Freefall into Hell.
I am plummeting through the atmosphere of an impossibly hostile planet, in pursuit of a goal suggested by a voice in my head, in defiance of unimaginably powerful enemies, using a plan of attack devised by a deranged hillbilly.
Will was discovering that it took a very long time to fall from the edge of an Earth-sized planet’s gravity well to the ground. And no part of the experience was enjoyable. Breathing was borderline impossible; the gravitational forces at terminal velocity were too great, the atmosphere too thin. Air was rushing past him with hurricane force. He felt like he was surfing the inside of a tornado. Can’t lose consciousness. Have to be conscious when I hit the ground, or the plan won’t work…
Throughout the descent, his mind was screaming at him. This is insanity. Do what you must, but get off this planet now. Nothing is worth this. No memory could be worth this level of punishment. But it was too late, of course. The minute he’d incarnated, he’d committed himself irrevocably to stage one of the plan―”taken the plunge,” as it were. What he planned to do next…well, that part would require some delicate timing, and more than a little bit of luck. And even after that, he thought, there was still the journey to the Skeinhall, and the unknown dangers within, to consider. Refi’s assurances regarding “the knowledge already locked within you” aside, Will had no idea how he was going to handle things on the ground―or even, really, what it was that he was supposed to do.
And why would I trust Refi:Sül, anyway? What possible reason has he given me to trust him? He showed up in a light display sparked by some sort of magical stone tablet. He wants me to meddle with alien technology but won’t tell me why, or how to go about it. He tells me that my actions will have random impacts on an Earth I don’t remember…
Will. A fire dimmed by distance. The Seraph was still lurking in there, somewhere in a back corner of Will’s mind, but its presence was dim. He had room for plenty of spare thoughts; in fact, he was experiencing a nagging feeling that something was out of place, that he had missed something significant. But he couldn’t focus; he was tumbling head-over-heels into the cauldron of a volcano and there was an angel yelling in his ear. Are you progressing?
Doing dandy, thanks, he replied. On the brink of suffocation; just had to pull myself out of a spin that might have snapped my neck in midair; ground coming up in maybe sixty seconds, at which point my body will explode into a viscous paste spread out over about a square mile of volcanic rock. Other than that, things are peachy. Keep the channel clear for the moment, please. The tricky bit comes next.
Excellent. Apparently, for all of their majesty, the Seraphim had yet to learn the nature of sarcasm. You will soon be at the heart of the STYX, out of range of my communication. When you enter the Skeinhall, I will be able to speak to you again. It seemed to be true; the fire in Will’s mind was dissipating like breath on a mirror. Beware! The enemy’s resources will still allow them to access you in the interim. Do not fall prey to their lies! Do not lose sight of your objective!
What resources? “Access” me…how? But the Seraph was gone, and the ground was coming up very fast indeed. He could actually make out shape of the Skeinhall itself, four spires of crystal extending from a massive tower, flanked by rectangular edifices of the same material. But there was no time; the landscape was rushing up at him.
Okay, he thought. This is it. Get ready. You’ll have to do this almost instantly. There will be a moment of incredible pain. You have to block it out and focus on the question. Will allowed his mind to fade into the fugue state that preceded incarnation…
…and his mind suddenly exploded into random noise, a jumble of images, emotions, concepts. He couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t think of a single question to ask.
What? No…no…for Chrissake come on, come on, come on…He was plunging facedown, eyes wide, tears streaking up the sides of his face from windshear; the Survivor inside him was screaming at him that death was imminent; and he couldn’t focus, couldn’t grab hold, and the ground wa-
The pain was not so great as he’d feared; it was over in less than an instant. But as Will hit the ground, and as his soul emerged, as it was being catapulted upwards by the force of the STYX, a question did enter his mind.
Will incarnated fifteen feet off the ground; gravity caught hold of him again, and he plummeted back down directly into the small impact crater created by his first fall. The second impact was nowhere near as violent as the first, but it still shuddered through his naked body, knocking the breath from his lungs. He inhaled a lungful of sulfur, coughed, felt rough basalt abrade the outside of his thigh as he curled into a fetal ball.
It worked, he thought.
And you know what? It wasn’t as horrible as I thought it would be.
It was much, much worse.
Will could feel a horrible squishy stickiness on the craggy stone beneath him. Oh, God. I’m lying in what’s left of my own…oh, that’s just gross. He really, really didn’t want to think about it. Instead, he focused once again on the question that had helped him incarnate.
He was called “Refi” in the Divine Gift. I remember that distinctly. He answered to the name “Refi” as I floated above Asphodel. It’s the only name he’s called himself. So far as I’m aware, it’s the only name he’s been given by anyone.
But I called him “Refi:Sül”. Why did I do that?
Will had abilities he couldn’t explain. He had knowledge for which he had no corresponding memories. But up until this point, nothing about Will’s knowledge base had been completely, utterly inexplicable.
If I’m smart, that’s one thing. Maybe I was smart on Earth. I might have retained odd memories―vestiges of pop culture and so forth―without knowing why. And my soul is apparently extraordinary―well, sure, but ALL of the soul’s abilities are weird. If mine are even weirder, well, it’s only a matter of degree.
But why in the word would a sixteen year old boy know the name of an angel?