A distant bell tried its hardest to wake him up. He’d been ignoring it, hoping to catch a few more hours of sleep to douse out this supposed hangover, but the light was too bright and he could no longer ignore the world.
He awoke in a room decorated like he was important. Crystal chandeliers hung above him, with gold melting down the white, carved walls. A fireplace had been lit and was warming the room, but it still smelled like perfumes and flowers in here, tingling his nose. The bed he was on was plump with feathers in which he melted cozily. At his bedside was a ginormous window. Outside: A forest of pine that went on forever. He was high, wherever he was—he saw over the treetops easily. Across the land were mountains blurring into the horizon line. They had white tips like frosting. He didn’t know why.
As he sat up to see farther, he winced and collapsed back down. Someone had bandaged him up. They’d changed him into silky, white pants and socks, and someone had placed a beaded necklace around his neck. It had a pendant at the end with an upside-down T that had two lines instead of one.
He held it up to the morning light, reflecting himself in the polished gold. “Pretty,” he said absentmindedly, because everything in this place was. Inside and out, this world was glittery and shined with abundant wealth. Like that watery place, back before he fainted. He’d never seen waves catch the Sun like that.
Another flicker caught his eye, and he craned his neck to the bedside table. It had his clothes folded up neatly with a small book, some more bandages, and a bottle half-filled.
“Oh, fuck me.” Wiggling like a slug, he forwent the bandages and snatched up the bottle. He popped open the top and sniffed. It tickled his nose hairs. He grinned and took a swig.
He forced the drink down. The stuff hit hard, like drinking a snake’s venom. He laughed as he wiped his lips. Was this even alcohol, or had he just drunk medicine?
The door across his room unlocked and swung open, and the little girl he’d seen from before stood in the doorway. “You’re awake!” she almost shouted, and ran in, her pink dress raised to keep her from tripping. “Oh, my goodness, I’m so happy you’re alright. You are alright, aren’t you? Do you need anything? Do you need anything to drink? To eat? We just had breakfast, but I’m sure they can make you anything you want.”
A man entered his room next with a bow. He was dressed in metal and brandished a metal stick at his side. “Be at ease, Your Highness. He just awoke.”
“But he’s awake! Brother said he wouldn’t wake for another day, but I had a feeling he’d awake today.”
“I mean, I think I’m awake,” he, still without a name, said. “Maybe give me some time to wake up with this.”
The little girl looked at the bottle in his hand. “Oh. Oh, dear. Did you drink that?”
“Was I not supposed to?”
“It’s meant to help heal your wounds. You weren’t…necessarily supposed to drink it.”
He blinked. The little girl blinked back at him. Then she snorted and immediately covered it up with her gloved hands. “Forgive me.”
That made her laugh harder. “Don’t tell my brother, he hates when I laugh so uncouthly.”
“Uncouthly? That sounds like fancy talk.” He finished what was in the bottle and set it aside. “By the way, who are you, and where am I?”
“Oh!” She backed up and curtsied. “My name is Princess Cellena Wueng of the Drail Kingdom. My older brother and I found you on the coastline severely injured from your fall, so we brought you to our castle and have been taking care of you. It’s been two days since you passed out. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”
“I’ve been out for two days? Wait, where did I fall from? A window?”
“From the sky,” she said, “from Heaven.”
“‘Haven’?” He compared her accent with his. “Where’s that? Hey, how come you don’t have any animal features like me?”
“I’m not sure I know what you mean. I don’t believe you’re an animal. You’re an angel.”
“A what? Wait, does that mean you hear out of your ears?”
She pulled on one of her lobes. She wore these pretty, golden hoops he wanted to try on. “I do. Do you?”
“No.” He palmed his head and found a small hole above each of his normal ears. He could finger them, but it tickled. “Weird.”
“Cellena!” The boy he’d seen near the water came in after his sister. “What’re you doing here? Nero, why didn’t you stop her?”
“I had no control over her,” the Metal Man—Nero—said, “you know that.”
“See, Jabel,” Cellena said, “I told you he’d wake up by Sunday.”
“That doesn’t—” Jabel straightened up at the sight of Derek and bowed. “Forgive me, Your Grace, for this impertinent waking.”
“Imper—I don’t know what you guys are saying.” He rolled out his shoulders, shaking off his blankets to reveal his wings. “This place is weird, ain’t it?”
Jabel gagged and quickly looked away. Cellena awed at the wingspan.
“C-cover yourself!” Jabel ran to one of the wardrobes and dug out some clothes. “You’re in your underwear.”
Did they consider pants underwear? What prudes. “Anyway,” he said. “Do you know who I am?”
“You’re an angel.” Jabel came back with a white dress shirt as fancy as his own. It was embroidered around the cuffs and sleeves. “Let us excuse ourselves while you change.”
