This story began a thousand years ago in the floating castles of Arihazana, when a guardian was born with the black gossamer wings of the night sky. But I begin my telling in a future that no longer exists, because this was where my dead soul woke.
From the sting of their laugh.
The pulse of their skin.
In the final moments of my fragmented sleep, we were in their sprawling silk nest, a bed as soft as clouds and white as snow. The black feathers of their tangled wings shed like blots of ink, foretelling a ruined tale, but I did not see it then. All I knew was their throat beneath my lips, the taste of sunrays and winter, the echoes of their quiet gasps like the willowed storm. The span of their body beneath my hands, soft and hard, broad and curved. The lust of their want beneath my fingers—the slick, soaked wetness of a woman and the thick, pulsing hardness of a man. And those eyes—those eyes like starlight, more brilliant than anything I would ever see in my lifetimes, vibrating with their capricious thrill.
All I knew was holding this beautiful, magnificent being that ruled the skies. Seeing the shadows behind my eyelids as their great wings enshrouded us, only us, only me and them. I wished it were a dream, because then I could have them forever. But it was a memory, and just as our lips touched, they left my arms.
My beautiful lover laughed, an easy sound that thrummed with power. I watched as another man pulled them away from me and held them against the bed, those great wings crumpled beneath their back. It sounded to me that the moan from their lips was more pain than pleasure, but their hands slid around that man's shoulders, caressed with such patient welcome as that man violated their ethereal body, again, again, again. I was empty until our lover looked at me with a hazed smile, the deep night curls of their hair plastering wet to their cheeks. They reached out a hand to me, inviting.
I took it, of course. I wanted them. I loved them. So I would treasure whatever little piece of themself that was offered to me, however brutally I needed to watch the rest be consumed by someone else. Someone bolder, better. Someone whose brilliance matched those starlight eyes.
In the past visitations of this memory, I felt those lips close around me, and I was momentarily satisfied. But this time, the hand I took pulled my soul out of its godless netherworld. The agony halted, and the fragments came whole. I was a spirit still, but I had the sudden cohesive consciousness of a living man.
The first thing I saw, cared to see, was that man. The other one, who took our lover so brutally away. Ate their phenomenal heart and spat out the pieces in a place my cold fingers could not reach.
The fury and heartache consumed me. But I was a wisp, unable to scream my pain.
You, I echoed at him, you.
He stood at the edge of sprawling runes now, the most intricate inscriptions I ever had and ever would see. As daunting and matchless as ever, Daeron of the Rohe, the sorcerer who charmed and ruined a great guardian. The Great Guardian. But his umber hair was matted by blood and sweat, and his copper skin was drained. His eyes had lost their youthful arrogance.
Within the fragments of my restless slumber, I could not tell how much time had passed since my death. Long enough that I was but pieces of memory, a ghost watching glimpses of the living world. Long enough I had gone mad. Certainly, the age of those eyes had been worn by centuries.
That man smiled faintly and said, "It's been quite some time, little brother."
I lashed out. In my current shapeless form, summoned from the Other realm and tethered by his blood, I could only shatter the glass of the lamps and snuff their fire.
Daeron chuckled at my efforts. But it sounded unlike him, tired.
"That's enough now, brother."
It will never be enough. Not for what you did.
"Perhaps, but I'm afraid we don't have time to waste on talk."
Through my swallowing rage, the setting of our meeting registered. He had called me to a stone room, jagged as if cut out of the mountains. The belongings of this room were scattered, ink bottles broken, knives sprawled. Distant screams echoed from a shadowed corridor, awful and shrill. The ground shuddered and debris shook from the uneven ceiling. It seemed as if the structure that we occupied was beginning to fall apart.
A second explosion followed the first rumble, this time a cracking thunder that split the wall.
The man before me sighed.
"That'll be the guardians."
The guardians? What is this? Why have you brought me back?
My unforgivable brother shed his coat. He held a knife to his forearm and sliced deep. The blood fell to the edge of his runes, lured in by the enchanted lines.
"I was wrong. They came for us and we lost. The sorcerers are dead. The high elves are dead. My daughter is dead. In a few moments, I will be dead, and our bloodlines will be dead. The future of magic is over."
He knelt upon the ground and slit his other arm. The blood filled faster, as if racing against time.
"It was my fault. So I'll pay the price to undo this nightmare."
Daeron looked up, his face a ghostly echo of what mine once was.
"I know only one way."
He spoke these words with a familiar respect, undiluted by his crimes. In his eyes I saw the shared, visceral memory of our lover: the hand on his shoulder, the hand taking mine, an untouchable smile upon those selfless lips. A long time ago, I believed those hands and lips and the heart they homed would change the world. I could still feel that rich, trusting pulse. I could still hear the broken screams that echoed across our realms, reaching me even after my death. I could still smell the blood, the tears, the rotting of a beautiful soul.
Long had I wished hell for myself and for the man before me. But on this day in the lost future, he pressed his palms to the crimson runes, and white light of holy ether filled the room as the rocks crumbled. He looked up at me. The last thing I saw before my spirit was ripped back into the void were his tired eyes, full of regret for what they had once destroyed. His words carried through the merciless disintegration, one final request.
"Bring them back, Ilheo. Save us."
This story began a thousand years ago, as magnificent as the sky, by the name Milan Azurasi. But I begin my telling from the dirt of the ground, with a lost, wingless angel named like the ashes of their soul.