read it if you wanna x3
brief recap: when we left our intrepid adventurers, they were facing down a MYSTERIOUS ENEMY in a hidden section of heaven. also, anael just bit it :(
How did he even do that? I thought, followed quickly by, Oh my God, this is it. I’m done. I’m dead.
“Get up, Claris!” Cadmiel shouted, as he hefted Gabriel onto his back, narrowly dodging an attack by the dark figure beside him. The man’s fingers dripped with blood, which he had manipulated into scythe-like claws. I scrambled up and away, running after Tialiel, followed closely by Cadmiel, not knowing to where I was running or how long my exhausted legs would last.
“We’ve got nowhere to go,” Tialiel panted, answering my first question. He had an unconscious Sean in his arms, and he strained against the considerable weight.
Done for. Absolutely done for.
We clustered together in a dead-end laboratory, and in the space of seconds between the dark figure’s approach and our gasps for breath, the tremors began.
“Not again …” Tialiel moaned.
“Look—” Cadmiel said, as the rumbling intensified, unbalancing our attacker. Glass beakers toppled over and shattered, coating the floors and tables with their contents. Then, as though under immense pressure, the tables splintered, then broke completely apart, their pieces melting into the hissing liquids.
The dark figure regained equilibrium, and as he came closer I got a good look at his face.
Purple hair. Sea green eyes. Proud, strong features, and a mouth curved into a deranged grin.
“H-he … looks like Sean,” I said.
“Of course he does,” said Cadmiel. “He’s Orifiel’s father.”
The concrete beneath me fell away in chunks, like a collapsing pixel bridge in an old video game. The walls, too, were disappearing in pieces, and the quake shook us so hard that we crashed into each other, becoming a confusion of active and comatose limbs.
“Enjoy the unraveling!” the figure shouted, laughing. Even his voice, canyon deep and mocking, sounded like Sean’s.
The entire room, and everything in it, had crumbled into nothingness—except for us. We floated in a formless void.
The figure, less than ten feet away now, only laughed.
Cadmiel disentangled himself from the knot of our bodies. “C’mon.”
“C’mon where?” said Tialiel, flushed with stress. I guess the reality breaking had been omitted from his vision.
Still clutching Gabriel, Cadmiel began to swim through the void, towards an unknown point. “Away from him.”
“Any plan beyond that?” Tialiel asked.
“No, not really.”
We didn’t need to run (or paddle away awkwardly) though, as the figure didn’t follow. I couldn’t believe Sean’s own father was behind all of this. At least he wasn’t wearing a gas mask and mouthbreathing dire monologues.
“S-so, I’m pretty confused right now,” I said.
“You and me both, sister,” Cadmiel said. “You know, I’ve dealt with some pretty off-course destinies in my time, but this one climbs the mountain.”
“I figured from when I fi-first met him that Se-Sean would have a mountain climbing destiny,” I said, kicking my legs idly as we swam through the void, propelled mostly by our own momentum.
It was easy work, but I had trouble keeping my eyelids in order. They kept trying to slip shut.
Cadmiel paused, shifting Gabriel’s weight to his other shoulder. “You think I showed up at your doorstep for Orifiel’s destiny?”
I rolled over and began to do the backstroke. “Well—didn’t you?”
“No,” Cadmiel said. “I only took up training him because I saw it as a necessity.”
“But I thought you all showed up on his account.”
“We did,” Cadmiel said. “You two were never supposed to meet. It's your destiny that's at stake, Claris."
Sean didn’t have much reaction to this information. He was still semi-catatonic, floating listlessly along with us, expression unfixed. For me, it was just one more shock in a long trail of hours spiked with them.
“If that’s so,” I began, “are you supposed to be, I don’t know, driving us apart or something?”
“Your destiny has been irrevocably catapulted off course,” Cadmiel said. “We weren’t sent to revert anything, if that’s what you mean. We’re just damage control.”
