rough draft of demons of their heart excerpt. a trip to town.
It was the coldest night of the season, and Santhan insisted Amalla dress for it.
Instead, the being had decided to wear a knee length dress of fern green and daisy white velvet that hugged the shoulders scooped at the neckline. Amalla’s new appearance was one she had transitioned to after becoming a large pile of black ash, which was something Santhan had never seen before. From the form Santhan had grown to know, to a pile of sentient ash, to this new form was how it went, and it was too fantastical for him to even inquire about at that time.
Amalla’s newest form was undeniably beautiful–an outline of starlight against the midnight backdrop–but her brown freckles against peach skin and her frosted lips and emerald eyes and pale blond hair sloping down the slight rounds of her chest in two straight streams all made her out to be a stranger. This was not Amalla to Santhan. But the being had reasoned that a form of this design would be most favorable in winning over the townspeople, saying, “Pretty youths are often the most favored of all types of humans due to their charm, innocent femininity, deceptive submission, and underestimated strength and intelligence.” That was a sentiment Santhan had to agree with. He knew all that well enough.
The winds whipped both of their loose hair around their faces, and Amalla clasped his arm as they started forward. The top of her head came just below his shoulders, and her voice and face was that of the youngest of women. Santhan was not fond of it. When he told her this, Amalla simply shook her head.
“You are so picky. I thought we were in agreement.” She clung to his arm with all the delicate force she could and squeezed his cool hand.
Upon reaching the outskirts of the palace entrance, Santhan reached for her and carried Amalla in his arms. “Are you ready to fly?”
“Yes! Oh, I do wish I could transport us there directly, but I am mostly certain it won’t work. I tried it with a spotted amphibian creature once, and he ended up in two pieces in two different locations!”
“That’s alright. I’ve got it.”
Amalla was light in his arms, almost as if he was carrying a basket of flowers. There was a clear rumble in her voice that was sparkling and low and filled with thoughtful wit. It was a different voice, but there was a remnant of the original that made every word seem so lovingly and carefully picked and pronounced. It was enchanting.
Silk sleeves of his top and the velvet hem of her dress rippled in the winds as they ascended among the scant moon and abundant stars. There was silence about them for some minutes, yet as they approached the town the sounds of music and merriment filled the air. It had been snowing this morning, and it resumed at this moment, the snowflakes falling slowly at first. One fell on Amalla’s skin and she shivered. Her arms tightened around his neck as Santhan held her like his bride.
“Happy birthday, little human,” she said and kissed him. Her lips were warm against his in the biting cold of the wind and quickening snow.
The music was all the pair could hear now. As they landed, Santhan gently released Amalla from his arms and took her by the hand. Thankfully, the townspeople were too distracted by their festivities to notice the two landing from their flight. The town was far more radiant and lively than the last time Santhan had seen it, but it must have been the magic of the winter holiday, and the bewitching concealment of faults beneath dustings of snow, that made the town look as lovely as it did. Santhan pulled Amalla closer as little children and beastly men ran about the square, and they dodged ecstatic canines that were licking up spilled drinks and munching on squares of tossed bread. Amalla laughed when a man dressed in white robes bestowed upon her a pink rose, only giving Santhan a mischievous raise of his eyebrows and the tip of his hat. When the human rolled his eyes at him, Amalla laughed harder.
“Do not be jealous, Santhan,” she said as she tossed the flower into a small patch of stoned greenery. “I believe that man was on his way to his grave.”
“You’ll be getting lots of attention tonight,” Santhan practically yelled when they neared the sounds of bells, drums, pipes, flutes, and harmonic singing. “Are you sure you don’t want to turn into an ugly old man?”
“But is this not what most human men like? A pretty youth on their arm to brag to the world?”
“Don’t you remember, Amalla? I’m barely human. And I don’t value youth. I prefer the divine fairy tale I devoted myself to.”
“But,” he said, “You are beautiful. That no one can deny.” The snow fell upon Amalla’s hair without her noticing, and it made little droplets of water form on her crown. He kissed them, then bent down a fair distance to kiss her lips. As they continued strolling, now many paces away from the music, he asked, “Do you prefer this? This form and this height?”
