Twilight in Heaven: Chapter 25


Part 3: Fate
Chapter 25

Those were bad hours, alone under the building, filled with with pain.

I had never done anything like that before. Not fighting the dragon, though I never had. I’d never had to endure when there was no technique to execute, no condition to find victory, no skill to use. I couldn’t beat anything, I couldn’t win, I couldn’t even try. I lay under broken walls and breathed.

And it was miserable. Once everything began to hurt, it was like my whole body was screaming for help, and there was nothing I could do.

And it went on, and on, and on until I realized I could die down here.

The dragon didn’t come for me, so I assumed it was dead. I had won. And I might bleed to death under a building anyway. Winning hadn’t saved me.

A pain in my hips grew, and I shimmied to satiate it. The rubble overhead shifted. I shimmied again. A beam lay across my chest, and it constricted me on the left. I wiggled right, but the whole beam settled. Now I still couldn’t breathe well, and there was a rock digging into my right. I wiggled again. Something began to slide. I pressed it away and down. I wiggled my head.

I began to crawl like a worm, the least of things. Even insects have legs. The worm is deprived of everything, yet it moves underground. So moved I, heading up.
Hours passed. I felt every one of them. Never did time speed up or pass in absence. They went on as I grew weaker. I began to rest between shakes. I thought constantly, ‘Self, we can’t do this.’ I fought the thought, slithered away from it, shouted at it, but it remained in the dark with me.

And yet the hours still passed. Sleep was down there with me. She caressed me in the dark. She loved me, and I refused her. I rested and shimmied, slithering upward.

I was just another figure in someone else’s rumor. ‘I hear the building fell on someone, and he was trapped down there for days before he died. Glad it wasn’t anyone we know.’

And a child would ask, ‘Could it happen to me?’

‘No, loved one. It happened to someone else.’

With those clouds over the sky, there was no dawn. I slithered and crawled around huge building stones up into bricks.

Bricks were easier than great stones. I could crawl through bricks. I did, to lay gasping in dirty, dusty air.

I lay in broken plates, sheets of parchment paper, and a roll of towels, impregnated with soup and then flash-dried when the building caught fire. The smell defied comprehension. The perfumed aromas of Hyperion were gone. The gardens of sycamore and roses, the smell of lavender and sage didn’t make it down here. The air smelled of forge smoke, glazed with dragonfire. I smelled sweat and mud, my blood, the lumber of Hasso’s yards, his building supplies, and his parking lots.

But underneath all those smells, the free air that carried them smelled beautiful. It wasn’t a smell itself, just air. Thick, free, moving air blew around rocks, between the rubble piles, and over the wreckage. I looked out and saw one chimney still venting smoke. I could smell the smoke where I’d cremated Hasso and his kin, his works, and nearly been cremated myself. The smoke turned in circles as the winds changed.

The lights found me there.

Four glowing men and three fluorescent women walked through the center of Hasso’s courtyard.

All of them were tall and luminal, glowing in a mix of lights that seemed to emerge from hands, hair, eyes, and feet. Each had a general aura, a complex but distinct mix of colors that tended toward one shade, but that seemed to be controlled by the individual intensities of their individual glowing parts. Eyes glowed blue, hands green, hair white, and feet yellow for all, but the mix varied.

A woman stepped forward wrapped in vermilion and ruby. Her hands were brighter than any of the others, too bright to make out fingers clearly, and she seemed to have balls of steam on the end of her wrists. The red seemed to come from everywhere at first, but as she talked, I realized that all of them had a redness about the body and brownness about the legs and arms.

“Who are you?” asked the red and green woman.

“Help me,” I begged.

“What happened here?” asked a man wrapped in light-trails of brown and blue. When he moved, he left after-images behind him like the kind you get if you glance at the Sun.

“Bad things. I’m terribly hurt. Can you help me?” I said.

They obviously didn’t want to, but they did. Two, a man mostly blue, and a woman grayish and yellow, came over and went to work, obviously medics of some kind. The rest dispersed, picking through the building and searching.

I got a look at my two carers up close, and while they looked vaguely androgynous and naked, they were actually wearing white and prismatic clothing. It seemed to be of two layers, a heavier skin-tight one, and a looser outer layer. The base-layer muted the red and brown light, leaving only exposed areas to brightly glitter.
But those bright areas did shine. The man’s eyes were blue as the sea, not just his irises. From the top of his cheekbones to the hairs of his eyebrows, his eyes radiated.