“It’s been a little harder than we anticipated,” Tialiel admitted.
“Fucking understatement of the century,” Cadmiel said, with a sidelong glance at Sean. “No biting quips, Orifiel?”
“Speechless, eh? And all it took was a chance encounter with your unconscious, badly mutilated mother.”
A low, wolfish growl rumbled from Sean’s direction.
I decided to change the subject. “What happened to Anael?”
“He’s dead,” Cadmiel said. “Did you go temporarily blind?”
“No, but …”
“His wings were cut off,” Tialiel said, a little more kindly. “The wings are the connection between our cosmic essence and our bodily vessels. When that link is severed, both parts are obliterated.”
“He’s probably floating around here,” Cadmiel said. “As so much dust.”
“Cadmiel,” Sean said, his voice low and unearthly, “You are lucky that I haven’t got the strength to swing a punch. Or I’d break your useless jaw.”
Cadmiel yawned. “You are cordially invited to make an effort.”
I gulped. “Are you okay?”
“Me?” Cadmiel and Sean replied at once.
“Well, um, I meant Cadmiel, but you can both ha-have a turn …”
“Let’s see,” Cadmiel began, before Sean even took another breath, “I was entrusted by the Powers that Be with a delicate mission, which I have completely failed, in the process ruining not just your life but perhaps every other life, ever. Wait. Sorry, I’m sorry. ‘Ruin’ is a euphemism for what’s happening here. Let’s try devastate. Do you like that? Is that workable for this situation?”
He chewed viciously on his cigarette, then finally spat the smoldering butt into the void, where it drifted lazily away.
“At least you don’t have to spend your last moments staring at your mother’s unconscious body,” Sean mumbled.
Cadmiel shrugged, ignorant of the word ‘mother’ and all its myriad complications.
I scratched my neck, which had suddenly begun to itch ferociously. The others started scratching their necks as well, but before I could comment on our simultaneous nerve-damage, the void melted away, as did everyone else in it.
I was back in my own house, but it was empty, quiet and bright, mid-afternoon. I called out, and my voice echoed with a sharp, amplified reverb, as though I were in a cave rather than a kitchen. Rubbing my arms, I searched the house, and found no one there. No father, mother, brother, cat, or angel anywhere. Just furniture, silent and static. The TV set broadcast white noise. The computers wouldn’t boot. Had the apocalypse come and gone within the last ten seconds?
I walked out onto the deck, and was greeted by naked trees. Wind, icicle-sharp, buffeted my face. The pool was buried in black leaves. The termite-eaten gate was locked shut.
Out front, all the cars were gone, and every house was dark. When I pressed my face to the chilled windows, the rooms were as empty as my own.
No rain of blood, no lakes of fire, no screams. No monsters erupting from the earth’s core. The end of the world was not violent. It was lonely, and still.
I sat down, eyes watering. Couldn’t I at least have been left a cat?
The wind was so fierce that I felt my own tears freeze on my skin. Back inside the house, I crawled into bed. I would sleep, and maybe someone would be there when I woke up.
Three hours later, I was still alone. I climbed up to the roof, and looked over my deserted neighborhood. How strange, that there weren’t any cars. Why leave the lawn mower and the wheelbarrow and the tricycles, but destroy the cars? I touched the pendant for comfort, but it wasn’t there. I couldn’t recall losing it. Disgruntled, I laid down on the shingles and frowned at the sun, which blazed at its full height in the sky. I had no working clocks, but I knew enough time had passed for the sun to move. I massaged my neck, thinking, and my fingernail tripped over a raised bump of skin. I pressed the bump, which was pulpy and loose, like a blister.
I was not alone. I was trapped.
No sooner had this thought formed than did the shingles and the sun evaporate, returning me to the void.
My friends were in a state of disarray, all writhing and trembling. Sean clawed at his face as though trying to peel it off, and Tialiel quaked so hard that I thought he would crumble. Cadmiel had clutched Gabriel to his chest, and if she hadn’t been comatose I would have sworn he was suffocating her.
