The Enemy of Heaven

Read chapters 1 & 2

“It took a devastating war to unify the world and bring world peace. I won’t say it was worth it. But I will call this new world Heaven, hoping our descendants will make it into one. As of this day, every citizen of Heaven is an angel.” — Elden Azelys


Chapter 1

Raphael

Year 1027 of Heaven on Earth

“People don’t always know what’s good for them.”

“Careful, Raphael, you’re in public,” Sienna said, smiling by his side.

The prince registered the many pairs of eyes of the citizens of Heaven, gazing at him with shocked bewilderment and admiration as he walked hand-in-hand with his fiancée. It was a matter of image for the royal family to take a walk around the city square, followed by several security guards, allowing the commoners to imagine at least for a moment they were their peers, even though this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The sunset had painted the sky in bright amber, and the capital was pleasantly tranquil. The citizens were coming back from their workday, or walking home from school while children played on the streets. A few days ago, the newspapers announced Prince Raphael’s engagement, so obviously, the public had to be teased some more.

“We allow them too many voting rights lately,” Raphael continued quietly, so only Sienna would hear. “Commoners shouldn’t vote on Jaziel Hana’s decree. They don’t even understand it.”

“That’s why the royal council can veto the decision,”

Sienna said. “I think more public participation is good for the government. Have some faith in the citizens of Heaven.”

“Should we agree, if they ask for genocide?”

Sienna sighed. “Your pessimism can eclipse the sun, my love.”

Raphael burst out laughing. “My love? Is that how we’ll call each other from now on?”

“I’m trying to get into the habit,” she shrugged, a little embarrassed. “You’ll have to bear with it if it sounds a tad wooden.”

“I’ll be the same person after the wedding. Just call me by my university nickname.”

“Dictator? I’d rather not.”

The couple laughed, which caused the commoners closest to them to laugh too, even though they didn’t hear what they were talking about. Raphael and Sienna waved at them while continuing their walk and giggling like schoolchildren.

Sienna was a year older than him, and the most gracious woman he knew. Their parents arranged their marriage ever since they met. It made sense—their education, political views, and connections were compatible. And their many years of close friendship additionally promised a comfortable companionship.

This was more than many other noble couples had.

“I’m not a pessimist, I’m a realist,” Raphael said. “You should be one too, if we’re going to govern together. Politics isn’t a place for hopeless idealists.”

“Please,” she smirked. “A hopeless idealist doesn’t marry for political gains.”

“Thief!”

A woman ran across the street, clutching a loaf of bread.

An angry baker was pointing after her and shouting, which immediately grabbed the attention of two guardian angels.

In no time, the guardians in golden uniforms patrolling the city chased after her.

Raphael and Sienna looked at each other in silence and followed. They didn’t have to run much. Once they turned the corner, the chase was already over. The bread was on the ground and the guardians had caught the young woman. Even from afar, her eyes were a noticeable, bright shade of red—she was a demon.

Demons weren’t allowed inside Alirie unless they were honorary angels—demons under the service of families who could afford to employ serving staff. The woman was wearing the typical gray honorary angel uniform with a single angel wing embroidered on the back, but even from this far away, Raphael could tell she wasn’t a servant.

Honorary angels were thoroughly educated before being hired for work and it was obvious, in the way she presented herself, she was not. She was a common demon woman who put on a stolen uniform to blend in and steal bread.

“Well, that’s not a stamp,” one guardian said as he yanked her hand.

Every honorary angel had a tattoo on the back of their hand for identification. This one had a sloppy drawing instead of an official stamp of a public servant.

“Impersonating an honorary angel and coming here to steal,” the guardian said. “Do you know what awaits you now?”

The woman attempted to kick the guardian in the groin, only to fail and receive a punch across the face in return. Her body twisted to the side and her fire was immediately extinguished. The other guardian stood on the side, his arms crossed and nodding with approval, as though there was something amusing in this scene.

The woman turned docile in an instant. The guardian hustled her into the narrow alley. His partner chuckled in satisfaction and glanced over his shoulder, making sure no one was watching, while a desperate whimper left the dark alley.

“Guardian Samuel Mitrigard!”

