by Chance Pryor
A demon-for-hire oversteps his contract, facing consequences he could never have expected.
|The twisted wreckage skids to a halt. Time slams back into its normal rhythm with a jarring thud. Mouths open in shock draw breath to scream. Several quick-witted onlookers run towards the scene whilst others just stand - stunned at the sudden violence.
Unnoticed and unchallenged, I stroll away from the scene.
After tragic events, people often say things like, "It seemed to happen in slow motion" or "I could see it happening but was powerless to stop it." or my personal favourite, "It was like someone else was controlling my body."
The reason it's my favourite?
Because they're right.
My employer demands, I act. I take what small amusement I can.
Sudden cold assaults me. A gust seizes the edge of my jacket and forces chill, groping fingers into private flesh. The weak skin I currently inhabit shivers, inciting action. I turn, snarling a rebuff to the unwelcome advances tendered by winter wind. Grasping the edges of the fabric, I try to use the fasteners, regretting not wearing a different coat - zips are far easier with blunt, ungainly human fingers.
"Call an ambulance! There's children in there!" Words penetrate my hearing, registering in my brain with physical force. My head whips up; the sudden movement eliciting protests from the fragile flesh.
Ignoring pain, I focus on the wreck, concern growing inside.
Giving up, the coat remains half closed and I run back to the wreck. Thinking hard, I retain the obfuscation, crouching down nearby. Too many people, I can't see past them with flesh eyes. My shadow fades slightly, my inner pushes out. Sliding unknown through the skin sacs, I look in the ruined car.
Two adults in front, where should be one. Might be dead, might not be - not my concern any more. Car seat in back, with wailing baby hanging upside down. Relief briefly kindles, only to be snuffed by the other. A girl, maybe ten maybe eleven, lies on the roof. Blood pooling, eyes open but unseeing. My inner rushes back.
A mist coalesces, seen only by me. The girl from the wreck stands, constructed of ethereal glow. Translucent features limned in confusion, the figure twists and turns. She spots me, and confusion turns to fear. She sees my inner.
The mouth opens. Thin screams faintly taint the air of the material, lost amongst the chaos of the crash. I reach out to gather her, to usher her soul to its new plane. Slain by an infernal, she is damned to join my brethren. I may soon join her, if she makes it. Regret and longing strike discordant harmonies within me.
The girl's spectre turns from the horror of my inner and begins to flee. I force my flesh sack to follow. A glow forms beyond her, obscuring the wreckage. Blindingly brilliant, and seemingly torn into the fabric of the air; the dead girl sees and stops.
The celestials, come to collect the innocent - curse them their promptness.
Sound only the dead hear cracks like lightning, and something stands, streamers of smoke and vapor drifting from its recently incarnated form. Human shaped, winged and blazing with ethereal flame, burning eyes behold the recently deceased child.
This figure is beyond even an angel's majesty. I find myself almost in awe. It is a denizen of the celestial plane, of that I have no doubt, but far larger and stronger than any I have encountered before.
Ageless features remain impassive as a voice reverberates into existence, rippling the ethereal plane with power.
"Come child, we will ease the pain." The girl, unable to refuse the figure, reaches out. Already I cringe, sensing what's to come. Her hand stops, unable to touch the other. The tableau stands for mere fractions of a second, before the celestial withdraws its hand.
"We see the taint now. We are sorry, child." Deafening sound accompanies blinding light. A scream begins to form in the girl's ghost, before she is blasted into nothing. The essence of her soul stripped from the planes of existence. My eyes, inner and outer, close against my will. The flesh leaks tears, the inner seeps trepidation. My own soul feels the rip as my taint on the girl is ripped forcefully into oblivion.
This is wrong. The child should have been cast into the infernal realm, not destroyed. That the celestial could destroy a soul utterly without hesitation is worrying. What has changed in the celestial plane? Do the compacts still stand?
Such is the violence of the celestial's act, the material world senses its wrongness. The shock echoes through those nearby, an icy spike of deep fear rooting everyone, if only for a second. Most shake it off, although many look around for the source.
The celestial beholds me. "We see you, infernal." The glowing eyes blaze brighter. "The child had your touch. That is a violation." A golden spear appears in the celestial's hands. "Speak your name, that we may judge you."
I stand, allowing the obfuscation to drop. An onlooker gasps, as a woman seemingly appears from nowhere in front of him. I allow my inner to swell into the ethereal, projecting my true self in a misty half form around my skin bag.
"Do you see my chains as well, angel?" I spit at the foul word. "Do you judge me, or do you judge my master?" It is a gamble, laying blame before my employer. The old laws clearly aren't as strong as they once were.
The glowing being spoke nothing a moment. "Does your master seek the creation of new infernal beings?"
"I do not question the instructions of my gaoler." I had never been explicitly told not to kill innocents.
This causes another pause. I can feel the scrutiny as it examines my inner as well as my flesh form. "You hold another in your grasp."