“Wake up!” I screamed, and kicked Cadmiel solidly in the kidney.
Thus woken, he dropped Gabriel and gasped. Her chest heaved, but her eyes didn’t open. Scrambling, Cadmiel caught her wrist, and blinked hard.
I knocked Tialiel upside the head, and he exhaled loudly.
I didn’t know what to do for Sean. He was attacking himself so viciously that I was liable to take collateral damage if I interrupted. His fingernails were bloodied, and his mouth was stained from the open wounds on his cheeks. The white, ridged lines of his scar were red from the livid scratches. Worst of all, he was howling like a wounded animal.
“For fuck’s sake,” Cadmiel breathed. “Fix him.”
Tentatively, I reached for Sean, who didn’t seem to notice. Emboldened, I took hold of his wrists.
Now denied the tools with which to scrape out his eyes, Sean thrashed in my weak grasp. I tightened my fingers around the bones. His eyes bulged, his nostrils flared. I held fast, and said again, “Wake up!”
His muscles relaxed, his wrists went slack. I gathered him against me, and he breathed on my throat.
“What the hell was that?” Cadmiel said.
“Your neck,” I said.
“Wasn’t it itching, before, um, all of that?”
“I … I can’t remember,” Cadmiel said.
I couldn’t guess what Cadmiel had endured in his illusion, but he kept glancing at Tialiel, in a way that he surely thought furtive.
“Well, it was, because you were sc-scratching,” I said irritably. “We all were.” I showed him the bump on my neck; he felt for his and found it easily.
“How long have these been here?” he said.
“I dunno,” I said, now engaged with trying to tear off the lump. It had taken root in my skin, somehow. Cadmiel and Tialiel took out army knives and cut around the offending flesh without much fanfare, and then Tialiel bent near Sean and performed the same operation. They bled freely, although none of them seemed to mind.
“I’m afraid you’re stuck with yours for the present, Claris,” Tialiel said apologetically. His broken skin was already regenerating. “Angelic bodies can’t bleed to death.”
“Good to know,” Sean groaned, touching the fresh, slick stream of blood trickling down his neck. His hands were so dark with blood that he couldn’t properly flex his fingers.
Cadmiel examined the patches, pinching them and frowning at the liquid he squeezed onto his palm.
“I’m no science expert,” he said heavily, “but I think this is angel’s blood.”
“That explains things,” Sean said. “Oh, wait. No. No, it doesn’t.”
Cadmiel rolled his eyes. “Do you remember when Ireul gave one of his feathers to Claris?”
Sean exchanged glances with me. He grunted, “Yeah.”
“Every part of our—your—body has ties to the cosmic essence, like Tialiel said. The blood is no exception. It carries the angel’s powers, in distilled form.”
“This is …” I began, horrified, “this is Donovan’s blood.”
“He’s one for dismemberment, apparently, yes,” Cadmiel said. “I don’t know how he came up with the idea for these patches, though.”
“Sounds like something dear old Dad would do,” Sean said.
“But why?” Cadmiel said. “I just don’t understand the reasoning behind all this.”
“I, I might,” I said. “A little.”
I explained what had happened while they were poking around in secret lairs (though I omitted the bit about Lucius braiding my hair, which had all come undone anyway), describing the plan as I knew it.
“Right, well,” said Cadmiel. “That’s obvious.”
“What?” I said. “But you just …”
“I’m not surprised to know what that little fringe group is after,” Cadmiel said. “I want to know why Samael is heading this.”
I shrugged. “Maybe he feels the sa-same way? I mean … do you like all that system stuff?”
“No,” Tialiel said quickly. “Not at all.”
“But we’re not going to engineer the apocalypse on account of it,” Cadmiel said. “And I don’t think Samael would, either.”
“He and your mother really did seem very happy,” Tialiel said to Sean, who had buried his face in the crook of my neck.
