The vision was gone. Will was prone on the floor of the main chamber of the Skeinhall, the light of lost souls playing over his bare skin. Sprawled in front of the Seraph, he gasped and wheezed. The last of his strength was fading. He gazed, once again, through dimming eyes, upon angelic glory. The name Refi:Sül was spinning in his mind, and the letters in the name were scrambling together―and suddenly he was laughing, uncontrollably, in spite of the agony shooting through his ribs with each guffaw. “Oh, God,” he gasped. “I’m an idiot, aren’t I?”
By the standards of the Seraphim, you are far less than that. But you cannot be blamed for the intrinsic limitations of your species.
Will gritted his teeth, his lungs still spasming. “Your name,” he hissed. “Of course you called yourself ‘Refi’ in the Divine Gift. Of course you did. You couldn’t give us your full name, could you? You couldn’t call yourself ‘Refi:Sül.’ Because you knew, if you did, that sooner or later, somebody with the right set of memories would spell that name backwards.” Will clenched his eyes shut. “The Lightbringer. I’m an idiot.”
Over time, Will, names become a burden. They take on baggage, become freighted with connotations, with the weight of unjust rumor and the residue of deeds best forgotten. There comes a time when it is best to shed a name as a reptile sheds its skin, to emerge clean so that one may pursue one’s purposes. Names are, in the final analysis, unimportant. Deeds are important. I have always worked against those who would deny knowledge and prevent the progress of your people towards their ultimate destiny. Do the legends of your people not validate this? I have always been the bringer of light.
“Yes,” Will muttered. “Yes, of course you are.” He nodded. “Earth, then. Tell me about Earth. What happens to humanity?”
The Styx is removed. Even now, for the first time in millennia, human eyes are opening wide. The lights of the departed are becoming visible. And we are returning, Will, even as I speak. The descent of the angelic host is moments away. All shall be as it was before. We shall resume our active management of affairs on Earth, and restore the quality of our crop. A new age of miracles shall commence.
It was odd. So very recently, Will had believed his memory to be his greatest handicap. Now he couldn’t stop the memories from flooding in. He remembered standing in a storage shed on a farm, staring down at his reflection in the blade of a knife. He remembered his own thoughts. An invisible protector without any limits, legal or physical. A real live superhero.
And he remembered stories that he had never read, stories that had once been injected straight into his brain. Stories of angels, and their mighty works. Stories that Refi:Sül had illustrated for him only minutes before. “The Great Flood,” he muttered. “The destruction of Jericho. Sodom and Gomorrah.”
Ah. You do understand. As I said…an age of miracles.
Memories. A young man whose physical courage and generosity were endless, who saved lives daily yet felt no one owed him anything. I didn’t even know who you were then, the young man was saying. I’d do that for anybody. A woman laboring in a cave to give life to perfect strangers. It doesn’t matter who you were before, but who you are now. Here and now, Will, you are loved.
Will turned his dimming eyes back to the fire that was Refi:Sül. “And me?” he asked. “Am I part of the harvest?”
Not if you choose to serve us, Will. Though technically human, you exist in a separate category. Your actions have proven your loyalty to our project. You were designed not to bear any desire to enter the light, to have no need for union with other humans―and hence, for you, no conflict of interest is present. And you have experienced so little anguish over the course of your limited existence that your soul would be of no more value to us than that of an infant. No, Will. For you, we have greater purposes in mind.
Memories. A ranting man, his lips flecked with spittle. Wanna know who my community is, boy? Wanna know who I got a responsibility to? My community is every man and woman in the world. In both worlds.
And a tiny girl on a tire swing, the shape of her hair lost to memory. Will you watch over me? Will you keep me safe?
You were designed as a tool of criminality, Will. You were intended to serve the ends of a conspiracy against the enlightenment of the human race. But you are not to blame. Indeed, to your great credit, you have transcended the goals of your creators, and served the right.
A tiny girl in a tire swing. Her birthday was December 9. Her first word had been “duck.” Her sister’s love had proven stronger than the STYX, more enduring than life itself. Will you watch over me? Will you keep me safe?
It is as you always knew it would be, Will. Knowledge has set you free. You know now that, though technically human, you are not of humanity―and this frees you of any superficial allegiance to them. We will make you a shepherd. You will be a harvester, not one of those harvested. Out of all humanity, you alone will achieve true immortality. You shall dwell among us, our loyal servant, forever.
Or, alternatively, if you choose…you may deny us. And we will end your suffering forever. We will give you the gift of perfect union. It matters not. We need a human for our purposes, but that human need not be you. Should you refuse us, another is being prepared for the task.
Against all of that, the voice of a little girl. Will you watch over me? Will you keep me safe?
Will’s legs were shaking underneath him as he shoved himself back to his feet. He stared dizzily at the Seraph, and spoke a single word.
Excellent, said Refi:Sul, his voice glowing with satsfaction. Our efforts shall commence at once, on Elysium. Your return can be expedited by means of our technology… Will wasn’t listening. He was working his way backwards, into the heart of the skein. Behind his back, his left hand gathered a nexus of strands together.
Will forced his half-lidded eyes all the way open, allowing the angelic blaze to sear his retinas. “Refi:Sul?”
Will twisted his left hand, entangling the threads, and the STYX came down like a hammer.
The explosive release of energy as the Seraph disintegrated didn’t so much as ripple the strands of the skein. It was more than enough to put an end to Will’s physical body, however. His soul was again free, and the chamber was full of electric fog, pushing him upwards and out of itself. And once again, his soul was ascending…