a lightning strike, leaving me weak in the knees. He prevented my trembling form from slipping to the ground by tightening his grip, a beautiful, alluring suffocation against a granite-like chest. Whether he meant to or not, the history of his long existence was transferred through his touch into me as a series of violent, twisted images. The path he showed me highlighted the never-ending battle between light and dark, and the part he'd played to minions of both sides.
"I am the Angel of Death," he whispered against my ear. His breath was fire, heavier than the air still humid from the earlier rain. I found his touch both pleasurable and draining, his words startled me with their fierceness.
My face now pressed to his chest as I responded. "What do you want with me?"
He walked some distance away from the dead girl at our feet, leading me by the hand before lowering us to the ground. For the first time I noticed the complete silence of the world around us, as though time had literally stood still. The air had taken on the texture of molasses, and had I needed it to survive, I would have choked on its density. Azrael's heart thrummed in his chest, steady and strong, a sound not to be found in my own immortal body.
"I need to understand why you are this way," he answered, and the words made no sense to my racing brain.
He adjusted his hold on me, now cradling me in his powerful arms, and looking down onto my upturned face. A warm finger moved along the side of my face, and for one brief moment I thought he smiled. It seemed strange that I did not struggle, but I felt no need to.
"We have been watching vampires for a very long time. For some reason, I find you different from the others of your kind." His voice shook the boundaries of a reality only the two of us existed in. "Though I have tasted your dark desires, witnessed your transgressions, I still wish to know you."
"I don't understand."
"Nor do I Kieran, for I have never experienced a feeling like this before. I am greatly troubled, and must think before I act further."
Then the face came close to mine, pressing down until our lips met. His mouth was warm silk, and his kiss firm. He stayed against my lips for a long time. A light sprinkle of stubble rubbed against my cheek, startling me out of my reverie. My brain cleared enough to realize what was taking place. I had been returning the kiss with passion, despite the absurdity of the situation and the obvious dominance the creature had over me.
A throbbing, pulsing energy enveloped us, and a deafening, otherworldly wail broke the silence. The arms holding my body withdrew and I crumpled to the damp ground. Curling into a ball, I waited for the painful sound to end and reality to return.
When my eyes could focus again, I found that Azrael had disappeared. I was alone, with cooling tears on my cheeks, and his kiss still warm on my lips.
* * * *
The encounter was still bright in my mind many days later, worming its way into every thought and action to come after its conclusion. The strange being's words whispered at my ear, his warmth lingered on my skin. Though I desperately tried to make sense of his intentions, each idea I brought forth simply came with a whole new series of unanswerable questions. For the many months spent in Australia, I had been satisfied to do nothing but simply exist, and feed. I didn't want to be bogged down by complications, and any actions that required too much forethought. Now, even that had become moot.
Daniel, my housemate and newly minted best friend, picked up on the change right away. When I returned home that night after the confusing encounter, I walked past him as though he didn't exist, heading to my silent room to collapse onto the familiar comfort of my bed. At that moment I wanted nothing more than to bury my head in the proverbial sand. Daniel let my actions pass without comment or question; he had never been one to intrude. Better than most, he understood the need to work through one's issues privately. My friend had many skeletons rattling about in his own closet.
One particular evening, after a rushed and not-entirely satisfying feeding, we decided to head to a local pub for some pool and people-watching. Or eavesdropping might be the more accurate description. Most immortals possessed some level of psychic awareness, allowing us to peruse human thoughts and emotion. Not all could do it, and few could do it without some limitation, though I have known some who seemed to be able to know everything that passed through a specific human mind. I had more ability than Daniel, whether from personal predisposition or the extra decades of existence I had on him, I couldn't say with any certainty. What Daniel lacked in telepathic abilities, he more than made up for with an empathic absorption of human emotion and a keen eye for reading body language.
As we sat, blending in with the crowd milling about us and waiting for a table to become free, Daniel finally inquired about my recent attitude.
"Is everything alright Kieran? You've been very...quiet lately." He chose his words with care, taking a non-confrontational stance, as was his habit.
"Yes, fine. Just thinking about things, the past. You know how it is." I swirled the contents of the glass of wine before me, hoping to impart that there was nothing to worry about, even though I wasn't too sure that was the truth.
Daniel continued. "Is this about Peru? Are you still mourning Donovan?"
His words surprised me, as those events had been far from my thoughts in recent days. The name of my dear friend Donovan, brutally murdered by the vicious Mistress Harshika, brought about a memory so vibrant I shuddered. Once again I felt the shower of blood and gore, the remains of my closest companion on my skin, the taste of grief burning on my tongue.
It had not been too far in the past when Daniel and I, along with the immortal race as a whole, had met in a secluded and forgotten settlement deep in the heart of the Peruvian jungle. We had been summoned before Harshika, the first of our kind, ordered to submit to her complete dominance over our existence, or die. The depraved circumstances of her own change had left her heartless and arrogant, unable to understand the idea of friendship, let alone a complicated emotion like love. She was so certain of her power she never gave a thought to the tables being turned on her. She would never have guessed that her downfall would come at the behest of her long-standing and most loyal servant, Achyut.
Donovan, who for the previous year had been my travelling companion, fell a casualty to that regrettable episode of our past. Another friend, a human, also became one of Harshika's victims, having had the Dark Kiss forced upon her to save her from certain death. We vampires had all been deeply affected by those terrible events. Yet in an odd way it had brought many of our kind closer, building friendship and alliances where previously there had only been suspicion and animosity. My friendship with Daniel was a case-in-point.
"Donovan will always be missed. He was a true brother to me." I meant the words I spoke, though we had spent little more than a year together, much less time than I had passed with other immortals, even humans.
"I know that I can't take his place, but I hope our friendship has brought you some happiness." Daniel smiled.
"Of course. You are very dear to me Daniel. I hope we continue this way for many years to come. I enjoy living with you, we hunt well together."
"Good," he answered, leaning back in his chair. He let his gaze wander over the pub's interior, filled with a predominantly twenty-something crowd.
I followed suit. Bringing the wine to my lips, I allowed myself the smallest taste. With the flavour still on my tongue, I felt the tension I had been carrying since my encounter with Azrael begin to drain. I watched the crowd as Daniel and I sat in a comfortable silence, greedily drinking in the rush of emotions about me. Sex, or the possibility of sex, was foremost in the collective minds of the patrons there that night.
Sometimes Daniel's control over that part of him he wished not to acknowledge, the part that in his human life had liked to force and humiliate others sexually, simmered near the surface in such settings. He always kept his demon in check, stealing only blood when he came across someone who struck his fancy. Sex came from him exuding a supernatural persuasion over his victims, and even then only on rare occasions. If only every night could pass so easily, with thoughts of sex and blood my only concern.
Then Azrael took centre stage in my thoughts again. Little did I know then what his appearance in my life would mean for the future.