“Thought you didn’t know them.”
“We knew them in the same sense that humans know a movie star,” Cadmiel said. “Or a politician.”
“They were kind of a big deal,” Tialiel said. “Given their positions. Both seraphim.”
“And everything was lovely until about twenty years ago,” Cadmiel said.
“Right around the time when I was born, eh,” Sean said. “Somehow, I knew all this was going to end up as my fault.”
“I didn’t say that,” Cadmiel said. “Though, again, I would not be surprised.”
We were still floating in the void, or maybe just levitating. I couldn’t tell if space was moving around us, or if we were moving at all. Nothing but the formless dark surrounded us, speckled intermittently with twinkling specks that were possibly stars. In my illusion, time had definitely passed. I had closed my eyes and slept for hours. Or maybe I just thought I had, and really only a few minutes had actually passed—or maybe it was much more than that. A headache bit into my brain.
Well, I was hungry, that much for sure. Also I sort of had to pee.
I was contemplating the consequences of wetting myself when Metatron’s voice broke over my mind, like a polite but quickly cresting wave.
“Thank God,” Cadmiel breathed. “Get us out of here!”
Space tugged at me, gently pulling me through some invisible, universal drain that Metatron had created. I blacked out, briefly, and then was carefully rearranged into my proper shape, which now occupied the living room of my house. Before I even registered the change of scenery, I was up the stairs and in my room, ripping off the flimsy robe and grabbing the first clean outfit I could find. Hopefully velour pants and a chenille sweater would see me through the end of the world.
Because although we had moved, we hadn’t escaped. Sure, we were likely a ways away from Samael, but one terrifying glance out my windows revealed that Heaven wasn’t the only place under siege.
All the blinds were drawn, initially. My cats were clustered together in the downstairs bathtub, trembling in a plump, furry mass. I saw them when I went in to pee, and marveled that their fear had overcome their desire to rip each other apart. Then I peeked through the blinds in the guest room. A maelstrom had formed in the sky, a swirling vortex of green and black. While staring at this curious, sun-defying formation, my hand slipped through the wall. I jerked away as the wall solidified, blinked, and saw the wall turn translucent.
I wandered dazedly back to the living room and said, “Has anyone looked outside?”
“Oh yeah,” Tialiel said. “We’ve seen it.”
The dimensional fabric has become highly unstable. It is unraveling at an accelerated rate.
“Can we do anything?” I asked, turning on the television. I half expected white noise, like in my illusion, but the local news was airing, as best it could.
The harassed reporter stood downtown, in front of several buildings that had a tenuous grip on their substance. She spoke haltingly into her microphone, warning viewers to stay inside, close their doors, and start praying. Before she finished, the microphone transformed into a peach, and the asphalt softened into jelly, then glassed over, so that her boots were stuck inside what appeared to be a Jolly Rancher.
“Oh my God,” the reporter blubbered. She dropped the peach mic and the picture switched to the emergency test pattern, presumably because the camera had transformed into a rhesus monkey or something. A monotone voice announced, “This is not a test of the emergency broadcast system … This is an emergency …”
No instructions followed. I changed the channel, and the soothing tones of Oprah Winfrey filled the room.
“Go back to the other thing,” Sean said.
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s less shrill.”
I tossed the remote to him and went to search the house.
“Hello?!” I shouted. “Is anyone home?”
Necavi and Alistair emerged from the playroom.
“Just us,” Necavi said.
“Have you seen my brother? Or parents?” I asked.
They paused. Then, gently, Alistair said, “No.”
“I am sure that they are still alive,” Necavi said. “Somewhere.”
“Good try,” I said. The clocks still worked, miraculously. I had no idea about the date, but the thermostat read three ‘o clock. My parents could still be at work. I checked the garage, which was empty. Yeah, work. And Brandon went out a lot. Surely they were fine. Surely their cars and bodies were not trapped in a terrifying chaos dimension, or spliced into a door.