I’d seen something like this before. The lady with the dragon-sword had had red eyes that dribbled fire, but nothing on her had been this polychroma.
The others found the dead dragon under the rubble. It had burned and boiled, reduced itself to a foul-smelling heap of slag. It looked like rusty iron or old submerged wood, recognizable in shape but utterly transformed. One man in gold and green climbed onto the dead snout, wrapped his hands around something, and yanked a heap of misshapen, ruined iron free.

If you knew exactly what you were looking at, it looked like a broken sword.

The man tossed it aside.

The woman was checking my hip area and announced, “You have metal splinters through your pelvis. It is a miracle you aren’t dead.”

“Oh.” What do you say to that?

The man, who was also examining me, asked, “No, you should be dead. Who protects you?”

“Nice gods?”

“I don’t think anyone likes mortals that much,” said the woman. She peeled the wrappings off my feet and whispered, “Dear Maya.”

“Ho! Stranger! Come forward into the light!” yelled someone else, and for a moment I thought they meant me.

But I was already in the light. The two glowing figures tending me made sure of that.

And shortly thereafter another figure did come into the light. It was Hoarfast.

He looked exactly the same. He wore another bluish-gray suit with a subdued tie. The jacket wrapped his shoulders and chest like a bit of towel thrown over a statue. He was immense, quiet, and when he walked into the main area from a side pathway among Hasso’s buildings, he still seemed to be the center of all attention.

The moment I saw him, he saw me, and we both stared at each other with such surprise no one missed it.

My two medics looked at me. They looked at Hoarfast. The various illuminated figures looking at Hoarfast looked at me. Hoarfast tore his eyes away and looked at the glowing people, and I made myself look down.

Every single thing I’d done to make Koru’s group think I was dead was now ruined.

The glowing figures considered the two of us. They looked over the ruins of Hasso’s compound. The fires had died down, and where the radiance of the seven touched the sick burning, the dragon fire burned itself out. But the buildings stayed collapsed, and the charred earth remained violated.

“You are both invited to the Halls of Fate for discussion, medical assistance, and a friendly talk,” said the first glowing figure, smiling at me and Hoarfast in turn.

That’s a tricky matter for a Celestial. Hoarfast might decline. But Fate had a way of getting what it wanted.

None of that mattered for me.

“Please help me,” I whispered.

The two working on me bent their heads down, and lights began to arc between them. Long streamers of fire climbed their hands and heads, reaching from one to the other like the flares that dance on Horochron’s head.

The other five figures of light turned to Hoarfast, and the gears inside his head turned furiously. He smiled faintly.

He said, “I accept.”

The agents of Fate nodded and called down the lightning. It came in the form of quicksilver dragons, too bright to look at, saddled with leather and silk. They didn’t tie my hands or feet, but assisted me with mounting. A large, competent looking woman sat behind me, and I lay against her. An equally large, equally competent looked man sat in front. Had I an interest in throwing myself off, I doubted I would succeed.

Yet I might. There is usually only one way to escape Fate.

But from the beginning, I’d only known one thing, and that one thing kept me in the saddle. The quicksilver dragon flew upwards, through the clouds of Attarckus’s veil, and to the stars beyond the sky. It took a zigzag path faster than a hawk can dive, and soon we had slipped the bounds of Pallas and approached the dome of the sky. The glittering constellations rose from darkness, huge lanterns on the mountains of the Firmament. The flow of galaxies that are the sky’s rivers flowed between hills and and forests on the dark country.

I looked back. The lady behind me smiled firmly, but I wasn’t looking at her. In the center of the sphere, Pallas, Horochron the Sun, and Tiptites the Moon circled each other. They had been joined by a vast white disk that must be Tollos and another, silver and blue, that I guessed was her sister Lumina. The green and blue orb of Pallas drew my attention, though, as it dwindled and shrank.

I turned back around and faced the growing blackness of the onrushing sky.

We approached the massive, bulbous office-building of Fate’s headquarters in the Mask. It was such an ugly, useless building, and the basement leaked.


Devious Schemes

I just went out and turned all the plants around. Now they’re growing toward the shade instead of the Sun.

That’ll confuse ’em!