We spent the night in the temple on its dusty wooden floor, surrounded by a litter of broken roof tiles and with moonlight flooding in through the holes above us. Lily held me close, perhaps to make up for nearly killing me earlier, perhaps because it was the only way she could sleep. I lay there for an hour or so longer gazing at her skin’s whiteness and wondering, amongst other things, whether she ever dreamed. If she’d possessed a heartbeat, its soft rhythm might have calmed me, but she was as cold and silent as the deep space that she called home.
It was not long before dawn when I woke suddenly to find the pair of eyes I had seen earlier looking in on me. The misshapen creature to which they belonged seemed at variance with their sad beauty.
As I sat up, I glanced warily at Lily’s sleeping form and the gun at her side.
“Don’t worry,” the thing said, in a soft voice that was also incongruous. “She can’t hear us.”
It snapped a pair of bony fingers and I noticed that a leaf drifting down from the roof had stopped motionless a few feet above the floor.
Outside the temple, a shower of rain drops, loosened from an overhanging branch, hung motionless in mid-air like a suspended necklace of diamonds. The creature gazed at it sadly.
“You would really end all of this?” it asked, gesturing to the surrounding forest and wider world.
“Yes, if that’s what it takes,” I replied stubbornly.
“But don’t you love your home?”
“I hate the angeli more.”
I found no judgement in its voice, just a sigh that seemed to linger on the early morning mists. It pointed up to the heavens and a bright star there that I hadn’t noticed before.
“They call that ‘Wormwood’. Do you understand now?”
“The sign of the last days?”
“Yes. Whether you complete your task or not, it will be completed for you.”
I turned to look at it more closely. “Just who are you exactly? What do you want with me?”
The creature shrugged its misshapen form. “The beautiful creatures they call ‘angels’ here are false – you understand this and they hunt you. But some of us are genuine. They once used to call me Uriel – God’s light and the bringer of destiny.”
“Yes, we’re not quite so good looking, I’m afraid.”
As time stood still under those stars, my head felt clearer than it had for years. I reached out to one of the hanging raindrops but found it to be rock-hard and immovable, as if nailed to the air. Then Uriel waved a hand, the drops fell to the ground and we were back in the world again.
I was about to ask another question when there was a loud crack and an aftershock that threw me to the ground. I looked up to see Lily standing in the temple doorway, her gun raised and smoking. She fired a second time but Uriel still stood there, unmoved. Then a dark stain slowly spread across his chest and he fixed me with his sad eyes one last time before fading into darkness.
“Why did you…?” I began in fury, but stopped when I saw the barrel now trained on me. We remained motionless, each one willing the other to make an end.
“You know what I am,” she said bitterly. “Don’t expect me to be anything better.”
She turned away and set about packing our bags. “Get a move on. It’s nearly sunrise and they’ll be hunting for us.”
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