He found her in her dark subterranean nest, chewing the entrails of a bound-and-gagged man wrapped in coils of barbed wire.
The man was still alive. His breaths came rapidly; a mouse exhausted by its failed attempts to free its tail from a trap.
With his mouth open, corners bleeding around the wicked metal thorns, eyes bulging tipped back under his lids, it was difficult to tell if he felt great pleasure or great agony.
It was almost sensual. Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa in clotted crimson and oxygen-starved blue.
She heard his footsteps and turned. Blood and torn flesh streaked the coal-black skin on her chin and neck, coated her bare breasts. Her talons were tangled in the small intestine, pungent contents leaking from punctures made by her sharp teeth.
Her eyes reflected metallic green in the light behind him as she regarded him.
She was sated, now, he had nothing to worry about. At this point, she was just playing.
She was wild and beautiful, his harpy. Not that she belonged to him. He belonged to her . But there was no other he worshipped but her. She was all there was.
“You come back to me so soon, featherless?” she said in a harsh growl, flashing her jagged maw in a malicious smile. Shreds of organ tissue were caught between the teeth. “Would that you had come to me before my belly was full. Long have I wanted to sink my teeth into your meat.” With the last part, a glistening pink tongue, pointed and long, slipped out between her teeth and licked away the smeared gore with relish.
It was her way of saying that he was safe, for now. She confirmed this by letting go of the plaything’s innards with her taloned feet. Her wings, glossy black, were folded for now, clean and out of the way, but his eyes kept straying to them with longing.
He rolled up the sleeves of his cotton blend button-down and removed his tie. His goddess liked to play at murdering him, and he’d learned to remove wardrobe accessories that could be used to strangle, or stab, or suffocate.
She stood, and he knelt, peering up at her with unmasked devotion. The dark skin of her naked torso shone creamy smooth in the yellow bulbs of the tunnel behind him. Where the blood was smeared over her chest and breasts, it glistened like ichor.
Her flame-bright green eyes shone down on him, framed in a crown of long obsidian feathers, and his heart swelled to look on it once more. When he was gone, the minutes stretched like hours. Now, he wished time would stop.
She kicked a clawed foot back, hooked the leg of a battered antique chair to pull it forward, and perched on the edge of its shredded silk-upholstered seat. With her sitting upon it, it became a throne.
Soft thighs gave way to feathered knees and shins. He waited with breathless anticipation, looking up into her glorious visage.
“Lick me clean, human swine,” she hissed through her teeth.
He took a shuddering breath as she spread her thighs, revealing the tender pink folds between them. A sacred shrine.
One day, he would give his life to enter her temple, a pale tithe for the promise of the ascendance he would find in her. But now, he was grateful just to worship at its door.
He crawled forward on hand and knee. The fetid muck on the floor of her nest would irreparably ruin his virgin wool suit pants. It wouldn’t be the first time, and he spared it no further thought.
The smell of open intestines, rotting bones, and putrefying flesh faded when he neared her. She smelled like feather and brimstone; soft fire and earth. The space between her thighs was musky and sweet, a subtle odor that sank past his nostrils and infused him with need. His mouth watered, and he felt a growing tightness in his groin. He was overcome, but his needs were inconsequential.
He knew better than to tease. The scars of her impatience when he made that mistake once were easily hidden by the collar of his suit. He was forever marked by that symbol of her harsh mercy.
He extended his tongue and pressed it between the soft, moist folds. Nose buried against the small organ where she so loved to be licked, he breathed deep.
Her taste, tangy sweet and slightly rotten, was ambrosia. Her every pore and orifice gave an unmistakable reminder of what she was, of what she had once been.
His goddess of death, long forgotten by all but him, his reason for being.
She looked down at him, silent, neither discouraging nor praising, as his mouth spoke prayers without voice at her carnal altar.
Pearly white nectar welled at the mouth of her orifice under his gentle sucking lips and moving tongue, and he knew his prayer had been heard. He lipped her sensitive bead and used his tongue to lap away the gift. He took into himself the precious fluid, pure and rare and sweet.
“Yes, pet,” she said in the soft, gritty voice that was music to him. There was a crackling whisper as her wings moved. “Yessss…”
He turned his eyes upward to bear witness to the glory.
Her wings, each one longer than he was tall, spread. Feathers slid like silk, tinkled like glass as they unfolded, lengthened, stretched until they spanned the width of the room. The very tips reached the grimy walls on either side, shone like satin against the damp, moldy concrete.
He felt a bittersweet pang in his heart that her magnificence had to be hidden away beneath the surface world, never to feel the warm embrace of sunlight, or the cool melancholy caress of moonlight.
She’d told him once, that long ago she’d existed above with mortals. That legions of devoted worshippers had given gifts and praised her and her kin, and in return, their winged gods had protected them and bore them to the underworld at the end of life..
That time was no more. Those mortals were long gone, the legacy of their dark, ancient religion buried with their bones. Her kind faded and succumbed to the march of time until only she remained. She persisted, but allowed herself be forgotten in a catacomb of her own making.
He’d cried, then, and she’d comforted him. He’d come to her seeking death, but she had given him a reason to live.
His sorrow fueled his devotion now. He closed his mouth over her completely, circling and nudging her precious nub with the tip of his reverent tongue.
She sighed, and when he felt her wings begin to close around him, his eyes burned. His tears were an offering, much as his tongue, and she accepted. Between his own legs, his rigid flesh swelled to the point of pain, and he made a small involuntary noise deep in his throat.
“Soon,” she said, a rattly whisper. “My time will end. I would have you then… but not yet.”
He knew what she meant, and fear filled his heart. A brief weakness quickly washed away by the knowledge that this was his purpose.
In the shadowy shell of her embrace, her face was suspended above him in a halo of murky light. A new moon on a starless night, eyes like verdant beacons to guide him home.
Without her, there was no comfort in the shadows, no rest in the night, no meaning to anything.
But for now, he had her, and she had him. He suckled at her precious altar, swallowed her dew.
Her body tensed over him and her wings fluttered. Her head fell back, feathery locks flared, and a sharp moan like broken glass rose from her breast.
The hymn spilled through her open mouth into the air over her head and he closed his eyes and listened with bated breath as her hot flesh throbbed against his tongue.
He fell back before she brought her gnashing teeth down upon him, eyes blank and feral, for only a split second before she overcame her reflex. It was the same each time, but she’d had the foresight the first time to warn him. The females of her kind often killed their mates after the release. It would be his fate, and when the time came, he would accept it.
She recovered, and a shiver passed through her, feathers ruffled. She cracked her neck and her wings closed and returned, folded behind her back.
She looked at him and smiled.
“I’m hungry, swine… you’d best leave me now. This one still has life in it yet.”
He rose to his knees, back straight and bowed before her. Without another word, she turned back to the man bound against the wall. Despite the bodily trauma, the pitiable creature did still live.
He stood to his feet and watched for a second longer as her taloned feet hooked into the body. He left with the sounds of wet tearing diminishing behind him.