“Don’t be crazy, it’ll only take a minute.” He re-dressed, careful about his achy bones. Someone had cut holes in the back of his shirt for his wings and they slipped right through. “So, if you know I’m an angel, do you know what my name is?”
“You don’t know your own name?”
He pulled a face at Jabel. Why was he giving him so much sass? “No. I don’t remember anything before waking up at that watery place.”
Cellena looked over to a side table where his torn clothes lay. She began unfolding the shirt.
“So you can’t remember anything about Heaven or our God?” Jabel asked. “Nothing about the other angels or what our God has told you about our dilemma?”
“I literally don’t know what half of those words mean.” He held his head. He didn’t really believe that all of his memories were gone. While he didn’t know his name or age or who he was, he knew how to breathe. He knew how to walk and that these two siblings were rich given the way they presented themselves. He just didn’t know where he’d come from or what his name was.
He wanted to say it was Kevin.
“What about this?” Cellena lifted up the collar of his old shirt. “Our scholar couldn’t decipher the writing. Can you read it?”
“What material is it even made of?” Jabel questioned, eyeing it as Cellena passed it to him.
He shrugged and popped open the collar.
“Derek Harrow,” he said. “Huh. Guess that’s me.”
“What a lovely name,” Cellena said. “It’s nice to meet you, Derek.”
“And it’s nice to be alive.” Derek looked out the window. It was such a nice day. Cool, and blue, too. He figured that was his favorite color by how it attracted him.
“Well, now that we have you,” Jabel said, “allow me to introduce you to the Drail Kingdom. I am Jabel Wueng, firstborn to the twelfth king of Drail, King Hatten, and our mother, Queen Channity. We’ve been dealing with a threat lurking in our forests and have been seeking guidance from our God to help us. Demonkind, as you must’ve been aware of prior to losing your memories, have been with us since the world was created over 500 years ago, and we need you to…”
Something creaked the roof, spiking Derek’s heart rate. Like a child smelling their favorite candy, hearing something unknown filled his childish, animalistic heart with intrigue.
Ignoring whatever Jabel was talking about, Derek flipped around, flapped his wings, and pushed his body straight out the window.
Instincts took hold. His stupid little bird brain didn’t know much, but it knew how to fly. Careening straight down, his wings pivoted at the last second and arched him straight into the sky.
The rush and suddenness of action filled him with sweet relief. His hurting tail flared out as it worked with the beat of each wing. His wings flapped in tandem to keep him rising. He felt free. He felt like himself.
“Wow!” Cellena stuck her head out of the window, followed quickly by Jabel. Their astonishment was swept away by the wind.
The salty air stung Derek’s eyes as he soared into this “Drail Kingdom.” The ground was so hilly. Pockets of earth that looked like bombs had gone off, mountains, valleys for farming. The forest went on for miles and ended at those mountains with tops dipped in white. Ice, he guessed, as puffs of white left his mouth. In the distance, he saw some type of town in-between hills. The “castle” or wherever he’d woken up in was right on the edge of a white cliffside.
And the watery place. He hadn’t gotten a bird’s-eye view of it until now. It went way, way farther than he could’ve imagined. It curved around the land and reflected the heavy clouds above. Was it part of the sky, just a mirror of the blue and white smears above them? Little black things bobbed in and out of the water, and out in the distance, some types of contraptions with white flags sailed towards the Sun.
“What the fuck,” he said. His mind was snagged on the sight, so mighty, so fucked, that he turned his left wing to map out where the water ended.
And he dipped. Absolutely plummeted like a rock from a bird’s ass. His body tried to save him, but he was too mesmerized by this world he’d supposedly fallen to.
His short life flashed before him. Cellena’s smile, the smell of salt, waves crashing over his body, a mirror image of himself, reaching out to him with tears in his eyes, a young girl’s voice…
Before he splatted, a pair of strong arms wrapped around him, and he blacked out for a quick second before landing hard near the castle. His brain swirled in his vision, a shaken smoothie after being put in a blender. It wasn’t a life-threatening land, nor a painful one. Just surprising; his heart hadn’t caught up with his brain telling him that he was, in fact, alive.
He fell backwards into grass, and above him, spitting out feathers from his mouth, was his savior.
He was tall, and big. Big big. Six-foot-something big, bulging muscles from his shirt big. He was maybe older than Derek, and his skin was whiter than Derek’s hair. Grey shadows angled his already angular face and pointy ears. Soft, concerned eyes looked down at him through a thicket of black curls.
Something hit Derek’s ankle: a tail, wire-thin with a tuft of hair at the end.
This boy was part-animal, just like him.
Nearby, the same bell he’d heard when he’d woken up chimed through the land.
“Uh, hey,” Derek said. “How’d you do that?”
“How’d you catch me?”
“Oh, uhm…” The boy sat up, but his hands didn’t want to leave Derek’s body. They, unlike his pale face, were completely black, like he’d dipped them in soot all the way up to his elbows. “I—uh…I’m sorry.”