Sean thumped my back and I stopped hyperventilating.
“There’s nothing you can do,” Sean said.
“I could call their cell phones …”
“Phone lines are down,” He hit the speaker button on the hanging phone in the kitchen, and we heard dead air.
I turned to Metatron. “Maybe …”
I do not know where your family is, Claris.
However, they have not passed on.
“Guess that’s something,” I muttered.
In the meantime, I believe someone is waking up. He cocked his eyeless head in Gabriel’s direction. Cadmiel had arranged her on the couch in the den: her body fit well enough, but her great wings extended onto the floor and up against the wall. Loose tufts of down wafted in the air around her. My cats would have loved it, were they not still mewling anxiously in the bathtub.
Her arms were folded across her chest—an artificial construction by Cadmiel—and she was breathing softly. The shades of blue in her cheeks were fading, and her hair was dry and unruly, fanning out over the pillow and the edges of the armrest.
Sean looked at her with a longing that I couldn’t touch. Metatron left us alone.
“Do you remember her at all?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “I don’t remember anything.” He shook his head. “No, that’s not true. I have memories, right? But I can’t put them together. It’s like trying to make one of those puzzle pictures, except none of the pieces actually fit, like the designers were just fucking with you.” He perched on the coffee table. “When I was in that illusion, I—experienced some things. Re-experienced, I guess.”
“Like what?” I prompted gently. I wanted him to talk, not for his sake, but mine. His worries kept my own at bay.
He touched the scar on his cheek. “My father shouting at me. He thought I was going to kill him.”
Gabriel’s breathing accelerated while we talked.
“He carved this,” Sean said, digging a nail into the x-shaped groove. “Used my face like a pumpkin.”
“Why …? Why would he do that?”
“He has the same face as me,” Sean said. “I think he did it to tell us apart.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Cadmiel said. He walked into the living room, followed by Tialiel. “Look, I’ve met your father. Briefly, yes, but still—”
“Before you were born, Samael was the prison warden,” Tialiel said. “However, he left that post not long after Gabriel became pregnant. Re-assigned, I heard, to a special project.”
“It must have something to do with Metatron,” Cadmiel said. “Hey, Meta?”
Yes? Metatron came in from the bathroom, where he had been petting the cats.
“Did you know a guy named Samael?”
Metatron gestured to the couch. She wakes.
Gabriel’s eyes, dark green like the bottom of an ocean, were open. She exhaled, long and slow. She sat up, grimaced in pain, and fell back again. Softly, she said, “Hello.”
The word acted like a vacuum, sucking all noise and movement from us. Gabriel flexed her wings and the bones creaked. Sean cringed.
“It’s so nice … to meet all of you … face to face,” Gabriel said. Her voice was thin, interrupted by periodic intakes of breath. She looked about to break into pieces.
“Maybe you shouldn’t talk,” Tialiel said. “You’re still weak.”
Gabriel’s eyes fluttered, once, twice, like she was either coming to a decision or trying very hard not to pass out.
“I’m fine,” she said. “I’m fine … now.”
Sean was enthralled. He stared at her like she was a revelation. His hand tightened over mine.
“Face to face?” Cadmiel said, after recovering his bearings.
“The sword,” she said. “The one I had Samael create … where is it?”
“Oh, it’s in the other ro—” Cadmiel stopped himself mid-sentence. “Wait—you asked for that to happen?”
“I did,” she replied. “Before Samael completely lost his mind.”
Staggered again, Cadmiel sat down on the chair beside Gabriel’s couch and pinched the bridge of his nose. “So you submitted to having your wings essentially flayed and broken?”
While this went on, Sean had left and returned with the sword in tow. Its blade reacted in Gabriel’s presence, glowing brightly as its proximity to her increased.
“My will is in this weapon,” Gabriel said. “I asked Samael to create it before he grew too distant to reach.”
“What happened?” Cadmiel said.