“Well,” she replied with the apples of her cheeks reddening from the cold, “If you are so staunchly opposed to it, then… I like to change how I look ever so often, but that was always for my pleasure. If you like how you have come to know me, then that is what I will be.”
“Don’t do it because of me. It’s still you after all.”
“Yes… but you are still a human after all. You get used to things like faces, and you take comfort in familiarity. Do not even open that cruel mouth to deny it! Even you take comfort in remembering, and you especially take comfort in understanding. Just for this night I will take this form. No fangs or claws, and no strange eyes like uninterrupted spheres, as I have come to realize that might be the most disturbing thing about that variation of my appearance.”
“It’s special,” Santhan said quietly as they walked down a path populated only by shadows and large, black avians. “I love how your eyes were.”
“Oh, please. Just for tonight I will be as human as I can be. It has been longer than ages since I have been amongst people in their town!” Santhan looked down at how excited she was, and he stopped his whining. This was to be a night of celebration, not only of his birth, but of their engagement. The latter was far more important to Santhan, and he was not to spoil it with selfishness.
A pathway of perfectly square and polished cobblestone winded before them, and it led all the way past silver gates to the entrance of a drinkhouse. It was the most beautiful the pair had ever seen, all of it illuminated underneath the fluffy pillows and glimmering drapes of fresh snow. They followed the pathway, Santhan guiding her just a step ahead, and the door was slightly ajar. He opened it a bit more to see a large room of brown and amber, with every table filled and all the floors populated with life; the smell of sweet sherbead, baked potatoes, buttered rolls, and pressed mocha hit him immediately. The guests who noticed the couple step in began to cheer and whistle with stupid joy. Whether they thought they recognised them or not, it did not matter.
Amalla broke away from Santhan’s grasp but stayed by his side. With a hand pressed into her chest in wonderment, she exclaimed, “It smells fantastical in here! Let us go up to that old man behind the bar and tell him we want to drink and eat everything he has to offer!” She sped away from him to the bar and nearly knocked a short man over. She had made him spill some of his drink on his wool blouse, but she was too pretty a woman to be yelled at and it was too nice a holiday for the thought to even cross the man’s mind. Instead, he raised his mug with a grin to the speeding woman behind him, and drank the rest of it down.
The whole exchange made Santhan laugh despite himself as he followed Amalla. “It is my bethrothed’s birthday today, sir!” Santhan heard her say across the room with a violent point of her finger, and he shook his head with feigned embarrassment, smiling at the floor as he made his way to stand beside her.
Time passed in long, cloudy bursts of dancing and drinking, with interspersed moments of short, sharp brevity where Santhan noticed himself observing Amalla. There seemed to be a crowd around her at all times, and a large one had formed when she began to dance on the tables. Santhan was not sure if Amalla was intoxicated, if she even could be, or if she was simply thriving off the abundance of positive energy of human beings that adored her. The skirt of her dress twirled and spun around her, her hair flew behind her like pale golden silk, and the silver bracelets on her slight ankle clanked about her as she jumped and danced. People clapped their hands to the beat of her bare feet against the table, while the others sang her slurred praises and songs he had never heard. All of this was white noise to Santhan: all he could remember of these moments of clarity was Amalla dancing in wild turns and twirls, and when she began to fall from a rickety table, he caught her. There must have been dozens of pairs of eyes on her, on both of them, but all he saw were hers, and nothing else mattered.
Santhan remembered also during the night a black flash of darkness extinguishing all the lights just for a moment; it had happened when a woman with copper hair to her neck and eyelids lined with dark liquid approached him from behind and began to wind her hands down his chest. He was too out of his mind to push her away, so he only smiled and mumbled for her to find someone else to play with. When the lights turned back on, the woman sprang off of him and began to vomit uncontrollably, a pungent red and yellow. Across the room among a horde of young patrons, Amalla threw Santhan an innocent smile, then strung along her trail of suitors.
