The darkness swallowed him up. There was a sudden flash, and Will found himself in a long, narrow, crystalline corridor. The walls were of the same translucent material as the outside of the building; within them, colorful electricity sparked, arced, vanished into nothingness. As best he could tell, there was no ceiling; the walls stretched up and up, beyond the range of his vision, into murky infinity.
The rotten-egg smell of the air outside had been replaced with a faint metallic tang; he could breathe comfortably again, but his throat was still parched, his eyes still full of grit. His head was swimming, and there was a continual low buzz in his ears. Dehydration. Whatever my task is here, I need to get it done quickly. This body isn’t going to last much longer.
Will. You have come. You have defeated the enemy. This time the angelic voice wasn’t just in Will’s mind, but was actually audible. It seemed to come from everywhere at once, as if every surface in the corridor was a loudspeaker. As always, Will’s soul resonated to it, as if he himself were a tuning fork.
“Yes,” he responded. “The Rel Dega. You never told me there were two kinds of Seraphim.”
I did. They were the enemy of whom I spoke. The inventors of the STYX, and the saboteurs of the skein. A criminal syndicate. The enemies of enlightenment and union. The foes of all humanity. No one blames you for what they have done, Will.
“What?” I asked, startled. “Blame me? Why would they?”
It is immaterial. Your coming here has forced the Rel Dega into the open, and they will be dealt with soon enough. Know merely that you are not to be held accountable. The council is united in this. More questions sprang to Will’s mind, but the voice spoke, and they were somehow washed away. Proceed, Will. Your destiny lies just ahead of you.
He walked the corridor on wobbling legs, leaving bloody footprints behind him. Beneath his feet, the floor felt like stone, but each step produced a hollow, tinny chime, as if against metal.
There was light ahead, and a sense of space. He walked the last few steps, and the corridor opened up, and Will felt his mind reel.
The chamber in which he found himself was―large was not the word. It was immense, larger by many orders of magnitude than anything the building should have been able to hold. It seemed to Will, as he looked across the vast, cavernous expanse at the cliff-like, crystalline edifice of the far wall, that he was looking at the side of a mountain that was miles, if not hundreds of miles, away. And yet, as he stepped into the chamber, space seemed to warp around him, to change, and it was as if the distance was, really, only a few steps, if he chose for it to be so…
The walls, however, were the least remarkable aspect of the expanse in which he found himself. All around him, stretching from wall to wall and from the impossibly distant ceiling to the floor, from left to right, down and up and in and out and in other, indescribable directions, were threads.
The threads weren’t any thicker than a spiderweb; they were perfectly translucent, nearly invisible. Entering the chamber, it seemed to Will that he walked through hundreds of them, feeling no resistance; yet looking behind him, he saw them still there, unbroken and apparently undisturbed. Were they formless, then, like a soul? Will reached out to touch one and was able to grasp it firmly between his finger and thumb, to move it around as he wished. It was as if the tangibility of any given thread was a matter of his personal convenience.
Will stood in the center of the chamber―miles away, it seemed to him, from the corridor through which he had entered seconds earlier―and surveyed the scene. The colorful electrical discharges which he’d observed in the corridor walls also ran up and down the threads; where the threads crossed one another, the discharges sparked together in a starlike twinkle. How many threads? Trillions, at least. They all seemed to be taut, stretched at full tension from surface to surface, yet looking at them, he could plainly see that some of them bent, curving gently from one anchor point to another.
The skein. The latticework of reality. There were no walls around him; Refi’s voice now seemed to emanate from the strands themselves. The greatest technical achievement of the Seraphim.
“This…is…” Words failed him.
Precisely correct, Will. This Is. And because This Is, everything else Is as well.
His head hurt. Will knew that he was looking at a machine far more complex than the brain with which he was trying to comprehend it. “But…I don’t know what to do…”
The mirth was gone from the voice, the tone paternal. Of all the human beings who have ever lived, you are the only one equipped with the ability to look upon the skein with mortal eyes. You have wondered, Will, at what you considered to be your extraordinary abilities. But I assure you, on the grand scale of things, your other skills―flight, incarnation―are puny things compared to the ability to perceive the skein. It is a gift beyond compare.
“A gift?” he asked. “A gift assumes a giver.”
Quite right, Will.
“Then who gave this gift to me?”
“The Seraphim, you mean? Or the council?”
No. I myself.
“When? How? For what purpose?”
So that you could do what you must do now. The STYX prevents me from walking where you now walk, Will. But clothed in mortal flesh, you are impervious to its effects. You can act. Find the flaw, Will. Find the flaw in the skein.
His mind whirled. “But…it’s too big…it’ll take years…centuries…”
But it didn’t. Will could see the skein itself, but he could also see shapes within it, patterns, the ebb and flow of causality that it channeled. And he could feel, by some hidden instinct, the spots where the colors were too faint, signaling that the lifeblood of reality had been dammed somewhere upstream.
The flaw is right over there… A few yards away, or a few miles. Just a few steps, either way. A vast, jumbled swirl of circulating charges. In all the immensity of the chamber, there it was, a tangle of thread no larger than his fist.
So foolish were we, the angel spoke. We made our technology so accessible. We thought our race had evolved beyond dissent, beyond sabotage. But we were wrong. We made it so easy for the Rel Dega to tangle the threads, to bring down the STYX upon us. To wreck our system beyond the possibility of repair.
Slowly, things were becoming clear to him. “But…not beyond the possibility of repair. Not really. Beyond the capacity of the Seraphim, acting directly, because the STYX would block them. But…”
To clothe a soul in flesh, to send a mere human to undo the work of rebel angels… If he heard anything in the intonations of the voice now, it was pride. The idea was not mine. But once the tool was before me, the opportunity was plain.
Mere human? Tool? Something in Will screamed a warning. But the voice was speaking again, washing away doubt. And the opportunity is yours now, Will. The source of your deprivation, and that of all humanity, lies before you. To restore your memory, and that of all your comrades on Elysium―to bring down the STYX, on Asphodel and Earth―you need merely untangle the skein.
Will hesitated for just the slightest moment, and then his fingers went to work.
As the threads parted from one another, as the knot slowly unraveled, the strands of the skein snapped back into place around him, as if once again under tension.
Good, Will. You can feel it, can’t you?
And Will could. A fog was lifting inside his mind. He could feel something surfacing inside him. Something coming back. Something important.
But…is that all there is? Are those all the memories I have? I expected more…it doesn’t seem like sixteen years worth…
Yes…just a few threads more, now. The STYX is fading, Will. I will be with you soon.
As his fingers worked at the tangle, as the threads returned to their place, Will watched the discharges flow once again, freely, down each line. And it seemed to him, for a moment, watching the energy flow―the way one line interacted with another―that he could actually foresee the way a slight alteration in the web could alter the shape of reality itself. If I reached out―if I were to move that strand to the left―cross it with that strand―it might, somehow…
But his sight was blurring. The journey had taken almost everything out of him; he was on his last legs, and he could not trust his perception; surely the remaking of the skein was too great a task for the likes of him. Just do the job, Will, he thought. Just get back what’s yours.
His fingers worked at the snare. The knot grew smaller in front of him. The size of a golf ball; then, of a pea.
The last few threads parted, snapped back into place. The logjam of color broke apart, flowed freely through the skein once more.
And Will remembered everything.