I knew some type of precipitation was going to roll in this weekend, but I expected the usual failed promises from the meteorologists. Instead, I received the opposite, with a vigorous storm rolling over everyone’s exposed wood dash convertibles and unsealed wicker furniture.
Pareidolia had me seeing canine imagery in the quickly moving clouds this time instead of angels. [Sunchaser], contrary to common myth, likes to “politely invite” me to his shenanigans. He’ll send canines to me in one way or another to let me know he will be calling for me to join his pack within a day or two. The multitude of canines in the clouds, gradually becoming more and more misshapen and distorted, meant to be ready once the sun sets.
He did not call until shortly before my desired bed time. As the temperature dropped, the winds increased. Gusts sounded like barking and the trees’ whistling rose as fell with the local dogs suddenly crying out. I was nearly overcome with a sudden smothering lethargy and thought it best that I go to bed immediately. As I prepared, I began to speak his name then involuntarily fell as something clutched my mind, howling to match the roaring outside.
(Dter reports there was no unusual sounds, human or otherwise, coming from my room last night. *whew*)
I remember meeting him on the wind as the storm rotated overhead. His backward hands had no problem welcoming me with gentle touches. “You’re not even going to ask what I want from you?” I shook my transforming head to answer negatively. He laughed, changing form as the chuckles pressed his body. “Very well. Run with me, then. Let us be savage.”
And I did.
I did not realize my eyes were closed until I opened them on the side of a mountain somewhere near but still very far. I surmised it was near midnight, but I could not tell where or when I was lying. If not for the softly glowing source of light behind me, I would not have known I was on a mountain at all.
“You are safe here.” Glowing hands passed over my face to stroke my shoulders as a gesture of peace. I recognized the form immediately.
“Angelus.” My unblemished face leaned over Weaver’s scars to smile at me. “So I guess I should have told you that I have made acquaintances with a number of other gods since you last wore this flesh.”
“I have watched from afar.”
“Must have been a betrayal to you, from your point of view.”
Her smile faltered and a deep sorrow split open the wound in my chest. She cried out to see it as I ignored decorum to plunge my hand into the gap to feel for what new shard of shame was assaulting me.
“You… ugh… you don’t have to speak your answer. I’ve figured it out.” Something hard poked my fingers so I pinched it and pulled it from the open wound. I was expecting a piece of stained glass window or a broken cross. It was a long flight feather, broken and split. She looked at the feather, then at her own wings. A feather was missing.
“Oh.” Seeing shame on her face made me uncomfortable.
“Yea, don’t worry about that. There are more ways to self-harm than just dragging knives on skin. The important thing is that I recognize what I’m doing to myself so I can stop doing that.” I looked up at her and saw she was still focused on the broken and bloody feather. I flicked it away and it dissolved into nothingness as it fell. “Hey. Angelus. We’ve been through some shit. I need to face not only what other people have done to us… to me… but what part I played in that as well. You are a spark of divinity but you are still full of shit just like any other bag of flesh. You had a singular focus as angels do, and you worshiped with your whole being as angels do, and you blinded yourself to the consequences as humans do. My apostasy was just as much a betrayal of you as a betrayal of the god you had dedicated yourself to. And that needs to be dealt with.”
Her soft hands settled on my shoulders. I realized I was lying on the ground with my upper body lying in her lap. She leaned over until her forehead was touching mine, obscuring her eyes from mine. “I’m sorry.” Her whisper was more felt than heard. “I watched and could do nothing else. I was kept away and I saw terrible things rise up from within you and devour you. I’m sorry I could not intervene. I’m sorry I could not help you.”
I tried to reach up to pull her sight into mine but her hands kept me from moving. “What would your help have been? I say that not to accuse, but to abrade the wound that is still stinging from seeds of shame trying to grow. What did you know then? What would have been your salve? You didn’t know what was being done to us… done to me… by the very forces that you would have called on for assistance. You didn’t know how deeply and thoroughly my mind has been shattered before you were locked away. … I forgive you, Angelus. I forgave you the moment I realize who you were and that you were free. I accepted you were a part of me the moment I realized what I thought was a separate and new angelus aspect was really the preparation of the angelus armor for our indwelling. I am incomplete without you, Angelus, and I am to leave this mortal coil fucking intact so I can punch the bitch who suggested this incarnation in the fucking taint with all the viciousness and focus I can fucking muster. So you better be ready to swing with the rest of us when it happens!”
She lifted her head then and allowed me to see her red-rimmed eyes. “That’s rude.”
“Rude as hell. Which, by the way, I also intend to bring. Someone wanted the human experience, I’m gonna give it to ’em.”
“… You’re using arrogance and foul speech to distract me.”
“Yup. Worked long enough to make you blink and not surrender into a spiral of shame and self-condemnation.”
“So, back to the topic. You already acknowledged that the apostasy was necessary for our survival. What are you ashamed about, that it was necessary, that I went through it, or that you are regretting it still?”
She sat up in surprise and her wings extended into what appeared to be an act of hostility and posturing. They relaxed and she looked away.