Gabriel exhaled. “I do not know quite so much as you presume. I know only that my husband became obsessed with the creation of the Metatron, and in the course of his work, he fell into madness.”
“Fell into?” Sean repeated. “Like he stumbled over a patch of it in the street?”
Gabriel laughed, the halting, choked giggle of someone who hadn’t spoken in a long time. “You’re as quick as I hoped you’d be. I’m so glad you’re still alive.”
She reached out and laid her palm flat against Sean’s scarred cheek. “I know you can never forgive us, but I’m sorry, Orifiel … and I know your father is sorry, too.”
“Funny way of showing it,” Cadmiel said coolly. “He just murdered Anael.”
“I know,” she whispered. “Even inside the crystal, I knew. She was my sister, after all.”
Gabriel propped herself up on her pillows, then back down again, as she was too weak to sustain even that. She sighed, shuddered, and her eyes closed again.
“No one has ever seen God,” she said. “Not in any true sense. God in his fullness cannot be comprehended by anyone other God himself.”
Cadmiel exhaled smoke, and I held in a cough as the acrid scent settled over the room, sinking into the carpets and drapes. The crook of his mouth said, “This had better be good.”
“My husband decided to offer God the greatest gift,” Gabriel went on. “He would give God a Voice.”
Every eye in the room turned to Metatron.
“He stopped overseeing the prison, of course. People said some things about prisoners disappearing, but I want you to know that those were only rumors.”
A silence, a fit, a start. Gabriel coughed violently, and her body spasmed with the effort. Her wings dwarfed her thin frame—the woman was hardly taller than me, and her arms were thin as oak switches. Her bloodless skin was suffused with a dull glow, and though her hair was limp and dirty, she was beautiful, and had obviously once been stunning. Sean watched this, and in response, dug his nails into the top and bottom of my palm. A bracelet of crescent moons was left behind. I didn’t react, except to breathe.
“The project took a toll,” said Gabriel, and she became suddenly nervous, uncertain. “He started to think his dreams were the truth. Not surprising … when you consider what he was doing with dreams down in that laboratory of his …”
She wasn’t making much sense by this point, but she pressed on, struggled to infuse her voice with strength. And telling the story did seem to have a restorative effect, because her brittle cadences hardened, her wispy sighs solidified into the audible heaves of someone who was helpless before her memories.
“He thought our child was destined to kill him. He began to speak of it … rumors, everywhere, again, but anyway, I protected you for as long as I could.” The last she said to Sean. “I brought you to that family … but I knew it wouldn’t last, and so I took measures.” She gestured to the sword. “You hold the result.”
Cadmiel and Tialiel grimaced, imagining, probably, what Gabriel had endured for that sword’s forging.
“Because he had lucid spots, you see, little stretches of being perfectly fine,” Gabriel said. “I convinced him while he was sane to do me this favor, and when he lapsed, his insanity allowed him to fulfill the promise.”
“Does it hurt?” Sean asked.
“Oh yes, my love,” Gabriel said. “It hurts terribly. But I wasn’t wrong.”
She managed to sit up. “It doesn’t really matter what happened. You must save your father. You must bring that sword down on him, and do what is forbidden to me alone.”
“How is he supposed to kill Samael with your bones?” Cadmiel said.
“The bone will cut,” Gabriel said. “When wielded by Orifiel, the bone will cut.”
Following this pronouncement, Gabriel folded her wings around her body and went back to sleep.
The machine had almost finished its progress. Soon it would be too late. Leliel felt an invisible force urging her to action, pinching her beneath the skin. But for the moment, she could think of nothing but her belly. Before the mirror, the surface was flat, undisturbed. But Leliel set her hands over her navel, and sensed the spark in her womb. She was, unequivocally, pregnant.
Outside her room, Shateiel lingered briefly, his face contorted with rage, contempt, jealousy. Leliel raised her head to him. His expression vanished before their eyes met, and Shateiel spoke not a word.
one moar, pplz.