"I do. My chains hold me in her flesh."
"Bring her forth. We would speak with her."
Reluctantly, I relax the walls of the prison, and allow the woman's soul to emerge into the ether. Her misty form coalesces in front of me, once again confusion evident in the translucent features.
Screaming, she beholds the celestial. She turns, more screams as she beholds my inner. She spins, then drops to the ground, cowering before the fearsome beings around her. I may have been occupying her flesh these last months, but I have never shown her my true inner form.
The celestial speaks, voice reverberating over the woman's wails. "Silence, child." The force of the command quiets her. Still she cowers, a translucent bundle of etheric vapour huddled on the ground. "Stand, child." Her form shifts and coalesces back into a standing figure.
"Know you the name of your captor?" The angel asks her. I frown, this is not the question I expected. She nods and I feel concern. How does she know my name?
"I heard it when they put him in me." Concern blossoms into fear. With my name I can be compelled - hence my current predicament. With my name I can be judged.
I can feel satisfaction radiating from the celestial. "Reveal it to us. We will release you from bondage."
I gird myself, I will not go easily. I have fought against the celestials in both wars, I will fight again.
Defiance, as shocking to the other as it is to me.
"I know what you'll do to release me." My host backs away from the celestial. "I was promised power, and I'm going to have it." I feel respect for my host, for the first time.
"You defy us?" It couldn't comprehend. "We will free you."
"No." She backs further, until she is almost level with me. She doesn't look at me, still unnerved by my inner form. "You can go back, now."
The being shakes its head. "We cannot. The corruption of an innocent is a crime. The guilty must be judged. As must the complicit." So saying, the angel lowers its spear and light blasts my host. The woman's soul screams as it is torn away. Her form dissipates into nothing, no echo of her existence remaining. A tremor of real fear grows inside.
This celestial is not following the old rules. My own existence is in danger.
With the soul of the flesh gone, my suit becomes a prison. It sags lifeless to the ground, my inner tied to it by chains unbreakable.
"Speak your name, infernal, that you might be judged." The spear is levelled at my inner form.
"You know I cannot." I am confused why it keeps asking. "Seek my master if you wish judgement."
Now it is the celestial confused. "Why do you resist? Is not the infernal plane your home? Do you not wish freedom from your own bondage in this existence?"
I sneer at such arrogance. "Angel. You assume all planes are as yours. I have no wish to leave the material plane." A glance at the still form of my borrowed flesh. Using it will be more difficult now that the soul is gone, but not impossible. "Why don't you tell me your name, angel? So I can warn my master who is judging him."
The celestial stands, spear still leveled. "Very well. We are the hands of creation. Where once we were many, now we are one. Where once there was chaos and division, now there is peace and unity. We are Celestial." The spear glows as the being speaks. The echoes and strange chorus of its voice are clear now.
Understanding dawns. "You are all the celestials?" This was dangerous.
A prophetic vision strikes me. Such a being could attempt the ascent to deity. All planes would suffer under this rule. Uncompromising, only pure souls would ascend, strengthening the Celestial as they merged. Any corrupted soul would be destroyed. The infernal plane would weaken, gradually fading until only material and celestial existed. The Celestial would sit in eternal judgement of humanity, absorbing or destroying every soul as it saw fit. Humanity would have no afterlife - no chance at their own celestial ascension or infernal apotheosis.
I see this all come to pass in an instant - the entire stagnation of existence laid bare. "You know not what you do." I tell the being. It reacts with nothing. Desperate now, I risk exposure. I call names. Names of enemies I fought millennia ago. Names of brothers I fought beside millennia before I fell. Desperate that I might summon a fracture if but one celestial can be brought to the fore.
"You know me. You cannot do this." I am desperate, and I allow my voice to show it. I feel something, and look down to see another human shaking my lifeless flesh suit. The human has no clue of the events above their head, their senses begin and end in the material.
"They are no more. We are only Celestial." The spear glows brighter. "We know you now." And it says my name. I am cold, defeated. I will be cast back into the infernal, an eternity of pain, anguish and chaos until I may be summoned by humans and trapped once more in a host.
"I will warn the others about you. We will fight this." I do not know if other Infernals will listen or believe, but I'll tell them.
"We cannot allow that." The being pauses once again. Frantically I attempt to pick up my body- too no avail.
I sense my time finish as the being speaks once more. "We cannot allow that." It repeats itself "We judge you abhorrent, Infernal." I am confused. What does it mean? "We deny you existence, in all planes." What? How can it judge me that?
"You do not have the right!" I shout, fighting against the tying bonds of flesh that hold me still.
The spear glows incandescent now. "We have the right. We are Celestial."
Sound beyond sound engulfs me. Light beyond sense consumes me, ripping my essence apart. Shred by shred I am dissolved violently into nothing.
It is over in an instant, yet it lasts an eternity. As my last wisps of self are cast into oblivion I hear the Celestial chorus a final time.