“Don’t answer. We don’t have to work that out tonight. The wound has stopped hurting which means I’ve found the seeds of shame. They still need to be dealt with, and may even be resown, but it won’t be in ignorance anymore. This is how we heal, Angelus. Not by hiding the imperfections, but by examining them, inspecting them, seeing where they can be patched, where they can be healed, and where they need to be cut away. I have no god for you to dedicate yourself to, this time. Our name is [Rebellion], after all. I will chafe against any master, benign or otherwise. But I still need you, Angelus. And you still have a purpose within the greater me. We’ll find it along the way, I promise you.”
She lowered her forehead to mine again. “Liar. You have no idea how I will integrate with you, or even if it is a good idea to allow me to.”
“… Yea… we’ll be just fine.”
Her wings of light covered us, and I fell into deeper sleep feeling comforted and safe.
“Quick, throw your knives!”
“Yes, Teacher!” I did not realize they were my knives being thrown until I saw them leave my hand. Four thin and long points of carved jade flew forward to line themselves up in the chest of the person that “Teacher” had flushed out of hiding towards me. The person came to a full stop in front of me as the jade quills embedded themselves deep in the person’s sternum and throat. They made grasping motions at the quills, then fell silently onto the ground.
Teacher came up behind them. “Good strike. Remember the quills will not kill them, only incapacitate them. Never throw more than four, lest you risk separating the spirit from the body. We are not executioners, after all.”
“Yes, Teacher.” The vibrant orange and glaring white silk of my dress slid loudly against itself as I bowed. I had an idea of what culture the dress was based on, and that I did not belong to those peoples. Teacher’s blue and white clothes fluttered loudly as he bent over to pick up the fallen person’s body with one hand.
“See. What was a large as a man is now the size of a doll, and just as inanimate. Let that be a reminder to you, that nothing here is as it seems. If an opponent seems daunting and unconquerable, change your perspective and gain an advantage.” Indeed, the fallen person’s body was now a genderless and faceless cloth doll that fit solely in his open hand. The four jade quills remained in place in the doll’s body.
Teacher turned me around and now we were wholly within a room deep within a temple complex. One wall was rough rock and the other wood walls had been fitted against it. The doll, now the size of a child, was lying on its back on a bamboo mat. Teacher led me to kneel at the head of the doll while facing it. He handed me a long and thin rod of pale green jade while he held a fifth jade quill.
“Do not flinch. Observe.” His command seemed odd as he had held the point of the free quill against the forehead of the doll, just above the eyes. He placed his left hand behind his back as if to steady himself. With his right hand, he balanced the quill on the doll’s face. Releasing it so softly that I had not realized he had perfectly balanced it to remain in an upright position until he had moved his hand behind his back to join his left.
My focus remained on the top of the unmoving quill even as he turned his head to fully examine my reaction. Once he was pleased that I was truly observing the quill, he moved. With a single blur of action he had struck the quill with the heel of his right hand, driving it through the head of the cloth doll, fastening it against the wood board that lay under the bamboo mat.
I did not flinch.
Teacher observed me observing the cooling jade quill and nodded. “Good. Now, here is your next part.” He pulled my hands holding the rod forward so that the tip of the rod I held was almost touching the exposed end of the fastening quill. “I will give you the mantra to say in a moment. You will repeat the words in the pattern of your choosing, in the timing of your choosing, until [static] occurs. When it does it will be evident by the flame that will appear at the end of your rod. Pass that flame to the quill in their head. The flame will burn down the jade, into them, and do what must needs be done. When the flame has passed from your rod to the quill, your part is complete and you may leave.”
Teacher taught me the words to say. The sounds squirmed and wiggled in my mind. He told me what they meant, but as I thought of the actual words, the sounds turned around and buried the understanding of them. I ensured the rod was placed as Teacher desired, and began repeating the mantra.
I repeated it only once. I repeated it a thousand times. I repeated it for the length of a day. I repeated it until the mountains had become ocean floor. Time became a myth and the passing of it was a legend that could not be experienced. My voice echoed in my head until the mantra came out of my ears and my eyes and my nose and the pores on my face. The mantra echoed off of the stone wall and chewed through the wood of the room until even the termites starved.
And still there was the doll, the jade quills, and myself.
I fell silent. The mantra had left my being and became a small jet of flame at the end of the jade rod I was holding. I had not moved from my position so the jet of flame fell silently from my rod onto the exposed inch of jade quill sticking out of the doll’s head. Silently I watched the flame ignite the jade and burn into the body of the doll.
I became lucid. I tried to remember the mantra, but all I could remember was how time felt when turning in on itself. It made me very uncomfortable.
“Nothing here is real.” I did not will to speak, yet those words fell from my mouth anyway. I felt Teacher suddenly behind me.
“Would you know more?”
A sudden length of fear tied my hands into my lap and sealed my mouth. Those four words filled me with a dread I did not understand. I did want to know more, but I was afraid of the price of knowing. Teacher chuckled behind me.
“Not yet, then. Very well. On your timing.”
He kicked the board under me and snapped it away from that portion the doll had been attached to. The broken floorboard and I fell into darkness.
I woke up fully in my bed. In the distance, thunder announced the departure of a storm cell over the mountain. It sounded like a dog’s agitated growling.