Sienna’s voice interrupted the scene. She walked up to the two guardians, who were now utterly petrified. Raphael was surprised she knew the guardian’s name. He rarely bothered to remember anyone’s name.

“I see you’re diligently keeping us safe, as always,” Sienna said politely.

Both guardians bowed to her respectfully. They bowed to Raphael too after they noticed him behind her. He wasn’t alone either. A small crowd was gathering, curious about the sudden commotion.

“Nothing to worry about, my lady. This one is a small fish,” guardian Samuel said, suddenly on his best behavior in the eyes of the public. “She will be punished accordingly.”

Sienna picked the bread from the ground. “You’re right, of course. But does petty theft relay a private punishment on the street?”

The guardians tensed. Their eyes moved to Raphael, who still wasn’t saying anything. What did they expect? That he would correct his woman’s insolent behavior? Maybe defend their deeds due to the eye color of this desperate woman?

A few years ago, when Raphael was a college student, he would have advocated against such injustices, but right now, his silence was doing a better job. Letting his outspoken fiancée do all the work and humiliate these guardians in public was justified and amusing.

“I know how hard you work,” Sienna said. “So, don’t waste your valuable time on a small fish. I’ll pay the baker for the bread, and she’ll run home as fast as she can. Won’t you?”

That last part was intended for the poor demon woman, who still struggled to understand what was going on. She trembled when she felt Sienna’s attention on herself and instinctively nodded. The guardian, this Samuel Mitrigard, looked like a wolf who just had his prey stolen.

He tugged at the woman’s arm roughly. “See the mercy of angels? Say thank you!”

“Th-thank you,” the woman muttered.

The guardian let go of her and she tripped backward. She quickly scrambled to her feet just as Sienna handed her the bread. The woman looked so confused. She took the bread and ran away.

Several people behind Raphael started clapping, inspired by Sienna’s good nature. However, he noticed most of the onlookers walked away, grumbling about their intolerance of demons entering the capital unsupervised. A few insults were hurled at Sienna, too.

“You shouldn’t be so lenient with the demons, my lady,” Samuel Mitrigard said. “It confuses them, makes them think they’re worth something.”

“Jaziel Hana has the best idea,” the other guardian said while walking away. “Put all the demon scum in the dissection labs, make them useful.”

“I’m voting for that decree.”

Raphael stood next to Sienna and their hands entwined on instinct. They looked at each other in silence while waiting for the guardians to distance themselves.

“You know you did more harm than good,” he said. “They remembered that woman. They’ll harass her in her own home now.”

Sienna knew this, of course. Random acts of charity weren’t a job for people like them, and they weren’t a long-term solution either. Still, it was good to see where their motivation was coming from. Raphael lifted her hand before his lips and placed a kiss over her knuckles.

“But I’m proud of you,” he said with a loving smile.

Sienna smiled back at him. “So, what are you doing tonight?”

Raphael shrugged. “Same old.”

The Seven Deadly Sins club was the affectionate name for a nobleman’s favorite decadent establishment in the capital. It was an exclusive club for the nobility, royalty, and their most special guests to drown in their most depraved pleasures, away from the public eye, or the scrutiny of their own families. Raphael has been a frequent visitor ever since his teenage years.

There were quite a few of his colleagues from his university here tonight.

The room was dimmed by the fumes of his favorite mind-altering substances, while laughter permeated through the polluted air. Tables were full of all kinds of treats for eating and drinking, and some of his friends had already lost their clothes and were sensually pleasured by the skillful hands of the club’s entertainers.

Raphael took a deep drag from the glass pipe in his hands and pulled his head back. The charred remains of the masterfully mixed herb concoction emitted the occasional spark as the fumes filled his lungs to the brim. His mind swirled into blissful oblivion, his senses lit up with the light of all the stars in the sky.

The prince dropped on a soft couch, together with his favorite entertainer from the Room of Lust—a young and utterly gorgeous demon, wearing their signature decorative mask on his face. These entertainers were affectionately called succubi, or incubi, and were glorified around the globe as the masters of the pleasures of the flesh.

