The circle was a work of art. Pristine, seamless; each hard-lined sigil, every eye-twisting spiral placed with mathematical perfection. It glowed, with sheets of lurid red light rising from every line, rippling as if seen through water. Fog filled the column within the circle, a fragment of the Pale, resting lightly over the being it held like a blanket of downy chains.
The thing floating in the circle gave off its own light, as well. Half a dozen wings, like waves of fire, curled about its incomprehensible fleshy mass in the confining space. Uncountable eyes, like every man or beast that ever walked the earth, stared wildly out from the mass, rolling about madly, while its pupils – where there were pupils – dilated and contracted randomly, searching for focus.
The creature’s screech was incomprehensible, each of its thousand mouths and beaks demanding freedom in a different language, a different voice. Some voices begged, others demanded. Others wailed and gnashed their teeth, crying like children lost. Tongues of fiery lightning lashed at the circle’s edges and the shroud of mist ineffectually. He waited, arms folded confidently, until this latest bout of rage subsided. He wasn’t concerned; by this point, he knew the circle would hold.
…lanterns flicker before the firestorm… It whispered ominously.
…unbind me from these shackles! It growled angrily.
Ang liwanag! Ang liwanag! It cried out in pain.
Three voices was, probably, the best he could hope for from this fractious and fragmented creature, and usually the sign that it had regained what sensibilities it still possessed. They all spoke at once, but he had become used to it, accustomed to splitting the voices apart. At times, he became so good at following the creature’s trains of thought that he became seriously worried that his own sanity was beginning to crack. When that happened, he took a break, leaving the entity to stew in its metaphysical cell until he could clear his head.
Talking to it still gave him a headache. The Key never said anything about this. His calculations hadn’t, either.
Die Schlange Spulen, das Licht aus Teilchen Kreis der Welt.
What would you have of me now, lightning-bearer?
That name again. The thing gave no explanation for it. He noted that it only used the title in its most lucid moments. At least he had its attention, now.
He rolled forward from the shadowed back wall of his summoning chamber. His instincts wanted to recoil from the heat of those fiery wings, but he held firm – there was no heat, the circle contained the whole of the being’s essence, but his mind kept telling him there should be. Part spirit, part physical. Interesting. “So you’re ready to talk now? You don’t want me to turn the lights back on?”
Of all the mysteries he’d encountered, this was among the strangest. Who’d have expected such a being to be afraid of the light? The first time he’d turned on the fluorescent lighting, the thing had shrieked as if he’d lit it on fire. It had made an effective inducement, used properly. He didn’t feel that bad about it. The light didn’t hurt it – he didn’t think it did, anyway – and he doubted that anything he could do would drive the thing more insane than it already was.
He smiled wryly, shaking his head. He’d already discovered the creature couldn’t read facial expressions. “All right. Let’s get this started, then.” Placing his elbows on the armrests, he steepled his fingers in front of him, smooth young face bathed in the shimmering, fluid red glow. It reflected into his blue eyes, giving his pupils a curious sheen. “You’ve been known as Hadraniel.”
Tu siervo te traicionarán.
Ultra video caeli porta.
He grinned. “Now we’re getting somewhere.” He didn’t move, or bother to take notes. The whole thing was being recorded electronically – audio only. He tried video too, originally, but the angel hadn’t liked that at all. How it knew he was filming, he could only guess. But then, it was that mad insight he was hoping to tap, now.
“If my research is right, and I’m pretty sure it is, you…all your kind…you’re the only true immortals, aren’t you? The only ones who do not die, who always heal.” Technically, that was incorrect – spirits were also immortal, in a sense, but they changed over time, and slowly forgot, or had their memories skewed by their natures. They were unreliable historians, at best.
La vie vient pour nous tous.
We are cursed with the blessing.
The third voice merely let out a soft peal, like an off-tune bell, deep and resonant.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” Having satisfied himself with the two test questions, he pondered for a moment. Questioning the creature was tricky. It didn’t always give the same answer when asked the same question, there were relationships between those answers, somewhere. There had to be. The calculations had said as much.
After talking with it for over two months, it was no wonder that a group of them was known as a madness.
All the rooms are dark, and the palace is broken. Betrayed! Our hurbis betrays us!
Wat is er mis met je benen?
The third voice, again, made a sound like a bell, lower in pitch. The sound quivered, as if betraying nervousness.
Hadraniel. He’d worked on the calculations for days, trying to find out who – or what – were his best chances of finding the Astra before the others. Interestingly, the equation gave two results. This pitiful creature had been one. The other had been surprising, but there were no coincidences.
“I’ve talked to you about this before.” He’d found that, recently, he’d begun talking to it like a child, explaining things more than he thought should be necessary. But it seemed to help get responses he could immediately understand.“We’re in danger. You have said it. I figured it out on my own. I need to find that weapon. And you’re gonna tell me everything you know, yeah?”
When it began to protest, he nodded to the lights – they burst into neon brilliance for a moment, and the angel screamed in a thousand children’s voices, terrified. The light faded, and with it, the creature fell to making sounds like weeping.
The survival of humanity was serious business, and he would see it happen – even if he had to take apart the world to do it.