The other memory he clearly had was when the patrons of the house, as well as its owners, began to dance with their arms entwined. They were singing a holiday song that Santhan had heard only once in another country, and he recalled it in long lost fragments.
Silver snow upon silver robes
Purple gowns dripping red
Hear the whispers turn to shouts
As the men of the noble
Hear our hopes and our doubts
Silver snow upon silver robes
Let us bring peace
For a moment or a lifetime
As quickly as Lord allows
To spite the wills of thieves
Silver snow upon silver robes
Permit you heart to desire
Hatred has no place here
No matter the hand dealt
My lovely, living Sire
It was sung with passion and vigor, and Santhan liked how it sounded in his drunk ears. As soon as the song finished, a larger woman with thick arms tossed Amalla into the air and caught her with a spin, her dress riding up her legs and about her hips in ruffles as she blushed and laughed. To Santhan, the dress looked like the gentler waves of the ocean.
Santhan also recalled Amalla accidentally breaking a man’s wrist in an arm wrestling game, which sent the entire table into a fit of shocked laughter. She also broke several light fixtures. Why and how he did not know, but he could tell by the restrained tone of the house owner that he was fuming internally. Santhan had thrown a steaming potato at the man’s face (before ducking into the crowd) for even daring to get mad at her.
Up the stairs of the house were several rooms for lodging, and the couple found themselves in one of them some hours later. It was small and tidy. It smelled of citrus and old dust on old wood. There were two beds only an arms length away from each other with one of them near a small window that overlooked the back of the house grounds. Amalla was on this bed and was studying the forest creatures that popped in and out of their woodland home whenever a human approached them.
Santhan was regaining his breath and attempting to sober up his demeanor. Try as he might, six mugs too many of sherbead was bound to make him tired. He looked over at Amalla, whose hair and skin shone in the light of the stars and moon. He saw only the back of her head and the silver outline of her small frame.
“Did you… you have fun, Amalla?” Santhan asked through a headache and growing fatigue.
“Yes. I very much did.” She turned on her side to face Santhan. “It was more fun than I ever remember having. Was this a nice birthday for you, Santhan?”
“My favorite. It’s the first time I didn’t want to be alone during it. These people… they’re alright. Better than nobles and royals. I probably had a good time because I knew you were always near, dancing like a fool.”
She laughed. “I felt foolish.”
“No, I’m kidding. You were just free and lively. No one saw anything but beauty in you.”
“I felt real tonight. I felt… seen. Seen as human. It was so strange and so wondrous. I was not the beast or a princess or some sort of high tale. I was simple and plain. Thank you for letting me be real tonight.”
Santhan was quiet for a moment. “Real. You don’t think you were real before?”
Amalla shifted to her back to look at the low ceiling. “I am not real.”
“You are. You just have–have existed everywhere for too long.”
“These forms I take are what I mean. These are not real. My forms, my bodies… it is a construction of what I think and see. The features on this form belonged to many people over many different times. I do not fully exist here on this earthly plane in any actual truth. I could turn myself into a pile of ashes forever and forgo living at all if I felt it right. It is only when people believe in this idea I have made for myself that I am real, and in relation to tonight I am the most real I have ever been. I was real because they believed in my goodness… because they believed in my beauty. I understand the value of it, beauty, because it is conflated with goodness and thereby can be entrusted and believed in more than anything else. You told me this, of your overseer Mastasia and of the many atrocious others, but I understand it far more clearly now. Tonight I was simple and plain and human and beautiful. And you let me be it.”
“You don’t have to go back to how I knew you. If this is what makes you feel real, then keep it. If this feels right and is true, then don’t change back. Don’t do it for me, anyway. As long as you’re happy and at peace with yourself, then I am too.”
“Hmm… no. No, I want to turn back.” A few thoughtful taps of her chin resounded in the distance between them. “This is nice, and I thoroughly enjoy being comforted in your embrace when I am smaller than you… but I do not need the belief of all these other humans to feel real. I think I was just so excited from everything that happened tonight that I misspoke. I am very sorry for my irrationality.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean… that you, and your daring devotion to truly understand me, and your promise to stay beside me… all of this has made me feel very real. I am grounded on this plane, to this earth. I feel tethered to it, as though I am planting my feet upon its surface for the first time. As though I am being allowed to plant my feet here. I am real, and I am here.