Raphael’s incubi was tall and fit, with short dark hair, tanned skin, and nicely defined muscles, barely hidden by his loose beige robe going over one of his shoulders. On his back, he had large tattoos of angel wings, starting from the shoulder blades and sprawling to his exquisite lower back.

Two pairs of red eyes peeked behind his mask and made Raphael shiver every time he looked into them. Very early on, the prince realized how attracted he was to the red eyes of demons—they awakened a primal instinct that caused fear and excitement in just the right quantities.

“I didn’t think I’d see you here again, Your Highness,” his favorite incubi said, as he sensually placed his naked leg in Raphael’s lap. “Won’t your fiancée be mad about you being here?”

Raphael looked at him, confused, as his hand gently caressed the man’s smooth thigh. “Our marriage is a union of political opportunity, not passion.”

“Yes, I know the rules in your world,” the demon licked his lips. “But don’t you love each other, at least a little?”

“Of course, we love each other,” Raphael said, and took another drag from his glass pipe. He swallowed the smoke, not letting it leave his lungs. “We’re best friends, and…I suppose she doesn’t approve of me poisoning myself with you degenerates.”

The demon chuckled at the remark, and maybe it was the intensity of the herbs, but his laughter sounded like bells in Raphael’s ears. It was a beautiful sound, as beautiful as the delicious moaning reaching him from the neighboring couches. Intoxicated men and women sought comfort in each other’s arms, with an absolute absence of judgment.

This atmosphere was the perfect escape, one that Raphael indulged in for such a long time, he couldn’t even remember when it became a part of his daily life. The gorgeous incubi leaned over and pushed his mask on top of his head. He was required to keep his mask on, but he revealed his face, especially for the prince.

“She’s too pure for you,” he said with a wicked smile. The faint smell of argan body oils reached Raphael’s nose.

“Yes,” the prince rested his hand on the back of the gorgeous man’s neck, looking deep into his mesmerizing eyes. “I need a degenerate. Like me.”

He kissed the incubi’s lips, held him firmly against himself and devoured his mouth, meeting the same eagerness from the other side.

Raphael could drown in this decadence, like everyone else in this room, but something wasn’t right tonight. He wasn’t excited. There was this heaviness in his head, producing a distant high-pitched shriek in his ears. His stomach felt like a vessel filled with stale water, urging his body to expel unwanted pollution.

He briefly wondered if maybe he overestimated himself when he chose a stronger bouquet of herbs for his pipe, but then his father’s face appeared behind his closed eyelids. Raphael quickly pulled away from the kiss and stared at the floor in horror.

Tonight clearly wasn’t a night for lustful indulgences. “Your Highness?” the incubi inquired, a little worried. “I need water.”

The prince stood up from the couch and walked away, too embarrassed to spare his paid lover a glance. He reached the table, laden with all kinds of sweet and salty treats, picked a glass of water and gulped it all in one go.

He filled the glass again and moved to the balcony. The cool midnight air quickly cooled him off and vanquished the nausea. The lustful moans of his university acquaintances receded somewhere behind his back, covered by the tranquility of the night.

The visions behind Raphael’s eyelids manifested a familiar room in Elden Palace. Inside was a puddle of blood beneath a woman’s corpse. A man’s hand clutched a skewered candelabra dripping with blood. Raphael shook his head, trying to cast away the unwanted pictures. His hand fisted in his hair and pulled harshly.

Why wasn’t this memory going away?

All of a sudden, something broke in his hand, and glass pierced his skin. Raphael yelped and his blood dripped onto the balcony floor. He didn’t even realize how harshly he was gripping the glass. But the pain cleared his mind. The visions vanished.

“Let’s go!”

Raphael looked at the street and saw several guardians heading to the ghetto. The Seven Deadly Sins club was close to the outskirts of Alirie, so the ghetto was no more than a short walk from here. It was the only part of the capital that was as dark as the night, no street lighting and with barely any night lights upon the buildings.

Their guardians’ loud laughter asserted dominance over the silent night. One that had no business going to the ghetto was Samuel Mitrigard.

Raphael burst out laughing. He knew it—that reprobate was going to harass that woman they saw today. He knew it would happen, and it was happening before his eyes. It was ridiculous how correct his predictions could get. This world would never change.

