Mercy - 4


Rebecca Lim

To Michael, with love always

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.

1 PETER 5:8


Picture, if you can, the ancient city of Milan in the dead of night, lashed by an unimaginable storm. Picture the rooftop of a vast, white cathedral that towers hundreds of feet above snaking, crowded streets of stone, wreathed in lightning so fierce it transfigures the oxygen in the very air.

Do you see it? Because it’s what I see.

I stand within a mighty forest of spires and tracery, gargoyles and statuary, utterly dwarfed by what the hand of mankind has wrought.

And yet …

I am the world, and the world is in me.

How can I make you understand this feeling?

I am myself, as I once was, when I was first created.

As potent, as piercing, as light.

Dizzy with power, drunk with it.

Capable of things you couldn’t begin to imagine.

In this moment of rebirth and reclamation, I am a maelstrom of possibility — more powerful than the snow driving across this gothic rooftop I’m stranded upon, more powerful than the wind that squalls around me, more powerful than the lightning that splits the darkness overhead, more powerful even than the two winged demons shrieking curses at me from the skies above.

For I was never exiled from heaven like they were, all those years ago. I was sacrificed.

Sacrificed by the hand of the one who was supposed to love me more than life itself.

And though I might carry the mark of the exile upon my burning flesh, I am not guilty as Lucifer was guilty.

Pride I had, and vanity.

But I am no demon. Though I did not enter this world willingly.

I have been trapped here on earth, but it doesn’t change what I am: an archangel.

No mere malakh, or messenger, but one of the elohim, most holy, most high. Who is more human now than one of my people has any right to be.

And the reason I’m feeling all the frailties, all the helpless fears and simple longings that bedevil humankind, is right here in my arms, rigid with cold, the sleet sluicing off his beaten-up leather jacket, soaking his dark hair, his heartbeat faltering beneath my fingertips.

‘Ryan?’ I say shakily. ‘Stay with me.’

His eyes are closed, and his lips are blue with cold. The only thing keeping all six foot five of him upright is me.

Stupid, I tell myself fiercely as I lurch forward, the wind like broken glass against my face, Ryan a precious dead weight in my embrace. What kind of damned angel can’t even fly right?

As I tried to land on the cathedral roof, I saw human figures, the size of giants, standing in stern rows upon the carved and fretted spires, their faces turned upon the city below. The lightning that had sundered the sky around us, transforming night momentarily into bright day, had made them seem alive, and I’d faltered and lost altitude.

No sanctuary for demons, they’d seemed to say.

Even to saints and martyrs made of stone, maybe that’s what I’d looked like to them. Like a demon.

I was so disoriented, so crippled by my absolute fear of flying after all these years of being earthbound, that I came in at a bad angle. I fell too far, too fast, and collided with a spire, felt it pass right through me, clipping Ryan, hard, across the torso. In the shock of the impact, I dropped him from a great height upon the unforgiving flagstones of the cathedral roof.

Candoglia marble versus human flesh and bone. He has to be a mess inside from the way he’s breathing. He’s just barely holding on. There’s blood on his mouth.

‘Ryan?’ I mumble against his hair, my eyes searching for the way down. ‘I’m going to fix this, okay?’

But I don’t know if I can fix him, because I can’t seem to fix me.

The world around me seems too fast, too loud, as if I’m seeing everything through some kind of crazy lens, or filtering things through a blinding strobe light that’s going off in my head alone.

On the surface, I seem the same as I used to be. I recognise these limbs, the glowing, sleeveless, white raiment I always used to wear. The surrounding storm can’t touch me — before any sleet can hit the energy my skin gives off, it vanishes completely. But there’s a flaw in me, I can feel it. Something’s changed. Something small, yet fundamental; something I can’t put my finger on.

In this moment, I may be power incarnate, but I don’t feel as if I can channel it, or even hold myself together for much longer. It’s the greatest irony: I always thought that the moment I got the old me back, I’d never again feel the sick sensation of being in a stranger’s body, fighting desperately for control. Instead, one false step and I might shatter; blow apart completely.

I want so much to give in to this feeling of building inside me, but I know that if I do, if I allow myself to atomise, to be pure energy, pure light, the way my body yearns to — Ryan will die. And it will be my fault.

I need to control it. I can’t control it.

The snow drives down as if it would bury the world. And the two demons that hunt us circle the forest of marble spires at a distance. Unable to come any closer, compelled to stay back, rending the air with their violence, their screaming. Even from so far away, I see how beautiful they are — the lethally muscular male with short, auburn curls and dead-looking, midnight eyes, whom I once knew as Hakael; his companion, Gudrun, Luc’s beloved these days now that I am his beloved no longer. His minions, here to finish what he started.

In a moment of weakness, I lean the side of my face against Ryan’s bowed head. His skin is so cold. In place of the exaltation I should be feeling, I’m filled with a crippling dread.

There’s no time. There’s never been any time for Ryan and me. As if it was the fate that was written for us once, a long time ago to find each other, then lose each other twice, three times over and we are merely playing it out.

I falter to a stop, my eyes raking the darkness, the steep incline of the cathedral’s peaked roof, holding Ryan so close that the unsteady beat of his heart could be mistaken for the one I don’t possess. I remind myself fiercely that I don’t believe in fate. Remind myself, too, that I have the power to kill and the power to heal in equal measure; that these things were in me when I was first created. I just need to get Ryan inside, away from the bone-piercing cold, from the demons screaming, Haud misericordia! No mercy! Then do what needs to be done. The other stuff, the tricky stuff — about us, and what that could even mean — I’ll have to work out later.

The grip I have on Ryan is awkward, as if I’m locked in the arms of a drowning man who’s dragging me

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