“You gave me a heart, Santhan, and I feel love. That is the plainest, simplest, and most human thing I could have ever asked for. You have given me purpose, so you deserve to see me the way you love me. It is only right I give in return.”
“I don’t deserve anything,” Santhan said in a low, groggy voice. “And you don’t have to give me anything either. You already have, too much actually. But… if you’re feeling generous, you could turn back as my birthday present. Oh, God’s hell, it’s over now, isn’t it? The sun will be up in a few hours.”
“Yes, it is almost dawn. How does it feel to be twenty six?”
“Terrible. My head is pounding. How does it feel to be as old as time, God?”
She rubbed her temples with a sigh. “Hush with that, evil man. I am not divine like you believe.”
“I miss your face.”
“Do you really?”
“Yes. I’m sick of this stranger.”
“I am not a stranger,” she scoffed.
“My brain is forgetting who this girl is. ‘Where is Amalla? Where did my Amalla go? Who is this random girl sleeping here?’ That’s all I can think of right now.”
“Alright, do not whine. Give me a few moments.”
The form disappeared into a scattered mound of ashes beneath the thin bed sheets and under the pillows. They fell to the floor all at once and began to shuffle and shake. In the next instant, there was Amalla as Santhan knew and adored him: high and glowing and ethereal with eyes a devouring scarlet and long body draped in a red satin gown. He hovered over Santhan, smiling, his hands against the side of the bed with his elbows bent, and the human sat up to kiss him. Amalla’s dark brown hair fell on either side of them like soft drapes along a windowsill. Santhan could feel Amalla’s long nails on his neck and the presence of fangs behind his kiss. His hands caressed the exposed skin of the being’s shoulders and arms, a greater entrance to his opened mouth, felt a knee slide between his legs as he pulled Amalla down, sensed the weight of a taller body before it was pushed away.
“You drunk man,” Amalla said with that sparkling laugh. “You need to sleep.”
“Wait a second…”
“It is not decent. We are only engaged.”
“No one follows those rules… not for ten fucking centuries…”
“And you need to be of completely sound mind. I remember all you have told me of your past.”
“Damn you… I need to stop telling you things…”
Santhan had his head resting on the headboard of the bed, and Amalla lay beside him. The human placed his head on the being’s shoulder and slung an arm about his waist, blinking slowly.
“You smell nice,” Santhan murmured. “Like a sexy tree.”
“Alright, alright, go to sleep.”
“And your skin feels like vanilla orchard frosting,” he groaned. “It’s making me so hungry.”
Amalla laughed with a shake of his head. “How curious a comparison. Sleep, little human.”
For a moment Santhan tried. Then he waited a few paired breaths later to ask Amalla, “Did you really not mispeak just then?”
“Of what exactly? On being real, you mean? Ah, at first I did think that right, but then I realized I was very wrong. Too caught up in that foreign feeling of mass acceptance.” He laughed again, a small one to match the soft, ghostly whisper of his voice that tranquil night ushered. “They were all so out of their heads and hilarious with all their hearts, and I loved all their little dances and songs. I had never heard or seen those before.”
“So this is your truth? Really?”
“Be honest with me. Please.”
Amalla sat up a little higher, eyes locked on the window, tapping his index finger under his bottom lip. “I like to believe I live in truth, but the truth changes. It is always fleeting and transforming. Living in truth is as much a choice as it is to continue living at all.”
“Hmm. Makes sense. I think now,” Santhan yawned, “after spending so much time thinking otherwise… that it’s finally one worth choosing. I guess I’m reassured now.”
Amalla ran his hand about Santhan’s curls in sweeping spirals. “Happy birthday, Santhan, and to many more.” The being lifted the bronze hand that was holding his waist and kissed it. He kept his eyes to the world beyond as the human drifted to sleep.