The prince’s fingers tapped non-stop on the banister as he heard every single step of the distancing group of guardians. Everything was so clear, his senses have never been so alert. And he was in a surprisingly good mood.

What if he jumped? This was only the second-floor balcony, so he shouldn’t get hurt. No one would see him either—the back and front yards were empty, and all the servants were inside the club. Zakiel, his personal guard, was in the lobby, waiting to escort the prince to the palace. He wouldn’t even know Raphael left.

Though wasn’t he being reckless?

He was the Third Heir of Heaven—he should act more responsibly and set an example for the people his age. The moment this thought crossed his mind, he burst out laughing again.

Raphael peeked into the room, making sure no one was looking, and grabbed a beige cloak from the closest hanger. He pulled the curtains back again and put on his disguise. Then, he propped his hands onto the stone rail and hurled his body over the balcony. He hung from the railing for a bit, looking down. It was much higher than it seemed.

He dropped below, rolling on the soft glass. He still remembered his combat training back at the palace, and knowing how to fall properly might have been the most important lesson in his entire education. Still didn’t spare him some back pain from the fall though. The prince rose to his feet and left the club grounds, quietly following the guardians at a safe distance.

Raphael wasn’t sure what he was doing, or how he could protect that poor woman. Maybe offer her a job? Gaining her trust would be the hardest—he was the face of authority that made the demons second-class citizens for the last thousand years.

It wasn’t long until the night lights of the capital remained behind him and he was passing through a wilderness with crop fields on both sides. He approached the shadow of the concrete jungle that was the ghetto of Alirie. If he looked back, he would see the illuminated streets of the capital, and Elden Palace in the distance—a monument upon the twilight sky, lit up from all sides, to remind of its splendor.

The ghetto, on the other hand, was full of unfinished buildings, with plant life growing on their sides, and garbage rolling on the streets.

The buildings were ancient remains of the Great War from a thousand years ago. This zone wasn’t protected as cultural heritage, so, eventually, much of the demon population made it their home. And as Alirie expanded, it became a part of the capital, which the public called a ghetto.

Unfortunately, these buildings weren’t safe for living.

Some of them have collapsed, and others were slouching to the side, about to fall at any moment, but still holding up by some miracle. Yet still, so many people made it their home.

Raphael couldn’t see them right now, but he knew at least several pairs of eyes observed him from a distance. The ghetto was never asleep.

“Stop him!” Someone screamed.

Raphael recognized the voice of one of the guardians and stopped in his tracks. The galloping of horse hooves sounded nearby. At least three guardians were chasing someone.

“He’s climbing the building!”

Raphael looked up at the building right next to him. A human shadow appeared on the rooftop of the six-story construction and started climbing down. If Raphael thought his jump from the club balcony was reckless, then this was downright suicidal. The climber used every surface and crevice on the wall to his advantage, slowly descending without even taking a breath.

Raphael has never seen a person so much in control of their every movement. It was an impressive display. Whatever that person did to anger the guardians was irrelevant—Raphael was intrigued. He had to know him. As soon as his feet touched the ground, he would extend his royal protection, and….

The wall crumbled under the climber’s grip and Raphael’s heart stopped. Pieces of concrete rained upon the prince, and he moved out of the way, shielding his head with his arms, eyes squeezed shut, bracing for that reckless man’s inevitable death.

A sharp wisp of air splashed Raphael in the face, but no sickening sound came. He cautiously opened his eyes. There should have been a broken pile of flesh and bones at his feet. Instead, a living body hovered in the air. A young man with a raven ponytail and eyes as red as blood, firmly focused on the night sky, was insolently defying gravity.

Moments passed, and each second was an additional insult to the laws of nature. An eternity later, the young man exhaled deeply. His lean body whipped in the air and landed firmly on his feet. He glared at Raphael over his shoulder, and the prince shivered. The demon did not appreciate being seen.

“There he is!”

Several guardian angels appeared in view, and the young man ran through the street as though nothing happened. The guardians galloped after him, not paying attention to the hooded figure, who still tried to make sense of what he had seen.