“You’re sorry for saving me?” Derek sat up slowly, hoping not to spook this poor kid. He was so nervous and for what? “You okay? You can chill out now. I’m fine.”
“That’s good. I mean, I’m sorry that you fell. You’re still injured, I see.”
“Yeah, but it’s no big deal. This place is so cool.”
The boy’s wispy tail thumped on the ground.
“What are you?” Derek asked.
“I’m…I’m a demon, sir. I mean, Derek. Uh—” He went red. “I’m sorry. I’m not sure how to address you. I’ve heard several maids and servants call you many things. Not that I’ve been listening!”
Derek took him in again, this time making his ogling more apparent. His uncontrolled brain made him bite his lip as he pinpointed out everything he liked in one person.
“Derek?” the boy asked. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah, you’re just really hot.”
The emotion in his face drained into the grass. “Huh?”
“You’re hot,” Derek repeated, letting his heart speak for him. “Like, really hot. Do you have a lover?”
The boy’s brain didn’t register what Derek had said. He stared straight through him, frozen.
His blush dyed his face a deep red. It reached all the way down his pointy, fleshy ears. Shocked by Derek’s declaration, he jumped back and floated into a landing. Big as he was, he was still able to fly and float without wings.
“Woah,” Derek said. “That’s cool. Hey, thanks for saving me. You saved me, right? From falling to my death?”
Mouth still agape, the boy only nodded. “I…saw you. Fall.” He pointed at the castle rooftops. “From there.”
“Why were you on the roof?”
“Uhm…” He double-checked behind him like he thought the castle wouldn’t be there.
At the top of the roof poked out two pointy ears. Not like the boy’s fleshy ones, but furry, cat ones. A girl, who was hiding behind a pillar of stone, peeked down at them. She had long orange hair striped brown and white. Her tail, just as colorful, flicked as she watched.
The boy flinched and disappeared in a puff of black smoke. Jabel, Cellena, and Nero had run from the top floor all the way down to the back doors of the castle and were now running across the yard towards them.
Oliver reappeared next to the cat girl still on the roof. He said something to her, hugged her, and the two of them disappeared for good. Derek looked around for them, wondering how they could do that and if that blush meant he was single. Probably, right?
“What happened?” Jabel asked Derek. “What did he say to you?”
“Are you alright?” Cellena asked.
“Are you hurt?” Nero added.
Derek touched the back of his head. That guy’s hands were huge. He still felt his fingers threading through his hair.
An excited smile tickled his lips as he wiggled his toes in joy. Screw whatever these people were worried about. He wanted to learn more about Oliver and his preferences. Above, he was so horny. When was the last time he’d jerked off?
“What on Earth was he doing?” Jabel asked himself. “He knows better than to get so close to the castle.”
“Who was he?” Derek asked, “and how old is he? You said his name is Oliver?”
“Yes. Oliver Solos. He’s a demon, the beings my family has been trying to slaughter for generations. He knows better than to get so close to us. What was he doing?”
“He normally keeps his distance,” Nero noted. “He must’ve been interested in seeing the angel.”
“Still, he isn’t that careless.”
Derek leered into the forest. The pine grew heavier with every step in, until you couldn’t see past ten feet.
“We should leave,” Cellena said. “Father won’t like that we’re outside of the castle.”
“I know,” Jabel said, and went to return to safety. “Derek, Mother and Father had wanted to meet with you when you awoke. If you’re well, let’s get things over with and meet them.”
“Your Highness,” Nero said, scolding him.
Jabel just shrugged. “I fear what they’ll say about this. I just want to get through it.”
When Derek didn’t move, Cellena offered him her hand. “Are you truly alright? You would’ve died if Oliver hadn’t saved you. I was so frightened.”
“Hey, don’t get worked up over me. I’m not gonna get hurt.”
“Do please promise me that.”
“I promise,” he said, though it sounded like he was the little kid making deals with a larger authority figure. “So, that guy’s a demon, huh?”
“He is. He’s a very good man. I…I shouldn’t defend them, but I don’t believe demons are bad people.”
Jabel and Nero watched her and her words.
She stood her ground. “I was hoping your guidance would help persuade our parents to be more open-minded, but you lost your memories. If this’s your first time meeting the demons, please don’t think poorly of them. They’re just like us humans, only…magical,” she said. “Incredibly magical and pure.”
Derek had blamed his confusion on his hangover, his bandaged brain, and his lack of memories tying him to this place. The kingdom had an understanding he couldn’t quite get, like a memory so far off you could barely remember it.
But it seemed like these “humans” and “demons” were super wishy-washy and nervous about something important, and he was kind of interested to know why.
He also wanted to know what “humans,” “demons,” and “angels” were.
And he wanted to know more about this Oliver fellow and do unspeakable things to him.
“Let’s go,” Jabel said, and Derek shrugged and followed them back inside.