Raphael let out a laugh and immediately clasped a hand over his mouth. A demon was levitating. No one in this world had seen such a thing. He always knew there were mysteries, hidden truths that history desperately wanted to forget, but this…this had the potential to crumble a thousand-year-old dynasty in a single year.

Raphael was wrong—the world could change.

Chapter 2

Dante

Dante felt sick. Little Philip had just said the words he feared most coming from the mouths of his brothers and sister. For a moment, he expected the little brat to stick out his tongue and start laughing. It would be a cruel joke, but a joke and nothing else. Dante searched the boy’s red eyes, hoping to find traces of a lie, but there were none.

“What did you say?” Dante asked.

Philip raised his chest proudly. “I said I’m joining Jaro’s gang, and I’m not coming back to the flat.”

Dante grabbed the boy by the collar and shoved him against the closest wall. A startled gasp behind him was a quick reminder that little Peter and Dianna were witnessing this. They were too young to watch their found family fall apart, but life was unfair.

“You barely turned thirteen,” Dante spat. “All this time, I’ve been protecting you from those pieces of shit and now you want to join them?!”

“This is my choice,” Philip said, his voice trembling. “You think Jaro never tried to lure me with some black-market contraband? Or with protection from other gangs? But I know the value of never being indebted to anyone! Freedom is priceless!”

“Not everyone wants to be like you!” Philip shouted. “Do you know what will happen once you join? Jaro will make you into his little errand boy. He’ll give you missions to prove your loyalty, and when you’re ready, he’ll send you to kill someone he hates. Is that what you want to do with your life?”

“Better kill than be killed.”

Dante’s blood froze. Philip was already talking like one of them. Dante had taken care of this little boy after he lost his parents. They weren’t related by blood, but he raised him as he would raise a little brother. Losing him like this was a caretaker’s biggest failure.

“Besides, you can’t protect anyone, Dante.”

And this was the last nail in the coffin. It was hard to be angry at someone when they spoke the truth. Dante shoved the little brat to the ground.

“Get out of my sight,” he said. “Don’t show your face to me again.”

He took a seat onto a broken trash container and stared at the ground. Little Peter and Dianna approached him quietly. They looked destroyed. Dante’s whole life revolved around caring for these orphans. He used to be an orphan himself and he knew what it meant to be alone in the world.

Meanwhile, the gangs tempted the homeless children they deemed useful. Peter and Dianna were only nine-years-old, they were too young to be a target. But Dante couldn’t help but wonder, when would it be their turn? When would some gang leader entice them with a few luxury goods and swallow them in the dark underbelly of the ghetto?

Little Dianna hugged Dante from the side and stiffened a few sobs, while little Peter yelled. “You heard him! Go away!”

“Dante, I have some food in my storage,” Philip said. “Take it. I don’t need it anymore.”

With that, he ran away.

“Fuck you!” Peter yelled after him. “I hope the guardians get you!”

Dante rubbed his temple. It was just the three of them now. Their group was never this small.

Winter was coming, so he had to restock the food supplies, get paid for the last job he did, and maybe tighten the security in their room. Desperate people became dangerous in the cold months. As much as he hated accepting anything from the little traitor, Peter and Dianna needed all the food they could get, no matter where it came from.

At nightfall, the three of them approached Philip’s secret storage. The ghetto used to be an ancient city, so it had many spots that could serve as hiding places. Dante knew a lot, but not all of them, and the same went for the rest of the locals—there was always a hidden crevice that could surprise you.

Dante and the children entered an enclosed alley covered in ivy. He moved the hanging vines out of the way and uncovered a smooth surface with a large crack. He slipped two fingers into the crack, pulled the outer lid, and a bloody head with dead blue eyes hung from the rim.

Dante and the kids yelped in terror and stepped back. A whole human corpse was stuck inside the storage space. The crevice was deep enough to contain it, but shoving it all in must have taken some serious effort. The dead man wore a gold uniform. His neck was broken, and the head hung limply like that of a rag doll.

Someone shuffled behind them near the corner—another guardian, a live one. Philip was next to him. Dante locked eyes with the thirteen-year-old and saw the stone-cold resolve of a thug. Yes, the little brat was going to survive for a long time.

“Fucking traitor!” Dianna yelled.

The officer blew a whistle, calling for backup. Philip ran away without looking back, and as far as Dante was concerned, he was dead to him.

The alley was enclosed, there was nowhere to run. Only one way out—Dante kneeled and the kids wrapped their arms and legs around him. He climbed the wall with the two kids attached to him, resembling two backpacks. They’ve become heavier since the last time they did this exercise.

Dante entered through the window on the first floor.

Someone was occupying this room. It was full of mattresses and belongings, though there was no one in sight. The kids stepped on their feet and broke into a run toward the exit on the other side.

Once they reached the window, Dante jumped first and landed safely on the street. Dianna instantly jumped into his arms. Peter followed quickly after. This shortcut gave them a small lead. Dante led the kids to a giant landfill of rubble.

Twenty years ago, it used to be a tall building, until it crumbled because of its unstable design. Today, it provided a good hiding spot, since most people didn’t dare enter.

“Run through the entire thing,” Dante said, and pushed

the kids through the curtain of ivy. “In a few hours, return home the long way round.”

“What about you?” Dianna asked. “Run!”

Dante fixed the plants, so they covered the entrance completely and dashed through the street. Horse prattle followed him. He glanced over his shoulder and saw the entire squad tailing him. Good, they ignored the children.

Dante kept running, and soon he felt the horse’s breath on his neck. The guardian pulled out his sword and swung it in the air, aiming at immediate decapitation, but Dante moved out of the way in time. He swiftly entered a narrow crevice to the side.

The officers continued forward and pulled the reins to a halt.

The buildings weren’t properly aligned with each other, so the further Dante went in the crevice, the narrower it became, and eventually, he was at a dead end. Fortunately, these guardians were quite bulky, so they couldn’t reach him.

“Better stay in there forever, Dante,” one of them said. His frame was nothing but a shadow from this angle. “Nothing good awaits you outside.”

Dante glanced at the narrow strip of the starry sky above his head. He braced himself on the wall and pulled himself up. The walls were smooth and there wasn’t anything to grab on, but it was enough that they were so close. He propped himself easily and advanced upward.

“He’s climbing the building!”

By the time the guardians noticed, Dante stepped onto the roof and ran for the other side. Without slowing down, he hurled his body over the edge. Briefly, he swung on one arm, holding onto the rusty parapet, until his free hand and feet found support against the wall. Then he let go and landed on the terrace on the last floor. He did the same there, swiftly taking one story at a time.

He had done this so many times in the past without accident, but tonight the concrete of the third terrace chipped off abruptly under his feet. He reached to grab at anything but found only empty air. Dante flew downward, gaze locked upon the night sky.

He wasn’t afraid. Heights never made him afraid. Dante closed his eyes and heavy tension weighed upon his head, inducing a wicked headache. The stars witnessed the halt of his descent before reaching the ground.

The stars, and someone else.

Dante landed on his feet and glared at the cloaked stranger who dared to exist the one time he was forced to use his secret ability. Because today just wasn’t shitty enough.

“There he is!”

Dante broke into a run again. He took several detours, hoping to lose the guardians among the tightly packed buildings and hid in the pitch-black entrance of a hideout he used for emergencies. He stood there, did not move, did not breathe, even though his lungs were close to collapsing.

Once the sound of horse hooves was gone, and Dante caught his breath, he carefully peeked behind the corner. The silence of the night was back, and he hoped to see an empty street, but once he leaned forward, a guardian swung his sword, almost slicing Dante’s face off. He avoided the blade, but moving away landed him in the deadly headlock of another guardian.

Dante hung on the bulky arm and kicked the one in the front right in the face. With a swift movement, he slipped from the other guardian’s grip and threw him over his shoulder, letting him collapse to the ground like a potato sack.

“It wasn’t me,” Dante said. “I didn’t do it.”

No one was listening. A third guardian roared from behind and ran at him with a sword aiming straight at his heart. Dante moved out of the way, grabbed his wrist, and swung his body around, disarming and tripping him to the ground.

“I didn’t kill that guy, I swear!”

A fourth guardian came. This one wasn’t as hasty as the previous three, and instead of attacking as a wild man, he stopped and assessed the situation. But all he saw was an armed demon thug and several of his comrades beaten to the ground. This was not helping Dante’s claim of innocence.

He dropped the sword, but the guardian attacked regardless. No point in trying to reason with them and refusing to fight would only get him killed. Fighting would only make his case more unforgivable, so all that was left was for Dante to run again.

He kneeled to the ground, pulled out a small blade from his strapped ankle, and sliced the guardian behind the knee with surgical precision. Blood sprayed on the ground and the man lost his balance, holding his wound and groaning in pain. This should neutralize him for a bit and slow down the others while they took care of him.

“I truly didn’t do it,” Dante said.

As he turned around, another three officers tackled him to the ground. They squashed him underneath their collective weight, pinning his arms and legs and shoving his face into the gravel. Dante fucked up. He couldn’t move. His palm opened, leaving his blade lying on the ground and surrendering himself to their mercy.

Another pair of feet arrived—Samuel Mitrigard. Of course, the officer who hated him the most had to be here. He wasn’t even tired.

“Pick him up,” he ordered.

Dante let the guardians pull him up to his feet. Two of them were holding him from both sides. Several others had their weapons ready. Meanwhile, Samuel Mitrigard picked up Dante’s stranded blade and examined it curiously. It could barely be called a weapon, since it had mostly cut food and ropes.

Sometimes it was used to threaten people, but it rarely tasted blood.

Dante wondered whether he shouldn’t try explaining himself again. A small optimistic voice inside him insisted that maybe, this time, he would be heard. The guardians knew how often people from the ghetto framed each other for various reasons. His story was nothing new. Perhaps, just once, he should put his faith in authority.

Without saying a word, Samuel Mitrigard sunk the knife deep into Dante’s side. Piercing pain ignited his senses and weakness spread through his body. He gritted his teeth and glared at the bastard, not giving him the satisfaction of hearing his anguish. Samuel pulled the blade out without even twisting it to finish the job. He was playing.

“Drop him,” he ordered, ever so casually.

The arms pulled away and Dante fell face-first into the dirt. So, this was the end. Dante could never imagine his death, even though he had many close brushes. There were many things he hadn’t done in his life, but at least he took solace in knowing that Peter and Dianna were safe.

Samuel Mitrigard grabbed a fistful of hair and pulled Dante’s head. The edge of an impeccably clean sword lowered to his exposed throat.

“Halt!”

The guardian angels froze and gawked as a hooded figure appeared. Dante could swear he saw this hooded figure, but his vision was blurring quickly. The man walked closer and removed his hood, exposing a blond head and blue angel eyes.

“Don’t kill this demon! I order you to release him in the name of Raphael Azelys, Third Prince of Heaven!”

What did he say? Dante couldn’t trust his ears, or any of his other senses at this moment. A royal heir could not simply be in the ghetto. It made no sense. Though the guardians were suddenly standing on their toes. Everyone but Samuel Mitrigard still held his prey by the hair, his sword still ready to slice.

“Your Highness, I don’t know why you’re here alone, but this is not the place for royalty.”

“Please, guardian Samuel, tell me exactly where my place is.”

Dante felt the body behind him tense. The soles of ridiculously expensive boots stepped close enough for him to smell the leather.

“Remove your weapon,” demanded the prince.

His voice was so calm, as though an owner was asking his dog to drop its favorite toy. The guardians were looking at each other, clueless what to do. Samuel Mitrigard pressed the blade against Dante’s throat, enough to break the skin, but no further. He simply did not want to let go, not even when his sovereign demanded it.

“Your Highness, this is a convicted murderer. He killed a guardian on duty…”

“Any demon’s crimes are erased should they become an honorary angel,” the prince interrupted. “I’m here to make him into one.”

“What?”

“Give him to me, guardian Samuel.”

The guardian tugged on Dante’s hair—one last act of defiance before he reluctantly let him go. Dante’s face planted back into the dirt, but the prince caught him in time.

His vision was blurry, but he could see him. His Royal Highness Raphael Azelys was kneeling before him, supporting his chin in his palm, enough so they could establish eye contact.

“From now on, you’re mine,” he said, and the world sank into darkness.

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